Monthly Archives: December 2012

Tight Knit

Mommy and son knitting at the library

Mommy and son knitting at the library

I taught my 6 year old son to knit today.  He is home on Winter Break from school and was bouncing off the walls.  I was trying to tune out the kids fighting, running, yelling, and generally being kids so I plopped on the couch with a new knitting project and tried to focus.  Within minutes, “my overly active, never sit still, can make any furniture a trampoline” son sat down next to me and asked me to teach him.  I was reluctant at first.  There was no way he could do this without getting frustrated and waving my knitting needles wildly.  This was going to end in another trip to the Emergency Department.  Besides, I was not going to let him practice on my very expensive fancy yarn that we got on our “date weekend” to New Orleans a few months ago ( But, he insisted.  So, I had to find him a set of needles (they were in the computer desk, of course) and some spare yarn (skeins of yarn for hundreds of unfinished or more likely never started projects are stashed in every drawer and every closet around here).  I did not think he would have the patience to wait for me to gather what we needed and cast on enough stitches to start a scarf and then wait for me to be able to show him what to do.

I was WRONG.  He not only waited patiently, he watched over my shoulder as I carefully cast on 20 stitches and then knitted the first 2 rows.  When I tried to sit behind him and take the needles in both of our hands, but he said “I got it, Mom. I watched you”.  (Really?  It took me weeks to get the hang of knitting.)   I knew he was capable of focusing on something he is excited about (usually a new toy or a superhero movie that I have finally agreed to let him watch).  I also  knew he was good at spatial relations (like his father, the architect) and figuring out complicated diagrams (like Legos).  What I did not expect was that he would make mistakes (only a few) and ask for help without getting frustrated and that he would stick with it most of the day.  He even asked to take it to the library and sat with me knitting while the girls picked out books.

An added benefit was that as he was knitting, he was talking to me.  He rarely talks to me.  I mean he asks for food, and snuggles occasionally and refuses to go to bed and tattles on his sisters and says he loves me (usually when he wants something).  But, he doesn’t talk to me about anything important very often and if I try to initiate a conversation he gets embarrassed or too silly to talk.  The knitting changed all of that in a way that even the focus of building Legos cannot.  Today, I heard all about the kids at school, his teacher and her dog.  I heard about his favorite songs from music class. I heard about his fears that his friends might tease him for learning to knit because “they do not know how fun it is and they might think it is only for girls ” (not sure how this could be my kid).  I heard about his future dreams “he wants to live at home forever” (ugh!).  I also heard about how he thinks about people who are homeless a lot and wants to donate his warm scarf once it is finished.

The other thing I heard that I have not heard in a while is a calm, silent, focused, happy boy.

Mushrooms Really are Fun Guys

I2012-03-18_15-34-21_59 started growing shiitake mushrooms in a one bedroom apartment in NYC under my kitchen table in 1995.  I bought a small log that came pre- inoculated and a standard 24 inch rectangular plastic planter.  I would soak the log with non-chlorinated ice water and then stand it on end in the container under my table (in the shade) and wait a few days for mushrooms to grow.  It was weird, and fun and delicious.  Over the years I have purchased lots of mushroom kits.  You can get them online all over now.  Portobellos in a box.  White mushrooms in coffee grounds or sawdust.  Oyster mushroom kits for kids in toy stores.  Mushrooms are tasty and fast growing if you grow them in these boxed kits.  And they are a lot of fun to watch.

Now, I choose to grow shiitake mushrooms in logs.  Shiitakes are delicious and the home-grown ones are so much more flavorful than the dried or even fresh store-bought ones.  It is a long, slow, waiting process that takes a lot of patience.  But, once the logs begin fruiting, they will fruit for years to come.   First, you must have recently cut fresh wood and logs large enough in diameter that they will not easily dry out.  Four to six inches in diameter is a good size.  Next,drill holes in the log and stuff the holes with spore material.  It comes mixed with sawdust or in the form of plugs.  It is possible to purchase different strains of shiitakes.  Some will fruit in cooler weather, some in warmer weather. I like a variety so I can extend my growing season.   Once the spores are in the log, it is important to keep the birds out and the moisture in.  I typically water my logs once a week for the first month or so.  Then, I just let nature take its course and wait and wait and wait.

Mushroom logsIn 6-24 months (depending on the strain, the moisture level, the temperature and the elimination of other competing fungi) the log will start producing mushrooms.  Once a log begins fruiting, it will typically fruit a few times a year.  A good rain and the right temperature range will often trigger the logs. I typically get more fruiting in wetter weather. The weather here in Chicago has been so mild that my logs are still fruiting.  The shiitakes are so good, my 6 year old son will pick them and eat them raw right off the log.

Holiday Stress

menorahLots of people post about holiday stress.  They list all the things you can do to make a picture perfect Martha Stewart holiday for your family without going broke, getting divorced or killing your alcoholic famly members.  I do not have that kind of stress during the holidays.  I have a wonderful husband, a happy extended family (although some would say we are crazy) and I gave up having a perfectly decorated home long ago. Lots of blogs talk about the meaning of the holidays and how to avoid fighting over toys at the big box stores and how to get free shipping.  I have yet to read a blog about my kind of holiday stress.

My stress comes from celebrating Jewish holidays in a Christian dominated country. Channukah is a relatively unimportant holiday in Judaism, but the differences are really highlighted during this time of the year.   It is not just the Christmas music piped throughout the stores beginning shortly after Halloween.  I know all the harmonies to all the Christmas carols and I love to sing along. It is not the beautiful lights and decorations on the houses or the streetlights.  Although it is hard to explain to my kids why we do not have a Christmas tree or lighted snowmen covering our front yard. It is not having a Catholic husband who has all but given up his traditions to honor mine. I try to encourage him to incorporate his traditions with the ones we have created in our home.  It is not just having to proudly display all the Santa and Christmas tree coloring projects from my kids’s classrooms (this year they did do a menorah!).

My stress is less about the details and more about the big picture.  It is about being tolerated, but not having the support that people who celebrate Christmas have come to expect.  The world does not stop for my holiday.    I am expected to cook, decorate, and celebrate without having time off from work or the kids home from school.  Homework is due, projects have deadlines and classes activities continue.  So, my stress is more about struggling to get homework done, put a holiday meal on the table, light the menorah, give out gifts on a school night and then shuffle the kids to bed on time (oh and take a quick trip to the Emergency room for good measure last night).  There is little time to enjoy the holiday and the kids feel robbed of time to play with their brand new toys.  I would love a holiday season that was less rushed and had less stress where we could all just be together and relax and my kids could learn my traditions peacefully.

Growing up

yellow colanderMy niece sat for her driver’s permit test this week.  When I started dating my husband she was 3 1/2 and when she walked down the aisle in our wedding she was 4.  A good deal of our life as a couple includes memories of her and her then baby sister (and now another little sister).    I have a picture of her in a baby pool with a yellow Tupperware colander on her head (one of the only surviving kitchen utensils from my husband’s bachelor life). I have distinct memories of her refusing to call me “Auntie” until we got married, waiting for us at the airport when we came home from our honeymoon and years later asking me all kinds of questions about nursing a baby.  She was the proverbial “other woman” in our relationship. The only other girl my husband truly loved (until her adorable sisters and our kids came along).  In fact, the one time my husband cancelled on me when we were dating was when he called to say he was “hanging out with his niece” and wasn’t going to make it to see my friend play in a band. I could have been really angry after being stood up at the last minute by a guy I just started dating, but I think that was the moment I fell in love with him.

Over the years, my niece has grown into a confident, beautiful, intelligent young woman.  These days, she is talking about fashion, learning to drive, and wants to go to college to become a nurse.  She is a tennis player and an amazing student with unlimited possibilities for her future.  But, to me she is still a little 4 year old who asked my why my legs were so prickly.  Damn.  My sister in law must shave every day.

Losing it

Our Honeymoon

Our Honeymoon

I lost it yesterday.  Do not get me wrong, As a mom with three young kids, I pretty much lose it every single day.  But, yesterday I lost it worse than usual.  Part of it is that I have been sick with a flu that made me miss Thanksgiving and seems to be coming back as a hacking cough, earache and possible bronchitis.  Part of it is that my kids are often a real pain in the neck and seem to only get worse when I am not 100%.  Part of it is that my adorable, loving, handsome husband does not worry about the same things that I think are important after all these years. He is my laid back, fun loving, Yin to my stressed out, uptight, Yang.

So, I lost it and yelled at him.  In front of the kids.  I feel terrible.  Especially because he didn’t really do anything wrong.  He just did it differently than I would have.  And his way was just fine.  In fact, better than fine.  Besides, he works crazy hours everyday and then comes home every night and puts the kids to bed so I can veg on the couch.  When he finishes with the kids he brings me ice cream and rubs my feet.  He also does all of our laundry, deals with anything related to Legos, and is not afraid to paint my girls’ (and his own) toes with pink polish.

Sometimes when I am angry at him I go back and read the journals he has given me over the years.  I have one from the first home we bought together with sketches of how we were going to decorate it (of course we never did), I have one from our honeymoon with watercolor sketches of our adventures.  The one he wrote the first time I had a miscarriage makes me sob. He wrote a journal entry everyday on the train to work during my pregnancy and then when it was all over he printed it for me in a little book with a ribbon tie.  I like the tie.  Somehow it made it less accessible and allowed me to read it when I was ready (10 years later and I still can’t really get through it).

So, he is a good guy who has the right to do things his way (sometimes).  He deserves an apology and a break.  I deserve another sick day.

Restraint is not my forte

eggplantI am working on figuring out my garden for next year.  You may think it is too early for the Midwest, but I typically start my seeds indoors under grow lights in February.  I am trying to get a handle on my addiction to plant too much.  I cannot pass up a pretty seed packet and the seed catalogues are like crack to me.  My garden is only about 40 X 5 feet with a couple of smaller areas around the yard dedicated to edible gardening.  So, in an attempt at full disclosure (more to myself, that to you readers out there) I am trying to list what exactly I have out there and hope to use some restraint this year in an attempt to get better yields.

Perennials:  Blueberries, asparagus, rhubarb, arugula, strawberries, grapes, blackberries, raspberries, currants, about 30 shiitake mushroom logs, a 3 variety grafted apple tree, 2 potted fig trees (I bring them in for the Winter), 2 potted tea plants (they come inside for Winter, too), and many more herbs that I can list here.

Annuals that grew (last year):  Cucumbers, sweet potatoes, a random volunteer pumpkin from the compost, 5 varieties of potatoes (in garbage cans and grow bags), peppers, 4 or 5 lettuces, beets, carrots, cabbage, kohlrabi, celery, garlic, shallots, snap and shelling peas, broccoli, radishes, many heirloom tomatoes, kale, swiss chard, watermelon, Asian melons, and eggplant.

Stuff that got crowded out and/or died:  turnips, brussel sprouts, storage onions, soybeans and various winter and summer squash.

I am making myself a promise to plant a bit less and to use up all my seeds before I buy more…unless I can get my hands on some South African peppedew seeds.