A Lifelong Love Affair

I can’t remember the first book I ever read, but I remember sitting in our bunk bed with my sister while my mother read to us from old  hard-backed copies of The Wind in the Willows and Little Women.  I can’t remember falling in love with reading, but I remember devouring Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, and Matilda.  For a long time Roald Dahl was my favorite author.  His protagonists–young children who go on magical adventures–were so easy to identify with and his writing was so honest and imaginative.  Then I found The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Unicorn, and finally, in Junior High, I stayed up all night reading The Lord of the Rings.  Thus, as they say, began a lifelong love affair with reading.

I was the kid reading books under her desk during class. Visits to the library netted me stacks of books so tall they reached to my chin when I carried them out.  My high school Friday nights were spent curled up in bed with my cat and a book.  When we home-schooled for a year during my mom’s sabbatical, I was rewarded for completing my work with books.  I didn’t go to parties, never had a boyfriend, but I had travelled to Middle Earth and Earthsea, to Arrakis and Amber, Discworld and Xanth, and a thousand other worlds by the time I turned sixteen.

I thought the stories in books were infinitely better than real life and longed to find myself transported into a fantastic world.  But there is beauty in the ordinary and the magic in newborn eyes is more powerful than any that can be imagined.  Now I can find joy in sharing my love of stories with my daughter.  Watching her discover the imagination that books can set free in her own mind will be a remarkably exciting adventure.  And although she may not one day remember the first book she ever read, I will always cherish the memory of my husband bouncing her to sleep while reading The Princess and the Goblin.

Review: “The Night Ocean” by Paul La Farge

Warning: This post contains spoilers

When I saw The Night Ocean on a list of suggested summer reading, I was intrigued.  My husband loves HP Lovecraft, but I’d never read any of his books.  I decided to read “The Night Ocean”–the short story written by Barlow and Lovecraft–first to get a taste for his work and get a deeper understanding of the book.

“The Night Ocean” is a beautifully written story about an artist who finds himself at the cusp of uncovering some great mystery, but in the end discovers nothing.  The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge is essentially the same story.  And I felt the same sense of unfulfilled disappointment at the end of each one.

The beginning of the book sets up an intriguing mystery: did the main character’s husband commit suicide, and, if so, why?  We are then treated to three additional narrative threads detailing the lives of H.P. Lovecraft, Richard H. Barlow, and Leo Spinks.  The accounts are all interesting in their own way, but I had trouble connecting with the characters.  The gloomy outlook on life they all three espoused isn’t terribly enjoyable to read about, and the accounts were practically eventless in their ordinariness.  All three men made some incredibly stupid decisions and didn’t seem to have good reasons for doing so. I kept waiting for something exciting to happen or for some mystery to be revealed, but there was nothing.  That the female characters really only existed to be love interests for the male characters was frustrating. The only character that I did enjoy and identify with, Marina, the psychotherapist working to unravel the mystery of her husband’s suicide, was barely in the book and really doesn’t do much more than any of the other characters.  

(Warning: Spoilers follow)

The reveal, that Leo Spinks was a liar, was incredibly obvious and I couldn’t understand why any of the characters believed him to begin with.  And then, to leave the central mystery of Charlie’s suicide unsolved just compounded the sense of disappointment I felt.  The ambiguous ending would have been fine if there had been some other kind of payoff or sense of satisfaction, but there was nothing.

Overall, while I did enjoy reading about some of the history of early science fiction, I would have rather read actual histories.  Those, at least, don’t promise a mystery and fail to deliver.  So while The Night Ocean had some intriguing elements, was well written and enjoyable in parts, it failed to really engage me and left me dissatisfied in the end.  But maybe that was the point?  Either way, my recommendation is to save yourself some time and read “The Night Ocean” by Lovecraft and Barlow.  Some of the writing is so beautiful that you’ll get lost in it and you’ll be left with the same depressing disappointment and sense of futility. 

Disneyland’s Monte Cristo Sandwich

20170507_103639Disneyland’s Monte Cristo Sandwich is a decadent delicacy that combines the crispy fried textures and sugary flavors of a doughnut with the ooey gooey cheesy goodness of a grilled sandwich.  It’s an exquisite extravagance, but one that cannot be missed.  It can be found on the lunch menu at the Blue Bayou or at Cafe Orleans for both lunch and dinner.  Reservations are needed for both restaurants, and although those at the Blue Bayou are harder to come by, if you have the opportunity, time, and money, the dining experience is both unforgettable and unreplicatable.

The dish itself, a ham, turkey, and cheese sandwich dipped in dough and fried to perfection is easily enough for two people, which makes the $20 price tag easier to swallow.  It comes with a healthy side of fruit, but, depending on your hunger levels, you may want to add the Pommes frites or a bowl of Gumbo to round out the meal.

It’s probably my husband’s favorite dish in the parks and easily makes it into my top 5, so we’ve had it on several occasions.  Most recently, we indulged ourselves during spring Dapper Day.  Dressed to the nines, we dined on a late lunch or early dinner depending on your point of view.  Too late I discovered that a deep-fried treat liberally dusted with powdered sugar is not the best thing to eat when you are wearing a fancy dress.  I ended up looking like I had been sneezed on by Olaf, but without the nice cooling effects of snow in summer.

Making a Monte Cristo at home, I’ve discovered,  is surprisingly easy.  You need the basic ingredients for the sandwich–white bread, ham, turkey, and swiss cheese–and the batter is incredibly simple to whisk up.  Then you assemble, dip, and fry.  Now, my dipping and frying technique could probably use some work, but I thought the sandwiches turned out really well for my first try.

Ingredients

For the batter:

1 egg

1 ¾ cup milk

1 ¾ cup flour

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

For the sandwich:

8 slices white bread

8 slices ham

8 slices turkey

8 slices swiss cheese

3 cups oil for frying

Powdered sugar

Blackberry preserves

Fruit to serve as a side

Directions

Whisk the egg and milk together in a large bowl. I used a combination of milk and some leftover heavy whipping cream I had, but any kind of cream will probably do the trick.  I like to beat the egg until it’s a little frothy so that it’s light and airy when it cooks.  Add the flour, salt, and baking powder and whisk until the batter is smooth.  The texture should be runny but thick and with no lumps.  

Next, assemble the sandwiches.  This is as easy as placing 2 slices each of the ham, turkey, and cheese on two slices of bread.  Now, a Monte Cristo is traditionally made with ham, but I’m sure it would be delicious with any variation of meats and cheeses your heart desires.

Meanwhile, place three cups of oil in a large pan.  The original recipe calls for canola oil, but I used a combination of canola and coconut oil to make the dish a teensy bit healthier and add a little sweet flavor.  Come to think of it, the coconut oil probably affected the frying point of the mixture.  I used a wide pot because I didn’t want oil splattering all over the kitchen.  I also thought I could get away with only using two cups of oil, but you definitely need three.  Since I don’t have a fancy cooking thermometer, I had to adjust my frying times a bit.  I used the drop a tiny bit of batter into the oil to see if it’s hot enough method and took the sandwiches out when they were golden brown.  They weren’t quite cooking all the way through so I lowered the heat and cooked them for longer.   I also discovered that cutting the sandwiches in half does wonders for problem.

When they’re nice and golden and crispy, lay them on some paper towels to soak up some of the grease, then plate, sprinkle with some powdered sugar, and serve with some blackberry preserves and a nice side of fruit.  If you’re really ambitious, you can make your own blackberry preserves, but I bought mine at the grocery store.   

The sandwiches turned out delicious and not even as much work as I had expected.  I had them with some sparkling rose wine which is, sadly, not available in Disneyland.  These are definitely going into my regular weekend brunch recipe rotation.  

20170507_103600

Find the original recipe at: http://www.disneyfoodblog.com/2013/01/03/disney-recipe-monte-cristo-sandwich-from-disneyland/

First Fiction Friday

On Fiction Fridays I will post book reviews, musings on writing, short stories, and any other celebrations of one of my favorite things–fiction.  This will serve as both a motivation for me to make time to pursue reading and writing and also an outlet for something in my life that isn’t being a mom.  The posts will skew towards the science fiction and fantasy genres because I love them, but I will attempt to include romance, mystery, comedy, and anything else that takes my fancy.

For my first Fiction Friday post I had wanted to write a review of The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge.  It’s a novel that concerns H.P. Lovecraft whose work my husband adores. But I had never read an Lovecraft, so I decided to read the short story “The Night Ocean”.  The beautifully written, but dense prose took me longer than I had expected to get through, and so Friday has finished, but I have not finished The Night Ocean.  I will endeavor to produce a review next week.

I will say that the process of reading these two well-written works has been extremely rewarding.  Previous to them, my most recent readings had been accounting textbooks and modern urban, supernatural, and YA fantasy fluff offered for a monthly fee on Kindle Unlimited.  I had forgotten how engaging and inspiring artfully arranged words can be.  A properly placed word can convey more meaning than the dictionary can give.  I’ve loved the written word since I was a little girl and discovered the worlds that other people had made in their minds then transcribed on paper to be given life in mine.  I lose that sometimes in the cacophony of modern life–the conversations with my husband, the cries for attention from my daughter, and the blinding buzzing of electronic devices.  Finding it again restores another piece of me that was being slowly buried under the weight of worries and stress.  Fiction does that; it takes us outside of ourselves, so that when we return we can see our lives from a new perspective.  To sum up, as my favorite childhood show would say, “take a look, it’s in a book.”

SAHM Struggles

When I thought about being a stay-at-home-mom, I imagined I’d have the apartment spotless, prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner for my husband and me, and still have time to do my schoolwork and creative pursuits and hobbies. Instead, I find myself struggling to finish dinner while my Sunstar fusses to be held, the apartment is never as clean as I’d like it to be, and I barely even have time to myself to shower, so that schoolwork is delegated to the weekend, and everything else is forgotten in the hazy fog of long-term sleep deprivation.

I’m doing important work, the MOST important work of caring for our daughter, my husband assures me when I express my feelings of inadequacy,  uselessness, and lack of accomplishments.  But still, I doubt. Other moms are out there with newborns, and toddlers, and twins, and they’re running businesses, and writing books and successful blogs, and having social lives, and working, and just being supermoms.  I am not a supermom.  I am an ordinary, average, sometimes good, sometimes not so good, everyday mom.

I’ve failed to meet my own expectations and standards in so many ways. I haven’t managed to teach my daughter to “sleep through the night”, or even to take so much as a nap without having my right next to her and with my boob in her mouth most of the time.  I don’t talk to her, or read to her or sing to her as much as I should, and I worry that she seems to be slightly behind in her language development. I’ve failed the “no screens” rule and let her watch Disney songs so I can cut her fingernails because I don’t know how else to get her to be still.  I also model bad behaviour by being on my phone all the time, and knowing that her daddy does the exact same thing makes me feel worse, not better.

Being able to be with my daughter all the time is wonderful!  And also boring and lonely and frustrating.  I struggle with the conflicting emotions of wanting to be with her all the time, but also wanting to have an identity and purpose apart from her. I’ve loved seeing her first smile, watching her learn to crawl, and hearing her first “ba-ba-ba” babbles, but it’s been tough to feel like I’ve had to lose some of my independence and freedom to do so.

Becoming a mom has been the single biggest adjustment of my life and I’m still coming to terms with it.  I’m trying to find a balance with my little Sunstar who has become the center of my life without completely falling into her gravitational pull.  I try to find time to do a little writing while she sleeps, have a conversation with my husband that’s not about her, read a book, or watch TV, or listen to a podcast; these small triumphs help me feel like I haven’t lost my identity in becoming a mom, but added to it. I continue to hope that someday soon I will feel like a success as a mom, as a wife, and as a to-be-determined career person.

The Daily Diaper

Meconium should be dark black or green and tar-like, they said.  Make sure she has least one dirty and one wet diaper in the first 24 hours.  Make sure you feed her every two to three hours.  The colostrum will clear out her brand new digestive system and prevent jaundice and keep her from losing too much of her birth weight.  Of course, they didn’t say how you feed a sleeping newborn when she won’t even wake up enough to open her eyes, let alone latch.  And once she’s awake, there’s the actual feeding to accomplish.  It’s natural and instinctual, but neither mother nor infant have ever actually done it before, so they stumble and fumble like two virgins in the dark.  I remember pushing my nipple into her tiny mouth over and over, crying with exhaustion and hormonal changes.  “She’s starving!”  But there it was nevertheless, sometime that first day: a diaper filled with a thick sticky forest-green substance.  We triumphed over its appearance; it was the most celebrated bowel movement in the history of the world.  It was her first one and our worries were over.

Not.

Over the next week I worried incessantly.  All the how-tos and shoulds of infant care filled me up with worries over my own inadequacies as a new mother.  Was she getting enough colostrum? Would my milk come in soon?  What if it didn’t?  Was she eating eight to twelve times a day?  How could I tell when one feed ended and another began if she never actually unlatched from my breast as she slept in my arms?  Was she pooping enough?  Peeing enough?  And then my milk did come in and I could barely get her to feed from the left side.  My breast became engorged, a silent and painful accusation and reminder of my failure.

And it wasn’t just the feeding that I was doing wrong, sleeping was just as much of a source of stress.  I couldn’t bear to be apart from her, nor she I.  So our crib sat unused next to the bed, a looming monster of accusation.  Bed-sharing was dangerous, they said.  You could suffocate your baby.  An independent risk factor for SIDS, the pediatrician said.  All the ways she could die just by sleeping next to me rather than by herself in a crib were easy to find.  Smothered by a pillow, tangled in the blankets, wedged between the bed and the wall, even strangled in my own long hair.  I had been adamant that we wouldn’t co-sleep, but she wouldn’t sleep anywhere but in our arms, nestled snug against my breasts or cozied up warm against her father.  So I worried, startling myself awake at night to check that she was still breathing.

Despite all of my worries, she did keep breathing.  And she kept pooping and peeing. The dirty diapers increased in number and regularity as they shifted in color and consistency, until the single thick green sludge became four or five or six yellow seedy squirts.

The First Time

There are many firsts in life, some inconsequential–the first time you ride a bike or the first time you try a new food–while others are significant–the first kiss with your spouse or looking into your newborn’s eyes for the very first time.  Some first times are amazing, unforgettable experiences, while others we might wish had never happened.  But firsts all have one thing in common: they teach us something about ourselves and how we relate to the world in which we live.

As a first time mother staying home with my tiny precious perfect daughter, I find myself elated, depressed, content, bored, relaxed, angry, peaceful, annoyed, and a thousand other emotions that are difficult to share.  Being a socially anxious introvert, I have few friends.  Since my husband and I share one car, I go few places.  Sometimes I’ll go an entire day without interacting with another adult.  Writing, I hope, will be an outlet to help me keep my sanity and equilibrium.  I hope also, that other women may read what I’ve written and find comfort in their struggles, just as I have found comfort in reading others words.

Becoming a mother has been both the most rewarding thing I have ever done and the most difficult.  The sleep deprivation and constant worrying take their daily toll and I don’t know how I’d manage without a supportive and involved husband.  At the same time, my daughter is the light of my life and I wouldn’t trade a minute I’ve spent with her.  I dream of the woman she’ll become; maybe someday, in the middle of the night, with her newborn baby sleeping in her arms, she too will read this and know that she is not alone.