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Posts Tagged ‘children’

When our children are young we represent their whole world. Our decisions effect where they live, what they eat, what clothes are on their backs, and just about everything else involving their general health and well being. I can remember taking my daughter to kindergarten for her first day. So small, with her little hand in mine. Her brand new lunchbox squeaked in time as the handle moved back and forth while we walked toward the school building. At the door, she hugged me tightly around the neck, and as I watched, she went inside. That was to be the first of many steps she was to take on her way to independence. Sitting in the car before turning on the ignition, I can remember feeling a sense of loss leaving my little girl there. A sort of knowing that there had been a shift in my universe, and things would never be exactly as they were again.

Was I to have become a teacher, I believe kindergarten or 1-3 would be the grades I would have chosen. They are so open to everything at that age, and unabashedly excited by the world. As the years pass we become accustomed to seeing the glorious blooms on the trees and stems around us this time of year. Sometimes we forget to actually take in their beauty or acknowledge Mother Nature for how much color, fragrance and life she adds to our worlds. Children, at least in my experience, see everything with fresh eyes. A bug crawling on their arm, which we would most likely flick off as an annoyance, a child would watch in wonder as it made it’s way through the maze of hair across their skin. They would gasp in fascination when it spread it’s tiny wings and lifted effortlessly into the air. A feat we humans will never accomplish without something either strapped to our backs or a plane around us, yet take for granted every time it is done by a creature who can.

Our job as parents is to make our children independent, self-sufficient, beings. If you think about it, it is rather a self-defeating process. In the end, we enable our little ones to fend for themselves, leaving us on our own to fend for ours. When they in turn have their children, if this is their choice, we are once again called into action. Babysitting is often the first and main job as a grandparent. Today’s parents, I don’t believe, lean on high school sitters like they did when I was growing up. A huge supplement for my meager allowance (in my eyes at least) came from my weekend babysitting jobs. Usually, not always, it was a pretty good gig. If at night, my favorite time to sit, the kids would need entertainment for a few hours, perhaps a story, and then they were off to bed. Most parents provided yummy snacks and a television so the rest of my job was simply hanging out for a few hours, eating popcorn, and watching scary movies. For this service I charged $1.50 an hour, the going rate at the time. Now this was not going to get me a suite at the Ritz Carlton but in those days a good night, plus tip, might gain me access to the local movie theater, or buy me a burger and a malt at Bob’s Big Boy.

One couple I babysat for frequently were the Oranges, Harry and Ann Orange to be exact. They were a thirtyish couple, both equally as round as they were tall, who had a penchant for dancing. The summer between my freshman and sophomore year, I made a lot of money thanks to those Arthur Murray dance lessons Ann had signed them up for. For as quiet a man as Harry was, he chose a mate in Ann who was a polar opposite. Ann was flamboyant, and animated, all kinetic energy and flapping ruby red lips. Harry, on the other hand, enjoyed long naps in his massive recliner and watching endless ball games or rounds of golf on the television. A match made in heaven. Where Harry was a comfort first guy, sweat pants and matching shirt, Ann loved to dress up. The woman never allowed her generous proportions to deter her from bold prints, short skirts or loud outlandish colors. Even at that age, I admired that trait in her. Back then, stepping up as a female and going against the grain wasn’t popular or accepted like it is today. At the time I thought Harry and Ann old, with nearly one foot in the bone yard. Not as old as my parents, who I was fairly certain were ancient, but still old by my teenage standards. Huh. Funny how much younger thirty something seems to me now. Together, the Oranges had produced Lily, an insipid little five year old prone to outbursts of ear drum assaulting screaming. Lily, who would have been better named something more fitting her temperament like Habanero or Beelzebub, was the demon seed. If she didn’t get whatever it was she wanted she would be begin hurling her toys at me, or even in one incident, actually took a knife out the drawer and pointed it in my direction. Had she been the only child I’d watched during my impressionable teens, I might have reconsidered bearing any of my own. Thankfully, that was only for one summer, and when I related the knife incident to my mother she informed Ann I wouldn’t be accepting any further babysitting assignments in the future.

Finding a babysitter was a far different process when I was in the business. Nowadays, parents vet sitters thoroughly before entrusting them with their offspring. Sophisticated sites are available where prospective “child care providers” can be found. The sites allow clients to browse resumes and contact references to ensure the candidate is thoroughly checked out before arriving at their doorstep. Back in my time it was more, “Doesn’t Jimmy have a sister who babysits?”. Numbers were exchanged, Jimmy’s sister was called and asked if she was available for Saturday night or if not, did she know anyone who was. The most vetted I ever was was when one man asked me on the way to his home, “Do you smoke weed?”. Assuming this question was by way of ensuring I did not light a joint while on duty, I assured him I did not. With this information under his belt, he pulled a huge joint out of his pocket and asked if I minded if he did. “Um, no.” Maybe I should have vetted him.

When my children needed a sitter I tapped from the well of the Mormon family who lived down the block. With seven children under that roof, four of them girls, they needed the extra income. Three of the four girls were teens and all three babysat at my house on one occasion or another. The mother was a bubble or two off, but nice enough. Very religious. Now, before you start leaving me notes, I don’t mean that religion is a bad thing but she was the type of religious person who insists on foisting her beliefs on you. I never picked up or dropped one of those girls off without receiving some sort of literature on how to save my soul. It occurred to me to tell her I believed that ship had sailed but didn’t want to to offend her. The middle girl, around sixteen was very shy. I can’t remember her name at the moment, but then sometimes I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast so don’t find this alarming. At any rate she babysat for us one Saturday night. My children’s father was a very handsome man, at the time in his mid twenties and I noticed our babysitter had not overlooked this fact. Women can read other women’s intentions when it comes to their men, I don’t care how old they are. When we came home that night I realized I didn’t have the correct change for her so asked if she’d mind stopping by the following day to pick it up. She said she’d be by in the morning.

It was a Sunday, and the children had gone to church with their grandparents. My husband was in the shower when the girl came to the door. I let her in, and went to the bedroom to retrieve my purse. Meanwhile, my husband had cut himself shaving and the blood had run down his chest. He thought it would be hysterical to walk out in the buff and scare me holding his hands up in the air like Dracula. Uh-huh. Lizzie, ahhhhhh there’s that old brain, was standing there when he rounded the corner saying “I vant to bite your neck” just as I came back in the kitchen. As you can imagine that was an interesting situation to explain to her mother. That was the end of that association.

So, I leave you with my babysitting stories for the day. Hope your weekend is filled with wonderful stories to tell. This idea below would have been perfect for my little monster.

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There are pluses and minuses to living alone. At times it can be a solitary existence, but if you spin that correctly it can also mean time spent doing things you enjoy, when you want to enjoy them. Simple pleasures such as picking up a good book at three in the afternoon in your most lived in sweats, and wiling away a couple of hours, or having a bowl of Cheerios and bananas for dinner. It also gives you the latitude to decorate your nest as you please without having to ask “do you like this chair” or “what do you think of this color for the living room wall”? Rick and I shared a lot of things, our taste in decorating wasn’t one of them. Where Rick leaned toward sleek clean lines and modern decor, I bent much more in the direction of cozy country chic designs, making picking out artwork, furniture, and even dishes a matter of initiating compromise on both sides. In our first house, the decor was much more Rick’s style than mine. As it was his house, that should not be surprising. However, when we moved in our first house together his style sort of blended with mine creating an interesting, but not unappealing (at least to us) eclectic mix.

In a recent blog, I mentioned my current pining for ocean breezes and salty air. I also mentioned I had finally purchased a new bed. Both came together as I began to rethink the room once the new furniture was in place. As the ideas flowed and the design ideas progressed, I brought the sea to the room and love, love, love the end result. Was I left to my own devices and didn’t have a life to live, I would climb up on that oh so comfy mattress, sink into my bank of pillows, and simply “be” for the next five years. Unfortunately, I would be doing my “be-ing” on the street before long so feel I need to do more with my time than wallow about swathed in cotton all day.

A friend of mine called this morning. She was telling me her granddaughter, a recent high school graduate, is headed to UC Santa Barbara this fall along with her childhood best buddy. The girls drove up from the LA area last weekend with their parents to sign a lease on an off campus apartment where they will make their home during their first year at school. How exciting. I have to admit as she was filling me in on the details of the girls college plans, I felt a pang or two of envy. The whole college experience is something I missed out on. Not because it wasn’t available to me, but rather because I chose another option. Though I believe you should be grateful for what you have, and not spend time lamenting what you do not, I have always wondered what going off to college might have looked like. I managed to jam nearly a full year of college credits in between raising two toddlers and a full time job, but that is not the same as heading off to school with no outside encumbrances. For me there were no late night parties, sorority sisters, or football games. I was all about diapers, bills and a husband.

Part of having children early in life is it will likely leave you an empty nester at a relatively young age. Now, this may be far less true nowadays, particularly here in California. The cost of housing has become so prohibitive and housing availability so tight, a lot of adult children are still living under their parent’s roof just to make ends meet. Both my children were out on their own by the time I celebrated my fortieth birthday, with my first grandchild arriving on the scene the year I turned forty-two. That was a red letter year for me. I got married that year, yes again, and was living in West Virginia when my sweet little granddaughter was born. At around the time she turned six weeks old, I could no longer wait for our first introduction. I purchased a ticket, and hopped on a plane at Yeager Airport in Charleston and flew non-stop to San Jose. For me this was a big event in several ways. Since moving from Alabama to West Virginia I had inexplicably been suffering from anxiety attacks. I had never dealt with them before, and once they abated, thankfully, never have since. At the time, however, they were a driving power in my life. When I would shop at a large box store such as Sam’s Club, for example, being inside that cavernous warehouse brought about an immediate claustrophobic reaction in me. As I went further into the belly of the beast, my heart would begin to pound, my ears take to ringing, and my forehead would develop lines of sweat. Suddenly, I would get the overwhelming urge to run out of the building, and would have to find an exit in order to gather my breath. These annoying responses went on for about two years before I finally got a grip on them and was able to pack them away in my memory chest. Once, when visiting my kids in California I joined them on a trip to Disneyland. Disneyland, as you can imagine, is not the ideal place to find yourself when dealing with claustrophobia. Being inside in the dark on rides is sort of their claim to fame. For those of you who have been there and gone on Space Mountain you will understand exactly what I am saying here. Somehow I muddled through. At the time they were featuring the 3-D movie Captain EO, starring Michael Jackson, in their Magic Eye Theater in Tomorrowland. The theater itself was massive on the inside. We were handed 3-D glasses on entering the building, and were seated in the middle of the center row with people stretched out on either side. When the doors shut and the dark was absolute. Mommy. The movie started, and I could feel my heart rate moving up the scale with the music. Using all the tools my doctor had given me, I worked on taking my mind off what my body was doing and concentrating on what was going on on the screen. The 3-D glasses allow the viewer to capture all the amazing effects giving the impression images are right in front of your face. For me, this was the last straw. Dark closed in, and glasses off, gasping like a wide mouth bass in the bottom of the boat, I stood up and told my son-in-law I had to leave. “Leave, now?”, he said, but I was already saying “excuse, me. pardon, me”, all the way across the aisle. An employee grabbed me y the arm asking what in a whisper exactly what I thought I was doing. Unable to explain myself, but after seeing my face, she just guided me to an exit. A bit embarrassing to say the least. Outside people were staring at me as red faced I sucked at the air hoping to grab a little oxygen. For any of you who have ever had an anxiety attack, you will understand the feelings I am describing. It is a fight or flight reaction your body goes into when faced with danger. Though Captain EO posed no danger at all to my psyche, the closing doors triggered my body into action. After a while, I learned to manage the anxiety. First, you have to acknowledge to yourself that you are having a panic attack, then remind yourself there is actually no imminent danger. Next, you have to breathe in and out slowly to calm yourself down. It really is amazing the power of the mind. Probably says a lot as to why it is said a positive attitude can effect a cancer outcome, or how negative thoughts can create illness.

At any rate, after that long detour into my psyche, when my granddaughter was born this is what I was managing. Getting on a plane, basically a long tube where you are closed in and hermetically sealed, was a problem for me. When the doors were closed and the cheerful flight attendant was robotically reciting the safety rules, the pounding in my chest once again resumed, sounding like a kettle drum inside my ears. Oh-oh. All I could think about is imagining myself standing at the door to the cockpit, beating loudly, and screaming, “OUT, I NEED TO GET OUT”! Thankfully, they serve liquor on planes so I managed to survive the flight without total public humiliation, well at least with the panic attacks. By the time I arrived in San Jose my tongue and lips had agreed they could no longer form words and I could no longer feel my feet. When I got up to get my carry on bag out of the overhead bin, I had to be accosted by the flight attendant two seats down the aisle to be informed the bag I had retrieved belonged to the lady in the seat across from me and mine was still up in the compartment Whoops. Could have been worse, I could have borrowed her husband or somebody’s child. Probably wouldn’t have noticed the difference. Ach.

It was grand to be there once I sobered up. Seeing your grandchildren for the first time is nearly the event greeting your own is, though with less participation and less responsibility on your part. I have to say being part of the audience rather than one of the key players, can prove far less stressful. On my arrival at my daughter’s house, a sweet little pink bundle was placed in my arms. A tiny girl with a serious head of dark hair stared up at me as if to say, “Hi, Nana” and I was hooked. Always I have loved children. Their innate ability to accept the most ludicrous of scenarios as full of possibilities and adventures, their unchecked honestly (no matter how painful), and their wide eyed fascination with anything and everything populating their world. Like my cat, who always seems to find her way into my blogs, you can give a child a cardboard box and they will see a fort, a suit of armor, or perhaps even a sled gliding down an icy hill. As we get older and decorum and proper adult behavior become expected of us, we lose that childish innocence and overt joy. Too bad we couldn’t pack it away like a cloud of fireflies in a Mason jar to be pulled out of reserve for darker days.

We do survive things, we humans. Crises come and crises go. People float into our lives, some sticking like jelly to the wall, and others slipping away after a while and disappearing from sight. There are so many mysteries yet to unfold. I wonder at times what life will look like forty years in the future, or even a century away. I will not be here to write about it, but would love to be a fly on the wall to see what state the world is in as time marches along. I hope we open our eyes to climate change and start seriously taking responsibility for our part in keeping this world safe for our children, and grandchildren and theirs. Each of us has a hand in how we impact our environment and hopefully we can reverse some of the damage already done or at the very least prevent further damage in the future.

Have a safe and productive day. TGIF!!

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spinach quicheThe market was a total zoo this morning. Chips, salsa, huge packages of wings and liquor were flying off the shelves at a mind-boggling rate. Rick says soon the aisle the store is naming after me thanks to my continued patronage will be having a ribbon cutting. It is true. I spend a lot of time at the market. Not a high maintenance female in most areas, I have a meltdown if my staples in the pantry are looking poorly or I’m out of toilet paper. I will go to the store in a snow storm if I’m getting low on paper towels or there’s only one egg left in the carton, but wouldn’t bother warming up the car if there was a sale on pink diamonds at the local jeweler. It’s a matter of preferences and good eating is high on my list.

I have an old friend whose husband does all the cooking. Fran’s idea of bringing dinner to the table is actually transporting the dish from the kitchen to the dining room. In her eyes I’m a curiosity, something she studies from afar but has no understanding of how it works. When we met she was a young widow like myself. Alone with three small children on a limited income she was forced to face her fear of the stove. I was invited over often. Looking back I would like to think it was for my charm and sparkling wit, but deep down I know it was in the hopes I’d put on an apron and produce a meal. This I deduced from being handed an apron before setting down my purse, and pointed in the direction of the cooking utensils. I did this without prejudice lest I look forward to something inedible paired with something unrecognizable on the plate. Once she made a chicken dish At least claimed it was chicken…I’m still not convinced. The law suit pressed by the chicken industry for abuse of their product is still pending in civil court. The glutenous sauce was so thick it actually married with the non-stick pan and refused to be removed even with coaxing from an S.O.S. pad. Awful. In the end the pan had to be sacrificed. I’m not lyin here.

Beyond having no talent in this area, Frannie had no interest. If you aren’t humming in the kitchen most likely no one else is going to be, but her children survived with a little help from Kraft and Ronald McDonald.

As good friends do, we grabbed each others collars and took turns keeping each other afloat over those first few years. Learning to be happy again after losing a loved one is an individual quest. The amount of grieving time needed as varied as a fingerprint from one human to another. To my mind, you never really get over losing someone you love, you simply move on as the world is designed for the person left behind to do. After a while we tentatively began to dip our toes back into dating pool, discussing our exploits as we went. Being the first time for both us dating with children in the picture, it was an interesting time indeed.

Dating is an entirely different program when you have children. To begin with, not all men or women are equipped to or have a desire to raise children from a love interest’s prior relationship. It is a subject I did not wait until the third date to discuss trying to pass them off as short housekeepers or my sister’s kids. No point in baking a cake if you’re on a diet. To add to the mix the children aren’t always receptive to mom having a new man in her life. Introductions, in my case, were only initiated after a long period of dating. Perhaps beginning by catching a movie or enjoying an afternoon at the zoo to see how things ran up the flagpole. If fur didn’t fly, and I’m not speaking of the monkey cage, then things progressed slowly from there.

Sometimes there are children on both sides, as was the case in my second marriage. This really muddies the waters. At this point you pour a tall glass of chardonnay (don’t skimp, open the good stuff) and batten down the hatches. Not only does your man need to mesh with your children, and them with him, you have to adapt to a new child in your life and he or she to you. Once you have somehow accomplished this miraculous feat then the children from both sides need to be introduced, smell one another, and decide whether or not they’re going to make your life miserable or take at easy on the old people. To add to this murky bowl the stepchild child has a natural mother or your children a natural father who somehow has to be handed a puzzle piece and fit in somewhere on the board. It can, if you don’t have a natural bent for children and a good sense of humor, quickly become a nightmare.

My stepdaughter, Sara, was not yet four when she came into my life. Her father, a USC graduate and faithful fan, decided a day in the bleachers watching his favorite team was the perfect way to get our little band acquainted. Uh-huh. A glorious Southern California fall day, we loaded up the VW van with my children and headed south to pick up Sara at her mother’s house. I was nervous. This was my first encounter with the opposite team, and I’d heard through the grapevine the players weren’t all that enthusiastic about the upcoming match. Oh-oh.

Although shirt sleeve weather outside, once in the opposition’s house I found myself wishing I’d checked my anti-freeze before arriving. Sara, hiding behind her mother’s legs was not nearly as excited about the game or me as I’d hoped she might be.

Sitting in the red and gold dominated bleachers Sara’s crying for Mom commenced about half way through the first quarter. One fan actually threw a bag popcorn at us when it continued. There is nothing worse than having a screaming child who will not be quieted when you’re in a public arena, or in this case an actual arena. Not only did Sara cry for one full hour while we walked and cajoled before pulling up stakes, she cried the hour and half drive home. Her mother wasn’t happy, my children had taken a thumbs down vote in the back seat on the drive home, and I had decided total celibacy was the only answer by the time we reached our doorstep.

Somehow we stuck it out, ironing out the wrinkles as we went. Slowly, with lots of love, Sara became a part of our family and we hers blurring the dividing lines. Was it ever perfect? Never, would be the honest answer, but it was filled with lots of happy shared times mixed with some elbow grease. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Nothing worth having ever comes without some work. Blended families are rarely a piece of cake, but with the right mix of ingredients can bring you so much joy.

This quiche was delicious, a little work, but also worth the effort.

Three Cheese Spinach Mushroom Quiche

1 9″ deep dish pie shell
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
4 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
5 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups half and half
1 Tbsp. cooking sherry
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
3/4 cups Swiss or Gruyere cheese, shredded
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/4 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake pie shell for 12 mins. until lightly browned. Cool.

Lower oven to 375 degrees.

In large skillet heat oil over med. heat. Saute mushrooms and onions for 5-7 mins. until soft. Add garlic. Cook 1 min. longer.

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Add spinach to pan and mix well. Remove from heat. Cool.

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Crumble bacon in bottom of pie shell.

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In large mixing bowl beat eggs. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour over bacon in pie shell.

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Bake for 50-60 mins. or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Allow to cool 10 mins. before serving.

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Is it just me, or has anybody else noticed that a number of parents these days seem to be afraid of their own children?  Perhaps afraid is the wrong word, more intimidated.  I’m not sure if this is coming from the wealth of parental guidelines they are given on how to achieve perfect parenthood or from the heightened competition among parents to provide the latest and the greatest for their progeny.  Children are enrolled in kindergarten before letting loose of their first good cry.  Two year olds are given lavish parties that cost more than a half year’s mortgage payments, and designer clothing lines for these age challenged humans are flying off the racks.  Yesterday I saw a mother interviewed at an upscale fashion show who said she would sacrifice anything for her children. It seemed this included providing them with pricy jackets lightening her bank account to the tune of thousands of dollars and indulging their every whim.  It is almost as though if parents pursue a career or enjoy outside activities that do not include their children it is viewed as somehow taking something away from their offspring or being neglectful.

On Good Morning America this morning they interviewed an author, Pamela Druckerman, who has written a book titled “Bringing up Bebe” in which she discusses the French child rearing ideas and how they differ from ours. Children are treated, well for lack of a better way of putting it, like children. They are not deified like some diminutive mini-gods as we do across the pond.

As I’ve said previously, our fourteen year old granddaughter is living with us for an undetermined time.  I believe when she opted to stay with us she viewed us as the kindly couple who occasionally slipped her a ten under the table, rather than war-torn parents who have already survived the trenches and have a clear understanding of how the game is played. Testing the water, she announced yesterday that she was going to pierce her nose at school but thought I might get upset so decided to wait until she’d spoken to me.  An excellent choice. I explained that if she had, in fact, poked a hole and stuck an earring in her nose, I would have gently removed it and returned it to her when she was; a) eighteen, or b) the Queen and Camilla stopped wearing those ridiculous hats, or c) when Snookie gets her growth spurt.  Ahhh, the sweet facade melted like Swiss cheese off a hot burger quickly replaced by one that said “I wish you would be run over by a riding lawn mower”. Let the games begin.

After some pouting, she said”when I’m eighteen I’m going to do whatever I want”.  I replied that if she wished at that time to pierce herself with connecting chains to the extent that when she bent her right knee her eyebrow would arch that would certainly be her choice, but, this was not going to happen on my watch.

While in the market yesterday waiting in line at the checkstand, a woman, probably in her late forties, came up behind me, her teenage son in tow.  I heard him before I saw him. Holding his cell phone as if it was his last chance for communication before the meteor hit, he was texting with the speed of light. Sparks flew off his fingertips while his mother carried on a conversation with a head of long black hair. Finally, he looked up, or I think he did, it was hard to tell as his hair covered about ninety percent of his face,  and muttered, “whatever”, and resumed texting.  After several further queries from mom I determined that “whatever” seemed to be the lone word in his vocabulary he used when addressing her.  I found myself wanting desperately to ask, although not a physical person, if I could just cuff him once or twice solidly on the back of the head to see if any new words might be jogged loose.  Good God.

Growing up I never shared my parents bed unless I was ill, and not often then.  There wasn’t a lot of wiggle room when it came to rules and Supernanny never pulled up in her little black cab with her naughty step in the trunk.  For the most part when I was told,  told, not asked, to do something, I had two choices, do it now, or do it right now. I earned my allowance by working for it, and if I’d had the temerity to look my mother in the face and tell her to shut up (not that I didn’t picture myself doing it more than once) I would have found myself smiling out of the back of my head.  Different world.

For me, these are new and untraveled waters.  I was certainly not always right as a parent, but I have shared this earth for many years longer then my children and grandchildren and hopefully I’ve gathered a few morsels of wisdom and a pointer or two about life along the way.  Also, unless I’m mistaken, it was my name written on the checks that made the television come to life when the power button on the remote was pushed, and the potato chips appear as if by magic on the shelf in the cupboard.

I have a friend with four children who complained to me the other day she can never watch TV because her children are always watching it and they won’t let her.  Really? They won’t let you?  Splain that to me Ricky.  I suggested that maybe she might try the word “no”.  It’s an amazing word.  Only two letters and yet it carries such weight.  I asked her to repeat it several times and get the feel of it flowing off her tongue.  Going a step further, perhaps instead of turning on a video game or a new episode of Bad Girls Need Love Too, the children could step outside in the sunshine, yup it’s still out there sun and trees and everything, and get some exercise, or maybe help clean up the mess they just made.

I adore children.  They’re wonderfully receptive little creatures prone to magical thoughts, imbued with imaginations as big as the world around them. Small people filled with whimsical dreams whose enchantment with life should be able to be captured in vials and sold to adults to remind them to exercise the child within themselves. Still, to my mind they require structure, and guidelines to make them feel safe and secure balanced with lots of laughter and love. These are radical concepts, I realize, but my thoughts for the day.


Cheesy Spinach Stracciatella

12 1/2″ diagonal baguette slices
2 cloves garlic, halved
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. parsley flakes
Parmesan cheese, grated
8 cups rich chicken stock
2/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated (plus extra for garnish)
3 eggs
1 6 oz. pkg. baby spinach
2 Tbsp. fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line baking sheet with foil.  Cut garlic cloves in half.  Mix together olive oil and parsley. Brush oil onto both sides of baguette slices. Rub with cut sides of garlic. Sprinkle lightly with Parmesan cheese. Bake 8-10 mins. until golden brown.

In large saucepan bring stock to boil. While heating whisk together Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and eggs. Stir into hot stock and cook for 2-3 mins. stirring constantly.

Break spinach into smaller pieces. Add spinach and basil to hot soup and cook for an addition 2 mins. until slightly wilted.

Place 2 bread slices in each bowl. Ladle soup over top. Grate fresh cheese on top if desired. Serves 6.

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I’ve spent the last several days with my daughter and her family. It’s funny, their house is only a couple of hours away and between both our schedules finding the time to get together always seems to present a challenge.

It’s dark outside and I’m up and have startled my heart into action with a cup of extremely strong coffee. Packed once again, I’m headed for home. As usual, they will expect me to be far down the road by the time they get up.  It is their weekend, so I would presume that would be just in time for lunch.

Leaving always brings out a bit of the melancholy in me. I guess it’s because for eighteen plus years I was the center of my children’s universe, and now they have created universes of their own, and new universes have branched off from theirs. It is the circle of life, and sometimes I feel like I’m standing outside of the circle. 

On pondering when my children first fled the nest, my daughter, the oldest, was the first to to spread her wings.  I can see myself the day she moved sitting cross-legged on the carpet of her empty room holding her murky fish bowl. All her furniture was now being set up in her new bedroom, and everything not permanently attached to the house from her old room was packed and loaded in the rented trailer.  After years of runny noses, scraped knees, dried tears and more recently, hugs to help mend a broken heart or two, it seemed all I had left of her were two nearly dead goldfish and a monthly bill for tuition.  Seeing a lone bubble rise inside the gray water added to my desolate feeling and helped jump-start a good two-hour crying jag.

For many parents when their offspring move out on their own it is a difficult transition period. This, of course, is a broad generalization, as some parents have the exact hour and minute their charges turn eighteen programmed in their cell phones, and await that time with unbridled enthusiasm.  These parents view it as a time to reclaim the remote, walk from the shower to the bedroom without a towel, and redecorate the newly vacated room as a sewing room or man cave.  As we parents wave goodbye, box of Kleenex at the ready, our semi-adult children, on the other hand, are revved up like high powered motorcycles, chomping at the bit at the starting line of a race. They just can’t wait to hit the gas and propel themselves down the road, barely casting a glance in the rear view mirror. At least, I know I felt that way.

For me it meant making my own decisions, no matter how poorly thought out, coming and going as I pleased, eliminating the words “restriction”, which I was regularly on, and “convent”, where I was regularly threatened with going to, from my vocabulary, and generally involving myself in any mayhem within the boundaries of the law this little blonde head was capable of conjuring up, and that presented itself as a formidable list.  Free at last!

Of course, I didn’t take into consideration that this glorious umbrella raining freedom on me came with a large hole in the bucket.  Allowance was also eliminated from my vocabulary, and bills came in with my name printed on them. Once a month my unreasonable landlord demanded the rent, and it seemed if he didn’t get it I would find myself living under the bridge with the trolls.  My dad no longer filled my tank with gas, and I had to learn how to check the oil and put air in my tires.  Generally, the cost of freedom in my mind came with a mighty heavy price.

My freedom was short-lived really, because within the first year of experiencing the wind beneath my wings, I got married and welcomed two little ones in the following two years.  Truly, I never really experienced being out on my own in the truest way again until they moved out one after the other in my fortieth year.

After finding myself on my own, I spent several months serving up a large ladle from the self pity pot into my bowl every day.  The house echoed with only the dog, cat and I roaming through it. Coming home after work and finding just their furry faces for company was good, but not quite as good. Not a moper by nature, one day I slapped myself soundly across the face, grabbed myself up by my suspenders and shook myself hard and went about the business of getting out and rejoining the world around me.  In the ten years following I got remarried, traveled the roads with construction crews, moved more times than I have digits, and saw a great deal of this United States that I missed the first time I had the pleasure of exploring it.  I discovered the south, which enriched me with its friendly people, fabulous food and damnable heat, West Virginia, with its beautiful mountain ranges and deep sense of history, and Washington state was revisited, and once again didn’t fail to make me sad to have to leave.

As always, I seem to find myself back in California.  Family draws me here, and you can’t fault the weather.   

Now, my daughter is facing a nest that is missing its first egg. As best I could, I explained that it’s not the end of her relationship with her child, it’s just the beginning of new and different relationship. Whether we like it or not, they’re going to grow up and move out, at least, most of the time. It is how it’s meant to be. As I told her, I think it’s also the beginning of establishing a new relationship with herself and redefining who she is beyond the word “mother”. If she’s lucky, her proginy will produce some grandchildren down the road, as mine did, and enrich her life once again.

Oh, she replaced the empty spot with her new kitten. Seems he understands exactly what’s expected of him. Smile.

Hearty Potato Soup with Proscuitto

2 oz. proscuitto, thinly sliced
1/4 cup butter
2 carrots, diced
1 onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
8 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 cups whole milk
2 chicken bouillon cubes dissolved in 1/2 cup milk
1 cup half and half
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp. white pepper
Parsley, sour cream, and cheddar cheese for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place prosciutto slices on pre-sprayed cookie sheet in a single layer. Place in oven for 8-10 mins. until crisp. Watch to keep from burning. Place on paper towel and allow to cool. Crumble.

In large saucepan, melt butter. Saute onion and carrots until slightly tender, about 5 mins. Add garlic, cook additional 1 min. Whisk in flour and cook for 1 min. Add potatoes, milk, and dissolved bouillon cubes to pan. Cook about 30-35 mins. or until potatoes are very soft and starting to dissolve, stirring often. Lightly mash large pieces against side of pan, leaving some chunks of potato. Add half and half, salt, and peppers. Mix well.

Remove from heat. Ladle in soup bowls and top with crumbled prosciutto and garnishes. Serve hot with crusty bread.

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I watched a bit on the morning news recently where they were discussing the fact that a manufacturer is pushing padded bikini tops for pre-teen girls, targeting youngsters way below the developing age.  Whew.  What’s next?  Let’s see we could include a package of condoms in Happy Meals, and offer breast enhancement to five-year olds.  Women, young and old, are dealing with a constant barrage of information about how lacking their bodies are already, do we have to wean them on it?  Late night paid programming channels all target the ladies.  Do you have belly fat?  Here’s the cure, either cinch it in with a full body girdle, or take a magic pill that will reduce that cellulite overnight.  We are tucked so tight after fifty these days that you could bounce a quarter off of us.  It just makes me angry.

I was a chubby little girl.  Growing up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I was fortunately surrounded by friends and family that loved me but I do remember moving to California and suddenly finding myself the brunt of unpleasant jokes that I had never had thrown in my direction before.  Believe me, I am all for healthy eating habits, but it’s more difficult, I believe, for women in this world.  A friend of mine, who used to be very tiny, gained a lot of weight after her children were born.  Prior to that time she was always getting comments on her looks but as the pounds were added she told me she suddenly felt “invisible”.  We’re compared to runway models, who, if they turned sideways would completely disappear, as our role models.  It makes it hard for those fighting their weight to feel valuable and attractive.

With the growing stresses in our world, and children involved in a merry-go-round of sports, homework, and outside activities women are faced with trying to balance their lives, most possibly around a full-time job, create healthy meals for their families, exercise, fold laundry, do housework, and generally find a moment to grab a few hours of beauty sleep.  I can see where the draw of fast food or a quick pop of a container in the microwave might be extremely tempting.

I think I was more fortunate when my two were on the rise.  Although economically there was no choice but to work full-time during their formative years, we weren’t face with the added pressures facing young parents today. We were allowed to take time for ourselves on occasion without  feeling that we were failing as parents.

As far as I can recollect, and the old gears need more oil than they used to, I knew of nobody in my sphere of friends that shared a “communal bed” with their children, sports were fun activities we participated in with our kids with a few exceptions, and life just seemed to run at a slower pace. 

Our grown children adhere to such tight activity schedules with their children that I’m amazed they have time to write the schedule in the first place, or put it in their Blackberry, or whatever people use these days.  In order to make a plan with them you have to call their people, and after checking four or five devices confirm that there’s a tentative opening in May of 2011 on May 4th between the hours of 2:00 and 3:00 a.m.  It’s crazy.  I would be crazy.

In the early years with my kids,  we really couldn’t afford to eat out often so fast food was definitely a treat not the norm.  On the weekends I would cook ahead and make a meatloaf for the upcoming week and freeze it for later in the week, or prep pasta sauce for the month and freeze it in individual packets to take out as needed.  Guess it was just a different time, with a different set of stresses.  Our children played freely in the yard and there were less expectations to live up to, other than loving them immensely and doing the best job you could in raising them.  This, of course, while knowing in the end there probably are no such thing as “great parents” just the group that failed on a smaller scale than the one below them.  It’s a tough job, one that comes with lots of advice, but no 800 technical support line, and the handbook changes from generation to generation. 

Last weekend while I was ironing I watched the movie Sybil, and decided that in the scheme of things I managed quite well.  Smile. 

At any rate, in my humble opinion we need to quit throwing all our eggs in the “girls need to look perfect” basket and maybe toss a few into the “what type of humans they are” basket.  Just my humble thoughts for the day.

I usually make a homemade pasta sauce for this, and certainly that would work well if not better than purchased, but this is for those times when you want a quick but delicious meal. 

Easy Chicken Parmigiana

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
2 beaten eggs
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 jars marinara sauce
Angel hair pasta

Pound the chicken breasts to 1/2″. I put them between two pieces of plastic wrap or in a large baggie to do this. Mix together flour, pepper, salt, and garlic powder. Place in shallow bowl.

Mix together bread crumbs and 2 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese. Place in another shallow bowl.

In a third shallow bowl beat the 2 eggs.

Dredge cutlets in flour, then eggs, and then thoroughly cover with bread crumb mixture.

Brown in olive oil in large skillet over medium heat until golden brown on both sides (about 3 mins. each side).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In bottom of casserole dish spread 1/2 cup of marinara sauce. Place chicken on top of sauce. Spread 4 Tbsp. of remaining sauce on top of each breast. Top each breast with 3-4 Tbsp. of mozzarella cheese followed by 2-3 Tbsp. of Parmesan cheese. Cover and cook for 25 mins. Uncover and place under broiler until cheese is bubbly.

While chicken is cooking prepare pasta according to package directions. Heat remaining pasta sauce in small saucepan. Drain pasta well and return to pan. Mix in warmed sauce and heat on low until chicken is done.

Place cooked chicken on top or to the side of pasta. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese if desired.

Serves 4.

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I have issues.  Let me preface this blog by saying that children and animals are among my favorite creatures on earth.  Although children are not guileless past the breast-feeding age, or perhaps before, I do find them endlessly  fascinating in their openness and incredibly endearing when they’re reaching for my hand or nestled in my lap while I’m reading them a bedtime story.  I just like the little buggers.  Truly.

My other half and I went out to enjoy a romantic dinner the other night for the first time in quite a while.  We chose a small, intimate restaurant noted for their excellent Italian cuisine.  Having owned a restaurant, for a time going out to dinner lost it’s luster, as it seemed we were always “out to dinner”, and also, liking to cook, chose rather to spend time sharing a meal with our friends or cooking together for ourselves. 

At any rate, going out just sounded good.  It was a long week, and the idea of having someone cook me a delicious meal in a romantic atmosphere sitting across from my favorite male was extremely appealing.

We arrived, and were immediately ushered to our table.  The restaurant probably seats 85-90 people at full capacity.  As there were few open tables and several larger parties, the tables towards the wall where were closer together than they had been on our last visit. Next to us, was a couple I would guess to be in their late thirties.  Also seated next to them were their three little boys, ranging from say ten and under, the youngest most likely around four or five.  Sigh. 

At our table, the candle was flickering and the menu was presented.  We ordered , and then the fun began.  While trying to carry on a conversation, the three commandos at the next table were on the move. I don’t have expectations that children are going to sit through a long meal with their hands folded in their laps but wrestling, pulling at each other’s clothes, knocking over water glasses and throwing things at other patrons is just over the top. Dad was on the cell phone, and mom looked like there wasn’t enough liquor in the world to make this night feel better.  The hooligans were throwing meatballs like missiles and using their crayons to write on the freshly pressed linen table cloths.

We forged on, determined to have a nice evening out.  I ordered an extra dry martini with two olives and my other half, who doesn’t drink, ordered an Evian.  While toasting each other, a piece of garlic bread flew a mission across the top of our table and landed in my other half’s appetizer.  Okay, now the having fun part was becoming more difficult.  The parents, amazingly, did nothing.  Not, “Hey, Bud, you need to calm down”, or “guys, this is rude behavior”. Nothing, nothing at all.  It appeared, on their side it was all good as long as he still had bars on the cell phone and wine in the carafe.

I’m starting to wonder if we haven’t shifted to a point where we’re actually afraid of our own children.  There is so much information on how to be a parent available now, maybe we were better off when we just flew by the seat of our pants or by the seat of theirs.  Apparently the word “no” is destructive, although it worked well for me and certainly my parents.  I didn’t spank my children, but they understood there were consequences for their actions.  Um, if you decide to do this, little man, know that this is coming down the chute immediately following. I just don’t know.

People in the restaurant were starting to murmur.  The three boys were into everything and running wild, and still the wife ordered more wine and the husband continued his phone conversation. What on earth is up with that?  I have serious issues about this.

My children, and to preface they were far from perfect, did not act like that. I taught them early on that the manners I expected to be honored at our table were to be expected when we went to someone else’s home or to a restaurant.  Come on.  Most of us have children.  They can be ornry and most usually choose the most inappropriate times to display their least endearing traits, but last time I looked we were still much bigger, hopefully more intelligent, and bear the responsibility, to teach them how to behave.

When my son was about six his father and I, along with his sister older by a year, went out to breakfast at a well-known pancake restaurant.  Coffee was served at the table in a carafe, hot.  I had reminded my exuberant youngster several times that he needed to get a grip, but he was hungry and most probably bored, and accidentally knocked over the carafe into my husband’s lap.  Truly, the hot liquid arriving in his groin area caused such a reaction that one of his shoes flew off and landed in a pile of blueberry pancakes on an adjacent table.  True story.  We ended up apologizing to the man at the table, retrieving the blueberry laden shoe and heading for the emergency room where it seemed my husband had suffered second and third degree burns on the most vulnerable part of his body.  There was no need to say anything to my son because he understood that for every action there is an equal or opposite reaction.  I didn’t punish him because seeing his dad in pain was way more punishment than anything I could have said.

We are their guardians, entrusted to move them along through life and prepare them for adulthood as best we can.  If we don’t who will?  The Internet.  I hope not.  I love my computer and enjoy all the endless resources that it provides me, but I am glad that my children are grown and I don’t have to police their use of it. 

At any rate, that’s my whine for today.

This asparagus is so good.  You can vary the toppings but this is one of my favorites.

Oven Roasted Asparagus Spears

2 bunches of fresh asparagus (I prefer the thinner stalks)
1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove minced
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss asparagus, olive oil, pepper, garlic, and lemon juice together. Salt as desired.

Place asparagus on large baking sheet. Roast for 8-10 mins. turning once. Remove from oven and set aside and keep warm. (This is also good cold in salads.)

Vinaigrette

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 tsps. dried thyme, or 1 Tbsp. fresh minced thyme
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. whole-grain mustard
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Toss asparagus with vinaigrette until evenly coated and serve either hot or cold.

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