Lyrical Laughs

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Can I keep a secret?

I have a secret. By the way, I stink at keeping secrets but it’s safe to divulge this one now because the cat was let out of the bag shortly before you read this.

There's something about having that savory tidbit hanging on the tip of my tongue that makes it difficult to hide my excitement. Spouse has heard me say many times that I won't be divulging whatever little surprise it is until just before it happens, but inevitably I blurt it out under the pretense of, "I don't want to mess other plans up." Yeah, right. This explains why my parents took to spelling things out when I was very young so I wouldn't know about birthday or Christmas presents, and resorted to spelling them backwards at one point.

Back to the secret. Ready? Spouse and I are going to be spending Thanksgiving with First and Second Born and The Groom, but the girls don't know it yet. In fact, I'm counting on everyone to not tell them before we get to surprise them with it Sunday afternoon. I can’t even describe how happy this makes me. Well, I can but that would be another whole column.

As time goes by and our kids have started doing their own thing, it’s already becoming more difficult to spend holidays together. When Spouse and I were dating and for the first several years of our married life, we spent the holidays bolting from one house to another. It usually went something like this: Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house, and a second dinner at his folks’ house, then Christmas morning and breakfast with his family, dinner with mine. It was exhausting and sometimes not much fun, especially because Spouse’s gang was very relaxed and stretched the day out while my parents were more rigid about having dinner at a certain time - and also not very good about sharing us. It wasn’t until we moved to Maine that things had to change, simply because we were no longer ten minutes from our family homes.

As much as I love the meaning, wonder and spirit of Christmas, I am a huge fan of Thanksgiving. As a family, the four of us would start the morning off watching the parade on television and sharing a big breakfast together, then having dinner later in the afternoon. It was a no-rush day and I didn’t care if I had to make macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly for a fussy kid while Spouse and I enjoyed turkey and all the trimmings – we were together.

The reason this trip to Atlanta is happening is because Spouse doesn’t want to have to put up with me after not seeing one or both girls for an extended amount of time. Even though we’ve been lucky enough to see Second Born twice in the past few weeks, our last visit with The Love Couple was when we helped them with their move from Philly to Atlanta in April. That means it’s been seven months since I’ve seen First Born. I usually start sending that “I want to see my kid” vibe around month four. You can see where my partner is wise to typically consider making plans around month three for us to plan a trip.

We broke the news to the girls by showing them this column just before talking to them... they were definitely surprised - though The Groom was in on it (and he only slipped with one comment that put First Born on semi-alert, but for the most part he did a spectacular job of not spilling it, considering he’s just one step above me when it comes to keeping secrets). Now it's less than 24 hours before we're all together, and I am beyond happy.

May you each have much to be thankful during this holiday. For me, getting ready to spend the week with my family makes me feel a kid at Christmas. Even better than that - I’m a mom at Thanksgiving.

We won't be dressing like this for Atlanta!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

But someone really DID want to see our slides

It was Saturday morning of the first full weekend in November. Spouse and I were barely recovering from going over our budget, when I somehow missed a call on my cell phone. The caller, a friend from church, left a message.

“Hi there, just checking in to make sure you’re all set to speak at our meeting Monday evening. Have a great day!”

Wait - what??

We had agreed months ago to talk about our wild and crazy Budapest and India trip from last winter at an upcoming meeting for the women at our parish. The problem was that we were convinced it wasn’t until December. Oops.

After a few minutes of spouting out how we couldn’t possibly put something together that weekend with everything else we planned to do, and how it wasn’t fair that we had such short notice (she told us about this during the summer), I called her back determined to gently let her down.

I failed. She’s good.

Our weekend was spent downloading – or is it uploading – photos from our phones and the cloud. I still don’t really understand where the cloud floats around but it sure had a ton of stuff in it. Then we had to try and remember exactly which monument/bridge/traffic jam was where. While I worked on putting a Power Point presentation together, Spouse looked up some details on several places in case anyone was curious about those little known facts. In the end we had 76 slides, our garb that we wore for the India wedding, and a few other trinkets from our travels.

Too many slides? Did they need to see the slide with the peacock feather vendors in India or the artful presentation of eggs we had in Budapest? Maybe not, but we left them in. Perhaps that’s why people dread seeing personal slide shows – it gets so personal that you can’t relate to “one more slide” of a family vacation. But I will admit it wasn’t so easy to cut back once I started putting it together. Everything was fascinating even a year later.

I flipped through the slides, if you can call it that on a laptop, and Spouse did the majority of the talking. There were a few times that I wished I had stuck in “one more slide” to make a point of a certain area we visited, but based on comments and questions, I think our audience found it interesting and entertaining. I know I did, because it brought me back to where we were just about one year ago and reminded me how we will never regret the time or money spent on this trip.

The first part of our presentation was from our visit to Second Born while she studied in Budapest. Looking through pictures of the Christmas markets in Budapest made me long to go back and experience the festive atmosphere and breathe in the scrumptious scents of mulled wine, bread pizza and pastries. Budapest and neighboring countries know how to do Christmas markets right.

The main part of our slide show was The Love Couple’s India wedding.  Recalling the beautifully arranged rooftop ceremony surrounded by The Groom’s family and friends brought a smile to my face at the thought of how they welcomed us into the fold. There were also other amazing memories such as the magnificent vision of the Taj Mahal. It was a world we never expected to see and will always recall with a touch of wonder.
It was fun to reminisce for a night and not see too many yawning, glazed expressions. I can sympathize with someone being forced sit through a slide show, but hey, at least this one time we were invited.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

This is just a test... for the empty nest

Winter is around the corner. Those vibrant fall colors we enjoyed this season have taken their final bow. Deep red, fiery yellow and bright orange leaves that made an awning as we drove down country roads now sit in brown piles on the ground. It’s coming to the end of a season, and for our family, the end of one more thing. College visits.

Last weekend we visited Second Born during Family Weekend at her college in Where-the-Heck-Am-I, Pennsylvania. It’s strange to think that besides her graduation in May, we could be completely done with making this trek. Where did these past four years go?

From 2006 to 2010 we did the same for First Born, only it was less than a two-hour drive instead of the interminable nine-hour expedition we just had.  You would think I’d be glad to get these trips over with, I know. But the end of college visits means so many changes and a few uncertainties.

It doesn’t seem like ten years since we left our oldest at her college campus of choice in New Hampshire and we started this process of watching our girls mature and take wing with dreams and goals of their own. It was pretty easy the first time – we only checked out a few schools before First Born made her decision. The second time, not so much. Fifteen schools later, our baby girl had narrowed it down to three. I’ll even miss that part, those initial nervous steps onto a college campus for a tour where a guide hopes to convince you that this is The Perfect College.

First Born gently broke us in to the idea of not having her here with us. Second Born took “not here with us” to a completely different level, between a long distance school and a study abroad. Spouse and I have gotten pretty good at the empty nest thing, but now I realize this has simply been practice. After 28 years of having at least one offspring living home at some point, are we prepared for the real thing? Are we really ready to be on our own?

Just to balance that thought, here are a few things I won’t miss.

FAFSA. This is a long, tedious, exhausting form that must be filled out in order to apply for financial aid – and I don’t know any parent who shrugs it off. It makes you question your memory, your parenting knowledge and your finances.

College meal plans. These institutes of higher learning have a way of convincing you that your student will starve if you don’t sign them up for a full meal plan. Of course, that naivet√© diminishes with each year, when you realize your kid has been eating wraps and guzzling smoothies at the school deli… the one that doesn’t take dining hall credits.

Trying to beat every other parent for Family Weekend hotel reservations. If you don’t start in March for that October, you may as well tell your kid that you’re bunking with them for the weekend. Graduation was even crazier. In mid-March the rooms for next May were finally released, and gone within a week. Thankfully, I got through because I was obsessed with checking the website or calling every day since January. I was almost to the point of trading recipes with the reservationist at the Hampton Inn.

Life will change, this era of having a college student will soon come to an end, and the empty nest will be really, completely, officially empty. But I think a part of our kids will always need us. After dragging us through 15 college visits, I have to smile… Second Born will probably beat that record when she brings us to look at apartments.

The girls - pretending they'll be around forever

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Behold the power of online reviews

Last week I got an unexpected email from a website that allows the average person to rate local businesses and tell about their own personal experience. “We miss you,” the email claimed. They missed me? That must mean they value my very humble (ahem) opinion. Since I couldn’t recall what I had reviewed, I decided to sign on to my account and view my history. Well, first I had to request a password reset because seriously - who saves passwords to stuff like this?

It turns out I had written four reviews. The most recent one was about a hair stylist who rescued me from a bad perm. My review made her sound like a miracle worker, and the day I walked in whimpering about my hair, she was. Another review was about a pleasant experience at a local pizza place it had taken us 15 years to discover (it was a mile from our house). Spouse and I were so taken with this place that I volunteered to post their menu on their social media page, and that was without even trying to get a free pizza out of the deal.

Another detailed a scary situation that I wasn’t directly involved with, except as a panicky parent waiting to hear that her kid was safe. First Born and The Groom experienced had car problems in a remote area, and I wanted to give credit to the wonderful mechanic and his caring wife who helped get them back on the road.

Finally, there was my lengthy review of a new Portland restaurant with good food and bad customer service. Maybe they were going through growing pains - it was from a couple of years ago and I’ve been back to the place a couple of times with no issue, proving that I probably should have given them a second shot before reviewing them. Of course, this meant I had to update it with a kinder tone.

That’s the thing with these websites that encourage you to voice your opinion about a local business. You have the opportunity to tell others how great your experience was, or possibly skewer someone with negative feedback. It’s not my job to give these websites free advertising, so I won’t mention their names. I’ll just refer to them in some indirect way. For instance, I’ve used a site that will advise you about trips. Seriously, that could be any website.

Some reviews can be confusing, especially if you read several of them regarding the same business. The stars that are used to rate these places can also be deceiving. What if nine people stayed at a hotel that had great service, excellent food and was in a perfect location, but one person stayed when the front desk was short-handed, or someone didn’t fill the decaf coffee urn quickly enough, or there was road construction on the same side as their room? Suddenly the stars plummet and make you question whether you’re willing to pay for a five-star hotel that only got four stars according to its clientele. Not that Spouse and I make a habit of staying in five-star hotels… we’re more like a step up from the places that forget to leave the light on for us.

I don’t like to rate hotels on these websites. I have this fear that if I say anything negative, my name will somehow be noted – maybe my photo posted above the front desk - leaving me open to the scorn of the establishment I’ve rated... and I've gotten used to hot water and clean towels, so...

But since this particular website asked, I guess I’ll go rate something that I was happy with. I wouldn’t want to make anyone yelp over a negative review.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

An open letter to Netflix about the 25th of November

Dear Netflix,

I am not yet a subscriber but I will be shortly, based on the fact that, in a little over a month, you will be releasing a series I only dreamed about since 2007 - the much talked about, already revered, four-episode Gilmore Girls revival series, A Year in the Life. Recently I was faced with the realization of my reliance on your ability to perform, and now I have questions.

Last week you somehow managed to hit us with what was practically a last-minute announcement of Luke's Diner Day in honor of our beloved Gilmore Girls. Every state in the country offered at least one "Luke's" that would serve free coffee, coffee, coffee all morning. In my attempt to be as close to the GG phenomenon as I could get even for a brief moment, I left my house early and took a detour to Coffee By Design, the only place in the whole state of Maine that represented Luke's for the day.

Three cars followed right behind me as I turned onto the street, all with drivers impatient to get their Gilmore on. Because parking was nil, I had to pull over and wave them on and they were not amused. The line of potential coffee drinkers standing outside shivering from the morning chill was out the door, down the street and heading around the corner. I snapped a picture of the line, my only proof that I was this close to getting my coffee fix with those who would truly understand. Sadly, I had to continue on my way to my pesky day job where my coworkers would barely blink over an “Oy with the poodles already” reference.

My daughters, who grew up on GG and aspire to talk half as fast as Lorelai and Rory, are poised to tune in. My husband is also a fan (though not of fanatic level) and already knows to sit silently and to only ask questions during breaks that I will allow. We are oh, so ready. Are you? Have you prepared for the barrage of subscribers that will be knocking on your virtual door in the next month?

By the photos and videos on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, I believe you could safely say there were hundreds of fans at every coffee shop representing Luke’s for a day. The overwhelming enthusiasm for the simplicity of this event has made me even more aware of the implications. If this many GG devotees made it to their local coffee shops at “early – must kill early” in the morning just for coffee in a paper cup, what's going to happen on November 25 when the revival series is released? Are we going to break you, Netflix?

I already know others who plan to latch on to your service for the sole purpose of drinking in every moment of the four-episode GG revival series set to release the day after Thanksgiving. Will you be able to handle it? Will thousands of us be screaming at our electronic devices because we can't connect?

Understand something about the GG society of fans, fanatics, whatever you endeavor to label us (we don’t care). We don’t want to watch the revival series the next day or a week later because something – anything - froze. We want to watch it the very moment it is available, then the next day, then a week, a month, and likely a year later.

So Netlflix, I hope you’re ready for the Gilmore Girls tsunami of subscribers. I would advise you to make damn sure you've got your act together before November 25 because, believe me, you don't want to rile the multitude of viewers who are ready to hunker down for this marathon of epic emotions. We are all in. We are In Omnia Paratus - ready for anything (Life and Death Brigade… you shouldn’t have to look it up). As long as that “anything” doesn’t include being shut out on the 25th of November.

The kind of man

In the early 80s my then boyfriend and I would occasionally get together with a couple of his college buddies. They could be a bit rowdy together but there were certain lines they knew not to cross, and being vulgar and disrespectful toward me or any female around was one of them.

One time when the four of us had been out for an afternoon I came down with a massive sinus headache. While we were in the car I slumped down in the front seat as my boyfriend drove. From the back came a joke that, while not directly saying the words, insinuated there was a lot more going on than my resting. Both of his friends were giggling like they were in middle school.

“That’s enough, guys.”

 There was not a hint of humor in his tone. He was not smiling. He was not trying to pacify me while going along with the joke. He was making it clear they had gone too far.

The laughing stopped immediately.

“We’re sorry, Chuck,” one friend immediately offered, while the other one – the instigator – mumbled, “Sorry.”

If I hadn’t already been completely enamored with him, that very well might have sealed the deal. I recently asked that boyfriend – now my husband of more than 32 years – if he recalled that incident. He had no memory of it. But almost 35 years later I still clearly recall that day. It stays with me because it’s an example of the kind of man he was becoming. 

If he had chosen to go along with his buddies and let the innuendo continue, I can’t say for sure that it would have been the end for us as a couple. I do know our relationship would have been cheapened, and once we were alone I would have had a lot of questions. But because of who he was back then and still is, laughing along with the comments or even ignoring them was never an option.

See, this... this very personal story isn't about the 'first person' agenda. This is about the followers.

I know back in the younger years some conversations weren't quite G-rated between these guys, but not in the way we’ve heard this past week or so, and never, ever to insinuate power and aggression over a woman. If he had been in on the dialogue we’ve all been privy to lately courtesy of the media, I believe that no matter what his age, my husband would not have been going along with it. He also would not have thought to ride on the coattails of a braggart by pushing a woman into ‘hugging’ him or anyone else, and if he ever heard a guy make even the slightest slimy reference about either of our daughters, that person would be receiving a serious lesson in respect, not to mention seeing how fast he could run.

Our daughters were raised to know that a man who talks about women like they’re bait on a hook just waiting to be 'handled' is not the kind of man that deserves them. We raised them to be valued as people rather than assessed like a piece of property.

That day stays with me because what I felt and heard mattered to someone who didn’t have to defend me, but chose to. My husband knew in his early 20s, when the pressure is high to fit in, that showing respect for a woman is far more important than being in on the joke.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Spouse the Spider Hero

I want everyone to understand that I know I'm a lucky woman. Spouse would do almost anything for me. He stands up for me, cheers me on, takes care of me if I'm sick (I get temporary control of the remote and the sofa), and he recognizes that anything he says or does could become fodder for my weekly column.

Notice I said “almost”. There is one area I cannot get him to take seriously and there are days when I doubt that whole "I'd take a bullet for you" thing because of this important subject.

Spouse will not kill a spider for me.

I hate spiders. I know humans are much bigger than most spiders and there is seldom a good reason to be afraid of them. You can point out that they are almost always harmless, but after two recent spider encounters I did some research.

I was carrying laundry to the washing machine in our basement when from the steps I spotted a huge spider - I mean seriously huge - inside an empty laundry basket six feet away. I bellowed for Spouse to hurry downstairs with an empty jar of some kind so he could catch and release it. I would have preferred to squish it with a five-pound weight (if I wasn't too scared to get that close) but that’s not his style.

He took the laundry basket, spider and all, and walked up the steps and outside where he deposited the fang-toothed beast somewhere far away from the house, I hope. After peering around every corner as I started the laundry, I went on an Internet search and found at least three varieties of spider that our visitor could have been. I was convinced it was a brown recluse and immediately started debating about how important it really was to do laundry or use the extra freezer or clean the cat boxes - anything that entails going into the basement. But it also could have been a nursery web spider or a grass spider or even a dark fishing spider. I’m trying to be positive. I’m positive I hate spiders.

These are the times when I wish Spouse would take a swing at things that freak me out like spiders, but he is an animal lover to the extreme. Besides, he thinks I’m a wimp who makes too big of a deal out of my arachnophobia. It isn’t just big scary looking spiders that bug me. Even the small ones remind me of scorpions or tarantulas.

The other morning I was cooking breakfast and one of those fast moving little spiders appeared out of nowhere, defying death by sidling along the edge of the stove. I know he was snickering at me when I cowered and yelped for the one person I should be able to count on to help.

Half crumpled paper towel in hand, I was ready to squash the little sucker and toss his eight-legged tiny carcass into the trash, but "Someone" had to come along and catch him, except he didn't catch him (or her - whatever it was, it didn't belong on my stove). He picked the spider up and let it crawl on his hand... until it jumped off and disappeared into the silverware drawer.

There I was standing at the stove trying not to burn my eggs while keeping a distance from the drawer, and Spider Hero was digging through the forks, knives and measuring spoons trying to spot my mini adversary.

I was way past not happy at this point. In an attempt to not apologize, Spouse said, "I wanted to take him out." "So did I," I growled.

He never found the spider. Now every time I open the top drawer I stand back just in case. That thing may be little but it had some serious spring.

I was just reading last week that spiders appear most often in early September, so I guess I can’t do much about avoiding them. I did, however, put Spouse in charge of supper that night, just in case his beady-eyed buddy decided to make an appearance.

I guess I shouldn’t complain. I do still believe Spouse would take a bullet for me – as long as no spiders were harmed in the process.

P.S. By the time I got around to posting this, October rolled around. I just hope the spiders have calendars.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Lists only help when you read them

Last weekend I stopped to pick up a few things at the supermarket. With a list written out on my phone that included a couple of side salads, I strode over to the deli and grabbed one of those little tickets with a number on it  (you know, the one that looks like a paper arrowhead and is easily crumpled up) and waited for my turn. By the way, am I the only one who tries to pull one number and suddenly has a ribbon of numbers flowing to the floor?

It was a Saturday and the store was busy, but fortunately there were only two customers ahead of me. As I waited I perused the deli case and decided to also get some lunchmeats. In just a few minutes I was ordering, taking my packages of ham and turkey and rolled away with my cart.

Without the salads.


A hoard of customers appeared from the depths of frozen foods, produce and paper goods while I had been ordering. I had started with number 54. On my second round, which I picked because it wouldn’t be polite to barge in front of number 55 and demand to order what I forgot, I was now number 61.

Oh, come on!

You know how the person in front of you at the cash register will put all their groceries on the counter and then announce that they need some nice clerk to grab the three-pack of paper towels (single ply) from the top shelf in aisle 23, when you’re running late for work/picking up a kid/getting to the bank before closing? The deli counter can be the same whirlpool of wasted time, so it’s tempting to try and slip in some side shopping.

But even if there are seven numbers ahead of you but you know – You Know – the minute you bolt three aisles down to grab pasta sauce, your number will be called not once, not twice, but three times, the third time with obvious exasperation. Suddenly the big sign that shows what number they’re serving is being flipped to the next number, and we all know what happens when your number is called and you’re not there, right? We fall victim to The Sprint of Shame.

“I’m here! I’m here!” you’re waving that crunched up little piece of paper in your hand trying to prove you’re not just some line cutter. Now you’re faced with unhidden frustration from the clerk who has to help you and the obvious disdain of six customers who have been waiting patiently for their turn and have already experienced the thrill of believing one less person is ahead of them, and you show up with your little bit of printed proof. Imagine the riot you’d cause cutting someone off because you forgot to order summer slaw. I couldn’t do it.

Ironically, I live by lists – on my phone, on pads of paper all over the house and on my desk at work. It’s how I function past getting out of bed in the morning. Well, that and coffee. The thing about lists is that they only help if you actually refer to them.

I stood at that deli counter so sure of what I was ordering that I didn’t even glance at the very specific list on my phone… the phone in my hand… the phone that I was playing a card game on while I waited for my turn.

Everybody knows it’s more expensive to shop without a list, and even then, having a list is not a foolproof budgeting method. Chicken was not on my list. We have so much chicken in our freezer that Purdue called and wanted to know if we’re starting our own distribution center. But it was on sale, so now we’ll be ready any time a family of 43 stops by for dinner, as long as they can wait for it to defrost.

Take a tip from my grocery shopping gaffe and remember the key to making the most use of your list is to read it while you’re still in the store. Chicken, anyone?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

One letter short of the empty nest

A letter to my Baby Girl:
Remember that time when I poured my heart out about you leaving for your freshman year of college? Four years ago it seemed like such a monumental change, with your sister already living in Philadelphia and you heading to a campus nine hours away. Now we’ve reached the end of this summer - possibly the last summer you’ll spend here - and it’s a much bigger adjustment than that of four years ago.
I sensed this summer was different for you from the first week you came home in May. Early on you admitted to the feeling that this time seemed more like a visit. You've been restless and ready for senior year where you'll gain the final momentum to fly, and your dad and I know there's a strong probability you - our gutsy second born - will spread your glorious wings far. After all, one of your most spoken phrases as a toddler was "I do it!"
Sometime in the past couple of weeks the uncomfortable memory of a long ago confrontation came flooding back to me, from the day I told my parents your dad and I would be moving closer to our jobs a half hour away from them. Your grandmother stood in the kitchen with angry tears and fiercely swore they would never call me because I was moving a toll call away, as though I had announced we'd be starting our life together in Alaska. Back then I didn't see her fear through her words. Having you around this summer had given me new insight about how things were more than 30 years ago when I was on the receiving end of Too Much Mom. 
Maybe your subtle changes struck a nerve in me - I don't know - but there's been a startlingly pervasive sense of panic coursing through my veins that life as we know it would soon be void of the magnitude of your presence. I pictured with dread that last morning when you would pull out of the driveway after I've hugged you tight and tried to hold back tears that would come long before tail lights turn the corner. I fully expected to deal with this weighty unease until the day you drove off, as I am - after all - my mother's child. Then the three of us went away for one night and it changed everything.
It was during our little family mini-getaway just before you left. We were at dinner, you, me and your dad, all pretty relaxed and enjoying the pleasant restaurant atmosphere, when I realized I was seeing you - really seeing you for the first time. I don't know what changed, if anything, but at that moment in time I knew you to be a beautiful, wise-beyond-your-years, totally capable adult. Right there in the middle of the restaurant my body suddenly released every hint of anxiety almost as if I was melting into it, so much so that I felt close to crying with relief. In an instant I no longer feared for you or for me.
I'm thankful you were with us for that trip. It wouldn't have been the same without you. I also realize that from now on nothing will be the same with you, and that’s all right. You haven’t left us with an empty nest, which sounds so daunting and difficult to recover from. What really remains is the empty net. You don’t need me to catch you every time – you’ve spent the last 21 years preparing to find your own way. So I am slowly but purposefully learning to do what is natural and let go. And I’m lovingly aware of the hardest part - that you, my girl, are letting go of me.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Making an Olympic size effort – to watch from the sidelines

Raise your hand if you were even slightly tempted to call in sick to work at least one day this week to stay home and watch the Olympics. At this very moment our living room television is featuring the women’s rugby competition. It is downright frightening. So many hands grabbing and gripping - and what seems like zero regulations. You know if this stuff had been going on at the playground when these kids were younger, there’d be a whole lot of Time Out.

This wasn’t the only sport that caught our attention during the Games. Spouse, Second Born and I cringed through the first night’s nerve-wracking scenes during the men’s cycling, where the leaders suddenly found themselves careening off course, so close to the finish, ending their Olympic ride with broken bikes, bones and hearts. The next day Second Born and I were clutching our seats during the women’s cycling, unable to look away as riders risked their lives riding like the wind through Rio’s mountain ranges. In the final moments we were convinced the lead rider was at the very least critically injured when she crashed (we learned later she was badly injured but would be all right).  The U.S. cyclist catapulted to the front and looked sure to win. Then a small wolf pack of adrenaline soaked competitors swept past her just as she could almost touch the finish line. The trio took the top three spots, crushing the U.S. rider’s dreams.

I was exhausted.

A little less exhausting but just as mesmerizing was the synchronized diving competition. The three of us had our own version of judging going on, tossing out comments about who was perfectly aligned and who was just a bit off. We were sure we knew a great dive when we saw it. According to the actual judges who – you know – do this for a living, we didn’t. As a mom, my biggest concern was whether those suits were going to stay on. I could imagine some poor diver’s mom closing her eyes praying for minimal exposure while she cheers from the stands.

I had to consciously not hold my breath during the women’s gymnastics. How did they lift their bodies up from the floor as if they were attached to strings? I’m clutching the coffee table to pull myself up from hours of TV viewing… unless there are M&Ms just out of reach. That would be what I call incentive.

Did you happen to catch the freestyle swimming? The speed, the form, the accuracy – it was all breathtaking. In fact, I look just like that when I’m swimming at the Y. My laps are such a blur that you probably won’t recognize me, unless I’m just warming up. Or cooling down. Or trying to reach the other end of the pool while gasping for breath and craning my neck in an attempt to not get water up my nose, all while only occasionally slamming into the lap dividers and ripping the skin off various fingers and toes. Other than that it’s a complete blur… to me at least.

I felt a little guilty about not spending more of the weekend outside, considering most of us try to cram 52 weekends of activity into a few short summer months. I admit I kept hoping it would rain, and not just because we desperately need it. But witnessing history in the making together was also rewarding and it led to some great conversations, especially about some of the personal stories we heard during the course of the week.

We are an emotional lot. The kid and I shed a few tears learning about the backgrounds of underdog competitors who fought back physical, emotional and personal issues to be an Olympian. Even Spouse got swept up in some of the more moving pieces. So many of these stories were inspiring and uplifting. Some competitors came away with medals but all came away with memories to last a lifetime.

From the quirky opening ceremonies to the final evening, the Olympics are several fascinating days of competition and camaraderie. Even I am inspired… to move the M&Ms just a little farther away.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Cooking up a culinary contest of sorts

My son-in-law is getting on my nerves. Sure, we all love him to pieces. He is perfect for First Born and he has many admirable qualities. Recently, however, he has been showing off his once dormant passion for cooking on social media with photos of delectable meals he’s been preparing. His bride has also had a hand at conjuring up some enticing items, but she has busy been taking classes and concentrating on her studies, so she’s happily letting him take the helm.

These aren’t simple little recipes. The Love couple has been tossing around words like birayani and shakshuka. From goat cheese to Gruy√®re and berry compote to Smore’s bread pudding, they leave our mouths watering and our eyes glued to the photos.
The Groom's Gruyere & Parmesan
Mac & Cheese. Showoff.

In our little part of the world The Groom’s reawakened flare with fare for is causing Spouse to drool with envy and vow to start experimenting with new recipes.
I’ve seen this before. In the past he hasn’t wanted to take this venture on alone – he wants company to help with his culinary experiments. That company would undoubtedly be yours truly.

Hey, I like trying new recipes as much as the next person working full (and a half) time and trying to ease around whatever project her wonderful husband is constructing or deconstructing in at least one room at all times.  I decided a little experiment was in order to find out just how much my partner in crime would be willing to wing it on his own.

Once a week Spouse and Second Born (when she is home) take over for dinner so that I can write my column and other pieces (and so what I write makes sense). Last night I presented him with the challenge of a meatless dinner. It wasn’t quite Top Chef or Chopped but he was working in somewhat unfamiliar territory.

Since the sweet potatoes sitting in the hanging basket were winding their way into a giant beanstalk, I asked Spouse to grill them. After the initial queries – “So what else should I do with them?” (I suggested a couple of seasonings but he quickly had it under control)- he was in charge.

Quinoa was next on the menu. A while back we went through a period of claiming we would start making healthier recipes. It just so happens that healthier often means finding new recipes or using some edible ingenuity, which neither of us had yet made the effort to do. Fortunately, that meant the quinoa was still waiting for its purpose in life. He got it started in a saucepan and I threw in some seasonings before it was done.  A yummy summer salad rounded out our meal.

Not only was I impressed at how well everything turned out, I felt so much better than I do after eating a heavy meal in the evening.  I was proud of my better half for his willingness to do something a little different. I’m also always excited when I don’t have to do one bit of the cleaning up, since Second Born was “voluntold” to help out. That’s really not the only reason we love having a college kid home for the summer, but it doesn’t hurt.

While searching for chicken broth for the quinoa, Second Born discovered more expired items on our pantry-ish shelf. I think it’s a matter of not getting ahead of ourselves and loading up on things that look ‘interesting’ and that we ‘might’ make sometime.  I have since made a vow to our shelves that they will no longer be treated like a museum rather than a library.

We’ve already made it clear that during our next visit with The Love Couple we expect to be treated to at least one or two of their savory samples. In the meantime, I’ll keep encouraging Spouse to experiment here while I graciously volunteer to enjoy the fruits - and vegetables - of his labor.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Fridge frenzy & closet decluttering were worth a reward

A couple of weeks ago Second Born decided it was time to show just how brave and fearless she could be in the face of danger. She volunteered to clean out our refrigerator.

My first text message from her went something like this.

“Just so you know, I’m about halfway through the fridge and I’ve already found one thing that definitely expired in 2009 and another that may or may not have been best before some time in 2001.”

Have you ever investigated what’s been hiding in your fridge only to find what used to be identifiable items, along with at least a dozen different types of miniature mustard and jelly jars crammed into every spare space? I don’t know how we accumulate them or why we don’t use them. Our intentions are good but somehow these items, with enticing names such as pineapple blackberry jam or buffalo mango marinade, never make it to the point of consumption.

As my courageous offspring plunged her way through the fruit and vegetable bins, even venturing toward the stuff behind other stuff (you know, the stuff that gets tipped over and ‘lost’ against the back wall), I wondered if she should be wearing a hazmat suit. She continued with her fridge free-for-all for well over an hour, purging several items that should have been consumed when she was in middle school (she’s a college senior). But she didn’t stop there. She was on a roll.

She headed toward the bathroom closet.

By the time you finish reading, I’m thinking at least a few of you will be wandering into your own cabinets and maybe taking a look at some of those lesser used items, such as the seven tubes of anti-itch cream that have managed to gather on one shelf.  What the heck was itching that badly? Or how about the cans of hair spray that dried up or the curlers that were used once in 1995 by your then six-year-old who is now married and living in Atlanta?

Second Born’s bathroom closet texts were a cross between wonder and wisecracks.

“I’ve already found two things that expired in the 90s… it’s like a time machine in here.”

Almost an hour later she resurfaced, still alive and feeling victorious. It cost us an order from Domino’s that night but it was worth it to have a willing volunteer for this sort of thing.

Here’s the real mystery - we moved to our house in 1999. Why did these things follow us? I can only imagine that I was too overwhelmed with the move itself to worry about a few items that may have been close (or a tad past) their expiration date. Besides, we were moving to a bigger place with more room. Who would even notice?

That’s the problem. Nobody did. We just kept shoving more Band-Aid boxes and toothbrushes and old shavers into that dang closet until things started falling off the shelves every time we opened the door. At the moment there is no door because Spouse plans on building a replacement door (I don’t dare complain – I have a new floor, working sink, toilet and tub – life is perfect), so our medicinal mess is out there for everyone to see.

I’m extremely grateful for my kid’s cleaning (mostly dumping) spree - I’d hate for someone to think the Benadryl from 2006 would still do the trick. In fact, I’d be terrified to see what tricks it may do.

There are a couple more trouble spots in our house but I’ll give it a little time before I think about bribing Second Born to pick a closet or drawer (or room) and work her way through it. Every house has at least one area that could use a good going over, right?

For now we’ll just keep going around.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

I need a long nap after L.A. for the weekend

There were a lot of songs in my head last weekend with lyrics mentioning Los Angeles, or L.A. as the cool kids call it. I even jotted down a few lines like “L.A. proved too much for the man,” and “I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.” Why, you ask? I know, I know – just pretend you asked. It was because Spouse and I did something I never imagined doing. We flew out to L.A. for the weekend. That’s a line in a country song, by the way.

We took this crazy trip so I could receive an award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists at their annual conference.  The experience of meeting others in the field of column writing and connecting with some pretty heavy hitters in the business was like a dream. I even got to hang out with Dear Abby after she spoke at the conference. Yes, That Dear Abby.

Despite our extensive travels this past year, Spouse and I are not worldly travelers by any stretch of the imagination. We are closer to an east coast version of The Beverly Hillbillies. Our packing consisted of one large suitcase borrowed from Second Born (the only one with new luggage, of course) and a Wal-Mart carry-on. Our idea of traveling high-class is convincing the flight attendant to provide a second bag of pretzels.

For anyone foolish enough to seek advice from me about travel, here are a few tips I picked up on our L.A. trip.

1. Pretend to know your surroundings. Because of the three-hour time difference we arrived in L.A. before noon on the west coast. Deciding to venture out, we asked the hotel’s front desk clerk about nearby attractions. He called a taxi service to bring us to Westwood, home of UCLA and several shops and restaurants. A short while later the driver pulled into a small plaza and announced we were at our destination. As soon as I got out of the van I knew we were in Brentwood, not Westwood - I am that L.A. savvy. And there was a sign in the parking lot that read something about Brentwood Village.

This had to be the first time in history that a taxi driver gave his cab fare back to the passenger – at least until he got us to the right place where we paid close to double what it cost for the ride to Brentwood, which - by the way - also had several shops and restaurants. Why did we insist on Westwood again? Hmm.

2. It is not wise to use the facilities on an airplane as it is coming in for a landing. I did not experience this firsthand but the woman who decided to try her luck with the lavatory as we were beginning our final descent looked quite pale by the time she shoved her way back out of the stall while the plane was at a slant.

3) Nothing is louder than eating a potato chip around hungry people. We were famished after our six-hour flight, so Spouse and I had grabbed lunch to go before we boarded the shuttle from the airport to our hotel. Apparently, none of the other passengers on the shuttle thought to do so. Do you know what your tendency is when something you’re eating is noisy? It is to eat slower. Chips when eaten slowly emit a noise akin to an explosion in your mouth. Try it.

4) You can use jetlag as an excuse to nap. I’m not saying that I’m faking fatigue, but there’s more weight to it when you tell someone you flew to the other side of the country over a weekend.

We’ve been home for two days now and I think we’re getting past our weekend whirlwind adventure. It was an exciting trip and a tremendous honor to be recognized among my writing peers. Next year the conference will be on the east coast and that will make attending much easier.

It also means I have a year to come up with a new excuse for needing a nap.

Now here's a little L.A. quiz - see how many of these you're familiar with and let me know how you did:

(starting from the top of this blog post)
1) L.A. proved too much for the man.
2) I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.
3) This ain't no disco. This ain't no country club either. This is L.A.
4) L.A. is a great big freeway... put a hundred down and buy a car.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Like kids in a candy store - only with vegetable plants

Last week Spouse and I worked on our vegetable garden. By that I mean we bought plants and talked about planting them. The small patch of yard dedicated to the garden each year remains half covered with black tarp and will not be seeing any planting until it is – well, tilled.

In the meantime, we had taken a drive in the area of a farm that used to send a truck of fresh produce to the hospital where he works. Employees were able to get a great deal by buying shares ahead of time, so we took advantage of it.

Last year the bus that carried all those goodies into town met its demise and was not replaced. It was the perfect excuse to take a leisurely drive into the country (it may have been more leisurely if we hadn’t gotten temporarily lost) and stop at the farm stand. The good news was that Spouse still had shares to put toward our purchase. A lot of shares. There really is no way this could be bad news, except that it meant we could pretend everything was “free” since he paid for the shares over a year ago. What happens when you can pretend it’s not costing you anything? Impulse buying. In this case that would result in impulse planting.

We started with an empty box, wisely provided by the farm, and immediately began filling it with vegetable plants of every variety. Spouse headed straight for the peppers while I perused the herbs. We picked up onions, tomatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and lettuce to start. After getting my fix by sniffing the rosemary, I chose that and a couple of other herbs that I believe I’ll actually use this year. My sister-in-law makes really good pesto with fresh basil from her garden. I’m going to tweak her already amazing recipe with a tad more garlic, like any true Italian cook would do. By the way, the Italian cooking rule I was brought up is this: a recipe calls for one garlic clove; you add no less than three.

Since Second Born has decided that she now likes all sorts of vegetables (which she discovered while living in another country last year instead of at our dinner table where I tried to disguise vegetables for the last 20 years as macaroni and cheese), my plan is to “let” her help tend to the garden. She doesn’t know it yet, so if you see her please don’t mention it. I want to spring it on her – I mean – surprise her at the right time, you know, like maybe right after I’ve made her favorite meal or filled her SUV's gas tank.

Meanwhile, the plants are temporarily residing in our backyard, gazing longingly from their little plastic pods over to the spacious stretch of ground that is meant to be their home. It isn’t unusual for us to procrastinate in our planting (as we do with many things). I recall one Fourth of July weekend we spent sticking plants into the ground. The crops weren’t the greatest that year, but even that late in the season there were days when my kitchen looked Hannaford’s produce department had exploded in it.

We’re not done with the plant purchases yet. Spouse always has grand ideas for his pepper plants. They must include sweet, hot, hotter and fireball. Then there are the tomato plants, which somehow always seem to multiply like rabbits before we get them in the ground. You’ve got your Big Boy, your Bigger Boy, your Oh Boy – it never ends.

Garden prep is a lot of time consuming work, but now that we went hog wild with our plant purchases I know we need to invest the time. We may or may not get to the planting this weekend. But I can guarantee we’ll think about it.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Fiddlehead prep is not for the weak

They’ve taken over. First the refrigerator where they lay in wait for someone to unleash them from their cold prison. Then the sink as one by one you are forced to snap, soak and strain each one by hand as you suffer back and neck strain from hunching over. Huge pots of boiling water anticipate the arrival of these little green delicacies that bob in the bubbles for just a few minutes before being plunged into an ice bath.  Finally, they are dried off, bagged up and frozen to partake of at a later date, but be warned – you have to make sure to cook them for the appropriate time upon thawing or you may find yourself a victim of Montezuma’s revenge. It is time consuming and tedious, but it’s worth every grueling minute.

It is the season of fiddleheads.

When Spouse was just Boyfriend and we were getting familiar with each other’s families, I learned that his dad had a fiddlehead connection. Seriously, this was not information to be shared lightly – it was more like, “I know a guy.”

His dad would pack waders and disappear for the whole day somewhere “up North” in the Connecticut hills to scour through swampland in search of curly green treasure. None of this sounded like fun to me, but he would return at the end of the day with a victorious smile and buckets loaded up with funky looking green things the likes of which I had never seen or even heard of. They really do resemble the heads of fiddles, except for being green, soft and edible.

Fiddleheads are a cross between asparagus, broccoli, spinach and nothing you’ve ever tasted.  They are very hard to come by because the harvest season is painfully short, allowing just a brief window in spring to find them. So it was with great excitement that I welcome five pounds of them into my home last week when I discovered a friend “knew a guy” and was willing to deliver.

Remember the part about my father-in-law wading through swamps foraging for fiddleheads? He had the easy part.

Last Monday night I was up until 11 p.m. working on the “treasure” from my fridge. By the time I had gotten to them they were just starting to lose their freshness and I had to act fast. Vats of boiling water and bowls of ice water stood ready for Stages Two and Three. But first, there was Stage One – cleaning them. Every. Single. One.

Does anyone know how much five pounds of fiddleheads is when it comes to cleaning each one? About four pounds too many, that’s how much. If they could understand me those little buggers might have learned a few choice words as I hovered over the sink snapping the brown ends off each one and washing their little green bodies. Yes, bodies – by the second hour of washing I was delirious. At one point I was so tired that I didn’t realize I was tossing the fiddleheads into the sink and saving the ends in the colander, which meant rewashing them.  My normal bedtime is ten at the latest. I cannot be held responsible for my actions after that.

I rinsed, boiled, iced, dabbed and bagged every last fern (at that hour they were downgraded to a four-letter word) until my kitchen and my clothes were a disaster. After cleaning up the mountain of kitchen items from this production I sprayed room deodorizer to eradicate the stench – I mean scent – of boiled plant heads and collapsed into bed hoping to dream of anything but green vegetables.

For now our supply is tucked safely away in the freezer until we decide to take them out and complete the cooking process. I sincerely appreciate those who brave the swampy waters and provide us with this rare goody for a short time, and heartily applaud the ones who tackle such a persnickety preparation. As exhausting as it was, and having learned my lesson about the preparation of certain produce, at this time of year the elusive fiddlehead is my best frond.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Bringing out the best...?

The other morning Spouse was sharing his almost daily last-minute running-out-the-door rant with whoever he thought was listening (i.e., nobody), "I'm so sick of running late for work. I really need to change my routine."

Oh yes, I'm thinking, you do. The irony of this blustery rhetoric is that he did change his whole system for about a week. Every evening he made sure his work clothes were packed and his lunch prepped for the morning. He even got up a few minutes early to fit some stretching exercises in before showering. You may wonder what made him put aside this very successful schedule. I can name that tune in three words.

I returned home. 

I had been away on a weeklong trip, which was when my other half started this new routine – and promptly dropped it like a hot potato the minute I got back. If anyone is going to blame the demise of his impressive organizational skills on me, forget it. My shower, breakfast and lunch prep time do not interfere with his at all. In fact, I'm there to help feed the cats, a chore he was on his own with during my absence.

Once again I'm putting his lunch together while working on my own, since he is now back to the "What have we got for lunch?" query that grates on my nerves and makes me want to include his lunch in the cat food disbursement.

I suppose I have some 'splainin' to do myself. While I was away I also tried a few changes. I incorporated stretching exercises into my morning, was on time for every event or meeting, and even wore a couple of ensembles that were decent (and clean) enough to earn compliments. Since returning home the only stretching I’ve done is to reach for the snooze one or four more times. We won’t discuss my clothing – and neither will anyone else. Last minute attempts at lunch and snacks will inevitably include the banana that's turning 50 shades of don't-eat-me.

Aren't couples that have been together forever (oh, come on, it can feel darn close to forever) supposed to bring out the best in each other? Or am I kidding myself... are we really just enablers who suck the independence out of our partner, resulting in complete loss of motivation?

Spouse has proven that he can gather his lunch, pack his clothes, feed the cats, exercise and be out of the house on time. Likewise, I am perfectly capable of making sure my clothes for the next day are ready to wear (scarves cover everything) putting my lunch together ahead of time (if the leftovers survive my picking) and getting a few minutes of stretches in before my shower (as long as I can get up from the floor).

Somehow we become a little more helpless when we're together. I guess we're waiting to see if the other person will pick up the slack by changing the toilet paper roll when there are only three squares left, or doling out the cat food because one or more feline is trying to trip one of us until they are fed. When we're on our own, these things and more mysteriously get done. You may have heard the saying, "Together we are invincible." I would like to revise that for the typical weekday morning in our house: Together we are inept. For good measure let's throw in rushed, cranky, and can't agree on a radio station when we carpool.

Last week we celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary, beating the odds my parents probably gave us of not making it past the reception hall parking lot. I believe we made it this far because we try to bring out the best in each other most of the time, but it will probably never be all the time. Neither of us is going to give up that snooze button.
Engaged and clueless in the 80s!