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Two Years In: Thoughts From a Working Mom

March 20, 2014

A few days ago, I rushed to campus to teach my morning classes, then rushed to the gym to fit a workout in, then rushed home and started making dinner for that night (a dinner I would leave at home for Ryan and Lila, as I teach on Monday nights).  I like to listen to podcasts when I cook, so as I threw together the ingredients for the cucumber salad and meatball muffins (yum, right?), I listened to Terry Gross interview author Bridget Schulte on Fresh Air.  Schulte, who worked at the Washington Post while raising her kids, is the author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, a book that focuses largely on working moms, and our tendency to try to do everything and do it well…and what happens when we inevitably fail.  

She writes that the balance is particularly hard for working moms because you’re working within multiple spheres.  For instance, if you’re a stay-at-home mom, you have one sphere: the home. If you’re a working dad, you typically have one sphere: work.  Working moms, on the other hand, are expected to somehow master both.  I think that pressure often comes most strongly from the mother herself, but there are external forces at work as well.

I can say without a doubt that this has been one of the biggest struggles for me.  I definitely feel all of the pressures that go along with my job—papers to grade, classes to prep for, meetings with students and my superiors, etc.  And, for me at least, I would say that the pressure to be a very present mother is also still there—on days when I’m not teaching, I fill my hours (and Lila’s) with playdates, toddler gymnastics, and crafts.  My to-do list for work is as long as my pinterest “crafts to make with Lila” board—and neither is ever really tackled entirely.  Especially the crafting board, ha.

I don’t know where I’m going with this except to say that, almost two years into it, balancing the work and motherhood thing is hard.  When I’m teaching my classes, I feel like I’m missing out on key moments and milestones with Lila.   When I’m with Lila, my mind is running 100 mph, mentally going through everything I still need to get done for work.  These days, I find it incredibly difficult to just be…present.

Interestingly, the stay-at-home moms that I tend to hang out with are incredibly open about the struggles that they’ve had with motherhood.  And believe me, I know that being a stay-at-home mom is not without its own unique difficulties.  The moms I work with, however?  Not so much.  I think the pressure is there, and is very real, for the working mom to at least appear to have it all figured out and to appear very “together”—complaining about the work/life balance might be seen, after all, as a sign of weakness, or a sign that you can’t handle the work at hand.  I work in a very friendly, supportive department—but in a way, I still worry that if I were to start complaining about my workload, or my inability to balance work and motherhood, that it might…I don’t know, come back to be used against me, somehow.

The irony that I was listening to a podcast about working mothers trying (and failing) to do everything as I frantically attempted to make dinner before leaving the house to go back to work…well, it doesn’t escape me.  And I ended the podcast feeling…not depressed, exactly, but like I still didn’t  have a concrete answer for how to strike that “balance” that self-help authors love to talk about.  And I don’t have one—an answer, that is.  There are days when I love my job.  There are days when I wish I could stay home with Lila. And that probably isn’t going to change anytime soon.

I will say that I think I’m getting better about learning when to just let certain things go.  Our house isn’t the cleanest, and there are usually dishes piling up in the sink, and the other day I realized that Lila was wearing her pants on inside-out.  It happens.  I let it go. Schulte also talked about the “mommy martyr” figure—you know, that mom/wife who complains about having to do everything around the house…but then when the husband does the laundry, she complains about how horrible he is at folding clothes and finally just insists on re-folding all of the clothes herself?

Not that I would know anyone like that. Ahem.

But in all seriousness, I’m getting better at it.  Ryan might fold laundry differently than me, but hey—clean underwear is clean underwear, am I right?

Yesterday, I found myself feeling guilty about my busy schedule as of late.  So when Ryan went up to campus, Lila and I spent the afternoon baking cookies…and watching The Little Mermaid…and eating dinner on the couch.  I just wanted an afternoon where I felt like a good mom.  And you know what? I did.

Easy Oatmeal Spelt Cookies

1 stick butter

1 egg

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

3.5 cups oats

1 cup spelt flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 cup raisins (optional)

In a standing mixing bowl, beat together butter, egg, and sugars until smooth.  In a separate bowl, combine oats, flour, baking powder, and cinnamon.  Add to mixing bowl and beat slowly until combine.  Gently fold in raisins, stirring until incorporated.

Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.  Careful not to overbake!

Eat while watching Ariel sing about gadgets and gizmos a’plenty.

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Mediterranean Meatball Muffins + Cucumber Salad

March 18, 2014

Yesterday, I was really on top of things.  Don’t you love days like that?

After teaching my morning classes, I went to the gym, which I hardly ever do—I just feel so pressed for time on Mondays that it usually becomes a non-workout day for me.  But yesterday, I made the time.  And then on top of that, I made dinner when I got home—five hours early!

I teach on Monday nights, but when I can, I like to cook in advance and leave something for Ryan and Lila to have while I teach.  Sometimes it happens, sometimes they’re on their own. Yesterday afternoon, I made these two dishes before heading back up to school again:

Mediterranean Meatball Muffins (based on a recipe from Cooking Light)

1 package (1.25 pounds) ground turkey

1 egg

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. dried basil

1/3 cup oil-packed sundried tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup minced fresh parsley

1 tsp. salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350.

Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in pan.  Add onions and cook for 10 minutes, until soft.  Add oregano and basil. 

Dump the rest of the ingredients into a separate mixing bowl.  Once the onions have cooled off a bit, add them to the bowl, then mix until well-combined (doing this by hand is messy, but it works the best).

Drop the meat mixture into a standard-sized muffin pan, filling almost to the top:

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When cups are filled, place pan in oven and bake for about 30 minutes, until the tops are browning.

And done!

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While the muffins were baking, I also whipped up this easy cucumber salad to go with them:

Cucumber Salad

1 cucumber, chopped into thin half-moons

1/4 red onion, minced

1/2 cup feta, chopped or crumbled

5-6 cherry tomatoes, quartered

juice from 1/2 a lemon

2 tbsp. greek yogurt

1 tsp. dried oregano

salt to taste

Directions:

Combine ingredients and mix well, tossing to coat.

Pretty easy, right? Winking smile 

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These were great to come home to after a long night of teaching.

Happy Tuesday—have a great day!

Super-Seedy Breakfast Cookies

March 17, 2014

Morning!  How is it Monday already?!?

I’m actually excited about this Monday—first of all, it’s our last week until SPRING BREAK!

I love spring break.  It doesn’t quite mean what it once did:

…but it still means a week with no work, haha.

I’m also excited because I’m showing this movie in class today:

Have you heard of this?  It’s really great! An Alabama man and his wife decide to try to eat only foods from Alabama for a year.  I think my students will really like it. Plus, watching it gave me some ideas for where to buy local myself!

Switching gears, yesterday, I made these breakfast cookies:

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…and I happen to be eating one right now as I write this. Winking smile  I’ve made breakfast cookies before, but these aren’t quite as sweet (no chocolate/carob), and are extra seedy.  The only sweetness in these comes from the natural sweetness from the raisins and bananas—but hey, it’s a breakfast cookie.  Keeping the sugar to a minimum was the goal.

Super-Seedy Breakfast Cookie:

1 very ripe banana

1 tbsp. vanilla

1 egg

2 cups oats

1 cup spelt flour

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup chia seeds

3 tbsp. peanut butter

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

Directions:

Beat banana, vanilla and egg until smooth.  Add remaining ingredients, stirring well to combine and mix all ingredients.

Shape into “patties”—I made mine very big since I do intend on eating these for breakfast.  This recipe made four cookies for me, but you could easily stretch it to six or even eight, depending on the size of your cookie.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, flip cookies, then bake for another 5 minutes.

Batter:

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Cookies going in:

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And the final product!

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Yum.  This is going to keep me full for a while. Winking smile 

Happy Monday!

Weekend Update

March 16, 2014

I know, I know—you’re excited, right?

This weekend has been a tame one—which was *just* what we wanted, honestly.  This is the first weekend in a long time that I can remember where we didn’t really have anything to do and spent both Friday and Saturday night at home.  Ahhhhhh.

Ryan and I were talking on Friday night about how we’ve gotten better about using up EVERYTHING in our refrigerator—I feel like we went through a phase where we seemed to waste a lot of food.  We’d buy produce, only to let it sit in the fridge and rot.  That’s no good.  We’ve been more conscious about really trying to use everything we buy. 

With that in mind, on Friday night, we talked about going out or ordering in takeout, but instead, we threw together these easy sweet potato/avocado/quinoa bowls:

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Easy—and definitely healthier than if we’d gone out!

Saturday was a busy day—but all of the busy was fun. Smile  First we had swim lessons, then we headed to downtown Huntsville for the St. Patrick’s Day parade:

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A fun time was had by all—Lila passed out for a near-three hour nap after we got home.  #winning

For dinner last night, we grilled:

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…and I’m glad we did, because it’s POURING rain this morning.  Always happy to spend the day/evening outside when rain is on the way!

Big plans for this morning—cleaning the house, then church.  Pretty wild. Winking smile 

Have a great day!

Curry Tuna Salad

March 14, 2014

Seeeeee?? I TOLD you I was going to start posting more often!! Winking smile 

Today was a Thursday, which means…it was a fun day for us!  Thursday is a special day in that neither I nor Ryan teach…which means we get to spend a lot of time with this little cutie:

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We spent some time this morning discovering how to take selfies with Mama’s phone.

After phone time was over, we headed to the library for story-time.  Today was special because a group of dancers from Huntsville’s Youth Ballet came to the library to dance parts of the Snow White ballet they’ll be putting on in a few weeks.  I had a feeling that Lila would LOVE the dancers—she’s obsessed with all things tutu these days—and I was right.  She watched the girl dancers, completely enraptured.  After each little dancing segment was done, she would applaud and look eagerly for the next dancer.

What I didn’t predict?  Her total terror when the male dancer came out.  I felt bad laughing, but it was actually pretty comical—as soon as the Prince came out to do his dance, Lila BURST into tears and turned away, clinging to my back like a frantic monkey.  I like to think of it as her way of rebelling against Disney’s patriarchal rape culture, amiright?

But seriously, as soon as the poor prince danced his way out of the room, Lila was fine—all smiles again.  Something about that prince, man.  You can see that she’s still upset in this pic we snapped of her with one of the dancers:

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I want to sit in your lap, because I greatly admire your tutu.  However, equally great is my distrust of your association with the prince.  #toddlerproblems

Again, I hate to laugh because Lila was pretty upset.  But it was pretty funny.

The rest of our day was pretty low-key—gym. Meeting. A visit to the mall.  You know how it goes.

When we got home from running errands this afternoon, it was already past six o’clock.  We needed dinner—fast.  30 minute meals? Suck it, Rachael Ray.  Try ten.

I mixed three cans of tuna, some low-fat mayo, some raisins, and chopped apple with curry powder and garlic salt.  Voila—curried tuna salad!

Served on a pita with a side of asparagus, this made a quick, tasty meal:

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Man…I am SO ready to take my dinner pictures in better natural lighting, ha.  Soon enough.

Almost to the weekend—and we’re definitely ready over here! G’night.

Ready For Spring

March 13, 2014

I always question where to start after such a long break from posting—an apology?  An explanation?

I *am* sorry.  And I don’t really have an explanation—just the normal wear and tear of life, I guess.  For whatever reason, this semester has felt extra busy.  On top of teaching, I’ve joined a book club, am teaching a writing class up at our church, and have had regular girls’ nights out with my Little Gym mom friends.  It’s been a fun couple of months—but honestly, all of it leaves me feeling pretty exhausted sometimes too.  I enjoy socializing, but it also takes a lot out of me.  I read somewhere that some people *get* energy from socializing, and some people *lose* energy from socializing, and I think I’m definitely in that latter group—even if I’m having a really fun time!

Anyway—yada, yada, yada, right?

Let’s see—a few updates: our health challenge went well…for the first few weeks, ha.  I won week one, Ryan won week two, and then we both kind of wimped out after that and stopped recording.  I guess we need a tie-breaker?!?

We had an Oscar night party, for which Lila and I made Oscar-shaped gold-sprinkled sugar cookies:

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I love the concentration she has when we bake—she takes it very seriously! And she actually does a really good job with the sprinkles!

Other snapshots from our life, lately (ie, pictures I took with my phone because I don’t bring my camera anywhere anymore.  Sigh.)

We’ve had some awesome spring weather:

Lila started swim lessons at our local Y:

(the pool they swim in is bigger than this one, haha Smile)

We’ve had some visitors:

…and we’ve talked a LOT about having to beep our car horn at Tenny:

Seriously, just say “Beep! Tenny!” about 13,456 times, and you get the idea of what we’ve been up to lately.

Annnnnnd that pretty much sums it up! Hope you’re enjoying these first few early weeks of spring!  I hope I’ll be back with a recipe or two in the next couple of days—I’ve been in the kitchen, but haven’t been taking pictures.  I miss it!

Getting In Our Fruits and Veggies

February 22, 2014

One thing that Ryan and I agree on about our “healthy living” challenge is that it has prompted us to eat a LOT more fruits and veggies.  Since we’ve been doing it, we’ve both had a huge smoothie every morning, packed full of fruits AND veggies (as opposed to the smoothies we’d usually make with a fruit or two and maybe some spinach).  This morning, I had one with apple, carrot, spinach, blueberries, pineapple, and raspberries—whoa.  That’s a lot of produce.  But it was delicious!

Lunch and dinner have had a heavy emphasis on produce as well.  Here are some of the meals we’ve enjoyed lately:

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A grilled veggie flatbread sandwich, with grapes for lunch

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Homemade individual vegetable lasagna, plus salad for a Valentine’s Day dinner.  Ryan made the lasagnas, and they were SO good—he used a Giada recipe.  Yum!

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Flatbread, topped with hummus, sauteed shrimp and veggies, and chopped up treats from Fresh Market’s olive bar (olives, cheese, roasted garlic, etc.)

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Asparagus, tempeh, and cabbage stir-fry.  Served over brown rice.

And, finally, some king cake:

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Definitely the most delicious color-filled part of the week. Winking smile 

Have a great weekend!

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