Getting Back Into the Swing of Things

I don’t know about you, but the past year has been HARD. Quarantine hasn’t affected my social life or anything (I didn’t have one before COVID, so no great loss there), but daaaaamn, these kids need to get out of my house. They love each other, I love them, obviously, but this “together 24/7” thing isn’t doing anyone any favors.

These Hilarious Cartoons Showcase the Reality of Distance Learning at Home  | Parents
Seriously? Every time. Every. Time.

In my area, school has been completely virtual since last March. They went back to in-person starting March 1st (4 days in person, 1 day virtual), but that only lasted 2 weeks. This past week was spring break, and next week is all virtual because they’re expecting people to do something stupid over spring break and get everyone sick (they’re not wrong). That 2 weeks of being child-free was just enough for me to remember what I’ve been missing. I got so much done! I wasn’t constantly bombarded with “mom mom mom” and got to actually finish tasks without (Hey mom, look at me!) having to (Hey, MOM! He hit me!) stop every 5 (Can I read you this story? Except that I don’t know how to read, but I really do, but I don’t want to read this) seconds to deal with (I’m so hungry, I need a snack nooowwww) their nonsense. It was fabulous.

30+ Mom Memes For All The Tired Moms Out There – theCHIVE :
Seriously, though.

I’ve been doing a lot of freelance writing lately, which is weird to think about. Like, people are actually giving me money to write stuff? What? I love it, but it’s so weird. I’ve been primarily ghost writing blog articles for a law firm in Philadelphia. They’ve finally realized I have a medical background, so now I get to write about things like premature births, anticoagulants, and radiology malpractice. It’s way more interesting than the property and product liability stuff they had me writing about in the beginning (yawn). I literally don’t even know how I got that job, but it’s steady work and I’m enjoying it.

I also did quite a bit of writing last month for a parenting app that has yet to be released. That was interesting. It’s apparently going to be an app that gives you ideas for developmentally appropriate activities to do with your baby or toddler. But, and this is my favorite part, they’re making it for parents like me. They gave me ideas as they’re typically presented to parents, and I got to write it in a way that would appeal to someone like me.

A typical parenting blog/app/guilt trip might read: “Offer your toddler 3 meals and at least 2 healthy snacks every day. Ensure that all food groups are offered, and encourage them to try at least one bite of each food you place before them. To help pique your child’s interest, use a variety of colorful foods to create a fun work of art on their plate!” Instead of that malarkey, I got to write things like: “There will be days when your kid turns up their nose at the food you’ve made in favor of the stale crushed crackers they find between the couch cushions. That’s okay, it happens. Offer healthy food whenever you’re able, and don’t sweat it if they turn it down and decide to go hungry. They won’t starve themselves.”

Think you're a bad mom? | Bad mom, Mommy humor, Mom humor
As long as you’re not throwing your child at predators, you’re probably good.

In unrelated news, I spent the last year memorizing the entire soundtrack from Hamilton (not, like, intentionally, it’s just been the only thing I want to listen to since it came out on Disney+). The only downside is that now Madeline will occasionally burst out into song. Why’s that a downside? Because you never know if she’s going to sing a random line from “Say No to This” in public (if you’ve seen it, you know why that’s less than ideal). But then sometimes she just belts out a “I’m young scrappy and hungry, and I’m not throwing away my shot!” and it’s all good again.

It’s been a hell of a year.

It’s been… a while since my last post, and for that I apologize. It’s been a busy couple of months! We’re going to recap the events of the past 2 months at warp speed, because that’s how fast it’s seemed to go by.

Halloween! To me, it’s always been a holiday for little kids. I like to make the kids’ costumes, but sometimes I don’t have time and we just buy one. Of course, the purchased costumes are expensive and fall apart after a couple of wears, so making one is usually my preference when I can. This year, COVID threw quite the wrench into things. Trick-or-treating was cancelled, and I wasn’t about to make them a costume to wear at home. So they just wore one from a previous year and we decided to have a party at home.

Scratch that, Madeline decided we’d have a party at home. An all day party. With a scavenger hunt. And all the decorations. And Halloween food. With Halloween cookies, and candy, and prizes. She made up her mind, and that was that. It’s hard to argue with a kid who’s been stuck inside since March.

I don’t really do parties, or decorations, or holidays that aren’t Christmas. Just not my thing. But it’s been such a dumpster fire of a year that I figured they needed something to lift their spirits. So we had a Halloween party. And it. was. epic.

I know that word gets thrown around a lot for non-epic events, but this was truly stupendous. Monumental, even. I made the best cookies I’ve ever made. I arranged party games, Halloween-themed meals and snacks, and stayed up way too late the night before filling goody bags with candy and decorating the kitchen and living room so they’d be surprised when they woke up. And we had an all day scavenger hunt. That was one of the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done. I’d give them clues to find a craft hidden somewhere in the house, they’d do the craft, and when they finished I’d give them a clue to find a gift bag filled with candy or a prize. It doesn’t sound like much, but we did this for hours. Literally hours. They loved it, and I never want to do it again. It might not have been so bad, but they’re terrible at clues so I didn’t want to hide everything beforehand or else they’d find everything right away. So I was running around the house during each activity trying to hide things in different places for the next round of clues. And Emmett can’t really do crafts on his own, so I was helping with that. And I still had to make the food. I’m not complaining – it was an amazing day – but, jeeze, never again.

Next was Emmett’s birthday! He’s 8 years old now. It’s crazy. He said he wanted a “beautiful chocolate cake,” so I decided to plan something amazing. Nothing could beat the cake I made for him last year, but I knew it would still be awesome.

Last year’s cake. It was a masterpiece of chocolate cake and delicious, homemade marshmallow fondant. I peaked too soon.

I was planning on some Great British Bake-Off level chocolate work. Ribbons, curls, straws, multiple colors, maybe some homemade chocolate candies, all tempered to give it a glossy shine. I was ready to make it amazing. Of course, Emmett’s birthday came just a few days before Thanksgiving this year, so I had that on my mind, too. I had more big plans for Thanksgiving – lots of cooking, baking, beautiful cookies…. but then we got COVID.

Let me start by saying that we wear masks everywhere. The kids are on board with masks, too. They think it sucks, which it does, but we wear them and silently judge anyone not wearing one in public. We don’t go out much – I work 2 days per week, I get groceries a little more often than every other week (ordinarily I go every other day), and we rarely venture out to go shopping. Even with all that, we got COVID. I blame my work, because it’s been spreading through employees like the plague.

You hear a lot about how most people are either asymptomatic or have symptoms like you would with the flu. Everybody with half a brain knows that the severe cases are a hell of a lot more severe than the flu, but mild cases are supposed to be manageable. Let me tell you, I’ve had the flu, and this was not it. We’re talking a fever, complete with terrible sweating and teeth-chattering chills for a full week, sleeping 18-20 hours per day, body aches and muscle spasms that made me cry, coughing to the point where you have trouble breathing any time you try to move for more than a couple of minutes, and feeling like I was going to pass out and/or throw up any time I tried to stand. I also lost my sense of smell, which was actually a blessing, because I couldn’t physically get myself into the shower.

Aaron also got it, and had basically the same symptoms as me except that his breathing was worse. We contemplated going to the hospital, but we weren’t sure who would drive. His oxygen level kept dipping, but it always came back up after a couple of minutes, so we stayed home and hoped for the best.

But then it was Emmett’s birthday. I was in some sort of fever-dream state, feeling like I would keel over at any minute, and Aaron kept saying, “I bet everything we own that you won’t be able to make a cake.” Because I have the same level of stubbornness and determination as the people who die climbing Everest, I informed him in no uncertain terms that there WOULD be a cake, and it would be BEAUTIFUL. I don’t actually remember making most of it, but it turned out alright. None of that boxed cake mix and jarred frosting for me. It was beautiful and delicious. Not quite my vision, but it served its purpose. Just imagine what it could have looked like if I was mentally present. Also, I managed to wrap his presents somehow, because despite what Aaron said I was NOT about to give my child his birthday presents in a plastic bag. And no, I did not have the ability to make dinner. My stubbornness did not extend that far. We had cake for dinner.

He was happy about it, and that’s all that really matters.

The kids mostly had to fend for themselves. We traded off who slept on the couch and who slept in the bed in case they required the presence of an adult, and we left the snack cabinet open so they could eat whatever they wanted. So it was mostly chips, granola bars and fruit snacks for about a week. We sometimes ordered food to be delivered, but then one of us had to get up to open the door. It was only sometimes worth the effort.

Thanksgiving didn’t really happen. We were starting to improve, but still not really capable of much. Thankfully, a good friend brought us an entire Thanksgiving dinner the following day that kept us going for several days.

Now it’s almost Christmas, and things are starting to look up. We got a tree (it’s a bit of a Charlie Brown tree, lots of open spaces, but that’s alright), we have a few decorations up, and our elf on the shelf has been hiding throughout the house, spying on the children. I’ve decided that we’re going big for Christmas. It’s not like we have anything else going on, and we need something to be happy about.

Oh, and the rabbit, Nibbles, is VERY excited that we brought in a giant stick for him to chew on. It even has the green bits! His favorite! I put up a fence around the tree, but he can still reach some of the branches if he stretches, and he takes every opportunity to do what he does best (nibble).

He thinks he’s so sneaky. I see you, rabbit.

Since my recovery, I’ve been working on a lot of projects. I’m still doing some freelance writing, still teaching online, and my business is still going (though that’s fallen a bit to the wayside with everything else going on). Virtual school for the kids is a perpetual challenge, but we fix problems as they come up (and then new ones come up – it’s this fun game they play of “who can frustrate Mom the most today”). But honestly, it’s not so bad. It sounds like Emmett may get to go back in-person in January at some point, so here’s hoping that doesn’t change.

And finally, for now, here’s the best picture I’ve taken in a long time. It snowed a few days ago (though “snowed” is giving it too much credit – it was more of a dusting that stuck), and Madeline somehow made this amazing snowman. It’s perfect, and 100% Madeline.

Just LOOK at its face. It’s everything that’s right with this world.

So now this is me, signing off for now, wishing you all a very happy Chrismasolsticehanukwanzakah.

Same old, same old

I haven’t done much posting lately, for which I apologize, but I’ve been in a bit of an emotional funk. And, because mental health needs to be normalized, I’m going to tell you all about it! What fun!

My doctor had me take a hiatus from my antidepressants several months ago to try out another medication for a (probably?) unrelated issue, but it turns out that was a poor decision. I’ve just been feeling… absent, I guess? It’s not like I’m crying myself to sleep or anything, but I can’t seem to get really engaged in much of anything. Simple things have been difficult to do, and difficult things have seemed almost insurmountable (virtual school, anyone?).

I haven’t done any crafting or sewing in months, I’ve virtually stopped baking, work is the worst, and my side businesses/jobs have fallen by the wayside as I try to sort out why I feel like a shell of a person. Oh, and we’re on month 8 of social distancing/quarantine, and it feels like there’s no end in sight. My county has somehow become the epicenter of the entire nation’s pandemic, but bars and restaurants are packed every night because a large swath of our populace believes that if they ignore it then it’ll just go away. Yeah, that’s definitely how diseases work. “Science” isn’t really a thing here, apparently. I’m just gonna be over here, wearing a mask and staying home with the rest of the “sheeple” who are “living in fear” *insert heavy eyeroll.*

Depression (even when mild, like mine) can really creep up on a person. I was doing great, keeping it together, doing the things I loved, and I don’t know when or how that changed. It’s like you’re going about your life, and then someone puts a very light blanket on your back. You hardly know it’s there. Except they keep adding thin blankets, one at a time, until you’re buried under 100 pounds of fabric and you can’t remember how or when it all became too much to bear, and now all you want to do is collapse, face down, and never move again. But the kids have school, people need to eat, I have to go to work, and clothes need to be washed. Sometimes it feels like there’s not much of me left to pretend that everything is fine for the people around me.

Speaking of family, they know I’m not quite myself right now, but there’s not much they can do to help. I know it’s frustrating for my husband, but he gets it and has been very supportive. Internal problems are hard to fix from the outside.

But it’s not all bad. I started taking medication again (it’s not working yet, but that’s okay), and I’m telling you all about it, so we’re going to call that therapy. I never found actual therapy to be particularly helpful, but I’m not really a verbal sharer anyway.

Also, I’ve done what I always do when things get rough, and I’ve found yet another job to keep me occupied – freelance writing. I’ve only been paid for one article so far, but they liked it so now they’ve hired me to write three more articles by the 26th. It gives me something to work on whenever I’m feeling particularly useless. So if you have any questions about liability lawsuits in the state of Pennsylvania, I’m your gal.

To wrap things up on this “since we last spoke” special, I’ve been working on finally fixing my chronic pain issue. After much searching, I found a specialist who’s actually trying to help me fix what’s wrong rather than just giving meds to mask the pain (not that those ever really worked before anyway). It’s going to take a while, but it feels like I’m on the right track. But physical therapy exercises are difficult to remember to do when you’re just trying to make it through the day. I’ll keep trying.

In other news, it sounds like some sort of WWE Tournament of Champions is happening upstairs, so I’m going to go check on that before someone brings out a folding chair.

Adventures in Rabbitry

Two months ago, Madeline presented a PowerPoint (which I helped put together – lest we forget, she’s only 5) to explain why bunnies make good pets. Aaron conceded, and the search for a rabbit began. Surprisingly, it’s rather hard to find a “normal” rabbit. I could only find a couple of breeders in the area, and I wasn’t interested in a Flemish Giant or Angora.

Seriously – if it’s dog sized, is it even still a rabbit?
www.thesprucepets.com/thmb/RLILRcg4EXtpVySL9aXI...
While the fiber spinning potential is appealing, I’m not about to spend more time every day grooming a rabbit than I do myself. Also, just look at that thing. It’s like a giant cotton ball with a mouth.

Luckily, there’s a small animal rescue group (primarily rabbits, but they have some other animals as well) down in Appleton. I was able to set up an appointment for us to meet some rabbits that they thought would be a good fit for our family. Unfortunately, that appointment was 2 weeks in the future. Not knowing what breed we’d wind up with made it a little tricky to find a properly sized cage, but I did my best to prepare for the new arrival.

It’s hard to say exactly what Emmett thought was happening (his language skills, while improving every day, still leave a bit to be desired). He seemed to be under the impression that we were going to try to trap the Easter bunny and keep him for a pet. He was very concerned that the cage wouldn’t be big enough.

When the cage arrived, it all became real for Madeline. After assembly, she just sat in front of it and basked in its glow, struggling to keep her breathing even. A day or two later, she was practicing a dance in front of the cage “because the bunny will be so excited to see how well I dance for him.”

It was a very energetic dance.

We decided to move the cage to the laundry room so he’d have a quiet place to get away from Madeline (it was quickly apparent this would be necessary). Madeline did not (and still doesn’t) like that the cage would be located in a room she can’t get into. She began a countdown to the rabbit coming home:

“9 days?! I can’t wait that long!”
At 6am – “MOM! IT’S ONLY 8 DAYS NOW”

The brainstorming of potential rabbit names began before we even found one:

Emmett was adamant that “Bunny” was the only name he’d be okay with.
Madeline wanted something along the lines of “Sweetie Pie,” “Hoppy” or “Oreo.” Terrible.
Aaron was rooting for “Crash Bundi-coot.”
No one liked the names that anyone else came up with.

There were concerns that naming this animal would cause a rift in the family.

We found our little man, and brought him home. It took a while before we actually settled on a name, but we’re all (mostly) happy with it. Emmett still thinks his name should be Bunny.

Nibbles (named after Nibbles the Book Monster, and because it’s kind of what he does) is settling in well. He has full run of the ground floor of the house, but he’s afraid of the tile floor because his only method of movement is hopping, which is tricky when your back legs slide out from under you. He’s litter box trained (so glad I didn’t have to do that), and he goes where he wants. He mostly wants to sleep under the couch.

My very favorite thing is when we catch him at the end of the night (I don’t want him roaming unsupervised) and he THUMPS the floor. It’s the only sound he makes. He’s warning any neighboring rabbits that danger’s afoot. I love it.

I laughed until I cried

The ancient Greeks believed in a concept known as the “wandering womb.” It sounds like the title of a horror B-movie, but it’s actually the (disturbing?) notion that a woman’s uterus could travel throughout the body, and depending on where it decided to hang out, it could cause all sorts of different “female” issues. Because of this, women were prone to bouts of “hysteria,” which is kind of a catch-all phrase for any mental or emotional problem that the medical community declared to be “uterus-induced.” Fun fact, the Greek word for “uterus” is “hystera.”

Also, I’m just going to throw this in for kicks, this is an actual passage from a document written by a 2nd-century Greek physician named Aretaeus:

“In the middle of the flanks of women lies the womb, a female viscus, closely resembling an animal; for it is moved of itself hither and thither in the flanks, also upwards in a direct line to below the cartilage of the thorax, and also obliquely to the right or to the left, either to the liver or the spleen, and it likewise is subject to prolapsus downwards, and in a word, it is altogether erratic. It delights also in fragrant smells, and advances towards them; and it has an aversion to fetid smells, and flees from them; and, on the whole, the womb is like an animal within an animal.”

Now I’m not going to say that physicians have believed in the “wandering womb” concept in recent times (because that’s insane), but the concept of “hysteria” as a legitimate medical diagnosis existed until 1980. That’s crazy to me.

So why am I bringing this up? Oh, boy. Pull up a chair, and I’ll tell you the story.

When I was pregnant with my first child, Emmett, I had several bouts of what I’ve self-diagnosed as “hysteria.” The first time was truly terrifying, and after that moment I lived in fear that it would happen again at work, or in front of someone who wasn’t my husband. So what happened? I laughed until I cried. Except not like that. I laughed until I CRIED. But not like that. Like, I CRIED while laughing. But that’s not it either.

There’s no good way to explain it without seeing it, but just imagine a sobbing woman. Her dog just died and she’s heartbroken, holding his limp body. She’s devastated. Except her dog didn’t die, she’s actually laughing. But no, she’s sobbing. Clearly someone died to justify this level of emotional anguish. But she’s insisting that she’s actually laughing. But she can’t stop. A pool of tears are soaking through her shirt, and the tissues aren’t helping. She’s laughing? No, she can’t be…. but she’s insisting that she can’t stop laughing… but… the heartbreaking sobs are making everyone uncomfortable… it’s not stopping.

What could cause this level of emotional outburst? Aaron showed me a video on YouTube of a pony that was picking its feet up a little higher than normal when it walked. It was the kind of video that a normal person sees and says “Hehe, that’s cute.” Not this pregnant lady. I started to laugh, and then I felt something happen… like an emotional dam broke… and I started… crying? I didn’t know what was happening, I think Aaron thought I had gone insane, and I just kept repeating “No, I’m laughing, I don’t know why I’m crying,” but I literally couldn’t stop. I think it honestly went on for a good 10 minutes before I was able to turn off the faucets of insanity (aka my eyes) and stop laugh-crying. It was intense. It was frightening. It was, I assumed, pregnancy-induced momentary madness. It was hysteria.

There were a few other times it happened when I was pregnant with Emmett. Once time, Aaron was filling his cup from the freezer door ice-dispenser, and an ice cube fell on the floor. It was an “oops” moment. Maybe worthy of an under-your-breath brief chuckle. It became a 15 minute melt down of hysterical crying that I insisted was actual laughing that I couldn’t stop. The fact that I couldn’t stop actually made it more funny to me. And the fact that it was so funny that I couldn’t stop made the sobbing sound even more insane.

It got to the point where I could actually feel the moment a laugh “snapped” inside me, and I would just cry “OH NO” as I dissolved in a fit of sobbing (I swear I was laughing). My worst nightmare came true when it happened in front of my family. We were playing some sort of game. Catch Phrase, I think. And one of my brothers said something silly about one of the former presidents having a brother with a weird name (it wasn’t funny, I swear – Like, Jimmy Carter and his brother, James Carter), and I giggled and then cried “OH NO! AARON, PLEASE TELL THEM WHAT’S HAPPENING!!” because I knew I was no longer in control of my body. Of course, he didn’t say anything for a while, because he thinks it’s funny (it is), but my poor family probably thought I had finally snapped (I had).

The worst instance happened when I was in the hospital. I was still pregnant with Emmett, in my 7th month, and it had been determined that Emmett wasn’t growing anymore. It wasn’t dangerous for him YET, but blood-flow in the umbilical cord was sporadic at best. It was a terrifying 2 weeks as I worried that my baby could die at any moment while my husband was slowly dying next to me (it was a bad year, but all 3 of us thankfully pulled through). So I was hooked up to 2 fetal monitors, along with machines measuring my own pulse, oxygen, heart rate, and all that good stuff, for a solid 2 weeks while on hospitalized bed rest. And then something was said (I don’t remember what), and I had “an episode” and the nurses lost their shit. My heart rate was insane, my oxygen dipped, the baby’s monitors got weird… but I couldn’t stop! I finally calmed down, baby was fine, but it was scary for all parties involved.

After Emmett was born, I didn’t have any more episodes. I was so thankful that nothing ever happened at work. I told coworkers about it, just in case it ever happened and they thought they needed to call 911 or something, but thankfully nothing came of it.

When I got pregnant with Madeline, I thought “Maybe it was a one time thing,” but I was wrong. It happened again! And again! I can’t actually remember any of the reasons, but it was really something. After she was born, I thought I was good. There was no longer reason to fear public places. Everything was fine. The uterine curse was over.

Except… it’s not. It still happens. Not as much as it did, but it still happens. I can still feel the moment a normal laugh is about to turn into an episode, and Aaron quietly says “YES!!” whenever I laugh and cry “OH NO!” and let the insanity take me. Thankfully it’s still rare, but it always makes me ask “Am I pregnant?!” I’m not, this is just my life now. It’s okay to laugh about it. I am.

So why am I telling you all this? Apart from the fact that I don’t want to be ashamed of my momentary lapses in sanity, it happened again recently. This time was the first time it happened in front of the children, and it was… tense.

We were eating dinner, and I bit my cheek. Like, really bit it. I could feel the “crunch,” and I was worried that I actually bit a part of my mouth off (it’s fine, it healed up quickly). But as I was telling Aaron why I had suddenly frozen and had a weird look on my face, a tear formed in my eye. It hurt, okay! And Madeline, angel that she is, said “Mom? Why is there water coming out of your eye?” and I laughed and felt myself spiraling and cried “OH NO!” and Madeline’s face made it so much worse – she was looking at me with a combination of horror, confusion, and despair. She was witnessing her mom’s decent into madness, and I couldn’t stop laughing. I wailed “GET HER OUT OF HERE! PLEASE!!!” because Aaron was just laughing at me and looking at her face, and it was too hilarious for me to be a part of. No child should witness that. As he ushered her away from the table to let mommy have some “crazy time,” I heard Madeline ask why I was crying, and Aaron tried to explain that mommy’s not crying, she’s laughing, but sometimes she goes a little crazy. And that was so, so funny to me. The sobbing intensified. And then he said something like “You’ve never seen mom cry, have you?” because she was so terrified of what was happening, and she said “Yes, I have, she cried on Emmett’s birthday.” This didn’t make sense to Aaron, but … …

You guys, I did cry on Emmett’s birthday. Back in November. They found his presents, and opened all of them before I even woke up that morning. I came downstairs to wrapping paper and ripped up packaging everywhere. They were so happy, but I felt a small piece of me shrivel up and die because I missed the look on his face when he opened his birthday presents. It seems silly, but I don’t care. I didn’t say anything. I just sat down on the living room floor and let the tears fall down my face as they stared at me, not understanding why I was so sad. I’m crying now just thinking about it.

But, you guys, it’s July now. I don’t think I actually told Aaron I cried about it back in November, because it seemed like a silly thing to be so sad about, but now I had to explain, while sob-laughing, what she was talking about. And reliving that moment somehow made me laugh and cry even harder. The sadness of the memory, combined with the horrified look on my daughter’s face was somehow so hilarious to me in that moment that I had a moment of hysteria like none I had experienced before. It didn’t want to stop. And as I finally started to calm down and remembered how to breathe, Emmett (who stayed at the table this whole time) whispered, “Mom, are you okay?” and that started it right back up again, because no, mommy is not okay, this isn’t normal, but I can’t stop laughing about it. And I swear to you, baby boy, that this is truly laughter, despite all sights and sounds to the contrary.

So that’s my secret. My name is Casey, and I’m a walking time-bomb of emotion. Thank you for letting me share with the group.

Juneteenth

Today is Juneteenth, which is a day I never learned about in school. It celebrates the day that Union soldiers marched into Texas to announce that the slaves were free. Or, rather, that they had been free for the past 2.5 years. Because apparently we thought we could just say “slaves are free” and the southern slave owners would pass that information along on their own. It’s like when my daughter says “yes, my room’s clean… but don’t look at it!”

In honor of Juneteenth, I want to share some stories of the last slaves in America. We know slavery to be “a bad thing that happened a long time ago, and then it stopped. The end.” People (white people) want to be able to say that slavery was so long ago, why are we still talking about it? Racism is a thing of the past, what are all these whiny snowflakes going on about? You can’t blame your problems on something that happened to your great, great, great, great grandparents.

But here’s the thing – it wasn’t actually that long ago. Slave ships, which kidnapped and/or captured mostly children and teens (you could fit more kids than adults on a boat) from Africa and brought them to America, were outlawed in 1808. Obviously, that didn’t stop the ships from coming. One of the last known slave ship survivors died in 1937. Her name was Redoshi, and her owners renamed her Sally Smith. Her father was killed in a tribal war in West Africa, and she was kidnapped, sold to slavers, and brought to Alabama when she was 12 years old. On the auction block, she was paired with an adult man from another tribe who spoke another language than her, and they were sold as a husband and wife “set.” They had a child while they were still slaves, and stayed together for the rest of their lives. Emancipation came when she was 17, but she stayed working the fields of her former owner’s plantation until she died. She knew where she came from, and likely still had family members living in her village, but she had no way to go back home. We know so much about Redoshi because she was interviewed for a book, a newspaper, and was featured in a short film about the benefits of sharecropping (basically a propaganda piece to keep Black people working on their plantations and stop them from moving north).

It was discovered just this year that another woman, Matilda McCrear, was the final slave ship survivor. She was brought here as an infant, and died in 1940. She was on the same slave ship as Redoshi.

I want to pause here. There are people living today who knew someone who was brought here on a slave ship. Think about that for a second. Really think about it. People are alive today who KNEW someone who was brought here on a slave ship. How royally messed up is that?

One of the last confirmed Americans born into slavery, Eliza Moore, was born in 1843, and died in 1948. Emancipation came when she was 22, and she became a sharecropper with her husband. She spent 22 years as a slave, and she lived to see the invention of the microwave oven.

A man named Alfred “Teen” Blackburn, who was born into slavery in 1842, remembered having the best job on the plantation. He got to stay inside and shoo flies from the table, serve guests at fancy parties, and take care of the children. He was given this special job because of the light skin he got from his owner-father. He is recorded as fighting in the Civil War, where he was listed as the “body servant” of his owner-father, and he served at the First Battle of Bull Run. He did not use a gun, but was given a knife to protect himself. He died in 1951.

The last American slave (though it can’t be confirmed – birth certificates weren’t given to slaves, and records were lost after the Civil War), claimed to have been born in 1841. His name was Sylvester Magee, and he served on both sides of the Civil War. He never learned to read or write, but historians who spoke to him said he could describe events from the war as only a person who had fought there would be able to do. He had four wives, three of whom he outlived. He fathered 7 children, the last at the age of 107 (no thank you). He claimed that he never drank alcohol in his life, but he smoked cigarettes for 108 years. He died in 1971.

Slavery is not some long-forgotten institution. People still live who knew the survivors. We’re hearing every day from Black people who say that the system is working against them, and the system keeps trying to argue that each individual is completely responsible for what the system does to them. You can’t tell me that we have moved past the repercussions of slavery when the people who were directly affected are still in society’s living memory. This wrong will not be righted any time soon without a decisive and purposeful decision to make changes for the better.

Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that Black lives, and their stories, matter.

Yogurt – when milk goes bad, it’s good!

Yogurt is a strange food if you really think about it. It’s milk that sat somewhere much too warm for much too long and got … funky. Personally, I’m not into it. I don’t like the flavor, the consistency, or the smell. It’s a real bummer, because I love making it! And I’m going to show you how to make it, too. It’s easier than you probably think.

Ingredients and Supplies:

  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Thermometer
  • Pot with lid
  • Whisk
  • Towel
  • Incubation station

Yes, I recognize that it’s weird that you need yogurt to make yogurt, but the bacteria have to come from somewhere! If your grocery store carries yogurt starters (AKA powdered yogurt bacteria), go for it. Mine does, but I still always go for the single-size plain yogurt. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and I’m all about that.

The ratio of milk to yogurt isn’t SUPER important. I usually do 4-5 cups of milk with one container of Chobani, but feel free to go with a larger or smaller batch and adjust the yogurt amount accordingly. It doesn’t matter what brand you use so long as it’s got LIVE bacteria (check the label) and it doesn’t contain any “extras” (fruit, flavors, etc). Plain is best, but vanilla will do in a pinch.

What kind of milk? I prefer whole milk, because it makes a thicker yogurt. Other kinds of milk work too, but they’re going to be thinner. If you’re cool with that, then go for it. (You can add a couple of spoonfuls of powdered milk to your milk before you start this process to thicken up the end product if that’s something you keep in your pantry – and if you don’t, you should).

What’s an incubation station? It’s a warm place. Ideally, you want a location that can keep your milk around 100℉ for the entire duration of your incubation. Wrap your yogurt container (I keep mine in the pot I cooked it in, but you can also pour it into jars or something) in a towel to keep it safe from sudden accidental temperature changes. I use my oven with the light on (it stays at a perfect 100℉ until you turn off the light), but you can also use a warm room or a cooler. Before I discovered the oven trick, I used a big cooler with a tea kettle of really hot water on one side, yogurt on the other side, and towels wrapped around both for added insulation.

Directions:

  • Heat milk to 180℉
  • Cool milk to 115℉
  • Whisk in yogurt
  • Hold at 100℉ for 6-12 hours

That’s it! Couldn’t be any easier.

We heat milk until it’s really hot (but not boiling) to make sure that all the bad bacteria (from your milk, your whisk or your pot) are definitely dead. We’re going to be growing bacteria, but we want to make sure it’s just the good kind. I’ve heard that heating the milk also does something to the proteins in the milk, which makes them better for the yogurt’s final consistency, but there’s conflicting information on that. Also, make sure you STIR your milk during this process to stop it from burning on the bottom of the pan. That would be no bueno.

Make sure your milk is sufficiently cooled after the heating process so that it doesn’t kill your yogurt bacteria. Anywhere from 110-120℉ is good. We want to make sure it’s warm enough that adding the yogurt won’t drop it below 100℉.

Make sure your yogurt is at room temperature before you add it to your warm milk. Remember – we want to keep it at 100℉, and adding cold yogurt will drop the milk’s temperature too much.

How do you know how long to incubate your yogurt? I don’t have a good answer for you. I always let mine go overnight (except this last time – I set it up in the morning, and took it out and popped it in the fridge before bed). The longer it sits, the thicker and tangier it will be. It’s not really something you can check on during the process, though – each time you open it up, you drop the temperature. Stirring it disrupts the bacteria and makes them stop working for a bit, so doing that will majorly affect your incubation time. So basically, you just go until you feel good about it, and if it’s not to your liking then you do it differently next time. I usually aim for 8-9 hours. Also good to note, after it’s done incubating it’ll seem really thick – when you stir it, it thins out a lot.

Stir, stir, stir! Don’t let your milk burn, and keep an eye on your thermometer!
Incubation station! Check out that perfect temp! Please ignore my dirty oven. It’s fine.

Like Greek yogurt? Easy peasy. Snag a bowl, a colander, and a couple of coffee filters (or a few layers of cheesecloth). Line the colander with the coffee filters or cheesecloth (I like to use 2 coffee filters just in case one rips when I’m transferring the yogurt at the end), add the yogurt, and let it sit over a bowl in the fridge. If you made a lot of yogurt, you might not be able to fit it all in the colander at once – I did mine in batches. Check it every couple of hours until it’s the consistency you like. It can take anywhere from 4-12 hours depending on your preference. I like mine around the 6-8 hour mark, so I let it go overnight. Don’t worry if it goes too long and is more cream cheese than yogurt (fun fact – when it strains for a long time – 24-48 hours – it’s called yogurt cheese and is a lot like cream cheese). You can always add some of the liquid back in to thin it out if you need to. Make sure that your bowl is big enough. From my most recent batch, I used 5 cups of milk and a container of yogurt, and I strained out almost 2 cups of liquid.

The liquid strained out of the yogurt is called whey, and you should keep that if you like making stuff from other stuff (or toss it – your loss). It looks kind of like lemonade, but it’s got a slightly thicker, almost syrupy consistency. It’s full of protein, vitamins, and other good stuff, so I recommend keeping it. More about how to use whey in a future post!

And finally, unless you like eating plain yogurt (what’s wrong with you?!) you’re going to want to flavor it. I wouldn’t add regular sugar (it stays grainy and weird), but honey, ultrafine sugar (also called bakers sugar), and jam work really well. So get out there and give it a shot! You can do this!

Reluctantly Homeschooling

I’ve got a complicated relationship with the notion of homeschooling. On the one hand, I like to imagine that I could do it. I imagine my “classroom,” picture my lesson plans, and like to think about how my children would absorb the information I would teach them like little sponges. On the other hand, I have no patience for the antics of my children probably 75% of the time, I’m terrible at sticking to a schedule, and my children are more like towels than sponges (they’ll soak up the water, but need a long time to dry before you can use them again – get it?).

So it turns out that homeschooling is not for me. Unfortunately for my children, homeschooling has been forced upon us by “it-that-shall-not-be-named,” AKA “you know what,” AKA “actually-it’s-more-of-a-dolores-umbridge-than-a-voldemort virus”.

dolores umbridge Memes & GIFs - Imgflip

So now we’re stuck here, and I’m both pleased that I get to try, and horrified at how much I’m failing at being their teacher. Thankfully, Aaron is off work during quarantine (he worked from home for the first couple of weeks, but it was too disruptive taking off every time I had to work). It’s been working well to have us each take a child and do their schoolwork in separate rooms. If they’re together, Madeline “helps” Emmett by giving him all the answers (it’s great that she wants to be helpful, but please stop). The fighting has leveled off (maybe “reached its peak” is a better way of putting it), and everyone has more or less accepted that this is how things are right now.

My current struggle is that it seems like I’m drowning in a sea of schoolwork, videos, emails, suggestions, app notifications and google meetups from all of their teachers. I feel like we have a pretty good amount of coursework that we’re working our way through, but I’m getting so many emails and updates from teachers, paras and therapists that I’m struggling to sort through what is helpful and what I should ignore. Emmett’s regular ed teacher sends out a lot of homework and projects and such that I know I’m supposed to ignore (none of it is modified for Emmett – we’re strictly working with his special ed teacher – she’s amazing – but it seems like that’s not how this is supposed to work, right? I don’t even know right now). But anyway, I know I’m supposed to ignore everything from that teacher, and most of the videos and such from Madeline’s teacher hold zero of her attention, so we ignore those too, but now it’s just confusing me with the volume of information I’m getting and what actually applies to my children and what I’m not going to do, and things are falling through the cracks and I feel like I’m missing important stuff, and I think I would feel better about it all if I just printed everything out rather than viewing it online because throwing out papers and organizing the good ones would be so much easier for me and my tactile-learning brain, but I haven’t done it because it seems stupid to print things with the intention of immediately throwing them away, and this run-on sentence is exactly the way my brain feels every time I get another email or notification from their teachers. Teachers (of my children and otherwise), if you’re reading this, I apologize, this is 100% my hangup, and not on you. You’re all awesome.

While that sentence is painfully in need of revising, I’m leaving it because it feels right.

So that’s my morning rant about my jumbled brain. Let’s just let that marinate for a while and we’ll see what happens. Maybe today will be the turning point, and we’ll have an awesome day filled with structured learning, fine and gross motor skill exercises, and educational outdoor experiences. Or maybe we’ll cry about how I can’t get Emmett to count to 10 consistently and then I’ll let them veg out to TV for several hours while I stew in my frustration and self pity. It’s anyone’s guess right now, but let’s hope for the former.

DIY Coconut Milk Shampoo

I’ve been making my own shampoo for a long time. I usually use bar soap (homemade, obviously), but today I threw together some liquid shampoo just to switch things up. It’s a recipe I’ve used before, and I’ve found that it usually keeps my hair clean and soft for 2-3 days. Of course, I can’t promise what your results will be if your hair is used to being chemically stripped and then coated with silicone (or something similar) every day with traditional shampoo and conditioner. Hair isn’t exactly forgiving when you’ve mistreated it for your whole life – it takes a little TLC to bring it back from the brink.

Here’s my recipe for anyone who’s bored out of their mind in quarantine and wants to try something quick and easy.

Coconut Milk Shampoo

  • 1/2 c coconut milk (I made my own, but you can obviously buy it)
  • 1/2 c Castile soap (I made my own, but… you get it)
  • 40 drops of essential oils (I used a combination of hair-healthy lavender, peppermint and rosemary – I did not make these, sorry to disappoint) – this is optional, but I recommend it

If you have dry hair, feel free to add about 1/4 teaspoon of oil (argan and jojoba are great for hair, but olive oil is perfectly fine, too).

Mix it all up, and that’s it! Shake well before using each time. How easy is that? I know that some people recommend keeping stuff like this in the fridge due to the fresh ingredients and lack of chemical preservatives, but I never do and I’ve never had a problem. But I also have longer hair, so I use a decent amount of shampoo each time I wash my hair. Make a smaller amount if you’re worried about it, or keep it in the fridge when not in use.

I’m not going to get into how to make Castile soap in this post (it’s super easy, but rather time consuming). But I WILL tell you how to make coconut milk. It’s easier than you might think!

Basically, you only need 2 ingredients – unsweetened shredded coconut, and twice as much hot water. The water should be hot, but not necessarily boiling (I just microwaved mine for a minute). Put the coconut and the hot water in a blender, and blend it until the liquid is white and creamy. You shouldn’t be able to see any pieces of coconut. If you’re not sure if it’s blended enough, go a little longer. When you’re sure it’s as blended as it’s going to be, pour it into a bowl through a fine-mesh strainer. The remaining coconut should look kind of like white sand. If you have bigger chunks, you didn’t blend it long enough. Press it up against the sides of the strainer to get as much liquid out of it as possible. If you want to get EVERYTHING out, put the remaining bits into a few layers of cheese cloth and give it a good squeeze (I MAY have burned my fingers just a little doing this – I’m impatient). Done! You have coconut milk! Use what you need to make your shampoo, and then refrigerate the rest to drink or cook with. I added a little sugar and vanilla to what I had left over and it was delicious.

It kind of looks like if you smash a cauliflower into tiny pieces? Or like those tiny pieces of styrofoam that never go away? Whatever it looks like, it’s going in the compost. “It’s the cirrrrcle of liiiiiife!!!!”

My shredded coconut was, you guessed it, homemade. I bought a coconut a while back because… that’s what I do?… and after I got the meat out of the shell I sliced it up into 1/8 inch slices and dried it out in the oven. You never know when you need some nice big coconut flakes, right?

So there you have it. Homemade coconut milk shampoo, made from homemade soap and homemade coconut milk, made from homemade dried coconut.

Or, you know, you can just buy the two ingredients and be done with it. Sure, you can buy shampoo, but I promise you this is better. Your hair will thank you.

The new normal

It’s been almost a month since the world basically shut down, and it’s showing no signs of starting again anytime soon. I’ve been trying to keep busy as usual, but it’s been hard to do all that needs to be done. Through all this, I’ve learned that I’m better at teaching other people’s kids than my own. Either that, or I’m only good at teaching in 25 minute blocks. Whichever way you want to put it, these kids need to get back to school. I’ve been trying to use a schedule to keep us on track each day, but, damn, I’m tired. “Recess” tends to go on longer than it should, but that’s how I keep my sanity so it’s fine.

So what else has been going on? Let’s try to keep this brief.

A rabbit killed my apple tree. I’m salty toward wildlife now.

All the bark is gone around the whole tree. My tree guy said that it’ll likely get leaves, and then promptly die.

Aaron heard scuttling inside the piano, and we discovered that our mouse problem is back. Upon further inspection, mice have been inside the piano, behind the piano, and behind and under both couches. We’ve hired a new exterminator, and if he decides to show up today (it was supposed to happen yesterday, but they were a no-show) we can hopefully actually get the mice out of our house this time. I’m so, so sick of mice. Also, food is now banned from the couch. I don’t know how an entire cinnamon roll finds its way under the couch, but the mice are very pleased about it.

Madeline carved a picture into the kitchen table with a fork in the 10 seconds it took for me to bring dinner from the stove to the table. I’m salty toward my child now.

She’s banned from her tablet and from desserts for the next week. Her only regret is that she didn’t finish her picture (her words).

There’s been so much arguing and fighting between these children, it’s ridiculous. Madeline squeezed an orange on top of Emmett’s head because he looked at her wrong. Emmett keeps shouting “Stop! You’re crushing me!” every time she sits too close to him on the couch. Yesterday they were digging a hole in the backyard and Madeline “accidentally” threw a big clod of dirt in his face. Emmett is currently touching something that belongs to Madeline (just to bother her), and she can’t handle it. Emmett is shouting “Stop following me!” because she won’t stop death-glaring a him. I’m done with them.

There’s been lots of art work. To minimize the number of pictures that Madeline insists must be hung on the wall, they’ve been drawing on a chalkboard instead of paper. It’s better this way.

Emmett’s picture is on the right (“It’s a boy, Mom!”) and Madeline’s picture is on the left (“It’s you, with me as a baby in your tummy.!”). I asked what the “xH” is all about, and neither of them claim to be able to see it.

I’ve been stocking up for a craft fair that’s SUPPOSEDLY still taking place at the end of May. So hopefully that actually happens, or else get ready for a massive sale in the store!

I’m going to cut Emmett’s hair today. I’ve been saying it for weeks, but it’s happening today. Pray for me.

And, lastly, I’ve been making a metric shit-ton (that’s the technical term for it) of face masks. Please, wear a mask in public. I want to go wander the crafting aisles of Joann, and I can’t do that until this mess is over. Stay home as much as you can, and wear a mask if you have to go out. Family is free, but I am charging $5 per mask for non-family ($10 if you want a specific fabric I need to order). Kids sizes are available. Shoot me an email at [email protected] if you want one (or ten) of your own.

And with that, I’m out. I need to break up the fisticuffs that’s brewing on the other side of the room.