Susan’s bathing suited butt went screaming down the driveway with a rooster taking flight behind her. Her speed was impressive. Honestly, I didn’t know she had it in her. My 11-year-old sinister sister-self did not really feel badly for my sister. I was more worried about the tale that she would tell at the dinner table that would more securely seal the fate of my rooster, Charlie. He was an innocent and I was his protector. No matter how much I reasoned with him and his brother they continued to chase and scare the family, guests, everyone – except for me. Continue reading
Almost one year ago –
Ella steps to the corner of the mat. Her coach is with her whispering a few last minute bits of advice before the announcer calls her name. She is about to execute her first routine in her first gymnastics meet. The butterflies in my belly morph into the winged monkeys from oz. Darren and the kids stayed at home due to the fact that we had to drive an hour and a half to attend and also due to Liam’s inability to sit for the duration. I chat with a few other parents and text with Darren and Kelsey to express my pent up emotion. I am scared for her. She expressly let me know that she did not want to compete and she only wanted to do gymnastics for fun. She had made the team in the spring and it turns out that if you are going to practice with the team you have to compete with the team in at least one meet. She stands at the edge of the floor ready to fulfill her duty as a team member. I am already proud of her for sticking with it and doing something so far out of her comfort zone. At this point in her life it is common for Ella to say “no” to something new or different or risky. If she cannot predict the outcome with a 95% certainty factor the answer is no thank you. Today, because of her love of gymnastics she is doing something scary and uncomfortable without complaint.
My only wish for Ella as she stands at the edge of the mat is for her to feel good at the end of it. My greatest fear is that if she felt she did poorly, it will be a set back in the other things in life that require courage to put herself out there and take a risk. I want so much for her to grab onto her days and the opportunities that come her way and know that sometimes we win and sometimes we lose and that’s okay because it’s all about being richer for the experience.
She salutes the judges and the walks out to wait for the music. I have not yet seen her do the routine all the way through so I am curious and terrified. She completes some choreographed dance elements and some strength elements. I am a first time gymnastics mom and I have no idea of the routine or for what skills the judges are looking so based on my in-depth knowledge as her mother I would have to say that she did great. She pauses and collects herself for the tumble. I want to scream. “GO ELLA YOU GOT THIS!!” but I refrain and sit there motionless and wordless. She has only landed her round off back hand spring three weeks ago for the first time and then we went on a week-long vacation with absolutely no gym practice. She runs and tumbles and BAM she sticks the landing. She completes the routine and it was beautiful and I hope that she is as happy as I am, but I won’t know because I can’t talk to her until the end of the meet. This is a good thing because I want to say way too much and now I have time to counsel myself into saying very little and letting her do the talking if that is what she wants.
After floor comes bars, then beam then vault. She falls off the beam and can’t get some move on the bar that seems to be important. Her vault is decent. At the end of a very long evening we reunite and make our way to the car. I resist every urge to say too much and simply tell her that she did such a great job and ask her if it was fun. “It was so fun, Mom.” Her usual modus operandi is to not offer up details. I get a lot of one word answers to my probing questions – good, yes, no, not really. Instead of asking her questions, I say nothing listening to my inner counselor who is working overtime. She talks about her routines and emotions and the good and the bad and next time she will do this differently and so on. Next time? Then she says, “You know what, Mom? I am going to stop saying that I don’t want to do things before trying them because that was so completely awesome and I said I didn’t want to do it. And like the hay ride that I said I didn’t want to do when we were in Philly, I ended up doing it and that was awesome too.
I almost cry, but I don’t. I say, “That is really great, honey. I am so happy that you were able to figure that out. I bet it feels so good.” The rest of the way my motherly heart sings with admiration for my oldest daughter and for myself. She is not only growing up, but she is growing up great. She is learning about testing her limits and that awesomeness can come from moving away from her comfortable sure thing into scary and not so comfortable. I know now that she is going to learn this with or without me or maybe even in spite of me. As for me I, I finally shut my mouth and listened. I have a moment of – DUH – why had I not started listening a long time ago. I guess I never really realized I wasn’t listening. I move away from the inner self flogging and enjoy the moment in the car alone with my girl. I had not asked her what she learned or told her what she should take away from her experience. I had let her have her experience and learn from it. I realize how much more valuable this moment was without my voice. We are learning together and this simple fact inspires me to be better – and to listen.
It’s another milestone in my quest to learn more about growing, making and preparing food. A couple of weeks ago, I tackled fresh dill pickles that do not require heating and sealing jars. These are simple enough so that Ella took the lead on this recipe. In addition to the quick refrigerator pickles, on Wednesday, I got together with the village and we canned pickles all morning. The whole canning thing was very intimidating for me perhaps because I did not grow up with it, but my virgin canning experience was actually quite easy most likely because I had some experienced teachers. It motivated me to get some more days on the calendar that will be dedicated to saving my little backyard harvest and beautiful finds at the farmers’ market, like amazing Colorado peaches.
- 2-3 pickling cucumbers or as many as you can fit in the jar
- 5 sprigs of fresh dill
- 2-4 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced
- 4 Tbsp white distilled vinegar
- 3/4 Tbsp kosher salt
- Water to top off
- 20 black peppercorns, optional
- Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
- Jalapeño pepper sliced, optional (for more spice)
- Cut cucumbers to your preference (discs, spears, or sandwich slices) and add to the jar with all ingredients except the water. Once everything is in the jar, fill to the very top with distilled or filtered water and screw lid on very tightly. Shake the jar up to distribute flavors and leave on your countertop for 12 hours. Shake again and turn upside down for another 12 hours, making sure the lid is screwed on tightly to avoid leakage. These pickles are best to eat after 24 hours. Make sure to store in the refrigerator.
- Don't be afraid to experiment with amounts. The above is a guideline that you can adjust to your taste and desired spiciness.
If you have tons of cucumbers and want to enjoy your pickles for the year to come, it is time to can them. For all the newbies to canning like me with no mom or grandmother to reference you are going to need to buy or borrow a few important tools.
I link to Amazon for all the tools so you can get a quick look at cost and description. I want to stress that though I know how easy it is to order from Amazon, please SUPPORT your local shops when at all possible.
Here are some tips most of which I learned on Wednesday. I referenced the tips below from from the Old Farmer’s Almanac so that I would not miss anything:
- Produce must be fresh when pickled. Avoid using waxed supermarket produce.
- Select the most uniform, unspoiled produce.
- Scrub food well.
- Be sure to remove and discard 1/4–inch slice from the blossom end of fresh cucumbers. Blossoms may contain an enzyme that causes excessive softening of pickles.
- Use canning or pickling salt (not iodized table salt!). Pickling salt has no additives. Iodized salt makes the brine cloudy and may change the color and texture of the vegetables as well as possibly leave sediment at the bottom of the jars.
- For the best results, use white distilled or cider vinegars with 5 percent acidity. Use white vinegar when light color is desirable, as with fruits and cauliflower.
- For crisper pickles, put the vegetables (whole or sliced) into a wide bowl and spread a layer of pickling salt on top. Cover and let sit overnight in a cool place. Discard the liquid, then rinse and dry the vegetables before pickling or canning as usual. The salt helps to pull the moisture out of the vegetables and makes them crisper.
- Sterilize your empty jars. Do not use recycled commercial jars or old-style home-canning jars. They can break in the canning process.
- Use new jar lids for a tight seal. To avoid rust, screw bands should be removed from processed jars that are stored. They can be easily removed after the jars have cooled and sealed, and then reused.
- Always wipe the rim of the jar clean for a good seal after filling and just before putting the lid on.
- Process jars in a boiling-water canner for the correct amount of time (a canner is a large standard-size lidded kettle with a jar rack, designed for heat-processing 7 quart jars or 8 to 9 pint jars in boiling water).
- Label and date your jars and store them in a clean , cool, dark, dry place such as a pantry, cabinet, or basement. Don’t store in a warm spot!
- To allow pickles to mellow, wait at least 3 weeks before using.
My friend April put together a pickling spice that we used with the cucumbers. This recipe can be used in pickling different vegetables, not just pickles.
- 3 tbsp crushed bay leaves
- 3 tbsp fresh peppercorns
- 3 tbsp whole allspice
- 3 tbsp coriander seeds
- 3 tbsp mustard seeds
- 3 tbsp juniper berries
- 1 tbsp whole cloves
- 1 tbsp dill seed
- 1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
- Combine all spices in jar and shake. Use anytime a mixed pickling spice is called for.
Once you have your desired pickling spice, you can start your pickling process.
- 4 pounds small cucumbers
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled, for each jar
- 1 fresh sprig of dill for each jar
- 1 tbsp of mixed pickling spice
- 2 quarts vinegar (apple cider or white distilled )
- 1/2 cup pickling salt
- Slice, spear or leave cucumbers whole. Pack cucumbers into sterilized jars along with the garlic cloves, dill sprig, and mixed pickling spice. In a large pot over medium-high heat, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the vinegar and salt and boil for 5 minutes. Pour the hot brine over the cucumbers, leaving 1/4 inch of headroom. Wipe dry the rims of the jars, then cap each with a lid and screw band. Prepare a boiling water bath and process the jars in it for 10 minutes. Remove the jars from the bath and set them on a towel on the counter. They will “seal” (you will hear a pop) during the cooling-off process. Place any jars that do not seal properly in the refrigerator and use first.
- See the pictures below.
Finally, since this canning experience was my first please do not hesitate to leave a comment of any suggestions that will make the above process better or just different methods that are also proven or preferred.
Happy harvest, friends!
In my twentieth year I moved out west and, for the first time, paid my own rent and bought my own food. My roommate made me add steamed broccoli to my mac n’ cheese being that we were so poor and our nutrition was limited. I loved it and realized that if I could eat broccoli, I might be able to love lots of other foods that I would regularly reject. As a kid, our mother was super busy with six kids and did not enjoy cooking, which resulted in most of us kids having a very limited diet. After I got married, I started a garden, but if the cooking was elaborate Darren would step up to the challenge in our house. I loved the act of growing our own food when possible and that drove me to learn more about making food. Even now, I am a newbie at growing, cooking and preparing food, but I am determined to learn and pass on some helpful skills to my kids.
Thank goodness for my village. Once a week, through the late summer and fall, we get together to cook, learn from each other and try new things. This week my friend Kate took the lead in sharing her Frozen Fresh Peach Pie recipe. The western slope of Colorado grows amazing peaches. They start showing up at the farmers’ market in early August. Kate is originally from Missouri where pie is held in high esteem. She first made us a frozen fresh peach pie right before the Colorado peaches were in season. We were hooked and decided we all needed to have a taste of summer in the dead of winter.
The goal is to freeze these the fresh peach pie filling in a pie plate and have them ready to fill freshly made dough.
This is super easy. You will just have to perfect your crust for the perfect pie.
Serving size: One pie (Pictures are multiple servings. We froze 19 pies!)
1 quart peeled, pitted and sliced – roughly 4-5 large peaches
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Bring large pot of boiling water to a boil. Score your peaches on round side and boil for 30 – 45 seconds. Cool in a bowl of ice water for a minute or so. Work the skin off the peaches with your hands. It should come off easily.
In a large bowl, cover the peach slices with the sugar and let them rest for about 30 minutes to develop juices. Add the flour and salt and mix well, making sure the peaches are well coated.
Line a pie plate with overlapping plastic wrap. The lining should extend five inches or so over the edge. Place the filling in the pie plate and loosely fold wrapping around the pie filling. Freeze until firm. When filling is frozen solid, remove from pan and wrap tightly with aluminum foil and/or freezer bags. Return to freezer until ready to use.
On pie baking day, simply pop the frozen pie filling into a pastry-lined pan, dot with the butter, and if you choose, sprinkle cinnamon over the top. Top pie with remaining pastry crust and seal well. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until juices begin to bubble through the crust. If you feel the pie is browning too fast, lower temperature to suit your oven, possibly to between 350 degrees and 375 degrees.
The above was the easy part. On baking day the challenge is to get the perfect pie crust. I use an all butter recipe from SmittenKitchen and Kate uses this recipe from Barefoot Contessa. She substituted the vegetable shortening in this recipe with real lard. Yes, lard. and instead of using a food processor she grated the butter and lard into the flour mixture. It was amazing.
Kate baked us a fresh pie so that we could taste the fruits of our labor.
Spring skies unleashed with decisiveness, pelting the earth with rain and hail. Spring turned to summer and it hailed again. Somehow our garden has survived.
We are in the heart of summer when the priorities are swimming, hiking, impromptu barbecues and less routine. We are settling in to our new space physically and mentally. There are STILL boxes and blank walls and rooms in transition. If I let it, it could send me over the edge, but I don’t care (mostly). I am happy with the prospect of our life in this house and thoroughly enjoying the now. For the first time ever in our 20 years of togetherness, Darren and I are in sync about a house and know that we will be here for a long time. We are spending our days in the yard. We are constantly weeding what feels like Jurassic Park and we play with the chickens.
Ella helped me plan and plant the garden this year. She dug in, suggesting veggies and herbs that she wanted and liked. We took trips to the nursery together and she stuck out the majority of the project. In past years both girls start out enthusiastic and dessert me at some point in the process for friends or play. This year was different for Ella and it connected us like nothing else has in a long time. We are always connected by the fact that she needs me. For the first time in a while, I feel her happiness in just being with me in the garden. It feels good.
Darren has been working a lot. He is putting in his time so we can take off on a road trip at the end of the month. Yesterday, he had off for the holiday and we got out of dodge for a bit and escaped up the Poudre Canyon for a family hike. We rejected the 75 requests to invite a friend or meet up with a friends and got away alone as a unit – just for a few hours.
Liam hiked like a big kid for the first time. I carried the empty kid carrier on my back and resisted the urge to hurry him along as he bent over every few feet to pick up a “golden rock” or observe one of the hundreds of little butterflies that were out and about. We didn’t make it very far. Darren and I exchanged knowing looks that communicated what we were both thinking. What happened to our days of power hiking? Isn’t it funny that we are here together almost 20 years later together and we are responsible for these three little lives? They are so painfully slow.
Lots of drama ensued after Liam fell backward off a little footbridge into an icy cold stream completely drenching himself. We made our way back as the storm clouds thickened and hoped our night of fireworks would not be wiped out by the weather.
We lucked out.
As I sat watched the short, beautiful display, I was thankful. I was thankful for freedom and family and friends. I was thankful for the now and my place in this world. I delighted in Liam’s shrieks, “That one was my favorite! That one was so awesome! ” He did not stop shouting about how cool it was the whole time and Darren and I looked at each other and smiled.
Juliet and her bestie, Charlie brightened up my afternoon with a little lunchtime theater. Charlie is always the lead, Jules is content to be the back up and Ella is the director, very at home behind the scenes delivering orders to her younger counterparts. Liam is still trying to find his place in this game. He hasn’t figured out his role yet, but he will.
Summer takes my job to the maximum and I am savoring it. I am a dictator, a democratic leader and a peacekeeper. I am a housekeeper, a cook and a chauffeur. I am a teacher, a coach and cheerleader. I am a personal shopper, a financier and a vacation planner. I am friend, an enemy and a negotiator. And, after 5 PM, I might be savoring our summer moments with a Moscow Mule or a glass of wine in my hand because we all need a little help multitasking.
Scooby is gone, I declared as walked out of the shed.
What do you mean he is gone? Darren answered in disbelief.
I mean…he is not in the shed. He is gone. Go look if you do not believe me.
It’s not that I don’t believe you; I just think he must be hiding, He replied and went in to see for himself.
You are right. He is definitely not there.
We had closed on our new house approximately 45 minutes earlier. The moving trucks were in the driveway and the guys were needing direction on where to put the boxes and I was coming apart by the prospect that I had killed my 14 year-old cat on moving day. I deserted Darren and hopped on the bike to scour the new neighborhood. Here kitty kitty kitty…. Here kitty kitty! Not only had I killed the cat but I was also positioning myself as the new neighborhood crazy, crying cat lady. Not a good start. I abandoned my futile quest to come home with Scooby in my basket and headed back to the house to be there in time for the girls to come home from school. As they came down drive, their faces had a WTF kind of look. They were not smiling and had already been informed of the missing cat. They stared at the trucks and the people carrying all of our possessions into this strange place they now called home. Ella burst into tears and my heart broke a little more. I had killed the cat, abandoned Darren in the task of directing the movers and now my oldest, who has a hard time expressing her feelings, was easily coming to pieces in front of me.
Our happy day, the day we had anticipated for months, was finally here and it totally sucked. I just wanted it to go smoothly for everyone because moving is hard no matter how you look at it. The act of uprooting your life and all of your possessions and taking it to another location whether down the street or across the country is not an easy endeavor. I tried to tell myself that a lost cat was not as bad as a lot of things and it is not like somebody had presented me with a my dead cat on a platter. He was simply missing. Though I did not buy into my own rationalization and kept thinking about my scared cat wondering the world alone trying to avoid getting eaten by the neighborhood foxes.
Friends showed up and kids began ripping through the house and the yard. Everyone reassured me that he was a smart cat and that he would come back. The wine and the friends and the happy chaos helped brighten my mood a little bit. Ella was distracted with hide and seek and the people around me reminded me why we chose to move here in the first place. It started to get dark and I told myself not to think about him until it was quiet and he might present himself again. He would never come back with all the commotion happening. I was just going to have to wait.
As the evening went on, I gave tours of our new home. It is smaller, it is older and it has less flow than our 80s ranch. The kitchen has a range from the late 70s and is begging for a makeover (more like a complete tear out/remodel), but this place just feels good. Maybe it’s the people that surround us, the light that comes through the windows, the beautiful details that past owners cared to create or the yard where the kids will spend all of their time and the vegetables will grow, but we know we have moved into our forever home.
After a collaborative dinner effort, Darren came to find me so I could help him move a box. I followed him to the shed. He opened the door and Scooby peeked around the corner, wide-eyed and ready to bolt.
He came back!! I screamed.
He never left, Darren said.
Then were do you think he was? There is no place to hide in this shed.
He went to Narnia and now he is back, Darren said.
I picked him up and buried my face in his neck while we walked to the house. I found the kids and told them the good news. The word had spread about the missing cat and my mental state so I think everyone was relieved and happy that the cat came back from Narnia and a small celebration ensued. My family was in tact once again.
We did it. We uprooted ourselves, left our comfort zone and created a bunch of stress in search of a simplified existence where we feel “at home.” It was crazy. Two weeks post move it is still crazy because we can’t locate anything and our baking goods don’t fit in the kitchen, but it is all okay because we have time and we are home.
Home Sweet Home.
This week Ella turned ten. I have been thinking about this double-digit milestone for a few months. She keeps growing taller and a few days ago, asked if she could read The Hunger Games. It makes me realize that in a few short years I will be the parent of a teenager. Then I stop and remind myself that she still plays make believe with her friends and sometimes can be found mothering a baby doll.
Some of the most significant memories of my Mother are of those years when my older sisters where teenagers. I remember seeing her struggle with parenting and even though I did not know all the details, I remember knowing that it was hard for her. As I transformed into a teenager myself she transformed into my unreasonable mother. I was now the center of my own universe.
When I was 21, I flew home from Colorado to spend Christmas with my family. It was on this visit that I realized my teenage self was morphing into a young adult. It felt good to hang out with my mother in this new chapter of my life. I found a new appreciation for her and I sensed she felt the same. As I packed to return back to school she started to cry. It caught me a little off guard because by this point she was used to seeing me come and go and our good byes usually resembled those of two people parting for the weekend.
Why are you crying? I asked. We are going to see each other again in May.
I just hate saying good-bye to my children, she said.
May is right around the corner, I said.
My mother was experienced with the comings and goings of her grown children. On prior visits she couldn’t wait to see us, but then sometimes I think by the end she couldn’t wait for us to leave. I like to think this visit was different. We liked each other again and I had arrived as an adult.
Maybe she knew that we were not going to see each other again. Maybe a part of her knew that this would be it. She died that March.
As I count backwards on my first ten years as parent of young children and contemplate my future with teenage girls, I wonder what it would be like to mother with my own mother at my side. I miss the advice she would deliver, the advice I would heed and reject, the stories of her own mother and the chance we missed to be friends again beyond that one Christmas visit. She gave me the best and worst parts of myself and for that I am grateful.
She is still with me, though mostly in the quiet of the night when I am reflecting on the defeats and triumphs of the day. She is in the deepest parts of my soul and sometimes it is her voice that escapes my lips. Each day on this journey as a parent more is revealed to me about my mother even though she is not here to answer the questions, give me advice or defend her choices. I judge less and understand more. She is my mother, totally flawed and perfect at the same time. She made a path for me as her mother did for her.
As I close out a decade of being a parent, I realize that now more than ever I am contributing to the path that the mothers before me created. I am shaping and planting and trying to make a beautiful foundation for my girls. I want to skip more and trudge less. I want there to be laughter and grace, but mostly I want to pass on the love that I still feel from my mother 20 years after her death.