Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Clamoring... (SOLS)

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there,
written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible. 
~Vladimir Nabakov

So much has happened in past few months since I've stepped away from physically blogging...  Grant Parker made his way into our family on November 1.  My recovery from surgery this time wasn't as slick as the first -- I'll blame that on my advancing age.  (After all, I'm 3.5 years older than I was the first time around!)  We're knee-deep into the terrible threes, in conjunction with the adjustment to not being "the only" anymore.  We've all had the stomach flu -- each of us, in our own way -- except Grant, thankfully.  And, all the while, Grant sleeps.  We've been blessed with one calm little kiddo.

Because right now it seems like I'm much better at rehearsing my writing than actually sitting down to do it, I have a soiree of stories swirling around in my mind and clamoring to become visible.  Most of them have to do with adjustment.  I have pieces I really care about that I just can't seem to get down.  I can't find the words.

Like the one about my 90-year old paternal grandmother walking into our new kitchen when she came to meet Grant, asking through a needy gaze if I like my dishwasher...only to reveal upon my answer that she's never had one.  Astonishing, considering she is one of Williams-Sonoma's biggest fans and has made her life baking pies and accumulating cooking gadgetry.  I didn't realize...

And, then there is one about my maternal grandmother asking me recently if I have two sons.  This, my grandmother, my 'with-it' grandmother -- wondering about who is in my family.  Her rapidly changing memory is crushing.  My spunky grandmother, the one I once had so much in common with, is now milquetoast and moving to assisted living.  Which, leaves me with one thought: when will she not remember me?

And, of course there is Reid.  Reid, the polite and loving child...the one who loves music and listening to lyrics as much as I do.  We were singing "Our House" together the other day (a.k.a. our family anthem).  When we got to the part about the "sunshine through them fiery gems for you, only for you," he pointed to me, looking straight into my soul -- 'only for you' his eyes softly spoke.  He saw me there in the song; he saw me there in the unusual quietness of our house and we enjoyed the moment.  I think he misses those mommy moments...

Evidently, Nobakov sees into my soul, too.  There are stories there.  Big, meaningful stories that I want to write.  Big, meaningful events that are changing my life one instance at a time that I want to remember, whether about how my grandparents age or about how my children form our family.  Memories that feather my heart's nest.  Memories that change me.  Lucy Calkins says, "I write to hold what I find in my life in my hands and to declare it a treasure…significance cannot be found, it must be grown.  Significance is found in our daily minutiae.  I want to remember.  I want to cherish by writing.

Well, for now, my writing is on my heart and in my mind...instead of on my laptop or in my writer's notebook.  I'm fiddling with my words...how to convey my thoughts...how to share their meaning.  Sometimes when I sit down to have a go, I get sidetracked.  By perfection.  By creating a piece that is worthy of its subject.  But the truth is, I just need to write. 

The words will come. 
They'll be significant. 
They'll be visible.

Write on,

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Time... (SoLS)

On a typical Tuesday, I strategically travel through the house
like a foreman finishing a punch list.
Dinner made.  Check.
Dishes in the dishwasher.  Check.
Reid's lunch made.  Check.
Dishwasher started.  Check.
Floor swept.  Check.
(You should be starting your school work right now...)
Laundry launched.  Check.
Clothes laid out for tomorrow.  Check.
(No, remember that big project you're working on?  You should be doing that right now instead of this other stuff you're also responsible for.)
The list seems to take on a life of its own...

Until it doesn't.

Like today...an irregular Tuesday...a fall break Tuesday.
I saunter through my new house glimpsing the sights like a recovering amnesiac.
Oh!  There's the perfect place to hang my new family room art.  Let's get the toolbox.
Oh!  There's where the chalkboard should be showcased in the kitchen.  Let's hang it.
Oh!  There's the candle I'd been thinking about for the coffee table.  Let's display it.

You see, I'm nesting.  That's true.  The baby is coming November 1 and I feel the urgency to organize, make pretty, hang, paint, stain, rearrange, clean.  But, there's another culprit: time.  Which, incidentally, I have right now.  To the tune of two weeks.

My well-meaning brother on the phone yesterday invited me to finish all the projects I've been contemplating for the past month...the ones I simply couldn't commit to because I didn't have the brain power (or the attention) to make the sturdy choices I'd be happy with more than two hours later.

But, on this Tuesday, I do.
I've made art for the little guy's big boy room (which, yes, is still not finished...).
I've kept up with the dishes not because they're on my punch list,
but because I enjoy keeping house.
I've washed baby clothes and organized them by size.
I've re-accessorized our mantel, and am contemplating starting on the bookcase.

Time.  It nearly always brings its sidekick, Clarity; thankfully. 
If this duo can stick around for a while, these projects...Brad...
will be converted to homey additions
and all before the big day.

Write on,

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

To remember... (SoLS)

This morning reminded me of one morning...
exactly eleven years ago...
Cool, crisp, and bright; the promise of fall
and the excitement of a new school year swirled around me.
As the sun shone through its cornflower blue backdrop today,
I stumbled wistfully upon a thought; a thought I couldn't reconcile
in the stillness of my routine commute:

No child in my elementary was born yet on September 11, 2001.
Not one.
And, this, this is the first year I can say that.

They won't remember a teacher's expression that day
when hearing the hushed news
for the first time
while still knee-deep in morning routines.

Two planes.  No; three.  No; four.
How many more?
Into buildings?
What's going on?

They won't remember the disbelief
we felt in our hearts
and wore on our faces that day
when our deepest thoughts
diverted from planned lessons
to blurbs of news coverage we could get
from colleagues passing by.

They're going to fall.  They're going to fall...
People have to be left inside those buildings.
What about them?

They won't remember the quietness,
the deafening quietness, that day
When no planes flew
through the once menacing sky
now sleeping like a baby.

A field in Pennsylvania? 
The passengers overtook the flight?
To keep us safe? 
The courage.
What would I have done?

They won't remember how it felt that day
to go home uncertain of the future
Scared to be alone,
Wondering if we'd wake up September 12
Heading to one of the many impromptu church services
brought a comforting mix of solace and community.

Will our town be next?
Will I know something big is about to happen before it does?
Will I be able to say, "I love you..." one last time?

Today, I remember how it felt
as a young kindergarten teacher,
to fight the inner battle of 
being honest while being protective
of those 20 little souls,
too innocent to understand
the gravity,
the terror,
the new world they would know
from this point forward.
A world, to which we adults,
were late arrivals.

Could I answer their questions?
How much news coverage their parents allow?
Could I calm their fears when they were the sum of my own?

This morning reminded me of one morning...
exactly eleven years ago...
Cool, crisp, and bright; the promise of fall
and the excitement of a new school year swirled around me.
As the sun shone through its cornflower blue backdrop today,
I stumbled upon a second thought:
Dear Lord, let these children know peace...
not the splintered version we've recreated the past decade,
but rather the truest type --
the type we knew
before the planes,
before the buildings,
before the field
before the fear.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Baking Cookies... (SoLS)

I stayed later at school tonight, so when I pulled up into our new driveway...there was one toddler 'mowing' (which means he was riding around in his Little Tikes Cozy Coupe stitching the lawn with straight seams) and one daddy breaking down boxes nearby in the garage.  My heart was overjoyed -- so much productivity.  Where would one tired mommy fit into the equation?

Anyone with kids knows there is a daddy dynamic, in which daddy is always right...daddy is peaceful because he is taking care of any describable situation in his own way...daddy disciplines the way daddy sees fit...and everyone is happy in this daddy-driven nirvana.  Then, of course, there is a mommy dynamic, which is somewhat similar and results in perfect peacefulness.  But then, then, there is the mommy-daddy dynamic, which isn't always as copacetic.  It goes something like this -- Mommy knows Daddy's weakness (for kicks, say impatience), and child craftily exploits Daddy's weakness (again for kicks, say impatience), and Daddy knows his own weakness (you can fill in the blank here), and then before anyone knows it, the seas are churning and no one is happy.  (Please say this sounds familiar.)

D: "I'm ready to grill."
M: "But the rice isn't ready."
D: "Well, we can still put the chicken on."
M: "I guess, but it may be done before the rest of dinner is ready."
C: "I wanna grill.  Daddy, let's go outside.  I wanna grill!!!!"
D: "Fine.  Let's grill." 

A couple minutes later, my wondering eyes peeked out the back door.
M: "How's the chicken coming?"
D: "Well, it's done."
M: "Well, I'm not ready for it."
(Insert whiny, hungry child here followed by impatient, tired husband.)

M: "Reid, why don't you come in.  You can help me bake some delicious chocolate chip cookies before dinner..."  (Argh; did Ijust offer that?  I'm tired.  I don't want any more mess or the mandatory hour-plus commitment this project requires.  And, cookies????  I must be out of my mind.  The doctor just told me last week I'm gaining too much weight during this pregnancy...)

C: "Hooray!  We're making cookies.  Just me and Mommy."

M: "Yes, we are.  Just you and me.  Now let's get out the ingredients and read our recipe to see what we need first..."

And roughly three cookies later, one tired mommy's heart basked in the glow of two guys with chocolate-tipped lips...and all was right with the world again.

Write on,

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I don't wanna go to bed... (SoLS)

For the past three weeks, things have been in a constant state of upheaval...  Exhibit A: all of the contents of our apartment scattered about like boats in post-hurricane marinas.  Exhibit B: half the boxes from our storage space artfully stacked in our new garage.  Exhibit C: bedtimes strictly loosely adhered to while we made the 30-minute trek up here on weeknights to get a jump on the movers (a.k.a. gracious family members who worked for donuts and homemade sloppy joes) to try to do our part.

Yep; there's been no continuity...but one might expect that when there's
    a new house,
          a new town,
               a new school year,
                    and a small, tired family who (luckily) can glimpse goodness
                    through each bleary-eyed gaze.

We're sleepy.  My husband drinks more coffee and I eat more junk food...you know; for comfort.  (If you could nod in agreement here, that'd be super.)  We stay up far too late to cross just one or two more items off our to-do list so tomorrow it isn't as daunting.  I unpack more of my maternity tub to discover the clothes I've been missing for months.  And even still, we find time to play around with our new WiFi system (because we can now) and here I sit, all cozy on our pillowy bed...writing (because it feels good too).

HOWEVER, there is just one person here who hasn't gotten the memo that tired = sleep.  That would be the toddler, in his new room, upstairs away from the excitement of the television and conversation.  The hubbub that he was used to taking in each night on his way to Sleepytown...because the apartment family room just outside Reid's bedroom...is gone.

Now, our new routine after bath, stories, tuck-in: "MOOOOOMMMMMMYYYYYYYY.  I DON'T WANT TO GO TO BED.  WHERE ARE YOU?'  echoes from a dimly lit room, through the hallway, and then down the stairs.  The first visit in, I'm reassuring and empathetic --- the new surroundings may bring anxiety.  The second visit, I'm impatient. 

"I just want to go to school.  Can I go now?  I don't need to sleep." reasons one sleep-deprived kiddo.  One sleep-deprived mommy offers, "You have to sleep first.  We always sleep before school, so we can be our best.  Mommy sleeps before school too."  (In fact, I'm nearly in a narcoleptic state as we speak...but, you know, all that talk can be saved for later.)

It's funny.  Adults wish for bedtime.  We covet it {and sometimes even sit at our desks wishing for it to roll around quickly}.  Kids fight it {even though their little bodies so desperately need it}.  Why?

Hopefully, tomorrow night...and each night we're in our new house...gets easier, and sleepier, and dreamier...earlier.  I think it will. 

But for now, there's that coffee shop I love...and some great junk food to provide a little comfort... (and maybe even a little more eye liner applied...)

We're glad to be home.

Write on,

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Remembering... (SoLS)

Much has changed for us lately: we are preparing to close on our new home (!), we are fixing to ditch this tiny apartment and rescue most of our belongings from storage (!!), I started school yesterday, and my excited toddler began a preschool/daycare combo at a local church since he is the ripe, old age of three.  Yes, a rolling stone gathers no moss; so, I guess, that makes us...moss-less.

Except, for all those times we stop and remember...what things used to be like.  You know, the summer things.

I'll admit -- when the heavenly harp strum on my iPhone alarm lulls me out of a deep slumber each morning now at 5:30, my dreaming really encompasses cuddling on the couch with Reid for PBS cartoons and trying to pretend that "The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That" theme song isn't...well...catchy enough to sing while I waste the morning away in my jammies.

I think Reid remembers the summer life too.  Yesterday afternoon when I picked him up from daycare, his teacher informed me that he was "deep in thought" during lunch; so far away, indeed, that she asked him, "Reid, what are you thinking about?"  She giggled as she prepared to provide me his curt and detached response, "I'm not thinking of anything."  (Which I knew, by the way, was a complete rouse -- he is a thinker.)

Once in the car, I conducted my own interview with the tousled hair, backseat passenger: "Reid, your teacher said you were thinking about something at lunch.  What were you thinking about?"  With no delay, his tender, contemplative response leveled me.

"I was thinking of you, Mommy.  I miss YOU," his small voice offered.

With wet eyes, I drove the three minutes home...flipping through my mental card catalog of summertime joys.  The truth: at lunch yesterday, I sat thinking too: of toddler silverware and compartmentalized melamine plates, and of the warm milk, stories, and nap that always followed, and of the times he told me, "You're my friend, Mommy." 

So, we change.  Our schedule.  Our address.  Our hours.  Our ages.  We gather no moss; we just keep rolling.  Even though we do, there are still the memories which tether our hearts...begging us to stop and dally in what was, to reassure what is, and, to dream of what will be again.

Write on,

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Just listen...

Today, I went on a lunch date...
with my son.
He chose McDonald's,
I chose to have the crispy fries this time.
We sat, without booster,
in a booth that had nice, high surrounds
with enough space to roam.
We sat, chomping on cheeseburgers
and flipping our fries.
But, then, I realized my need for a peaceful lunch
led me into a selfish choice.
Our six-person booth could accommodate
the five lunching ladies who jockeyed their trays and conversations
between two tables across from us.
My heart prodded,
"B, give them the table; it's the loving thing to do."
My mind characteristically rebutted,
"He's sitting; he NEVER sits independent of 
one high chair's snappy strap.  And, he's eating this time.
One more change will upset the apple cart."
We stayed.  
I almost couldn't bear 
the furtive glances laced with discontent,
directed at our happy haven.

And, next, we jaunted through the grocery store.
Just for some odds and ends.
With an unusually meager cart
(and a tired toddler as the naptime window approached),
I wavered between the express and unlimited lanes
convincing myself,
"there couldn't be more than 25 items to ring...
...the cashier will probably have pity on me and help."
She did;
I arranged the packages in rows of five to slide down the conveyer belt.
At five rows, I quit counting.
My eyes, downcast, embarrassed.
My heart prodded,
"B, the people behind you don't have anywhere near 20 items...
and now you're making them wait when they clearly got in line here 
for convenience."
My head said,
"But, she's doing a good deed for me.  
She's empathetic and has nappers at home."
The line lingered, the bags accumulated.  
A humble, "Thank you for helping me out today,
I underestimated my purchases," 
ended the transaction.

Twice, in one hour,
I made the selfish choice
to look out for me,
for my time,
for my sanity,
for my well being.
And, both times,
my choices hurt:
my son
because there are
lessons I want to teach him
about being
and generous
and sharing
and honest
and respectful.

That voice,
that little voice,
inviting me into 
and sharing
and honesty
and respect
was there.
Next time, I should be a better listener.

Write on,

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I've missed you...

It's been a long time...dear writers;
I've missed you and the way we connect.
It isn't that I haven't written 
blog posts
or letters
or funny pieces
or ones which wet my eyes.
Indeed, I've written them all
on the tablet of my heart.
Many too personal,
too embarrassing,
too selfish 
to share.

Since March...things have happened,
like preparing for a new baby
and a new home,
like counting blessings
and stubbornly holding onto hopes yet unseen.
Since March...it's been a long road,
with peaks and valleys.
But the sun is shining now;
it's inviting me out
to bask...
to savor
the warmth.

It's been a long time...dear writers;
I've missed you and the way we connect.
I promise not to be 
a stranger
It's Tuesday,
let's slice
and share
and capture
the daily magic
that is

Write on,

Saturday, March 31, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 31

I grew up Mennonite, which usually shrouds my identity in a certain level of confusion. 
          “Do your parents drive a buggy?”
                          “Did you have electricity growing up?”
                                                 “Were your clothes handmade?”

Because in the media Amish = Mennonite and vice versa, most people are sure my family looks like this:
But, the truth of matter is that Mennonite does not equal Amish.  My family looks just like your family.   We drive cars, have power and all the modern conveniences you do, wear jewelry, cut our hair, and buy the latest fashions. 
In considering the many aspects of Mennonite culture, there is something easily distinguishable that fits in perfectly for us today, March 31.  I can tell you about it in three numbers: 606.
‘606’ is what Mennonites refer to as our version of the hymn, “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow.”  (It’s actually the song’s page number in the old brown hymnal.)  It’s been regarded as the most Mennonite-y symbol of our Christian denomination because it’s a piece old and young in each congregation know by heart.  It’s traditionally sung a capella, with four-part harmonies that would make any choral purist smile, to commemorate a special occasion like dedicating a new building or surpassing an offering goal.   It’s fast-paced, emotion-packed, and a complete blessing.  It is engrained in who we are as a people. 
I’m sharing this song with you today because we’ve reached a milestone together: one we can celebrate as a writing community!  Slicing each day in March was no small feat; with heart we wrote, we read, and we commented.  We emerged stronger through the feedback we gave and received, the way we shopped for writing ideas in our peers’ blog posts and then tried them out, and most importantly, how we held exercised discipline each day through the “B.I.C. Principle.”  (Thank you for the wise words, Ruth!)
So, from me to you on this final day of March, here’s a little slice of celebration:  #606.  I hope you enjoy its simplistic brilliance…  Congratulations, fellow writers, on working so hard this month!
Write on,

Friday, March 30, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 30

Dear Mommy,

I know we're just five minutes from home
and we've ridden in the car for almost an hour,
but I just couldn't keep my eyes open anymore.
I loved that Grandma came down to hang out with us,
and we had vanilla bean frappuccinos on the way to the outlet mall,
and enough snacks to keep me busy while we found new clothes and laughed.
We even had McDonald's take-out on the way home.
I want you to know that I think spring break is great
because I love it when we can do anything we want.  All day long.
I also love it when Grandma comes to visit.
She is the cheese to our macaroni.

Love you,

P.S. I think the clothes you picked out for me today rock.  Thank you. 
P.P.S. Sorry for the chaos in Stride Rite earlier...I just got excited about new shoes.  I wish you would've listened to Grandma because I really liked the Star Wars ones.  They lit up.  Next time, please?  Just think about it.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 29

That night, the amphitheater's grassy hill was covered with a rainbow of blankets and the summer sky's tapestry transitioned from amaranth to star-kissed indigo.  That night, the band's harmonies enveloped us like the cool, comfortable breeze.  Sitting there, cozy, between Mom and Dad, I noticed my family looked like so many others spread across the moonlit space.  Twenty-something kid sandwiched by fifty-something parents. 

What was it about this show that made it a family affair?  This is what we were brought up on: late-sixties/early-seventies rock full of honest, poetic lyrics.  This is what we were here to experience.  Together.  The sound of our homes, our lives.  To reconnect and remember.  To celebrate. 

Just as Graham Nash struck a familiar chord on his keyboard, the crowd stilled in reverent recognition.  In appreciation.  In delight.  "I'll light the fire.  You place the flowers in the vase that you bought today."  He sang; we listened as if this were the very moment we'd waited a lifetime to experience.  Everything else dulled, dimmed, dismissed.

"Staring at the fire, for hours and hours, as I listen to you play your love songs all night long for me.  Only for me," his iconic voice and clear, crisp piano accompaniment enriched the splendor of our surroundings.  The hum of the audience grew to a crescendo as he launched into the first song I would ever teach my little one a few years later.  Everyone sang, almost involuntarily; family by family.

"Come to me now, and rest your head for just five minutes.  Everything is done."  Bandmates David Crosby and Stephen Stills swept in with harmonies, magical and pure, anchoring my memories of family car trips and my dad singing for me.  Only for me.  "Such a cozy room, the windows are illuminated by the evening sunshine through them, fiery gems for you.  Only for you."  Everyone sang louder, uniting for what was to come...

"Our house is a very, very fine house.  With two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard.  Now everything is easy 'cause of you.  In our house..."  With heart, Crosby, Stills, and Nash sang, the parents sang, the kids sang, all holding back tears for the changing times since this tune's birth in storied Laurel Canyon in 1970.   (This is where Graham lived in a little craftsman bungalow with his then-girlfriend, Joni Mitchell, who played her love songs all night long.  For him.  Only for him.).  

"La, la, la-la-la-la, la, la-la-la, la, la-la-la-la, la, la-la, la, la, la, la, la, la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la, la, la, la-la-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la, la, la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la," the music center, turned choir loft, resounded its makeshift chorus. 

"Our house, is a very, very, very fine house.  With two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard.  Now everything is easy 'cause of you.  In our..."  Clunky chords signaled the song's close.  "I'll light the fire.  While you place the flowers in the vase that you bought today."

I blinked with eyes glassy and wet.  It was then that I knew these three minutes would take deep roots and sustain me for a lifetime.  That even years later, my mind and heart would hear the spontaneous chorus of parents and their kids "la, la, la-la-la-la"-ing together in uniform time.  That someday, even when my fingers are too arthritic to play this tune on my own piano, I will remember how I once sat on a summery, star-kissed indigo night in the middle of my parents enjoying this song by one of their favorite groups that had grown into my favorite too.

(And this has nothing to do with that fact that now we have two cats in the yard...)

Write on,

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 28

It's been three years.

When I wrote about the parallels between my son's "Thomas and Friends" obsession and my little "Grey's Anatom" crush fetish a few weeks back, I didn't mention this small detail.  I haven't watched even one episode in as many seasons.  Before Reid was born, I made the command decision to stop.  I felt like I cared too much...like I was personally invested in each of the main characters' lives...like I was completely unavailable for one whole hour each Thursday night because any interruption was uber annoying.  In short, I wasn't my best self by allowing conviction and compulsion to cohabitate. 

So I stopped.  Cold turkey.  No Derek and Meredith drama.  No modern, introspective songs.  No more of Izzie's cancer scare.  And no weekly catch-up chats with my mom who still watched... 

It's been three years.

But today, I allowed myself a couch afternoon while the little slept peacefully in the next room.  Today, when I flipped away from HGTV accidentally, an episode of Grey's was just beginning.  I watched it (and that's probably a misstatement).  I drank it in.  I felt the residents' sorrow over George's recent passing.  I nearly cried with Meredith at the episode's end when she finally allowed herself a moment of grief.  I cheered for Izzie as she gave the business to the girl whose life George died trying to save.  I melted when Karev admitted that he's nothing without Izzie and that her cancer had evicted his heart from their relationship --- he was just too scared. 

So, just like that old friend you hold onto fondly and see every once in awhile but when you do everything is the same as always...that's Grey's Anatomy to me. 

Write on,

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 27

Hot Dish?!?

As a child, my round tummy and chubby cheeks served as a barometer for what my mom had most recently cooked.   Big tummy; the new chocolate chip cookies in the freezer.  Chubby cheeks; the ooey-gooey-cream-soup-based tater tot casserole we enjoyed two nights ago and then polished off as leftovers for two consecutive lunches.  Yep; I was that kid.  And even now, if I'm honest at parties and in social circles, I still love the same foods (and they still have the same effect!).  My comfort foods.  Foods that remind me of happy times growing up.  Foods that feed my soul first and my stomach second.  Foods that just plain sound good whatever the weather.

My husband and I have food in common; not the same foods mind you (that would be too easy)...but the love of food.  As Food Network junkies, we commingle our desires for the unhealthiest of unhealthy (cheesy, fried delights) and cooking acumen.  Mostly though, I think we watch to live vicariously through others because rarely do we really eat in this covetous, throw-caution-to-the-wind-kind-of-way.

As fate would have it though, a recent show surveying a variety of State Fair offerings from across the country made my heart race, my pulse quicken, and my memories of my mom's cooking leap forward.  It all started with the introduction of HOT DISH at Wisconsin's annual event one year.  (Hot Dish?  Seriously?  Could a meal's title get any more generic?)  To let the rest of the U.S. in on their geographic verbiage, Hot Dish refers to a ground beef casserole that is cream of chicken-soup based and covered with tater tots.

Ah!!!  THEY CALL TATER TOT CASSEROLE HOT DISH???!!!  So, it must be a German-Swiss thing since central European immigrants are scattered all over the Midwest...?

But, to kick things up a notch and State-Fair-ify this properly traditional offering, one quick-thinking concession stand transformed his favorite entree into a forkless, plateless wonder. (Obvious answer: Stick it, batter it, fry it.)

My favorite casserole, unctuous and savory, is now a fair food.  My favorite casserole, topped with tater tots, is portable.  My favorite casserole, with creamy ground beef, is probably available for the bargain price of $7.00 for a portion less than my bulging tummy would seek.

Should this spectacle arrive at my state's fair next season, I think I'd have to protest.  A casserole, such as this, involves an oven, a Pyrex, a table, a family, and a complement of applesauce.  It is not fast food; it is soul-feeding food.  It's my childhood.  It's my comfort.  It's the leftovers I can't wait to finish because sometimes they're even better the next day.  And, to save everyone the suspense, it's even worth the chubby cheeks.

Write on,

Carol's Tater Tot Casserole (For Wisconsinites: Hot Dish :))

  • 1 pound ground beef, browned with 1 diced onion.  Drain.
  • Add 1 can cream of chicken soup to meat, spread into a greased Pyrex    (Your call on pan size---thin or thick casserole?)
  • Layer frozen peas on top, salt a smidgeon for taste
  • Arrange tater tots over peas, covering entire dish
  • Bake for 1 hour at 375 degrees until browned, bubbly, and gooey
  • Serve with applesauce. 
  • Enjoy :)   

Monday, March 26, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 26

A Wal-Mart sits conveniently a few miles from our house; but, we don't always go there.  We have a love-hate relationship with it. 

It's big.
      It's well-stocked.
It's busy.
      It's cheap.
It's dangerous after dark. 
      It's close. 

Sometimes I'd rather drive an additional 15 minutes to enjoy a Super Target shopping experience; today, however, I just didn't feel like making the commitment.  Besides, I've come to find out my Wal-Mart has a well-kept secret... 

I discovered it by happenstance a few years ago.  On one of those afternoons when I needed something specific and was under a tremendous time crunch.  I had no other choice but to hit up the store I hate any evening of the week and twice on Sunday.  It was Wal-Mart or nothing...and nothing wasn't a suitable option in our situation.  I drove the few minutes, fuming the whole way that we didn't live nearer a store I love.  But, arriving in the parking lot around 1:30, the clouds parted and the shine shone brightly.  This just couldn't be; so few cars.  What a coup from the typical Tuesday-after-work-trip on which my schema is based.  It was a cake walk to find a cart, make my way through the aisles, and score my necessities.  The patrons were kind and the employees weren't yet burned out from the post-work-harried-shopper sort 5:00 brings.  It was incredibly pleasant by this store's standards.

My Wal-Mart is full of retirees and stay-at-home moms while I'm usually at school.  I was reminded of this again today as Reid and I started off our spring break by traipsing through the store to pick up a few beauty items before launching into the gaggle of groceries.  The time was 2:00.  Ladies smiled at us; stay-at-home moms shared the secret-code-gaze all mothers offer up when in GROCERY LAND with a persnickety toddler; shoppers said "Excuse me," when meandering past in tight aisles.  In fact while in line, an elderly gentleman behind us struck up a conversation when he noticed Reid scoping out the, oh, 23 different types of yogurt he added to the conveyor belt while our order marched to check-out.

"Does he like yogurt?"

"Yes," I smiled politely from the other end of our lane, "he does.  Do you?"
Self-evident, b.  My mind wandered as I attempted to figure out how much time 
it actually took him to pick out his flavors and organize them in the cart...

"Yes, I sure do," he smiled, "Does wonders for the digestive system."

Sure that I heard him incorrectly, I smiled politely and offered a friendly chuckle. You know the kind.

You see, our Wal-Mart is close, dangerous at dark, cheap, and well-stocked.  But, the most important thing about our Wal-Mart is that it is not busy while everyone else is at work

Write on,

Sunday, March 25, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 25

Part 3: And, the pieces connected...

This is the third, and final, installment in my "Bridget Jones"-like singleton tale.  If you missed the preceding two, please check out:

I had on my favorite outfit at that time --- a red turtleneck sweater, Gap Long and Leans, a warm chocolate brown coat, and my soft red, brown, and cream scarf.  I was comfy.  In my outfit.  In my own skin.  I knew tonight's coffee date was just another blip on my relational radar.  At least I knew I was guaranteed to completely love my chai latte. 

Parking, I mentally replayed our planning conversations.  "Meet me by the front door.  I'm reading a bright pink book right now, so that's what I'll be carrying with me if you're not sure who to pick out of the coffee shop's evening crowd."  I looked at the clock, fidgeting with my purse, my scarf...well, anything that was still long enough for me to mess around with it.  I wasn't late, but later than I wanted to be.  I wanted to avoid the whole awkward ordering sitch by arriving first and taking care of my own drink.

Through Starbucks steamy windows I could see someone waiting just inside.  Yes.  The guy in the picture.

I pulled out my smile, my hand, and my name.  "You must be Tom," I said matter-of-factly while taking the surface detail survey every single girl completes when meeting a guy for the first time.  Shoes and belt match, check.  Well groomed, check.  Warm smile, check.  Nice eyes, check.  Athletic, check.

We ordered, each committing to a grande, but were foiled.  The small crackerbox of a shop was cramped beyond capacity so we ended up at a bake house down the street for the second part of our date.  Like a duck to water, our conversation smoothly transitioned from pleasantries to deeper topics and back again.  We laughed, inquired, created, reminisced.  Well, until the bake house closed.  "Do you think we should try Starbucks again?" he asked.  My eyes grew big...as big as my heart had grown over the past few hours.  He's not done with me yet.  "Sure," I sweetly supplied.  And, we did.  

This time, a  round table in the back our little java haven served as the perfect space for us to continue connecting the dots.  And, little by little the pieces in my heart's puzzle began to match.

I used to love that Jake designed buildings around our city; Tom does that too.
I used to love that Tom 1 was musical; this Tom is too.
I used to love that Rob had dark, beautiful hair; Tom has it too.
I used to love that Paul was funny; Tom is too.

My epiphany: this Tom is the complete package.  If I would take every little thing I loved about every other guy I dated in years past, this guy has it.  He's not perfect, but neither am I.  What I began to see was that we could be perfect for each other.

"It's late.  It's a school night.  My mom's a teacher and she never likes to stay up late, so maybe we should go.  Can I call you again sometime soon  Maybe we could go out for dinner?"

"Yes, I'd like that," I blushed with weak knees and a warm heart.

And, that's where our whirlwind courtship began.  Right then, right there.  A couple hours past my tall; a couple prayers answered at the corner of 62nd and Guilford.  I never looked back to singledom and neither did he. I never grocery-shopped at Wal-Mart on a Friday night thereafter.  

Exclusively dating for five months, we became engaged and were married  in a holiday ceremony downtown four months later.
Yes, I was 29 when I said "I do" but 29 is better than 30, right?  I was sure it was...
Two-and-a-half years later we had our first child.
We just celebrated our five-year anniversary, and yes, every fourth week of March we try to fit in a coffee date, at Starbucks, to remember the night we met :).

Write on,

Saturday, March 24, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 24

Part 2...  I'm still pretty sure I won't like this one.
If you missed out on Part 1, check out my slice from March 23 before reading! :)

He was cute.  With warm brown eyes, the olive complexion I covet, and thick chocolaty hair, the guy’s picture in my inbox looked inviting.  Beside him, an adorable niece…which (any girl would admit) is a nice touch.  After all, I’m a teacher.  I like kids.  They stood by a pool…which made me think this is a family who enjoys playing together.  His athletic physique reminded me of my brother’s. 

But, I’m pretty sure I won’t really end up liking him. 
Not reeeeeeally.  Here are some captivating reasons why... 

Before, there was Jake.  He was beautiful, like James Denton on “Desperate Housewives.”  He was smart, creative, successful, and athletic.  He liked to have a good time.  (I should’ve put that in all caps).  And after a few months of trying, he said I wasn’t someone he could fall in love with.

Maybe this one won’t think so either…

There was Rob (also known as 'Airport Guy' because I met him in Denver while waiting for a flight back to the Midwest).  He was dark, handsome, educated (a PhD and MDiv), and a real go-getter.  Oh, and did I mention he worked a prestigious medical center in Minnesota?  M-i-n-n-o-s-o-t-a.  First problem right there.  But, despite several sporadic visits, he didn’t make my knees weak.  Ultimately, I had to be the heartbreaker.  (And, I had to be the recipient of his mother’s hate mail.  Yes; it's true.)

Maybe this one won’t make my knees weak either…

Then, there was the bevy of guys I met and dated after being paired up on eHarmony.  I resorted to e-love after the string of relational train wrecks I’d engineered. 
  • Ryan lived in Seattle.  Too far.  Too rigid.  Too many months invested in an esoteric pursuit.  Note to self: implement mileage restrictions; small search radius = higher chance of success. 
  • Tom lived here in my city and worked as a high school band director.  Too many extra-curricular activities.  Too little prioritization.  Too many family issues.  Note to self: When people date, they should want to spend time together. 
  • Paul lived in Kentucky.  Too silly.  Too irresponsible.  Too far.  Note to self: only date one guy at a time...two is too confusing.  ("Did I already tell you that?" shouldn't be a conversational staple.) 
Maybe this one won’t be right either…  Yes.  I’m pretty sure I won’t like him.

Until we talked on the phone the first time.  He actually called like he said he would.  His friendly voice shared and asked.  We connected.  We planned to meet --- not for dinner though; just for coffee.  (Make mine a tall...drink's gone; date's over..) 

In my mind, a running film strip of dating disasters.  In my heart, a perpetually hopeful being.  Someone.  Somewhere.  Sometime.  I just knew it.  Theoretically faith trumps experience, but humanly that’s a little more difficult.    

Starbucks, 7:00, Tuesday night. 

Write on,

Friday, March 23, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 23

In my former life, I was perpetually single.  And, I completely felt like it with an army of married friends just starting to have families.  Here's part one of my tale...

Out of the blue one day, my girlfriend called.  Expectantly and with intention, I could tell.  "Will you meet my dental hygienist's brother?" she pushed after pleasantries.

"Really?"  I kept driving, mystified by the common mathematical equation individuals follow when 'looking out for the unattached's best interests' --- one single guy + one single girl surely = a marriage.  "Do you know him?  Have you seen him?" I prepared to dig.  After all, this routine was becoming all too familiar.  28.  Single.  Nice.  "Why aren't you married by now, Honey?" acquaintances would badger. 

"No, but each time I get my teeth cleaned his sister is so nice.  She talks about her big family and how great they are.  I know family is important to you," she reasoned commonsensically. 

In my mind a film reel of past set-ups shuttered, slide by slide.

There was Pete. 
Sales pitch from real estate coworker: "Pete is a nice guy. Everyone loves him.  You'll love him too." 
My remarks: I didn't.  He was ten years my senior.  I found this out at the restaurant where we met for the first time.  And no, it wasn't the lighting...  We struggled through dinner.  Note to self: a whole meal is too much.  Coffee dates are shorter; less painful. 

There was Glen. 
Sales pitch from family doctor: "Glen's an anesthesiologist.  He's smart, funny, and has a great job.  You should really meet him.  You'll think he's great." 
My remarks: I didn't.  He was vain, conceited, and stuffy.  We went out a few times; it was a few times too many.  I was bored and I certainly didn't need any help with that.  Bored is grocery shopping by myself at Wal-Mart on a Friday night.  Check.

There was Chicago Architect (I totally don't remember his name!)
Sales pitch from portfolio adviser: "He's the nicest guy.  You'll think he's definitely the marrying type.  He's so sweet.  I've known his family my whole life --- they're the best." 
My remarks: He was nice.  He was sweet.  But, both traits in overabundance are unattractive...and potentially insincere.  We met.  We talked.  We ate.  I left.  The end.

And, then there were all the other guys I'd somehow met....who were good for a string of texts, a periodic phone call (I began learning this was just too difficult for some people), a smile, a noncommittal coffee date, or perhaps the full-blown dinner and a movie date.  A roller-coaster ride more like it --- a fast, fun start; a hill or two; then a quick return trip to the station.  My biggest lesson: not to expect too much.  Guys, in my experience, were just flakes.

"Well, Andrea...I don't know.  This fix-up just doesn't seem like something that will work.  You know my past experiences.  But, send me his picture.  Then, maybe we'll talk."

Write on,

Thursday, March 22, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 22

Sunshiny days make me want to do things…things like:

Eating a mint oreo blizzard outside: Spring starts in the Midwest when walk-up-window Dairy Queen franchises open.  Seriously, when I drive by one (and for the record, this is every day), the solitary thought romping around in my mind is “Do I have time to stop today?”  I never do, but I always think about it.  There is nothing better than a freezy, creamy, melty ice cream break on a warm, sunshiny day.

Sitting at a picnic table under the arbor at Tree’s Drive-In:  Nice weather means my hometown root beer stand is preparing to open.  It is out in the country along a main highway.  It has carhops to take orders and bring delicious fried treats.  It serves the best kind of root beer (as far as I’m concerned): A & W.   And besides, most of my small town will be there too because each family had the same idea --- Let’s eat outside!  Going to Tree’s is a welcome addition to any warm, sunshiny day…

Trying to tan my paper-white legs: I’m melatoninally challenged.  Yep, you read that right.  Try as I may, tanning is not part of my skill set.  But, on sunshiny days, I pull up the capris (or if I’m feeling daring…I actually wear shorts!) to give it the old college try.  I wish I had one of those nice, already-tanned complexions…but I don’t.  I’m a Swiss blonde.  I still make an attempt to tan on a warm, sunshiny day.

Imagining there is a palm tree draping lazily overhead: Anyone who lives in the Midwest is an expert in southern beach destinations.  We have to be.  It’s the only way we make it through our {typically} long, cold, bleak winters.  My first trip to Florida in elementary school left me coveting --- a palm tree.  My parents broke the news that it wouldn’t survive our harsh winters at home, so to me, a palm tree is an unequivocal symbol of a warm, sunshiny day. 

Piecing at a cup of frozen lemonade: Warm, sunshiny days remind me of fairs.  Every small town has a fair.  For one weekend in the summer.  When it is blazing hot.  With any kind of fried food you could ever want.  But even all that is just too much.  Heat and fried foods aren’t well suited mates.  The natural refreshment of frozen lemonade is the only treat that will do on a warm, sunshiny day .

Today is a warm, sunshiny day.  What will I do?
Stop at Dairy Queen on the way home,
See if they have frozen lemonade,
(then I could kind of merge two of my favorite activities…)
Put on shorts for a walk with my boys and tan these pesky white legs,
Visualize palm trees in our neighborhood to replace the hum-drum oaks…
Tree’s Drive-in?  I’ll have to work on that one with a little more diligence.
Even Daylight Savings doesn’t support a two-hour drive for a root beer stand dinner…

Write on,

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 21

This first grade classroom...

Bright, cheerful colors envelope guests, students, and their artsy teacher
Peace signs and posters showcase ‘can-do’ personalities
Cozy cushions and books welcome readers who enjoy savor learning
A gallery of student art honors hard-work and creativity
Beautiful, purposeful charts anchor their buzzing beehive
Love.  Life.  Joy.  Inspiration.
You can feel it in this first grade classroom
for a second

Skies cloud, rain falls, memories return
All because
one name, her name,  
                                shows up
                                             again and again
                                                                     on class charts
“What do we keep up?”
“What do we take down?”
Between tears, the young and fragile teacher asked
her bereavement counselor one morning just two weeks before Christmas.
Take it as it comes…” she consoled.  “Your kids are hurting right now and so are you.”

Nothing came down,
except one nametag on the students' work tables
She’s on the data wall
                                   the favorite book list
                                                                    the birthday poster
                                                                                                  the diagram of reading spots
Just like the rest of her classmates, she’ll move off these boards
when the doors close, the halls quiet, the lights dim one last time

Bright, cheerful colors envelope guests, students, and teachers
Peace signs and posters showcase their ‘can-do’ personalities
Cozy cushions and books welcome readers to enjoy savor learning
A gallery of student art honors hard-work and creativity
Their special space anchored with beautiful, purposeful charts
Love.  Life.  Joy.  Inspiration.
You can feel it in this first grade classroom
for a second

Write on,