My late grandma used to bake bread every day, just one of the things she was famous for. There was always a saucer of softened butter in the cupboard, along with a jar of honey. The air in her home smelled like yeast and warmth.
I wish I would have understood the significance of this before she was gone. I wish she'd have taught me all her secrets. I didn't get her blue eyes and the top of her head barely reached my bony shoulder, but her love for a delicious meal and the value she placed on time spent in the kitchen fell on me. As much as I've always found my brown eyes boring, I wouldn't make that trade.
Sunday morning we woke up to snow falling in thick blankets. It didn't stop all day, and by the time it was over, we had nineteen inches. After being cooped up all day with eight people in the house, (Eight. 8. EIGHT. How do you big families function in the winter? I struggle.) we got the notice late that night that school was canceled for Monday.
I quietly despaired, but only for a minute.
And then I started planning.
I have always wrestled with guilt over the fact that I'm not great at "playing" with my kids. It's always been this way. I used to read to them for hours. We like to do crafts. We can veg with the best of them. I dispense ideas, "Go build a fort! Use every soft object in the house!" along with wisdom, "Only boring people get bored". But I've never enjoyed playing Barbies or Thomas the Train. Legos never did what I wanted them to do. Polly Pockets? Shoot me now.
I'm about to release my darkest secret into the atmosphere: I used to dread the soul-numbing "game" of pretending to eat pretend food. My kids grew weary of me only ordering Mexican food and when they handed me a bowl with a plastic blob of "peas", I'm not gonna lie, I was disappointed.
I know most of you don't find this soul-numbing, hence the guilt I've walked around with for a solid ten years.
But I realized something on our snow day.
I'M GOOD AT OTHER THINGS.
I'M A DIFFERENT KIND OF AWESOME MOM.
And if it's true for me, it's true for you.
Your kids and my kids will have unique experiences (and different varieties of baggage, let's not kid ourselves,) but they will walk away knowing they were safe and loved. That's what matters most.
I asked Calvin recently how he would think of me when he's older.
Guess what he said? "I'll imagine you standing by the stove, cooking something delicious."
I'm good with that.
It feels like a win, and it also feels like the truth.
Life has been really full around here, in ways that aren't all fun or easy.
I was blessed beyond measure to have meals brought to us a couple weeks ago by my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law. It came at the best possible time and made us feel seen and supported. Also, I was in a place where I couldn't wrap my mind around getting food on the table. IT WAS AWESOME.
But this week, food has been my sanity.
On Monday, our cooped-up snow day, I woke to four little people whom I love so much, and I was ready to just be present. I wanted them to have a fun day at home, but I knew I was a big part of that puzzle. I needed to have fun in order for them to feel the space to have fun.
We started off with an oatmeal bar.
My kids eat breakfast at school every day, and I'm not going to lie and say I hate it. I don't hate it. I love it. We're up and out the door in 20 minutes, yo. But I do miss having breakfast with them.
I cooked up a batch of rolled oats and we all topped our own. No two bowls alike.
We then moved on to not one, but two kinds of homemade bread. (This and this.)
Lunch was homemade "Egg McMuffins". (Blast you, McDonalds, for ruining our culinary lexicon for all eternity. I honestly don't know what else to call them, because Egg Muffin isn't right at all and Egg with Ham and Cheese on an English Muffin just takes way too long.)
After they played in the snow, we had homemade hot chocolate and cinnamon toast and while we crunched, we remembered one of our old favorite poems, "Animal crackers and cocoa to drink, that is the finest of suppers, I think. When I am grown up and shall have what I please, I think I shall always insist upon these..."
Dinner was Orechiette with bacon meatballs and bread-sticks, then Lemon Souffle with whipped cream for dessert.
Basically, I spent the entire day in the kitchen. I had helpers and we even took a craft break.
But I realized that this is something I can offer the ones I love. I also realized cooking is inexpensive therapy. It's something I can control, a problem easily solved. It engages my senses and my brain. It nourishes my family.
A friend of mine wrote the following status update on Facebook last year and I saved it immediately, "I think ta nites dinner is gon be pinto beans nd pork neck bones wit some cabbage nd bacon ta boost tha flava."
It's just so awesome. I've never craved pork neck bones. But it never gets old, the way we're all so different yet so obviously separated at birth. We want the same things. We retreat in different ways and numb ourselves in different ways, but we all retreat. We all numb. We celebrate. We regroup. We give ourselves grace for a new day.
When things are chaotic long enough, you'll find me in the kitchen, probably with messy hair and yoga pants. For me, cooking brings a little solace.
My grandma had seven children. Her first three were all boys, born in a three-year span.
After all this time, I think I may have cracked the code on all her nut-brown loaves of bread.
Rounding out our week:
Curry chicken soup with rice and kale
Italian orzo soup (with sausage)
Chicken Avocado Burritos with homemade salsa
Most of what I cook is on my Pinterest page if you want to follow.