Sunday, January 30, 2011

Redefining Food

Memories are so unreliable. Our perceptions are filtered through our own insecurities and prejudices, often resulting in more fiction than truth. So fictitious as the account may be, I remember/imagine having the following conversation with my future sister-in-law shortly after I began seriously dating her brother:

"So I hear you don't cook."

In recollecting the moment, I'm shocked not by the question, but by my response: positive affirmation coupled with a tinge of pride. In all truth, I didn't cook. Not that I couldn't; I simply didn't. I once had a very blunt missionary companion tell me that she had learned to cook something new from every other roommate except for me--not surprising since I never made anything. For years, I viewed cooking as far too domestic to waste my time on. I was too busy pursuing my "important" dreams to descend to chopping vegetables. While I was discreet in my disdain, in all honesty, I considered myself too sophisticated to regularly engage in mundane food preparation. (Not to mention all the menial tasks that inevitably come with it--like washing dishes and mopping floors.)

In retrospect, I am embarrassed by this haughty attitude. Unfortunately, my antipathy towards cooking extended much deeper. I had a negative relationship with food. When it came to eating, I saw only the downside. Food was the beckoning bully who constantly threatened to toss me into the pit of obesity. Food had too much fat, too many calories, too many carbs. It was too expensive, took too much time to prepare, and resulted in too many dishes. While I recognized that food was necessary for survival, I rarely enjoyed eating. Sure, I got plenty of pleasure from my regular splurges on refined sugar and pastries, but these indulgences were always accompanied by guilt. And so, I generally straggled along with a diet consisting mainly of cereal, frozen dinners, and ice cream.


Recently, I've made a conscious decision to redefine my relationship with food. While it requires a complete paradigm-shift, I'm striving to view food in terms of the positive. Instead of selecting foods because of what's *not* in them (fat-free, sugar-free, flavor-free?), I'm searching for foods that have *good* in them--foods that are nourishing, wholesome, and healthy. Challenging as this is, it's been even more challenging to change my attitude. I no longer want to view cooking as drudgery. Like it or not, I'm going to have to answer the question, "What's for dinner" for the rest of my life. So I may as well like it.

What's helped me revamp my attitude?

1) Looking at the big picture. No, I don't mean taking a step back to stare at the enormous pile of dishes and flour that used to be the kitchen. I mean, remembering that I am not just cooking a meal: I am nourishing my family. There is such a deep connection between our physical bodies and our spirits. It's nearly impossible to feel truly happy when our bodies feel sick or sluggish. In nourishing our physical bodies, we are simultaneously caring for our spirits. What we feed our children today quite literally shapes the people they will become tomorrow.

2) Reading a few books on nutrition from the library. There's lots of conflicting information out there, but it's still been helpful to increase my general knowledge and awareness. Anybody have any good reading suggestions?

3) Acquiring a few new kitchen gadgets. For Christmas, I was spoiled with both a wheat grinder and a new hand blender. While not necessary, these new toys have given me some extra inspiration to have fun playing in the kitchen.

3) Using mealtime as an educational tool. Meals are a great way to teach children. In assigning different tasks, you can teach accountability and responsibility. (I'm not very good at this one yet, but I certainly see the potential.) You can teach reading, chemistry, addition, multiplication, fractions, and best of all, the importance of following directions. Yet our family favorite is using dinner to teach geography. We've decided to choose a country a week and learn about the world by cooking different kinds of cuisine. It's interesting for me and the kids, plus it adds a bit more focus to meal planning.

5) Valuing family time. Nutrition and education completely aside, perhaps the greatest blessing of meal preparation is that it brings the entire family together. The moments that we spend at the table weave a tapestry that I believe will hold our family together. Plus, we laugh. A lot. Dinner at our house is hilarious. Not always respectable, but certainly entertaining. :)

And so, after nearly eight years of marriage, I'm happy to finally report that yes, I do cook. I'm proud of it, too.


Here are a few of the Wheeler family's latest cooking adventures:

Whole wheat pitas with homemade falafel and cucumber sauce. It's so much FUN to watch the little pitas puff up! Thanks for the inspiration, Mrs. M.

Austrian Kasnocken. A is for Austria--the country of the week. This is the Austrian version of mac 'n cheese. Yum, yum, yum!

Tabasco and asparagus quinoa. Up until today, I'd never cooked quinoa. Who knew that it made such fun curliques? Love it! I never imagined what a confidence-building experience venturing into the world of the culinary-unknown could be.

And last but not least, Bountiful Baskets. This week I ordered my first "bountiful basket" from a food co-op and loved it. With six different fruits and six different vegetables, the baskets seem like a fun and economical way to encourage our family to incorporate more fresh fruits and veggies into our diets. Here's to good eating!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Winter Warmth

There's been so much excitement around the Wheeler home lately that it's been difficult to keep up with the chronicling. So please forgive this rather random catch-up post. I'll try to be a bit more organized in the future (although I rather doubt I'll succeed...)

Closing out Christmas

When our minivan bailed and eliminated grocery shopping for a week, we defrosted an extra turkey and pulled out all the trimmings we could find in our cupboards. It was so much fun to close out the Christmas season by enjoying one last decadent dinner as a family.

The girls enjoyed having a table all to themselves, and felt pretty special when I served them on the fancy dishes. Hey, somebody's gotta use 'em!

As tasty as the dinner was, the leftovers were even better. We made a Thai turkey coconut soup seasoned with coriander, cloves, cumin, corn, and coconut milk. (Cinnamon, ginger, and chilis too, but they don't alliterate as well.) In the words of Talia, Yummmm!

Klondike Camping

Once our minivan and heater started behaving again, Jason left the warm comfort of our warm home to accompany our 11 year-old neighbor on the Scout Klondike.

The campsite in Cedar Breaks was only an hour from St. George, yet certainly chillier! The ground was so icy that they couldn't dig snow caves for everyone, so some spent the frosty night in tents.
Fortunately, the first aid practice was limited to imaginary broken legs instead of any real instances of hypothermia.

Crème Brulée with Grandma Susie and Grandpa Charles

The next weekend, Grandma Susie and Grandpa Charles came to visit and we had FUN. So much fun that I forgot to take pictures, darnit. Oh, how I wish I'd brought our camera on our expedition through the petrified sand dunes of Snow Canyon. Just imagine something really nice, and I promise it was prettier. To give you an idea, this is a photo taken at sunset the last time we were there.

Fortunately, we did pull out our camera during our attempt to make dessert. Uncle Lance gave us an adorable crème brulée set with a small kitchen torch for Christmas. When we went to use it, however, we realized we needed butane. Always resourceful, Jason pulled out his own torch that's a bit, well, larger.

Boys will be boys!

Here's the end result:

Not the prettiest ever, but it still tasted good!

Galette des Rois

The very next evening, we invited some friends over to share a Galette des Rois (King's Cake) with us.

While it looked nice, the pastry itself, was, um, shall we say, mediocre? Lessons learned: if you can't find puff pastry at the store, don't purchase filo dough and expect the same results.

Fortunately, we had lots of beverages on hand and fun company anyway. Our Elder's Quorum President found the fève (a mancala piece) and enjoyed being King for the evening.

And of course, no celebration of Three King's Day would be complete without reading the nativity--yet again (at the insistence of the girls). I guess the season just goes on and on!

Martin Luther King Day of Daisy Scout Service

The following afternoon, we hosted the Daisy Girl Scouts at our place for a service project to celebrate Martin Luther King Day. Once again, I was too busy to take many pictures, but we made crafts for an Alzheimer's respite group and collected food and hygiene items for the local food bank. Here's Brooklyn with some of the donations we gathered:

And here are the Martin Luther King hair clips the girls brought home.

Camping in Zion

Last but not least, our family took a spur of the moment camping trip this past weekend to Zion National Park. While we had a lot of fun, the thirty degree night cured me of any desire to attempt snow caving! In truth, the cold wasn't as intolerable as the extremely cramped quarters with most of the kids shoved in our sleeping bags to keep warm. Little Talia is quite a wiggler, not to mention the fact that she ate chili for dinner and tooted all night long! (Too much information, I know...)

Our little ones' saving grace is their cuteness:

Of course, I think the big one's pretty cute too...

All nestled in for the night.

And, a toasty fire in the morning. A born pyro, Talia threatened to torch everyone with her flaming stick. Somehow immune to the cold, she always managed to wriggle out of her coat, no matter how many times we put it on. While not thrilled with his garb, Eli at least kept his snowpants on.

The day warmed up, and we enjoyed a marvelous hike with the entire Eastern rim to ourselves. (No pictures once more--the cold toasted our batteries.)
So would I camp in January again? As much as my head says "no"--it's cold, exhausting, and creates an awful lot of laundry--, my heart still says "you bet."

Some memories just warm the soul.

Friday, January 07, 2011

MAIL!!! (Sung with great enthusiasm, like in Blue's Clues.)

Is there anything in the world as fun as mail? (Junk mail and bills excluded, of course.) Even as a grown-up, I get so excited to discover a hand-addressed envelope with my name on it. And a package? Oh, the joy!

Well, the holidays have brought some fabulous packages to our home. A couple days ago, our seventy year-old postman rang the doorbell and handed me a box with a great big smile on his face. "Mrs. Wheeler? This is for you!" He seemed just as excited to be delivering registered mail all the way from Lithuania as I was to receive it.

Our Lithuanian friends sent the cutest package with beautiful wooden ornaments, European chocolate bars, homemade cookies, and a card with pictures of their adorable little girls. I meant to take a photo of the cookies--they were so pretty!--but I'm afraid that they were equally tasty and disappeared quickly. Still, we had so much fun opening their package around our fireplace and dreaming of the day when our children will meet. Thanks, Kes and Lina!

Lucky us, we received another package from the absolute opposite side of the globe. Aunt Callie and Uncle Adam spoiled us with a box exploding with surprises all the way from New Zealand.

Thanks so much for the cutest book ever, "The Wonky Donky!" The authentic Christmas crackers were also a definite hit, each filled with a paper crown, plastic toy, and a joke that only my father could love. :)

What took my breath away, however, was the gorgeous afghan. After nearly eight years of lovingly knitting away, Callie actually finished our engagement/wedding gift. We LOVE it!

Jason waited, oh, about two whole minutes before putting together his lego car. :) Definitely a hit. As for the kids? Not surprisingly, they dug straight into the popcorn balls. Thanks, Adam and Callie! While we miss having you here, kiwi mail is definitely cool.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Better than warm

It pains me to report that our less-than-faithful-Honda-Odyssey is still stranded at the less-than-satisfactory-repair-shop. While I generally enjoy being a one car family, at the moment it is less-than-convenient.

To add to the drama, our heat pump is now behaving extremely suspiciously. Aw, heat? Who cares? After all, this is steamy St. George!


Snow! We woke up a couple mornings ago to a blanket of white. Despite the fact that their regular coats and boots were kidnapped by the mini-van, the girls managed to scrounge together plenty of gear, no matter how mismatched. Not surprisingly, it took a full forty-five minutes of assembling for a scant fifteen minutes of play!

Talia was so excited by the sight of snow that she asked, "Is today Christmas?" Apparently the two go mitten in mitten.

Brooklyn couldn't decide whether her gloves should match Mom's red hat or her pink rain boots, so she compromised with one of each.

Eli, on the other hand, was extremely stylish in his new snow suit.

Unfortunately, he couldn't move at all with so many bulky layers.

And timber!

Freed from his snowsuit and even his pants, Eli was much more agile indoors. (His sisters helped pick out the ensemble.)

Look who's walking!

Diggin' Down

In case you were still worried about our family's unflushed toilets, I am happy to report that we once again have working water. (Better yet, we've been showering for several days now...) It was messy, it was frigid, it was extremely frustrating, but my plumber/husband skillfully managed to replace the brittle line.

And so, here are a few photos to memorialize the ordeal. To start off, here's a "before" pic of our washed-out side yard once the flooding died down.
A snapshot of the next two days' labor: dig, heft, repeat.

Our new blue pipe in its new red home.

Anybody seen a giant gopher?

Eli and I didn't do much but occasionally offer a few words of encouragement.

But Talia celebrated with Jason afterward by jumping on our new trampoline. Squee!

Thanks for the fantastic present, NomiAnn and Papa Kay. :)

If you're happy to be done digging, jump for joy!

Other great news: handy-man Jason was able to fix the washing machine last night, so I'm now five loads closer to being caught up on laundry. As for the mini-van, well, it's still in the shop. Meanwhile, we're diggin' down into life here at home.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Christmas 2010

Before getting too wrapped up in the New Year, it's time to catch up on posting Holiday pictures. So without further adieu, may I present Christmas 2010!

This year, we enjoyed a wonderful Christmas in Hyde Park, Utah with Jason's parents and siblings. It's been a long while since we were all together for the holidays, and we really enjoyed some relaxed time to catch up. Highlights included swimming, bowling, dinner at Hamilton's, "Tangled" on the big screen, a jingle run, and of course, lots of late evenings playing "Cities and Knights."

Brianna made us all adorable stockings, so on Christmas-eve-afternoon we had a creative decorating party. Here are Jason and Justin hard at work. Can ya tell they're brothers?

Christy contemplates what to glue next.

Brooklyn, looking mighty crafty...

And Talia, getting friendly with the ric rac. Her Dick-and-Jane-era attire comes courtesy of her great-aunts and the dress-up box.

In the Wheeler home, Christmas dinner is served on Christmas Eve. So here's Grandma Susie, getting things ready from her beloved spot. (Well, at least it's beloved to the rest of us...)

Meanwhile Grandpa Charles gets comfortable in his nook.

The table sure looks pretty...

But Talia thinks it's missing something.


But even more wonderful than the tasty cuisine was a table full of family.

His tummy full, Eli was completely content and ready for bed.

But wait! Uncle Justin reminds us that it's simply not Christmas Eve without acting out the Nativity.

A tired munchkin, Talia weasled her way into Aunt Brianna's lap for the caroling...

...and snuggled into Brianna again first thing on Christmas morning. Reliving the Wheeler family legacy, we all gathered in the upstairs bathroom and flushed the toilet repeatedly to awaken Grandma and Grandpa.

(Just for the record, if Talia will actually let you do her hair, you are much more beloved than her mother...)

Back to Christmas, next came the grand parade into the living room to behold the beautiful tree and goodies from Santa.

What cheer!

Nothing like snuggly jammies and wiggly babies on Christmas morning.

Eli was much more content once he had his trucks and blocks to play with.

Santa brought Uncle Justin some deadly nerf darts.

Jason certainly looks ready to ambush.

Hopefully unsuspecting Uncle Lance won't get caught in the cross-fire!

Far too mature to get caught-up in such adolescent frivolities, Brooklyn and Talia get to work devouring all of their Christmas candy before breakfast instead. Don't let their serious expressions deceive you--they had a marvelous Christmas and made out like bandits. We were simply too busy having fun to take many photos.

Instead of wrestling each other on Boxing Day, we drove up to Rupert, Idaho for cousin Andrew's mission farewell. While there, we also got to visit briefly with Connie and Bob's fun family. For posterity's sake, from left to right, we, never mind. :)

Best of all, we got to visit with our truly great great-grandparents, Leland and Norma Hansen. Here's Eli with his great-grandpa.

But wait, it looks like someone else wants in the picture!

Here's Brooklyn with Great-grandpa Hansen too.

Four generations!

Nothing better in the world than family!

While the fun didn't end there, I'm afraid that the pictures do. We were having such a great time tearing into all of the new toys and games that we forgot to pull out the camera. If we had, though, you'd see lots of smiles and some of Eli's first steps. Oh, and snow! We pulled out the snowsuits, drove up to Beaver Mountain, and took the kids night skiing! Despite the fact that we waited in line forever to get outfitted, we had a really great time as a family. Brooklyn and I braved the chairlift once together, with me guiding her down the mountain in a giant mother-daughter snowplow. After that, we joined Jason, Talia, and Grandpa Charles on a much more level-appropriate bunny slope with a magic carpet. It was perfect! Meanwhile, Eli went sledding with Aunt Christy while Grandma Susie cheered us all. What a memorable evening!

And not to worry, while Jason and I didn't get much "real" skiing in that night, we went back as a couple the next morning to ski the slopes together. While I can scarcely keep up with my zippy hubby after a four year-hiatus, we had a fantastic time. I'd forgotten how much fun skiing can be--dazzling scenery, a touch of adrenaline, and of course, nothing like a chilly lift up the mountain to give you plenty of opportunities to cuddle. :) The only downer was the discovery on the way back to Hyde Park that we needed to be back in St. George the next morning.

Thus, as quickly as Christmas 2010 came, it vanished just as suddenly. As I count my blessings, I'm grateful to live an era of photos and blogs to help the season live on...even if only in memory.


*Speaking of photos, if any Wheeler relatives have favorites, feel free to e-mail them. (I'm happy to do the same.) In retrospect, I wish I'd taken a few more of our outings together...