Monday, February 23, 2009

Just can't complain - kids, love, muffins

Unless otherwise noted, all materials on this blog are (c) 2009 by Madeleine Vedel

There are moments in this life that just flow beautifully. The house is warm, the food is good, the weather is sunny and invigorating, the kids are healthy, happy and well-behaved, not to mention considerate and interesting. And, last but not least, the love of your life is happy, willing, helpful and delighted that you feel good too. I had one of those marvelous epiphanies the other night cuddled up beside my vintner in my home by the Rhône. More than anything, I think it was the joy of having my kids be well.

Is that a big deal? Yes. I removed them from their father's house over two years' ago now. I chose to raise them mostly alone -- sending them back three weekends out of four. But otherwise, I've taken on school, discipline, table manners, chores, reading, writing, limits, discussions about sex and growing up. The whole shibang. I'm far from alone in this. But, it's been up and down for over a year or two now. Can a woman do all this alone? I certainly saw my vintner as a life-saver when we started going out a bit over a year ago. But, that he is not and does not choose to be. Whompf. That was a hard one to swallow. Love me, love my kids, right? But, apparently not. They're mine, and it's up to me. OK. Can I do it? Do I have the physical energy? the patience? the constancy?

Early on, no doubt, I tried almost too hard, compensating for the cuddly presence of their father. Then, things got a bit easier, and I leaned heavily on the new au pair. But this year, I've been alone with them and the teen boarders. In particular with my elder child I still had many a moment when I started calmly, and ending shouting. Hard to resist, but how do you make your authority known otherwise? Doesn't fear and the sheer power of a very present Mom do it? No. The level of stubbornness and will to resist me simply grew.

OK, new methods needed. My friend Mireille is a horse-whisperer. Truly. She has trained horses and dogs in this method, and is now using it on her kids, very successfully. The key trick she shared was this: don't ever raise your voice. Just keep on saying what you need to say, be it, "down Filou" (for my dog) or "Jonas, please help with the dishes". Say it and repeat it, in the same tone of voice, don't let up, just keep on keeping on. Be a mosquito in their ear. Don't let yourself lose patience, just keep on. As she put it, losing patience with a two ton horse doesn't work too well, but nor is it the desired trick for a stubborn 7 year old. And so, I've put this method to work and Bingo! Pay dirt. I'm amazed, and amused, and delighted and yes, the house is calmer, the kids better behaved. Life is just nicer.

Leo is advancing in his reading skills, at long last willing to read just a bit on his own, and with me at his side, quite a lot. Jonas is adoring the Magic Treehouse books (I'm reading them to him) -- our first foray into chapter books without images on every page.

I was scared, and intensely wrapped up in my idea of "I've put these children on this earth, I can't not raise them as well as possible. They are my responsibility to succeed or neglect, and I take this task terribly seriously." And yes, when I met Jean Paul, I saw a firm, resolute being, who had successfully fathered two kids in their early 20s and I thought, hm..... It was more than a bit unsettling to then be back on my own with my children. But, at the same time, I'm not alone in finding it also easier to be the only authority, educator and rule-setter in my home.

So, my new formula for happy and growing kids? Presence, Patience, Constance. If only this world permitted us to realize these three acts more often!

Fresh and hot chocolate swirl muffins go over well too:

My current favorite recipe is:

3 cups flour (or 1 cup almond meal and 2 cups flour, or 1 cup corn flour, 1 cup rice flour and 1 cup almond meal for the non-glutens out there).
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
sufficient yogurt or whey (the clear liquid atop your yogurt) or one week old raw milk (kept in the fridge, it will turn, but in a good way) to moisten the flour.
2 eggs
1/4 cup organic vegetable oil (I use sunflower)
1 cup organic non-bleached sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix altogether in a single mixing bowl with a wooden spoon/whisk as you prefer.

Meantime, melt some good quality chocolate.

Pour your muffin batter into tins till 1/2 full. Pour on a dollop of the chocolate and swirl with a knife into the batter. Bake at 175C/325F (in a convection oven) or a bit higher in a normal oven. When they've risen nicely and have browned a bit (and smell great), they're ready.

These go very very quickly! so beware. Enjoy!

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