If you have been following my blog, you will know that I am currently having chemo to treat a rogue auto-immune disease. The chemo is going well and apart from some fatigue, I am largely feeling quite well. I am also starting to feel that the treatment is working and that my lungs are slowly improving…at least a bit. I’m still walking. Still breathing. Yesterday, I was bouncing around in the pool with the kids giving them piggyback rides. I certainly don’t look sick at all!
While chemo is going so, so much better than expected, it has been very thought provoking time and my entire life has ended up on the dissection table. Where am I going? What is important? What stays in and what goes out? It has been very intense at times.
However, while I’m naturally concerned about managing my own life and health, the kids are virtually my all-encompassing consideration. Mister is almost 10 and Miss is almost 8. They are too young to be faced with losing their Mum. That said, they’re not as young as they were. I’ve almost been fighting this disease for 8 years and am thankful for each and every extra year that we have together. Thankful that they are older, stronger, more independent and more likely to remember Mummy than the year before. This isn’t a morbid thing. It actually makes me really appreciate life more as well as the need to carpe diem seize the day. Squeeze each and every last drop out of everything. No waste! We really enjoy life most of the time.
Yet, while there is every likelihood that I’ll get through this crisis and be fine enough, the shadow is still there. I feel very strongly that I owe it to Geoff, the kids and also to my parents to have my shit at least somewhat sorted out. I don’t just want to leave them in the lurch and make any bad outcomes any worse than they need to be. We all need to be somewhat prepared for when that mythical bus finally comes to get us and I want to leave a legacy, some memories, something for them to hold onto and not just an empty space. That is really, really important to me and I believe even more important for them!
Just before I was diagnosed with dermatomyositis 6 years ago, I read a book called Letters to Sam by Daniel Gottlieb, which was a series life lessons written in a letter format to his grandson. I was incredibly moved by this book and inspired to write something similar for my kids. I pounded the keyboard and wrote something like 40,000 words stopped and walked away. I decided it was crap which was probably me just being overly critical again although I had also read The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran and he put things so beautifully that anything else seemed quite redundant. Besides, I went into remission and it seemed like life lessons could wait. I’d become immortal!
With my recent health setback, I was more concerned about the practicalities of life rather than philosophical issues. After all, not all life lessons come in a book. They’re also hands on and tactile, developing our bodies as well as our minds. I realized that the kids needed to become independent, responsible and stand on their own two feet and that cooking teaches these skills. These are skills they need to develop regardless of my health status. After all, cooking and cleaning up after yourself are essential, survival skills.
The further I progressed, the more I came to appreciate that cooking actually covers a whole range of life lessons. Cooking teaches the kids how to:
- Plan an activity.
- Follow procedures.
- Listen to instructions and follow through.
- Learn by example.
- Time management
- Work as a team
- Clean up after themselves.
- Have fun!
They also learn about the ingredients, their nutritional values and how they work together (or not).
Cooking and food preparation, also teaches them about their own bodies and how they operate and how food establishes and maintains good health, preventing disease. It also teaches them about the environment, preventing waste and issues like ethical food production and reducing food miles.
For our family, meal time is also a time of prayer when we give thanks to God and also pray for people in need.
Another huge bonus is that we are cooking together and bonding as we go. As the kids gain new skills, their confidence increases and they feel I trust them. That I believe they can do it and that goes a long way in helping them believe in themselves.
I am the chef and they are my eager apprentices. They love it and are keen to help, be included and have fun!
I never realized the simple act of cooking a meal could be so educational!
The cooking project has evolved as I’ve gone along. What started out as a desire to share special family recipes evolved into teaching them how to bake basics like Chocolate Crackles. As I faced chemo, I realized that they really needed to learn to cook nutritious meals, not just cakes. Life had taken on a more serious tone.
However, like most of my “educate the kids projects”, I had to bring myself up to speed before I brought them onboard. After all, I had to provide clarity, direction and leadership. I need to have clear directions in mind and know where we’re heading. This cooking project was never going to work as some horrible variation of Blind Man’s Bluff. That would only lead to fights, frustrations and destruction. The outcome would be negative instead of positive.
I had a lot to learn! Although I am a good cook especially when it comes to baking, I’ve been sick for quite a long time and my cooking has ended up in an extremely narrow rut. Every time I visit the butcher, I stare blankly at what really is a smorgasboard of choice and order chicken schnitzel or a leg of lamb yet again. My niece recently shared her secret of roasting boiled potatoes in the waffle maker and that’s bailed me out too. I also keep peas and corn kernels in the freezer which have been a salvation as well. As bad as things have been, I’ve never resorted to tinned spaghetti and there’s always been the local Thai takeaway. They know us well and produce a good, nutritious meal! We’ve also been given a few meals too thank you very much!
Back to the Cooking Project.
Last week while the kids were at my parents’ place, I started the preparation process. I went searching for recipes and expanding my own horizons. It’s seems that in the many years since I last really went looking for meal ideas in recipe books (in contrast to baking which I’ve steadily maintained), the whole landscape of Australian cooking has changed. In my day, the Australian Women’s Weekly had an international cooking series where each nationality was kept distinctly separate. Italian was in the Italian book. French in the French book and Chinese in the Chinese book. Thai was a relative late comer to the series. They’ve recently put out a recipe book called Kitchen where the recipes are organized by cooking utensil. Under “The Saucepan” for example it includes: Beef Massaman Curry, Lamb Meatball korma, Baked Pumpkin and Spinach Risotto and Fettucino Alfredo all in the same chapter with all the nationalities mixed together under the unwritten banner of “modern Australian”. Don’t get me wrong. This is a great development. Australian society isn’t always such an integrated, cultural melting pot but it does show me that we’ve come a long way!
I developed a menu for the week, which has needed to become more flexible after my Dad bought us some chops and we’ve been out to dinner as a family and had a friend over for a rather unhealthy lunch of fish and chips. A friend also popped over with four of her kids and her daughter largely made the pancakes for lunch with me so that was another variation on a theme. Hmm…flexible focus. I’m learning on that front as well.
Here is our proposed menu for the week:
Monday night: chops and salad.
Tuesday night: Atlantic salmon and salad
Wednesday night: Pizza from scratch with Salad and Apple Pie for dessert.
Thursday night: Roast lamb with roast veggies (this is my chemo night).
Friday night: Lamb salad.
Saturday lunch: pancakes. We serve these with grated apple and I quite like blueberries as well.