Tuesday, June 28, 2022

It's Not a Meal Plan.

Despite a love of planning and food, I am not from a family that does meal prep. 

We don't have fancy calendars and lists to plot out meals for the month. We don't shop at CostCo or Sam's Club for crates of food. We don't bulk cook meals on a weekend to divide out along the week. That's just never been us. 

No, we are the family that cooks large amounts of food for one reason: potential visitors. Then, if those visitors don't appear, it all gets crammed into plastic containers and crammed into the fridge for leftovers (usually with some choice rearranging of the previous left overs already taking up space in the fridge). If meal planning occurs, it is when we know visitors are coming in advance. That's when my mom will bust out a chart to figure out what meals will be easiest to make for the masses. 

Such is the case for this coming week as my sister and her two daughters drive up from Florida to stay with her and my dad for about a week. This past Saturday, I was called in to help with the meal preparation when I found out my mom had decided to return to her Italian roots and make lasagna from scratch. Well, semi-scratch, but it was definitely NOT coming from one of those pre-made-shove-it-in-the-oven kits. 

Instead, she had located the recipe passed down to her from my grandmother -- all three versions of it. And, while my mom is a planner, she isn't always a recipe follower. It wasn't so much as she ignored the recipe as she tweaked it to suit her desires and her own knowledge of cooking. The constant refrain was: "I'm not sure if this will work. But we'll try it out." 

When I got there, she wasn't even sure how much it would make, admitting that she may have to send me out for more supplies. Luckily, it didn't come to that. She had at least three boxes of lasagna pasta noodles, several pounds of cheese (slices of provolone, shredded Italian mix, and ricotta), ground beef AND Italian sausage, herbs and spices, and enough tomato sauce to drown in. 

I helped her, but mostly I was there to talk. We chatted about the upcoming visit, our future travel plans, my writing, and her attempts to reorganize the upstairs. It was our way of catching up, all over a bubbling, baking batch of lasagna. And, despite her fears, we ended up with three full pans of lasagna: one for now and two for later. 

There's no sense in meal planning in my family. We cook enough for a drop-in visit any time and, if no visitors appear, then you have your meal for the next few days!

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Four Father

As much as my father and I differ in our beliefs, there are still many traits that I know I have either inherited from or learned from him. This revelation usually comes after I have performed a particular action that triggers the thought: "Oh, this is exactly what dad would do." And, since today is Father's Day, I thought what better way to honor my father than by sharing those particular traits.

After all, my parents have always been rather insistent that we not get them money or gifts for the various holidays that are meant to honor them, like Father's Day. It's difficult, because I want to celebrate them, but I also want to respect their wishes. Often times I have gotten around this little stipulation by falling back on my own skills: writing.

So here I am.  Writing the four ways that I am like my father in celebration of Father's Day:

1. The way we tell stories.
My dad may not be a writer, but he definitely has a love of sharing stories.  If you ask him about a relative or a location, he'll talk for quite awhile about his memories of the person or place and what it meant to him.  Sometimes he'll even tell you multiple times without prompting.  I have found myself doing the same thing: repeating stories to people I have already told them to multiple times.  

However, I also have found myself more and more writing about my memories of relatives and locations as a way to capture those moments forever.  I didn't put it together before now, but I believe my love of writing stories stems from the same love that my dad has for telling stories.

2. The way we find humor in things.
One of my dad's common sayings (Jerry-isms?) is that he is a "fun loving and jovial" person.  While the rest of my family may not always agree with this assessment, I will say that there are times when dad can be quite funny.  Sure, he may tell some of the same jokes over and over and over (just like his stories), but I can hardly fault him for that...because I do it do.  

However, the real reason I included this trait was I wanted to comment on his love of puns and jokes that would make you groan.  It may be a dad cliché (a daché?), but it's true. I can't remember what I said exactly, but there was an exchange I had with mom once where I made a joke and immediately we looked at each other and agreed that it was the same kind of joke dad would make had he been with us in the room (side note: I don't remember where he was at the time either).  Yes, puns fall under the category of typical dad jokes -- but I'm not a dad and tend to tell the same kind of jokes, so it can't be just a dad thing.

3. The way we show love through action.
I remember growing up and finding my dad out of the house most Saturdays as he visited both his mom and my mom's parents to mow their lawns.  In more recent years, if I ask where dad is sometimes I'm told he's gone over to one of my aunt's or a neighbor's house to help with some kind of maintenance issue or a project.  My dad lives to help others using the skills he has and that is one of many ways he shows that he cares about others.

It was as I was driving to help a friend organize and sort their stuff that I realized it was the exact sort of thing my dad would do.  He's a helper and he's at his best when he is involved in a project that makes someone's life just a little bit easier.  If I hear someone talking about a problem, one of the first things I will often say is "How can I help?"  As I drove to my friend's house, I realized that this must be another trait I inherited from my dad.  He is always helping others, often not because they asked him to, but because he has stepped up to do something that is in his ability to do.

4. The way we leave our coffee to grow cold.
This fourth category mainly started as a joke.  When I am visiting home, it's not uncommon to find a cup of coffee abandoned somewhere with no drinker to be found.  My mom and I will usually laugh and remark how dad will be back for it eventually.  However, it was this past school year that I often found myself doing the same thing in the classroom.  One minute I would be sipping my coffee, the next I was wrapped up in helping students with their writing and I would not be able to return to my coffee until it was much too cold.  

The only person I can think of that does this same thing is my dad.  One minute he is sipping his coffee, the next he is starting his next project or looking for a picture he misplaced because he recalled a memory he wants to share with the rest of us.  Before you know it, he's started cleaning the bedroom and mom and I are left to sip and chat our coffee without him.

But, as I write this, I realize it's not necessarily just a quirky trait we have.  It ultimately connects with number three above.  Because we are helpers, we also both suffer from the problem of getting so caught up in others that we often don't take time for ourselves.  The abandoned coffee cup is the tangible proof of that, but I can already think of others.  Like how my dad will often work himself to exhaustion to get projects and work done around the house.  I am not quite at that extreme, but I certainly like to finish a project once it's been started as opposed to putting it off to finish another time.  Perhaps I've learned from his mistakes on that one.

In the end, I am glad I share these traits with my dad.  It's reassuring to know that as I engage in these behaviors -- whether it's accidentally letting my coffee get cold, helping others in need, telling bad puns, or stories -- that I'll always have a little part of him with me.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Haunted Springs

Despite having visited Hot Springs, Arkansas nearly once a year since I was a teenager, my visit this past weekend was the first time I ever actually went on the Haunted Tour of Hot Springs.  The white two-person shed was always empty when my friend group and I would make our semi-annual day trip to Hot Springs. I can't tell you how many times I have walked past the black sign advertising tours after dark, but we never stayed until then.  

That is, until, this past weekend when my best friend Katie and I decided to visit Hot Springs for her birthday and treat our selves to some spooky funtimes.  Not only did we decide we would finally partake of the "Haunted Tour," but we would also stay the night in The Arlington, a hotel known for its own history of hauntings.

There were five stops on this tour and some of the locations our tour guide, Terry, talked about were actually surprising.  For instance, apparently one of my favorite soap stores -- The Bathhouse -- was once a tea room and came with a particularly unnerving and grizzly murder straight out of a Criminal Minds episode (unsuspecting female victim and creepy stalker included).  

We also learned that Hot Springs was where the first refrigerated morgue in the United States was located, the 1940s small pox outbreak in the South started, and the first park ranger died in the line of duty.

Unfortunately, while we did not see any ghosts or spirits on the tour, we did enjoy a short walk along Central Avenue as we were told these stories and more.  Honestly, spookiness aside, that's what I truly love about ghost tours.  They are actually history lessons wrapped in cobwebs and a black bow.  

If you ever find yourself at a loss for something to do in a new place, might I recommend seeing if they have a ghost tour of some kind?  I've only been on two, but I have yet to be disappointed by the experience.



Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Three Times I Said Shit (Without Thinking)

The first time was in elementary school.  I was at a good friend's sleepover and we were playing a loose game of either hide and seek or tag.  I had tucked myself beneath some large pillows and out of nowhere another girl ran in and body slammed me and my hiding spot.

"SHIT!"

There was a gasp of horror and the room fell into silence as several little girls processed what had just happened.  One of the girls squeaked that they were going to tell on me and I ran.  I cannot say if the tears in my eyes were from embarrassment, betrayal, or pain.

I hid myself in a closet -- terrified and guilty.

Skip ahead a decade or so and now I'm an adult working with teens.  My teacher neighbor is a woman with high energy and no boundaries named Heather.  She was constantly flouncing into my room (if I left the door unlocked) and chatting with me and my students.  If I did remember to lock the door against her, she would only knock loudly and I'd let her in anyway.  It may sound bad, but she made us all laugh with her antics and it was usually not in the middle of class so I never minded the disruption.

On one particular day, the class and I were getting ready for quiet reading time.  I had claimed a spot in the back -- I used to love reading among the students instead of behind my desk -- and we were settling in for the last 20 minutes of class to read.  The classroom was quiet, pin drop quiet, as we all settled into the pages of our books.

Then, at the back of the room, came a loud BANG.  

For context, I believe the news had recently been reporting on a school shooting and I was on edge.  The banging on my door was a sound I had been taught to dread.  My mind immediately went to the worst case scenario: someone was trying to break down my door and shoot us!

"SHIT!"

My attention immediately snapped to the door and there I found not the face of a killer, but the killer grin of my notorious teacher neighbor, Heather, as she pressed her face against the glass window of the door.  She waved: "Hello!"

I groaned and mentally uttered a few more curse words for her.  Before I let her in, I apologized to my students, but unlike the temperamental elementary girls, they were more understanding.  After all, her sudden appearance had startled them as well.

And then there was last week.  We had been sent an email that we were to expect a lockdown drill that day.  When the announcement came, I instructed my students to get the lights and to be quiet.  I thought the doors were already shut and locked, but as I watched one of my students venture to the tissue box it hit me.  The doors were locked, but the magnetic strip allowing for easy entry was still in place.

I knew administration was wandering the halls, checking rooms at random, and without thinking I stumbled across the room:

"OH SHIT!"

I did not trip, but I felt like I was in a horror movie, afraid the killer was going to push against the door just as I tried to secure it.  It was a drill, but all I could imagine was the real scenario and how I had just wasted precious seconds securing the room.  I cracked the door, slipped the magnet strip out, and closed it again.  

Luckily, no administration was nearby, but I did have to then deal with a gaggle of giggling teens reassuring me that it wasn't that serious.

It was, but I hope my antics at least eased some of the tensions from having to practice such a drill.

Could I have been more professional?  Yes, but when you are dealing with people's lives I think a few choice words are permitted.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

A Mothly Encounter

 As I cross the threshold back in my apartment, a yellow and brown speckled form catches my eye. I pause, foot hovering as I get a better look, and without thinking blurt: "Oh!  Aren't you gorgeous?"  

It's an unexpected encounter, but not an unpleasant one: a moth is sprawled out on my doormat.  I will later learn that it's an imperial moth, which means in some ways I was blessed with a royal encounter.

I let my dog off his leash and turn back around, squatting over the moth's prone form.  They don't move or stir.  I try to be optimistic and hope they are only just tired from flying with wings so large.  I find myself instead leaning towards pessimism, thinking they are probably dying.


After taking a picture, I pocket my phone and scoop them into my hand.  They flutter a little, which I find reassuring, and I decide that lying on my doormat is perhaps not the safest harbor for them.  I carefully carry them around the corner to one of my potted plants, depositing them to rest there.

Later, when I find them gone, I hope that it is because they were able to fly away and not because some other creature decided they would make for a tasty snack.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Summer Series Part 4: Final List of Summer Fun

 I've written about food and fun and family.  As I sit on the edge of August, a week and a half into the start of school, now seems like the perfect time to write about the future -- but to do that I first have to look back.