Spaghetti Squash FTW!

I knew spaghetti squash tasted okay. I’d had it before with some turkey meatball marinara–someone else prepared, of course. But I’d never worked up the courage to try it. For some reason, though, I’m now totally into trying new foods. (Because hey–blog fodder!)

I must’ve been fasting (since pregnancy I’ve accumulated about 70 days I need to make up! yikes!) when I was at Safeway and bought several kinds of squash. Why else would I wander through the produce section lovingly handling veggies I’d never cooked before? Anyway, I came home and placed them on the counter (something perfectly acceptable for winter squash) so inspire me one day. It took a week or so, once Thanksgiving had fully wrapped up, and all the leftovers had been consumed, before that inspiration came, but at last it did.

I thought I’d try to make a spaghetti variant, replacing the pasta with squash. I also decided to make tomato sauce from scratch, since I’ve recently realized that canned tomatoes seem to give my hubby heartburn. Unfortunately it’s not the season for tomatoes, but I had some in my fridge anyway since my son and I like to munch on them raw. Can’t beat fresh summer tomatoes from the south, though. The ones up here in Seattle just don’t get as sweet as the North Carolina tomatoes I’m used to. But now that it’s December, who knows where the tomatoes are coming from?

Anyway, I had learned how to make a basic tomato sauce in a MOOC which I would recommend for every parent concerned about feeding their kids. It was on coursera.org, and is called Child Nutrition and Cooking. Self-paced, you can probably enroll any time. It’s really high quality, nicely edited videos (unlike some MOOCs which are just a professor and a webcam), with Khan Academy style blackboards as well as live demonstrations.

The meat I thought I’d go with was chicken breast, so I defrosted it (since I suck at coordinating meals with thawing meat.) Then it was onions, garlic, tomatoes–into the pot with some olive oil. Then some sugar, some salt, and some oregano. (How much? Yeah, I didn’t measure… that might bite me later…) Then I learned how to cut and cook a spaghetti squash. Turns out, I did it in reverse order (cook first, then cut.) For that I can thank YouTube and Dani Spies (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPFErHz6zOM), the same channel where I learned how to cut butternut squash.

So once the chicken had thawed, I popped the squash into the microwave, then grilled the chicken on the stove (just to cook it quickly… there’s nothing great about this way of cooking chicken, so I might replace the chicken with some other meat, but it was fine this time.) Once the squash was done, I cut it, seeded it, then scraped out the flesh and put it in the bottom of a dish, covered it with the chicken, poured over the tomato sauce, and dumped some parmesan cheese on it.

And it worked great. Cooking the squash was almost as easy as cooking pasta, and it had a great flavor. It was satisfying but not heavy–and overall a real win. Except with my toddler, who would only eat the chicken with ketchup.

New Problem: Whining

In the last week or two, my son has picked up a new habit of whining. It’s such a frustrating and grating noise, and nothing seems to appease him–except the iPad, unfortunately. We’ve let him indulge in more screen time since the surgery, as it’s painful for him to play as much as he used to, but want to restrict it more now since it’s really not the best thing to play with. (And who doesn’t know that the pediatricians recommend 2 hours/day max, if any at all, for toddlers?)

“Up.” I pick him up and put him on the counter.

“Down.” I put him back on the floor.

“Sit.” I put him back on the counter.

“No.” Back on the floor.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to maybe fix him a dose of medicine (we’re still alternating Ibuprofen and Tylenol right now from the surgery), fix him some milk, or fix him some food.

But I can’t get anything done for him while he’s whining!

So I was pretty intrigued when this article showed up on my Facebook feed: What’s the Cure for Whining?

I read it today, in fact, during my son’s nap. It wasn’t long after he woke up that the whining started, so I had a chance to implement my new knowledge.

Instead of appeasing his request (iPad–and we’re trying to regulate his screen time), I clearly told him no. I told him no again and again and the whining escalating into crying–I expected crying. There was no tantrum, but quite a few minutes of crying, to me and also to my husband. But I sat on the floor for him the whole time. Eventually he came and laid down beside me, resting his head on me, and soon after that we were enjoying a book together.

Problem solved? I’m not sure, since he whined some more a couple of hours later, for the same thing. We still haven’t given it to him, though as I write this, he’s watching Dora on hubby’s computer.

The Value of Nearby Family

A few weeks ago I was at the park with my son, who had found a little girl to play with. The little girl’s grandmother was watching and playing with her, and she graciously extended the play to my son as well. Once I finished checking my email (am I the only one who takes my kid to the park for that reason?) I joined them, and had a fun conversation with the grandmother while the kids played. She and her husband were visiting from a Sequim, a small town a few hours away, where they had retired. Their visit was just to watch their granddaughter for the day while her mother was in labor.

I really felt it, right then. The poignant reminder of how far away my own family is (in-laws too!) stung, as I reflected on the challenge I’ll have when I have another baby, God willing. Will anyone be able to come watch Zaki while I’m in labor?

That’s an isolated but extremely important occasion when family help is needed. I also miss them when I want just a date with my husband. I realize how often my own parents watch my nieces and nephews, or even my siblings watch each other’s kids. In my husband’s family too, everyone chips in to help with the kids.

Until having a child of my own, I didn’t realize what a blessing it is to have family nearby. In fact, even a few hours away (by car) can be a blessing, if they can come even for a rare occasion. But my family is on the other side of the country, and my husband’s is on the other side of the planet (literally–a 12-hr time zone difference!)

We split up families for school and jobs, but the value of staying near family is something also to consider when deciding where to settle. It’s relatively easy to visit for holidays and whatnot, but even though I couldn’t be with my family this Thanksgiving, it’s not when I missed them the most. In fact, I just miss them all the time.

The Forcing Function

Sometimes, when my home gets really messy, my husband asks for us to host a dinner party as a forcing function to get us to clean the place up. It’s one of the most stressful things he says, because I immediately start to panic about the place being such a mess, and I absolutely hate to panic-clean. So lately I tend to squash that idea quick because it stresses me out, and leads to a stressful dinner party where the place is still not as clean as I’d like. It may work for him as a motivator, but for me it’s just too stressful.

I prefer to clean at my own pace.

But there is a minimum pace which must be maintained for a clean home (especially if it’s starting out messy.) It’s been said that if you want to see a dirty room you just stop cleaning it. It gets dirty on its own. So let’s say that negative clean is cleaning slower than the house is getting messy, and positive clean is cleaning fasting than the house is getting messy. Ideally, I’d like to always be in a positive clean state, so the house is getting continuously cleaner until I can maintain it more or less in top condition, and quickly recover from downtime. (Big events cause more clean-up, and illnesses mean messes can pile up.)

But only in the past year have I really moved from the negative clean into the positive clean. I’ve de-cluttered, organized, set up a nice seating area on my balcony and learned how to sew. I got the apartment to a level of clean which didn’t require dinner party as a forcing function, but let me just have one for fun!

I had some friends over for Thanksgiving, and it was so much fun! So easy to prepare food with my kitchen cleared up and organized. And then, so easy to clean up afterwards! Despite cooking way more dishes than I have ever prepared alone at a single time, it was the most successful party I’ve ever hosted, a milestone on my path to happy household management.

Tidying, Japanese Art?

I finished a book! Recently I decided I don’t read enough, and since reading allows me to be more deeply informed on any number of issues, I should read more. My first book, after that decision, still isn’t finished because it’s extremely tedious to read (some books are). I’m about halfway through. A few days ago I started another book, which has been an easy read. It’s called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.

Her method, briefly summarized, is to have a go at tidying just once–get rid of every single item in your home which doesn’t “spark joy”–and then, with very little left to organize, one’s house should remain “in order.” And if you do it right, you won’t start over-accumulating, and you’ll be motivated to put things back in their places.

It’s an interesting concept–how minimalistic do you want to go? Although there was quite a bit of weirdness in the book, from an Islamic perspective. From the sections about your personal shrine, and the proper care of talismans, to the way she advocates communing with the house and household objects. So the Japanese traditions play a heavy part in the book, and of course have tremendously influenced her background.

The real question is the usefulness of her method. I love that books like this one inspire me to discard things I don’t need. And reading it this week has been great timing, since I’ve been cleaning to prepare for Thanksgiving, when I’m planning to have a few friends over. I’ve been more eager to toss out things like a broken lamp which did nothing but “decorate” a side table, a nice simplehuman trashcan that we replaced with a nicer one, once my son was able to pull it over on himself, and a painting that I haven’t hung on the wall since we moved here almost two years ago.

Not sure if the book made the difference (I doubt it), but aside from the living room (toys, etc.) I’m really happy with how my home looks right now. Hope it keeps!

Any recommendations for good books on tidying or organizing the home?

My Homemaking Baby Step

Just a few years ago, my mind boggled at all the “simple” homemaking tasks that I couldn’t do. My drawers and closets were bursting with improperly stashed linens–I didn’t even know how to fold a fitted sheet! I’m still astonished I never learned how, since I definitely remember folding flat sheets at home before. But the internet is pretty nice about things like that… Buzzfeed abounds with lists of “hacks” for the home. That’s where I first saw the pictures for folding a fitted sheet. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand what they meant, how to get from the first picture (hands at the elastic) to the second (all folded over).

And basically I didn’t care… I would just ball up the sheet and stuff it in the closet or on the shelf until it stayed put. That’s what I did until my son was born, and my mom and sister-in-law came to stay with me for a week. They were amazing, and helped clean and organize almost every room of my house! And when they were gone, I realized that… the fitted sheets had been folded! Seeing how convenient it now was to have them that way, and knowing it must be possible because someone in my own house had just done it, I decided to finally learn how.

A google search of “how to fold a fitted sheet” yields plenty of illustrations… but I still couldn’t make heads or tails of it. So I tried another route–the best way to learn anything, in my opinion. That’s youtube. I found a short video with a full demonstration, and voila! I knew how to fold a fitted sheet.

It was a simple task like that which made me feel like I couldn’t really be a homemaker, because I didn’t know how to do even simple tasks to take care of my home. But armed only with my resolve to learn, plus the internet, I mastered it in a cinch! (Okay, ‘mastered’ may be a bit of an exaggeration.) That was one of my first baby steps into homemaking, into realizing that I had what it takes.

I also learned that I could count on youtube for just about anything I needed to learn how to do.

A Worthwhile Occupation

It was pretty weird, the first time I selected “Homemaker” as my occupation. I had to come to terms with it. I asked myself, really what am I doing with myself? What do I do everyday? Why am I not working? (So I got a job for a little while… but meh.)

Nowadays, I don’t have that struggle in my mind. Now, I think of myself as doing a number of jobs that I would have to pay other people to do for me. For instance, cleaning, cooking, sewing, caring for my son.

Cleaning, from the little tasks like washing dishes, to bigger things like floors and carpets, is a job that many people actually get paid to do. And maybe one day I’ll be a rich lady who can quit cleaning and just hire a cleaning lady to stop by–or at least someone to help. For now, though, it’s one of my jobs. It’s not all-consuming, nor is it glamorous, but it does need to get done, and I’m the one who does it. Meanwhile, I’m not spending money on hiring someone to clean for me.

Cooking is an even more skilled occupation. If I weren’t cooking food at home for my family to eat (and I’ll admit… sometimes I don’t!) then I would be paying for someone else’s culinary skill. I might be paying for meals from fast food huts as well as fine dining… and all that food prepared by someone else costs more than cooking it at home. In many cases, it’s also not as healthy. So I’m saving money and taking care of my family.

Sewing is one of those odd skills–I tried to learn with my mom, and I should have when I had that chance. Right now, I’m just trying to learn the basics on my own, but now even simple things, like shortening a hem, are in my toolbox. So I don’t need to have pants dragging on the floor, I can fix them myself. I could have always taken them to a tailor, but once again there’s a job I don’t have to pay someone else to do.

But many households have a huge expense with their children–and that’s child care. What portion of a second salary goes solely to pay for day care, for parents of young children? If I were employed, then I would also have to pay someone to take care of my son during the day since I don’t have family nearby to help with that. But this is the most consuming task of my day–and it would be the most expensive to hire out. So again saving money, and also getting to have fun with my kiddo.

Taking care of my home is a responsibility, and even though undertaking it didn’t initially imbue me with pride, it’s nice to reflect on the individual tasks of my job, especially since they do overlap with a variety of professions. Now it’s time to sharpen my skills, I guess, so I’m more of a professional homemaker, than an amateur.