Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It was sometime that evening that my son felt the first stirrings of something not-so-good. His throat was dry. His eyes looked a bit funny and he wasn’t all that hungry. He just didn’t feel so well. Sunday was fine, some of the same, but Monday morning it reared on up. A plate of pancakes, buttermilk, which he ate some of, slowly, then disappeared into the bathroom. Wasn’t more than a few minutes before I made the call to the school. He wouldn’t be in attendance. It’s the rule. Lose your pancakes and you’re out for 24 hours, minimum.
Tuesday morning, the doctor confirmed it. Influenza. I confess I’m not one for panic or getting all hopped up about illness. When you’re sick, you’re sick. You lay yourself down and move through it and it won’t be long before you’re back at it. But when it’s my kid, and the flu — given all I’ve read lately — I did get a bit, well, worried. And that’s why I hauled him in, and that’s why I’ve been content to hover around home for a number of days this week. Canceled a few things, rescheduled a few others. My son has the flu, and I’m not going anywhere ’til he’s feeling better.
Mostly because, when it comes to being sick when you’re a kid, is being sick alone. There’s something comforting, healing even, about someone hovering around. About cool hands on your forehead, those same cool hands offering you a glass of water, then tucking the quilt in about you. Something about hearing that person humming a song, doing housework quietly, moving past now and then while you’re not asleep but not quite awake. You hear another log gently placed on the fire, you hear something boiling on the stove and open your eyes to find a small bowl of cool rice pudding sitting there with a bit of cinnamon sprinkled over it. You can’t eat much of it, but the fact someone made it for you and it’s there, just in case? Well, there’s a kind of hope in that which is nourishment in itself.
I’ve never been a mother to coddle her children. Sure, I indulge them on occasion, but life is less daunting if you can fend for yourself. Times like this, though, are the exception. This is my child, and he’s sick, and I’m not going anywhere. He doesn’t need to know that, but I’m guessing he does. And I imagine it makes him feel something more than not alone during a miserable stretch of days.
There are nights toward the end of January when we’re all comfort-fooded-out, and no one wants a sit-down meal. We have “Hors d’oeuvre Night” now and then, or sometimes just beer cheese soup and popcorn. Here’s a recipe that works on such evenings, when a little something is just enough.
Baked Sweet Potato Fries
4 medium sized sweet potatoes
Wash potatoes and pat dry with a paper towel. Cut each lengthwise into four, and each fourth into two or three, depending on how thick you want your fries. Toss with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, and a half teaspoon or so of salt. Spread over foil-lined or spray-coated baking sheet and bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Turn fries over with fork and bake another 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven. Serve with assorted dips, condiments, or on their own.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I’ve been helping my mother sift through my grandmother’s things and what a task that is. Just enough to fill a small apartment in a lovely home for the elderly, but still. A lot. I’m struck by two things: the emotion involved in such an endeavor, and the beautiful and strange and sometimes wild assortment of things we gather in our lives.
It’s all got me thinking about exit strategy. Mind you, I certainly don’t intend to leave the planet for a good fifty years, but still. I have thoughts. The last thing I want is to leave stuff all the heck over for people to deal with. My other grandmother, bless her sweet heart, was not a hoarder but she did — having grown up during the Depression — tend to gather things left and right. Plus, she was a ceramics enthusiast (mostly elves and Christmas trees) and a believer in using a plastic bag over and over again until it disintegrates. I’m not judging her, not at all. I understand, and in many ways admire how she lived. But when the time came to empty out her house, well, we had a crew and it took weeks.
This time around, it was a matter of days. We sorted through old cards and clothing and wrapping paper carefully saved. Dishes and jewelry and photos. My grandmother owned 13 purses, each of which contained at least one Kleenex and a piece of candy or two. I didn’t take much with me — some photos and scarves and a small lamp and a few lovely plates.
Perhaps it’s silly of me, but my strategy includes a kind of paring down through my life. I don’t gather much, but who can help it? I tell the kids, assure them, that when I go, they will be able to open the hall closet and find three boxes labeled with their names, and that will be that. It’s a nice thought, but I’m thinking there will be a bit more than that. All these books, and my collection of holly-adorned plates and ornaments, and some silver jewelry and an array of wooden spoons. Mindful then, that a life lived is not about things, but there are things in a lived life. Can’t get away from it. What I hope is that what I leave behind will be, as is with both of my grandmothers, my words, and my way of inhabiting the world. That the words will be wise and powerful, and that my kids might say I lived well, and had a good heart. In the meantime, I’ll keep working at maintaining a sane amount of stuff, have a garage sale in the spring.
I’m not the biggest fan of canned pie filling, but it works in a pinch. Feel free to slice your own apples for this one, but if you want to throw a treat together in a minute, this cake will fill your home with good smells and heat up the house in the baking.
Apple Spice Dump Cake
1 package spice cake mix
2 (21 ounce) cans apple pie filling
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground allspice
1 T white sugar
¾ cup butter
1 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350. Pour the cans of apple pie filling into a 9 x 13 inch rectangular pan. In a small bowl, mix together cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and sugar. Sprinkle mixture over pie filling. Pour the dry box of cake mix over apples. Dot with butter and scatter nuts on top. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour, until cake is brown on top and bubbling on the sides. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped topping.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It was one of those inside days, so cold and grey, and I was baking chocolate white chip cookies when the phone call came, an hour after the show ended. It was my mother, telling me my grandmother had died within the hour. She had lived nearly a century, and fell down on December 2 just after church on her way out to lunch with some friends. She never really rose up. Her hip was broken in four places. Pneumonia, bleeding, infection. All that.
When she died, though, it was perfect, really. Death can be that way. A Saturday night, Amazing Grace playing in the background, just Grandma and her daughter — my mom — holding hands. Grandma just sighed, and was gone. Her husband died at 52; he’s been waiting a long time for his gentle, elegant bride to join him. She grew up Methodist and played hymns on the organ like no one else. She gave birth to four children. She loved flowers and canning and chocolate and pie.
Mom cried on the phone. I cried, too. Not so much for my Grandmother’s passing, but for myself. It’s like that. Suddenly someone dies and we want them back. I think I cried for time passing, too, and for how we each will, at some point, have said goodbye to everyone in our lives. We planned Grandma’s funeral on Tuesday. There will be hymns on Saturday afternoon, and a loud organ, and purple and pink and blue flowers, and ham sandwiches and bars. I will be delivering her eulogy, wearing one of the scarves I chose from her collection. It smells like her.
I’m not put off by the thought of my own funeral. I’ve always regarded it as down the road, not an event as much as the next thing sometime in my 90s, if I am so blessed. I’m not so concerned with the details. I’m sure the kids will get it all right: a trampoline aisle in the church, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, bowls of peanut butter M&Ms here and there, some poetry and some good words. Homemade pizza, perhaps, and some rice pudding. Lilies of the Valley. Laughter.
I’m all for comfort food these weeks of January, and this one will work for watching football or for an afterschool snack. Serve it with cornbread, and a big glass of milk.
Cheesy Chili Hash Brown Bake
4 cups chili, canned or homemade (ought to be thick)
1 bag (16-ounce) fresh or frozen shredded hash brown potatoes, thawed if frozen
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 425, with rack set in upper third. Divide chili among four individual baking dishes (10 to 12 ounces each) and set aside.
Place potatoes in a double layer of paper towels; squeeze out as much liquid as possible. In a large bowl, combine potatoes, cheese, and cilantro; season with salt and pepper. Scatter potato mixture over chili. Place baking dishes and bake about 20 minutes until potatoes are golden brown and chili is bubbling.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Winding down now from the busy holidays and enjoying the quiet, aurorean mornings. Now that all of the Christmas décor is packed away, the house looks somewhat bare and I’ve been lighting candles and hanging framed photos and cleaning where dust has gathered.
I’ve had some time, too, to catch up with friends and have good long conversations and hear stories of adventures. One friend got on a plane yesterday for a short trip to Paris to visit the Mona Lisa. She’s writing poetry about the portrait, and I admire her brave heart for such spontaneous adventure all on her own. Another friend just returned from a trip a few weeks back where she walked El Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James in Spain, a pilgrimage she took herself along which she had conversations with God. And yet another friend is enrolling in a degree program which will make her, after the journey, a certified social worker. Helper of those who need help.
I find my adventures not far from where I sit. Sometimes it’s a question about math. Sometimes a complaint about a teacher. Sometimes it’s just tears. This week, a long goodbye to a boyfriend sworn into the army, a passed driver’s test, and oral surgery resulting in two buried teeth finding light. They each have their issues, and their glories.
One day I’ll go on a big adventure myself. Never have seen the Grand Canyon, and a road trip like that would be just right. Some days that thought keeps me going. But for now, I’ll take the adventure of the ordinary day, of adolescence, of finding the blue shirt that was hanging up in the closet yesterday. I’ll find it, son, I tell him. It’s what I do.
Here’s a simple one, for a weekend afternoon when you don’t feel like doing much but you’re craving something good.
Crock Pot Beer Chicken
2lbs skinless, boneless chicken breasts (I use 8 breasts, about 4 oz each)
1 bottle or can of your favorite beer
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp dried oregano
½ tsp black pepper
Place all ingredients in the crock pot, and cook on high for 4-5 hrs, or low for 6-8 hrs. Feel free to change out the spices and herbs and use whatever you’d like.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. A bit rough to hear it all with everything going on. People were rushing in and out all day – out for skating and sledding, in for movies and breakfast for dinner. We had French toast, because we hadn’t in a while, and it was a cozy night, and somehow French toast seemed right. I made it the way my mother does, dipped in egg and milk and fried in oil and rolled in cinnamon sugar. Butter a must, syrup optional.
We often have Chinese food over the New Year stretch of days, but didn’t get around to it this year. There’s a lot we didn’t get around to, which could be viewed as a sad thing. Didn’t listen to Handel’s Messiah all the way through. Didn’t get the Christmas letters in the mail, again. (Have to shoot for a Valentine’s Day Letter.) Didn’t light the advent candles and do the readings as we often do. Didn’t go caroling. Didn’t make The Ham with Caribbean Sauce. Didn’t call the Faraway Loved Ones on Christmas Day (too much running).
As I think about it, this New Year, when you have a long list of what doesn’t get done, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not bad at all. Just means you had a hope for something. I’m pretty much at peace with what I didn’t do. What I DID do was just enough, and just right. Drove around for three whole hours just looking at lights. Listened to my dear friend Angela’s recording of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Lit a lot of candles and made a fantastic turkey with mediocre gravy. Made it to church, all of us, on Christmas Eve. You know, that alone, really, was enough. That we were together, and we were. A true blessing, indeed.
There was a request along the way for this recipe, which makes it a repeat — but a good one — and a lovely snack for a January afternoon in a new year.
Chocolate Cherry Cake
1 chocolate cake mix
21 oz can cherry pie filling
2 beaten eggs
1-2 tsp almond extract
Mix above ingredients in a bowl. Pour into a greased and floured 9×13 cake pan. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until cake is set in middle. May also be made in a larger pan for thinner bars. Use below recipe or frost with a can of your favorite ready-made chocolate frosting.
Bring to boil 1 c sugar, 5 T butter, and 1/3 c milk; boil 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add 1 c chocolate chips. Stir well. Pour over cake and let cool.
Serve plain or with whipped topping.