Friday, October 5, 2018

I've Moved

Please visit me at my new blog address...........

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Recipe Box

With only two adults left in this old cape cod of ours, I have spent the last year trying out new recipes, searching for them on cooking blogs and Pinterest. Some are vegetarian, some meant just for two, others are low-carb, low-fat, and sometimes low-taste. Bookmarked on my phone, I can shop for the ingredients at the grocery store after work and then come home and start dinner. Cooking via cell phone, though, is frustrating for me due to the constant need to refresh the screen when time management of sizzling ingredients and the need to know the next step is critical. But if a digital recipe is deemed a success after a few tries it gets printed and stood up in file folders next to the microwave marked Main Dishes, Appetizers, Sides, Vegetables, Desserts.

And if I forget to print it? Then I go down the rabbit hole of my Pinterest account for the thousandth time trying to find the breakfast casserole that was kind of spicy and had sausage. Or was it bacon?

A couple of weeks ago I made corned beef and cabbage, and from the cabinet over the stove I pulled out my recipe box - plain, black, plastic. A relic from Office Depot of a time before computers when 3x5 cards were what everybody used to keep track of the important things in their life. From the first section of main courses, I pulled out the hot pink piece of paper with my mom's recipe. This one was written by me as I sat at her dining room table and asked her to word-for-word dictate to me every step of the process in cooking her corned beef. It has never come out less than perfect so I know she didn't miss a step, and my writing it on a hot pink piece of paper was deliberate. I always wanted to see it when I opened up my recipe box.

There is another recipe from my first adult job in Chicago where I worked with a guy named Frank Chico. One day when we were talking about tacos, he said I needed to know how to make tacos from a real Mexican, and so he wrote down his recipe and included hot sauce and beans. I've kept that recipe since 1982 because Frank Chico was one of the finest men I've ever known.

I have a recipe for Hawaiian Glazed Ribs from the mom of my best friend in grade school. She included it in her shower gift to me for my wedding 35 years ago. Years later, after having a stroke in her 40s, she wrote down the recipe for her Zucchini Bread - one of the things she could still make with her good hand.

I have my mother-in-law's Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe which Mark will bake a couple of times a year because he doesn't think anyone else's can compare. Someone I used to work with wrote down her Coffee Cake recipe, another her Cherry Cobbler.

Around the holidays I always make my sister's Toffee Apple Pie recipe. The other day I made my other sister's Enchilada recipe - a 3x5 card so faded I have to hold it up to the window to read all the ingredients.

I have often thought of starting a recipe box for my own kids. Sitting down and writing out the recipes for the things I make that they love. By now I have made some of these things so often I don't even need a recipe. It is muscle memory to pull out the ingredients, brown the meat on one burner, make the sauce on another. I can remember my kids as little ones, standing by the stove when the smell of dinner drifted through the house. "Spaghetti? You're making us spaghetti tonight?" Yes, I would say and and off they'd run to be the town crier announcing the good news.

Many of my recipes are fragile - used so often that they are on the verge of disintegrating. Some have never even been made, but they were handwritten on an index card by someone I loved and so they will always have a place in my recipe box.

While thankful for many of the things a digital world offers, it is fitting that the written recipes that have been passed down to me are in a box that can't be closed. Butter, aprons, flour on Grandma's wrinkled hands from making her famous sticky buns, the smell of a roast, Thanksgiving dinner, Easter brunch, the written documentation on an index card of a conversation about a favorite dish.

Memories, my own and those of many others are in that box, and with a flip of the lid I can spend time with them again. In my empty house making dinner for two I am not alone.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Cancellation Notice

Long before I dated and eventually married my Mr. Science Guy, I was smitten with a guy named Andy. I have no recollection of how we met - most likely at one of the many discos my friends and I frequented back in the day. I'm sure that somewhere in the introduction mixed drinks were involved. By most dating standards, Andy and I didn't go out a whole lot, but he was creative when it came to inventive dating nights which was just one of his many charms.

When I told my mom I was dating someone new and that he was a tennis pro, you could feel the weight of the world descend upon her already weary shoulders. Her oldest daughter, who was striking out spectacularly in the dating world, now had a prospect that couldn't have been more unstable. "What exactly does that mean," she asked me. "It means," I said, "that he goes around competing in tournaments." I could tell that this didn't seem one bit legit to her. "Oh you mean the kind of guy who hangs around country clubs and teaches housewives how to hit a ball," she asked. Poor Mom with her six kids and her cooking and cleaning and ironing in suburbia couldn't possibly understand the glamour of my life as the girlfriend of a tennis pro.

Because Andy would be off traveling to play in tournaments around the country, there would be long gaps in our dating. It didn't matter to me. I would get on the bus to go to work in the city every day and pine away for him every night, waiting for him to get back in town and for us to pick up where we'd left off.

After Andy had been gone for many months, I got a letter in the mail. My heart skipped a beat. He was coming back to town and I was the first person he wanted to see. Instead it was a generic Christmas letter. The kind you run through a copier, hit print, and shove in with your Christmas cards. On the bottom scrawled in pen it said, "Living in California now. Hope things are going well!!!" California? Hope things are going well? I was sitting on a bus choking on exhaust every day, daydreaming about my wedding dress and being the wife of a tennis pro, and all the while he was in California???

Mom wanted to know what I got in the mail and I showed her his hastily scrawled dismissal of our relationship. You could feel the weight of the world lift from her shoulders and get squarely dumped on mine. She would never have to explain to her relatives and church friends that the best her daughter could do was end up with someone who taught housewives how to hit a tennis ball. I, on the other hand, had been flung once again into the deep end of the Loser Boyfriend pool.


Fast forward a few decades and I met another man - an insurance man. I have no recollection of how or when we met but I do remember there being long, lingering talks about deductibles and protecting our house, cars, and family jewels. One time he made a visit to the house to discuss all this. He told us that he and his wife were a very exciting couple - he being the insurance man, her a librarian. I found this to be funny and honest and I liked Mr. Insurance Man even more. Over the course of the next twenty years I would talk to him occasionally.  Cars would come and go, kids would get their drivers license and need to be added, accidents would happen, and each time I was grateful for his help. A few years ago I had a question about our homeowners and a painting contractor who never finished the job so I called him to see if I had any recourse. He suggested that the next time I get a contractor to get a copy of his insurance policy as I might be able to collect from them. "Oh, I do have that," I said and he heaped praise on me. "Maybe you'll get something from them, maybe not but I can tell you hardly anybody does that and they should when they are having work done on their house so good for you for asking for it."

I think my insurance man thought I was very smart.

Over the years, though, this insurance kept going up a lot. Each year when the homeowners bill would come the prior incremental increases turned into hundreds of dollars. I thought this was typical of everyone due to more destructive storms, wildfires, and tornadoes causing so much property damage. If the subject ever came up and I thought to ask others, though, it seemed I was paying way more than I probably should be. Then I would go down the rabbit hole of quotes and immediately get overwhelmed and put it aside for another day. Days would become months and then years and another bill would arrive and the mortgage company would pay it and I would repeat the cycle.

This year when our escrow account was short twice by a significant amount, I decided to finally get serious about our policies. My biggest worry, though, was having to tell my long-time insurance man that I was dating another. That my loyalties now lay with someone else. I would get flustered just thinking about it. What were Insurance Man and Librarian Wife going to do without our business? I dreaded the conversation.

In talking with my new insurance agent I found out that once I was committed to them they would notify his agency. They would be the bad guys and I was off the hook for delivering the news of our break up. Still, I thought, after twenty years he would probably want to know what happened, what he could do, how he could keep us as the loyal customers we'd always been. I practiced imaginary conversations in my head, each time thinking I'd probably end up paying for two insurance policies because cancelling anybody isn't my strong suit.

None of that happened. After all those years there was no begging, no crying, no asking for forgiveness, no request to patch things up and make them better. In black and white there was a Notice of Cancellation that came in the mail. An abrupt end to a long insurance marriage and that was that. For days I thought about calling him and saying, "Geez, Andy Insurance Man, aren't you even going to come back and fight for me? Doesn't what we had mean anything to you? Oh, and just to set the record straight, you should know that I moved on LONG before I even got this stupid letter."

Once in awhile Baby does get put in the corner but when she does she saves more than 50% on her insurance and has imaginary conversations to keep her company. And Mr. Science Guy. She's got that too. Things are going well.

Monday, January 15, 2018

I See You

A few years ago someone I vaguely knew from the church we went to friended me on Facebook. I have not gone to this church very much in the last few years, but for a long while we were pretty active there. Mark joined the bike club and I got involved in social events - a couple of auction committees, the 150th anniversary of the church, the going away party for a beloved priest. I met a lot of people doing those events, and I knew this friend requestor. He and his wife were musicians and were frequently asked to provide entertainment. I was never the one doing the asking and our interchanges were no more than brief "hellos", but I don't think they ever said no to helping out in whatever way they were needed. So in light of the brevity of our interactions and my absence from there for awhile, I was surprised he even knew me at all.

He didn't post much but occasionally his name would pop up on my feed. The regularity of that happening seemed more in recent months and I got the impression he was sick. I thought about inquiring of mutual friends who would know but that seemed intrusive to me. Does the health of someone you barely know in person, and only incrementally more through social media, allow you to poke around in their life to ask why the sudden surge in photos of a noticeably thinner version? I didn't think so but I wondered about it often, because even in a digital world there was a kindness to him that I had recognized years before.

What I had gathered on my own was confirmed when his wife posted on his page that he was turning inward on his journey, and though his page was still up, he was headed elsewhere. It was poignant and not a surprise. A few days later, she recounted their wedding day - not with the grief that must have been bearing down on her for months, but a touching recounting of the snowy day that started their marriage. Three days after that she wrote that her husband had died peacefully. It wasn't until the following morning that I read the news and the shock and sadness of the death of someone I barely knew surprised me. Why I was staring at a Facebook post on my phone crying for someone on the periphery of my life? Someone I was certain wouldn't know who I was if he saw me in the grocery store. Why did this feel like a baseball bat to my knees? The condolences that were shared would confirm what I thought I already knew about him. This was a very decent man.

In the hours that followed I would chalk up my sad reaction to his death as the stress of my own life lately, and the toxic swirl of hate that seems to be overwhelming us all. It wasn’t him that was making me sad, it was everything, and all day that everything-that-wasn't-him sat like a rock in the pit of my stomach. I decided to pick up the rock and flip it over to see what I had missed, and underneath I found plenty of chances to know this man more. It was clear that he was deeply loved and admired so why didn't I go further than the briefest of greetings? This rock was laden with regret.

And then I remembered something. Following my dad's death, somebody left a handwritten letter in the mailbox saying how sorry she was when she heard the news, that she had admired my father from afar when she saw him at church, and though she never knew him she wanted to express her sympathies to his family. We were stunned when Mom passed the letter around. “Who is this,” we asked her. She had no idea.

There are a lot of reasons to admire someone who would do something like that but it wouldn't be until this week that I would come to understand it.

Many people live in the periphery of our lives and their leaving is not a cruel teaching moment for conversations that never happened, friendships never formed, a thousand missed opportunities.

It is an affirmation that all along the way you saw them. Oh my did you ever see them, and for reasons you couldn't begin to explain you are better for it.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Thieves of Joy

I am an overly frequent user of social media. I have long perused Facebook, all while having a conversation with myself about how much time I am giving away for something as useless as sitting at a slot machine. I wish I could say those conversation have made me more aware of how often I could be doing better things, but the truth is I let my time slip away like I've got it banked in a Swiss account that even the Grim Reaper couldn't touch.

My social media drug of choice for months now has been Instagram. I started dipping my toe into it this summer, taking and posting photos of our house and garden. There is a twofold reason for this. I have always loved decorating and if I could make money doing store displays, which I've done plenty of in my life, I'd quit my accounting gig and just do that. Retail display work, however, is part of the package of working retail and so I had to let that one go when I could never get out of a pay scale that exceeded ten dollars an hour. Crunching numbers and paying the bills for a business is at the lucrative end of how not to make much money over the course of your life. The other reason is that friends and family, who know how much I love all things house, have encouraged me to write a decorating blog and I have thought about it, but it is something that I clearly don't have the time for with my part-time job and overloading on social media.

The rose that is posting on social media, though, has started to turn brown on the edges. I started to notice it a few months ago, these accounts with the perfect homes, the tablescape for fall, the perfect outfit to wear for the dinner party around the tablescape, the boots, the blanket scarf, the throw pillows, the sofa, the newly painted rooms that were newly painted a year ago BUT YOU GUYS THE BUFFALO PLAID. Overall, it seems to me that most of these accounts are women far younger than me and I couldn't fathom having that kind of disposable income twenty years ago. That turns out to be something I'm grateful for most of the time. There isn't much that is new around here - most of it has come from estate sales, flea markets, antique malls, Craigslist, and from the side of the road, and therein lies the untold stories of these things in a different house with different people.

Oh but.....

I study the photos, enlarge them, envy them, and even though I know better I have to remind myself often that comparison is the thief of joy.

Two weeks ago the very styled Instagrammed Christmas decor went up and my feed was flooded with dozens of pictures of trees and mantels that were decked in glittery goodness and I started to feel my chest tighten. We were going to Portugal, we were returning on the weekend, we were working two days and then driving to Chicago for Thanksgiving until Sunday. Sunday??? That's the 26th of November. Why even bother? It's like the season will practically be over by then for the savvy decor minded and in those perfectly styled photos was a decorated linen closet.

Somebody decorated their linen closet.

We headed to Portugal and had a fabulous time and I forgot that I should be decorating my home and now my linen closet for Christmas. Instead I was grateful that my husband working and me working allowed us the means to travel to an incredible place.

And I came back with a new perspective which is the pot of gold at the end of the travel rainbow. I saw churches that made me so overwhelmed I couldn't talk, sculptures so preserved that I thought surely they could not be a thousand years old, cobble stone walks that have been traversed for centuries, a castle, custard tarts from a secret family recipe from the 1800s.

I saw that the things that make a life are never going to be found where I have been looking and that when the paying jobs are over there will be other work to do. Worthy and quiet things like packing bird seed and heading off to a park bench to sit with an old friend, and watching joy unfold for those who choose to live a life beyond comparison.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


Every year, on the anniversary of his death, I write something about my dad. It is how I honor him, this dad of mine who also was a writer, but writing, in general, has been hard this last year. Writing something worthy about him is daunting on a tank that runs dry most of the time.

I started mulling over this empty tank of mine while I was in the car running an errand which naturally led me to think about the last few days of his on this earth. Those were his toughest days, waiting to die. They were also tough to witness and there are a lot of painful memories that rise up every September. He got admitted to the hospital and a nurse was having trouble getting his catheter in and she was pissed. Banging stuff, half-yelling, frustrated, and from what it seemed like to me waiting in the hallway, taking it out on Dad. Everybody calls him Bill, not William, I wanted to say to this nurse. He raised six kids in a small house so you couldn't begin to imagine how much he loves the quiet. And since he's dying and this catheter business you're so mad about is preventing him from getting to his destination, why don't you just let him have some of that fucking quiet so he doesn't look so scared and then maybe the rest of us won't be so scared either. But that's the sort of thing you think to say a couple of decades after the fact which is a useless exercise in coulda shoulda.

Rather than a melancholy piece, I thought about writing about the parts of him that drove us nuts. He was a perfectionist, which in these days is more likely to be referred to as a healthy dose of OCD. We all inherited some of that from him. I have to write a grocery list in the same color pen. I can't start it in black and then go to blue. No, I cannot or I would have have to start over or breathe in and out of a brown, paper sack until the next black/blue trigger. Or when we were kids how we all had to take our turn picking up sticks in the yard before he mowed, and after what seemed like hours of bending over and picking up stick after stick, he'd look out into the yard and say, "I thought I told you to pick up sticks. There's some there, and there, and there...." When you were the one old enough to mow he'd look out over the finished lawn and tell you that you needed to work on making your lines straighter. If your first line is straight, he would say in all seriousness to your flushed, sweating face, all the rest of them will be straight. And the straightness of mowed lines have plagued me ever since.

He died a few short months after he retired, which was the result of using up all of his disability time with the company when there were no tricks left up anybody's sleeve to keep him there. They gave him a big sendoff and we were all invited. We were in a packed room at the offices of Commonwealth Edison in downtown Chicago, with coffee and cake, and his boss said some nice things, and somebody else said some nice things, and they gave him a lamp made from an old meter and he said that was just wonderful. He'd always wanted one of those. When it was his turn to talk he thanked everyone, said he was grateful for the 45 years he worked there, that my goodness just look at all of you who came today to wish me well, that he didn't know what the future held but he had Ger and the kids and the good Lord and so we'll just take it as it comes. Before we left the house that day, Mom said just pray he makes it through this because he's not good this morning and if he can't say goodbye to his work friends I don't know what we're going to do.

His bad luck in getting cancer meant that we all took it as it came and twenty seven years have passed since then. There has been so much that has transpired in the family that he has been absent for - marriages and divorces, a slew of kids born, graduations, the death of his brother, a nephew, in-laws, the deaths of more friends of him and Mom than could be accurately counted.

So what is there to write about when it seems a lifetime has passed?

Sometimes I have imaginary conversations with him. When things are worrying to me, I am likely to run them by him in my head. I often wonder what it would be like if he just showed up on my doorstep one day. Rang the bell and when I opened it he would be standing on my front porch like he took a detour years ago and just now figured out people were looking for him. Would he even know it was me? I was a 33 year old pregnant mom of one living in Maryland when he died. Now I'm the 60 year old mother of three adult kids, one granddaughter, and living in Kansas. Kansas, he would say. That's quite a leap you took there, kid. Two years after you died, Dad, I would say.

Almost to my destination I waited at a stoplight and watched an inflatable, green stick man announcing the grand opening of a used car lot. It bent and twisted with the wind over and over, never staying in one place for more than a second. Disappearing and nearly on the ground one second only to pop back up with an ever-present smile until the wind had other ideas. That's me, I thought. That's me in this country for the last year. Buffeted by the wind of current events, trying to smile, bouncing up and convincing myself that sooner or later it's all going to be okay. Look at me. I'm smiling. That means it's all okay and bad credit and no credit are our specialty, and thank God for being unplugged because night brings relief from another ugly news story.

By the time I reached the parking lot of Jo-Ann Fabrics I sat in my hot car and had a good cry thinking about all the things I thought I didn't have left to say.

Sometimes I wish my dad would show up on my doorstep and ring the bell, and even if it only lasted a few seconds, I could look at him and remember it all. How he always said to us don't you kids forget that you are your brother's keeper, and then because he knew we watched more than we listened, he lived the life of a keeper. Maybe then I would know that no matter what happens or how the winds batter me, I have been and always will be tethered to goodness.

I forget that these days.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


Every year in September, Mark rides the MS150. This is a two day biking event to raise money for multiple sclerosis, and as the name implies it is 150 miles. The starting point is twenty miles away from our house, so for him it is two days, 150 miles, and an extra twenty thrown in at five a.m. on day #1 because he is muy macho.

He has been doing this ride for about fifteen years, however, when he started he was under the age of 50, and things have changed a bit since then. Now he is knocking on Medicare's door and 150+ miles in two days isn't quite so easy. Unlike years ago, though, he doesn't push it or isn't trying to finish day #1 in record time. No, these last few years he is content to take his time on this ride with a more leisurely pace and chat with his fellow pre and post Medicarers.

The first day of the ride ends in Lawrence, Kansas which is about forty miles away. Mark used to bring a sleeping bag and a change of clothes and camp outside but he came to his senses about that few years ago. Biking all day and then sleeping on a cot? No, not any more. This year he ended up at the Days Inn and called me about 4:00 to tell me he was checked in, all was good, he didn't push it, no problems whatsoever, and he was going to a dinner gathering for all the riders and would be going to bed soon after.

Considering the upbeat call the day before, I was a little unprepared for what I saw when he walked in the door on Sunday afternoon. My husband looked like he'd been run over by a truck. It turns out that the night before his legs started cramping up. They woke him up out of a sound sleep and that is something that in all his years of biking had rarely, if ever, happened. He got plenty of fluid in him in the morning and he was fine, but, that man was worn out.

He started some laundry and laid down on the couch in the basement, where it is cool and dark and just how he likes his sleeping quarters. He was down there for a long time and said he never slept but he was so tired that I was sure he must have dozed off. When he finally came upstairs he headed straight to the shower which lasted nearly as long as his non-nap.

At 9:30 that night he flopped into bed with his usual sleeping gear - ear plugs in each ear and a black sock over his eyes. He was sound asleep in seconds. I came to bed later but was abruptly woken up by a thud in the middle of the night.

My husband had fallen out of bed.

He had fallen out of bed, hit his face on the nightstand, thudded onto the floor, and was stringing a litany of curse words together.

I bolted upright and said, "Did you just fall out of bed?" And he said yes and that he was bleeding and there was an added bonus of about twenty five ef bombs between the yes and the bleeding part. I asked him how he fell out of bed. The short pissed off version was that he had a dream that somebody was in the house trying to get Will and he was trying to stop them. By this time he was in the bathroom saying his goddamn nose was bleeding and he had to stop it and then go downstairs and get a goddamn band-aid.

And I'm wide awake at three o'clock in the morning wondering how in the hell my husband could fall out of bed.

After a few minutes he came back upstairs with his green earplugs sticking out of each ear and trusty black sock in his hand to mask the night vision. His second attempt at sleeping didn't last long as he was still mad about the dream, the falling out of bed, and the bleeding nose, and so he decided he would sleep downstairs. As he pulled the bedroom door closed behind him he hit the back of his foot with the door. That launched a whole new string of ef bombs.

And I'm wide awake at three thirty in the morning wondering how in the hell my husband could fall out of bed and then hit his own foot with a door.

The next morning he got up and looked worse for the wear with his beat up body from biking 150 miles over the weekend and a bandaid covering his bashed up nose. "I didn't sleep very well last night," he said, which might have been the understatement of the year.

Later that day when he got home from work (which he biked to and from) he told me more about the dream and how he was trying to grab the boogie man who had been hiding in our closet and was trying to get to Will which is why he hurtled himself right out of bed. I told him it was a good thing that we have a lower bed now or he could have banged his face up even more. Nope, he said, it's that low bed and that Ikea nightstand right next to it. That was what did it. That Hemnes nightstand. It was a pain in the ass to put together and a pain in the nose when you smack your face into it. I didn't really buy into any of that but I wasn't about to argue with him or his band-aided face.

Thankfully the next night was uneventful - no dreams and no falling out of bed. It was a blissful night's sleep. In the morning I noticed that my husband had taken some extra precautions the night before to prevent a Hemnes attack leading to further injuries.

All these years I have blamed the kids as the reason we couldn't have nice things around here.

Turns out I was wrong. So wrong.