Saturday, November 29, 2008

Adrenaline Cocktail

Yes, indeed, over the river and through the woods to the state championship football game, for an adrenaline cocktail, with a testosterone chaser.People from our school kept passing me on the highway. That did not help my anxiety level.

The steady texting of game related adrenaline boosters while driving jacked up my anxiety level at a pretty steady rate. Don't text and drive at the same time, they say it's really dangerous. I wouldn't know. I was talking on the phone, not even considering a text message or even 35 text messages. Plus, I had to stay in my lane, and keep my Diet Coke from sloshing all over me. Uptick on the anxietyI was stuck in traffic and I didn't want to miss . .
. . . this bunch of totally blown-away-with-excitement parents, lining up in the stadium to watch our boys walk in one more time. For the parents of seniors, that would be one LAST time. I thnk I get to feel this nervous a few zillion more times.
No shortage of adrenaline in the stands either.
But the boys? What about the team? They're down there somewhere.Some moms are pretty excited.
La Petite Jockette made the trip, for the thrill of it.

All week, Coach Bobby was sending us emails telling us about how to keep the boys on task, to make wise choices, to represent the school well, to keep things in perspective, to play with integrity.

From Coach Bobby, they were playing "just one more game..." very low on the excite-o-meter. Coach Bobby told us that no matter what the score, these guys were already champions. We already know that, but I feel certain the guys didn't share that sentiment at this particular moment. They wanted to PROVE IT, by total domination.
I heard them rumbling before I saw them, in the visitor's locker room, waiting for the moment to prove they are the best. These young men were a seething mass of testosterone and pure joy. Joy at being here. Joy at what they planned to do. Joy at how awesome they are. They know it deeply, they are totally convinced of it.
We, the parents, were adrenaline-fueled nervous energy, confidence, hope and the dread that we could actually lose. Maybe. Lose. This. Game. Could I frame a loss so that he learns from it, gains maturity and perspective? Could we help them understand that they are already champions? Would they ever understand that one game does not define a season? Would they believe that simply winning this game could not make them Masters of the Universe for life? OK..."What if we lose? How long is THAT ride home going to be?" The rumbling, jittery mass became a moving line of beastly young men, cleats on concrete, clapping, and more rumbling.
They received the blessings of their parents one more time.
And they began as they always do. Helmets off, they started with the prayer. Just one more game.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bread and Water Thanksgiving

BigD was born and raised in New Jersey. I was not. I was/am/will be forevermore a daughter of the South. Amen. New Jersey and me? Not so much.

Pre-marriage, I had spent one single Thanksgiving in New Jersey and sampled their version of Thanksgiving dinner. I say sampled, because there was never enough food, ever. It was kind of like a tasting menu. It only remotely resembled our version of Thanksgiving dinner, in that it was called Thanksgiving dinner and served on Thanksgiving Day. BigD's mother Vera had a unique talent of underestimating the amount of food she might need to feed her guests. There was never enough food for her sons, their girlfriends, friends, children, and the many old Italian men who were realated to BigD's father Emil. We all tried to save food for Uncle Johnny, especially, because he showed up with $100 bills in his pocket.

So...Vera's holiday meal consisted of a day-long cocktail hour, a HUGE 'fresh-kilt" turkey, stuffing, a turnip affair - enough for about 6 people, yam (yes, she referred to it in the singular, and dumped them straight out of the can) and LIMAs - a 10oz package of frozen baby lima's. Also applesauce. And a single frozen cream pie of some sort. To feed about 20 people. It was not pretty, ever.

Our first married Thanksgiving, I was getting a sense that Newlywed-D was feeling a little homesick. He worked in a hotel, so he had to work on Thanksgiving. He had not encountered cornbread dressing yet and he was worried. Also, my mother was not going to cook turnip or yam. So, in my newly-wedded compassion and idiocy, I decided to make "New Jersey Stuffing" for my newly wedded man, in case he didn't like what we were going to fix.

How I worried about this is now beyond me, because our Thanksgiving dinner is like WAY better than theirs, but still, I guess if you are used to frozen Lima Beans, canned YAM, turnips and running out of food, it is those elements that make Thanksgiving complete. I was going to be a 'good wife'. I was going to bridge the gap between New Jersey and our house.

I was going to make the 'bread dressing.' My own mother, Mimi, would have no part of it, though she told me that bread dressing was soggy and cooking it inside the turkey was 'dangerous.' I also decided to surprise BigD with said bread dressing. I called his mother, Vera - and that was the first and only time in her lifetime that I called her - and she "gave me the recipe."

Hah! neophyte that I was in the ways of Vera. She would be so pleased that I am cropped out of this picture. Not really. OK, really.
ME: Hi, (small talk, small talk, small talk) Can you give me the recipe for your bread dressing?

Vera: Who is this?

ME: It's ME. I am married to your son. Remember the big woo-hah we had down here in June? The church? The champagne? The non-stop parties for you and your friends for a week? That white lace shawl thing you wore? All that? That's me.

Vera: Why don't you just come home for Thanksgiving?
Me: Well, it's tomorrow. And, we are home, thanks.
Vera: How long will it take you to drive here, 6 hours? 8 hours? Do you have paved roads down there?
Me: It's a 24 hour drive. We can't come. But I want to surprise my newly wedded husband with a taste of home. How do you make it?

Vera: What time are you leaving to come here? We'll wait to eat.
Me: We aren't coming, we have to work. I just want the recipe

VERA: Get a big loaf of whitebread. Put it in a strainer and run tap water over it until it is soaked. Use your hands to squeeze out the water. Put in a sliced onion (do not dice). Add some thyme and rosemary. Stuff it in the turkey and cook. Make sure you use a fresh-kilt turkey.

I have now been cooking long enough to see the problems here, just so you know. "Bread and water" is not a recipe.

End of recipe. I could hear her smoking as we talked. I didn't care that she smoked, because there is a very slight possiblity that I might have once every now in then indulged myself in that same guilty pleasure. Maybe. Probably not, but maybe. The smoking reminded me that she smoked while she cooked, and that ALWAYS bothered me...pause to consider it... and the instructions included putting her hands onto a wet loaf of bread. Cringe. Stop thinking about that.

Me: Anything else? Just bread and onions and water?
Vera: Use a fresh kilt turkey, that's the kind I use.

Me: Are you sure? No eggs, no broth, nothing?
Vera: Use a fresh kilt turkey, they inject poison into the other ones.
Me: How much is 'some' thyme and rosemary?

Vera: Shake it all over the bread when it's wet and when you squeeze the water out, it will get into the stuffing. Be sure to use a fresh-kilt turkey. I heard that they put chemicals into the other ones.

Me: Bye. Happy Thanksgiving.

Vera: Use a fresh-kilt turkey, the other ones are dyed yellow. You can put some butter in it.

OK - so, I followed the recipe to the letter. From the start I knew that something was not right, and made that remark several times to my mother, who was silent. I mean the whole "loaf of bread soaked with tap water" wasn't working out for me. I squeezed and squeezed and it just got . . unimaginable. My total handprint in wet whitebread. A ball of wet whitebread, with my handprints in it. Like some kind of kindergarten project, only to be eaten. . . possibly.

Mimi was drinking wine and silently making cornbread dressing. My mother did NOT want me to stuff the dressing into her turkey. I think she took pity on me, because she eventually let me stick some way back in there, but not much.

And I was trying to get it all done without Newlywed-D knowing about it. That too, continues to baffle me.

My mother still made me fix the sweet potatoes, and cook a pie, so she was anxious to get the bread dressing thing over with.

Thanksgiving Day dawned - delightfully warm, rather than cold. Newlywed-D's second big shock, after the warm weather, was that we ate at night, and did not schedule around a football game. I fished the cooked bread-stuffing out of the turkey, and it was just a glob, very grey, very solid, very nasty looking. So I put some butter it in. Just following directions.

We had a lovely SOUTHERN Thanksgiving. It was a glorious spread of 100% homemade goodies, as Mimi and I , at that point, were ashamed to serve anything store-bought for such a momentous occasion as THANKSGIVING. (We have recovered from that home-made compulsion, sort of.) There was a little pause when Newlywed-D asked why the "dog meat" of the turkey was on the table. The "dog meat" was apparently what they called the dark meat. It was there because that is the only part of a turkey I eat. Moving on.

Amidst all the other lovely foodstuffs there was a bowl of grayish clay like stuff, with an onion sticking out of it. Nobody said anything about it. Also no one took any, and that would include Newlywed-D. I think Mimi may have put a spoonful on her plate, because she is exceedingly gracious. So, after everyone sat, plates loaded, I picked up the bowl of New Jersey bread stuffing and set it right in front of my new husband.

Me: Look, I made this stuffing, like your mother's. Beaming and blushing like the bride I was.

BigD: That doesn't look like my mother's stuffing.
Me: So, taste it.

BigD: How do you know how to make it.

Me: I called her and asked her.

BigD: YOU called my mother? Did she talk to you? Because this doesn't look like the stuffing she makes. Did she know who you were?

Me: Well, you know, soak the loaf of bread in tap water and then squeeze...

BigD: Yeah, that's how she makes it, but this doesn't look like it.

Me: Just taste it. bursting with new-bride pride in my accomplishement for my husband.

BigD: You taste it first.

Me: I have already tasted it. And then I added butter. It looks worse than it tastes. I mean, I think it tastes right, I only ate it once at your house, and all I got was one spoonful.

BigD tasted it. BigD laughed. BigD did not taste it again.

Nobody else at the table touched it. My siblings are not very loyal.

BigD: Vera didn't give you the recipe. She just made a bunch of stuff up. She does that all the time. Did she tell you about the 'fresh-kilt turkey'? Did she tell you they'd wait to eat dinner if we drove up there? Because she wouldn't do that either.

I never made bread dressing again. Once I tried the "Pepperidge Farm Herb-Seasoned Bread Dressing" package of crumbs. In fact I think I bought some this week at Wal-Mart, for old time's sake. I did not buy a loaf of whitebread, because on Thanksgiving Day each one of my minions will help clean-up (because we do that) and they will each make a dish for the table. And we will eat together whatever we have all made. PPP will bake some delicious dessert which will be nibbled on through out the day and into the night.We will talk about the exciting end of the football season, which is happening on Tuesday evening, 200 miles away. And we will not have YAM or turnip either. Also, no one is coming with $100 bills in his pocket. I do miss that part.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Baker Speaks

So.....after all the angst of coming up with the speech . . .. . .the 'lightbulb moments' . . . there was then the anxiety of ***gasp*** giving the speech. The single question that arose most often was "What am I going to wear?" Not "Who's going to leave school to come hear me talk?" Not even, "Is anyone telling the anonymous Mr. Baker-Recipient what this speech is about?" Nope, "What am I going to wear?" So, thinking ahead....way ahead.... on the day before PPP entered intense conversations with the Sophisticate who is our style MAVEN (look that one up, minions), who decreed that PPP has nothing in her closet worth wearing. PPP leans toward jeans, tees, and sweatshirts, and variations thereof. Roughly 12 hours pre-speech, she made a trip to raid the Sophisticate's closet, and came back satisfactorily wardrobed, then did another few hundred hours of homework, then fell asleep.
NO evidence of morning nerves...from her. I had an unsettling night of weird dreams, and night sweats. Also, I chewed off all my carefully applied lipstick before we got there. Oh, yeah, this is about her, not me. Sorry.Our Young Son and I arrived early and I had the day's first "OH NO!" moment. (OK, it wasn't really "Oh NO!" It was "Oh $#*!) "Oh, NO! I forgot flowers. PPP is speaking from the pulpit of this church, and I forgot flowers. Wonder if I can get some here in roughly 10 minutes. What was I thinking? Do I know a florist who will do that for me, like NOW? My mother will kill me, we should have done flowers..." eventually I started babbling that refrain..."We should mother will kill..." Our Young Son doesn't get mired down in nonsense like flowers, so he opened the door and shoved me in, holding my Diet Coke while I dug around in the depths of my bag for some more lipstick.The church was empty. I had to breathe deeply there - overwhelmed by the thought of her standing at the end of this aisle and walking to graduate in a mere 6 months. (What's she going to wear THAT day? Very big question.) There are many, many moments in this church for PPP this year. And yet, she sits in that very space every day, listening to her peers, her teachers, guest speakers. Laughing, giggling, talking, bored or intrigued. Daily. There is something that seems very right about that. This morning, it just seemed grand and empty. And it smelled like lilies.
There were lilies on the altar already. If I had remembered flowers for PPP's senior speech, they would have been lilies. What flower fairy put them there? The FUNERAL flower fairy. Ooops. Seriously? I'm not even going down the path of "How lucky am I that the flowers were there because of a funeral later that day" because that would assume that I was basing my good fortune on another's grief. But still. You have to admit, I was pretty lucky.
Her friends gathered. Neighbor Bob joined us, as did KP - both from other schools. Bob's Mom made an unexpected appearance, thank you.
A great reason to miss a morning of school. Just ask our Young Son. PPP and her friend Stargazer practiced walking around in their heels on the altar of the empty church, as the church filled with young women. I didn't see many others wearing a dress and heels, though I did see a whole bunch in sweatshirts, so I guess PPP's style is appropriate to her world.
Then, it was chapel. The first hymn. I see the little hint of nerves in the white knuckles. Also the fact that I couldn't focus the camera.Suddenly, Stargazer was introducing with a witty story about freshman year, and then...

. . . we were full-on into the stories about PPP's baking disasters and the many life lessons she has learned:
"I LOVE to bake. So much, in fact, that I have websites called “smitten kitchen” and “bakerella” on my favorites. I have had some magnificent products, some good products, some bad products, and well, quite frankly, some real disasters.

One of these not so successful attempts was when I was making a friend an apple pie. Now, I had never made apple pie before, and I was determined to make it all from scratch. It was all going well until I got to the lattice --- that little crisscross stuff that lies on top of an apple pie and makes it look like it came straight from the farmhouse kitchen. It is a lot harder than it looks to weave dough together and make it look pretty. Also, it was around Easter so I decided that I wanted to get fancy and make a little bit of Easter egg detail to go in the center. Since the dough all browned nicely, the eggs ended up looking like random brown globs of crust hanging in the center of my lovely pie. Let’s just say it was not my most beautiful creation. Despite its unattractive appearance, I still hear about how delicious it was, and that was six months ago.

Don’t even get me started on burning things, there have been plenty of those, let me tell you. Despite the things in life that have turned out badly, if you think about it, there are so many good things in life that are sometimes looked over. Even though things may not turn out the way we want them to, and even though they may not turn out looking very pretty, you can always figure out a way to work things out.

One of the most important things I have learned in life is to not be afraid to ask for help. We can’t do everything on our own, and life is a lot easier if you let people help you when you need it. Another catastrophe I have had in the kitchen was my attempt at making a cake for a friend. Against my better judgment, I used a box mix. When I took the cake out of the pan to cool, to my utter astonishment and dismay, it fell apart in my hands. We are not talking breaking in half here, we are talking about six or seven different pieces. My friend was on his way over to my house to pick up his cake that I had promised him and I was panicking. I rushed to my mother after I had gotten all of the pieces safely on a cookie sheet, and explained what had happened. She, being the genius that she is, came to my rescue she showed me how to glue my cake back together with icing. That would be another example of one of my not so beautiful creations. I still hear about that one, too, with the ever so sweet comment “hey Princess, when are you going to make me a dessert that actually looks good?” And that was three years ago.

Another thing I have learned is that you have to stick up for what is yours. When I bake things for my friends, I have to guard the goodies fiercely from my family, or else every crumb will be gone the moment I turn my back. Just so you know, I wouldn’t recommend putting a post-it note that says “FOR the Princess, DON’T EAT” on the top. That usually makes them want to eat whatever it is just to spite you.

However, don’t keep everything all to yourself. If you have something great, share it with people, let them enjoy it too. Who cares if the gooey pecan pie you made for Thanksgiving dinner is eaten before the turkey even comes out of the oven? Share your talents with others. If you’re good at baking, make some one brownies when they are having a hard time. People really do appreciate small things like homemade cookies. Even if you can’t make homemade baked goods, you have to make do with what you have. You can achieve a lot more than you make think you can. Do your best, and even if it doesn’t turn out the way you want it to, the effort and the thought go a long way. Something good comes out of everything, sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper than you want to to find it." Then it was over. The rest of chapel was a little bit lighter for PPP, whose regret was that she started talking too fast.
She was quite relieved and delighted, because it was done, and done well. She was a ROCK STAR all day. And I was quite relieved and delighted that she was comfortable with herself and what she had to say. Glad that her friends came to hear it. Glad that the Flower Fairy visited with PPP's faves.
We didn't have to dig very deep or look very hard for the good things on Senior Speech Day. All of her stories were real, all of her lessons are ones she has indeed learned right in our kitchen, many the hard way. She told us exactly who she is and how she manages her world with clarity and grace, and the delight she has when she shares her passion. And the flowers? "Something good comes out of everything."

Monday, November 17, 2008


On Friday night...THE Friday night, the one to decide whether or not our team goes to the state championship game...that Friday night, the weather was SO not good. I think perhaps we haven't seen rain all season. We saw it.
Actually I saw a bunch of umbrellas on arrival. The other guys had their umbrellas up for the warm-up.
Our parents huddled under our cozy sheltered brick and concrete stands and did NOT have our umbrellas up. We were trying to bundle a little bit though, against the rain and the impending cold, as the temperature dropped about 120 degrees during the game. We don't do cold so well.We did eventually get our umbrellas up.
I saw a LOT of this umbrella. Though not so much football. Also, felt the rain drip off this umbrella into my lap, when the child who was holding it used it as a sort of cheering shaker.
So, I moved to a place where the people didn't use an umbrella, rather wore hats and/or hood. They also cue me when good stuff happens. I depend on my friends.
We did not however wear a garbage bag or hunting clothes. At least I didn't. Some people did. Just saying.This guy looks worried all the time, win or lose. His older son was on a state championship team. This time, it's his number 2 son. It sometimes worries me when he's worried. Mr. T. looks somber, ALWAYS! He's the spotter, who tells me when our Young Son is in.
Just checking. They're there. They've been there, pretty much together, all season. Both of them, the roaming ones, Big Russ and our Young Son. I could prove it with pictures, but the pictures all look exactly alike. Our Young Son hasn't "been in" for while, this is the serious championship stuff. Not the scrawny sophomore stuff.
These boys always start the same way. First the prayer, then the very inspirational chant with the helmet raising. I used to think they said cool and inspirational stuff. Now I know they say stuff about blood and end with KILL! KILL! KILL!
And they DID! They KILLED! KILLED! KILLED! They're all over it. But the U still stands for undefeated.