5 Reasons to Change Your Major and Stay in College For a Few More Years

It’s the college advice I give to everyone.  Take classes you’re interested in.  Wait a couple of years to declare a major and then Junior or Senior year change that sucker up and start afresh.  What’s the rush, anyway?  Seriously.  Here’s why:

1. Earning an adult paycheck is overrated.  You might be sick of doing group projects “for free” with people who annoy you, so you fantasize that it will all be much better when you’re getting paid “the big bucks”, but know that what you have to look forward to a cramming the same amount of work, much of it something you’re way less interested in than what you’re studying now, with a lot less time to do it in.  And you’ll be stuck with the same annoying people.  The huge paycheck that you think might make it all worth it?  It’s going to go to ridiculously boring things like new windows and furnaces and washing machines and your overpriced medical bills. Don’t complain about being so broke you are forced to eat $2.00 burgers at Burgerama, just enjoy the fact that you are able to get some chow with your pals.  Once you’re an adult you might eat more angus beef, but you’ll still feel broke and on top it if you usually have to make the patties yourself.  You’ll miss those greasy burgers and everything they represent.

2. Meeting new people will never be easier than it is now.  Right now if you strike up a conversation with someone sitting next to you at the coffee shop, or the library, it’s normal.  It’s expected. In the university setting there are endless opportunities for networking and forming friendships because everyone is new, so everyone introduces themselves.  Make as many connections as you can now, when you’re older there aren’t as many clubs or groups to join unless you already know people.  After college, there’s a point at which when you attempt to strike up a convo at the coffee shop it does not make you look friendly or interesting anymore, it just makes you look a bit creepy.

3. Your physical health is at its peak from all of those intramural sports and biking to class. And walking to the bar.  Yes, your weekend (or weekday) jaunts to the bar are keeping you more fit than you’re likely be able to maintain when you’re in the work world.  Okay, your collagen levels might play a teeny factor here too, but even taking into account the Freshman Fifteen, trust me, that is nothing compared to the adult obesity that awaits later.  Parental potbelly.  The Adult abdomen. The stretched-out stomach. It’s coming for you.

4. Two words: Study Abroad.  Drink a Guinness in Dublin, drink a Tusker in Nairobi, drink a cappucini in Rome.  Hit up a few museums and classes while you’re there, extend your return flight home and go backpacking.  I took a six-credit month-long wildlife management course in Kenya (of which only 3 of those credits actually applied to my major) and the ten hours worth of safari each day was worth every penny.  I will never forget crawling into the dung huts built by the Masai Mara, the way a lioness looks when she is protecting her three baby cubs, or how to say elephant in Swahili. Take out the freaking loan, you can pay those bitches off for the rest of your life and the experience you’ll gain is worth every penny.  Students loans are considered the good kind of debt anyway, right?

5. 40 hour work weeks really suck.  And, newsflash! They are usually longer than 40 hours.  No matter what kind of job you have, and how passionate you are about what you do, it is still WORK, which often means boatloads of meetings and never-ending piles of forms.  You might not love writing college papers, but know that those don’t suck your soul out through your fingers with as much voracity as work papers will.

So, what will your next major be?

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Photo credit: Wikipedia

People Detox

Humans are generally social creatures.  Evolutionarily this must have once served us quite well, since to this day we crave togetherness so much that we make up ways to do things as a community.  We create dances.  We synchronize swim. We pledge allegiance to the Spartans or the Wolverines or the Bears and we all wear the same color and paint our faces and howl and sing and taunt those not in our tribe.  We created a whole new form of media just so we could socialize when we were unable to socialize. Socializing is so great!

Except sometimes, you know, when it’s not.

Like, when you’re around your family too much.  They can REALLY get on your nerves. They can be loud and obnoxious and annoying as hell. They can never make plans, or they make plans and show up late, or they make plans and show up on time, but then they act like…themselves.  Isn’t it weird how those you love the most can drive you absolutely freaking bonkers?

You know who else can drive you crazy?  Strangers.  Absolute strangers that you have no fucking clue who they are but they do one thing and you instantly HATE THEM.  You can wish a cancerous growth to sprout from an anus, or a colony of flesh-eating bacteria to set up camp in their eyelids, all because they were driving 5 miles per hour too slow in your lane, or because they didn’t hold the door open for you, even though you know they saw you holding lattes in both hands.  Disgusting.  It might as well have been them who scalded your hands.  They basically assaulted you.

You know what else can be exhausting and overwhelming and sort of assaulty feeling? Fun. That’s right, fucking fun. All the parties and events and play dates you set up with your friends sound great until you actually have to get dressed and slap makeup on your face and then, after all that energy has been exerted, you have to expend even more energy to interact with those people you just got out of the pajamas you’ve been wearing for three days all dressed up for.  Companionship can be taxing.

Sometimes togetherness is like that little Downy bear – all snuggly and soft and warm and fuzzy. But other times it can be quite the opposite. It can be sharp as daggers. Pokey. Irritating.  Like an evil little porcupine that you thought was cute until you tripped and fell on got impaled by its … pines.  Quills.  Whatever.  Fuck you.

Anyway, sometimes you just need SILENCE.  And ALONENESS.  Sometimes you just need a PEOPLE DETOX.  A god-damned communication cleanse to regroup so you don’t lose your shit and actually burn a bridge you might want to cross over again someday.

Sometimes you need the 3 Day Communication Cleanse.  

3 Day Cleanse.  A People Detox.  For your sanity and the safety of those around you.

3 Day Cleanse. A People Detox. For your sanity and the safety of those around you.

10 Ways Depressives and Drunks are Similar

1.They tend to have a genetic predisposition.  Something in the brain is a little haywire, slightly imbalanced.  Both are examples of invisible diseases.

2. They get a boatload of judgment.  Both get the, “Aren’t you over that yet?”  Both get unsolicited tips.  “Just stop after one”.  “Just get outside”.  “Just appreciate what you have”.  “Just get over it”.  Rarely does any good advice begin with, “Just”.  One of the most ridiculous is, “Stop being so selfish”.

3. They don’t want to be this way.  As beautiful as a good drink feels, no one wants to be hooked. As needed as a good cry is, no one wants to be unable to fathom happiness. These are not pleas for attention, the behavior is a result of the disease, uncontrolled.

4. They relapse.  Even when the disease is managed, there are still ups and downs. There are depressive dives and days (weeks/months/years) when long-sober alcoholics might contemplate a drink. Or take one. Or more.

5. They take things day by day.  Forever.  It’s not over, not ever.  There is no, “I’m done with that now”.  There is a split-second moment in almost every single day in which the person isn’t sure if they will make it.

6. They push people they love away. They act like assholes, highly emotional and illogical while in the thick of it.  They’re unpredictable.  They say things they do not mean. They are too intoxicated, or too tired to be nice.

7. Sometimes they smell.  Or otherwise don’t take care of themselves. Stress has an odor.  Alcohol has an odor.  Sweat has an odor.  Both are gangrenous, eating a person alive from the inside out, emitting the stench of decay in the process.

8.  They can be a drag to be around.   They can be wildly out of control or barely-breathing, impossible to move from the bed.  It can be exhausting to stay positive and uplifting when the person you are with is neither of those things.

9. Left unchecked both result in a slow, toxic death.  Unpleasant to think about, but all too true.  The alcoholics know it.  The depressives know it.  For some reason the friends and family don’t always know it.

10. They tend to benefit from support groups and networks.  Alcoholics Anonymous, church groups, online groups.  It’s usually helpful to talk to others who understand a situation.  If you fall into either category, you are not alone.  Not even close.

depressives and drunks

Need some help getting some help?  Here are a few relevant links:

Alcoholics Anonymous

Al-Anon (For friends and families of alcoholics)

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

Reddit: Depression Online Support Group

Supporting a Family Member or Friend With Depression

My Hands Are Full

Full of a stroller handle in one and a small palm in the other when I walk into a store. Full of an infant that I balance on one knee as I squat in the stall, and toddler arms wrapped around me to keep from falling into the toilet that she needs to use five minutes after we walk in.

Full of dishes that I put in the dishwasher and then dishes I take out.  Full of clothing put in the washer and taken out of the dryer.  Full of many, many diapers.  Full of blankies and books and bags full of responsibility.

Full of flailing toddler or thrashing infant, or a sobbing, collapsing heap of both.  Full of tears and snot and deep breaths and deep hugs.

Full of twenty pounds of clinger who cries when I put her down, and who gives me a knowing smirk when I pick her up. Full of child with eyes so dark I can feel the weighty pull of their stare before I turn my head to see them, the little jewels shining in her tiny head, which she tilts sideways as she waits for our eyes to connect, and erupts in laughter when they do.

Full of skinny legs that wrap around my waist, but only partway.  Full of arms that rest upon mine and a very small forehead that leans in towards my own and pauses for a moment when my head touches hers.  Full of giggles when we pull apart before we lean towards each other again.

Full of tiny toddler booty and squashy baby booty that I pat. Pat. Pat. Squeeze. Pat. Full of little hands that pat me back.

Full of twenty pounds of infant, but always available for thirty more of toddler.  “Uppy, Mama”.  I do not hesitate to add more to the load.  The weight feels good pressed against me.

Full of hand weights I use during a quick workout, which are often replaced mid-rep with a tissue to wipe a nose, or a snack to feed a hungry mouth, or an entire child whose whining can not be quelled any other way.

Full of dancing babies who had favorite songs at a very early age and who spin with me in circles and who do not care that the tune we sing along to is sung off-key.  They are full of exuberant giggling.

Full of a toddler old enough to say, “Carry me like a baby, Mama”, who then quietly fake-cries and, if I haven’t started doing it yet, instructs me to, “Say, ‘shhhh'”.

Full of numerous dolls, all of them named Ruby, who have tea parties and who have conversations and who sometimes are naughty and drink mom’s coffee without asking permission. Ruby! No!

Sometimes they are full of puke, caught midair, midstream.  At least on those days there are many more hours that they are filled with enveloping child than with sickly fluids.

They are full of challenging comfort.  Full of exhausting luxury.  They are brimming with rigorous joy.

Parents have their hands full.

Parents have their hands full.

The Adventure That is Camping With Young Children

So you decide to go camping this weekend with the kids. It’ll be fun, you think. It’ll be relaxing, you dare to dream.

Nevermind that you and the toddler have been suffering debilitating allergies. You just started your second steroid of the month, which hasn’t fully kicked in yet and, so your head has been pounding for eight days straight so hard that you feel the pain in your teeth every time you take a step. Nevermind that the toddler sneezed approximately five hundred times that day, spraying fountains of snot with every achoo. That, combined with her leaky red-rimmed eyes, convinced you to start her on some children’s Claritin, which honest-to-goodness stopped the sneezing by about ninety percent within the hour.  If she’s fine, you’re fine, so you take yourself to urgent care and get yourself Flonase and Prednisone to add to your Singular and Claritin and Sudafed cocktail you already are on. When you text your husband a picture of you and your now-less-sneezy kiddo from the urgent care office, and he asks, “Are we still going camping’, you confidently state, “Of course we are”.  Because you can be miserable at home or you can be miserable camping, so why waste the opportunity for the trip.

urgent care

The night before you leave, the toddler gives you a hard time about going to sleep.  She grabs her baby doll and dragging it up the stairs is whining, “I want to give my baby a bath!! I waa-annn-tttt-oo-oogi-iiiv-eeee-myba-aa-bbb-yyyy-ya-ba-th!”  She must not think you’re really getting her point so she tries a louder tactic, a high-pitched shriek, “I!want!to!give!my!baby!a!bath!”  Maybe it was her being so worked up about the hygiene of her baby doll (was she suddenly not okay with the mashed ground Cheerios on baby’s clothes or the orange marker scribbled all over her face?), or maybe she choked on a large amount of drainage running down the back of her throat that the Claritin couldn’t quite get rid of.  Whatever it was, it caused her to vomit all over the bathroom stool and floor.

As a mother, the first thought you have is, damn, she ate two whole carrots and now they’re on the bathroom floor, and you hope some vitamin K was retained.  You start mopping up the floor and while you’re doing that she seizes the opportunity to take her baby doll to the bathtub and start washing her in the bucket full of water left over from her bath earlier that day.  You find the situation ironic, and slightly annoying, that she is getting what she was originally whining about when you said it was time for bed, but at this point, screw it.  Her puke-splattered baby actually now does need a bath so she might as well be the one to clean it.

You text your husband a picture of the puke, so he can appreciate your current parental situation.

puke2

He asks again, “Are we still going?”

“Yes, damn it”. We will have a fun family vacation.  You’re starting to sound slightly Clark Griswold.

The next day you leave and it takes three times longer than it should to get to the campsite, but that’s okay, you left early. On the way there your toddler tells you her butt hurts, and you realize all of the diapers are trapped in the pop-up, so you stop at the grocery store and buy more diapers and change her in the car, thinking she must have pooped, but she’s just wet. You change her anyway and head to lunch. Somehow in the fifteen-minute span between the diaper change and lunch she pees more than she’s ever peed in her entire life, enough to drench the diaper and cause a urine overflow all over her pants.  But, like the diapers, clean pants are in the pop-up so you just change the diaper and know that even though she has Pee Pants on, the new diaper will at least prevent a urinary tract infection.

Despite leaving three hours ahead for the “hour drive” to the campground, after lunch there are only seven minutes until you can check in, and holy mackerel, the GPS says you are seven minutes from the campground!  This must be a sure sign of an upswing in your luck, you are convinced.

You unpack and head to the beach and pay the nine bucks to park for your hour-long stay, but damn your kid has fun,  and the beach is all she has been talking about doing for a week. She did everything she wanted, she dug holes and made castles and put her toes in the water, and scooped and stacked and to top it all off, the infant didn’t even choke on any sand.  You head back to the campground and ate dinner at the picnic table and the toddler, in camping-loving glory exclaims, “I love picnics! And she makes a rainbow out of her blueberries and then eats them all. The mama in you is thrilled because, antioxidants consumed!  

After dinner you make a fire and put together s’mores, which you’re sure she’ll love, though it turns out she doesn’t even want to try it.  You try to convince her to just try one bite, but after a minute you realize, Why am I trying to force her to eat a sugar-laden sugar sandwich?  So you forget trying to force-feed the s’mores.  You don’t even like them much anyway, as you prefer your sugar in a fermented form.

It’s time for bed and you read the toddler Goldilocks and the Three Bears four times, because that’s what she wants, and all seems well until about five minutes into sleep time and the toddler pukes.  She pukes purple from her blueberry rainbow picnic.  There is puke in her hair and on her pillow and all over her special blankie.  You clean up what you can and hand her a spare blanket that you brought and another ten minutes pass before she pukes AGAIN.  You strip her down and you add a few more items to the soaked-with-regurgitated-blueberry pile and AHA! You have a THIRD blankie.

puke

You smugly think to yourself, This is why we “overpack”, Husband, and mentally note that you were so one-hundred-percent on the correct side of the argument you two had earlier about how you “always pack too much”. Clearly you needed to pack even more, since you gave her your pillow to stack on top of hers so she wouldn’t choke on her own phlegm and puke again, and you don’t have another blanket to wrap around yourself, so you have no choice but to suck it up and let the now-cold blueberry-puke-patch touch your thigh.  You read Goldilocks two more times once you’re resettled.

And even though you are covered in puke and the infant has been screaming this whole time, you laugh.

Because once you’ve accepted the fact that you’re sleeping in regurgitated blueberry and pukey hair, you just let go. You have no choice.  You accept it and say, fuck it, and you can’t believe that for a split-second earlier that day you worried about a few tablespoons of sand in the bed. Now, that sand is just a beautifully sprinkled reminder of that glorious time at the beach.  You feel liberated.  Once you’ve freed yourself from the expectation that all (or most. or some) will be pleasant, all is suddenly wholly good. You squeeze in a little closer to your pint-sized puke-head and share her double pillow, and when you realize that the pillow is also wet with puke, so don’t even flinch as you tuck the end of your blanket under your head and nod off for a few minutes until morning.

The next day you get a bit of retribution. You start the day with a deliciously steamy cup of french-pressed coffee, your spouse wore the infant in the baby carrier while you walked through town and got ice cream, you visited the salt-water pool at the campsite twice, and you read Goldilocks five times before nap, and best of all, there is no puking. And is it just you, or your jeans feeling a little loose, like maybe, just maybe, you magically didn’t gain an ounce from all of those s’mores you washed down with that six-pack of seasonal IPA?

camping

In your delirium you book the next camping outing.

On the way home you stop for a night at your parent’s cottage and you wake up to find that the toddler shit her pants in bed and the infant peed through her onesie and sleep sack.  Since you didn’t “overpack”, your entire family has officially ran out of clean clothes, because they have all been puked on, or shit on, or peed on, and as you should have guessed, you find out your parent’s washing machine is on the fritz.  Your husband hand-washes the shit-covered dress and hangs it outside to dry.  You clean up the kids and let them run around in nothing but diapers and go take a shower, and put your pee-soaked shirt back on as you pour yourself a cup of coffee.

It’s a good thing you drank that coffee because throughout the day you change approximately thirty-five shit-filled diapers between the two kids, many of which are liquid runs.  At once point when you try to get the toddler to sit on the potty, the contents of the diaper leak out into a brown puddle on the bathroom floor.  Since you didn’t “overpack” you ran out of diapers and wipes and have to get more.

You somehow manage to make it out for a pontoon ride and for a lovely half an hour, both kids nap and you enjoy the breeze and you think contentedly, Ahhh, life at the lake.  There is still hope left.  You get back to the cottage and the toddler eats some cheese and crackers and immediately proceeds to puke all over the carpet.  Enough puke for you to suggest taking the carpet out of the house and hosing it off.  Enough puke for your dad to say, “Maybe it’s time for us to get rid of this carpet”.

carpet

You read the toddler Goldilocks another five times in a row while your spouse packs up the car, and you head home a day early.

You gave it a valiant effort.

Human Light-Brites

There’s this thing called face blindness.  Some people have it, and it makes it really hard for them to recognize others, even those they interact with often. Face blindness can compromise the ability to form lasting friendships or positive networking connections because a lot of people aren’t aware this exists, so it just seems weird when someone doesn’t say hi to you or notice you when you’re right near them.  Once you know this is a thing though, you can help someone with face blindness by reminding them of who you are when you greet them, or you could work with them to come up with some type of cool code or signal to implement so they will recognize that.

I sometimes think I have a similar type of condition, except it’s not that I don’t remember what people look like, but instead I just don’t notice superficial changes in appearance. I’m not the best at noticing new hair styles or new jewelry.  I don’t notice if you’re wearing a new lipstick, or shadow or if you’re even wearing makeup at all.  I suck at recognizing a fresh mani-pedi or new pair of pumps.  I hate to admit this, but even when my own mother developed a condition that deforms the structure of bone and it started warping her skull, pushing one eyeball out a little further than the other one, I didn’t notice it until she pointed it out. Once she did, I couldn’t unsee it, and it stayed that way for a month or so, I kept ogling her orbs. I still know that one eye looks a lot bigger than the other one does, but now, since I know it isn’t caused by a brain tumor or other life-threatening reason, I’m back to not noticing it again.  All of those visual characteristics people often pay so much attention to just seem really fuzzy and irrelevant to me.  I sort of get a glimpse of where those with face blindness are coming from.

Sometimes this causes problems.  Like, “Hey, don’t you like my haircut?!” asked in a way that is not really a question but is more of an accusation.  A lot of women seem to get mad at their spouses for not noticing those things, but maybe it’s really not so bad.

While I might not notice your new spring wardrobe, I also don’t notice when your face is dripping with sweat, or you are smeared with dirt, or you have a million rogue eyebrows shooting off in all directions.  I don’t see that the tank top and yoga pants you are wearing is the same one I saw you in yesterday.   I don’t see that your eyes have no liner or your shirt is wrinkled or you have a blemish on your skin.  But, it’s not like I’m not paying attention to you.   I still totally SEE you, just in a different kind of way.

We took Toddler Grouch to a museum not that long ago and they had a vertical wall full of holes, and huge colored plastic pegs you could push into them to create any pattern or shape you desired.  I snapped a photo of her and it looked like this:

lightbrite

This is sort of how I see you.  I see a basic outline and a few details of what you look like, but it’s the lit-up board in the background that I really focus on.  The background is part of you, too.  Each peg represents some positive quality you have, so a blue peg might be your compassion and an orange peg might be your commitment and a white peg might be your honesty and a green peg your humor. There are pegs for your interests and activities, like running, or singing, or sailing, or crafting.  There are pegs for positive parenting and pegs for your kindness and concern for others. There are pegs for your listening and pegs for your sharing.  There are even pegs for your anxieties and your fears, if you’ve been willing to honestly expose them.  I will admit that I while I do sometimes appreciate superficial beauty, that’s only one peg, so if that’s all you’ve got, your background still looks pretty dark and dreary, but if you’ve got all the rest of the pegs on the board filled, missing one isn’t noticed. The more pegs you have the more lovely you are.  Toddler Grouch’s real board is packed with many more pegs than the one depicted in this photograph.

Not noticing everything about a person’s appearance makes some people upset. Some people want me to comment on their fancy watch or their coiffed hair, or their pushed back cuticles.  Sometimes I use this to my advantage to weed out those who care too much about looks, since many of those people have really empty boards behind them, or are so heavily guarded that trying to dig through their built up defensives to find their pegs takes more energy than I have available to expend. Maybe people who deal with face blindness weed others out in similar fashion.

Yiayia’s Cooking Secrets (with Bonus Spinach Pie Recipe)

The first time my (now) husband took me to his parent’s house I didn’t get to meet them because they were out of the country, visiting their native Greece, but his yiayia (grandma) was there. She wore an ankle-length, dark navy dress, her usual attire as I would come to find, and her long gray hair was twisted into a bun that rested on the nape of her neck.  Her hands were thick and wide, strong from a lifetime of manual labor, the skin covering them was stretched out and creased and it would hold the shape of an object long after she pressed her hands down upon it; the elastin was long gone. They were also very soft. Maybe it was the muscle underneath, or maybe it was due to the fact she had been in the States for enough years for the calluses to wear away.

She walked slowly, but steadily, as she led me to the backyard and introduced me to her garden.  She spoke to me in Greek, which I couldn’t understand, but that didn’t deter her from chatting away and her not understanding English didn’t stop me from chatting right back.   She loved me from the get go, she smiled at me and held my hand and looked at my husband and winked as she rubbed my back.  We visited for a couple of hours and then prepared to leave to head back to campus.

“Meinete kai na fate (stay for lunch), she insisted.

Mr. Grouch tried to say no, but his weak protest didn’t do any good.  I was confused why he would say no.  We were college students and what college kid doesn’t want a free meal?  He relented, as it was clear he would, and she nodded and took my hand and led me to her garden again where she started picking the fresh onions, parsley, and spinach from the bed.  She washed and chopped the greens and then started mixing dough and began rolling it out into thin sheets with a narrow wooden dowel.  She was making homemade filo dough. For her, a “quick lunch” was making spanakopita (spinach pie) from scratch.  It was a solid six hours later before we were out of there.

But damn, that food was good.

I’ve learned that for a Greek mom (or yiayia), feeding her family is the ultimate expression of love. Feeding her family often.  Bottom line: The more food they offer you, the more they like you.  For my in-laws, it all stems from living as goat herders in the xorio (the village).  If they didn’t eat enough, they could literally die. They dealt with illness without doctors.  Exposure to the elements without shelter. Feasting because there could be famine.  Eating more food really could have meant the difference between survival and death. From this perspective, food is love never made more sense.

Once I met my now my mother-in-law I learned that she also created magic in the kitchen.  She makes simple dishes, yet they are so full of flavor that I usually want to eat half the pan. Okay, one time, I DID eat half the pan. I think I shocked her.  It was melizantes (eggplant and onions). I usually have some self-control, but that time I just couldn’t stop. She is such a great cook, and hostess, that we don’t ever alternate which side of the family we visit for Thanksgiving, we just always go to her house. Her food is the best.  And while she has much to be proud of, the downside is that she is a total food pusher.  It used to give me anxiety, to think of her basically force-feeding my children.  I’ve gotten over it, since we go over there and get free meals several times a month.  I have completely traded any worries about my children learning to eat when they aren’t hungry for homemade dolmades (grape leaves) and horta (cooked greens) and loukanika (sausage). I’ve even gotten to the point where I sometimes brag to her about how much I got my kids to eat so she’ll be proud of me. Which doesn’t usually work.

“She at two eggs today!”

“Hmmm, well that’s good she ate.  But so many eggs!  Too many.  All that cholesterol!”

Nevermind that after offering my daughter homemade spinach pie and french fries and koulourakia (cookies) and spaghetti and pancakes and sausage she will also offer McDonald’s and Cheeze-its and microwave popcorn and those ice cream sandwiches that don’t even melt in the Sun.  She will feed them anything to get those grandkids of hers to eat. And eat. And eat. And eat. And eat. And eat. And eat.  She can’t help herself.  Her grandchildren MUST SURVIVE.

I absolutely hate cooking, but her recipes truly are the kind of recipes that are worth taking the time to learn and make.  They are worth dirtying up a million dishes or having to chop for hours.  They are made from scratch and filled with love, and typically a lot of garlic and butter. They are heavenly.

If I am at home and I want to ask her about a recipe, it’s a gamble to try to call her on the phone and ask how to do something.  She can’t remember.  Or she can’t articulate it.  Or she assumes I know…anything about cooking.  When she cooks she relies on muscle memory.  It’s like her brain might not really know what she’s doing but her hands do.  And her eyes do.  They remember, even if her mouth doesn’t. This is a woman who consistently calls potholes, “potholders”, after all. If I want to know how to make a dish, I have to see her make something to ensure I’m getting accurate information.

When I do watch her make something, and jot down the directions as I observe, there is still much room for error.  You see, she doesn’t measure.  She doesn’t necessarily make things the same way every time, depending on what ingredients she has on hand, and, what is partly due to her naturally flippant speech, and partly due to English not being her native language, she sometimes (often…always…) says one thing and then contradicts herself and says the exact opposite thing.

I am 100% positive that at one point she told me you could bake baklava and freeze it, but you had to do this before adding the syrup.  Once the baklava was thawed, she told me, you could make the syrup and add it.  When I finally get around to making some baklava, and thinking maybe I could make extra to freeze for later, I asked her about this, but she told me she has no clue, and she has never done that.  Then, she tells me I could bake the baklava, add the syrup and then freeze it.   I know this is completely different information than I heard before, and it can’t be trusted.

I think maybe we’re having communication difficulties about this because when I asked her we were talking on the phone.  I wait until I see her next in person and ask her, “If I’m going to make baklava and freeze it, do I add the syrup before or after I put it in the freezer?.

Her response?  “Yes”.

I asked my husband’s sisters.  His cousins.  NO ONE KNOWS. Which I call total bullshit on.  But, unless you watch them do it, you’ll never learn how to cook like they do.  And, let’s be honest, even when I watch them, mine still tastes like MINE and theirs still tastes like THEIRS.  I’ll take it though, the MINE version is better than anything I would ever come up with on my own.  So, I periodically meet with my mother-in-law and watch her make a recipe I love so I can try to recreate it at home.

Here are a few classic scenarios that occur every time I am furiously scribbling one of her recipes down.

ONE:

“How much flour do I add?”

“A handful”

I look at her little elfish hands.  I look at my gigantic man hands.  *blink blink*

 

TWO:

“How many walnuts do you put in for one batch?”

“About four handfuls”

The old handful conversation again.

 

 

THREE:

“How much salt should I add?”

“Just a little” (said with a tone that implies I should understand what she means).

“A pinch?”

“Yeah, a pinch.  Not too much”.  She pours out how much she needs into her hands, and then transfers it into a measuring spoon so I can record the amount.

I nod my head in acknowledgment. A teaspoon.  I totally understand what a teaspoon is.

“But you need enough. Not too little either”.  She takes the salt shaker and pours an ungodly amount, unmeasured, into the mixing bowl.

I bang my head against the wall.

 

 

FOUR:

“See?”  She dips a spoon into the pot and lifts it up, letting the liquid pour back out. She’s trying to make me see the level of viscosity of the syrup.

I see pouring liquid.  I don’t see what I’m supposed to see.

“Um. How many minutes until it’s done?”

“Until it looks thick enough”.

I will my eyes to be smarter.  I stare harder.  I might as well have a blindfold on.  I’m cooking blind.

 

 

FIVE:

“So, I need three scoops?”

“Three scoops.  Full ones”.

“Got it”.  I put three scoops in and smile.  I did it!

She looks at it with a critical eye and says, “Maybe a little extra”.

 

 

BONUS:  YIAYIA’S SPINACH PIE RECIPE:

You will need:

Yiayia sized mixing bowl: She can curl up and fit in it. Yes, she’s only 4′ 10″, but still. You don’t have one this size, trust me.

Yiayia sized pan: Yiayia uses a dented pan made from an unknown metal that has been passed down from the women in her family since the late 1800’s.  Good luck finding one like that.  You could use a sheet cake pan. Or two large pans.  I can’t tell you what size because it depends how thick you  make your spinach pie.

Salt: Way more than you would ever guess. But definitely not too much.

Dill: Copious amounts. Full disclosure, Yiayia doesn’t put this in hers. Except for the times that she does.

Feta: A huge hunk. But not so much you ruin it by making it taste like there is too much feta.

Cottage Cheese: A one pound container.  The only thing you will know for sure.

Corn Meal: A large handful (a cup or so).

Green onions: Three bunches. Unless you forget to buy it, or don’t have it in your garden, in which case, zero bunches.

Yellow onions: If you want.

Parsley: Two bunches. If you’re chopping like Yiayia, take each leaf and carefully cut the stem off. If you’re cooking like me, hack away, and eat a million partial stems.

Spinach: A shitload. Rinse it in a sink full of water and keep draining and refilling the sink until there is no more dirt settling to the bottom.  Repeat stem-cutting steps as mentioned previously.

Butter: Melt a stick or two. The amount you need depends how dry the filo is.  If you’re like Yiayia, clarify the butter by scraping off the gunk from the top.  If you’re like me, don’t waste any time, or butter.

Filo: Bought. Because some family recipes are so much work you know you’ll never make them yourself.

Oregano: From a plant transplanted from a tiny Greek village high in the mountainside, picked fresh from the garden, dried in Yiayia’s guest bedroom and stored in a glass jar with a broken handle and ill-fitting lid that your husband won’t get rid of, no matter how many times you cut your hand on it.

Garlic powder: Never enough. Garlic can stream from your pores for days after eating and it still wouldn’t be enough.

You will do:

1. Chop the greens and onions until your hands are sore and you have newfound respect for the strength Yiayia possesses. Be nicer to her, because you realize she probably could kill someone by crushing their windpipe with her bare hands, based on this hand-strength metric.

2.  Add the corn meal and squeeze to soak up some of the water.

3. Combine the rest of the ingredients.

4. Butter the bottom of your pan(s) and place 8-10 layers of filo.

5. Alternate layers of spinach mixture, then three layers of filo, then layers of spinach mixture, etc…until all spinach mixture is used up.

6. Top with another 8-10 layers of filo.  Brush butter on top layers, and by brush I mean SOAK. Then add more. Pro tip: add a bit of olive oil on top of all that butter.

7.  Bake at 350 degrees until done.

Yiayia's authentic spinach pie recipe and secret cooking tips and tricks.

Yiayia’s authentic spinach pie recipe and secret cooking tips and tricks.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Grouch.

Happy birthday to you, and to many years more!
You say it’s just a day, no need for decor,
but I say let’s eat some cake (and then let’s eat some more!),
because why not celebrate the man I adore?

While we should never take for granted those we would die for,
we know those fairy tale scenarios are nothing but lore.
So when given then chance to do something more,
I say take it. Go crazy. Buy presents galore.

Today I celebrate you, a man kind in his core,
a man bearded and brawny, one I only have eyes for.
Cheers to a man who always opens my door,
who shows it’s our family that he looks out for.

Hip! Hip! to the man who works, and then works some more,
hammer, shovel, mow, plumb, wage dandelion war.
Bang, sand, lift, hold, surf the internet shore,
for another rental house you’re in the market for.

So just in case you’re not sure, I must really implore
you to notice there’s so much I give you credit for,
and when push comes to shove, it’s you I go to bat for.
It’s with you, and just you, this Earth I want to explore.

So today I celebrate. I shout, “You’re top drawer!”
Do you hear me? You listening? Hello? Ten four?
You’re stuck with me forever, until we’re at death’s door,
And each year on this day HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I’ll roar.

The amount you get on my nerves, I love you that much, times four,
You complement me, do things well, that I deplore.
You turn off lights, double-check that I locked the front door.
You calculate, and invest, to make sure we won’t end up too poor.

Even when you constantly tell me to shut the pantry drawer,
or make other such comments you know I abhor,
know that loving you still is never a chore,
and always remember, I love you more.

Three Dirty Wash Cloths Can Put A Parent With Anxiety and Depression Over The Edge

Laundry is not a chore I mind doing. It’s something I can do while I’m doing other things around the house.  It doesn’t require me to get my hands dirty.  It’s not too physically demanding, except when I lug the basket up and down the stairs, but then I can pretend I’m getting some cardio in.  I like the way our detergent smells. I like taking the mess of dirty clothes and ending up with the neatly folded piles.  I like the way it feels when it is all done. Every hamper emptied. Every drawer stuffed full of folded clothes. When I’m done with the laundry, I know I’ve done it right and I really like that feeling.

Most things I do don’t give me that absolute feeling of successful completion, of knowing the job was well done.

Parenting is certainly not a job that leaves me feeling that way.  Especially being a parent that deals with anxiety and depression.

I try to do a lot of things for me, to ward of the depressive slumps, because doing so helps make me a better mama. One of them is running.  Nothing on this planet feels as good as a long run. Running makes every molecule in my body vibrate.  Right now a pretty significant hip injury has left me unable to run for several weeks. WEEKS.  And my body is not responding kindly. Other than the shooting, stabbing, searing pain in my hip joint, for the past four weeks it has felt like my legs are numb.  I’ve been wading through thigh-deep water instead of just walking like a normal person on land.  The other day I stood in place in the middle of my kitchen and had to think, much longer than should ever make sense, about walking to the garage to grab my shoes and then carrying them to the front door, or just walking outside barefoot because I wasn’t sure I could manage the extra trip across my house.  Lately I am moving very slowly. I am dropping things.  I am worried I will not be able to run the marathon I signed up for. I am not happy.

Maybe it’s my mind that isn’t responding kindly.

This month there have been so many days that I’ve felt like I didn’t have the energy to be the best parent I could be.  When I get like this, I worry I’m not doing enough arts and crafts, or taking the kids outside enough, or reading enough books.  I worry about my toddler watching too much t.v.  I worry I’m not giving enough attention to my youngest.

Lately I keep hearing a lot about how if you’re worried you’re a good parent, then you shouldn’t worry because that means you are one.  Which is sort of confusing.  Does that mean to stop worrying?  Because I’m worried now.  Is that good? Now I’m worried that I don’t even know the right way to worry.

Today I was finishing the final fold and had the, “Ahhhh” feeling of a task fully completed.  I exhaled for a minute.

Until I went into the girls bathroom and saw this:

This is enough to put a parent with anxiety issues into a tailspin.

This is enough to put a parent with anxiety issues into a tailspin.

I shit you not my heart jumped a beat. How did I miss this?  Damn it, I thought I had done all the laundry, but here are three wash cloths in the sink!  It’s like even though I did five loads of laundry today and everything is folded and put away, it all the sudden doesn’t count because of three dirty wash cloths.  For some reason it made all the more insulting that they were still wet.

And I know it doesn’t matter. I know that by tomorrow we’ll have dirty onesies and socks and bibs and whatnot, so what’s the big deal?   I know it shouldn’t bother me.

But it does.

So even though I’ve come a long way, I realize I am always on edge. My anxieties are raging.  I’m always worried that something won’t be good enough. The kicker? Something always won’t be.  And usually the more I worry about it, the more I screw shit up.  Or at least the more I notice.  Either way – that’s not a good situation to set oneself up for.

I’m working on it.  Usually at the end of the night I do a final load of dishes and clean up the living room and kitchen, making it somewhat presentable before I pour my glass of wine and relax on the couch.  I pat myself on the back on the nights I’m able to step over the baby toys on the floor and just leave them.  I’m happy to report that there have been days that I have been able to do this and let it go.

Today just wasn’t one of them.

The Six Week Check-Up

She started walking two days after,
running within a week.
Each day she ran those miles faster!
Physically, she would quickly peak.

She ran to combat it,
her becoming a disaster.
She was afraid to bring it up,
she was scared they would ask her.

But even more afraid of that,
she feared that they wouldn’t.
They had to bring it up,
she knew that she couldn’t.

It was hidden inside her,
like a wire wrapping her psyche,
cutting into her brain,
she felt the pressure, tightly.

It just might kill her,
if that wire tightened more.
It would shred her to pieces,
it would sever her core.

You look great! They said.
Her appearance fooled them.
She looked healthy. Strong.
She smiled and wooed them.

But she was not okay.
She was sick, deep inside.
She felt weak. Embarrassed.
The disease was easy to hide.

She was wearing herself to the bone,
running from fear, running for health.
She could not be trusted to be alone,
not with the baby, or her own self.

She wore a mask, to appear in control,
as the docs droned on and on.
They didn’t notice the void behind either eye hole,
or their patient, so withdrawn.

Everything looked good, or so they said.
Amazing! Bravo! Congratulations!
Smiling, the doctor shook her head.
But there were serious internal complications.

They never asked about it,
which she thought was bizarre.
She smiled and left.
And cried in the car.

Don't wait for the doctor to ask you about postpartum depression.  Bring it up yourself.

Don’t wait for the doctor to ask you about postpartum depression. Bring it up yourself.