A Marriage of Meals

I chop green pepper, onion, mushrooms and spinach and saute them in olive oil. I heat a pan on high and swirl beaten eggs in a thin, light layer. As they cook I sprinkle black pepper and the sautéed vegetables over the eggs. I fold the omelet over into a half moon and slide it on a plate. With sides of fresh asparagus and buttered toast, I settle down to eat dinner.

On the nights I cook for myself, I often make some variety of veggie omelet, French toast, or big spinach salads with loads of veggies or strawberries or chopped apples. Always with balsamic vinaigrette.

My husband is all Ranch dressing and cheese. He’d happily eat iceberg lettuce if I wasn’t so particular.

This has been our marriage in meals.

Alone, he eats plates of brown. Fried meat with potatoes.

Alone, I eat plates of color. Light on meat, plentiful vegetables.

Together, I make his mother’s chili recipe, slow simmered ground beef and beans. I add tomatoes to mine and he adds shredded cheddar to his. I make meatloaf and sneak in bits of cooked carrots, peppers, and onions.  He makes steak sandwiches and I load mine with peppers and onions, while he adds a little onion and cheese. He makes a wonderful roast chicken with baked potatoes and peas. We turn the leftovers into chicken salad or sandwiches. I boil the remaining bones and meat to make broth that will become chicken and noodles or chicken soup with carrots, peas and noodles. The omelets I make for him include bacon and potatoes. We have meals that can be tweaked to taste by one or the other.

In my thirties, I became lactose intolerant and in my forties the doctor told me to cut down on salt. I’m a nightmare dinner guest. Once when talking to our daughter, my husband joked, “I’d better go cook my no cheese, no salt, no flavor meal.”

They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I’d say that’s the way to a woman’s heart as well.

In the early days of our marriage, cooking and chores were shared equally. As time went by, he did less of the cleaning and more of the cooking. Now that he’s retired and I’m still working, I rarely cook at all. Tonight, he served barbecue chicken, with baked potatoes and the last of the asparagus.

Without me in his meals, my husband wouldn’t eat as many healthful vegetables. With him in the kitchen, I can have perfectly roasted chicken or tender beef. We eat better together.

They say we are what we eat. A marriage of meals.

Getting Even With the Dentist

I went to the dentist today. (Do I sense cringing out there?) I don’t enjoy dental visits, but they don’t scare me either. I think that’s because of my mother’s brainwashing all through my childhood.

She’d always say, “Now that they have high-speed drills, it won’t hurt.”

I’m really not afraid of pain at the dentist, but the sound of scraping and drilling can get to me too.

My childhood dentist was Dr. S, a middle-aged guy with laugh lines around his eyes and salt and pepper hair. My mom would schedule appointments for all four of us and he would see us one after the other. And we had lots of cavities.

Going to the dentist, I’m five years old again. I can remember being small in the big chair. Dr. S had to put up with a lot from us. I remember screaming from the moment the drill was turned on, before it even touched me. I don’t think I was really scared. It was more making my dissatisfaction heard above the grinding whine of the drill.

Another time, Dr. S said, “Open.”

I opened.

With his fingers still in my mouth, he said, “Bite.”

And I bit him. Hard.

Fortunately, Dr. S had a sense of humor. “Well, I did say bite.”

He and his assistant, M, would joke around while they worked. M was a round woman with a ringing laugh. Every visit, after Dr. S rinsed your mouth out, he would squirt you on the nose and M would laugh.

Just counting my family, over the years from when I was four to eighteen, Dr. S saw us and squirted us about 110 times. But it wasn’t until around the 108th time that my twelve-year-old brother got even.

He played it straight throughout the appointment. No one noticed that he kept his hands underneath the paper bib. No one noticed until Dr. S gave him his traditional squirt on the nose. That’s when my brother pulled out the squirt gun and shot him back. M’s laugh could be heard clear out in the waiting room.

Sometime after I grew up and moved away, Dr. S retired. His son took over his practice. I wonder whether another generation continued the nose squirting routine.

My adult dentist, Dr. T, saw my kids through their childhood. She is calm and gentle and kind, and they were never afraid. She never squirted them on the nose. At every visit, she asks about my girls and I ask about hers. I like her and my kids did too. But I doubt they’ll look back at their childhood appointments with the same fond amusement that I do.

Dr. S’s son is still practicing dentistry in the same office I went to as a child. Dr. S is an old man now. I wonder if he ever thinks of the boy who squirted him back.

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 (Truthfully, I was third out of four, but hey, you’ve got to take success where you can get it!)

The Universal Language of Loss

It was the day after I found our dear black lab dead next to the road. The day after my husband had to leave work to bury her, before the kids would have to see her there.

They had seen me cry. Our five-year-old was old enough to grieve with us, but we didn’t think our two-year-old could understand.

That day after, we played outside in the sunshine, being normal though it didn’t feel normal without our dog running with us.

Out of breath, I boosted myself up to sit on the tailgate of our pickup. My littler girl reached her arms up to me. I picked her up and sat her next to me.

She had few words at that age, but used sounds and gestures to let us know what she wanted to say.

She patted my leg to get my attention and said her word for our dog’s name, “Detta.”

“No,” I answered. “She’s gone. She can’t come back.”

“Uh,” my daughter said pointing to a passing truck. Then she slapped her own leg.

“Yes,” I agreed. “A truck hit her.”

My little girl pointed at me. “You,” she said, then ran her pudgy fingers down her cheeks and whimpered.

“Yes,” I said. “I cried.”

When she wrapped her little arms around my neck, I knew she understood after all.

The Good Guys

It was the night of the November election. I was, by turns, doing some work I’d brought home and checking polling results on my phone.

My daughter’s first text came in about eight o’clock.

“I’m worried!”

I worry about the country on a daily basis, but my heart breaks for my daughter. Like all her generation, she was taught in school that, although our country had a shameful tradition of slavery and human rights violations, all that was behind us. With first the victories of Martin Luther King and later the election of Barack Obama, the only president in their adult lives, America had triumphed over bigotry and hatred. They were sure that we could only move forward.

While I know that there were many reasons that voters supported Donald Trump, an unfortunate consequence of that support has been the openness with which some people now express their anger and prejudice. It remains to be seen whether those reasons will justify the fallout in the end. To get the supreme court justice they preferred, or the manufacturing jobs he has promised, or the tax reforms he swears he will bring, or the illegal immigration he will build a wall to attempt to prevent, his supporters ignored the other words he has spoken or tweeted, the lies he has told, the manipulation he has strategized. Though it is not a bargain I was willing to make, I understand that, when desperate enough, voters did.

My daughter and many of her generation embraced the idealism of Bernie Sanders. The harshness of Trump’s message has been a bitter pill to swallow.

She jokes, “Will you visit me in Canada?”

My daughter is not naïve. She works with people in poverty, some of whom came to America recently trying to find a safer, more prosperous life, as immigrants have for generations. She understands much more than most of us the issues that poor families face. She sees parents every day, who range from being illiterate to having graduate degrees, working hard at manual labor to make better lives for their kids. As a child born to the privilege of education and a stable home life, she feels the need to give back. She wants leaders who see what she sees and a way to move forward to improve the lives of the families she serves.

Though we are texting, I imagine the anguish in her voice, and I want to reassure her, as mothers often try to do. I tell her to remember the balance of power, how congress and the judiciary must cooperate before too much damage can be done. I know it is a weak argument for her sorrow of this moment.

We sign off, but I can imagine her thinking, “How could Americans vote this way? We’re supposed to be the good guys.”

But I want to let her know, “Honey, everyone thinks they’re the good guys.”

 

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

When my oldest was about three, I started planting the idea of college in her brain. I remember a particular conversation we had.

“What happens when you’re five?” I asked.

“I go to school,” she answered on cue.

“Where do you go after grade school?” I asked next.

“High school,” she responded.

“Where do you go after high school?”

“College!”

Then I asked, “What are you going to be when you grow up?”

Smiling, she told me, “A clown.”

Great, I thought. Clown college!

I’ve been thinking about that question we always ask kids. What do you want to be when you grow up? I think we’re asking the wrong question or expecting the wrong answer.

I’ve been a teacher for over 30 years and I definitely hold Teacher as part of my central identity. But not everyone is lucky enough to have a career that they love, much less one that can be part of their character. Some of us have a passion for what we do, but many, many more simply have a job so that they can pursue their passions, or sometimes just so they can survive. We need garbage collectors, car salesman and account managers, and all those jobs provide services modern society needs, but none are likely to make people feel like that is who they are in life.

According to US Labor statistics, people my age have had an average of 11+ jobs. The millennial generation is likely to switch careers even more often. No one will “be” one thing through their lifetime. Maybe what we should be asking is, “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”

Do you want to be smart? Everyone’s intelligence can be improved with hard work and perseverance, qualities that would be valuable for any occupation.

Do you want to be strong and brave? Start practicing now, child. Exercise those muscles and face your fears.

Do you want to be adventurous? Then, parents, it’s time for some child-sized freedom or they’ll never be up for a challenge.

Do you want to be athletic? You’ll need some genetic talent, but then practice, practice, practice.

Do you want to be kind? The world could use you right now.

Do you want to be creative? Don’t be a follower. Pursue your art.

Since my husband has retired and taken over many of the chores I used to do, I’m trying self-centered on for size. I think this is what has freed me up to try adding Writer to my psyche. It feels pretty good.

Who do you want to be? Try on a new label and see how it feels.

Socks and Gloves

We pulled into the library parking lot last Saturday morning.

As we got out of her CRV, I asked my friend, D., “How did you start doing this?”

“I saw it on the Internet,” she said. “The first time we were going to tie hats and gloves to poles around downtown, but people came from everywhere and we didn’t have time to tie them. So now I just bring a bag.”

She pulled a large black tote bag from the back of her car and locked it. Then we slowly walked across the lot toward three men who were waiting next to the parking lot, outside the church where they would soon serve lunch.

A tall heavy-set white guy with a beard stood on the curb smoking. Another smaller white man and a black man about the same height, all around forty, leaned against the brick wall. All were dressed in jeans, winter jackets zipped tight against the cold, hats pulled over their ears.

My friend called, “Hello.”

Smoking man called back, “Hello, how are you?”

“Good,” D. said. “I have some hats and gloves here. Is there anything you need?”

She slipped a strap off her shoulder to show him what was in the bag.

“Take whatever you want.”

Smoking man showed us a hole in one finger of his gloves and selected a stretchy pair of gloves to layer over them. Once the other guys saw what she had, one approached and took a pair of gloves.

Both men called, “Thank you!” as we moved away.

“Could you use a pair?” my friend asked the remaining guy.

“No, I’m good,” the man said without moving.

Smoking guy tried to get us to stay to chat, with a story about his brother getting hit by lightning and blown apart. We made sympathetic noises, but went on our way.

We wandered down the sidewalk toward the library and a group of about ten people standing near the entrance. Again my friend called out a greeting and approached the first person who answered.

A slender young man with prominent cheek bones peered into the bag.

“Looks like mostly girly things,” he said.

“Dig down,” D. said. “There are some guy things down in there.”

“Hey, you have socks,” he said. “Can I have a pair?”

“Sure,” she said.

“Thank YOU!” he said. “I can really use these.”

Once the other guys heard she had socks, several stepped forward and took a pair. A few took gloves. All thanked us. No one took more than one or two items.

“Could you use something?” I asked a young woman in a wheelchair, with various bags strapped to it.

“No thanks,” she said. “I just need my dad to pick me up. Dad, where are you!”

Meanwhile D. was talking to Slender Guy again. He asked if his girl friend could have something.

“Of course,” she said.

We headed into the library.

“Now we walk around the outside wall,” D. said.

As we walked around we nodded and smiled at anyone who made eye contact. Looking around I saw an older man sitting reading on a tablet, a girl reading with someone who could be her grandma, a few scattered people searching the shelves. A young woman, brown hair pulled back in a pony tail, came out of a side room to greet us. She was taking a pair of gloves when Slender Guy walked up.

“Oh, is this your girlfriend?” D. asked.

Slender Guy nodded shyly and they walked off holding hands. “Thanks!” they called back.

We came around a corner to a seating area with orange vinyl chairs and a couch. Five guys, anywhere from twenty to sixty, were sitting around. All the men were still wrapped up tight, hats on, coats zipped. A couple had small bags nearby. When D. greeted them, they seemed to know why she was there.  A man about sixty with his back to the window spoke up first, but the others soon accepted our Invitation.  After every pair of socks, each one looked my friend in the eye and said, “Thank you.” The manner was casual, but the thanks was sincere.

We continued around, stopping once or twice more before heading outside.

“So socks is the biggest need?” I asked.

“Yes, socks is big, but it all depends on the day. I have coats in the back of the car too, and some shoes. You never know.”

“Are there mostly men?”

“No, there’s usually more of a mix. A couple of weeks ago there were a lot of kids,” D. said.

I thought about the people standing in the cold for a meal, grateful for a single pair of socks, taking no more than they absolutely needed. I thought about children with cold hands and parents who wanted to but couldn’t give their kids what they need. I thought about the smiles and the thank yous for something so small.

As we got in the car, I turned to D.

“Next week,” I said, “I want to come back.”

Tech Troubles

Over the weekend I tried to help a friend figure out how to Facetime with her grandson. My friend has not bitten the bullet and switched over to the addictive smartphone, but she has a castoff from her daughter that will work with wifi. An in person lesson didn’t quite do it. She could Facetime me, but somehow not her grandson. So there we were the next day, trying to figure out the problem over the phone.

My friend has some tech skills. She can program her DVR, use a computer, and text on her not so smart phone, but it’s only when you are trying to explain things to someone new to a new gadget that you realize how much vocabulary and know-how you have come to take for granted. Swipe up! Push the home button. Try holding the power button down. Find the icon that….  It gave me some sympathy for my kids when they try to explain tech to me. I master one gadget and they replace it with another.

If you were an adult by the 90’s you remember the avalanche of technology that defined the decade- cell phones, Blackberries, pagers, not to mention the World Wide Web, digitized answering machines, next generation video games, and digitized home appliances large and small.

I remember getting a bread maker for Christmas one year. I got out the directions, assembled my ingredients, and pushed things out of the way on the counter to make space for its giant footprint. I made the first call to the bread maker support line when I couldn’t get the pan firmly attached to the base and it was jumping around violently. The friendly young man on the other end of the line talked me through getting the pan clicked in. I thanked him for his help and hung up.

Mixing was noisy but seemed to be going along okay until I heard beeping. Consulting the manual, the machine was supposed to beep twice when it was time to add additional ingredients, like the raisins in raisin bread. But it wasn’t that time. So I picked up the phone and called the friendly support man back. He asked questions, suggested checking various things, asked about the scheduled beeping, and finally sounded a bit concerned.

“I’m sorry,”he said. “But I really don’t know what could be causing that. As long as the machine is working right otherwise, you’re probably okay to let it run, but keep an eye on it and unplug it if you have any other problems.”

So we let it run and it made a wonderful, toasty brown loaf of homemade bread.

It was only later, after I turned off the bread maker and put it away, that I found my husband’s pager beeping away on the counter behind it.

Battling the Winter Blues

Now that the holidays are over and the gray days of January have come to stay, it’s time to pull out my bag of tricks to keep the winter blues at bay. I don’t think I’d get an official diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder (my sympathies if you do), but I need to start now to keep my spirits up through the long dark days of winter.

As I type this I’m sitting wrapped in a blanket with my toasty dog on my lap. The thermostat says it’s seventy in here, but I feel winter down to my bones. Staying warm is key. If I wasn’t typing, the cup of tea at my elbow would be warming my hands.

New Year’s resolutions aside, it’s time to rally my coworkers and get my winter exercise group going. It’s easy to exercise when the weather is fine and the sun is shining. Once we’re trapped indoors it’s tempting to hibernate, but that won’t help my mood. Since none of us are terribly athletic, the resulting laughter is mood-lifting exercise as well.

It’s also tempting to stay home when the days are gray, but getting out to visit with friends or see a movie can lift me out of my winter funk.

One of the hardest parts of winter for me is that gray view out the window. I spend all winter craving green. These days I spend enough time at work and home staring at screens that I change those screens to be the window views I’d really prefer. Spring is my favorite season, but that’s not what I’m going for here. I choose desktop photos that make me remember hot, humid summer days  when I was sticky and damp, but loving the day and who I was with. Here are some of my favorites.

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I was hiking at Effigy Mounds in Iowa with my brother and sister-in-law. The temperature was in the 80’s and as I look at this photo I can feel my shirt sticking to my back. We came around a bend to see this view through the trees.

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On a warm summer day, an old friend introduced me to a conservation area in Illinois called Emiquon. This photo only captures a fraction of the beauty of that day, but can’t you hear the flies buzzing in the heat? (Photo credit: Donna J. O’Day)

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Driving cross country with my daughter I captured this view in Utah. While she’s far away now, this reminds me of the uninterrupted hours we spent together. Can you feel the heat rising off the sand?

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Last summer my other daughter and I went hiking near Lake Superior. This is only one of the spectacular views we experienced that day. Looking out over the lake, I can feel the heat of the sun, the cool of the water and my daughter at my side.

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Imagine a stroll down a road heading out of town with your extended family while the sun sets. This view gives me a feeling of peace.

I feel warmer already!

I hope you stay warm and upbeat until winter is Gone!

The Teacher’s Carol

In the last days before break, my students shared with me

A small gift to put under the tree.

In the last days before break, my students shared with me

One rotten head cold, and two gifts with bows to put under the tree.

In the last days before break, my students shared with me

Two sleepless nights, one rotten head cold, and a sweet gift to put under the tree.

In the last days before break, my students shared with me

Three birthday treats, two sleepless nights, one rotten head cold, and a thoughtful gift to put under the tree.

In the last days before break, my students shared with me

Four puddles of glue,

Three birthday treats, two sleepless nights, one rotten head cold, and a little gift to put under the tree.

In the last days before break, my students shared with me

Five missing assignments,

Four puddles of glue,

Three birthday treats, two sleepless nights, one rotten head cold, and a cheerful gift to put under the tree.

In the last days before break, my students shared with me

Two times indoor recess, six missing assignments,

Four puddles of glue,

Three birthday treats, two sleepless nights, one rotten head cold, and a generous gift to put under the tree.

In the last days before break, my students shared with me

One dripping nose bleed, three times indoor recess, seven missing assigments,

Four puddles of glue,

Three birthday treats, two sleepless nights, one rotten head cold, and a silly gift to put under the tree.

On the last days before break, my students shared with me

72 Christmas projects, one dripping nose bleed, four times indoor recess, eight missing assignments,

Four puddles of glue,

Three birthday treats, two sleepless nights, one rotten head cold, and a shiny gift to put under the tree.

In the last days before break, my students shared with me

A noisy Christmas party, 72 Christmas projects, one dripping nose bleed, four times indoor recess, nine missing assignments,

Four puddles of glue,

Three birthday treats, two sleepless nights, one rotten head cold, and a Fortune in gifts to put under the tree.

On the last day before break, my students shared with me

Lots of Christmas greetings, a noisy Christmas party, 72 Christmas projects, one singing flash mob, four times indoor recess, nine missing assignments,

Four puddles of glue,

Three party treats, a very early morning, secret gift wrapping, and the gifts we made to put under the tree!

First Snow

We had our first snow of the season over the weekend, blanketing the yard in white.

This morning when I took my dog out, the world was still. She flushed a few sparrows from a bush, but all other living creatures were in hiding. The rabbits Vanish whenever they see her, but they left their tracks before us in the snow.

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In and around them were our prints as we circled the yard in the softening snow.

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Temperatures rose above freezing through the day and by evening the snow had almost vanished.