Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It had been a lovely summer day in a good stretch of warm and perfect sunny days. And today is another. Seems, though, that ol’ reliable Balance has kicked in as it does by nature, and in nature. A day may be perfect, but we aren’t, and there are the small things to contend with which may or may not hamper our progress through a given day.
Sunburn is one, and we all have it right now, and the bottle of aloe vera gel is half empty. Not unmanageable, but really. First it’s the shivers, then the peel. There have been a few large headaches, too, which spring out of nowhere and send us snapping at each other, or moaning on the coach. Perhaps they are from the switch from hot weather to inside cool; perhaps it’s being in close proximity to family after a scattered school year. Perhaps we miss winter… And then there are the bugs which bite, and the wind which dries us out and the mysterious rashes which rise up from our skin like maps of a sub dermal world.
The bonus here? We have to take care of each other, so we’re doing a lot more touching. We rub sunscreen on each other’s backs, then aloe vera twelve hours later. We give head massages, neck rubs, and foot rubs, and we wrap each other in light blankets in the cool of the living room. We apply peroxide and salve, bandaids and tape, bug spray and antibiotics and zinc oxide. We hose each other down when it gets too hot, and, on a perfect day not to far off, someone’s back will begin to peel and there will be someone to peel it. Count on it.
Here’s an easy recipe that can go in a thousand directions, depending on your mood, the weather, or whom you expect for dinner.
1 pound chicken breast meat, cut as you wish
1/3 c soy sauce
1/3 c brown sugar
1/3 c water
1/4 c vegetable/olive oil
Mix together & refrigerate.
Place chicken in roasting dish with marinade. Bake 20-25 minutes or so at 350, turning once. Serve shredded in an Oriental salad, sliced in wraps, or in pieces with some rice and vegetables. Chicken is also wonderful grilled.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. The house was quiet. No one was asking me about world peace or what is and isn’t genetic or how mosquitos just appear in clouds out of nowhere. There were no suggestions for dinner, and no one to share with me the lovely strawberry shortcake I threw together during the show. They were out, everyone. Mr. Sundberg has been in New York City for a stretch of days giving a talk called, “Authenticity: The Path to Joy.” Two of the kids were at work, and the third was out looking for work.
How bout that. I almost felt guilty, sitting there with my shortcake and berries and whipped topping all piled up on a plate, my feet up on the ottoman, my spirits up after singing “I’ll Fly Away” along with Mr. Keillor on the radio. What a thing to have your offspring, all within months of each other, search for and find work for the first time in their lives. It’s a blessed thing, when you attempted to raise them up with the Right Ideas in their heads about what is and isn’t of value in life. And only one of ’em is working out of financial necessity. The other two, and I quote, “Want to do something important over the summer.” Well, now. Seems all those lectures may have had some effect after all.
My first job wasn’t for pay, but it was a job. I was a volunteer, three days a week, 9-4, at the nursing home in my hometown. I spent the three summers of Junior High reading books to older people, playing chess with them, writing and reading letters, helping with bedding changes and getting dressed and emergency bathroom visits and clean-up when someone didn’t make it in time. I played beanbag toss and pushed wheelchairs out on the sidewalk for time in the sun and often just sat with someone over lunch. It was a strange time, and I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I was compelled, each summer, to return.
Gaida was the name of the oldest woman there, my favorite, a lady who couldn’t hold her head up straight and who insisted I sing with her as I pushed her around the parking lot. It would take awhile to tell you why, but I loved her. And didn’t quite understand that until the August day I showed up at the home to find Gaida’s room empty and the curtains drawn. My boss, the nursing home manager, told me Gaida had died in the night, natural causes.
I worked the rest of that day, and somewhere between the nursing home and my home, I began to cry, and I didn’t stop til after I’d cried in my bedroom awhile. I cried hard. Not so much because my friend had died, but because I was unfamiliar with loss, and didn’t quite see it fair that I hadn’t said goodbye. Or something.
That was the last summer I volunteered at the nursing home in town; it was time to move on to fast food restaurants and drive-thrus and paychecks. I missed that place, though, and those people, and playing chess on the patio with Earl and Lily and George. I miss it now. Seems like a thousand years ago, and it seems like only yesterday. And now the kids are out there, in that world. Such lessons await, and all good. Nice to have home to return to. Sure is.
Here’s one humdinger of a fine dessert cake. Double up on your ingredients, because you’ll be making another tomorrow if you try this one today.
Orange Cream Cake
One 3 oz pkg orange Jell-O
3/4 c boiling water
1 pkg yellow cake mix
3/4 cup oil
Three tsp orange extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp grated orange zest
Grease a tube or bundt pan. Dissolve gelatin in boiling water and cool. Add cake mix and beat until smooth. Add 1 egg at a time, beating well after each. Slowly add oil. Fold in extracts and zest. Bake at 350 for 50 min.
Two tsp softened butter
Two cups pwd sugar
1/2 cup warm water
Eight oz froz oj concentrate at room temp
Combine butter and sugar. Whisk til smooth. Keep whisking and add water and oj. Use a chopstick or such to poke holes in cake and pour sauce over. Let cake cool before removing from pan. I have let the cake cool, removed it from the pan, and THEN poked the holes and poured the sauce over. For presentation’s sake. Whatever works for you.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I was inside, making a rootbeer cake, doing what I think of as a kind of combat with the weather, which was so hot I lost track of the line between my own skin and the air. Everything was heat and hot and heated and there are mechanisms for survival that kick in on days like that, and they did. Patience becomes a greater virtue, and then there’s the move toward the kitchen and something smooth and cool, and thoughts race toward what to do next to keep the kids from pickin’ at each other.
The answer was distraction, which works in most situations when there’s a long, hot day ahead. So on Sunday morning we piled into the car and drove south and made a few turns and after an hour we were there: Amusement Park Central. Rollercoasters galore, and a lot of people wearing few clothes, and fountains all round with which one might cool oneself. Something I, to the kids’ eye-rolling, did. I didn’t climb INTO any of them, but the thought was there. No, I simply dipped my hands in the spray and splashed myself whenever we passed a fountain on the way to the next rollercoaster. Perhaps why my sunburn was so awful, the kind that brings shivers and sore skin and the search for the giant bottle of aloe which is like a truth serum for the skin.
Mine is a rollercoaster family and we must have ridden them 20+ times. Mr. Sundberg leads the pack, and his favorites are those on which the kids scream loudest and gasp for air amidst laughter as they disembark. Mr. Sundberg doesn’t gasp, or laugh much, but there he is with a big ol’ grin on his face, and the first to say, “Again!” I don’t have any objection to the rollercoaster. Any rollercoaster. Once you give birth, things change that way and fear is much less an option in general. The thrill is there, of course, but things just aren’t so scary when you’ve survived, multiple times, the planet Earth passing through your own body.
My ride, though, the one where joy courses like adrenaline and I’m most likely to holler, is the Tilt-a-Whirl. Mr. Sundberg opts out on this one as a rule. There’s no convincing him; I’ve tried. Choice of amusement park rides is a personal thing, and no one ought to have to explain why not. For me, something glorious happens when the kids and I are pinned by a force of man and nature to the back of the Tilt-a-Whirl car, and we simply hold on for dear life together and spin together through the heat, our sides aching and our eyes closed tight.
To be perfectly honest, though, the ride I can’t miss, the one that takes me back in time, is the Carousel. Something about it. The strange, loud, organ music, the breeze as you ride up and down on a plastic black mare, the way, when I turn back to look, the kids are smiling. They look free. And happy. They look like I feel. And Mr. Sundberg, away from the music, is eating a funnel cake at a green bench. He waves and I wave back. My eyes fill with tears. They always do, on Carousels. Something about how time moves along. Can’t ever go back, but it feels like you have sometimes. You know?
Next time a hot day rolls around, which is tomorrow, it appears, this is the cake to bake. You’ll be the Hero of the Hot Day, and one small piece won’t be enough, so cut ’em big.
Rootbeer Float Cake
1 box yellow cake mix
12 oz rootbeer (A&W works for me)
3 oz instant vanilla pudding
1 tsp rootbeer extract
8 oz Cool Whip
1 stick melted butter
1 cup pwd sugar
1 tsp rootbeer extract
Mix and bake cake at 350 in a 9×13 greased cake pan, 25-30 min or until firm.
Mix frosting ingredients together.
When cake is completely cool, frost and refrigerate.
You can make Orange Dreamsicle cake by substituting orange soda for
the rootbeer and orange extract for the rootbeer extract.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. The last two weeks of school is always been a humdinger, and we’ve been doing a good job of taking one day at a time. Things do get in the way: summer flu, huge projects due, final concerts, two kid birthdays in one week, forms to fill out for summer camp, what to have for dinner, and nasty ingrown toenails. You move through it, and do the next thing, and most nights the climb into bed feels like a blessing.
It was the toenail that got me. A doctor visit and antibiotics. For a toe. I’m serious. There was a point when my left calf grew warm, and I thought for sure I could see a small alien creature waving at me from inside the bubble rising up along my toenail. It was painful. I was limping about and wasn’t able to dance all last week. I had to find humor. Especially when my daughter came to me with the same problem. “IT HURTS!” she said. Over and again. Epsom salts, Honey. And lots of warm water.
Feet are a funny thing. People have foot issues, and foot fetishes. I’ll confess I’ve had a thing where I always have worn shoes, and it was only recently that I’ve let myself go back to the barefootness of my childhood. One of my children commented, a while back, that she’d never really seen my feet. And that was something. So off went the shoes, and I’ve been deliberate about it since. My feet aren’t remarkable; they’re nothing to hide. But they are vulnerable to bees and slivers and strange sticky spots, and this is perhaps why I’ve kept them hidden away. But no more. They are happy to brush through the grass, to squish mud, to be held in Mr. Sundberg’s rugged hands, to feel the sun, and I am happy to let them.
Pork and spices and tangy dark pink rhubarb — a main dish fit for a Father’s Day feast. Mmm! Add some corn on the cob and a crock of baked beans, and you’re good to go.
Rhubarb Pork Chop Casserole
4 pork chops
3 cups rhubarb, cut up
1 T cooking oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 T cinnamon
2 1/2 to 3 cups bread crumbs
1/4 cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Brown pork chops in oil; add salt and pepper. Remove to platter. Mix 1/4 cup pan drippings with bread crumbs. Reserve 1/2 cup, and sprinkle remaining crumbs into 9×13 inch baking dish. Combine rhubarb, sugar, flour and cinnamon. Spoon half over the bread crumbs. Arrange pork chops on top. Spoon remaining rhubarb mixture over chops. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle remaining crumbs. Bake 15 minutes longer.