Good Thing We Have Holidays

My house is generally sort of clean. Ish. I sweep the floors or vacuum pretty much every day. I have been known to wash my floors (if its muddy and the dogs have been coming in and out.)

I don’t do clutter. Unless you count the pile of papers that live on my counter, waiting to be looked at later.

So, you know. We are generally pretty clean.

But all I can say is that it’s a damn good thing that we have the occasional holiday. And it’s a damn good thing that I host them sometimes.

I say this because even thought today is a full three days before Thanksgiving, I have already cleaned two closets, dusted 25 picture frames (do you clean people do this on a regular basis?) and completely reorganized by kitchen.

I’ve located matching wineglasses and cleaned them all. I’ve counted out enough matching napkins for every guest to have one. Except me. I’ll get the mismatched napkin, but it’s all good. No doubt everyone will notice my extreme self sacrifice.

Today I found myself noticing all the dead bugs that have collected in various light fixtures. Ewwwwww and yuuuuuuuuuuuk all at once.

So there I was, standing on a chair, unscrewing light globes and shades, removing bulbs, and washing and dusting all of it. The back it all went.

What the heck.

I feel like I do a fairly, sorta, kinda good job of keeping ahead of the dust bunnies and grime. 

At least I try!!!

But after all, it’s a good thing that at least once a year I have a reason to reach down deep and really get things clean.

Excuse me now. I need to go scrub the baseboards behind the toilet.

Caviar on a POTATO CHIP?!


Nope. Nuh, uh.

I am NOT going there.

What the hell is wrong with foodies these days?

I used to be a devotee of all those wonderful food magazines. Some of my very favorite recipes (“John’s Apple Cake”…mmmm) came from Gourmet or Bon Apetit. Back in the 80s, both magazines used to be full of useful cooking tips and interesting recipes.

Recipes that you’d actually want to eat.

No longer.

I subscribed to one of these food magazines a few months ago and I am completely bewildered. I suspect that the editorial board is now filled with geeky High School kids in skinny jeans. The kind of kids who spend 45 minutes arranging each piece of hair to look perfectly messy in the hippest possible way.

I’ve gotten used to monthly photo shoots of some allegedly famous chef whipping up a little something for 5 gorgeous friends in a “rustic” beach house. Everyone is smiling while sipping cocktails made of bamboo shoots, tequila and some kind of Peruvian berry. The chef poses with one hand on his bony hip while stirring the “quick sauce” he’s making out of duck blood and mango peel.

Or something.

I can usually flip through the pages, gag a little and move on.

Not. This. Time.

I just opened my new copy of Bon Apetit and what should meet my jaded old eyeballs but this:


This horror is supposed to be the latest thing. It is expensive caviar on a potato chip.

Quelle horreur!

This is NOT cooking, folks. This is not good food. This is just plain yucko.

So I’m skipping the rest of this issue. I’m going back to cookbooks I can trust. The ones with easy to follow recipes using real food, preferably cooked by chubby women who know their way around a nice butter filled pie crust.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!! May your crusts be flaky but your relatives not so.


My old standbys.

Magic Words

Magic book with magic lights

Oh, don’t you wish that there were magic words?

Wouldn’t it be just wonderful to have magic phrases that could bring peace, healing, love, rest?

I wish that our world contained real wizards.  Men and women of such wisdom that they could simply say those magic words and hearts would be made whole again.

In a world that seems to have gone so wrong, I wish that there were special words to make things right.  I wish that I could open an old and dusty book, placed high on a wooden shelf in a long forgotten shop.  I wish that I could turn those ancient pages, slowly, and so carefully.

I wish that I would catch my breath in wonder, and run my finger slowly and carefully under those magic words.

Don’t you wish that with me?

Don’t you wish that somehow we could turn to those around us who are in pain, and that we could whisper those special words that would mend the terrible wounds in their hearts?

I do.

I wish that there were magic words.

I wish that I knew them.

Wishing all of you peace and safety and laughter and love. Wishing you a home without strife, a country without war, a kitchen without hunger, a group of loving friends and family to embrace you.

Wishing you magic words to heal you.


On the Other Hand…..

I am such a sap.

I am constantly looking back at the past, seeing everything through the lens of happiness, remembering every event as if it has been airbrushed into perfection.   I’m kind of a jerk about these things.

The problem is that I have had a truly remarkably blessed and lucky life.  I am the proud owner of an actual happy childhood, complete with loving family and good meals and many laughs.  For reasons that defy all logic, the forces of nature have gifted me with a happy marriage to a truly sweet and caring man.  I am the mother of three young people whose company I honestly enjoy, and who gave me more joy in those growing years than any one person has any right to expect.

So when I look back, it’s only natural to remember the best of those times.

But that kind of looking back can be a curse, too.  I am finding that out this Thanksgiving, as I find myself preparing for a holiday without my children.  As I find myself steeped in nostalgia and a yearning for those lovely bygone years.

I am trying not to wallow, though, I really am!  I am still very lucky and I know it.  I will be sharing my turkey with three of my siblings and with my Mom.  The food will be amazing, the wine will flow, the mood will be joyous.   I’m wicked lucky, as we say in Massachusetts.

But my tiny brain will still keep trying to pull me back to the Thanksgivings of the past, when my kids were here to help me cook the meal. When I was the hostess and the kitchen was the center of the universe. Oh, those sweet, sweet memories…….

And so the purpose of this post, my friends, is to force myself to remember some of those past days with a slightly clearer eye.   Not every holiday was a Hallmark card, after all.

I remember the year when I was a High School sophomore.  Everyone was coming to our house for dinner, and I was standing in the kitchen in completely grubby clothes, moping around as only a teenager can, pretending to help my mother with the cooking. Suddenly the front door opened, and in walked my older brother, home from college with a friend who had nowhere to go for the holiday.  A really, REALLY cute friend.  I fled to my bedroom and hastily put on what I considered to be a very cool outfit (plaid wool skirt, boots, sweater… was 1971….).  Pretty soon I was chatting with the cute friend, and before I knew it, he had asked me if I would go to the Homecoming dance with him that night.  My brother and his girlfriend were going, and the guest didn’t want to be a third wheel.  The only problem was that I hadn’t ever been on a date, and I was totally freaked out.  To my horror, the entire extended family discussed the situation right in front of both me and the cute friend.  I ended up going to the dance, mostly because I couldn’t believe that my handsome popular brother would be willing to have me along on a date. It was fun, but the memory still makes me cringe in adolescent shame.

And I remember the Thanksgiving when Paul and I lived with my parents once again. Our oldest, our Katie, was only ten months old.  We had moved back home to save some money while Paul finished his doctorate, and it was a little bit tense as we tried not to feel like freeloaders.  The day before Thanksgiving, Katie came down with a fever and was crying in pain.  It turned out to be the first of many, many ear infections, and she was put on antibiotics. Unfortunately, she also cried and wailed all night, so we got literally no sleep.  I remember sitting at the dining room table with all of the family around us, holding her on my lap as I tried to maneuver a bite of turkey into my mouth. I remember thinking,  “Oh, dear God, just let me get to bed……”  That whole holiday was nothing but a blur.

I remember the year when Mom defrosted the turkey only to find that it had gone bad. We had chicken thighs for Thanksgiving dinner that year.

Of course, I remember the year when I blew up the oven on Thanksgiving morning, and we had to cook our turkey on the grill.

It wasn’t always perfect, but it was always my family.  I am thankful that I had them then, and thankful that I have them still.  Even without my boys to share it with, I know that I am lucky to have a bountiful feast and a chance to celebrate with people that I love.


And one last memory, one that doesn’t really fit into the tone of this post, but is too good to pass up.

On Thanksgiving of 2001, just a few weeks after the horror of 9/11, we were sitting around the table at my parents’ house.  My Nana was there, all 5′ 2″ and 85 pounds of her, digging into the food with her usual gusto.  She couldn’t hear very well by then, and so she often made remarks that seemed completely random.  I remember her taking a big bite of her dinner and smiling around at all of us.  “Mmmmm, this is delicious!”, she declared.  “If that Osama Bin Laden guy had good food like this to eat, I bet he wouldn’t have been so nasty.”   There were ten seconds of absolute silence as we all exchanged shocked glances, then 25 people simultaneously broke into absolute gales of laughter.

I still chuckle when I picture my little Italian Nana orchestrating an airlift of lasagna into Tora Bora.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

An ending

SONY DSCThe golden days of autumn are almost gone.  The leaves lie crushed and brown on the grass now, no longer clinging to the hope of one more day, one more breeze, one more morning of life.

There is frost on the grass, sparkling in the faded sunlight.

Another season gone. Another harvest past. Another winter approaching.

I’m inside the house, wrapped in fleece.  I am folding clothes, still warm from the dryer.  I press a shirt to my face, breathing in the clean hot smell.  My eyes are drawn out the window, into the yard.  I look past the fence, past the hedges that grow there now. My focus is on the past, on the yard as it used to be.

I see my boys, running in the grass.  I hear the sound of a tennis ball, bouncing off the siding, and the sweet young voices that cheer each other on. My cheek rests for a moment on the soft blue towel in my hands.  I see a little sweater, tiny socks, remembering how it felt to fold each one softly into its proper drawer.

Another holiday season ahead.  Another year of pies and cranberries and visits.   For the first time in 27 years, we won’t have any of my children home to celebrate with us. I understand the pressures of jobs and new families and new responsibilities.  I harbor no grudges, because I know that I will see them soon, that we all still love and cherish other. I know that I am lucky in far more ways than I can count.

Still, my eyes are drawn out the window, and into the past. I see the little handprint turkeys, the pipe cleaners and pinecones that stood proudly on the table.  I hear those voices laughing, and asking for more dessert. I see little arms reaching to hug Grampa sitting at the head of the table.

I am sad.

Ooooh-ooh, that smell!

Wait! What’s that SMELL?

Years ago, when the kids were very small, I realized that I had a very special talent.

It might have been due to my lovely, slightly-on-the-larger-side Roman nose or to my ever vigilant spidey sense when it came to protecting my allergic babies from dust, mold and animal dander.  I don’t know for sure.  But whatever its cause, when my kids were very small, I realized that I had developed Super Smell-finding Radar.

I could walk in my front door and immediately detect any one of a variety of offending odors, including, but not limited to:

dirty diapers, dirty diaper pail, moldy sneakers, chopped onion in the trash, melting crayon in the heater, jackets that had been in the house of a smoking friend, and someone who keeps forgetting to brush.

I was very sensitive.

I have never been a neat freak, and I would never, ever be nominated for housecleaner of the year, but bad smells just drive me crazy. As soon as I noticed any kind of noxious aroma, out came the lemon oil, the baking soda and the citrus spray cleaners.  Sometimes I’d even bleach a load of white clothes just to fill the air with “laundry smell”!

Most of the time, I was successful in beating back the stink, and returning the house to its usual aroma of healthy, happy children and good food on the stove.

But about 15 years ago, I think, I was in my daughter’s cluttered bedroom, attempting to fit one more item into her tiny closet, when suddenly my Super Smell-finder began to tingle.

Actually, I think it began to burn, and my eyes started to water.

“Ugh!  What is that horrible smell?

For about a day, no one else in the house could smell it, but gradually the fumes became more pronounced, and even the boys noticed.  It was a musty, slightly sweet, slightly smoky, purely funky stink. Once it got in your nose, you walked around with it for days, no matter how many times you tried to clear it out by breathing in coffee smell, flower smell or baby hair smell.  It clung to your skin and your nose hairs like a coating of vaseline.

I hated it.

I spent about a week tearing the closet apart, cleaning, scrubbing, dusting, vacuuming the whole place into near oblivion.  On the plus side, its probably the only time in her entire life that Kate has had a clean bedroom.

On the down side, we never found the source of Horrific Closet Smell.  We suspected that a mouse had died behind the wallboard somewhere, and we just had to wait out the decaying process.


RIP. As soon as possible, please.

As time went on, Kate grew up and moved off to college. The room became Matt’s room, and the usual aroma in there changed from flowery body spray and expensive shampoo to manly deodorant and huge sweaty feet.  Mostly it was fine, but every couple of years, I would be walking past the door, and my proboscis would react.

“Gah!!!  Dead mouse!!!”

Out would come the bleach, the soap, the vacuum, the air freshener.  The window would be opened, the closet purged.   And no matter what, the stench would linger for a week or ten days, then slowly begin to fade away.

Well.  It’s been two and a half years since the kids all moved out, and that little bedroom is now a computer room/storage room.  The closet is relatively neat and the shelves are filled with photo albums and CD’s.  It’s been nice.  It didn’t stink.

Until yesterday.

Two days before the house fills with guests for the Thanksgiving feast, I stepped into the room to put away a book.


There it was: Horrific Closet Smell, in all its hideous glory.

I could smell it all night, in my bedroom across the hall. Invading my dreams, seeping into my consciousness as I slept.

And guess what?

I didn’t really mind!

Every time I came awake, I had a quick thought that the kids were home, and I felt happy.  And I drifted back to sleep, a stench in my nose and a smile on my face.



It’s late on Sunday afternoon.  The sky is the darkest blue, almost navy.  No stars have yet come out.  The air outside is cold and sweet.

Inside the house, the woodstove has been burning all day, and even the floor is warm.  The smoky heat makes me feel safe.  I draw the curtains.

Today I am so thankful.

My family will be here on Thursday, to celebrate and to eat.  I am thankful that I will have a whole big crowd to cook for! Sisters, nieces and nephews, loved ones and friends, a brother, an Aunt and Uncle, my Mother, all of us eating, laughing, squeezed together in this too-small house.

I have made my lists, and will spend the next few days baking, brining, roasting. I know how lucky I am to be able to buy all this food, to have a nearly endless supply of good things right here, and the means to have everything that we could want to make our feast.

Of course, I’m most thankful that I will have all three of my children here for the afternoon! For the first time in months, we’ll all be together, at least for a while. I know too well how lucky we are to still have each other. I know how fragile families can be, how quickly everything can change.  So I’m thankful.

And I am truly thankful that I am lucky enough to live in a place where the threat of bombs and tanks and guns does not exist.  Today I read the news, and thought of families on both sides of the Gaza/Israel border.  I thought of mothers there trying to protect their children from forces beyond their control.  How do they do it? How do they get up in the morning, and make breakfast for their kids, and put them to bed at night knowing that weapons of all kinds are aimed at them even as they sleep?  How do they go through life feeling that every minute there are people “not like” them who are planning new ways to kill them?  I grieve for all of them.  I am thankful for the peace that I have always known.

And because I am grateful, I have to promise myself that I will always do what I can to bring these gifts to others. To people who are no worse, no less kind, no less intelligent, no less deserving than we are, but who have not had the overwhelming luck that we have somehow stumbled into.

Happy Thanksgiving, to everyone, everywhere.

Just crabby.

Feelin’ like a crab.

I swear, I just don’t know what’s wrong with me.  Why am I such a crab?

I came into the weekend feeling really, really exhausted.  The stupid election, the stupid snowstorm, the stupid stupid professional development day meetings.  Gah!

It has been two weeks of parent conferences, too, and that’s really enough to wipe me out.  I like talking to the parents of my students, and getting insight into what the kids think and feel. I love to share what I have learned about the children, too, because I feel like I’m pretty good at understanding them.

But conference time means getting to school way before sunrise and leaving way after dark, with no quiet moments in between.  Phew.  Tiring!

But I took Friday off, and I slept almost 11 hours! Today is Saturday, and I woke up feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed (what a strange phrase……). I woke up feeling plenty cheery! I did!

This morning I finished a whole bunch of school work, cleaned the house, did laundry and shopped.  Then I baked a double batch of brownies and plopped on the couch. Turned on TV and watched two old movies while sipping a nice cup of herb tea.  Ahhhhh.

So.  Why am I such a crab right now?

Well, because both of the movies involved adults feeling sad because they have to say goodbye to kids.  “Overboard” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” aren’t your traditional tearjerkers, but they both pulled my heart right down. Sad moms! Sad dads! Sad kids!  Boohoooo!  Even though the families are reunited at the end of both movies, I still feel like I really need a good long cry.


I’m weird, too, and I’m not being even a little bit logical today!  The thing is, we saw Tim on Thursday night, and had a great time taking him and some friends out for dinner.  I got to hug him, look at him, hear his voice, tell him I love him.  We talked about Thanksgiving, when he’ll be home overnight to eat and celebrate.

I’ve been chatting with Matt about a visit that he has planned to go see my Mom on Thursday. And today I found out that both Kate and Matt will be able to be home for the Thanksgiving holiday, too  I didn’t think they would make it, but it turns out that they can.  Hoorah!

So why am I a crab?

Because I want them here right now, in this house, laughing and goofing off while I make dinner.  I want their voices and their mess and their stuff.

I can’t wait for Thanksgiving dinner. I want to cook NOW.

I’m such a crab.