Tag Archives: family

Thanks, Nature

Today I took a hike.

Older Daughter and I drove to a state park and walked a few trails.  We saw an enormous deer trotting away in slow motion, barely making any sound even though the ground was thick with dried leaves.  We saw impossibly small berries still clinging to ashy grey branches, stirring with the slightest of breezes, as red as sun-struck church windows.  We saw spongy neon green moss wrapped along tree roots like blankets tucking in for the winter.  We saw bare white birch trees arching up and up against a sky so blue it was impossible to stop looking at it while breathing in the beautiful crisp fall air.

It was perfect, even when I fell.  I landed on my hip and my wrist, but I didn’t wreck the camera or my phone or my sunglasses.  Later I found out my leg was bleeding, but thankfully I have a prepared traveling companion who calmly assembled the neosporin and the correct-sized bandaid, applied both in a very businesslike way, and was done in less than a minute.  No kiss for my boo-boo, though, so maybe not totally perfect.

But it was a necessary and welcome balm, because I realized no matter how much my world may be turning backwards I would always have this.  The absolute beauty and centering of nature, the quietness of thought and observation, and the chance to remember that though I am but one, I am at least one and I can do many things.

Tomorrow we shall feast, way too much food for just four people, and watch movies and football and parades and remember how much family means to us.  We will remember there’s never a lack of hope or a path to take, and that we will never be alone.

I am thankful.

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Love these nut jobs.

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Stitch Me a Sampler

I’ve been thinking a lot about home lately and what it means to me.  When Hubby told me his job was over and he was worried about the mortgage, I chirped “no problem, if we have to sell the house we will!”  (I bet you didn’t know that in addition to the unlimited sarcasm, I have an annoying habit of being VERY perky to cheer everyone up.  Can’t do it for myself, but boy howdy can I irritate a room with my upbeat-ness.)  After all, I thought, it’s just different walls so no big deal, right?

Or is it?  I’ve often said I love my house but I wish I could move it to a different place.  What is “place?”  Is it the physical location of your actual dwelling, or is it defined by the view you behold when you look out your window?  What about reaching said home?  Do you need to travel by highways or rutted roads?  Are there conveniences nearby, or do you need to schedule a 45-minute trip just to get a quart of milk?  Is your address easily found for deliveries of packages and mail, or is a Sherpa needed for a monthly provision drop-off?

I live in a small town surrounded by a larger town in the middle of a technically suburban area, but not overrun with housing developments.  I can easily walk to two separate towns with post offices, convenience stores, butchers, drugstores, bakeries, pizza parlors, libraries, and transportation into The Big City and surrounding environs.  While I despise the traffic issues of the nearby highway, I am pretty much in a quiet area.  A horn honking or a siren wailing is still something that makes us stop and look out the window.  When I lived in a city, that was just like your white noise machine playing in the background.

Granted, I live on a county road that sees rush hour in the morning and evening, but I have a huge backyard that attracts lots of wildlife (not the partying kind, although really how do I know what the squirrels and chipmunks are up to at 2 a.m.?) and has big trees and views of amazing sunsets.  There are no rude or noisy neighbors, it’s mostly just families that might have a loud party on a Saturday in the summer and who really cares about that?  I’m grateful I don’t have a neighbor who fancies himself a mechanic, feeling the need to rev every engine he works on super loud just to see how loud it can get and ignoring the belching exhaust out of the tailpipe (and yes, I used to have such a neighbor when I lived in the city parts; he was a prince, I tell you).

And while all these things add up to a pretty calm and serene existence instead of the jangling irritating climate I used to have, I’ve realized these are just the perks.  The real part of home is the feeling it evokes.

There are currently four adults living in this house, two of which I gave birth to.  We each have our little zones that we drift to when we come home, and one of us will always put the kettle on for tea.  The reassuring sound of the gas stove lighting and the cups clinking and the anticipation of the warmth of the tea (even if it’s July and a bazillion degrees, tradition and routine is important) and the comfort of familiar surroundings nurtures us.  We may read or play games on our devices or zone out with television, but we’re never truly disconnected from each other and we share those tidbits we find amusing or thought-provoking.  We also need space from each other and that’s good, too, because we can go into another room away from it all and not feel ostracized or insulted.  It’s called being human.  Would we have this shared connection if we were in a small, two-bedroom apartment with almost no privacy?

I hope I never have to find out, but if I do I am sure to have a kettle on at all times while we work to figure things out.  And that’s probably the essence of home for me.

Bring it.

Bring it.

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In a Related Way

*Whew* Sorry for that long and angry rant in the last post, I don’t know where that verbose person had been hiding.

Hey, WordPress, why did you change my default font to something that looks like comic sans??? With no discernible way to change it back? It makes me not take myself seriously.

Relationships are funny things. You start off not knowing a person, then exchanging small talk related to whatever situation you happen to be in (work, school, a community meeting, a rehearsal, a stuck elevator — which makes me shudder — etc.) and then you seem to find some common ground, a link that makes you open to getting to know each other better.

Sometimes that succeeds, and sometimes it fails. Sometimes it becomes the best thing that ever happened to you, and sometimes it makes you scratch your head with the “WTF-ness” of it all.

As I get older, I would like to say I’m more selective in my friend-making, but actually I’m just lazy tempered with caution. How many times do you say “Hi-I’m-so-and-so-and-here’s-what-I-do-what-do-you-do-how-long-have-you-done-it-do-you-like-it-why-yes-I’m-yawning-sorry.” I am the WORST at small talk because in my warped brain from my upbringing, it’s nosy to ask questions because it sounds like prying and heaven forbid I pry or my mother will flick me all the way from heaven. By the same token, it’s not good form to talk about oneself lest it sound like bragging, and to avoid that heaven-sent flick I will not talk about myself unless I really know someone well.

That relegates me to the listener corner. (Everybody who knows me who is reading this is probably off in gales of laughter because the idea that I don’t talk much is just so funny. Right? Don’t bother to answer, I KNOW what you’re thinking!) I don’t venture anything until I’ve gotten to know a little bit about the group (or person) I’m with. Usually the way somebody knows they’ve made a connection with me is if I snort softly at a joke they threw out, and often I’m the only one who laughs. Or if I insert (again, softly) a humorous observation on the current topic, just loud enough for me and maybe the person next to me to hear, and they turn towards me with that look of recognition that says “Oh no way! I was thinking EXACTLY the same thing!” and we lol just a bit. Softly, of course. (Again with the hysterical laughter from those who know me. Soft? Hardly. Eternally loud.) But my friends don’t know me when I’m in a new situation.

Relationships with family, however, are way different. Either they’ve been with you since you were born and they are convinced you are only one particular type of person and that is the one they pegged you with when you were four, or they are family that came into your life through marriage, adoption, or other family-making ways. The ones who have been with you since you were born are the relationships that fascinate me the most. It boggles my mind to hear of a family of five sisters and their parents, and they all call each other every day. Every. Damn. Day. What could you possibly talk about every day to each other? “It’s raining here. Is it raining by you? No? I wonder if it’s raining by Mom? Oh, it is? What about our other sister? No? I wonder if it’s raining by the other sister? You don’t know? You didn’t call? That’s okay, I’ll call. What about the other one? Which one? I don’t know. Who is this?” How does that happen? I barely know what to talk about with my husband from Monday-Friday that doesn’t start with “How was work?” and ends with “Do you mind if I go up to bed a little early?” (For some reason, weekends are a different story. The two of us chatter like chipmunks about everything until we hit system overload and then just give each other affectionate looks.)

I also am intrigued by the single-child families. Are they closer to their parents then children with siblings? Who did they fight with? Who did they blame things on? How did they ever get away with anything? Do they end up being more serious adults because nobody gave them a purple nurple in childhood? Or do they bust out of the serious child mode and become a serious party animal to make up for lost time?

My husband and two daughters mean the world to me, and I’m well aware that although we drive each other absolutely crazy from time to time it doesn’t mean we wouldn’t all go to the mat for each other (and we have). There are perhaps three friends that I would also consider family and would do pretty much anything for. On the other hand, I have family members that are so emotionally removed from me that I wonder if I would recognize them in a crowd. There are others that I would like to NOT recognize in a crowd, but I hear that maybe I would be impolite by doing so. Are Thanksgiving and Christmas really obligations for me to welcome said relatives and make small talk? I think I’d rather be stuck in the elevator.

I'm with you, bear.

I’m with you, bear.

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Mangia

I am anticipating some special guests at my home tomorrow, so in addition to beautifying the home today (and by that I mean getting rid of all those cobwebs which must be made by stealthy ninja spiders as I never see them) I will be making lasagna.

My parents made lasagna once a year because it was such a Herculean task.  All the ingredients need to be assembled: the requisite amounts of canned tomato puree, crushed tomatoes, and tomato paste; onions, garlic, basil, oregano; mozzarella, ricotta, locatelli; ground beef, sweet sausage, and noodles.  They usually did it over New Year’s so they had unhurried time to cook it at a non-frenetic pace.

Sauce is first.  This sauce was not to be confused with our regular tomato sauce, which had the meatballs and sausage added for the final two-to-three hour simmer; this is plain sauce used as the glue for the layers.  Honestly, they taste exactly the same to me but my folks knew the difference in their sleep.  Since we weren’t browning meatballs in the 12-quart sauce pot first, the onions and garlic needed to saute in plain old olive oil.  Why not brown the ground beef in the sauce pot first I hear you reasonably asking?  Because that’s not how my parents did it, that’s why.  That got crumbled and browned on its own so all the grease could be drained off and held off to the side.  Likewise the sausage, except they used to buy the sweet sausage links, cook them, then open the casings and crumble the sausage.  Now I go to the butcher and ask for sausage with the casings removed.  For some weird reason, you cannot buy loose sausage around here, maybe there are laws against it.  (Heh heh, loose sausage.)

So now we’ve got sauce simmering, loose sausage all browned up and hopefully learned a bit about morals, the ground beef nicely browned and drained.  The mozzarella needs to be shredded, except that I don’t do that, either.  I do slices in the middle layers and shredded on the top where my folks did all shredded all the time.  Hubby prefers thicker layers of melty stringy cheese and who am I to argue against that?  It might become my new religion if I believed in religion.  The ricotta needs to be salted and an egg or two mixed into it.  Why I don’t know for sure, unless the egg helps it to be firmer and not oozy.  (Lasagna is full of technical terms.)

And the noodles.  Such a source of controversy!  Get the regular noodles that require boiling first, and layer them in the pan and weep when they rip apart?  Or get the no-boil noodles and wonder how much authentic pasta you’re actually getting?  I’ve done both.  I love the ease of the no-boil but I like the taste and appearance of the regular.  I think I’ll play a game at the supermarket today and do eenie-meenie-minie-mo; I like adventure in my life.

There were great discussions, revisions, debates, and controversy surrounding the assembly of the lasagna proper.  In my parents’ battered old recipe book, I believe there are four separate pages scattered about that say “THIS is the one!” and I have no idea which is really the one.  About the only thing they all share in common is the fact you put a little sauce in the pan first, then the first layer of noodles.  The sauce keeps the noodles moist and tasty and doesn’t cement the noodles to the bottom of the pan.  After that, it seemed the proper ratio of cheese/meat/noodle for each bite was paramount and needed experiementation.  This normally resulted in a lasagna that was about three feet high which no human mouth could put into one bite so you ended up with a fallen tower of meat/cheese/noodle and ate it how you wanted, anyway.

Sauce, noodle, sauce, meat, sauce, noodle, sauce, mozzarella, sauce, ricotta, noodle, sauce, sausage, sauce, noodle, mozzarella, locatelli.

Sauce, noodle, meat, mozzarella, sauce, noodle, ricotta, sauce, sausage, sauce, noodle, mozzarella, locatelli.

Sauce, noodle, sauce, mozzarella, noodle, sauce, meat, sausage, noodle, sauce, ricotta, noodle, sauce, mozzarella, locatelli.

(If you type “sauce” as frequently as I just did, you start to pronounce it “saw-yoos” in your head.  You also start to spell it “sause” because of typing “sausage” frequently.  My fun tip of the day for you.)

Either they were in search of the definitive lasagna recipe or they had extremely dull lives and created this controversy to spice up their lives a bit.  I suspect a little of both.

So after it stops snowing today I shall buy what I need and spend a lovely, messy time in the kitchen having an internal dialogue with my parents and imagining the discussions we’d have over what goes where.  I shall prepare it in the enamel pan my father swore was the only decent lasagna pan ever made, and I’ll heat it tomorrow and serve it to my guests with a decent Cabernet and a romaine salad.  And my parents will be there, if only in my memories because that’s what family food does for us.

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My father was not Tommy Lee Jones, but he used to look at me over the top of his glasses when I was being particularly sarcastic. I choose to believe it was pride.

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Waxing Nostalgic (When I Should Be Waxing Floors)

It was a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend here, and I hope yours was the same.   I wished my dear friend Debbie a happy Gobble-Tov, and she’s looking forward to using that again in 70,000 years.

We are a small nuclear family (which has always been a weird phrase to me; we are not ‘going’ nuclear because that would be bad, but we ‘are’ nuclear so that’s good.  Language, you are a silly mistress.) and so our holidays are relaxed with no stress to speak of.  In the very early stages of becoming a family, I remember we were obligated to enjoy three Thanksgiving meals on one day and show just as much appreciation for each one.  It was blessed but it was also painful.

When you have children, you get to call the shots a bit because everything is measured by how good it is for baby’s routine and health and digestion and emotional well-being.  But if you want to be the dutiful child, you pack up everything and an elephant to trek across the vast miles and Visit With Family, and then you get the fun and games of trying to recreate your safe home environment among someone else’s Lenox vases and glass coffee-tables all the while murmuring that it’s fine, you’re sure the baby doesn’t mind spending the entire day in the Pack And Play like a caged animal while you silently wish you could crawl in there with her.

When kids are older, it’s all about the cousins, because those are built-in playmates.  Yes, we love Mom and Dad to pieces, but really it would be so much more FUN if we could play with our cousins.  So there’s more trekking involved, though not with the Pack And Play this time, thank heavens, and it will be nice for the adults too.  After all, everyone is pretty self-entertained these days, so there’s a chance to catch up on some football and family gossip and enjoy an adult beverage while surreptitiously checking out how they make THEIR stuffing and gravy.  Then your kids become teenagers and nobody has any fun, because it’s all about keeping in touch with their real life, the school friends and everything around them, and secretly you’re glad because who wants to sit in traffic for all that time just to eat the same meal you would have fixed at home?

So now we have a very relaxing day.  We eat sometime between four and five, we put out massive quantities of food that could surely feed 15 quite easily when there’s only five at our table (because it’s all about the leftovers), we enjoy as many adult beverages as we’d like because of no driving, we do parades and football and movie marathons, and there is no drama or tension.

Sometimes I’m wistful.  I wish I’d had many brothers and sisters and that we’d all gather for holidays and my kids would have grown up being part of a huge family and it would be a big noisy happy mess.  Then I look at the reality of many families who don’t get along, who don’t speak, who fight and argue and compete and have bigger issues and I know that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and I realize once again that I am blessed.

Meanwhile, the December knitting marathon is ON and I have many gifts to complete.

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Or taken that left turn at Albuquerque

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The Artery-Clogging Memory

Yesterday I took a little side trip down memory lane via food.  (Anybody surprised I’m talking about food again?  Nope, me neither.)

First, when you’re a teacher, your lunchtime food choices generally fall into just a few categories: leftovers from dinner, a yogurt and piece of fruit, a Lean Cuisine, or heaven-help-you cafeteria food.  Then there are the teachers whom I call “The Borrowers” and, like their lesson plans, subside on whatever they can find laying around at the last moment; they’re the first ones in line when the birthday kid arrives with the mangled, germ-laden cupcakes.  You have about 17 minutes to consume said “meal” and woe to your afternoon classes if it isn’t easily digested.  Cafeteria pizza, I’m just sayin’.

A group of us used to coordinate a salad day, taking turns to bring in greens, proteins, cheeses, toppings, dressings, assorted fillers (tomatoes, peppers, onions, artichokes, olives, etc.), drinks, and dessert.  We had themes: Chef’s salad, Mexican salad, Italian salad, Deli salad, Cobb salad, etc.  We even did a baked potato bar one day.  It was a little island of normal in the sea of crazy known as a public school day schedule, and we were legend.

Yesterday, however, I went back to my late teenaged years and visited a deli with Older Daughter where we got sandwiches.  Oh, my.  I haven’t had deli in a very long time, because I convinced myself that it’s better to have an apple and cheese stick for lunch on a regular basis.  No, it hasn’t done anything for my health and well-being, it just meant I didn’t have to think too hard about packing a lunch.  But oh, the deli….

Visiting my aunt always meant deli.  A Saturday afternoon lunch was always a casual “let’s get some deli” and my mouth would begin watering.  A deli spread was a cornucopia of aromas and tastes and beauty and fascination and just a bit of overwhelming, because it’s all there and it’s waiting for you to nibble and taste and die a little.  The brown paper bags would be brought in and each treasure unpacked to be arranged on the table like an offering to our taste buds, their own little Christmas celebration of gifts.

Rye bread, with caraway seeds clinging precariously to the thin, crispy crust and embedded deep within the dough; little buttery rolls of softness with a special sheen and fluffy yellow dough; big, floury Kaiser rolls with their simple clover-like design on top and a gaping air hole within; and a wee bit of pumpernickel for the exotic tastes among us.

Freshly sliced meats, always roast beef with a deep red that boasted and an aroma that intoxicated; ham that was pink and pearlescent and rectangular and whisper-thin that begged to be rolled up into a thin pencil of yummy; bologna that had clear plastic covering on the edges that everyone forgot to remove until that first bite and then removed, spaghetti-like, from the first mid-chew; turkey that was a creamy tan with a darker brown edging and cried out for a tangy partner; liverwurst that was thick and creamy and a little foreign with its yellow casing and German writing; and salami, always Genoa and never hard, which I avoided because the fat spots contrasting with the peppercorns just looked like a war waiting to happen in my stomach.

Cheeses that were a colorful contrast to the meats: pale and nutty Swiss cheese (authentic from Switzerland!); provolone that was sharp enough to make you pucker and a perfect shade of off-white; muenster for the mild-loving members of the family; and American for the purists.  Usually there was a small package that stayed wrapped but emanating the most disgusting smell and that was always somebody’s special request of Liederkranz, the stinkiest cheese that reminded me of nothing more than overripe boy’s sneakers. (The sneakers were overripe, not the boy.  Although come to think of it…)

The sideliners that were not the stars of the show, but still needed to make an appearance at any decent deli lunch: the unnaturally white-colored potato salad that for some reason always had grated carrot in it, and really why would you do that to a potato; macaroni salad which always looked promising but every time disappointed because of being overly sweet, and who determined that macaroni salad from a deli should always require sugar, anyway; cole slaw which I learned to love in later years because the crisp texture and tang was a delightful answer to the smooth meats and cheeses; chicken salad without any crunchy celery or raw onion, thank you very much; tuna salad which nobody bothered with because we could get that any time; and a splurge on some shrimp salad which everybody got a teaspoon of and closed their eyes in ecstasy over; egg salad which everybody loved which is odd because it was just as ordinary as tuna salad but from the deli it was always better and looked so gorgeous on a slice of pumpernickel.

Last, but not least, were the pickles.  You could not walk out of a deli without buying pickles, and even though there was a lovely dish set aside just for the pickles and you couldn’t imagine a table without them, very few of us actually ate them.  They smelled heavenly, especially the dill pickles, but at what point do you eat them?  Try a bite before your sandwich, and you’ve compromised that initial bite of heaven you’ve been anticipating; in the middle of your sandwich time, like a commercial, and you have to re-acclimate your mouth to what it had been doing and needed to clear out the pickle coating on your tongue; and at the end? Well, I’ve never thought of pickles as dessert, and by the time the nibbling was done, the pickles just didn’t seem like the way to go.  So off they went, back in the container to sit in the fridge until somebody was looking for “just a little snack” during the football games on Sunday.

Yesterday’s visit to the deli brought all that back to me, and more: how does a deli manage to have chicken cutlets the size of a dinner plate? Where does the fake plastic parsley garland come from?  Why does nobody order the shrimp salad any more, leaving a spoon forlornly stuck in the untouched mound of pink creaminess?  And again, why does deli egg-salad look and taste so much better than mine?  I bet they put chicken fat in it, that’s it.  We did not order a “spread” like my aunt used to, but instead specific sandwiches, and mine was nothing like the deli days of my past: chicken, mozzarella, roasted red peppers, baby greens, and balsamic vinaigrette on focaccia bread.  

It was freaking delicious, but I wanted so much to be at my aunt’s table again.

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Still!

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