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Not For Sale

I love to drive.  There is such a feeling of freedom being out and about and it leads me to wander into new neighborhoods as they appear around Monterey Park.  The newest houses seemed to have been built quickly in a community called Oxford and I took some time to drive through the area to check them out on my way to the grocery. Don’t get me wrong, I love my home and couldn’t imagine moving away from my group of girlfriends that live in my neighborhood. The ease of walking across the street or a couple of doors down to visit is so convenient that the house hunting is more a chance to see how others live. Even those kidney-shaped pools can’t persuade me to consider moving yet. But Steve is doing well at work and as he climbs the corporate ladder, I wonder if he will want more from his house. As the children get bigger, it might be nice to have more space. For now, Steve gets along well with the guys in the neighborhood and our closest friends live right across the street. I chuckle to myself how men can bond while staring into the open engine of a car and they seem to share their car knowledge freely. Same with their lawn and golf tips; those seem endless. But they don’t seem as attached to their actual homes as the women who keep them up on a daily basis.

As I drove up Calista Court toward our house, I passed Zettie Louise walking with another neighbor down the block. They were laughing as they leisurely strolled along past the houses, pointing to the little touches each family made to make their house a home. I understood this behavior. Our neighborhood is a part of our home. Besides, where would I be without Mags to keep me straight, or Edie to encourage me to follow my writing dreams, or even Gail to model great mommy behavior? No, for now, I would continue wistfully checking out bigger houses in other neighborhoods just for fun. Friends are special and I will do my best to keep spending these days and nights with my tribe and deepening our friendships.  Time flies and someday it might be me needing a friendly neighbor to walk with.

 

We All Ate The Homework

Homework prompted my dinner choice.  Junior’s class was supposed to make a dinner that reflected their ancestry.  Well, I knew we came from English and Irish ancestors and it was Saint Patrick’s Day, so there was plenty of Corned Beef Brisket for sale.  It’s not that it is such a hard meal to make, basically everything was boiled in a pot.  I flipped through the ladies’ magazines looking for something that would elevate this standard.  Finally, I came upon a recipe that would not make the whole house smell like cabbage.  Some genius woman tried cooking the cabbage separately until the end and then just let it bathe in the juices for 15 minutes.  The result was very tasty.

The harder part was that it was homework, which required Junior cooking along with me.  I thought it would make more sense to him if he really did the whole job, so I took him to the store with me to pick out the vegetables.  We had a recipe, which he read out loud to pick out the amount of carrots, onions, celery and cabbage he would need.  We had checked out the spices before leaving home to check on the bay leaves and other components.  He was reluctant at first to decide which carrots were the best ones, but eventually I waited long enough and he chose the ones he wanted and put them in the cart. When we got home, there was the vegetable washing and peeling and cutting, which he was very capable of doing, he just needed to be given enough time to complete each task.  Needless to say, dinner was a little later than usual.  The brisket takes a long time to simmer slowly and the house smelled sweet and rustic while it braised away.

While we waited, Junior and I played cards at the kitchen table and put together two puzzles.  It was nice to have the time to spend alone with him. Steve had ferried Daisy over to Gail’s to play and had gone to run some errands.  Normally, Steve would have asked Junior to go along with him but this homework time together gave me some thoughts on how to better share our children.  Both of the children needed to spend time with each of us but we didn’t always choose the opposite gender child to tag along with us.  I would have to discuss some changes with Steve over cocktails later to see how he felt about my ideas.

Junior set the table nicely and folded the napkins into strange animal figures that only he could decipher. Gradually, the meal came together and I showed Junior how to slice the meat properly to keep it from being tough.  We had a picture from the magazine to study to make the platter pretty and Junior even volunteered to complete that task.  All in all, the homework was very well done.  Steve got the camera and took a picture of Stevie holding the platter.  He had a big smile on his face.  Daisy and I joined Steve in giving the dinner many compliments. Junior ate each kind of vegetable, saying that they tasted different because he made them himself.

After dinner was over, there was the question of the dishes.  Normally I wash and the children help dry, but Steve decided that he would wash and Junior would dry.  That left Daisy and I some reading and cuddling time. It’s times like these that I wonder if Steve can read my mind. Or maybe we both knew the result of parenting both of our children would make better grown-ups.  I know that Mother Jones would never think of letting Dad Jones or Steve help out in the kitchen.  They were the men of the family and the kitchen has always been her domain.  For me, I was happy to share any chores and my domain with anyone in the family.  It’s usually the place we come together the best.  Maybe my family was like all the parts of a recipe; when we all come together, something delicious happens.

Lucky Me

I have never felt like luck was on my side and could never find a four leaf clover in the yard. At times, my preparation has met opportunity with good results though. My writing takes a lot of work to edit and correct. My cooking results are based on whether I stick to a recipe or a well-used practice. Lucky women have naturally beautiful hair, long eyelashes and legs, pouty lips and bodies that need little foundation. I use all the girly help I can get, have never been model-pretty, and usually strive to look as put together as possible. Not glamorous like Mags; that’s too much upkeep for me at this point.

I did follow my own lucky tradition by creating a warm and hearty Irish Soda Bread for breakfast the other morning. My recipe was handed down to me from my mother; she wasn’t that great a cook, but she baked well. The old recipe card was stained but I didn’t want to make a new one because it was in her handwriting and I loved seeing the even loops and swirls. I got up early and prepared it so everyone would have a lucky piece before leaving for their day of work or school. The kitchen smelled comforting and the children slathered butter on their bread. Steve lingered over his coffee after the kids ran off for the bus stop. It isn’t often that he does that and it was a wonderful surprise to get a few extra minutes with him.

Later in the morning, I lightly toasted a slice for Chloe when she stopped over and she confessed that she had never tried it before. She layered some jam on hers and asked for the recipe. For lunch, I grilled a cheese sandwich using the bread with a slice of ham in it and added a slice of tomato. It brought a new level of love to my basic grilled cheese sammy. The loaf made it through the whole day and made me rethink my thoughts on cooking with luck.

I remember experimenting one time as a young girl by wearing a new pair of play socks to church underneath my dress socks. During the holidays, I had overheard a conversation some older relatives were having about having to wear new clothes they received as gifts to church. My grandpa had to wear a pair of new pajamas underneath his dress suit to Sunday services. I giggled when I heard that and thought I would try it with the socks to get a “lucky” pair. My feet were stuffed into my shoes and my toes were squished. I lost feeling after the first hour and as soon as we returned from church, I freed my sweaty feet. I wore those socks for tests and events that needed extra confidence. I should have paid more attention to see if they worked but eventually grew out of them anyway.

I pulled a blank tabbed card from the back of my recipe box and wrote “Lucky” on the tab and decided to add it to the usual sections of cakes, meats and chicken. Maybe I wasn’t just seeing all the luck in my life already. There’s a lot present every day and I just wasn’t thinking of it that way. A reminder to recognize luck might help me see more of it.

A Sweet Surprise

 It’s the little things that sometimes make the biggest impact.  As is my usual habit, I cracked open the back door to enjoy a quick smoke while waiting for Steve and the children to come to breakfast. I was thinking about what to write for my next assignment. The theme was “What makes you nuts?” and I expected there to be a wide range of topics to choose from.

On the back step was a small basket lined with a pretty new tea towel. I lifted it up and brought it into the kitchen. Inside of the basket was a half-dozen still warm Banana Nut Muffins with a note from Chloe. For the last couple of months, I had been improving my French cooking and in reverse, Chloe was practicing her American housewife cooking. We had spent an afternoon a few weeks ago rifling through my recipe box and Chloe had copied a few recipes she wanted to try. Chloe wrote out the recipes in elegant longhand on the blanks I kept in the back of the box. Reading over Chloe’s sweet note in that same handwriting touched me since she thanked me for introducing her to our group and helping her feel at home in the states. I placed the basket on the table with the butter dish and we all enjoyed the delicious treat with breakfast.  Fresh muffins really improve everyone’s mood.

Chloe’s muffins helped me understand what to write about. Chloe was actually the one who made it easy for us to get to know her. She was certainly something new to us and didn’t take any offense to our questions. We were curious about her, her life in the Resistance, which seemed so courageous, and the difference between living in France and Monterey Park. Ultimately, she just was just like the rest of us. Maybe we are all the same in our hearts. Women accepting the easy friendship of other women could actually change the world. The theme of my assignment made complete sense to me now; on an everyday basis, I worried about every little thing. I realized that I was fully capable of handling our everyday needs pretty well. What I really need to figure out, before it made me nuts, was how to find a way for everyone else in the world to get along. Now that was a bigger project.

 

Snowy White Food

The Mother’s Club Bake Sale always sneaks up on me.  Even though I have coordinated the effort previously, I can never keep track of the timing.  This year, the windfall from the sale was going toward improving the school library.  Junior and Daisy are both good readers so we frequent the local public library often but it is always nice to think that there would be more books available in their own school.  I flipped through my recipe box at the sweets and tried to figure out which indulgence would be the least likely to be reproduced by someone else.   Chocolate was always a great choice, but there would be plenty of chocolate choices.  I have a good yellow cake recipe but it is so unspecial a flavor.  Marble is a good choice for those who can’t choose.  My strawberry cake sold pretty quickly one year but little girls like anything pink.  My brownies might be a winner but every brownie looked the same on a table of other sweets.

My answer came in an unusual form.  I could hear Snowball at the door and got up to let the cat wander in for a midday snack.  Snowball is a sweet cat who likes to curl his body in and out and around my legs when I walk through the kitchen.  Snowball jumps on Daisy’s bed and settles in next to her when she doesn’t feel well.  Snowball skitters around after bugs outdoors.  It is so strange to think that Snowball just revolves his life around ours, begging for treats and waiting patiently for someone to let him in and out the door, enjoying his freedom.  Somehow, he always keeps himself clean and snowy white.  Snowy white.  Like my White Cake recipe.  The decision was made.

My White Cake recipe was the best solution since it wasn’t wrong in every way.  I found the card in the box. There were some spots on the card from previous bakes.  I remembered making my first cakes as a new bride.  Not always perfect; there was so much to remember when baking.  I could blame it on the oven in our first apartment, but that wouldn’t account for any recent catastrophes.  Baking should be soothing, so sometimes when I am upset or nervous about something, I bake.  That doesn’t make for the best results because I tend to make mistakes in measurements when my mind is preoccupied.  There was the time I mixed up the sugar and the salt and never realized that putting that much salt in the bowl might not be right.  One time, I didn’t put enough shortening and flour in the baking pans and couldn’t get the layers out.  I invented a new dessert that night when I sandwiched whipped cream and pudding in layers with the pieces of torn cake from the pans.  Everyone liked it but I knew it wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.  Not too long ago, I completely forgot that I put a loaf of banana bread in the oven and it was very brown when I finally smelled hot bananas and saved it from the oven.

I read the flyer that the club sent home for directions for when to drop off items for the sale.  A new mother was in charge this year, and had printed fancy flyers to describe what she wanted to see at the sale.  As I read the page, I noticed that there was no listing for cupcakes this year.  What an outrage.  Selling small batches of cupcakes was tried and true; this young mother would need to learn her lesson.  I pulled out my muffin pan and the ingredients for the cupcakes.  White cupcakes with white icing coming right up.

Chicken Littles

Chickens were on my mind. At Martel’s this week, a new section of the fowl section was set aside for Cornish hens.  The ladies’ magazines had been featuring these little hens more as a fancy dinner party item and I wanted to try my hand at them too.  I wanted to invite Chloe and Francis over for dinner again since the children played so well together last time and we got to act like adults at the table without the children for a nice dinner.  I was sure that Steve wouldn’t mind having male company and he and Francis had a lot in common.  Neighbors need to be neighborly and I was sure this summer we would be seeing a lot of each other over the back yard fences.  Chloe was integrating well into our group of girls and had spent time with everyone at their homes over coffee and treats.

One of the benefits of having company was the chance to do an extra thorough job cleaning.  I loved the smell of our house after it had been well-cleaned.  The tidy, uncluttered nature of a clean living room reminded me of those beautiful pictures of fancy homes.  Rethinking the placement of the items on my kitchen top encouraged me to put away items that I didn’t need everyday.  Chloe had a very sparsely topped counter in her kitchen and her wooden table always had a fruit placement that resembled an artistic painting.  My aspirations were high that my home would be as chic as hers.  Chloe’s innate Frenchness spilled out effortlessly.

I called Chloe and made a date and asked her to bring Marie Claire along for Daisy.  I would feed the children first and they could play while we dined.  So grown-up. After we set the date, I decided that I would practice my new dish on my family.  I bought two Cornish hens at Martel’s and took my big knife to cut them in two for the preparation.  I had cut up many chickens in my day, but these little ones were much easier.  I knew that this way kind of a fancy dish for the children to enjoy, so I settled on letting them know that I was just making little chickens for dinner. Junior dragged the sauce off of the top of his but he did eat the chicken underneath.  Daisy liked it because it was “her size” chicken.  Steve pronounced it a keeper and said he didn’t even mind having it again next week.

With my new classes, new writing assignments and new recipes in mind, this was starting to be a new me kind of year.  Who knows were all this will lead?

The Clean Plate Club

Discovering the enjoyment of a meal comes down to one final visible sign.  The clean plate.  At breakfast, the kids down their cereal, pancakes or bacon before zooming out the door.  Depending on the time everyone took getting ready, the amount of sleep savored and the interest in making it to the bus stop on time, there may or may not be a clean plate or two.  Steve does pretty well eating in the morning if he is not fixated on an upcoming meeting or still upset from some minor life dilemma. The lunches I pack the children are a mystery on whether they are finished or not.  I suspect most children throw away food that they don’t want to eat or do not swap.  Steve eats lunch out with his fellow managers but never mentions if it is delicious or not. I try my best to create a wholesome, tasty dinner every night to bring us all together.  I even think about the color of the food I am going to put on the plates to try not to make it all the same.  Beige dinners just aren’t tempting every night.  I don’t enforce the rule to eat everything on a plate but I do try and encourage a bite or two of something new.  Junior likes to make new food into an experiment and close his eyes while he tries it.  Sadly, I have seen his face after some of these scientific tasks and it wasn’t pleasant.  But at least he tries new foods.  Daisy has to be encouraged a little more to take a bite or two to see if she likes something she hasn’t had previously.  A little pickier and a little more discerning.  There was a whole year when she wouldn’t eat meat.  But she did chow down on vegetables and that is why she eats them more easily these days.  Steve is polite on my new recipe reviews.  It must be difficult to come home everyday and not know what will be on the table staring back at you.  I like to pick out special recipes when I am “in the mood” for something different.  I guess my family eats their way through my cravings.

My parents were big on finishing up everything you were given to eat.  I always attributed their need not to waste on their earlier lives of not having everything they wanted to eat.  When we rationed during the war, it was a pain sometimes not to have as much as we wanted to use, but it seemed like such a noble cause that you could never grumble about it.  Cooks were better at substituting one ingredient for another and kept us satisfied by inventing new desserts that don’t use as much sugar.  Rationing affected many items though and I still love the ability to have as many nylons as I want and relish the feel of a newly-opened pair by running them across my hands.  They are so soft just out of the package.

This morning I made my famous blueberry pancakes.  Since it was a weekend and the weather outside was not enticing, everyone took their time eating and mostly finished their breakfasts willingly.  It was a nice time to spend together in the kitchenette.  Afterward, clean up was a breeze after our meeting of the clean plates club.

 

Accidentally Made Up

 

Judy Anne was known to spend a good deal of the first part of her morning “putting on her face.” I wasn’t as perfection-oriented as she was and Steve had seen me at my worst already, so my minimum application of make-up in the morning must have suited him by now. Before I left for any shopping trips later in the day, I usually checked my face and reapplied my lipstick. I didn’t want to be caught out without my signature lips.  Judy Anne’s southern upbringing required her to look her best even in the worst of times.

I knew this because of the accident. I was on my way back from class and noticed a familiar looking car blocking the entrance to the community. Another car was parked off to the side and it was smoking. When I looked into the first car, I saw Judy Anne. Her blonde hair was slightly askew and she had a shocked look on her face. I drove around the cars to the far side of the entrance and parked where no one would hit my car as they came toward the intersection. I jumped out and ran over to the window of Judy Anne’s car. She was a little dazed and had a small cut above her eye. A thin trail of blood was rising out of it. Judy Anne looked up and recognized me and asked me what happened. I clearly only knew that there had been an accident and it looked like she had been hit by the other car as she started to enter our community. There were a couple of metal parts on the street  but I couldn’t tell where they came from. I asked Judy Anne if she was all right and she seemed a little cloudy about the answer. I asked her if she had hit her head and she reached up to feel her forehead, which ended up leaving some blood on her hand. She screamed when she saw the blood and I tried to calm her down. Judy Anne seemed to return to her usual self suddenly and asked me if her face was messed up. I told her that her face looked fine except for the scratch on her head. She shook her head in a frustrated manner and asked the same question so that I would understand it. Judy Anne wanted to know if her make-up was in a disarray. She seemed perfectly passable for someone who had just been in a car accident so I told her she looked fine. She gasped a little and turned toward the side mirror and wrenched it toward her so she could see for herself. Judy Anne told me that I needed to get her home immediately.

By this time, a policeman had come to the scene and was talking to the other driver. He finally came over to Judy Anne’s car and asked to see her license. Judy Anne politely asked the officer his name and then asked him if I could take her home. Judy Anne’s house was just a few blocks into Monterey Park. The officer asked her if she was feeling sick and she told him that she just had to get home immediately. She pulled her license from her wallet and handed it over. The policeman wrote down some information and asked Judy Anne if she would like the car towed to a mechanic. She gave him Stubb’s phone number at work and she graciously told the officer to call her husband to find out. I will admit that anyone else who made these kinds of demands might find that a police officer might tell them to take care of it themselves, but there is something about Judy Anne’s ability to increase her southern charm and accent when necessary. Judy Anne opened the car door, took my arm and walked toward my car. Under her breath, I heard her tell me, “Home, now.” So, we left the scene of the accident with Judy Anne’s car partially blocking the intersection and the other driver just scratching his head.

When we arrived at Judy Anne’s, she jumped out and ran into the house, with me several steps in back of her. She clearly had not hurt herself too badly. I walked into the house through the front door that she had left open for me but couldn’t find Judy Anne. I checked the kitchen thinking that maybe she had needed a drink; I checked the hall bath and didn’t see her. My stress level increased as I realized that she must have headed right for her bed to lie down. Maybe she was really hurt. As I got to her bedroom I realized what the problem was. Judy Anne was sitting at her three-sided mirror vanity examining the cut on her forehead. She was already wiping some liquid on it and patting it with make-up to cover it up. The only thing that was damaged in the accident was Judy Anne’s make-up. She was determined that no one was going to see her face when it wasn’t at its best.

Strangely, I knew that it wasn’t vanity that made Judy Anne feel this way. It was her upbringing. I knew that Judy Anne’s southern momma had taught her this rule. Judy Anne was not about to break hundreds of years of tradition for just a little car accident. While I waited at the bedroom door, I heard the front door of the house open and Stubbs call out for Judy Anne. I called back in return and he quickly sidestepped me and went directly to her. He knelt next to her and gently asked her if she was all right. Judy Anne told Stubbs that she had a small boo-boo on her head, but other than that, she was just fine. He kissed her cheek and gently steered her toward the bed to lie down. I said my good-byes and Stubbs thanked me for bringing Judy Anne home. As I left, he was sitting on the side of the bed, patting her hand and asking her what she needed. Judy Anne was in good hands.

The Loves of My Life

Valentine’s Day!  A day for lovers of all kinds.  I made heart shaped pancakes for breakfast and most of them really resembled hearts of some sort or another.  An extra drop or two on a side became little handles.  I even warmed the syrup.  The kids had written out a valentine card for everyone in each of their classes and Daisy’s class had constructed little mailboxes from shoeboxes to collect them in.  Junior was not quite as excited about the cards, but most boys in his grade still thought girls were yucky.  I’m okay with that.  Steve gave me an extra kiss good-bye and promised not to be too late.  I had planned on spaghetti and meatballs for dinner since they were red.  I made some cherry jello too.

But first, it was card party day.  Everyone would wear pink or red, of course.  I had a red sweater that I was a going to wear with a black skirt and place a red bow in my hair.  A couple of layers of my signature lipstick would complete my outfit.  Sarah always makes such a beautiful presentation.  I knew there would be a red drink but I had no idea what she would serve.  I found time to make some baby heart cookies that I would bring also.  Edie inspired those sugary treats.  I knew it was going to be fun.

When I arrived at the party, Sarah was wearing a beautiful pale pink dress with pearls on her ears and a strand around her neck.  It’s her classic look and it never looks stale on her.  The table was glowing pink and red with little hearts strewn around the platters and pedastals.  A ruby red punch was shimmering in the bowl with Gail and Edie already pouring their own first cups.  Mags wore a very sophisticated looking red dress that clung a little more than her usual daytime dresses.  I wasn’t sure if she had purchased it a little too small or she had added a pound or two just to get the effect.  Judy Anne arrived with her blond tresses tied up in a bright pink bow.  Always a knockout.  When Chloe arrived, she was stunned at the universal color scheme.  Apparently, Valentine’s day is not quite the same kind of holiday in France.  After everyone had their first cup of punch, we had planned to start playing and take turns so everyone would get in a hand or two.  There was so much love in the air; we had been practicing air kissing on both cheeks for Chloe and there was a lot of laughter as we smooched loudly into the air.

As hostess, Sarah gets to  introduce the topic of the day.  Sarah usually chooses things that we can all agree on but she announced that she had been pondering the subject of love and wanted to talk about it.  I know that I had never heard Sarah talk about how she and Roger had met and I had only a vague notion of what he actually did for a living.  They seemed suited for each other since they both were quiet. It was rare for Sarah to say anything negative about Roger and they seemed to have found their best match.

I wanted to know what aspect of love Sarah wanted to discuss, but Chloe took over the conversation.  I guess being French gave her the legal right, so it was fun to hear her impression of all the silly ways we celebrated our love.  Chloe had noticed the giant red hearts and candy everywhere for the last week.  She chuckled to herself at the American way of doing things.  In France, there were celebrations for love, but without the dramatic decorations and candy.  Chloe was intrigued with the difference and agreed that she always liked getting fresh flowers, but expected them at unexpected times.  That was love to her.  That explanation was enough to make me rethink how I showed my love.  Sure, the pancakes and cookies were fun, but the unexpected ways of showing love was what I was missing.  It’s never too late to change so I started thinking about how to incorporate more unplanned events into the way I demonstrated my love.  Maybe not just to my family, maybe to everyone I met.  Granted, I did not plan to love everyone.  But maybe I could be just a little more pleasant to strangers in passing.  I realized that while I was lost in my own world, the girls must have all talked about their thoughts on love and were now looking at me.  I silently swore at myself that I missed what Edie said.

I took a deep breath and quietly blurted out that I loved them all for being in my life.  They continued to stare at me and I asked what they were looking at.  Sarah actually chuckled a little and said that she would repeat her question since I must not have heard her right.  I blushed a little after Sarah repeated that she had only asked me if I wanted to deal first.  I got up and started toward the table without embarrassing myself any further. While everyone got to their seats, Sarah leaned down and whispered in my ear that she was touched by what I said.  I’m not usually the heartfelt person; that’s not my persona in this group.  But it was sure nice of Sarah to make me feel better about my lapse.  Maybe it’s not so bad to not pay complete attention to everyone all of the time.

A Lady Always Knows

After I told Edie that we needed to have more time to discuss her thoughts, I asked her if she could join me for lunch at the Crystal Tea Room.  We would have a chance to talk and eat like ladies.

The lunch was tasty and I treated Edie to a drink since I wanted one.  After that, I tried my best to explain that the girls in our group didn’t judge each other and Edie had been a part of the tribe long enough for all of us to respect her and like her.  I knew that Gail and Edie even had a special fondness for each other due to their shared interest in wanting a baby.  Edie had to know that we weren’t being punished in our lives for things we did that others might disapprove of.  In fact, her whole secret writing was very cool.  If I guessed right, she really thought that not getting pregnant was really what she really thought she was being punished with.  Edie seemed to accept what I said and said she would think about telling everyone her secret.

I agreed that Edie needed to decide when the right time would be.  We all need to feel safe with sharing our secrets.  Having my girlfriends meant the world to me; they made me feel as if anything important to me was just as important to them.  After all, you can’t share every little thing with your husband.  That’s what friends are for.  Edie is a sweet person.  She reached her hand across the white linen tablecloth and rested her hand on top of mine.  It was such a generous gesture.  I smiled back at her and thanked my lucky stars to have her as a friend.