Saturday, April 20, 2013

Paella as a Portal

Anabel and me
We have a friend visiting from Mexico for a few months and we are all really enjoying having her here. My Spanish has improved tenfold in the month and a half that Anabel has been with us, and the kids are picking up a lot of the language too. The problem is that we live on 75 acres in "the boonies" (according to my Mom, at least) and she is a young woman who needs more of a social life than playgroups and potty training. Not to mention that the main reason she came here was to learn more English and because I have been so delighted to speak Español with her, I haven't been much help in that department.

Thankfully, along came paella.

Knowing I had no connections that would help a 24 year old meet other young, single people without kids (yes, the exact opposite of me!), I turned to the internet and connected with a Meetup group I had once attended. The group's home page reads:
"Meet local Spanish language and culture lovers for conversation and fun!" 
Perfect! And, as luck would have it, they had a Meetup scheduled for tonight! Here's how it was described:

"Do you picture yourself cooking Paella? If you always wanted to know the secrets of making real Spanish rice, you will now have the opportunity. We’ll meet chef Antonio Luna who was born and raised in Seville, Andalucía, inside the kitchens of the National Hispanic Cultural Center. All the necessary ingredients will be provided. We want you to learn new cooking skills that you can practice at home, and that’s why we will only use local products. But not everything will be about learning ancient Iberian kitchen secrets. After we cook an amazing Paella, we will sit down and savor all of its flavors."
I thought: Great, let's sign up! 

Of course, there were two problems with this plan:
1. I don't cook
2. I don't eat shellfish

Still, this Meetup happened to be on a night where I had a great childcare option and I knew Anabel didn't come to the United States of America just to see what fabulous juniper and piñon trees we have here (which is pretty much all she sees up where we live). So, I called the organizers, who called the chef, who agreed to make a vegetarian version of his paella. I was thrilled for Anabel, but for me that just meant that I would get to eat the food. I had no illusions that I would participate in the actual cooking of said food because, as anyone who knows me can attest to, in case I haven't mentioned it... I don't cook.

Fast forward to tonight, and as we were getting ready I could tell Anabel was not very excited about the whole thing. Plus, just getting the kids out the door in time to make the class was no small feat. On the drive there I finally said "you know, if it's terrible, we can just leave." She seemed relieved to hear that, since I didn't think she fancied herself as much of a student of the culinary arts either. She cooks just fine in general, but when she was thinking about meeting new people, I imagine a cooking class may not have been top of mind. But I had already paid in advance and the kids were already in childcare, so we went.

Anabel cooking with Chef Antonio Luna

Well, it was a fantastic experience! We spoke Spanish and English. We met new people. And we cooked paella with Antonio Luna. And when I say "we cooked paella" I am including the "me" of "we!" In other words, this non-cooker, made Spain-inspired paella... from scratch! (I made sure they took a picture because I don't think my husband will actually believe me!) 

 As is the case so often, I found my assumptions being challenged tonight. I went into it expecting that I would have to nudge the quiet, seemingly reserved Anabel into participating but quickly discovered that she was the one who was pushing me! You can imagine my surprise when she volunteered to make the second pan (or "paellera" as Antonio called it) full of paella in front of the whole crowd (after seeing the chef cook the dish only once). But that surprise paled in comparison to what I felt when she then volunteered me to do the same. I was really hesitant to step up to the stove, but the peer pressure got the best of me and before I knew it, I was really cooking paella! And, at the risk of sounding like I'm bragging... which I totally am... I think it tasted delicious!

Cooking with Chef Antonio Luna (and hungry onlookers!)

Yes, I cooked that! (With my new friend, Kristina.)

We ate some great food, learned some new skills and Anabel met several friends who invited her to other social outings. (Yay!) Also, as I found myself translating for several people with minimal Spanish skills, I discovered that my own Spanish skills really have improved a lot lately.

In the end it was a delightful, surprising and delicious night which filled both our stomachs and our souls and made me aware of, and grateful for, the amazing diversity which surrounds us.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Exercising is Easier Than Parenting

(**This was written on February 7th. I thought I posted it then. Amazing how different my perspective is just two months later, in the wake of the Boston Marathon terrorist attack today. Right now the world cries for a much heavier reason than a 6-year-old's tantrums. Still, the emotions expressed here were genuine at the time, so I'm going to post it, if for no other reason than to give my Mom a chuckle on this sad, sad day).


I am sitting in my quiet living room, crying. It is quiet because my daughters made it to the bus on time, barely. I am crying because it was yet another brutal morning of getting them out the door and down the hill and onto the bus, after chasing the tail lights before it drove away.

As I write this, I know it may seem ridiculous that I would call a morning with my kids "brutal" or cry over getting these sweet little faces out the door, but that's probably true only if you have never had kids. For the rest of you who, like me, are struggling to "keep it together, keep it together, keep it together" (yes, I'm quoting Eddie Murphy from that weird movie, "Bowfinger" here) I think you completely understand. I am living with a 6-year-old teenager, complete with all the hormonal drama regarding wardrobes, but without the hormones. She royally kicked my emotional butt this morning and I am feeling like a big, fat, failure.

The only thing to do in the aftermath of the morning storm is pick myself up and go kick someone else's butt; virtually, that is. When I let my frustration get the best of me and raise my voice (never my hand, thankfully) at my child or my husband, I know the best way to come down from the ledge is to workout. When there's snow on the ground (which contributes to my lousy mood) and I can't easily go "run it out" I turn on Billy Blanks' Tae Bo DVD and work through my emotional demons. Working out helps me find my calm place and clears my head so that I can find new, creative ways to approach problems. I believe it makes me a better wife, mother and person in general (although, admittedly, this morning there was evidence to the contrary).

As a matter of fact, I have worked out every single day for 24 days straight. Some friends of mine and I are doing a fitness challenge. The idea is to challenge each other to work out at least 40 minutes a day. The prize, which keeps us all pumping iron, pounding the pavement and kicking butt is childcare and meal delivery. The losers will provide the childcare and meals. Needless to say, not a single one of us has missed a day and we are likely headed to an 11-way tie. When you consider that the overwhelming majority of us worked out 3 days a week or less before this challenge, it seems a little crazy. But, while I can't speak for the other ladies, as I walked back dejectedly from the bus stop this morning I realized, for me at least, this fitness craze I'm on makes perfect sense. It's not just the promise of childcare and not having to cook. That's a sweet bonus. For me, it is that in the fitness arena, I am not a failure.

Compare that to how I'm feeling about my parenting skills, and you can see why exercising is easier than parenting sometimes.

When I began running, for example, I started from nothing. Worse than nothing, actually. Back then, running one mile seemed ridiculous. But by simply putting one foot in front of the other, and doing so on a somewhat regular basis, I started seeing real, tangible improvements. Soon I was running 3 miles, then 5, and just last month I actually ran a full half-marathon. And every time I ran, I was rewarded with endorphins and a little victory in my head. Then, if I really pushed myself I would get that "good sore" feeling the next day, reminding me of my awesomeness.

But with parenting, the sore feelings are not the good kind. The heartache of feeling like I'm not getting through, that I'm doing something wrong, that I keep running into the same wall over and over again consumes my mind and fills my heart with worry. I love these kids so much. So why can't I move through mornings (and bedtime, and just about anytime we are trying to get them to go somewhere or do something in a timely fashion) in more loving ways? I feel like I'm living the so-called definition of insanity (which, depending on who you ask is attributed to Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Alchoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, just to name a few): "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

So, why do the same thing over and over, if I see that I'm not getting the results I want? Well, good question. When I'm in the heat of the moment, I think that I am approaching it in new ways. Instead of yelling at my daughter to get dressed, for example, I try asking her nicely. I have tried bribing her. I have tried recruiting her as my "helper" and offering to pay her a salary to get the job done. I have tried ignoring her and letting her not get dressed. And on each of those mornings I fail miserably to avoid the inevitable melt-down and subsequent yelling that happens before we finally run at top speed to the bus stop, stressed, crying and miserable.

And, as I analyze it with the gift of hindsight, I do realize that the thing I am doing over and over is letting it beat me down. I let the anger wash over me. I let the frustration color my day. I let the feelings of failure take up residence in my heart.

Those are all things I would never let a fitness challenge do to me. Instead of letting it beat me down, I would push through it. Instead of letting the anger wash over me, I would listen to self-improvement tapes and repeat empowering mantras ("Everyday and every way I'm getting stronger and stronger"). Instead of frustration I let the feeling of accomplishment from having worked out in spite of myself color everything.

So, the big question is, how do I make that same, positive shift with my relationships? I wonder if there is a place I can sign up for that kind of challenge?

Oh, that's right... I already have. It's called "Parenthood."