Year One in California

Now what?

A tiny bit over a year ago, we moved to California. Saturday, we celebrated Owen being 9 months old by having a crawfish boil and enjoying the company of friends old and new. The in between of the two milestones feels overwhelming. How could so much have happened in such a small frame of time?

I spent a lot of time listening and trying to be in the moment, but I was also distracted by the constant compare and contrast in my head between what we have here versus what we had back in Texas. The presence of cajun food probably didn’t help. However, I am finally in a place where my heart has healed enough from the past year to allow myself to feel and be happy.

For my family, California was obviously the best choice for us. We walk to pizza night with our boys on Fridays with Nana and Papa. We’re 10 minutes from the beach and an hour to the snow. Our older son is getting a fantastic Montessori education, two blocks down from our home. I walk him to and from school every day. We have 8 young children on our cul-de-sac to become life long playmates, four of which are the children of my husband’s childhood playmates. My in laws live four houses down and pop in randomly with extra formula from Costco or chocolate croissants from C’est Si Bon. I left Owen’s 9 month check up with him in the 45th percentile for growth and a pat on the back for having a perfect baby, despite him being 11 weeks early. To say life is now picturesque or ideal for our family is an understatement. (Oh, did I mention we now also have Disney Land resident Passes?)

But as for my journey…

It’s been hard. Insert an expletive or two in there. If you gave me one of those stress tests with the checkboxes of big life events from the past year, I’d have at least 80% checked. Big move, career change, hospital bed rest, premature baby, financial strain… but the biggest strain on my heart, after it was all said and done, has been my personal crisis. Who am I? As a Californian? As a stay at home mom? Who am I if I don’t teach? Who am I as a mom of two? Who am I as Cameron’s wife? What kind of person do I want to be here, or am I somehow supposed to somehow feel and be the same person I was a year ago?

Finally, I would say since we got back from our first trip to Texas since we moved, I am starting to come to terms with the unknown. I’m letting go, like peeling duct tape off a sunburn, of the anger and resentment and fear of the future.

After applying for every English teaching position in Orange County and getting some of the loveliest rejections, I’ve thrown in the towel and turned my focus toward the creative again. It is hard to have been hired the day of an interview for literally every other job I’ve had, and then have radio silence for months.

One of my favorite mugs from @sophieandlili and a source of internal motivation… that and caffeine of course.

Ten years ago, I was accepted into the Savanna College of Art and Design. I was full of naivety. I was going to be an advertising designer and work on campaigns like Truth or Red and save the world from nicotine and cure HIV with my creativity. However, my parents talked me out of going. I instead majored in English. I went to Texas State down the road. It was a safe choice. I hope I inspired one or two out of the approximately 700 hundred students I had, but my heart just isn’t in teaching anymore. Now, after MUCH introspection I’m starting my own business.

My mom listened to my ideas while I rambled over and over on the phone (moms are good at that) and she decided I could be successful. She admitted she felt bad that I never went to art school and encouraged me to get started. Later this week I’ll pick up a starter set of screen printing equipment.

Her call was a baby push. And I know, if I want to do this project right, it’s going to take baby steps. Delayed gratification. Planning and budgeting. Time. So right now, a year of California behind us, 9 months of Owen being our miracle, and finally something for me to feel pride in – I’m starting the business plan for Practiced Positivity, a custom screen printing and vinyl shop. Its my project, my contribution to our family, and hopefully a future for me here.

Food Tradition Versus the Millennials

It’s Fall!!!!!! When we look back on our favorite food memories, they likely start here. Pies, tamales, challah. They reign supreme in our taste buds beginning in October. Growing up, my mom cooked all the time. It was her way of being a present mom for us while working full time. During the week, we had a home cooked meal. Pot pies, casseroles, fried chicken, etc. The change in temperature has my taste buds getting retrospective.

When my mom came to visit in August, we had a wonderful time. We went to the beach, played with the boys, and got some good mom and daughter talks in. There is a moment, however, that is still sticking out to me. My momma, with all her southern well meaning, opened my refrigerator and said, “Store bought cookie dough? Tsk. You know how to make it.”

She’s right. I do. That doesn’t mean that in the moment I didn’t argue with her inside my head trying to justify my purchase. “BUT I JUST DON’T HAVE TIME” being the largest argument against taking the time to make her recipe of mini M&M cookies for my son. Then, last week I started putting together recipes for apple pie to feature on my instagram. (Because it’s fall.) I texted my mom and asked if she had an apple pie filling recipe. She texted back, “No, I just use the canned stuff.”

It got me thinking about food traditions and my cohort of friends. We’re all around 30, educated, and many of us between first and third generation American. Yet how many of us can cook? Second, how many of us can actually cook the meals our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents made? Third, why can’t we as a collective of self righteous foodie door dash dining millennials make a decent personally culturally relevant meal? We love food. We created a culture that photographs their meals before eating and thrive on easy access to different cuisines, so why aren’t we cooking?

Personally, I know most of my family’s food traditions come from a place of poverty. Not in a negative way, but both of my baby boomer parents will tell you quite boldly that they were raised by products of the depression. Quality ingredients were substituted for cheaper versions, meals were pared down, convenience began to override flavor. This is where the disconnect begins between our traditions and us, our parents’ influence on our food identity. Hence, my dad using store bought pie crust for his apple pie rather than teaching me how to make it, which he was taught to do by his mother.

I learned to cook for the most part in San Antonio, Texas. First thought may lead you to think of the city as its stereotypes. White and Hispanic. Rodeos and the Alamo. Lots of tacos and enchiladas. My perspective is different because I lived there, but what many people forget is that San Antonio was, at least in the early 2000’s during my adolescence, home to a handful of operating Air Force bases. Many of my friends brought different cultures and foods and perspectives because they were military brats. Rene’s parents were from Trinidad & Tobago and Panama. Elisa, Naomi, and Stephanie are Mexican-American, but Stephanie’s parents had been stationed in Japan when she was young. Jamie is third generation Italian-American. Eating dinner at their homes and having their parents fuel us during all of our late night school projects, I was exposed to so many more flavors than just my mom’s southern repertoire. I asked those close friends, who I thankfully still have a strong friendship with, about their experiences with food traditions and why or why not they still have a relationship with them to try and figure out the disconnect between our culture and our ability to cook within it.

When I first moved to San Antonio in 2002, one first the first friends I connected with was Rene, who lived in my neighborhood and shared my loved of ska music and general nerdiness. When arriving to Rene’s house you removed your shoes, you said hello to BOTH parents, and usually we were asked by Rene’s mom if we did our homework. On a very rare occasion I was asked if I would like to stay for dinner. It was spiced chicken, rice, and fried plantains. I remember it being SO delicious. Thinking back to our youth, I asked Rene if he could cook like his mom. Rene very honestly told me he did like a lot of immigrant kids and wanted to assimilate, so those home cooked, traditional meals weren’t valued back then.

While teaching in East Houston, I attended many trainings for ESL (English as a Second Language). I was taught that the first thing immigrants lose is their clothing, then their language, and last their food. It is a strange lens to see my close friends as sharing the same experience as my former students, but over and over again I hear that parents are the ones encouraging assimilation and not sharing food tradition, especially if they weren’t Hispanic or female. My male, Asian students from Houston were rarely even allowed in the kitchen. I have no idea how they’re feeding themselves now that they’re in college.

Our friend Jamie echoed the sentiment about her first generation Italian- American dad. While she would have loved to learn everything her grandparents had made, Jamie’s grandparents passed away when she was very young and her father wasn’t encouraged to learn to cook. Culinary identity, especially in Southern European culture, is feminine. Jamie admittedly “grasped at straws” for Italian cultural identity because of the loss of the family’s beloved pasta recipes. What’s left for the Feola’s today? One marinara and meatball recipe, and folklore of gnocchi.

Now, not everyone has their parents to thank for their loss of food culture. We now live in a much more health and nutrition conscious environment. I seriously doubt any immigrant grandmas counted a calorie or would dare limit themselves to a something as restrictive as the keto diet. Nowadays, an awareness of the connection of thyroid and diet, fertility and diet, anxiety/depression and diet have forced many of us to save beloved family recipes for special occasions. Considering the average family size has dropped from 3.7 people to 3.1 since 1970 and younger generations are waiting longer and longer to marry, even a perfectly mastered family recipe designed to feed a family of eight only finds itself applicable on a few occasions annually.

Unfortunately as millennials, we’re more isolated, career focused, and perhaps more convenience minded than even our parents. Our baby boomer parental units may have served us Kid Kuisine and invented instant cookie dough, but they certainly didn’t have Amazon PrimeNow or Uber Eats. Can we take former traditions, and adapt them for our own purposes?

I chose to make my own filling because I don’t trust the ingredients in the can of apples at my local supermarket. Plus, everyone knows that food made with less processing has more flavor. The closer you are to the source of your food, the better it is. Neither of my parents had an off hand recipe for the filling, I used memory and good old Pinterest to add the spices needed for my all American dessert.

Personally, I don’t have a direct connection to my family’s culture outside of the United States and neither does my husband. My family was raised on southern frying, baking, and casseroles. I know I don’t want to pass on everything I learned because of my own focus on health avoiding preservatives and additives. What our family wants to pass on is a love of food and a love of being in the kitchen. From there what we all need to ask is: What can we positively pass on to the next generation without losing what was sacred? The answer to me is not an erasure of the past, but a rewriting, like a cover song of a classic rerecorded with a modern tone.

My pie turned out to be a nod to my mom’s crust, without the crisco. The filling full of the same spices my parents added, without the corn syrup. I’m hoping we can undo the easy outs of the baby boomer generation and focus on creating a more positive relationship with the roots of our food. Perhaps we will learn to cook through Pinterest and other tools of the internet and find our own food identity in the recipes of others. Let us remix the flavors of the past by meal planning our way through carne asada, curried chicken, and kugel.

Happy Fall!

I’m back! So after two months in the hospital, two months trying my best to be the best NICU frequent flyer, and then adjusting to stay at home mom life, we are finally finding a groove. It helps that it’s the Newett family’s favorite season FALL!

Found this at California Kroger aka Ralph’s and couldn’t help but crack up.

So today I’m going to walk y’all through how to make changing leaves sugar cookies. I like them because they’re aesthetically pleasing without being covered in icing. (I don’t really like icing). My son also doesn’t need to eat the layer of pure sugar. He’s 3, two months from 4, and he doesn’t need any extra energy.

Cameron is usually the source of all of our food stuff. However, when it’s time to bake, that’s my lane. Cameron doesn’t like to measure or level. He is, despite this, incredibly talented and I have zero complaints.

FIRST! Read all directions before beginning anything.

Preheat your over to 400 degrees.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups room temperature butter
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla flavoring
  • 1 tsp almond flavoring
  • 5 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Yellow, orange, or red food coloring

Using a mixer, cream together sugar and butter.

Add eggs, vanilla, and almond, mix until creamy.

Add baking powder and salt. Then add flour one cup at a time until thoroughly mixed.

Add yellow food coloring and mix until even.

Wrap cookie dough in wrap and refrigerate until cold all the way through, at least one hour but overnight is best.

After chilled, take out a fist full of dough at a time. This makes about 1 pan of cookies.

Add orange food coloring (3-4 drops). Add one drop, knead the dough, add another drop, etc. The more you knead it, the more mixed it will look. I preferred only kneading a couple of seconds because rolling out the dough helps spread the coloring and make it look more marbled. You may need a practice round to see how you want your colors to blend.

Roll out your dough on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin. (Did you know you’re not supposed to eat raw flour? I didn’t know until recently. Reason #198 I shouldn’t have made it so long.) Your dough should be about .25 inches thick.

Use your favorite fall leaf cookie cutters to create your shapes. We got ours at the Home Store. (Formerly Garden Ridge?) You can re-roll your dough if you have a lot left over. Be careful on the third or fourth roll out because your dough might get too much flour and get flaky. Toss it or add it to another batch if you need to adjust the texture. Make sure you also flour your spatula so the cookies are easy to put on the pan. We like to use a silicone baking sheet. It’s so much easier to clean!

Bake 7-8 minutes on 400.

Let cool, ice lightly if you’re into it. I used a sparkly gel icing. Everything is better sparkly. This recipe will give you about 2-3 dozen cookies depending on how you cut and roll them.

Shout out to my mom for passing down all of her baking magic. She also has the world’s greatest witches’ cackle, so hopefully I can incorporate it into our Halloween post.

While you’re enjoying your cookies, fill out a Fall Bucket List with your family! I loved this one from A Beautiful Mess, which is what I want my blog to be like when it grows up. I follow them on Instagram as well, their projects and souls are so beautiful, so send them some love. I love supporting others who inspire us!

Our Autumn Bucket List!

Motherhood & Identity

In life, there are a few milestones where you really question identity. Adolescence, of course. Marriage. Parenthood. Retirement. For those who aren’t living the traditional linear expectation model, it may be a particular birthdate or promotion that creates this existential crisis of “Who am I?”

When I had my first son, I tried my damnedest not to let motherhood change me. I wanted to be the woman who was still herself, but also had a child. I tried to add on the responsibilities of parenthood and marriage without personal sacrifice, and was so fooled. Over time I gave up being a color guard director, I stopped staying for after school tutorials with my students, I stopped trying to do adult activities with my friends. More and more of my free time was spent as a family, and we were happy. There was nothing wrong with the transition in the moments it was happening. I adopted the identity of mother and wife and embraced them.

However, very innocently, about 5 months ago my husband made the passing comment, “Before you met me you were just an English teacher.”

Was I?

Was I JUST an English teacher?

Compound this statement with giving up my career and village in Texas to relocate to California. Compound it with a 50 day hospital stay in antepartum. Then compound it with a 59 day wait for my son in the NICU. Needless to say, I’m working through some shit.

Now that my son is home, my family is together, and I’m “fun”employed or on maternity leave, however you want to perceive it, I can feel myself longing for the person who was ‘just’ an English teacher. There is something about the label of ‘mother’ and ‘wife’ that just aren’t enough for me right now. I need to be able to point to an accomplishment that is solely my own and say “LOOK! I DID THAT! ITS MINEEEeeee.”

From my perspective, I wasn’t JUST an English teacher. I was more than that. I was passionate, I was political, I was environmental, I was a dancer, I was a photographer. I loved live music and craft Texas beer with my friends. I was drawn to artists and musicians and creatives; other liberal arts junkies who spent too much money on a degree to never have the career to it pay off. We sat around on old couches in indie coffee shops and solved the world’s problems. I was interesting, and outgoing, and fun, and positive.

Favorite representation of me- pre marriage and babies.

Now I stand at preschool functions making random small talk in hopes another mom will befriend me. Now I send mom memes to the women who used to watch live music and go dancing with me to try and keep a hold of whatever connection we have left. Now I use the portrait mode on my iPhone and pretend that it validates the art and photography classes I took in community college.

I feel boring sometimes. It feels like postpartum anxiety making me hate the idea of socializing because somehow I know I’m not going to be good enough. I feel bitter because I miss that person I used to be.

Can you be both? Can you be the person you were before parenthood and a good parent? Or do you have to lose yourself in your children?

This transition is temporary. I know that as time goes on, and I process the past 6 months, I will find a balance between who I used to be and who I am becoming. The mother of two. The Californian.

I think the most important thing to remember is that non of us are written in stone. The only constant in life is change.

I do love the happy moments with my family. I love the dinners on the back patio free of humidity and mosquitoes. I love living down the street from my in laws. I love watching my older son love on my newborn so beautifully unconditionally. But the next time I pour one out (to be honest it’ll probably just be me accidentally spilling breastmilk on the counter) it will be for the women we were before we were mothers.