Tuesday, 21 April 2015

On Losing the Will to Cook....and a Form Update

Roasted Tomato & Red Capsicum Soup - Sunday night's dinner
It has snuck up on me, completely unawares. A devastating realisation that I have lost the will to cook.  It came in the last couple of weeks, when trying to plan our week's menus and construct shopping lists.  I stared at my calendar sheet and note pad and realised there were no ideas.  No desires.  No thoughts or vague inclinations.  Nothing.  I looked at that calendar page and felt empty.  I asked others in the family to contribute, but their suggestions left me shuddering from either a revolt from my tastebuds or exhaustion at the thought of the effort involved.  I admit it:  I threw down my pen and headed for beast of all jigsaw puzzles in protest.  Trouble is, you can't eat a jigsaw puzzle.  Even if it is the worst puzzle you've ever encountered and that's all it deserves.

What is a woman to do when her family relies on her cooking expertise and she is spent?

But let's backtrack a little and give you a picture of how far I have fallen.  I have been menu planning in a formal kind of way since late 1999.  How, you may ask, do I know this?  Well....I confess to having kept every single plan in a folder from that time to this.  Sixteen years of menu plans.  Now, you may consider this hoarding.  I consider it potential inspiration.  It is how I convinced Mr Busy to consider a different birthday meal after three years of tuna and rice, which is not all that glamorous as far as birthday meals go. 

I used to plan a whole month in one sitting.  I delighted in surrounding myself with food magazines and cookbooks and my favourite recipes collected from various websites.  Even back then I was an internet cook!  Oh the joy of ideas zinging about my head and seeking new cooking adventures.  There were ideas and thoughts and seeking new tastes and ohhhhh...I loved it.  A whole new world beyond my childhood of grilled lamb chops and boiled-to-death vegies.  I experimented regularly.  Mostly when guests were coming, and I would realise that I had again used them as guinea pigs.

I never had a complaint.

Fast forward a decade or so.  When my husband invites friends for dinner, now, I cannot think of a single thing to make for dinner.  Menu planning fills me with dread.  Shopping and cooking feels like a waste of time and energy, let alone money.

Woe is me.  Actually, us.

I need to be re-enthused.  And I'm trying.  My current inspirer is Shauna Niequiest.  Shauna would be one of my favourite authors.  If I were to read one of her books.  But I know she would be one of my favourites because I have been reading her blog, and her Facebook page (thought I don't have Facebook, but she's generous and lets people like me read what she writes).  I've found some videos of her speaking and in some of these talks she shares some of the stories from her books.  "Bread and Wine" includes a number of recipes, and because people post these things I've found some of them around the interwebs.  For example, Shauna's Green Well Salad was my lunch today.  And I felt a little tingle of joy return.  That salad was so, so simple, so robust, so exciting and different, so delicious. 

Thank you Shauna.  You might just save me from my cooking doldrums.  Although I suspect I am a tough nut to crack in this particular season.

As soon as I can justify the expense I am going to order all of Shauna's books, and I know I will simply fall more in love.  I'm pretty sure Shauna and I would be best friends if we were ever to meet.  You know when people ask what famous person you would love to have a meal with?  Shauna.  And Jen Hatmaker.  And Glennon Melton.  And dearest, precious Francis

Form Update...
I finally finished all. the. forms.  Can you believe, there was a form you had to fill in so that you could fill in another form?  I more convinced than ever that Centrelink's reason for existence is not the administration and distribution of social security payments, but to send its clients to the brink of insanity.  But I won this round, Centrelink.  Now.  If only I can get them submitted!  I will be photocopying these forms before I submit them.  Just in case.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Form Avoidance Tactics

Because doing a jigsaw puzzle all by yourself is sometimes the most productive thing to do, when procrastinating on filling out All. The. Forms.

Or when they threaten your sanity.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Drowning in Paperwork

This is the posture of every single human being who has to deal with Centrelink.  *Deep Sigh*.  For those of you who don't know, Centrelink is the Australian Government social services department.  They are a pain in the butt difficult to deal with, to put it generously.  But we need them.  They help us financially and when it's all sorted out things are good.  For all my frustrations, Centrelink has made it possible for us to survive through some very difficult times.

A few weeks back we went in to our local office to get Miss Sunshine all identified and her study claim under way.  The slobby man, who sat chomping on gum (so I have a "thing" about gum - it grosses me out), informed us that the Youth Services office would send us all the extra forms for family income and such and that we should wait for those to arrive.  He also told me that if I had a question I was unsure of (these are inevitable - they ask questions that are from Mars) to just leave it, but make sure to sign the form so the claim could be processed.

He was wrong on both counts.  So.  So.  Wrong.  He should have given me the forms.  He did not.  I have to fill in ALL the questions, or the claim will not be processed.  Because of this man we have to start over and payments will be delayed for quite some time.

So now, after a long phone call with the most helpful person on the planet, I have printed the reams of paper with all the forms and I am wading through them.  Miss Sunshine emerged, briefly, from her safe cocoon of a bedroom, and asked if she should be filling them in.  I looked about me, at the piles of old bills, insurance paperwork and about a billion other pieces of paper about every cent we possess, spend and owe and asked "Do you really think it would be possible for you to fill these out?"  She lent over, hugged me and said thank you.  And then she hurried away.  No child of 18 years should have to do this.  It's too hard for the very best of form fairies (ie, mothers), let alone an innocent new baby adult.  This is one of those things that parents are willing to do for children, like laying down your life.  I think she'll owe me more than a chai latte for this one, though.  Maybe a week of her cooking meals.  Or something significant.

If I don't come up for air for the next year or so, you'll know I got buried under the papers.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

My Flash of Easter Bunny Brilliance

It isn't often I have moments of brilliance.  Generally speaking I would say I rely on the brilliance of others and then set about to make brilliant things happen.  You can imagine, then, that those rare flashes of brilliance are quite remarkable!

In the last week of term I was teaching a Prep/1 class in a Christian school.  Easter and Christmas are the most challenging seasons in such a school when it comes to beliefs around these two important church celebrations.  And the challenge centres around this:  To Easter Bunny/Santa or Not to Easter Bunny/Santa.

In our house, we chose to go without bunnies and santas and whatever other things are not strictly about the Biblical reason behind these celebrations.  We have reasons for our decisions, but we hold absolutely no judgement on those who take the opposite approach.  It is such a personal choice.  You can imagine then, in a Christian school, where there is a fair portion of the population in either camp that kids get confused.  Some proclaim the Easter Bunny fictitious and others are determined it is real.  This is one argument I was adamant my own children were to avoid.  I told them they had no right to ruin things for another child when their parents had made a decision that was different from ours.

So what does one do when the children in front of you are beginning this debate? 
"My Mum says there is no Easter Bunny!" 
"What do you mean?  Of course there is an Easter Bunny.  Where do you think the eggs come from?" 

I put a stop to the debate right there.  And in my moment of brilliance I told my precious little people this:
"Some parents get the Easter Bunny to help them deliver eggs, and some parents choose not to have the Easter Bunny help.  It is up to your parents how that works at your house".

Disaster averted.  Both camps allowed to hold their beliefs. 

Brilliance indeed.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Permissive vs Authoritative....or just too many rules?

I've always thought myself to be fairly reasonable at this parenting thing.  I don't always get it right, but I sure try my best!  I worked super hard in our early days to raise my little people in such a way that they would become amazing big people.  And so far we've managed that.  But over this weekend my daughter and a friend we were with seemed to think we have way more rules than anyone else they know.  I take that with a grain of salt when coming from my children.  Inevitably "everyone" ends up being a small handful at best.  But when another adult tells you you have more rules than anyone they know, you begin to wonder.  Am I being too strict?  Do they know what all the other households are like?  Are they just comparing themselves with you and feeling intimidated?  Should I reconsider our rules and standards?  What should I change?

I've done a lot of second and double guessing this weekend.

I would always characterise myself (and my husband) as authoritative parents.  I don't believe in a permissive parenting style.  My children need far more guidance than that style would provide.  But we are not authoritarian either because our interactions are characterised by loving concern and desire to build and grow strong, positive relationships with our children.

We do have some not-negotiables in our home. 
  • We require our children to help with the dishes each night.  I cook, DH does the laundry and the kids do the dishes.  That's how we roll and I do not think it unreasonable for each person to be doing something that contributes to making our home work. 
  • Our kids are expected to attend Life Groups, and church on Sunday.  Faith is important to us and this is part of how we express that faith.  And so we worship together. 
  • Our kids have a set bed time until they are 18.  It changes as they get older, but it is still a feature until they are adults.
  • We expect our kids to do their homework and turn in assignments on time, having put in their best effort.
Four rules.  Four things that we believe are important to develop character, faith, good habits and productive citizens.  I absolutely believe I have the right to set high expectations that are reasonable and that I need to support my children to live within those expectations.  Because my high expectations require them to be kind, generous, polite and respectful no matter who they are interacting with.  Because I expect them to try their very best and dream big and fulfil the plans God has for them.  Because I believe community is so, so important and  that it comes with rights and responsbilities.

Are not-negotiables hard work?  Absolutely!  But it's so worth it.  I have these three amazing young people in my home that are just so incredible.  These are the children I was so petrified would become teenagers that I asked God to bring the second-coming forward to the time before they would hit their teens.  Our experience with Terrible Two's and Three's was enough to scare me senseless.  But these children of mine are such a gift to the teen-wary parent.  I am so glad God ignored those prayers of a naiive littles-loving mother.  I can honestly say I prefer having teens. They wrestle about bed times and doing dishes when they have homework.  Let's face it, I didn't want to cook for all those years when I had homework, but community requires responsibility even when you think you're too busy.  And we all appreciate even-tempered well-rest people in our house, rather than unreasonable, tired people.

Would I sacrifice having the end in mind and being intentional about getting there?  You know, I think not.  As I look at my not-negotiables I am content that they serve important purposes beyond the immediate goals.  Sorry Miss Mischief, bed time stays until October.

What are your not-negotiables?  What end are you intentionally aiming for with your children?

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Pffft to Metal Kettles

We were in the market for a new kettle last weekend.  The old one wouldn't let us open the lid anymore.  Indeed there was something rattling about in there that we couldn't get out.  And then it stopped turning itself off.  A little dangerous in a house where boys are forgetful and/or inattentive.  It's the boys who make the cuppas most often, so this became a thing.

Dh and I set off in search of a new kettle, to settle on our bench in its special little spot.  I think he thought we'd get another metal one, but I'd heard plastic ones are quieter.   As we looked, and compared, and did little internet searches on the best quiet kettles (because phones these days let you do such things!!) we discovered that I was probably right.  Apart from one fancy shmancy kettle that boasted "whisper quiet".  But this thing was so high maintenance with all the things you had to do to make sure it stayed quiet.  We are not into high maintenance.  We are lucky to maintain ourselves, our kitchen and our laundry.  We don't need bossy appliances telling us they need emptying and cleaning and hugging and loving and whatever all else that thing needed.

So we're back with a white plastic kettle.  Miss Sunshine was away at the time, so she was unimpressed when she returned.  Dh and I are thrilled.  We don't need to turn the TV up 5 clicks to hear over the kettle anymore.

We have ourselves a quiet kettle again.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Quick and Easy.....Oh the Love!

This is the meal I have not been able to make for six weeks.  A quick, simple, no-thought, done-in-moments kind of meal.  It's not that I think pre-prepared chicken schnitzels are so magnificient, it's more that they have not been an option when I have had it up to *here*.  Like at the end of a day in a Prep classroom, for example.  I have cooked almost every single meal, apart from one weekend away where that was impossible.

And so tonight we re-enter the world of my version of not cooking.  A packet of chicken shnitzels that take 20 minutes in the oven.  The only prep?  Putting them on an oven tray and putting them in a preheated oven.  The coleslow is those four ingredients.  I toss together the precut coleslaw (whole bag), grated tasty cheese and pineapple which I cut into small chunks (the tins of chunks are too....chunky).  I mix some of the juice from the tin with some mayo so it's thinner and it all gets tossed together. 

So easy.  And that's what I've missed.

Dinner is done!