Friday, August 4, 2017

Superstition Leads to Less Writing

Writing a blog post is a moment of viewing my life as if through someone else's eyes. Ever since we moved to the countryside I have stopped blogging. I think I just realized the main reason for it. I need to give some background to explain.

It's been a while and kids have grown. They let us sleep in, they are able to go to the kitchen and find food for themselves when they are hungry between meals, leading to fewer random meltdowns. We have found a bedtime routine that is more of a family moment than a nuisance. They change their clothes and wash their teeth, pick out stories and then we read stories and sit by the bedside until they fall asleep. Every other day is my turn to read stories and kids are super cute - they giggle, dramatically react to the story, tell me about their day and their dreams. Liisa, who is able to fall over her own feet in the middle of a harmless lawn, shows me her new bruises and tells me "I wish I wasn't so clumsy". Siiri asks for a good night hug, which is a nice development, because she used to stiffen up and wiggle away from physical signs of affection.

The best part about the kids, aside from them being healthy, is that they play together. They whisper their secret plans and they team up. Yesterday they were both being fake dramatic over everything for one goal: going to the beach. "Mom, lets go to beach!". I said, "Lets not, it's really windy and not very warm." Then Siiri was laying on the couch (indoors!) saying "It's sooo warm!" and Liisa threw her eyes up to the ceiling, "Mom, it's really too hot in here, we have to go to the beach!". After a couple of hours of this, and them playing indoors and outside, there was a moment when I asked them to come to the garden with me, but they tried giving me an ultimatum: only if we also go to the beach. I looked outside -  super windy - and I looked at the kids, who were melting away from the 'heat'. I reacted with equal fake drama, "Heeeey, it's not very warm and it's so windy, where did you get your beach idea?" and Liisa fessed up: "It was Siiri's plan!". Siiri giggled as if to say: it was worth a try.

The garden is excellent. It's so big that I never manage to do everything that "needs" to be done and in stead I just do everything that I want to do. I no longer make plans to get something done because I'm not very good at predicting how long something might take and I might end up disappointed. I take my tools with me and I go to the garden - sometimes I dig up plants, sometimes I propagate black currants just to see how it's done, sometimes I pre-germinate seeds and plant them side by side with dry seeds to see if there's a difference in seedling survival. I always have something unfinished in the garden - my most recent project is a flowerbed of a size that could pass for a small city garden.

The new flowerbed will be 2 or 3 times bigger than this flowerbed only for herbs.

With a garden as big as we have, I really don't have to choose what I can fit here and one of my flaws is that I don't like to choose; I want it all! I'm really unrealistic in that sense. It applies to my life in general - I want a garden and a good job and cute kids and a wonderful husband and hobbies and travel and new experiences. It also applies to the garden: I want to grow everything that I possibly could grow, partly because I am greedy and I want fresh greenhouse tomatoes and apples picked straight from the tree and partly because I want to see how different kinds of plants grow. I have learned more about general plant biology within the three years in the garden than during my PhD studies. By the way, I defended my PhD two years ago.

As I don't have to choose, I grow pears, apples, sweet cherries, sour cherries, black currants, red currants, white currants, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, asparagus, groundcherry, bell pepper, plums, strawberries, raspberries, green peas, beans, garlic, onion, potatoes, countless herbs and several other things I forgot to mention or don't know how to translate. I have built 6 raised beds (1x3 m) and I have dug up a lot of ground to grow even more. Not to mention my flower beds with countless perennials, including roses, hostas and daylilies.
I dug this flowerbed last year. Now it's too full and I need a new one.

The location of the house has become somewhat troublesome. It is still okay to drive to Tartu as it takes 20-25 minutes to drive to Siiri's school, however, neither me nor Erkki works in Tartu anymore. Liisa is still in kindergarten, which is another 10-15 minutes drive so we don't always take Liisa there and let her play at home. And by play, I mean: watch Youtube on iPad. During the summer both kids are at home and we don't take them to town unless we need to. They don't get as much social interaction with other children as kids who live in the city and can walk to their friends homes. However, even in our previous home we had to arrange all such meeting because Siiri's friends didn't live that close to the rental apartment either and it was in the middle of the city with lots of traffic. And then we had to arrange even the moments when children went outside, which is very different here.

Siiri and Liisa still have a lot of time when they choose to play with the computer, phone, or iPad, and we donõ't restrict that, but they also have plenty of moments when they just run outside to snack on fresh greenhouse cucumbers, pick wild strawberries that grow in the wild parts of our garden, ride their bicycles or hide out in the playhouse. They are calm and content and very well-behaved most of the time.

Even with the stress of tremendously increased home workload, from mowing to pruning, me and Erkki are getting along as good as ever. We recently celebrated 10 years of marriage and 14 years of being a couple and we spend evenings together watching carefully chosen series on Netflix. We don't spend as much time together as we used to, especially because of our work schedules, however, when he calls to say he's on his way home, I have only positive emotions.

Also, after I defended my PhD, I basically got my dream job. The location is far away and it's not always easy, but it's really cool! That's a longer story and I won't get to it now.

With all this going on I'm kind of afraid to really say how things are. If I really spell out that my life is as perfect as I ever could have hoped for, will I jinx it? Lets hope not because things really are too good to be true. When I write a blog post, I'm being honest and I describe an aspect of my life the way I sense it, keeping in mind how it might seem from outside and I've been reluctant to really write what my life is like now: with a considerate and smart husband, cute and clever daughters, warm and comfortable house in the middle of a crop field, interesting job, a large garden and a pear orchard. Sometimes people have some disaster and they say "I never knew what I had until...", and here I am thinking "I know what I have and it's too good to be true. I wonder what disaster will ruin it." Three years later, still no disaster, so I might as well write a blog post.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Living in the Countryside

In the beginning of August, we moved out of our rental apartment near city center and moved 17 km out of town to a house located in the middle of a crop field. The house itself is surrounded by really big trees. We went from having no grass to having so much grass that it takes hours to mow and also countless amount of trees and bushes.

Countless indeed. I can not count everything that we are growing. I am generally quite systemic in my methods but the amount is so large that counting makes little sense. To give you an idea of the scope, here's a list: ~10 berry bushes (red and black currants), 30-40 strawberry plants, 3 places where wild strawberries grow, 1 place where wild raspberry grows, 7 apple trees, 8 cherry trees, 4 plum trees, many grape plants, greenhouse for tomatoes and cucumbers, 2 pear trees in the garden and a 200-tree pear orchard. You might be thinking: "you're insane". You're probably right, because a couple of months after moving, we added 8 blueberries, 10 plants of good raspberry varieties, gooseberries and rhubard among other things.

Usually when I list what we are growing, I see both horror and amusement in other people's eyes even before I get to the pear orchard. "Uhm, those apple, pear, cherry and plum trees need to be pruned in the winter." they tell and and I respond, "yes, I read about it online. I know the theory. And I have my pruning tools. " and then they're like, "uhuh. ". To them it's obvious that I'm in way over my head but I still think gardening is amazing. Before the winter, I got my never-pruned-before jungle of grapes pruned, I got my wildly overgrown strawberries ready for the winter and I got all the trees protected from rabbits, who are otherwise sooo cute and adorable but in the winter they're nasty hungry destroyers who gladly eat fruit tree bark and kill the trees for an afternoon meal. Kind of reminds me of Monty Python.

Now I'm planning for the spring and I have no more illusions of being a rational person. Let me illustrate:

What you see there are 70 packs of seeds. None of them feel excessive to me. Actually I am still missing many that I just HAVE TO have in my garden! Like corn. It's not really a staple food in Estonia and I've barely ever eaten corn that didn't come out of a can. But imagine I could just pick some out of the garden and just bake it and eat it. Perfect! Some of the seeds were bought over the years of dreaming of gardening while living in an apartment but I was never really good at window-sill gardening. Some of the seeds were given as gifts. I am also really fascinated with different varieties. Like why plant 10 x regular red tomato when I can plant cherry tomatoes and yellow tomatoes as well. And I spent a good evening or two picking out the perfect variety of cucumber to grow in the greenhouse. It's almost embarrassing to say, but the sweet paprika is just something that the store clerk gave me and I said, that looks good, and then I put it in the pile.

We have A LOT of space. Like really much more than I imagined I would ever need. Pear orchard, which is over 4000 square meters, takes a lot of space, but the inner garden is even bigger: 5000 square meters and there is also an area that is currently completely unused and perfect for vegetables, and this area is approximately 2200sq m. Only that last area is 25x85 meters (82ft x ~280ft)! There are also areas that I didn't count here that could benefit from some shade-tolerant forest flowers. The flower seeds that I have are mostly meant for the inner garden, so you can imagine that I will have no trouble finding room for any vegetable that I might ever want to grow.

But that's one difficult topic on its own. If you could grow anything at all (except tropical plants), what would you grow? If you had room to design any kind of a garden, what would you design? The previous owners lived here for several years and they had a greenhouse, berries, and fruit trees but not one flower. It might be possible that I will discover flowers in the spring but there aren't even any flower beds. Although I have previously remarked that flowers are only for gardeners that have nothing better to do, I have realized that so many flowers are pretty damn awesome. You plant them, mulch them and wait for pretty flowers. Even roses seem pretty okay now that I have read about them. Everyone warns that roses take SOOO much time to maintain, especially before the winter when you have to protect them from frost. Well, I watched a tutorial video how roses are protected from the cold: the 5-minute video had not been cut and ended with something like, "and now you're done.".

I'm trying to excite the kids as well. They do like the theory. I tell them, "And then we can pick CARROTS!" and they respond in unison, "YAY! Carrots! We love carrots!" and then I say, "And strawberries!" and they say, "YAY! Strawberries! We love strawberries!". It is of course possible that after a kilo (~2 pounds) of peas, a kilo of strawberries and a couple of rhubarb pies the kids will get bored with all that and we'll be up to our knees in fresh produce that no one wants to eat. But then we can a) make the birds very happy, b) tell relatives who live in apartments with children, to come and gorge on fresh organic home-grown produce, and c) throw it in compost. So next year we'll have more compost and we'll know to grow less food.

If there is a next year. Buying a house and living in the countryside has not made me completely forget about plans to go to postdoc. I am writing my thesis and then I will apply for funding to learn how to create healthy pest-resistant GMO varieties that don't need so much pesticides to be sprayed on them. In a way my gardening could also end up being career-oriented practice for the future. Anyway living in the countryside is totally fun and I'm really looking forward to spring.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Apple Trees

I am at a crossroad in life. I'm basically ready to write a PhD thesis and we're buying a house. I have been getting ready to write my  thesis since forever ago but I still have so many unfinished tasks that I want to complete before do that. But I'm kind of tired about making promises to myself about when I finish my thesis so I won't do that here either. I'm still getting ready to write. 2 month ago I was ready to write, except for a couple of time-consuming presentations and some lab work. 1 month ago I was ready to write, except for a poster presentation and an upcoming conference and reading journals about that topic. 3 days ago I got back from the conference and I was ready to write, except for some bureaucracy  and some overdue plant work in the lab. Yesterday and today I was ready to write, except for some urgent plant work in the lab... Tomorrow I'm genotyping some plants and doing some ROS measurements so perhaps the day after that I can .... Oh Then I also have to analyze the data from those ROS measurements. Perhaps after that.

We started looking for an apartment almost a year ago. I wasn’t happy about the children growing up in an apartment and our rent seemed big enough that we could live in a small house or a part of a house for similar monthly costs. Of course I was wrong. Houses in our price range needed a lot of renovation. Alternative was to buy an apartment, reduce costs and save up for a house. Unfortunately the apartments in our price range and the ones worth their price were a lot less nice than the rental that we live in. Also, all the apartments had really small kitchens and very little storage space. Moving in any of them would only make us miserable.

Several months passed. We occasionally looked at the real estate notices but shook our head. I was very deliberately holding myself back. I dreamed of having a garden where to plant apple trees and strawberries but I knew there was no chance of having that in the near decade so I just sighed and thought of the benefits of living in an apartment. "At least we don't have to bother with renovations. And we live so close to everything." But even more I thought that Erkki would not value any of the benefits that a house has to offer and he'll mostly feel like he has too many obligations at home. Then he'll be stressed, I'll feel guilty for ever proposing it and I'll be stressed, then also the kids will be stressed. We'll hate our life and it just wouldn't be worth it. We would all be miserable! I'd really rather live in an apartment than see the family be destroyed for a few apple trees. But the thought of raising the kids in an apartment also made me sad. And I really-really-really wanted to plant some herbs and black currants. Sigh.

I was still holding myself back when Erkki sent a link to an apartment. 112 000 for a 4-room apartment in a rather new building. We went to see it thinking we're ready to just buy it but it didn't give the right feeling so we kept on looking. Then another apartment. Then another partial house. It was a small and old partial house but I was pushing for buying it because it had a tiny garden plot. Erkki felt it was too small so we kept looking. So much for having an affordable garden. Then there was a small and quite new house very close to the city - but when we had a builder see it, he told us that the quality is horrible! But at least we were suddenly looking at houses! Yay! Houses with real gardens with real grass and real trees. Then more expensive houses, because we didn't like the quality of the cheaper ones. Then we tried increasing the price limit even more but still nothing great. After many disappointments we gave up.

A couple of weeks later Erkki sent a really unusual link. A big house several km from town, with fire heating and over 2 hectares of garden, including a natural grassland and a tiny lake. WHAT?! He would propose that we move out of town and he'd even be okay with fire heating?! Uhm. "Erkki, I like it but how come you like it?!" Apparently he was as excited about it as I was. Wow! I thought we should buy it before he changes his mind. It was quite expensive (over our initial price limit) but it was also awesome! Again we were ready to buy it but then a builder told us that the building quality is horrible! Oh no, another one bites to dust. I would not want to buy a bad house no matter how nice the garden is.

Long story finally gets somewhere... Several km further there was another house on the market. Living area was smaller (because the second floor is unfinished) and much less expensive, but with a garden area of almost 2 hectares. When the builder saw the house, he was almost speechless. "They don't build them like that anymore". Yet the house is also very modern because the main area was finished only 6 years ago and designed for a small family with children. The garden is full of apple trees, over 200 (!!!) pear trees, strawberries, a glass house and even a swing and a sandbox for the kids. It's a 20-30 minute drive (depends on traffic) to town center which seems to scare me more than Erkki. It also has central heating and smaller upkeep costs than our apartment. We saw the house a couple of weeks ago and are planning to sign the purchase contract within a few days. We might start moving in a couple of weeks if all goes well. Ironically the house costs 110 000 € which is basically the same price as the 4-room apartment that we almost bought.

So we're buying a house. I will have a garden and we'll live in the middle of a crop field next to a forest. Are we crazy or what. I'm equal parts OH NO, ARE WE REALLY READY FOR THIS?! and YAY! GARDEN! YAY! FOREST! CAN WE START MOVING RIGHT NOW?

Also, I haven't forgotten about my post doc plans. But until I go there, the kids can have as much fun running on grass as they want. And I still have to write that damn PhD thesis as well!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

From Adoration to Despair

Let me ask you: how many minutes of annoyance does it take to ruin a day? Like if you had a wonderful day - great breakfast, productive workday, fun lunch with colleagues, sun shining and birds singing - and then you stop by the store and the clerk is really annoyingly slow. You won't notice because you're so cheerful. How about if you then walk to your car and something else annoying happens, like you find that a bird has left it's mark on your car. You are so positive that you make a barely audible sigh and then get in your car. How about if someone then cuts you off in traffic. Kinda impolite of them. Then you get home and find that you forgot your window open and it's really cold. Then you find that the milk package in your grocery bag has broken and gotten everything messy. Slowly, minute by minute, it destroys every ounce of optimism and all you can do is stare at your computer screen with an angry look like you're considering punching it.

Of course it's quite unlikely that a person who is in control of their own life really has those days very often. Sure, everyone occasionally gets caught in rain with no umbrella or has other rare circumstances ruin an otherwise good day. But those who are not in control of their own lives - PARENTS - can always count on something horrible happening. Back to the first question - how many minutes of annoyance does it take to ruin a day - I would say the answer is over 60 on a good day. If I really wanted to know, I could start timing it every work day. I'm speaking of picking the kids up from kindergartens (notice the plural).

This is how it goes: I'm energetic and enthusiastic and laughing at something a colleague said   and then get my coat and get in my car. I'm cheerfully humming on my way to Liisa's kindergarten. hmmm-hmm...  In 10 minutes I get there and find Liisa. She cheers and rushed to hug me while saying, "Mommy!". Aww, so cute. "Come on Liisa, lets get you dressed, let's go pick up Siiri. She says, "NO", laughes and starts climbing around, while I say things like, "Oh Liisa, we really should get going. Here, look, there's a cat picture here, come here, watch the cat, let me help you with the sweater.." "NO"  she suddenly yells and happily runs away again. I get too warm and kind of dehydrated in my coat and increasingly annoyed. She's kind of being cute too, so I fool myself into imagining that it's cute in stead of annoying as hell (Plus it would look really bad if I lost my temper in the kindergarten). It takes about 10-40 minutes before we can step out. I never know how long it will be. Usually by the time we walk out the door, it's been about 40 minutes since I left work

Then we SLOOOOWLY walk into the car. I don't notice the speed as much as I did when Siiri was that age, but it's slow enough that old people in wheelchairs would pass us by. We stop every few steps so Liisa could wave to the moon and say, "Bye moon"   and when she sees a tree twig on the ground that she really likes she will go and get it and try to touch all floor tiles with the twig. Then it breaks, she is sad, "Mommy, this" and shows so I could fix it. We find a new twig. We reach the car and she won't get it. In stead she walks back to where she could see the moon so she could go and wave some more. "Bye moon. Bye". Time it ticking by, Siiri is waiting for us. I'm starting to get annoyed. "Come on Liisa. Either you get in the car or I will lift you in your seat myself." She agrees to get in but won't be happy until I have also buckled in her stuffed lion and given her a rock that she saw on the floor of the car (some trophy from an earlier car trip). Finally, we're moving. It has now been nearly 50 minutes.

We drive to the other side of town and get out of the car. "Myself!" she says, and starts to climb out of the car while I stand by the door in the middle of the street during rush hour. I say, "Liisa, let me lift you out. I really don't like standing here." "No! Myself.". So I wait for her to climb out herself, I grab her hand and usher her off the street, closing the car door with my free hand. We go into the second kindergarten and find Siiri. The moment of relief ends within a second. She sees me and yells angrily and somewhat whinily, "I'm not finished playing! I don't want to go now!". Liisa gets her hand free and runs down the corridor, I go get her back, held her around the chest while she wriggles and squeals and I tell Siiri as calmly as possible, "Siiri, we really must get going. Please lets go and get dressed." She pouts for a moment but then puts the toys away and comes with me. She's a really good kid when she's not in the middle of a meltdown.

By that time Liisa has already lost all of her self control. She climbs on the bench, takes someone else's toy and finds a more suitable place for it. "Liisa! Where did you get that?!", I turn to Siiri, who has sat near her outdoor clothes and is playing with a zipper. "Siiri, please start getting dressed. You're certainly big enough to get dressed." She says "help me." I cringe with the feeling of being bullied into doing something that I think is unfair toward me. I remind her of her age. After ten minutes of Siiri trying to convince me that she is unable to get dressed (Not true!), I give up and help her get one leg into her outdoor pants. Liisa uses the distraction and runs out the door and into the corridor. I go after her, "LIISA! Stop!". She doesn't stop and then she starts crying  when I try to pick her up or take her hand so it takes a couple of minutes to convince her to walk back. We get back to Siiri who is again playing with her zipper but now has half a leg in her pants. I think "OH MY GOD!!!!!", but numb down my reactions, I grab Liisa under my arm, hold her put while she tries to wriggle away and run for the door and I help Siiri get dressed with one hand. Yes, she's almost five and although I'm actually more angry at Liisa, I have run out of patience and there is no more cute mother-daughter conversation. We get out the door but getting Liisa back into the car is even worse than the last time.

One and a half to two hours after I cheerfully left work, I finally get home with two kids. They run for the iPad and I have just about the energy to sit somewhere and stare into emptiness feeling utterly hopeless.

But practice makes perfect - when the kids then interrupt me by asking for candy and juice and water, I don't yell at them to leave me alone, like I used to wish I could, I don't even get them water while mumbling, "go get your own damn water, do I look like I am your servant, mumble,mumble...", which I still sometimes feel like doing. Most days I say something like, "Good idea. I want some candy too. Get your blood sugar up, kids, it's good for all of us. Want another candy?"

Our lives are happier even when the kids are ill and I don't have to pick up the kids from two kindergartens. Such routine annoyance that lasts so long each work day affects life quality and overall happiness. And let me tell you the scary part: most of the time if you saw me somewhere with the kids, the kids being all cute, waving to the moon, holding hands with mommy, mom holding the car door while the 2,5 year old climbs in, mom discussing traffic dangers with the 4 year old - I bet you'd think kids are so adorable and my little girls are so pleasantly polite and listening to their mommy.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Gingerbread cookie dough 2013

I have continued with my gingerbread cookie dough experimenting and I will share what I have learned. It is unlikely that anyone will make gingerbread cookies after Christmas season but I couldn't share it earlier because I was still testing my theories and improving the recipe.

Estonian Gingerbread cookies

2013 edition

150 g sugar for caramelizing (+ some water)
200 g/ml hot water
210 g sugar
250 g unsalted butter
Spices (see below)
2 eggs (I use large eggs)
600 g flour (I use Type 550, 12% protein)
1 tsp soda
1 tsp baking powder

Spices (Kristiina's mix 2013):
3 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp clover
2 tsp cardamom
1 tsp ginger (dry powder)
1 tsp black pepper
a few allspice berries
1/8 nutmeg
fresh zest from half an orange

Pour 150 g sugar in a thick-bottomed pot, add some water, heat and dissolve. Also heat 200 ml water in another dish. When all the sugar has dissolved (the syrup no longer looks cloudy), heat the syrup until water evaporates and the melted sugar turns brown. Mix by swirling the pot, don't use a spoon. Stop caramelizing before it starts smoking. Drizzle in the 200 ml water. Beware the hot water vapor. When the caramelized sugar is dissolved, add 210 g sugar and mix until dissolved. Then add 250 g butter. Add ground spices (approx. 70-80 degrees Celsius syrup). Cool down the syrup. When the mix is about 40 degrees Celsius (warm but not hot), whisk in 2 eggs, one at a time. Mix flour with soda and baking powder and mix it into the syrup. I use a wooden spoon (less messy) but some people use a hand to mix until even. Put the dough in two clean strong plastic bads and refrigerate for at least overnight, but 3-4 days is even better. Cook cookies in 200 C oven for 4 and a half minutes.

Some tidbits:
The sugar for caramelizing can be melted without dissolving it in water. However, I have found it much easier to control the process if the sugar is evenly dissolved and then evenly melted and caramelized. If you just pour dry sugar in a pot and heat it, then it's easy to end up with half of it burnt and the other half still white and dry and chunks of sugar floating in it.

It seems that gingerbread cookies are very different in different parts of the world. Only Estonian traditional gingerbread cookie recipes start with heating caramelized syrup.  The brown syrup can also be bought in the store but I would like my recipe not to depend on a certain product that might disappear from the stores at any time. I'm sure the heated syrup method is traditional in some other countries as well but I haven't seen any modern recipe with heated syrup originating from any other country than Estonia. Here it is common knowledge that gingerbread cookies are done with caramelized syrup. Just mixing flour, sugar, butter, and spices would not qualify as more than a gingerbread-flavored cookie.

The spices vary in different countries as well. In USA, gingerbread cookies are flavored with ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. In Estonia, the typical mix contains cinnamon, clover and cardamom. Sometimes other spices like black pepper or coriander are used. I like gingerbread cookies to be very spicy and aromatic, so I used more spices than they used in any recipe that I found. I also really love the taste of orange with the taste of caramel and cinnamon. Mmmm... Orange zest is not often used but it's really good.

There seems to be some disagreement when the spices should be added. In my experience, it's a bad idea to boil the spices. You just lose so much of the flavor. Also, don't add the spices to cold syrup, otherwise the spices won't mix into the dough that well and even keeping the dough in the fridge for a couple of weeks doesn't help much. I got best results when I added the spices to hot (near boiling temperature) syrup and then cooled down the syrup in cold water bath. This way the spices were released and they didn't have too much time to just fly away. Cooling the syrup in room temperature results in very spicy smell in your home and quite mild tasting cookies. Also, if you keep them in the oven for too long, half the aroma is lost.

It is very important that you don't add the flour when the syrup is still too hot. Near room temperature is good. If the flour gets too much heat, then gluten in the flour will be cooked: the dough will be hard to work with, but the cookies will be very nice and crisp. The dough was just horribly sticky but the cookies almost made me think it's worth it to repeat the mistake.  

Don't over-cook them. If the sides of the cookie are caramel brown from being in the oven, then you have lost half the taste. Orange taste goes first. Use a timer. If you're unsure if the cookies are done,  flip them over and look for any brown patches. And wait for them to cool down and harden a little before you move then from the parchment paper.

If you use too much flour while making the cookies, then you might end up with bland and dry cookies. Especially true if you re-roll the same piece of dough several times and add flour every time. In stead, try rolling the dough on a sheet of parchment paper and pressing in the shapes there. The shapes look better, you need much less flour, and it takes less time to make cookies. Win.  

Other news: I missed gym for about 40 days because I was too busy being at home with ill kids, then too busy trying to get back on track in the lab and then being too busy with the Christmas season. I haven't even started with my PhD thesis and I have not managed to do even one proper experiment for my current work project. Fortunately, the combination of LOTS of gingerbread cookies and the missed gym, did not have the combined effect I was afraid of. Also, I'm turning 30 in less than a month and have decided to postpone any "Where have I got in 30 years"-contemplation to next year, to a time barely before I am 31 years old.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Both Good and Bad

It's been FOREVER since my last post, so I'll just write about some things without much effort to write everything. And that's particularly easy because not much is happening. Kids grow, I barely have any hobbies left and barely have any time to myself. Exercising is also impossible and also impossible to watch any series or read any books or meet with friends. Or so I thought until I decided that it's a defeatist attitude that robs me of having a life besides being a mommy.

So then I got a membership card to the gym that I liked the most and also started playing tabletop role-playing games with my friends. That means I have even less spare time but it's totally worth it. I spend less time with my kids and I felt guilty about it for a little while until I realized that I'd be setting a really bad example for them if I didn't do what I believed was the right thing to do. I want to raise them to be strong and brave and when they have a goal, I want them to be determined and I want them to believe that their life is mostly in their own hands (except if their goal is to win at a lottery, in which case I'd hope they give up quickly). So if I believe that a woman shouldn't give up everything to just babysit and cook, then what kind of an example am I setting by spending all my evenings either babysitting my own kids or cooking for them.   Making time for sports and hobbies is not easy but it definitely makes me feel better about myself. Going to the gym seems to do good things with my concentration and inspiration as well which makes creative work easier but it also takes away time, especially because my workouts can't all be in the evening so the pros and cons even out. It's good for health anyway.

This week has been horrible though. Liisa had the worst stomach flu. We can't even hire a nanny for such an illness (too contageous) and Erkki has been busy at work so I've been at home with the kids. No work, no gym. Okay, I work in the evening when it's possible but it really has me envying people who can just do their job and feel good about it. It's starting to feel like an invisible prison. I have the car keys in my bag pocket, the car is visible from the window, I just really want to try this experiment with these plants are are in the exactly the right size. No one else is using the microscope, I have my solutions ready, I could just go and do the experiment, but I can't! I can't leave the apartment. I'm just stuck here putting away toys, totally aware of the work that is expected of me, work that even I expect from myself. I'm not really to kind of person to spontaneously go to the store because of a random craving but it feels horrible to know that I couldn't go even if I wanted.

But at least the kids are cute and generally well-behaved. That's what I keep telling myself. I'M IN PRISON, but at least it's cute! And when I tell myself they are well-behaved, I completely leave out Liisa's personality. Behaving well and being sane are totally different things. Let me explain.

Liisa is a giggling ball of random mischief. She climbs up the bookshelf, I pick her up and put her down, she lands walking and without a pause, she climbs on the couch, then to the armrest, then the backrest and tries to stand on top of it. "GAAAAAH! LIISA, come down right now!" . She giggles maniacally, lies down on the backrest and as I approach, she (still smiling) closes her eyes blissfully and starts breathing heavily as if pretending to be asleep. I put her on the floor and she walks straight towards the bookshelf. One day she discovered that she's able to climb on the kitchen table using a much more challenging (=dangerous) route than simply using the chair for simple climbing. She somehow pulls herself up from the side, adjusts herself to a sitting position and laughs with anticipation how I plan to stop her. There is no stopping her. Fortunately she still follows some rules and when I tell her to stop outside home she usually listens or lets me stop her from doing anything really dangerous. Basically it's a game for her to act insane. I don't even dare to imagine how this trait of hers will manifest itself when she's in her teens.

In some ways completely the opposite, Siiri has become more social and a bit less scared of the world, but she still panicks too easily. It's been a struggle to find a physical hobby for her. Ballet I didn't like, modern dancing for children was too random for her (she had a meltdown and later refused to go there), track and field was too intimidating and she panicked already the first time. From the look on her face, I would have thought the room was full of demons only she could see. Perhaps she was a bit too young for such a large group. Finally we have been sticking with acrobatics. It was going great until some boys were mean to her there so now she refuses to participate. The acrobatics class itself is perfect for her so we really don't want her to quit. Not easy to decide how to encourage her.

But all in all, the kids are in their cutest age - 2 years and 4.5 years and me and Erkki still struggle with enjoying the everyday life of being a parent. Yeah sure there are countless cute moments and funny moments and memorable moments and heart-warming moments, but it would be a stretch to say that it has improved our general happiness levels. I have all these happy moments but there are also all the moments when I force myself to ignore a grim reality, to calm myself and do that needs to be done. And the lack of freedom is just so absolute that it's better to pretend that there wasn't any freedom before either. Parenting is a very complex experience. Can't get the good parts without enduring the bad. And anyway, it could just be a phase. It will be better when the youngest is at least 5 years old.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Big Kids Eat Jam

One unusual thing about Siiri is that she doesn't drink juice and she doesn't eat jam. She didn't even eat berries until she was 3 years old and went out picking and eating tiny naturally growing strawberries in the forest with her grandparents. She's generally a good eater but she just REALLY HATES JAM. Even when I make a cake with pieces of fruit, whole berries, or a berry filling, Siiri picks out any parts that even remotely resemble jam. Even when she doesn't see the jam, she tastes the sweet-and-sour flavor and cringes.   She hates anything resembling jam so much that she will leave her favorite part of the cake uneaten if it's even touched a cooked piece of apple. She has happily eaten uncooked fruit as long as I remember and access to berries is very seasonal anyway.

Last summer when Siiri had just recently eaten strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries for the first time, she asked for frozen raspberries from the freezer. She was slowly nibbling on them and declared, "I am now old enough to eat raspberries!" and as we were discussing age and eating different things, she said, "When I am four years old, I will eat jam." I was amused, but I also remember thinking that, since it's Siiri, she might be telling the truth.  If she really thinks she will eat jam when she's 4 years old, she actually might, but I will not believe it until I see it! I made a mental note to remember her bold statement but I also decided not to remind her of it because I wouldn't want her to force herself to eat anything just to keep her word.

Months passed and Siiri's 4th birthday was approaching when Siiri again started talking about it. "Mom, is my birthday almost here? Will I be 4 years old? Does it mean that I will eat jam?" I replied something like, "Yes, you will soon be 4 years old. Will you eat jam? If you say so." As her birthday drew closer, she talked about it more and more. She mentioned it several times during the week before her birthday. I found it extremely hard to believe because about a week before her birthday, a tiny amount of jam somehow got smeared on the side of her plate of porridge; Siiri stared at the jam in absolute disgust and couldn't start eating her porridge until I had cleaned the jam off her plate. 

Finally, it was Siiri's birthday. We made porridge, like we always do, and took out the jam, like we always do. Siiri sat down and said, "I am now four years old. I will eat jam now." I took some porridge on a spoon, smared it with a little bit of jam and gave it to Siiri. She stared at it a little while and then, in a motion that can be described with the phrase, "lets get it over with!", she put the spoon in her mouth. All time stopped. She turned the food in her mouth, looking like she's trying not to vomit and then swallowed, looking suddenly very pale.  I handed her some water and she grabbed it and washed down the "foul" taste. She said, "Now I am four years old. I ate jam."

Later she sometimes mentioned that she now eats jam, but when I casually offered her jam, she always refused. It was very brave of her to try jam and I didn't want to push it. Her birthday in May was followed by a summer of eating lots of fresh berries. Perhaps Liisa has also been giving a good example in this regard. Liisa drinks juice, eats jam and all kinds of berries and fruit. When we bought some perfect sweet cherries and gave some to the kids, Liisa rushed to eat as much as possible as fast as possible. Siiri was curious and tried some as well. Sweet cherries are of course delicious so it didn't take long until they were both eating plenty of sweet cherries. Siiri even happily ate a few sour cherries when we got to pick them fresh from a cherry tree. However, Siiri still seemed to hate jam.

Fast forward to yesterday. We were driving home from a wedding and we had been driving about 2 hours and were discussing dinner. Siiri requested, "lets make pancakes! Pancakes with jam! It is my favorite food in whole world!".  We tried not to show our amusement too much, "with jam? Are you sure?". Siiri replied, "yes! Lets make pancakes with jam. It is the best food!". So, just because we were curious, we agreed with that plan and made pancakes and I served it with the strawberry jam that I made this summer.

Siiri took a pancake, covered it with jam and ATE IT!  She was thoughtful while chewing but she ate it and asked for more. I helped her put more and more jam on her plate and she ate all of it. Today in the morning Siiri said that she now eats jam and only wants jam on her porridge. She actually ate the jam first, then added more jam and ate that too.  Wow.

Moral of the story: trust your kids. You never know when they might be telling the truth.