Friday, January 29, 2016

Three's not a Crowd.

Three's not a crowd.
Writing is such a luxury these days.

There are so many things I want to write about and never enough time to do it.  I am overdue for one of my pictorial appreciation posts about the beauty all around me (and there is plenty), I have a back-log of all the culinary dalliances I've been concocting (no, still have not lost the holiday weight), and let's not forget the recent family vacation we took which provided ample photographic evidence of how fortunate we are to lead such a beautiful, adventure and love filled life.  Then again, the cruise also provided plenty of evidence that life as a parent, while rewarding and exciting and fulfilling in many ways, can be stressful, difficult, and draining.  It's what literally takes up every second of my waking existence - not writing or cooking or daydreaming about the Wasatch mountains.  But that's to be expected, I suppose.

And speaking of expectations, I'm not entirely sure what I expected life to be like with three children.  But I know I didn't expect this.  Words fail a little bit.  Perhaps a picture of the crumbs on my kitchen floor, or the never-fully-organized playroom, or my crazy laundry room would symbolically do?  It's hard to describe exactly what I mean by "this" without painting a picture, but I'll try:

I expected squabbles and noise and mess - even a certain degree of chaos.  I expected my workload to increase by a factor of 1 munchkin.  Less me-time, less-Matt time.  I did not expect this - I did not expect to feel so completely frazzled and overwhelmed by the constant disorder and madness imposed on my otherwise orderly and independent existence that I am literally reeling from it some days.  Nobody tells you that once you have 3, you might as well have 5, because the amount of crazy, dirty and busy is not equal to just adding one more person.

And if I'm honest, maybe I'm also a victim of parenthood-induced selective amnesia.  I forgot what the terrible-twos looked, sounded and smelled like.  I forgot about potty training and the random poop-in-the-jeans-at-walmart moments.  I fervently and happily painted breast-feeding in the deepest shade of rose, only to fall into the depths of blue despair after 4 months of another relentless-every-hour-feeder Ciardiello child.  I simply could not remember the sleep-deprivation, or newborn laundry.  I did not expect to feel like I'd won the lottery when I could hear my child pooping from across the room and get there in time to avoid a blow-out diaper.  I didn't expect to not be able to have time to spend with my quiet angel infant of the blow-out diapers because, well, there's two other creatures waiting for me to look, touch, smell, clean, help, kiss, hug, tickle, or feed them ALL DAY, EVERY DAY.

Since when do 6-year-olds act like teenagers?!  I heard the warnings that chauffeuring to extra-curriculars gets old fast, but I was too dumb (or naive) to listen and am now living in daily regret.  Meanwhile I can barely get it together enough to go to sing-along time at the library once a week and have officially been paying for a gym membership for two months without using it once.  I don't know if two kids was that much easier (well, yes, it was) or if maybe it's the age-differences, or my children being particularly "spirited" boys?  I don't know what it is.  I just know it's unexpectedly hard.  I knew when I "signed up," that three kids would be a challenge.  I saw that far away look in my MIL's eyes when I told her we intended to have three children and she, having been through it herself, said, "Oh Brenda, it's hard.  It's really hard." 

We've all heard that three is a crowd.  What I didn't know was that it's not a crowd.  This is not about not having enough chairs at the dinner table, or having to buy an annoying extra pair of snow boots or one of those stupid tandem strollers (may they be cursed).  It's not about figuring out how you evenly split the last piece of brownie into thirds when halves are so much easier.  Three's not a crowd.  It's equal parts beauty and madness.  It's beyond anything I'd ever hoped or feared.  Really, what it is is absolutely, positively, all-consuming in every possible human way.  It makes me look at my three kids every day and feel both exasperated at my obvious stupidity at wanting three children, and my prescience to go ahead and go for it, because, in truth, I realize I could never choose one to get rid of.  I simply couldn't breathe if one of them were gone.   And our lives would be all the duller, less rich for it, no doubt about it.

In the end, I AM living in - surviving - this crazy moment in time, though.  It's hard because they're all little and dependent and need me and their dad to survive so much that we spend all our waking moments doing annoying but necessary things (like putting tiny socks back on for the 17th time or sweeping up impossible amounts of crumbs under the bar stools in the kitchen five times a day).  But I'm living in it with a real awareness of how fortunate I am to be able to live in it - despite the frustration, the loss of self, the moments I feel like I'm drowning.  And the reason I get it is because sometimes when I come up for air, I get a glimpse - a small, sparkling view of a moment when they're all playing together, sleeping soundly (the way only tired little kids do), eating their dinners in contentment, unknowingly grateful for their happy and bountiful home.  It makes me realize that one day they'll be grown, and if I'm lucky they'll turn out to be beautiful humans on whom I'll too be able to depend for love and company, but most of all for those memories of what it took to make them independent, well-balanced, loving parts of this crazy life and world.

And that will be worth it.  In an absolute, all-consuming kind of way, too. 

*  *  *

Way overdue for an update on the boys.  Here's a quick snapshot of each to-date.

Age 6 1/2 years
Nicknames: Romijn, Romidgen, Rome, Buddy, Buck-o

Roman is currently in 1st grade at a Spanish Immersion program.  He seems to love Spanish but is quite stingy with the knowledge he shares.  He recently looked up at Linus and declared "Linus, tu eres un ogro de peluche!" much to everyone's shock and delight.  He is an incredible reader.  He will complain and whine incessantly about having to read but the second he gets hooked into his book he shuts the entire world off.  He's creative and imaginative and an "outside the box" thinker who can think of solutions to things I'd never come up with on my own.  He loves to play Mario-Maker on the Wii.  He wants to help me whenever he can.  He's a caring and thoughtful big brother.  He's loud, messy, and never seems to listen (except he's absolutely always listening and just chooses to ignore anything he doesn't want to deal with).  His favorite movies are the old Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Sound of Music (he does a mean rendition of Julie Andrews' "Do - A Deer"), Elf, Toy Story.  His favorite books are the Magic Treehouse Books.  His love of antiquity continues in his curiosity about ancient ruins and maps.  He also seems to have a particular love of science, experiments, electricity and constructive games.  His favorite foods are tortellini with pesto, pizza, salmon sushi, sunny-side-up eggs, and clementines.  He hates taking a shower (and usually leaves shampoo in his hair), refuses to wear pajamas (he just dons his underwear and fleece robe), and wakes up earlier than anyone in the house to watch cartoons.

*  *  *

Age 2 1/4 years
Nicknames: Baboo, Al, Al-Zander, Babs, Pigmy-Midget, Aloysius Dinkle Doo

Alexander is still not in preschool because Utah doesn't do that and he's very attached to me anyway so I'm loathe to sign him up for daycare.  He is a happy, boundingly-full-of-energy little man who is extremely agile for his age.  He has the eagerness of a puppy.  He wants to be just like Roman (and may very well be stronger than him, or very nearly so).  He has the loudest cry of all the kids, but is the quietest otherwise.  He loves cars, trucks (anything with sirens) and ride-on toys.  He has used all the bikes and tricycles more than Roman ever did in the 5 years before him and is especially good on the plasma car and balance bike.  He listened and followed directions splendidly until he turned two.  Now he still listens and follows directions but only after throwing himself on the floor writhing, crying, and screaming for 1-2 minutes first.  He was potty-trained at 2 years old, but still occasionally has accidents which may very well be the cause of an awkward eye-twitch I've developed.  He loves to read books with me - some of our favorites are "The Snowy Day," the Curious George books, "Brown Bear, Brown Bear," "The Best Mouse Cookie," and all the Helen Oxenbury baby books.  He once fell asleep while I read him "Lost and Found."  Just once. :)

We call Alex a dangerous snuggle bug because if you lay down and fall asleep with him, you'll never want to get up again. He likes to burrow under his covers and is quite possessive of his blanket.  His favorite tv shows are Peppa Pig, Go DIego Go!, Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom, and Plaza Sesamo.  He's my Spanish-loving man and the most bilingual of all the kids so far.  He loves to wash his hands, brush his teeth, help put lotion on and put his boots on (even if it's usually on the wrong foot.)  He's the reason we take walks - even in the snow.  He HATES naps and usually falls asleep and wakes up crying.  Just how he rolls.  Two minutes and his coffee (warm milk) later, he's laughing.  His favorite foods are apple sauce, yoghurt, cereal, mac n cheese, and anything Matt and I are eating.  He'll eat olives with me and for that I'm eternally grateful.

*  *  *

Age Nearly 8 Months
Nicknames: Yinus, Yenai, Yen-Yen, Gumball, Leenosh, Gorrinus, The Golden Ginus

Linus just started sitting up really well and is starting to move around a lot.  You can tell he'll be crawling very soon.  He's the typical last child: the little darling, very patient with this older brothers - the apple of everyone's eye.  He has a quiet but happy personality.  He has started sleeping in his own room now, though he still comes into our bed after midnight.  He is still nursing and quite resistant to bottles though he will occasionally take one grudgingly.  He has just discovered the joys of real solid food (not purees).  His favorite foods these days are puffs, cereals of any sort, soft pears, chocolate (oh yes), apple sauce, and grapefruit segments.  He likes grabbing the book pages more than reading them. He loves dumping out buckets of toys, sucking on everything, and enjoys being wrestled with or allowing his brothers to drag him around the house.  He puts himself to sleep pretty easily in his crib at his bedtime of 6pm.  He takes 3 naps a day, rendering everyone home-bound until further notice, but his smile and babbling makes the inconvenience well worth it.  He has started taking baths with Alex and loves the water.  It is both satisfying and melancholy when he grows out of something.  The most recent things to go the way of the Dodo are the playmat, bouncy seat, and, while I'm still not willing to admit it, the burp cloths I've used with all three boys.  He has reddish, brownish, blondish hair like Roman did, but looks more like Matt in the facial features.  Sometimes Matt looks at him and says, "How did you end up being named Linus?"  I'm not sure either.  But it suits him well. :)

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Saturday, October 3, 2015

It is Fall: Hungarian Mushroom Soup and Apple Pies

It is October; that Autumnal smell is in the air. 

Here in the Wasatch mountains, the changing of the seasons is particularly beautiful with the Rocky Mountain shrubs and oaks turning all manner of bright, warm colors, the mums blooming fervently, and the Utah gardens and orchards bountiful with the many fruits of Fall.  The apples are particularly delicious and abundant right now, and when we went to buy our pumpkins last week after school we couldn't resist buying a basket of Golden Delicious (literally and figuratively).  I promised Roman we'd bake his Daddy an apple pie, one of his favorite desserts, and maybe an apple turnover if there was leftover crust.  Roman agreed he'd help peel the apples.

Every year I look forward to Fall.  Halloween is tied for my favorite holiday with Christmas and at our house it is a rite of sorts to bring out the Halloween decorations and reminisce about them as we put them up.  We have the little mummy and skeleton bodies our jack-o-lanterns sit on, my witchy-witch hat (worn to hand out candy every year), Matt's extremely frightening Meatloafesque-skull mask (used to frighten neighborhood teenagers every year), Roman's "spirit" which hangs from a tree, bats, ghosts and all other manner of spooky things.  This year we bought a blow-up witch to add to the mix as well as a cackling witch figurine to replace a favorite cackling bobble head somehow lost in the mix.  I'm fairly certain our neighbors think we're pagans, but I somewhat delight in the outrage.

But Autumn isn't all ghouls and candy handouts.  In October we also look forward to buying our pumpkins and picking or buying local apples.  I was happily surprised to find that the area surrounding Salt Lake City is full of small farms and orchards.  In fact, in Ogden, our small city, most houses have at least one fruit tree and often a large home garden for the summer.  When we moved into our house I spotted a peach tree (sadly it is diseased) and we had about 6 rows of corn growing in our small allotment (more than enough for the entire summer for us and our neighbors), planted for us by the previous owners.  While the corn is gone now, everyone around us is still reaping the harvests of stone-fruit trees, squashes, and apples.  I can't say I mind this at all.

I've been told that this Utah practice of "grow your own" has something to do with the prevalent Mormon culture of (somewhat extreme) preparedness.  One of the first times Matt came to our new house to collect mail before we moved in, he found a small flier from a man in the neighborhood requesting all our personal information, that of our children as well as an itemized list of all the survival gear and food / water stores we had in our home.  Sooo, that went straight into the trash because, well, you know, identity theft.  But when we mentioned it to our neighbors months later they explained one person is assigned to each area by the city (and church) to keep tabs on every person and their survival stores.  You know, "just in case the mountain ever comes down on us," as my neighbor put it.  Way to make me feel like a paranoid jerk. :)  I assume everyone preserves and pickles the bounties of their gardens and while I'm  not sure we'll start hoarding canned goods and heat blankets, I think maybe I'll partake in the summer garden madness next year to a level I've never done before.  I've always wanted to grow eggplant.

So today I made the apple pie, and there was extra crust so I went ahead and made what came to be a lovely little apple turnover too.  The air was particularly crisp and so I thought a nice Hungarian Mushroom soup and some crusty bread would pair well.  I had this soup for the first time a week ago at a local deli called Berlin's.  Their sandwiches are so-so, but this soup, one I'd never heard of, was excellent and is very easy to replicate at home.  I added kielbasa to it to make it slightly heartier and for the meat-beast my husband tends to be.  I'll include the recipe for the soup below but as far as the apple pie, all I've got are tantalizing pictures of the butteriest, flakiest crust I've ever made.  We've yet to determine whether the dessert is improved by adding pecans.  As a Texas girl at heart, I can't see how it wouldn't be.  And how the heck did that not occur to me sooner?!

Happy Fall everyone!  To many delicious treats coming our way, no doubt.

*  *  *

Hungarian Mushroom Soup 
Serves 4-6

This soup's list of ingredients feels unorthodox to me.  How did Hungarian soup end up using soy sauce?  Don't question a good thing, my friends.  The addition of kielbasa was mine.  While tasty, it was totally unnecessary.  If you chop your mushrooms thickly they are just as good as meat - one of the many reasons I am a complete mushroom fiend.  This was delicious with white mushrooms, but I can only imagine that it would be elevated to superb with a mix of wild mushrooms.  Give it a try with some nice crusty bread.  
A perfect autumnal delight.

*  *  *

1 lb white mushrooms, sliced thickly (about 3-4 slices per mushroom)

1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 lb kielbasa, diced (OPTIONAL)
1/4 cup flour
2-3 tbsps butter
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 - 2 tbsps Paprika
2 tsp dried dill (if using fresh, double the amount)
1 tbsp soy sauce (yes, weird!)
 4-5 cups chicken stock or water (if you use water either add a lot more salt or chicken bouillon)
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup sour cream (OPTIONAL)
1/2 lemon, juiced
fresh dill to garnish (optional)


1. Heat the oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat until butter is melted.  

2. Add the onions, mushrooms and kielbasa (if using) and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat until the sausage is somewhat caramelized and the mushrooms have begun to brown and released their juices.  This will take about 10 minutes or so.

3. To the pot, add the flour and paprika and let it cook for 1-2 minutes, creating a roux.  Do not let it burn or get too dark - turn the heat down if necessary.

4. Add the broth, dill and soy sauce and bring the mixture to a boil.  Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, allowing the soup to thicken and reduce.  This will concentrate the flavors.

5. Season generously with salt and pepper and mix in the milk, sour cream and lemon juice.

6. Remove from heat.  Garnish with more dill and serve with crusty bread or garlic crostini. YUM.

Another spooky acquisition this year.

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