Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Makings of a Scratch Snob

I love to cook.  I’ve always enjoyed it, but now that I quit my full-time nursing job to stay home with my kids I have a little more time on my hands.  It was really my job that shaped my initial approach to cooking.  I was working in the morning, home in the afternoon, and working during the evening (i.e. normal dinner-prep hours.)  I had a million recipes that I prepped in the afternoon, slid in the oven before I left, and was piping hot and ready when I got home.  Because I was short on time, I used a lot of canned items.  Canned chicken, canned soup, canned veggies, canned tomato sauce.  Some other women I knew, whom I dubbed ‘scratch snobs,’ NEVER used canned anything.  They didn’t even use pre-made pasta.  Whoa.  I didn’t have time for that nonsense.  I felt secretly smug that I was feeding my family home-cooked meals in less time than it took these broads to make their artisan raviolis. I had four weekly menus that I rotated through each month so I always knew what to buy and what I was going to make that night.  I never stood, glassy-eyed, staring in the fridge at 4pm thinking:  What should I make for dinner?  I thought I had this cooking thing licked.

After doing this for a number of years, a few things happened that changed my approach.  This first thing was the birth of my twins.  I was committed to breastfeeding and so, I was essentially confined to the couch for much of the day.  Breastfeeding twins are a full-time affair.  I supposed I could have sat on the couch, nursing a baby, in silence, listening to the distant sounds of fighting and breaking glass as my three older boys busied themselves, unsupervised, somewhere else in the house.  But I opted to cover the sounds of my neglectful parenting with the television.  Now, the only things on during the day are soap operas and the Food Network.  Needless to say, I detest soap operas.  So that left the Food Network.

The Food Network opened up a whole new work for me, as far as my culinary efforts were concerned.  I was introduced to flavors and techniques that I would have never attempted otherwise.  I felt like Paula Deen was my long-lost grandmother, as I was a big fan of butter and mayonnaise myself.  After watching her, I attempted my first scratch-made chicken pot pie.  And a new confection known, sinfully, as ‘gooey butter cake.’  Both were huge successes.

Then I went on an Italian food kick after becoming hooked on Everyday Italian with Giada deLaurentiis.  After I got over being worried about her burning her cleavages while cooking in her dangerously low-cut t-shirts, my mouth watered over the pasta dishes and braised meat she prepared.  I tried my hand at white lasagna and used wine in my cooking for the first time ever.  Again, these dishes are a huge hit with my family.

On the more ‘ghetto’ side of things, I tried the big greasy burgers and hearty main dishes of Guy Fieri.  I also enjoyed Sunny Anderson’s Cooking for Real.  I was really starting to branch out from my four weekly menus and my family was thrilled.

After I quit my job and we moved, my sister introduced me to what is probably the best thing to happen to the home cook since the invention of the cooking range:  Pinterest.  Talk about a recipe smorgasbord!  Anything you could ever think about making, you can find it on pinterest.  My family has NEVER eaten so well. 

Another thing that influenced me was my other sister, Melissa.  She had begun a ‘clean eating’ thing that I initially rolled my eyes at.  But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.  I started simply, by restricting my grocery shopping to the perimeter of the store.  The perimeter, I discovered, contained the items that were the least processed (read: closer to how they actually exist in nature.)  Now, Melissa was making her own cheez-its.  As the mother of 5 young kids, the cheez-its were just fine coming from Nabisco and I certainly wasn’t going to reinvent the wheel on snack foods.  But as far as meals went, I bought as few processed foods as possible.   For the first time IN MY LIFE, I made a yeast-bread item.  Not a loaf, but breadsticks and rolls.  My family was in heaven.  I have found that pulling apart fresh-from-the-oven bread is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

As my cooking has become less processed, it’s also become a lot better tasting.  It has become my mission to make a meal so delicious that my typically reserved husband would take one bite, slam his fork to the table and declare:  “Honey, that’s the BEST thing I’ve ever eaten!”  Although that has yet to happen, I’m starting to get a reputation amongst my husband’s group of friends at law school.  He tells me there are jealous looks and some chop-licking amongst them when they see what new delicacy he has toted to school for lunch.  Our church missionaries, who change frequently and who we feed dinner to about once a month, have passed on the word that ours is the place to eat for dinner.  I, of course, am flattered and it makes me try that much harder to outdo myself and live up to their expectations.  I even made some pasta from scratch last week for them!  Who know?!

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Word on Marriage...

I decided another post was in order because my husband and I passed a very important milestone a couple of weeks ago:  On April 20th, we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary.  Now, I understand ten years might not seem like a big deal to a lot of you.  Especially those of you who have been married much longer than we have.  But for us, it was pretty major.
Peter and I got engaged after a pretty short courtship (we met September 1st and got engaged December 1st) and had an engagement marred by a lot of strife between my future mother-in-law and me.  The aforementioned ‘strife’ put my poor husband-to-be squarely in the middle, which was not comfortable for either of us.  You can be sure that we discussed eloping on more than one occasion.

We married in the Bountiful LDS Temple on April 20, 2002.  The tulips were in bloom, and yet it snowed most of the morning.  By the evening, when our reception was held, it was sunny and warm.  In some of our pictures Peter and I are both wearing sunglasses. J  The next few years brought a lot of happy and difficult times.  Before our first anniversary, I was pregnant and we had purchased our first home.  By our fourth anniversary, we had 2 little boys and many changes on the horizon.  Peter was an anxious, but completely devoted father.  I was a working mom, holding down part-time employment with a home care agency while Peter continued to cover sports for the Salt Lake Tribune.

But then the inevitable happened:  reality set in.  There was job stress, money stress, parenting stress, marriage stress, church responsibilities, bills, sickness, and Peter quit his job at the newspaper to pursue a different career.  All the things that go along with life.  And if you haven’t been dealing with things together as they come up and resolving conflict as it arises, your marriage will rock.  And rock we did.  Our 6th year was rough.  We moved twice, built a new home, sold our old home and had our third son.  Any one of these things would cause stress and friction in a family.  These things combined, nearly undid us. 

February of 2008 was the lowest point for us.  We were living apart, on the brink of divorce.  The catalyst for this, I have discovered, is really immaterial.  The bottom line was that things had gotten so far away from us that we didn’t know who we were as a couple anymore.  After not speaking for a few days, I called Peter on the phone.  I will never forget that phone call.  I was sitting on my sister’s front porch while she played with the boys inside.  We decided, in that phone call, that we were going to stick together. 

That phone conversation didn’t change anything, really.  We had a lot of work to do:  over a year of weekly counseling, talking, changing, becoming different people.  The only thing that phone call changed was our attitudes:  we took ‘divorce’ off the table.  We worked hard at our marriage for the next couple of years.  I’m happy to report that now, we are happier, and love each other more than we did the day we got married.  And we are still working hard at our marriage.  The difference?  We both came to the realization that in marriage, it’s not the love and romance that sustains the commitment you make to each other.  It’s the opposite:  the commitment and covenants you make to each other and God are what sustains the love.  People have it backward these days, you hear so often:  “Oh, we just fell out of love…”  What they really mean is that one or both of them quit trying.  Sorry, maybe that sounds harsh, but it’s true.  True things are hard to hear sometimes.

Since then, we’ve faced many challenges:  our 4th child turned out to be twins, when the economy collapsed so did my once-lucrative job, we were in the middle of a foreclosure at one point, we rented out our dream home and moved 800 miles away, where we knew no one and Peter started law school and I became a stay-at-home mother.  But not for one day since that phone call on my sister’s porch have I ever doubted that Peter and I would be together forever.  An eternal family is not created the day you marry; it is built piece by piece along the way.  Through the fires and trials, the laughter and joy.  Happy marriages aren’t just luck or chance.  Show me any happy couple with a strong marriage and I will show you two people who have worked and struggled, sacrificed and toiled, to be that way.  I will show you two people who may not always like each other, but are committed to each other and their children.  I will show you two people who understand that going through the fire with someone purifies you as a couple and a family in ways you can’t really describe.  I will show you two people like Peter and me.  I love you, Peter!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Two-for-One Special...

Saturday, April 7th was my twins’ second birthday.  The older I get, the quicker time seems to go by, but these last two years have definitely had some help.  I can’t believe that the tiny little babies I brought home are now rowdy toddlers who can feed themselves, hit and, yes, bite!  Let me give you a little background on the subject…

In June of 2009, Peter and I started talking about having another baby.  Of course, I was pregnant by the beginning of July.  That’s one of my superpowers:  reproduction.  Peter used to joke that I got pregnant using the same soap as him.  We were both pretty excited… we had three little boys and really wanted a daughter to round out the crew.  We both also knew that this would be our last child, little girl or not.  I was determined to savor every moment of the pregnancy and babyhood of this, the caboose of our family.  (When we got married, I had wanted 5 kids and Peter had only wanted 3, we decided to compromise and have 4.)

At the beginning of August, I had a miscarriage.  I was stunned, to say the least.  I had never had a miscarriage before and was pretty devastated by it.  The doctors I went and saw told me to wait a few months before trying again.  This doctor also told me that it would be at least 4-6 weeks before my hormones came down to normal levels and would even allow me to ovulate again.  So I went home, heart heavy, thinking we’d try again in three or four months.

In the aftermath of the miscarriage, I really started to freak myself out.  What had I done to cause this?  I scrutinized my diet, activity, vitamins, sleep patterns… had I taken ibuprofen for a headache?  Did I stand too close to the microwave?  What about that piece of sushi I had indulged in?  I was sure I had done something to bring about the end of my pregnancy and I felt horrible about it.  With all of our other children, we decided it was the right time and I got pregnant immediately.  I had healthy, easy pregnancies followed by quick deliveries.  Like clockwork.  This was definitely a ‘wrinkle’ I hadn’t planned on.  Maybe 3 was it for us?  Maybe God thought we had enough children and He was cutting us off?  I was heartbroken at the thought of not having any more children, but I knew if it was the Lord’s will, then no amount of whining on my part would change that.  I started to try to accept that maybe we were always going to be a family of 5.

About 2 ½ weeks after my last visit to the doctor, I had a positive pregnancy test.  I had been feeling strange and took the test simply because I had purchased a 2-pack and had one left.  I was sure it was residual hormone leftover in my system from the miscarriage, but three weeks later, it was still positive.  Hmmm.

I was thrilled when I realized I actually was pregnant again and that God had not ‘cut me off’ in the baby department.  J  A few weeks after that, a routine ultrasound at my first appointment with my midwife revealed not one, but two tiny growing babies snuggled safely together inside of me.  I was dumbstruck.  Two?  But I already HAD 3 kids!  Now I was going to have 5.

As the pregnancy progressed and I became larger and larger, I realized that I had always known that at some point, I would have twins.  I didn’t know when or why, it was just one of those little truths the God tucks away in your heart long before you realize it.  I was still surprised and overwhelmed, but that reassuring hand on my shoulder, that little whisper of, “It’s going to be ok,” from my Heavenly Father made me really believe that I could do it.  I could handle this.  I could be a mother of 5.

At about 18 weeks, Peter and I headed over to get an ultrasound to find out if we would have sons or daughters or one of each.  I was convinced that I was having two daughters, that these twins were my reward for having 3 boys in a row.  On the way to the ultrasound, Peter said to me, “I think you ought to at least consider the possibility that it could be two boys…”  My response was, “I don’t think God would do that to me!”

I was right.  Andrew Steven Richins was born in one push on April 7, 2010 weighing 5 pounds and 2 ounces.  He was so tiny and perfect, I was in love.  Nearly 2 hours and an emergency c-section later, his twin sister Olivia Kate Richins was born.  She was 6 pounds, 9 ounces and had a very healthy pair on lungs.

In the intervening two years, I have learned a lot about patience, love, sleeplessness and my own inadequacies.  My plans to savor this pregnancy and babyhood were replaced by a survival mode mentality that is just starting to ebb.  I have felt extremely guilty, lonely, and inadequate to the task of mothering two babies at once.  I was sure that I wasn’t giving them enough attention or love or reading to them or playing with them enough.  I felt, at times, that I was doing irreparable harm to their little psyches.  But now that I can see them being just as healthy, joyful, and rowdy as all of my other children were at 2, I know they are none the worse for wear.  The Lord knew they were going to be twins all along, He knew they could handle it.  He knew I could handle it.

Brandon, my 8-year-old, said to me a few weeks ago after a close family member suffered a devastating 2-trimester miscarriage, “Mom, remember when your baby went back to Heavenly Father and you were so sad and we went for a walk by the lake?”  “Yes, I do remember,” I said.  “That’s why we had Andrew and Olivia next, because Heavenly Father knew they were buddies and wanted to go together.”  I think Brandon was right.  I had a tremendous loss, followed by a very literal ‘double portion.’ J

So I think the thing I have learned the most from being a mother of multiples and a mother of 5 children is this:  Aligning our will with the Lord’s is one of the most difficult tasks we have in mortality.  It was His will that Andrew and Olivia come together and that I be their mother.  As unequal as I felt to the task, as much as I wished I could have changed things early on, the thing that got me through (that STILL gets me through) is that He knows I can do it. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Well, wonders never do cease. It's amazing to me how my kids change every day and how the smallest variances in how I parent them can yield such dramatic results. My youngest son, Andrew, was a runt. I don't say that negatively, he was just the smallest of our litter, by a lot, weighing only 5 pounds and 2 ounces at birth. He and his twin sister Olivia were four weeks early, but she still outweighed him by a pound and a half. He was surprisingly healthy. The doctor told me that the smaller twin is always healthier. Something about how they have to 'work' harder in the womb. Both twins left the hospital with me when I was discharged. Andrew has always been smaller and grumpier than his cheery, happy twin. Peter has been know to privately refer to him as a 'malcontent.' He was always fussy, cranky, difficult. He never wanted to snuggle or be held close once he got out of the newborn stage. He would twist and arch his back whenever you tried to dress/change/hold him. He was a generally difficult kid, temperment-wise. Physically, he met all of his milestones right on time: he sat, crawled, and walked right on schedule and with surprising agility. He was extremely coordinated from an early age, being able to undo complicated clothing fasteners (overall hooks!?) and pick up Cheerios and stack them into a tower before he turned 1. But he wasn't talking. At all. By 18 months, I knew something was up, because all he could say was 'no' and 'dada.' Mealtimes became VERY difficult. How much grunting and pointing can I really understand anyway? He wasn't able to communicate his wants and I wasn't able to understand his cave-man-talk in a timely enough fashion to keep him from melting down at mealtime. It was getting frustrating. And loud. I decided it was time to consult the professionals. Speech therapy was on my radar and soon, we were getting regular visits from Ketha, a speech/language pathologist. Ketha was great, and understood that it might not just be Andrew's stubbornness that was keeping him from talking. She lent us some dvd's that are part of a series that teaches young children American Sign Language. She also sent Andrew and I to Kindermusik, a mommy-and-me type movement and music class.

The signing was the first big thing. My other children loved it and really picked up on the signs. The dvds were fun to watch with catchy songs and they would all watch them together. My older kids, especially Ian, can sign pretty fluently in some situations (we're still working our way through the series of dvd's... :-) One day at lunch, I asked Andrew if he would like more blueberries or more pretzels. He looked at me and signed 'berry.' I was so excited, I felt like singing! This was the first time he had every been able to express his wants to me before! I promptly praised him, and dumped a huge handful of blueberries (his favorite) on his high chair tray. When I did, it was almost like watching a lightbulb go on above his head, I could almost see the little wheels turning in his mind: "Things have names, and if I ask for it by name, I'll get it..." That was the start of a number of signs that he started using regularly. Over the next two weeks, he started saying 10 words! It was so thrilling for me, that I was texting his progress to Ketha almost daily to share my excitement. My boy could talk!

The next big change came with Kindermusik. I couldn't really see how this would help Andrew talk when Ketha first suggested we go. But, it was free, and I had never had the time to do this with any of my other kids when they were small, so I went. The first time, Andrew just ran around the room, exploring. Subsequent trips to the class have left me dumbfounded. The little boy who didn't want to be snuggled or held, parks himself on my lap for the entire time. He just laps up all the one-on-one attention he gets from me during those 45 minutes. The child who was once a malcontent, will now grab my face between his chubby hands, say 'kees!' and kiss me squarely on the lips.

When Peter and I decided to have "one more" child, we both knew that it would be our last. I decided right then that I was going to really try to savor every moment, to enjoy the pregnancy, birth and babyhood of the 'caboose' of our family. When we found out it was not one, but two, little ones who would be joining our family, I went into survival mode and stayed there until I was done breastfeeding. I think a lot of moms of multiples feel like I did: just making sure everyone is fed, diapered, clean, and dressed is such a monumental undertaking, that you just don't have the energy or brainpower for the little things like singing them to sleep, spending individual time with them, sitting and just enjoying them. Taking Andrew to Kindermusik and watching him become an entirely different child has really opened my eyes to how important taking time to do the little things is.

If I hadn't, I might have missed the 'keeses.'

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Word on Books...

For the last 8 years or so, I have read very few actual books. By 'actual' I mean books without pictures and more than 40 pages. Oh, and books that don't contain words like "Whoops!" or "Roar!" or "Wow!" or pretty much any of those words that denote a sound and are followed by the requisite exclaimation mark. Before eight years ago, I read voraciously. When I was single, I read ALL THE TIME, especially when I was working 12-hour night shifts at the hospital. (People's ability to converse coherently really drops off after about 3 am.)

But something happened to me eight years ago that really cut into my reading time: I had my first baby. He was quickly followed by 4 additional siblings, including a pair of twins who all but demolished any free-time I had before. Reading was one of the first things to go, followed by most of my other hobbies.

Don't get me wrong... I read! In the last eight years I have read: The Book of Mormon (at least 6 times), It's Raining Pigs and Noodles (about a million), anything by Dr. Seuss (which I actually don't mind, the rhyming is entertaining and kinda catchy), and a hilarious book called "Big Plans," which we've read more times than I can count. Those are the Big 4. There are a lot more. I'm really big on making sure my kids have a lot to read. And my older sister bought them books every time she babysat for years... (until she got married and had a baby of her own.) When we moved here to Idaho about 8 months ago, I packed up 6 boxes of books. One entire box remains unopened (and un-missed) in the boys' closet.

I hear from my sisters all the time about all the great books they're reading... I honestly don't know where they find the time. If I had spare time to read and sat still long enough to get through a page, I was passed out, dreaming. Yes, I'm sad to say that my list of reads this last decade is frightfully short.

BUT! Two things, actually. 1. I am now back in the land of the living. I'm done having babies, have no infants (although still 2 in diapers) and by next fall more than half of my children will be in school. So I am officially reading more. I read an entire book this last weekend. "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins. It was really good and moved along at a pretty good clip (a MUST when you have as short an attention span as I do!) I just bought the other two in the trilogy on Amazon.
2. While I haven't been filling my head with the great literary works of the world these past 8 years, I have been otherwise occupied. I have spent some very precious moments curled up with my little brood, reading "Little Boy," "The Giving Tree" and many more. The year he was 7, my oldest son and I spent the year reading the Book of Mormon together. It was the catalyst for many deep conversation and sweet moments as his little testimony grew. His Primary teacher stopped me in the hall on Sunday and told me how surprised she was at his knowledge of the Scriptures.

So yeah, there have been a lot of books I missed. But I wouldn't trade what I was doing instead of reading. Now that my children are getting a little older, we've started the Harry Potter books together. Pick your jaw up off the floor. That's right, I've never read any of them. Or seen the movies. It's an adventure I was saving to share with them.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Granolas

Wow, will you look at that?! Twice in less than a month! Here I sit, at the computer, while the boys are cleaning up the playroom. It was another very long day, but a satisfying one. Andrew, one of my 22 month old twins, and I went to Kindermusik today. Andrew started speech therapy last week due to his inability or unwillingness to utter any words other than 'dada,' 'no,' and 'hi.' (On the good-news front, he did say 'penis' during bathtime tonight.) The speech therapist signed us up for this class because she thought it might help him to be around other kids his age. I guess the fact that he has been with another 'kid his age' since conception doesn't count. Anyway, the class was this morning and I figured we'd give it a whirl. If for no other reason than that I NEVER get to do something with just one of the twins like this. I don't even get to go to the grocery store with just one twin. So I thought Andrew would get a kick out of being the 'one and only' with Mommy for an hour.

When we arrived, a bunch of barefaced women wearing wool sweaters and Tevas with socks were sitting around discussing the trials of cloth diapers and 'babywearing.' I was in full makeup, slacks and a cardigan. They looked at me and smiled and we made polite small talk until class started. I must say, I judged them pretty quickly. They were Granolas. Which is not necessarily a negative thing. I just am not one of 'them.' Granolas are the moms who walk everywhere, wear their babies in a hard-to-wind sling until they're 3, breastfeed graphically in public (also until the child is near 3.) They wear the aformentioned Tevas year-round usually with cargo pants or cargo shorts, weather-permitting. They don't wear makeup, they use cloth diapers, they buy organic. These are the moms who made me feel like crap for not making my own baby food, giving up on breastfeeding before my kids were in kindergarten, and ruining the Earth with my giant minivan. I figured we would have nothing in common. My experience with the Granolas hasn't been entirely positive. Usually I find myself feeling terribly inadequate, feeling overdressed, feeling like I have somehow cheated my children by giving them store-bought baby food and formula. I was prepared for the worst.

BUT... I was pleasantly surprised. One of the little girls started to throw a huge tantrum in the middle of the class. We're talking a huge, on the floor, kicking, screaming, snot-all-over meltdown. As this was happening, I saw on her mother's face the same thing I feel when one of my kids do something similar. She was embarrassed and at a loss for what to do. I felt an immediate kinship to her; usually it's my kid who's throwing the fit. After the class, the Granolas and I sat around and chatted. They had the same problems with their kids that I struggle through with mine. (In spite of the cloth diapers and gluten-free diets.) They weren't looking down their noses at me in my man-made fiber clothing. They were genuinely interested in me and Andrew. They were all without words, mouths hanging open for a bit when I told them that I had 5 kids. Then they all told me how I didn't look old enough to have 5 kids. :-) Maybe the Granolas aren't so bad after all!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Unexcused Absence...

All right. I guess I don't have any excuses for my long absence again. Since I last posted, I quit my job, moved my familoy of 7 over 800 miles and completely pressed the 'reset' button on my entire life. I'm now a stay-at-home mom of five. Sometimes, a single, stay-at-home mom of five. Peter started law school in August and is gone between 12 and 15 hours a day. Ugh. We've been so spoiled the last five years, with Peter being a stay-at-home dad and me just working part time. We were able to spend so much time together! I wish I had realized it at the time... I'm still going through Husband Withdrawals, even though we are more than 1/2way through the first year. Being a stay-at-home mom has been interesting. First, they should never call it a 'stay-at-home' mom because if you have more than 2 kids, I can't imagine that you would be doing a lot of staying at home. I certainly don't. Most mornings go like today: get up at about 5am, run on the elliptical downstairs for an hour while catching up on my dvr'd shows from the night before, shower and get ready, get kids up and dressed, babies up and dressed, make lunches, comb hair, make beds, find coats, hats and gloves, ask a million times "Do you have your____ (fill in the blank: homework, library book, permission slip etc.)" then drive husband to school because his ride flaked, drive Brandon and Nathan to school at the opposite end of town, then drive back in the other direction across town to drop Ian off at preschool, then go to the grocery store with a pair of annoyed and impatient twins to get the fixings for a huge batch of chili I signed up to make for a preschool fundraiser tonight. Then I come home and am faced with a mess in the kitchen, bedroonms and laundry room. But I'm exhaused, so I am here on the computer. The thing I've noticed about being a work-at-home mom is that I don't have less guilt than I did when I was working outside the home. I still have just as much guilt, sometimes more. I feel guilty if I don't get housework done, but I also feel guilty if I don't play blocks with the babies for 2 hours. I feel guilty if I don't do something intellectually stimulating with Ian when the babies are napping, I feel guilty if I don't volunteer at school, but I also feel guilty for leaving the twins with a sitter if I do volunteer at school. I wish there was some magical formula for getting rid of Mommyguilt, but so far I haven't come across it. If anyone else has, please let me know.