TBT – There’s No Place Like Home

IMG_0224.JPGScrolling through Facebook this morning I saw, thanks to that tenuous way we all are now “connected” to people from our past, that my parents’ best friends from when I was growing up, the Kellys, are selling their house.  There it was in my feed, a picture of the house, so familiar, taken from the front, a way we would never enter.  We would always go around the back, through the kitchen door, which was never locked.  Nor were any of the other houses on the hill where I grew up, large Victorians mostly, lived in by working class people in the town of Hull on the South Shore of Boston.  The Kelly’s house with Mrs. Kelly’s floral upholstery and the witch’s hat roof, where I babysat Brian and Rachel and later baby Eoin; the Carlson’s house with the cork wall in the dining room and a smell I associate with the 1970’s (eucalyptus?); the Ciulla’s house, home of my best friend Tracy, where I could watch commercial television (forbidden at my house where PBS reigned supreme) and everyone had a bedroom but no one slept in their own bed; my house with it’s unfinished wallboard walls and no central heat and (eventually) a coal burning stove in the kitchen.  And there were the summer people who came down from Boston (we lived in a beach town) – the Lewenbergs and Hennessys and what was the name of the family who lived next to the Hennessys?

IMG_0214.JPGSo much of who I am comes from this place.  I wonder if everyone is like that or if it’s particular to our hill in the Village at the end of the spit of land that is Hull.  We grew up, my siblings and I and all the other kids from the Village, roaming the hill and the rocky beaches. In the summer we ran at top speed over the jagged pieces of rock that made up our seawall, knowing every loose one.  And we swam when the tide was high at the jetty or Sally’s Rock or to the raft at the bottom of the steps.  And we rode our bikes down the steep hills, no helmets, almost always an extra kid on the handlebars, never touching the brakes.  In the winter when we were lucky enough to get snow we went sledding down the hill next to my grandparents’ house or ice skating in the park which the fire department flooded when the weather turned cold giving us an irregular circle of bumpy ice, grass and sticks poking through.  We ran in packs, playing relievio and having territorial “wars” and hiding in the stacks of rafts at the end of James Ave.  We did all of this with no parents in sight, but someone’s mother always at home, just in case.IMG_0194.JPG

I’ve created my own family here 3000 miles away from where I was born.  I have now lived in San Francisco for as long as I lived in Hull.  In the last year my Little Sister moved from Baltimore and now lives a block away.  I’m so happy to have her close, expanding my SF “family” with an actual blood relative.  In my imagined future both of my Daughters will also live on this hill that I now call home with their own families.  In my imagined future my grandchildren will run on this hill and into the enormous wilderness of McLaren Park where they can play like we did growing up.  I did not give my Daughters this freedom.  My Daughters grew up in the era of the “helicopter parenting” when we bubble wrapped our kids for fear of them getting physically or emotionally hurt.

Recently I have seen groups of kids, elementary aged kids, walking down my sidewalk together and heading into McLaren, without parents.   Is the pendulum swinging back?  Are we starting to remember that children need time without grownups, time to make mistakes and skin knees and be mean to each other and kind to each other and learn on their own how to be people in the world?  I hope so.

Daughter 1.0 has gone far away to college and she threatens to never live in San Francisco again.  Daughter 2.0 will follow in less than two years, planning to go even further away.  My parents haven’t lived in my childhood house for almost a quarter century.  I rarely go back to the town in which I grew up because no one in my family lives there now.  But sometimes, in some weird way, my life now feels like make believe, like I’m playing grown up until I get to go back home and the Kellys will be over for Thanksgiving breakfast and my grandmother will make Susan Stamberg’s cranberry relish with horseradish and at Christmas we will cover our Charlie Brown Christmas tree (hauled back from my grandparents’ place in Vermont) with sugar cookies baked rock hard.

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Throwback Macaroni and Cheese Casserole

My father would sometimes add a can of tunafish to this, making it tuna casserole.

1/2 cup of butter
1/2 cup of flour
5 cups whole milk
1 lb block of cheddar cheese (grated)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb elbow macaroni

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  When the foam starts to subside, add the flour, whisking together.  Cook, whisking, for about 2-3 minutes then slowly add the milk, whisking constantly.  Allow the mixture to come almost to the boil so that it thickens (continue to stir so it doesn’t burn on the bottom).  Add the grated cheese and stir to melt.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Turn off the heat.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cook the macaroni in boiling salted water according to package instructions.  Drain and stir into the cheese sauce.  Transfer the entire contents to a buttered casserole dish and bake in the oven for 35 minutes, until the top is brown and bubbling.

If you want a more modern variation use different types of cheese (Gruyere, drunken goat, fontina or any combination you want to try!)

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Happily Ever After

Being married … is hard!

We went to a wedding a couple of weeks ago.  It was funny to be the tween-er at the wedding, not quite as old as the parents of the happy couple but surely not as young as the couple themselves or their myriad of friends – sorority sisters, college mates, colleagues.  My Husband was the former boss of the bride, not a colleague exactly.  I was so very inclined to identify with these 30-somethings.  Shockingly none of them looked at me as a peer.  The band (the absolute best wedding band ever, hands down!) would start to play a song and people would hoot and holler and rush to the dance floor and I would think, do I know this one?  Michael Jackson and AC/DC were the ones that really got me going.  Yes, the band played both, as well as Taylor Swift and Otis Redding.  I told you, Best Wedding Band Ever!

How is it that one day you wake up and you are in your late 40s?  I know, I know, that’s not old (except to a 30-something).  But it is startling to realize you are no longer the age of the people getting married, in fact you are much closer to the age of the beautiful mother of the bride in her sparkling blue gown.  It’s like when my Little Sister found out a woman she works with went to the same college as our Big Sister.  “What year did you graduate?” was her immediate question.  Perhaps they knew each other?  Probably not when the answer is 2002.  She was in elementary school when my Big Sister was in college.  Gulp!

Anyway, back to marriage is hard … the wedding, the couple.  A wedding is not a marriage.  Advice to this young couple, blissfully happy on their wedding day?  Date Night and Go to Bed Angry.  (I got that second one from an article I read once about secrets to a successful marriage.  Another pearl of wisdom from that article was complain only to your mother-in-law about your husband’s bad behavior, never your own mother.  Your mother-in-law will forgive your husband, your mother never will.)

Taking the second piece of advice first.  The old axiom of Don’t Go to Bed Angry seems, frankly, stupid.  You are angry, annoyed, peeved, pissed off by your spouse.  It’s the end of the day.  Probably a stressful day or you wouldn’t be so angry, annoyed, peeved and pissed off.  You might have had maybe a glass or two of wine (remember, it’s been a stressful day).  Now is not the time to try to work through grievances.  Nobody is thinking rationally.  For crying out loud, go to sleep already!  I promise, whatever has you so worked up won’t seem half as bad in the morning.  And even if it does, you will be in a much better frame of mind to work through whatever issue after a good night’s sleep.

And Date Night, let’s not forget Date Night.  This is only about protecting time with that person you have promised to love and honor (and live with) for the rest of your life.  It doesn’t have to be a “date” and doesn’t have to happen at night.  I’ve had to remind myself of this recently.  My Husband and I had a particularly rough night after hosting a party Saturday (I went to bed angry).  My Husband admitted (the next morning) that he was jealous of the time and attention I was giving to other people.  Date Night!  We need to carve out and protect time that is only about the two of us.  After all, this is the guy I’m going to be left with when everyone else goes away.  He’s my person, I better keep up with what makes him tick.

When our Daughters were little we instituted Date Night.  We had wonderful babysitters (Eden! Angela! Mara!) who came once a week and allowed us to leave the putting of the girls to bed to them.  It didn’t matter if we did nothing, if we simply drove around in the car long enough to be sure the girls were asleep.  It was a touch stone, a way to remember each other, separate from being parents.  Funny thing was, when the girls got old enough to not need a babysitter anymore these “dates” became less frequent.  We needed the sitter coming to remind us to get out.  Now we have to put it into our iCalendars as a recurring event.

So, Date Night and Go to Bed Angry, hopefully not on the same night, but it has been known to happen, are the two keys to my 22 year plus happy marriage.  That and being flexible, and having a good sense of humor, and trying to ignore the butter knife covered in peanut butter left on the counter, and being forgiving, and recognizing that you are not always right, and having good sex on a regular basis, and realizing that it’s sometimes ok to HATE this person because after all you do totally LOVE this person.

Maybe I’m making this sound too simple.  It’s not.  As I said at the start of this, being married is hard.  My Husband says it’s like being a recovering alcoholic, one day at a time.  Another day down …

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Comfort food to help with the happily ever after …

Meatballs with Tomato Sauce and Kale

One thick slice of white bread, crust removed
1/3 cup whole milk
3/4 pound ground beef
1/4 pound ground pork
1/4 pound ground veal
Half a sweet onion peeled and finely chopped
One egg
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Handful fresh parsley chopped
Whole nutmeg

4 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped
Half a sweet onion peeled and chopped
2 cans whole tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried basil OR one stalk fresh basil

Two-three bunches of kale
3 cloves garlic peeled and chopped

Place the bread and milk into a small sauce pan and bring quickly to a boil.  Turn off the heat and smash the bread with a fork, creating a mush.  Allow to cool.  Combine the ground meats, onion, egg, Parmesan cheese, olive oil and parsley in a large bowl and mix together with your hands, careful not to over mix.  Mix in the bread mush and a tiny grating of whole nutmeg.  Season with salt and pepper.  Grease a cook sheet with olive oil.  Roll the meat mixture into meatball sized balls and place on the cookie sheet.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make a tomato sauce.  Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a large sauce pan and add the garlic and onion and cook over medium heat until the onion is translucent and the garlic is fragrant.  Add the canned tomatoes breaking them apart with a wooden spoon.  Stir in the basil (dried or fresh) and season with salt and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.  When the meatballs are done cooking add them to the sauce and continue to cook at a simmer for 20-30 more minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Pull the leaves from the thick stems of the kale discarding the particularly tough stems, chopping the thinner ones.  Flash boil the kale (30 seconds) and quickly drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking.  Allow to fully drain.  Saute the chopped garlic in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add the drained kale and toss in the garlicky oil for a few minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

Put the kale into the bottom of a large serving bowl.  Top with the meatballs and tomato sauce.  Serve with passed grated Parmesan cheese.

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Mommy to the Rescue?

can you come to austin?
i need my mom and some support right now.
I’ve been super anxious all day and i need my mom

It’s 7:12 pm on a Tuesday.  It has been exactly 4 weeks since I left Daughter 1.0 at college, dropping her into a sea of khaki shorts-clad sorority sister hopefuls.  3 1/2 weeks since the panicky call of What if I don’t get a bid? I wish you had stayed in town for the week.  Lots of mothers stay in town for rush week, for support.  I wish I hadn’t rushed at all and spent one more week at home.  3 weeks since the I got a bid!  I’m so happy!  phone call.  Only one week since she made an impromptu visit to Portland to visit the Boyfriend and my Husband and I got to see her for a brief 20 minutes at SFO, delivering a burrito and her high school chem and math notes. 4 days since the unexpected I can’t breathe, my whole body feels tingly, I think I’m getting a migraine call from the sorority pledge retreat.  3 days since the beaming Snapchatted pictures from the first home football game, game-day dress and cowboy boots on, burnt orange longhorn affixed to her cheek. 1 day since the morning phone call of I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I’m feeling so anxious and overwhelmed and the afternoon call of I’m better, everything is fine, just had too much on my plate today.

Ok, so pop quiz:
Your 19 year old daughter texts from college that she needs you. You:
A) Get on the phone to Virgin America and book the next flight out;
B) Text back a bitmoji with some uplifting message;

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C) Ignore the text altogether knowing within the hour, or at least the day, she will be feeling back on track.

I pick up the phone and call her and am greeted with a tearful mommy!

She sounds so sad and lost.  I try to remember everything I’ve read about helping your child cope with Freshman homesickness.  I’m pretty sure I remember reading somewhere that as a parent you should never rush to the rescue, it doesn’t give them the chance to learn that they can manage on their own.  Being sad is a part of being human, right?

“Mommy I need you.  Can you come next weekend?  All of my friends are either going home or their parents are coming to visit.  I need my mom.”

Now I know this isn’t true, not all of her friends are going home or having families come.  She has made lots of friends.  I point this out and hear the pitch of her voice rise, teetering near hysteria.

“Where are you?” I ask.

“In an Uber on my way back to the dorm after a house thing.” (Sorority house).

“You’re crying in an Uber?”

“My friend is here with me.”

“You’re crying in an Uber with a friend?”

“Story of my life.”

Daughter 1.0 gets back to her dorm, gets out of the Uber, says goodbye to her friend, all with me on the phone.  I tell her she can do this.  I tell her that she is fine.  I tell her that she is not alone and everything she is feeling is perfectly normal.  I tell her it’s better to be homesick than not, it only means she loves her home.  I tell her it is only one month until she comes home, and then before she knows it it will be Thanksgiving, then Christmas.  I tell her this is the hardest part and if she can just push through she will be fine.  I tell her I will not come to Austin.  I hear myself telling her that she can come home, but that I don’t want to make the decision when she’s feeling so distraught.  I tell her I want her to see a counselor at school and we will take it from there.

Daughter 1.0 listens.  She makes herself an appointment with a counselor.  She loves the counselor.  She decides to participate in a 12 week program to help deal with her anxiety.  She feels better and like she’s going to be just fine.  And then she books herself a flight home.  She’ll be home on Friday.  I hope it doesn’t make things harder.  My Husband is convinced she will be so bored here she will be only all too willing to go back to school.

I never wanted my Daughter to feel like she couldn’t come home if she needed.  It’s one of the reasons we didn’t want her too far away, and certainly not someplace without direct flights home.  I want her to know that coming home is ALWAYS an option.  We are her safety net.  But I also want her to know that she can get through the sadness and be just fine, better than fine.  My Husband thinks she should learn to not feel those feelings.  Maybe that’s a male perspective.  Maybe I’m being unfair to males and it’s just my particular male’s perspective.  I think you can’t stop feeling what you feel and if you try you will only make yourself sick.  Maybe the answer is in the middle – be sad, feel it, then put it aside, pick yourself up and keep going.

I found out that when Daughter 1.0 told a friend with whom she was commiserating about homesickness that I suggested seeing a counselor, that friend told Daughter 1.0 that her mother was coming to town.  “I wish my mother had told me to see a counselor,” the friend said, to which Daughter 1.0 replied “I wish my mother would come to town.”  Grass.  Greener.  Fence.

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It’s Taco Tuesday … tonight we are having grilled skirt steak with poblano peppers and onions.

Making the steak for these tacos is the EASIEST thing ever.  Simply buy a skirt steak, sprinkle it on both sides with course salt and freshly ground pepper and grill it on a hot grill for about 3 minutes per side.  Squeeze a lime over the steak and let rest for 5-10 minutes off the heat, then slice on the diagonal.  That’s it!

For the poblano peppers and onions:
6 large poblano peppers
2 large sweet onions
6 cloves of garlic
Marjoram, 3 or 4 fresh sprigs or 1 tsp dried
1/2 cup heavy cream

Rub the peppers with canola oil and place on a broiling pan.  Broil on high, watching carefully and turning to char all sides.  Once the peppers are charred, remove from the oven and sweat either in a bowl covered with a plate or in a paper bag folded over. Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel the skin from them and remove the stem and seeds.  Slice the peppers into quarter inch slices. Peel and slice the onions and garlic.
In a large sautè pan cook the onions in canola over medium heat stirring occasionally until wilted.  Add the sliced peppers and garlic and continue to cook for about 5 more minutes.  Slowly add the cream and stir in the marjoram and lower the heat.  Simmer gently for a few minutes until the cream has thickened and coated the vegetables.  Remove the marjoram sprigs if you used fresh.
Serve the sliced steak in corn tortillas topped with the peppers and onions.  You can add additional toppings if you like (guacamole, cheese, salsa, etc.)

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Letting Go

“Bye mum, love you,” Daughter 2.0 calls from the front door as she leaves the house in the morning.

“Give me a kiss,” I call back.  I’m upstairs in the kitchen.

“Can’t, I’m late,” she yells.  Bam goes the front door.  I look at the clock.  It’s 7:02.  She has to be at school in her seat in class at 8:10.  It’s, at most, a twenty-five minute drive from our house to school at this hour.  For the record, this is the girl who tortured her sister most of last year, hardly able to get into the car by 7:20, which she would complain was far too early to be leaving for school.  Daughter 1.0 liked to be at the front door when it was unlocked at 7:30.  Daughter 2.0 claimed she liked to arrive with just enough time to have her bottom hit the seat as the bell rang.  Why the change?  Maybe it has to do with the roles we take on, the parts we play.  Daughter 1.0 was the type-A, over anxious, super studious one.  Daughter 2.0 was the distracted, mellow, devil-may-care one.  With Daughter 1.0 away at college, Daughter 2.0 has the luxury of trying on other personas.  At the moment she is must-be-to-school-early girl.  It’s not a bad thing.

Daughter 2.0 drives herself to school.  I watched this morning as she pulled away from the curb, front windshield not quite completely defrosted, and hoped she would make it the six miles to school safely.  These six miles include the 101 freeway and many grouchy morning commuters.  I say a quick, tiny, silent prayer (please Universe let her make it safely) and put it out of my mind.  I have to put it out of my mind.  If I start down the path of what ifs I might never let her leave the house.  Daughter 1.0 certainly wouldn’t be away at college.  I’d have her living home and I’d be ferrying her to and from someplace local where I would wait outside for her classes to be done.  Or better yet park the car and walk her to each class, after of course bringing Daughter 2.0 to high school and walking her to the front door and reminding her not to leave the building until I came back to pick her up.  Oh, and do they have a lock on that front door and a security guard to keep the kids in and the bad people out?  See, if I start down that path I would just become a crazy person.  So I let them go and trust to the Universe (and their own good sense) that they will survive.

The college to which we have sent Daughter 1.0 has a parent’s association Facebook page.  Recently a mom posted about being worried because her daughter had gone to Hillel for Rosh Hashanah and hadn’t texted to say she was safely back at her apartment.  (We found out later that in fact she was just fine, had merely forgotten to turn the ringer back on on her phone.)  The replies to the post were mostly reassuring – lots of kids were at Hillel, nobody walks home alone, she probably just fell asleep and forgot to text …. Many people suggested that her daughter have some kind of tracking for her phone so the mom could verify her location when the daughter wasn’t responding.

IMG_0290

Ok, full disclosure, I have this tracking ability, I call it my Mrs. Weasley app.  Apple calls it Find My iPhone.  I log in and can see the location of each of my devices as well as the devices of each of my family members.  Handy!  I try to use it sparingly, like when my Husband says he will leave work at 7:00 and I’m trying to decide whether to put the pasta in at 7:30 and I look and see he hasn’t in fact left the office yet … or when Daughter 2.0 is driving back from Redwood City on 101 at 10:30 at night and she hasn’t driven on the freeway before at night and I watch her little phone icon moving north towards home … or when Daughter 1.0 was driving with a group of friends over highway 17 to Santa Cruz and I wanted to be sure she made it in one piece.  Ok, so maybe I abuse this power a teeny bit.  I really try not to.  Like right now, my fingers are itching to pick up my phone and see that Daughter 2.0 has in fact made it to school.  I will resist.

What in the world did our parents do without the ability to immediately pinpoint our exact location?  Oh right, they gave us a curfew and got mad when we broke it.  They let us go out into the world not knowing where we were each second and as long as we made it home on time all was good.  They let us go to college and spend an entire week without communication (remember having to make long distance phone calls only in the evenings and on weekends because the rates were cheaper?).  They certainly couldn’t look up what we ate for breakfast with a keyboard stroke (parents can do that now).

When Daughter 1.0 went to college I asked her to text once a day with at least an I’m alive.

“Once a day?” my much more sensible friend asked.

“Yes,” was my feeble response, “just so I know she’s alive?”  My sensible friend did not point out that that seemed a bit unreasonable, given that Daughter 1.0 is 19 years old and in college.  My sensible friend is also my kind friend and so she just nodded and smiled and didn’t call me a lunatic.

When I told my other friend, the one who just took her son to college half way across the country, of our once a day text plan she thought it was brilliant.  She suggested it to her son.

“Why would I do that?” was her son’s response.

“You know, just so I know you’re alive?”

“I can’t commit to that mom.  Besides, if something happened to me, the school would let you know.”  True enough.

So far I haven’t had to worry about getting a once a day text.  I get texts and Snapchats and phone calls, usually multiple times a day.  We Facetime so I see her and she feels not so far away.  We joke that when Daughter 2.0 heads off to college we will be lucky to hear from her at all.  But then again, we were wrong about the whole leaving for school early thing, so who knows.

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Ground Beef Kid-Friendly Chili

I make a chili that my Husband and I love with flank steak and black beans and lots of hot chile peppers.  My kids have never liked it so I will often make a separate kid-friendly batch.  This week my Husband was away so I only made the kid friendly kind (for the one kid left at home).

Large sweet onion peeled and chopped
4-6 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped
One jalapeño pepper seeded and chopped
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
4 tablespoons or so of ground ancho chile or similar mild chile powder
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon kosher salt
28 oz can whole tomatoes
1 can chili beans (optional)

Sauté in canola oil the onions, garlic and jalapeño in a large sauce pan or dutch oven over medium low heat until soft but not browned.  Add the ground beef and turn up the heat to medium high stirring and breaking apart the beef until it is no longer pink.  Stir in the chile powder, paprika and salt and cook for 5 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan periodically.  Add the tomatoes and their juice and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and cook until the tomatoes are broken apart and the chili flavors are well melded, about 30 minutes.  Stir in the optional beans at this point and heat from a few more minutes.
Serve with grated cheese, chopped onions, fresh cilantro, sour cream, fresh lime squeeze, whatever you like.

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I Need a Job Title

What do you do?

Nothing…
As little as possible …
I haven’t worked for pay in 19 years …
That’s a rude question …
I’m on maternity leave …
Circle driver …
Happiness engineer …
I’m a writer (ha!) …
Household CFO …
Wife …
Housewife …
Stay-at-home mother …
Cook …
Laundress …
Logistics officer …
Travel agent …
Wear my snuggy on the couch eating bonbons and watching daytime television …

madame-georges-charpentier-and-her-children-1878
What do you do?

I hate that question, invariably asked at one or another of my Husband’s work related events (he has a job, one that comes with a recognizable title and requires additional letters after the BA).  For years it was a fairly easy question to answer.  “I stay at home with the kids” would be met with “Oh, how old are your kids?” “16 and 19.  Actually I just dropped the older one at college” is an answer they don’t expect.  “They really need me, now more than ever!”

To be fair, even when the answer to the question of my children’s ages was more acceptable, say 6 months and 3, it didn’t hold my inquisitor’s attention for long.  “Oh, that’s the most important job of all,” they would opine.  “And the hardest!” they would add for good measure, before their eyes would wander and they would drift away, having spotted someone with an easier conversation starter career.

Nobody responds with the name game when you say you are a stay-at-home mom.  “Oh, do you happen to know Siobhan?  She’s a nanny?  For the O’Connells?  Great caregiver, really very good at her job, frequents Douglass Playground, although she will occasionally be spotted at the Children’s Playground at Golden Gate Park, when she’s feeling ambitious.  Oh, and what about Susan?  At Acrosports?  10:00 am tumbling class? I’m just sayin’.”

I started this gig if not exactly by accident, at least without a very clear “career” trajectory.  I guess many people begin careers that way, without a vivid picture of where they will be in 5 years, 10 years, 19 (gulp) years.  I always said I would go back to “work” when I got bored.  Hasn’t happened yet.

I didn’t have what you would call a career before the kids.  I had jobs, beginning at age 13 working the games at the ocean-side amusement park in my home town and ending at age 27 in the HR department of a large US corporation.  I liked my jobs (for the most part).  I’ve always liked working.  And I needed to work, for financial reasons.  I needed money.  I needed to support myself and later my Husband while he was in school.  I don’t miss those jobs.  I’ve liked this one so much more.

But, whether I like it or not, this job is coming to an end.  Daughter 1.0 is now away (1763 miles away, but who’s counting?) at college.  Daughter 2.0 is only 2 years behind.  The primary focus of my job, the one that makes my decision to stay home, deliberate or otherwise, socially acceptable will no longer be here, as in physically no longer here.  What will I say then?

I had a melt down a couple of weeks back about money, or, precisely, the lack of my own.  I mostly think about the money my Husband earns as OUR money, not HIS money.  I manage it after all.  And, as he likes to point out, we live in California, where half of it really is mine.  Legally.  Maybe the money thing is more about independence, right?  For a while I had job security.  My Husband needed me home to raise the Kids.  Not that we wouldn’t have figured things out if I had gone back to “work”, but my being home made his job (the work one that pays him) easier.  It helped him be more successful.  We were, we are, a good team, partners in this thing we call a family.  Our home team is currently down to 3, soon to be 2.  Will I still add enough value to the partnership when it’s just the two of us?

50s-wife-list-1

But more than that, more than the raised eyebrow reaction to my “what do you do?” response, I just don’t want this job to end.  I don’t want the inevitable disbanding of our team of four.  “Think expansion teams,” my Husband says.  The sports analogy is apt.  The job of professional athlete, like stay-at-home mom, has a shelf life.  Try as we might, we can’t slow down time.  The shoulder wears, the knees given out, the vision fades.  The infant sits, learns to walk and talk, starts preschool, kindergarten, high school, takes public transportation alone, drives a car, gets on an airplane and flies off to college.  Sometimes it feels like it went that fast.  It is absolutely true what they say – the days are long, the years fly by.

I have loved this time in my life and I am sure I will adjust to the post-Kids time and figure out what it is that I will do.  I’ll try not to rush these last two years with Daughter 2.0 at home.  I’m still her mom, the stay-at-home kind.

What do you do?

I live a really wonderful life, and you?

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IMG_1562
It’s late summer and the tomatoes are amazing.  Last night we had tomato tart at Daughter 2.0’s request.

Tomato Tart

Make the tart shell first:
Combine in a food processor –
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pulse until combined then sprinkle the flour mixture with –
6 tablespoons olive oil
Pulse again until it looks like course sand.  Add –
2 tablespoons ice water and pulse until there are no more dry bits.  It will still look like sand, just not powdery.
Turn the mixture out into a tart pan that had been buttered.  Press the dough into the bottom of the pan and up around the edges.  Place the shell in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350.  Remove the tart shell from the freezer and cover the shell with a greased piece of aluminum foil.  Fill the shell with pie weights and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and carefully remove the pie weights and foil.  Sprinkle the shell with –
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Return to the oven and bake for about 10 more minutes, until the cheese is golden brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a cooling rack.
Turn the oven up to 425
Slice 4-6 medium tomatoes (any kind will work) and spread on paper towels.  Sprinkle with salt and allow to sit for 10 minutes or so then blot the tops with more paper towels.  Layer the tomatoes on the tart shell, overlapping in circles beginning at the outer edge.  Drizzle with olive oil and bake for about 20 – 25 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly then sprinkle with –
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Drizzle with olive oil.  The tart can be served warm or at room temperature.

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Throwback Memorial Day, Remember When?

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“We are never doing this again!  Ever!”  My Husband is standing in the middle of the picnic tables, arms crossed, shaking his head.  I have just emerged from the port-o-potty, thick yellow gloves on, Lysol in hand. You see, I have just cleaned said port-o-potty and stocked it with soft toilet paper, paper towels and hand sanitizer. I have cleaned this particular port-o-potty for the last few years for this thing that we will never do again.  Ever.

“I told you I didn’t want to do this again,” my Husband is continuing.

I peel off the rubber gloves and drop them into a bucket along with the Lysol and start pushing the big push broom across the concrete, gathering beer bottles caps and chicken wing bones.  “No,” I say, “we talked about possibly not doing this again, and then you harassed me about getting the permit.  So, while I can make you the promise right now that we will never, ever, do this again, we are doing it today.  We have about 100 people showing up in about an hour and you have about 100 pounds of meat cooking, so stop complaining.  I’m the one who just cleaned a fucking port-o-potty”

“I’m going back up to the house to check on the meat.  I’ll send Daughter 2.0 down with the Dog.  Never again,” he grumbles as he marches away.

We will never, ever do this again, the Memorial Day Barbecue that we have been doing for so many years we have lost count.  It began as a smallish get together at our house. My Husband wanted to make pulled pork, real Carolina barbecue, because he had read an article or something and so we had a few folks over on Memorial Day.  Each year it got bigger.  One year we ran out of food and my Husband had to make a quick trip to the supermarket. We had to change it from Memorial Day Monday to Sunday after the year people didn’t leave the house until 2:00 am and the kids didn’t make it to school the following day. When the guest count surpassed 50 we moved it from our backyard to the picnic area in the park near our home.  When we hit 100 people we stopped trying to provide all the food and drink and limited ourselves to the protein and some beer and wine and lemonade, asking guests to provide everything else.

Still, it was a huge undertaking. My Husband cooked for days – pulled pork, brisket, ribs, whole chickens, salmon, even portobello mushrooms for the veggies among us.  He made sauces – red BBQ and white BBQ and vinegar for the pork.  I made bags and bags of coleslaw to go on pulled pork sandwiches.  We bought hundreds of potato buns.  We hauled plates and cups and napkins and coolers of ice and Maui brewing company beer in cans and cases of wine.  We cleaned the picnic site (including the port-o-potty).

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So this was a thing, a thing we did, a thing we became known for doing.  If you had ever met us, even once, you we invited to the BBQ. Anyone who came was on the guest list forever.  People came and went all day long and ate and ate and ate again.  The few who stayed to the bitter end to help clean up, loading cars with trash, came back to the house for an after party – hot tub and bourbon (always freezing by the time we left the park) and poker.

We had it down to a science that last year, two years ago, when my Husband announced never again.  He was tired, he needed a grilling buddy. I was tired, I needed to rent clean port-o-potties.  But I guess we were also just done, it had run it’s course. That last year I was recovering from a badly sprained ankle and I hadn’t been able to run for a couple of months and I was cranky.  On one of the numerous trips back and forth from the picnic site to our house Daughter 1.0 complained about something (who can remember what?) and I responded by kicking the front door with my good foot, probably breaking my big toe, and I sat down on the side walk and cried.  “We are never doing this again!” I whined.  “Ever!”

By the end of that last Memorial Weekend Barbecue my Husband was beaming, standing with friends, full of beer and meat and compliments. “We can do this again,” he smiled at me.  I smiled back and nodded.  “It’s fun, right?”

We haven’t done it since, don’t think we ever will again. Last year we had planned to do something at the park, something different, hire food trucks, but we didn’t – the cost and people came for Tom’s meat anyway (we should have made t-shirts). This year Daughter 1.0 graduates from high school in a couple of weeks and it all just feels like too much. By next year people will have forgotten and made other plans for Memorial Day weekend.

I grew up in a small beach town south of Boston.  We had a Memorial Day tradition ourselves.  Our town had a parade.  We would sit at the bottom of our hill (usually in parkas, it was still cold in May!) and watch our neighbors, members of the VFW, bagpipers, cub scouts and girl scouts (and brownies) and the kids from the school marching bands (elementary, middle and high schools) march by waving small American flags.  I marched when I was in elementary school and still in the band.  My instrument of choice was the French Horn (I always liked to be different) but wasn’t allowed to play that while I marched.  Instead I learned the trombone and to bang on the bass drum.  The parade ended at the cemetery and we all got ice cream sandwiches.  My Parents had a cook out (hotdogs, hamburgers and chicken legs charred black on the little hibachi grill, and Nana’s potato salad and Boston baked beans that cooked in the crock pot and made the kitchen smell of cloves and maple, velvety brown).  We huddles outside and ate and the adults drank gin and tonics (summer!) and dreamed about long warm nights and swimming at Sally’s Rock.  Then we grew up and my Parents moved to Minnesota (long story) and I’m not at all sure what they do now for Memorial Day.  Not even sure it’s a day off in Minnesota.  But remember when we used to watch the parade and have the first cook out of the season?

Remember when we used to have that barbecue and hundreds of people came?

Remember?

I’m not going to give you the recipe for any of Tom’s famous meat because I simply don’t know what all he puts into all the different rubs or how long it takes to smoke on the Big Green Egg (days) and because, well, it’s secret.  But I will divulge my coleslaw recipe and Nana’s potato salad recipe (which is also something of a secret, but I’m sure you won’t tell).

Coleslaw (my friend gave me this recipe years ago and I think it’s the best)

1 cup half & half
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons mayonaise
2 gloves of garlic peeled and grated
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 head of cabbage grated
2-3 carrots peeled and grated

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a jar and cover and shake until well combined.  Mix the dressing with the cabbage and carrots and chill in the refrigerator for at east an hour (better after 24).

Nana’s Potato Salad (or at least my version of her secret recipe)

6 large russet potatoes
One cup finely chopped yellow onion
One cup chopped celery
6 hard boiled eggs chopped
Mayonnaise (must be Hellman’s, Best Foods for you West Coasters)
Salt and lots of freshly ground pepper

Scrub the potatoes clean but do not peel them.  Place them into a large pot of highly salted water.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust the temperature and boil gently until cooked through but not too soft (poke them with a knife, they should give but not break apart).  Drain the potatoes and dump them back into the pot and add the onion and celery.  Cover the pot and allow to cool.  When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, left them from the pot, scraping the onions and celery into a serving bowl.  Peel the potatoes and cut into one inch cubes.  Add them to the bowl with the onions and celery.  Stir together and fold in the eggs.  Add mayonnaise to taste (I can’t tell you exactly how much, just enough).  Add lots of black pepper and stir.  Taste and correct for salt, remembering that the potatoes with be fairly well salted from the cooking water.

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Just Breathe

 

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I started this year on a beach in Maui where I watched a man die.  I’ve never seen someone die.  It was early in the morning and the beach was mostly empty save for the hotel staff setting up umbrellas and chairs and pulling out stand up paddle boards and kayaks.  I had finished my run and sat drinking coffee, listening to the waves.  He walked out of the water, wearing scuba gear, leaning on a woman who walked next to him.  He paused every few steps as if catching his breath.  He was tall and thin with a full head of white hair – handsome.  I looked out to the water behind him and saw a group of 7 or 8 people watching him make his way to the beach.  They too were in scuba gear.  The hotel took people on shallow dives around the reef.  I couldn’t tell if they were beginning their dive or ending.

When the man and the woman made it to the sand things began to happen quickly.  The woman called for a chair.  Someone carried it down.  She stood in front of him as he lowered his head to his knees.  She rubbed her hand up and down his back I could hear her telling him to breathe.  And then he sat up suddenly and just as suddenly lay back and I couldn’t see him any more and there was yelling and people crowding around the chair.  I stood and looked up and down the beach, hoping a doctor would appear, some kind of medical personnel, anyone.  One of the young men who worked on the beach sprinted towards the hotel.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone run as fast.  It seemed hours before the paramedics arrived, all the while the paddle board instructor performed CPR and the man’s son called, pleaded, “Breathe, Dad, just breathe.”

Daughter 2.0 said to me two days ago that up until this year she only knew one person who had died, her great grandmother, Mama Nona.  And now it’s only April and and she knows 5 people, close and not so close, who have died this year.  It made me think of that man on the beach and how near death has felt.  Our friend from my Husband’s law school years, the one we haven’t kept in good touch with, but the one who, along with his wife, became for me and my Husband family in Chicago.  He had a heart attack in February while on a business trip.  He was 50.  My Husband’s Aunt’s longtime partner later in February, as well as the father-in-law of my friend, grandfather of my girls’ friends from swim and gymnastics classes, whom we all called Grandpa Bruce.  He was 80 years old.  In March my Husband’s cousin’s wife who quietly lived for years with cancer and who was so incredibly full of light and life.  She was 32.  And just Saturday, Daughter 1.0’s classmate since 4th grade, a challenging, outspoken, larger than life girl.  She was two days away from her 18th birthday.

How do you talk to your children about death?  I had such a phobia growing up sometimes I couldn’t sleep.  The thought of nothing but nothing, of no longer existing, was so huge I could feel it crushing my chest, turning my insides to liquid and making my head so hot I just wanted to run.  I don’t know how my daughters feel about death.  I don’t know if it scares them.  Maybe I’m still afraid to talk about it, to consider it too closely.  With this last death they have talked about how weird it is, the thought that their classmate is no longer here, will never be here again.  It doesn’t seem real.

Much has been said and written about how we as a culture keep death at arm’s length.  In other cultures death is as much a part of people’s experience as birth.  People die in their own homes and regular people deal with dead bodies.  We don’t see bodies except after they have been cleaned and dressed and made up to look like they are sleeping.  When my Grandpa died someone said to my Grandma that he looked good, peaceful, lying there in his coffin.  She turned to the person and said “He looks dead!”  And he did.  He was.

I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this.  I just know it’s weighing on me, all the death.  And it’s been weighing on my empathic Daughter 2.0.  I suppose what we learn is to embrace the moments we do have when we see how easily the wrong step or mutated cell can change everything.  We remember, for a time, and then we go back to forgetting, to rushing, to taking for granted.  And aren’t we all so very lucky, to be able to take it for granted?  Just breathe.

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We needed comfort food last night.  The winter here in San Francisco was incredibly warm, spring not so much.  It was a cold and dreary 4/20.  I made us brown rice jambalaya.  I’d never tried it with brown rice before, but it worked great.  In fact, I think I prefer it to white rice.

Brown Rice Jambalaya

3 small yellow onions peeled and chopped
2 red bell peppers seeded and chopped
1/2 cup canola oil
Kosher salt
Cayenne pepper
1 pound andouille sausage (the smoked, fully cooked kind) sliced on an angle
1 1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into chunks
3 cups short grain brown rice
3 bay leaves
6 cups water
Chopped green onion

Heat the canola oil in a heavy dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onions and peppers and about 1 teaspoon each of salt and cayenne pepper.  Allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until well caramelized.  Scrape the brown bits from the side and bottom of the pan while cooking.  This should take about 10 – 15 minutes.  Add the sausage and continue to cook for 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally.  Season the chicken with about a teaspoon of the salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the cayenne pepper and add to the pot, again stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked, about 10 minutes.  Add the rice and the bay leaves and stir until well combined, then add the water and cover the pot.  Cook for 45 minutes covered.  Check the pot and if there is still liquid (there was in my pot) leave the cover off and turn the heat up until the liquid has boiled away.  Do not stir!  My Husband’s favorite part if the blackened bits of rice at the bottom of the pan.  Turn off the heat and stir in the green onions and serve with your favorite hot sauce.

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