Random Thoughts: The One Thing at a Time Edition

I have scheduled my children’s (perfectly routine) surgeries. The date is about five weeks away.

In order for me not to obsess over the fact that my babies are having (perfectly routine) surgery, I am working hard, very hard, to focus on other things. I will fall down a rabbit hole of anxiety if I don’t.

1. This weekend is Easter. I have promised to help my MIL clean her house. She cannot vacuum — she is physically unable to. Back problems. So, at the least, I can do that for her. I’m sure she will have more.

Back at home, we will dye eggs and put together baskets. We will go to Mass, and then next door to have dinner with Dan’s family. It will be low-key.

2. I have a Major Work Project that will take up a lot of my time and brain power from now until the date of surgery. So that’s good. I have already arranged to take FMLA time to be home with Kate, and I’m glad this project will be done when I am out. I really need to be 100% present to my babies.

3. Our annual weekend in the woods is the week after Easter. It is one of my favorite things ever with some of my favorite people ever. Instead of (perfectly routine) surgery, I will obsess over shopping, cooking, and packing the car for the trip. Anyone have a good beef vegetable soup recipe to share?

4. Hm. It looks like I’m going to need something (aside from Major Work Project) to work on after our weekend in the woods. Thinking it’ll be time to tackle some house projects. Maybe M’s bedroom re-do and some other interior decorating. It’ll finally be time to swap out clothes for the season. If I can kick the kids outside on the weekends (memo to Mother Nature: could use some dry, sunny weather for May) I can start these projects. Also will need to pick paint colors. So that could be fun.

What do you do when you need to NOT think about something?

Meatless Monday: Beans and Rice

Dan mentioned this recipe early in our dating life. I had to adapt it because it’s a Puerto Rican dish that uses chicken wings — although with my newly omnivorous daughter, I should try it with wings some time.

When I first started making it, I used a big Farberware sauté pan. But since we got a rice cooker, I have used that instead. If you don’t have a rice cooker, then you should just go get one. But if you’re not going to, a sauté pan is fine.

Rice and Beans, the rpm way

1 and 1/2 cups brown rice
1 15 oz. can pigeon peas, drained
1 8 oz. can Goya tomato salsa
1 packet Sazon (from Goya) with Coriander and Annatto
2 spoonfuls Sofrito
2 cups vegetable stock

I put this all in the rice cooker, stir it all together, and press the button for brown rice. I suppose you could also so this on the slow cooker setting or in a slow cooker, on high, for about two hours.

If you don’t have a rice cooker, I suppose you need a little oil, and you may want to sauté some garlic or onion before you dump everything else in the sauté pan and cover it; cook for about 40 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed.

With a salad, this is pretty much a complete meal.

And, no, Goya did not sponsor this post.

Do you have a rice cooker? What have you done with it besides cook rice?

Random Thoughts: The Getting Through This Week Edition

1. I started feeling better on Wednesday — antibiotics FTW! — but I wanted to get back to work, so I did go in on Tuesday. It was a rough day.

2. Aside from Monday, which came with its own challenges, I’m not really giving myself a break this week, and I’m hoping it doesn’t kick my ass too hard.

Monday was: Doctor appointment for Kate (she still has an ear infection; we went to the next level antibiotic; surgery is coming up mid-May); run Kate to school; doctor appointment for M, who had been running a fever since Saturday (just a virus); drop M off at my in-laws; MedExpress appointment for me. Getting my prescriptions filled took forever.

My MIL cooked me lunch (tomato soup and grilled cheese — ultimate comfort food FTW!), and then M watched Frozen while I took a nap. Getting woken up by an impatient 3-year-old when the movie was over wasn’t the greatest. Then my FIL picked up all the kids who needed to be picked up, and my MIL and I cooked dinner for them (all five). And then I took M next door and retired to the couch for the evening. The girls were champs. They showered themselves (Flora sat in the bathroom while Kate showered), and then they made me a cup of tea, which was hilarious because it was like the 10-step cup of tea.

Flora: I’m going to make you a cup of tea!
Me: You don’t have to.
Flora: Yes, I’m going to.
Me: Okay.

The faucet in the kitchen sink had fallen off, and I hadn’t fixed it, figuring Dan could do that when he got home. So Flora had to take the lid off the tea kettle and fill it from the water pitcher in the refrigerator.

Then she asked me what kind of tea I wanted.
“I don’t care,” I said, “just as long as it’s decaffeinated.”
Rummaging sounds from kitchen.
Flora: “Does ‘decaf’ mean the same as ‘decaffeinated’?
Me: “Yes.”

Water boils, tea bag steeps. Kate brought me the cup of tea with a bowl for my teabag. I asked for creamer, then for an ice cube. I got the ice cube first. Then strawberries (two, in another bowl); then creamer.

It was cute.

3. Tuesday: work, pick up niece and nephew, taco night at Bella’s (yay, taco night!), Kate and M needed baths — the weather is getting nicer, and daily baths are going to be the norm soon. It already makes me feel more tired.

I went to be pretty early Tuesday night, was definitely in bed by 10 p.m.

4. Because of my sickness and exhaustion, I didn’t pack lunches for the girls at all, let alone the night before. I scrambled to pack M’s lunch Tuesday a.m., and I completely punted Wednesday, and told Dan to pack it. Later that day, he said, “Yeah, M got four bags of chips for lunch” and I almost believed him.

5. Wednesday: because I went to bed early, I felt like a superhero most of the day Wednesday. The feeling didn’t last past 9 p.m., and yet I didn’t go to bed until after 10 p.m. And then I didn’t sleep well.

This is where I admit that I am guilty of the “busyness” in my life. I usually try to keep weeknights clear. Beyond my Monday-Tuesday pickups, and Flora’s Monday-Friday soccer practice, I usually don’t do much doing the week. However, sometimes I gotta do what I gotta do. Wednesday, my parents were staying over because they had to be at the airport very early on Thursday. They picked up the kids from school and daycare on Wednesday, and then we all went to dinner, and then I assisted Kate with her diorama project (even though it wasn’t due until Friday), and then I actually did pack lunches (which Kate proceeded to forget Thursday, probably because she was focused on getting her diorama to school). And THEN, after 10 p.m., we got an email from our cousin, who is a teacher at Franklin Regional, and she described the events of the morning. She was right in the thick of the violence, and I read her email aloud to Dan and my parents. It was… horrifying. And then, very funny at the end. Because that’ how she is.

Please keep those kids and faculty in your prayers.

6. Like I said, I didn’t sleep well for some reason, so I’m seriously dragging today. I suspect I kept waiting for the 5 a.m. alarm. Dan was a champ, and drove my parents to the airport, though.

Tonight I have a potential babysitter coming to the house tonight because:

7. Saturday! I am being interviewed by a fellow Pittsburgh blogger over lunch, and then going to the hockey game, and neither of my other sitters are available.

8. Sunday better be quiet. Oh, please.

And yes, I skipped Friday, because Friday is going to be: work, soccer, dinner, baths, bed. In no short order. Or else.

How’s your health these days?

They Got Me

After many ear infections, viruses, and pediatrician visits for the children, I have been felled. I fought the good fight, but I am currently incubating my own ear infection plus conjunctivitous (a.k.a. pinkeye). I am waiting for my prescriptions to be filled so I can go home, have soup and grilled cheese, and take a nap. Although the nap will depend on what my also ill 3-year-old decides to do.

Happy freaking Monday.

Doing Something Right

Finally, a study that proves sometimes my parenting instinct is spot on. As reported in The Atlantic by Dana Goldstein, research shows that some types of parental intervention in the school are hurtful rather than helpful. Titled, “Don’t Help Your Kid With His Homework”, it turns some conventional parenting wisdom on its head.

Reading about the research was interesting. And let me emphasize two things: 1) “Don’t help with homework” doesn’t mean totally ignoring schoolwork or school involvement and 2) For better or worse, the measure of doing well in school was summed up by standardized test scores. There’s a lot more to school than test scores.

Oh, the other thing, and I see this often when I read about school in the media: When researchers or media are talking about schools, they are talking about public school. I imagine that much of the research can be extrapolated to children in private schools, although arguably, if a child is in private school, they already are operating in a different environment — at home as well as in school — that is going to affect their educational income.

Basically “don’t help with homework” boils down to making sure your children do their homework and giving your children positive messages about the importance of education. Then you have to step back and let them work to the best of their ability, or let them face the consequences of not working.

Last year, I did check Flora’s math homework. This year, she asked me not to. “We check it in class,” she told me. “You don’t have to do that.” I decided to take her at her word. I don’t check her work.

Also, I don’t do my children’s projects. Every now and again, one of the girls comes home with a report to do, or a project that requires drawing or crafty-ness. I let my children draw, color, cut, paste, and/or build with clay whatever they want for these latter projects. For book reports or research, I support them or help them figure out how to search things out on Google, but I don’t fill in the blanks for them.

I will admit, my fingers positively ITCH to help with their projects. Sometimes I have to leave the room. I want my children to turn in shiny dioramas where perspective is correct (i.e. the trees are taller than the people). But my girls don’t give a hoot for perspective sometimes. They just like arts and crafts.

The only thing I try to do consistently with my children is help them practice spelling. We do practice tests of the list words. And even that I’m not consistent with, although I do ask if they have a test that week and if they know the words.

So far, my strategy is working; the girls are bringing home As and Bs (and my husband is paying them $1 each for the As, that stinker).

Two big take-aways were:

1. Read to your children.
2. Request a certain teacher.*

And one big hypothesis: “Robinson and Harris posit that greater financial and educational resources allow some parents to embed their children in neighborhoods and social settings in which they meet many college-educated adults with interesting careers. Upper-middle-class kids aren’t just told a good education will help them succeed in life. They are surrounded by family and friends who work as doctors, lawyers, and engineers and who reminisce about their college years around the dinner table.”

I can see this in my own upbringing. My parents encouraged the routines and habits that ensured we did our homework in the evening. With the exception of my father trying very hard to help me with my math homework (with disastrous results), they pretty much left us to our own devices. My parents were children of people with no college education; in the case of my father, his parents were Irish immigrants. But my parents did well for themselves because of their education, and they had a lot of friends and family members (siblings, older cousins of mine) who clearly benefited from college, too.

The research is food for thought. Given the high cost of higher education, I wonder sometimes what Dan and I will do when our children are graduating from high school. But in the meantime, I’m not going to help them (much) with their homework. How about you? And do you pay your kids for As?

* More on this later.

Pittsburgh Blogger Guest Post: Green in Pittsburgh

Today’s post comes from Michelle, who blogs about running and sustainability at SOLE for the Soul, and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh Bloggers. You can see my post over on The Steel Trap, where I mention a few of my favorite places in Pittsburgh for a family day out, date night, and me-time.

Writing about sustainability has its advantages; sometimes you get to visit some amazing places and chat with incredible people! Today I’d love to share one of my most interesting adventures: a tour of Sota Construction near Avalon, PA.

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When Ernie Sota, president of Sota Construction, decided to redesign his business’ headquarters, he knew he wanted to do something different. He also knew he wanted his business to have a small footprint and big goals! In the spirit of green building, he set a goal to decrease material costs by utilizing as many local and natural resources as he could. Well, what does western Pennsylvania have a whole heck of a lot of? Straw! Yep, the picture above is a building constructed of steel beams and straw bales. Believe it!

Pittsburgh is full of forward thinking green business owners. I know this because, as it turns out, Ernie Sota is one of them. Not only was his straw purchased locally (it’s actually a really long process; the straw bales have to be dried in a barn for several years before they can be used), but he purchased the clay and sand that was used as a mixing medium in the walls from Greensburg, PA. Additionally, Sota chose to use organic insulation created from mushroom spores.

While it may sound like this building has a short shelf life, it’s actually quite the opposite. The steel beams that frame the building are rust-resistant and less likely to warp than conventional wood studs. The interior walls are cobb, which is a combination of straw, clay, and minute amounts of sand. The cobb combined with the straw bales create walls that end up being between 8–10 feet thick and very well insulated! Straw also naturally decreases the humidity in the space.

Inside, Sota was able to integrate some recycled building materials into this renovation, such as cabinets that were salvaged from a lawyer’s office. The counter-tops are paper-based, made from recycled materials. They were able to use some of the extra wood for doors as well.

As you walk through the building, there is an openness in the design of the building. In fact, there are several vents between the first and second floor, which naturally provide airflow without using energy. They also pull sunlight from the skylights in the roof. Essentially, the skylights in the roof are passively lighting the first and second floors!

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View of vent from first floor.

If you’re into the geeky side of green building like I am, read on!

One of the coolest things in the building is a monitoring system that senses the temperature and humidity both outside and inside the building (according to five orientation zones). This system will flash a red or green light that notifies occupants when conditions are ideals to open the windows/skylights. For example, if the humidity outside would cause less than ideal working conditions inside, you get the red light!

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Getting sticky in here!

The structure is heated radiantly using geothermal coils that are in the floors and covered in poured concrete, which in theory is meant to save on energy costs. The six geothermal wells are drilled 450 feet deep. The extensive network of compressors and the pipes/returns are located in the basement, but highly visible, which allows for detailed monitoring.

I hope you enjoyed this mini-tour of Sota Construction, a local green building. If you want to talk more about sustainability, pop over to SOLE for the Soul and leave me a comment! It will get me talking about something other than the Pittsburgh Marathon for a change!

++

Here’s a list of participating #PGHgbe blogs. Go check them out, and see more of the awesome Pittsburgh has to offer:

Sean’s Ramblings

Small Town Dad

Sole for the Soul

Syntaxxerrorrr

Tall Tales from a Small Town

The Firecracker Blog

The Pittsburgh Mommy Blog

The Steel Trap

West of Mars

Ya Jagoff

Yinz R Readin

Yinzster

Yum Yum PGH

Random Thoughts: The Sometimes Perspective is Hard Edition

I will be the first person to tell you that I am incredibly blessed.

However, even first world problems are problems, and problems cause stress.

Kate has been sick since Sunday (well, it feels like she’s been sick since 2014 started…). Fever, more coughing, ear aches. Trip to pediatrician yesterday got her a prescription for antibiotics.

Her ears are full of crud. I spoke with her teacher yesterday, and she commented that Kate doesn’t seem to be hearing her well lately. And my MIL had said the same thing the day before.

Kate didn’t go to school yesterday, either, which was stressful because we actually managed to get her up, in her uniform, and to school — late. And the in the school office, she just crumpled. Her ear hurt, she didn’t feel good, so on and so forth.

I couldn’t take the day off work because I had two important meetings — one of which was my review. So, nope, not taking time and not taking my sick child to work (which I have done; she spent the day literally under my desk watching shows on Netflix). So instead I took her home, gave her medicine, and took her to Dan’s office.

My annual review was stellar. I completed 312 projects last year, including a 100-page catalog. That’s a lot.

And yes, I did get a raise. It is minimal, but it is a raise. My boss gave me credit for having the courage to ask. I don’t know if I get this credit because I’m the only one who asked, or if I’m a woman, or both.

Here are things I stressed about yesterday that only prove how lucky I am:

1. Getting to work late, because of sick child. (I have a job, child is not THAT sick, other two children are healthy; why stress?)

2. Caring about getting to work late — this is the societal pull of guilt nipping at me. My job is important to me for reasons above and beyond money. My children are my world, but I can’t be a SAHM. I did it; I was bad at it.

3. My annual review. I’ve been working my ass off, though. This was almost reflexive stress that comes from being in a position of being evaluated. Plus, I would learn the status of my raise. My boss called me brave for having asked.

Aside: My husband, when I told him my boss called me brave, said, “I watched you deliver a baby for four days. This is not your bravest action!” However, he also told me he was proud of me and congratulated me.

4. I also worried about the evening pickup: it varied from our norm because Kate was at Dan’s office and because Flora had soccer practice. I was out of the house for 12 hours yesterday, not counting the 10 minutes I stopped back there with Kate to give her medicine. That’s a long day. But: I have a healthy daughter who likes to play soccer, and a school that offers her the opportunity.

5. My children (Michael and Kate) were not well-behaved little angels at Panera, which is where we went to dinner while Flora was at soccer practice. They weren’t exactly demons, and I did my best to corral them — I can still pick M up! — but it was still a stressful 45 minutes. I worried that people would judge me for letting them watch videos on my phone to keep them quieter. But hey: I can take my children out to dinner, I have a mobile phone.

6. Money. Because I stress about that. That, too, is a reflex.

Do you catch yourself stressing then counting your blessings?