Monday, August 31, 2015

How a mother should feel on the first day of kindergarten

It was the first real day of kindergarten, and the rain was pouring down. Our original plan was to walk to school, and I'd escort my proud newbie to his class. But instead, I announced that they would be dropped off in carpool and walk in together. There were no tears, no waves over the shoulder, just an efficient evacuation out the back door and heads-down determination not to get too wet.

When I pulled into the garage back home, I was hit by a twinge of mommy guilt and drove back to school to go in and give my baby boy a hug. He was sitting at the table with a coloring sheet and yellow crayon, diligently filling in between the lines. He didn't look surprised to see me and obviously wasn't missing me yet. If anything, he was a little confused as to why I was interrupting his task. But I told him to have a great day, gave him a hug and kiss and felt better.

As I walked back down the halls, I saw a few mamas standing just outside the kindergarten doors wiping tears and having trouble bringing themselves to walk away. I had just dropped my son off at the curb without much fanfare, and he didn't even care. Of course I did cave to what I felt I should have done and go back to say goodbye, but it didn't change that I was initially okay letting the boys take this big step together, on their own. He's been ready for this all summer, and upon pickup, he informed me that his first day was "so great", with a sly grin and his head cocked confidently to the side.

We mothers have a running narrative of how we are supposed to feel. We tell ourselves the transitions we should be sad about, the times we shouldn't wish away, and the seasons we will miss. Then we judge ourselves based on what we actually do feel compared to how we expected we would feel or even how other mothers feel. Because of this running narrative and our constant struggle to coral our emotions between the lines of acceptable feelings, we sell our experiences short. We become overly aware of making memories and fail to allow our experiences to take hold of us in a way all of their own. We become emotional bonsai trees with roots afraid to dive into the soil and with every branch of spontaneous emotion twisted and clipped.

On my oldest son's first day of kindergarten, I wept to the school counselor on the front steps of the school. I was an absolute mess. I watched the clock all day. I couldn't pick him up soon enough. And you know what? That was fine too. There is no right way to feel. Happy first day of kindergarten!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

JC Raulston Arboretum

After uploading all these pictures, I don't have much to say other than, "Go." Go visit the JC Raulston Arboretum and soak up the beautiful textures and colors. This afternoon we went as a family and took a friend. While the kids played and explored, I took pictures. This never gets old! Joe and I were both taking mental notes of plants we'd love to eventually add to our yard. Forget new furniture, just give us new foliage.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Fall Planning

It's been a very slow summer in regards to making pottery. I had hoped to produce more, but happily traded productivity for pool time with my kids. Monday they will both be back full time, and I will then have some hours in the day to do something with, I figure about 30 hours a week.

Here's my estimated breakdown, which coincidentally does not add up to 30 hours:
  • (8-10 hrs) My fall graduate course "Introduction to Land and Water Engineering" has jumped up to eight students, so that will certainly take a chunk of my week to grade assignments and help them with the problems.
  • (6-8 hrs) Pottery at Pullen two days a week would be something reasonable to shoot for. I could spend one day making and one day finishing off the greenware. I glaze and fire at home.
  • (5 hrs) Lunch/nap/relaxation
  • (5 hrs) Housework and meal prep/grocery shopping
  • (3-5 hrs) Exercise is something I need to be regular with. I can combine exercise and computer work into one daily trip to the YMCA.
  • (2-5 hrs) Volunteer at school
Chances are that a decent bit of school work will be done in the evenings after the kids are in bed, so my day hours will have a lot of flexibility. There's also a good chance some days will be completely blown piddling around the garden or just crashed on the couch. That's allowed.

While I didn't get around to pumping out pottery this summer, there are five new oval fern platters listed on my Etsy store. I'd love to put some focus into the business side of things -- seeing which pieces generate the most interest and at what price point interest converts to sales. I have ZERO marketing or business training, and up until now, I haven't been able to really consider that an option. I've fallen back on "Oh, it's just a hobby," but now that I have a little more time, I could attempt to grow it.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Morning Garden Walk with Cameras and Kids

It is the day before the first day of school, and we've had a summer full on sunshine, friends, light saber battles, and swimming. It also seems to be ending just in time. Earlier in the week, the boys followed me out to the garden and begged to take pictures, so I let them. The baby indiscriminately snapped shots of everything along his path. The big boy was more deliberate. They both wanted to take shots of me. I wondered if they even noticed my raggedy sweatpants, chubby belly and puffy morning eyes as I sat on the bricks and leaned my back on the place where the house foundation meets the beige siding.

I've been asked many times over how I'm handling the fact that my youngest is about to head off to kindergarten. I'm ready, and I'm not ready. I hope he's ready. The house is going to be very quiet and maybe a little cleaner. I'm full of good intentions. I'm wondering what little bits of me we hop out the car on his first day and what little bits will remain. I've thought of making another baby to delay this for another five years. I've awaited this time for nearly five years, not always with dread. I cleaned the downstairs toilet five times this weekend and polished the linoleum kitchen floor so slick that Joe busted and pulled his back. I donated a few bags of clothes, the humidifier, and a junky old bathroom mirror. I snapped at everyone in the house for pee on the toilet. I threw out at least five tupperware containers of pesto and moldy diced tomatoes.

That baby boy is five and going places. Five days a week. Five minutes from home.

He's going to be awesome at kindergarten. I know it.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Fried Red Okra

At my kids' soccer practice this morning, a good friend was relating to me how she picked and roasted okra, and I had to stop her mid-story to inform her that fried okra is the only way to do okra. She will likely live a longer, more mobile, more healthily radiant life than myself. I know other people have their own okra preferences, but the only way I eat okra is fried. Beyond only eating it fried, it has to be crispy throughout. I don't like fried okra with thick breading and a slimy interior. If you like that, go to K&W or Morrison's Cafeteria or Piccadilly (are those places still in Chattanooga?) and eat all you like, but I won't cook it that way for you.

As you scroll through the pictures, you may ask, "Wait, I thought okra was green?" To which I respond, "Yes, green or red unless you are colorblind, in which case you can't tell the difference." Red okra turns green when it cooks. 

The key to getting it crispy throughout is slicing it thin (I measured mine to be 3/8" - 1/4"), and not cooking it too fast. If you have the heat up too high, the outside will cook too quickly and you will have a sad plate of bad tasting and still slimy okra.

In case you are wondering if freezing the breaded okra before cooking it still produces good results, it does! The only trouble I run into is that pieces will sometimes get frozen together and need to be split apart while cooking to ensure crispiness.

Another note, I used to not sift out the excess flour in a colander, and this created a nasty burned layer on the bottom of the pan that ruined the flavor of the okra. I'm actually very proud of myself for figuring this out last week, only 10 years into my okra-cooking experience.

Here's what you need:
  • 15 - 20 pieces of okra or about 12 oz. I say this because this is what my garden gives me every other day.
  • 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
  • salt
  • cutting board, knife, tupperware, frying pan, large plate, paper towel
  • If you want to store your breaded, uncooked okra in the freezer, you will need a quart freezer ziplock.

  • Rinse okra in the colander.
  • Slice okra into 3/8" - 1/4" pieces.
  • Put 1/4 cup of flour into the tupperware. Don't do the okra first, it's super slimy and will stick. Don't wash off that slime either. The slime it what makes the flour stick.
  • Put in okra slices on top of flour. 
  • Put the lid on and shake it up for several minutes until it seems no more flour will stick to the slices. 
  • Over the sink, dump the floured okra back into the (dried) colander and shake out the excess flour.
  • If you are freezing it for later, scoop it into your freezer bag, and don't forget to include those seeds that got loose. They were my favorite as a kid!

  • Using your favorite oil -- I stick to Canola or vegetable oil -- cover the inside of a large frying pan. Try to get a pan large enough so there will be a single layer of okra pieces in the pan. I use a 10" or 12" pan.
  • Heat the oil on medium-high and then turn it down to medium, and while you are waiting, put a paper towel on top of the large plate.
  • Put the okra into the hot pan and let it fry until the bottom sides start turning golden. Don't mess with them too much or you will knock off the flour. Sometimes if it seems the okra soaks up too much oil so that it doesn't reach the sides of the pan, I add a little extra. You don't want them floating in the oil, but you want them all to have access to it.
  • Flip over the okra -- it's tricky to get them all flip to the same side -- and let the other side sizzle 'till golden.
  • Using the spatula, scoop them out onto the paper towel.
  • Sprinkle the salt to taste.
  • Try your hardest to let the cool some before consuming.

It's okra. It's red.
Try to keep uniform thickness for uniform cooking.

1/4 cup is just enough. I measured for this post, and I never measure.
Shake shake shake.



Future crispy golden nuggets. Don't cheat yourself of this treasure.

Option 1: freeze in bag. Don't refrigerate unless you want a gummy mess. DON'T REFRIGERATE

Option 2: Fry now


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Our Furry Girls

Did I mention we got a new kitten? Meet June Carter Cash the Kitty. She has several other names: Junie, June Bug, and just Bug. My five year old usually calls her by her full name.

We also have this 11 year old cat named Nala. She's not a huge fan of June, but she's hanging in there and is enjoying sneaking June's kitten chow whenever she gets a chance.

We give Nala a break at night and whenever we leave the house by keeping June in my 7-year-old's bedroom, which was her private quarters for her first week with us as we tried to get the cats used to each other's scents and sounds. She has everything she needs in there, including her own sunny spot. We also occasionally give her a break from the boys' grabby hands.

I was really worried about bringing home another cat, but there haven't been any nasty fights. Nala seems to be tolerating June's presence as long as June isn't getting in the way of her food bowl, litter box, sunny spot, or following too closely. June is intensely curious about Nala, especially Nala's twitchy tail. The kids think this is the best thing ever. They are smitten with the kitten! They also think a grumpy Nala is hysterical.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

North Topsail Island

Does anyone else travel to a destination and take more photos of the wildlife than their kids? Today we took a day trip to North Topsail and caught a few hours of play time before the rain came. I snapped a few cute ones of the boys, but they typically move too quickly or stick up a hand to block the photo (I don't blame them for that). After we boogie boarded and body surfed, we walked down the shore to look for shells at low tide. Wookie helped me send the black bird into flight. We snuck up on birds at a tidal pool, and he waited for me to focus on the bird before starting after it.


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