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Mothers, daughters, and the ties that bind us

My daughter at the farm where she used to workToday, my only daughter turns 25. I can scarcely believe it. Twenty-five years ago, my husband and I brought a new life into the world, an event that would change us forever.

We have always been a close-knit family, and not just because there were only three of us. I taught at a small parochial school for half a dozen years, and I was her junior high English teacher for seventh and eighth grade. I was her volleyball coach, yearbook advisor, and coached her to participate in the school's Fine Arts Festival.

As a result, she and I became too fused, to put it in analytical terms, and lots of friction ensued between us, perhaps more than what should transpire between a teenage girl and her mom. In spite of our personal struggles and our private little wars, she became a very fine volleyball player at the high school level, and Bill and I spent many wonderful hours watching her play, but mostly watching her grow as a person. Paige at right, playing for Lancaster Mennonite High School

Yes, you have to suffer more defeats than wins to develop the character and fortitude life demands, but it was great to see her soar on that court, too, and lead her team to a winning streak, especially during playoffs in her senior year. Close to the end of that season, she was moved to a new position, from outside hitter, to middle hitter, willing to try a new spot to help her team advance. She tried her best, without complaint, sans drama, and she did exceptionally well.

Eight months later, she went off to study at a tiny college in Vermont, and the distance between us helped our relationship eventually, though it wasn't easy for her to find her way in a new place among new people.

She continued to embrace new experiences--traveling to Argentina and Cambodia on extended service trips.

Paige at the organic farm in Oaxaca, MexicoShe worked at an organic farm for a semester in Oaxaca. All of these experiences informed her world view. Her travels abroad and her course of study in college helped her mature into a sensitive and socially conscious and responsible woman. I am proud of the life choices that she has made--so different from her baby boomer mom's path of conspicuous consumption, for the most part.

I'll admit there were a few times when I waxed nostalgically for the baby years when I could pile her in the stroller and walk her to calm her when she became colicky. How she loved that stroller until she was big enough to push it--then no more stroller, which hurt me more than it did her.

Or her little girl years, making snowmen in the backyard or sending her to dancing lessons, dolling her up for each recital in colorful little tutus.

But now that she is grown and out on her own, living in Southern Vermont, whenever we visit, I find that this is the best and richest time that we have ever shared as mother and daughter. I love helping her cook a meal in her apartment, which we've done a few precious times. For me, it is the most comfortable and extraordinary time we've ever spent together in all the years and experiences we've had, beyond my imaginings. It makes me teary just thinking about how blessed I feel that we can share this now. I made lots of mistakes trying to be a mother for which I was not as well-equipped as I thought, but apparently she has forgiven me my many gaffes, and for such grace, I will always be grateful.

These days, she is constantly surprising me with her thoughtful gestures toward her aunt, her grandfather, her nana, and toward her dad and me. She sent my sister the loveliest note for Mother's Day, and I was so touched that Paige continues to be so considerate of others.

For my birthday this year, she gave me a copy of a Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Taylor Kidd, which she said she loved reading. And I enjoyed it a great deal on many levels--as a mother and a writer. Though Paige remains a mostly private person, that book was a window into the challenges she's faced coming into adulthood, and I am grateful for the chance to learn more about her if only vicariously through Ann Taylor Kidd's reflections.

Thanksgiving at Paige's apartment (and all her yummy creations we enjoyed that day)That book inspired me to consider the story that Paige and I are creating now that she is an adult and I am approaching the stage of life that I call "Daughter on Stage: Aging Mother Herded Off to the Wings." I anxiously await the chapters to be unfolded between us, and fervently hope that I live long enough and remain healthy enough to share many 25 more quailty years together with my daughter.

Happy 25th birthday, Paige-y Noodle, and many, many happy returns.





The hot dog? Proper dinner fare? Yea or nay?

Though neither of my parents was college educated and my dad was a blue-collar worker all his life, my mother had a touch of refinement. She never served hot dogs for dinner--in any fashion. Hot dogs on the supper table would be like serving a bowl of cold cereal--which NEVER happened growing up (though sometimes we had hot dogs in tomato soup for breakfast).

So, when I was fifteen, I went to my best friend's house for dinner on a weeknight and fell off my chair when her mom served hot dogs and baked beans for dinner. My mother would have died of shame before she served such a meal--not only to family but company also. Now my friend was one of eight children and I was one of four, and I remembered thinking to myself, "Well, this is how you eat when you have twice as many brothers and sisters." Needless to say, since I've been a food dominant person all my life, I was thrilled to be only one of four after that meal.

Then, shortly after I was married, one of my brother's girlfriends gave me a cookbook from the Reading Hospital Auxiliary--one of those fundraising cookbooks. Now, we all know who supplies the recipes for a hospital auxiliary cookbook, don't we?  Certainly, we do. Doctors' wives--or spouses, to be absolutely politically correct. (This was 1990, after all, and in the US in 1990, we had far fewer women doctors than we have today--at least where I live.)

Anyhoo, I was delighted to receive the cookbook since I LOVE all cookbooks and have an embarrassing assortment of them, considering how many malnourished people there are in the world. I flipped through the booklet and what did I find? Numerous entree recipes featuring the HOT DOG!

I'd already been worn down by my more popular high school friend who lived in the trendy development whose mom served hot dogs for dinner. Once I got that recipe booklet, I threw caution to the wind.

There, in the middle of booklet was a recipe for a Frankfurter Crown Casserole. (For the uninitiated, a frankfurter is a fancy name for a hot dog.) Plus several other hot dog recipes were included. I could scarely believe my eyes. In all those fancy, upscale Wyomissing homes (the development surrounding Reading Hospital), these rich ladies served hot dogs for dinner? Inconceivable.

Well, if the hot dog was good enough for a doctor's family, it was good enough for my family.

I believe I made all the frankfurter recipes in that little booklet. After all, my family WAS on a hot dog budget.

Tonight, several days after our Fourth of July picnic, I got home after work and searched the freezer and the meat keeper for something to fix for dinner. That's when I noticed the pack of hot dogs stashed in the freezer beside the left-over burger patties (which we had last night) and basically remembered the Frankfurter Crown Casserole. I'm not sure if I remembered all the ingredients, but this is mostly it:

  1. Saute an onion in oil or butter until soft.
  2. Add four sliced hot dogs.
  3. Add a can of sliced potatoes, drained and rinsed.
  4. Add a can of mushroom soup and a 1/2 cup of water
  5. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup shredded cheese
  6. Top with dried parsley.

Of course, you top with dried parsley. Why would you chop fresh parsley to serve on top of a hot dog dish?

So, that's what I made for dinner tonight. So, I ask you, was it completely declasse to serve an entree with hot dogs consisting of the main course?

P.S. Apparently, I'd forgotten some of the ingredients in the Frankfurter Crown Casserole recipe. Thanks to the wonder of the Internet, the actual and complete recipe is still available here, courtesy of Campell's Soup. I seriously forgot a few key ingredients in the last two decades. Check it out.



Pimp my sneakers

Another similarly over-the-top tennis shoe from Sebastino'sTowards the end of my schoolteaching career, I thought I could relaunch my tennis-playing years. I had a racquet and a can of balls, but I sorely needed a pair of tennis shoes, real tennis shoes. See, I had lofty plans to meet another booster‑club mom Saturday mornings to revive my tennis game. I needed new shoes, but baby also needed a new pair of sneakers for varsity volleyball.

Guess who got the new footwear? (Kids' need's win every time--right?)

That is until I spotted this nifty pair of Sebastinos at my favorite shoe outlet. For a measly ten bucks, I became the proud owner of the most pimped‑out tennis shoes this side of Wimbledon.

Each shoe features eight gold embroidered tennis balls; seven silver and gold embroidered racquets (What a fashion faux pas! Besides, 'Don't wear white after Labor Day,' my mother warned me never to mix gold with silver in an ensemble); two embroidered blood droplets‑‑not really, I have no idea what the two red blobs represented. Chafed testicles?; the word "TENNIS" embroidered in gold, outlined in black; two gold lamé laces; one green oval with a tail that looks like the Catholic fish symbol which Protestants have now conscripted for their use; one embossed net; and a partridge in a pear tree.

Upon returning home, I immediately stuffed them in the canvas shoe holder in my closet where they sat for six months.

Lest you think I had not put them to good use, think again. Each time I opened my closet door on a dark, wintry morning, those sneakers illuminated my wardrobe choices without turning on the light and awakening my husband. 

I decided to don my truly tasteless sneakers to school for Fitness Week. I wanted to see if I could get fired for wearing them though on paper I had already quit. I discovered how truly hideous these shoes were when a little seventh grader who wears more bling than Jacob Marley sighted my feet glowing in the hallway from a Lancaster‑city‑block away and gave me a hollah.

"Yo, Mrs. M.! Those shoes are bangin'."

She noticed my footwear before she noticed my Allen Iverson jersey and backwards Sixers' cap.

That's some powerful sneaker mojo workin'.

Now that school is out, I have decided to wear them in public, con gusto, unapologetically. I'll start with my orthodontist this morning, documenting the feedback I receive such as how long it takes adults to notice them versus children. Then I'll record any and all comments and post a pie graph later on with annotated results.

Plus if people are looking at the metallica on my feet, they are less likely to notice it in my mouth.

You might be asking why? Why not just go play a match with the damn things? As it so happens, I am still recovering from a silly hip accident, another casualty of Fitness Week. I dislocated it leading an aerobics fitness challenge with my eighth graders.

So, until my hip fully recovers, this is how I am gleaning the value out of my ten dollar expenditure.

In the meantime, I plan to scour the outlets for other pimped‑out apparel to wear courtside this summer.

If I can't dazzle them with my serve, temporarily blinding my opponents will serve.


Mouse capades

mus musculus, aka house mouseWalt Disney made them huggable. John Steinbeck made them heroic. In reality, mice are creatures of terror who carry parasites, gnaw through wiring, and make you feel like a crummy housekeeper.

Whenever I hear a house mouse scurrying across my kitchen floor, I race to the cupboard, wrestle into latex gloves, and wait until it ventures out from underneath the range. Then I pounce, grabbing it by its rubbery tail and flinging it off the deck of my two-story home, yelling, “Sayonara, sucker!” From my fingertips to a crash landing in the back forty. A landing from which no mus musculus ever returns.

Buy a cat, you say? I have a feline named Frodo. Like Scylla, she'll tear out your liver just to amuse herself. That’s what mice are to Frodo—amusement. She bats them between her paws like she’s having a game of pinball on the Armstrong Luxury Vinyl. Once Frodo actually managed to kill a mouse—when the rotten thing died of cardiac arrest before it was “Game Over.”

Heaven knows why I pay a pest control service $200 a year. Maybe I’d have better luck if my exterminator wasn’t named Mickey.



Nana's authentic Scottish shortbread - an heirloom recipe

My mother's mother, whom we called "Nana," came to New York City from Scotland in the early part of the last century. Because she had such a dominant personality and a thick Scottish accent, I remember her much more clearly than my father's mother.

Nana had little nicknames for all of my siblings and me: Brian-me-boy (which she pronounced "buy"), Red Feather (for my sister Heather), I was Gale Girl (which I use as a screen name today), and Rossi Bairn for my brother Ross. We thought she was saying Rossi Bear and still refer to my brother Ross as "Rossi Bear" today because we were just silly American kids. 

While I was growing up, she came to visit our farm in Berks County regularly even though she and my father fought a lot. Because of the delectables and recipes she shared, sometimes it seemed we were like a little Scottish outpost situated in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

Many of my memories of her revolve around food and tartan dresses. (Always tartan, never plaid, mind you. And let's not even get started about how most people mispronounce "Auld Lang Syne" by saying Syne as though it begins with a "Z".)

Nana's shortbread never looked fancy but it's the best I've ever tasted.In my previous post, I mentioned having received some heirloom recipes from my Scottish nana. So without further adieu, here is the recipe for my favorite treat Nana used to make--Scottish shortbread.

This recipe is the best in the world. Forget all those chi-chi shortbreads with rosemary, rosewater, and god-knows-what adulteration. This is the BEST recipe for authentic shortbread you'll ever find, and oh, so simple.

You can sort of hear my nana's personality in her recipe--she was a bossy one, that's for sure.  

My mother handwrote this recipe and gave it to me during my wedding shower in 1985:

Nana's Scottish Shortbread

1 lb. butter (no oleo)
1 full cup sugar
Cream butter and sugar. Then add 3 and 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup at a time.

Mix well and knead thoroughly. Add more flour if needed. The more you knead, the tastier the shortbread will be.

Pat the dough into a round, square, or oblong pan (don't roll it or grease the pan; the dough is rich enough). Prick with a fork all the through, top to bottom,  in a design if you can.

If you like thicker shortbread, use an 8 x 8--just watch that the bottom doesn't brown. If you like it a little thinner, an 11 x 7.5 x 1.5 (deep) is ideal. 

Bake in 300 degree (very slow) oven for 45-60 minutes. Don't let shortbread get brown on top. 

Happy baking!

* * * 

And of course, no post about Scottish food would be complete without invoking Rabbie Burns' famous blessing:

Some hae meat

by Robert Burns

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thanit.

(And the fact that I posted this the day before St. Patrick's Day would make my nana even happier. If you're not sure why that is, then you've never grown up with Scottish people.)

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