Thursday, April 30, 2009

Desperation Dinner at the Dickinson's

Patti Dickinson

I made a new recipe last night for dinner.  My dinner menus range from Weight Watchers cookbook recipes to what I call Desperation Dinners.  This was the latter.  Prep time in under ten minutes.  That's including slicing and dicing time, and time to find a realistic substitute for the ingredients I don't have and don't have time to run to the grocery store for. 

But hold on, this story is going to take a few detours in the telling.  So the chicken breasts are on the stove, two at a time, browning in 3 T of butter and 3 T of olive oil.  Nice sizzle sound as background noise.  I decide to multi-task and answer a quick email or two.  Then I hear an unfamiliar sound.  A decided cracking noise, and it's coming from the front right burner.  The glass, made for stove-to-oven use has cracked in two.  Fortunately the lid was on, holding the two cracked pieces together.  The bad news was that the olive oil/butter combination was flooding the burner and pouring over the open flame.  Visions of Fire Department personnel enormous hoses in tow....I am trying to decide which powdery substance to throw on the roaring fire that isn't the "medium" flame I had it set on.  My high school freshman comes out into the kitchen, coinciding with a Jon and Kate Plus Eight commercial. She sees the flames and we go into synchronized action.  I get a cookie sheet to put the broken pot on. She turns off the gas (hmmm, now why didn't I think of that?) and the panic is knocked back a few notches. Lots of smoke in the kitchen.....lots of it.  We open some doors/windows, light the scented candle (an exercise in futility, we would have needed all the candles in St. Patrick's Cathedral to kill the something-horrible-happened-in-the-cooking-of-this-dinner smell) and begin to let relief take over.  

My husband came home....sniffs and says, "What happened?"  "Nothing much, just grilling a little chicken."  Above-mentioned daughter tells the whole story at the dinner table, adding her own spin to the drama.

So I say, "What's everyone think of this chicken recipe?  A keeper?"  My husband pipes up and says, "It's not bad."  He means this as a compliment, not it-stops-just-shy-of-activating-my-gag-reflex.  

This isn't the first drama I've had cooking dinner.  And it likely won't be the last.  But my Girl Scout troop would have said that I make a mean dump cake on the open flame. flame......

Sunday, April 26, 2009

After This Storm

by Pat Antonopoulos

As children, we sat on the roofed porch and watched the storm. Early Spring might require that we wrap in quilts as we relished every lightening/thunder combo. Often the winds dampened us as we clutched the edges of our wraps. A super storm could wet our hair and wash our faces.

In his book, Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds, George Singleton gives the rule for using cliches.
Rule # 1 Don't.
Tongue in cheek' comes to mind. On page 122 Mr. Singleton gives Pep Talk NO. 169---Guilty Pleasures. Sometimes a well used cliche is the literary device that gets us where we are going with minimal explanation.

A dog-eared cliche is the scene outside my window. Damaged branches have gouged holes in the yard. Flower petals on the walk, broken pots, gutters down, deck furniture upended, a beautiful washed-clean-world. And that circles to the cliche.

What better frame could we find for the emotional dramas that storm though our lives? Upheaval, especially in family situations, has it all---thunder, lightening, minor destruction of damaged parts and even the guilty pleasure that can come with the cleansing.

Of course, the tragedy of nature's most destructive storms does not leave a washed-clean-world, but a porch swing storm can be help us find new ways of taking out the broken parts, cleansing the old ways and learning to cherish being together.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Tribute to Susan Boyle

Every once in a while, we are stopped in our tracks by something that has the potential to change, well --- the world. Susan Boyle has accomplished that. Here is a woman, 47 years old, who is, in all outward appearances, well --- ordinary. She is a contestant on the British version of American Idol.   

Susan Boyle, in her sensible shoes, outdated dress, and fuzzy hair walks across the stage, seemingly oblivious to the reception she is getting.  You know, the she's-got-to-be-kidding-me reception.  She approaches center stage.  A little nervous, but doing a good job of putting her best self forward.  She's got her own version of stage presence, a combination of star-struck, deer-in-the-headlights and can-this-be-me-on-this-stage. 

And then -- then she opens her mouth.  And then -- then the magic happens. Her voice trumps everything else.  I have watched it three times on You-Tube and have cried three times.  

It's all the lessons we want to teach our kids, all wrapped up in one human being, right?  That what matters is not what someone looks like.  That talent comes with all kinds of wrappers. That nice matters.  That happiness is not about what you can accumulate.  That fame can be accomplished without weighing 110 and baring too much cleavage. That maybe Simon and the audience of skeptics have learned a valuable lesson.  Maybe Simon will keep his waiting-to-be smirked smirks in check for a tad longer.  And finally, we need to harness the joy on Susan's face and when she stamps her feet because the happiness is spilling over and out.  I hope that she never changes, that the "makeovers" that are rumored don't happen.  Because she is perfect just the way she is. 

On the Threshold....

Patti Dickinson

As I hope some of you have noticed (smile) I have been floundering a bit with the blogging. Easter week saw this house packed to the rafters with my dad, recently widowed, my returning college kids, and my son and my granddaughter, coming up to go to Opening Day at the Royals. We had all eight kids home at the same time, which doesn't happen too frequently anymore.  So I left-it-all-behind --- the housework, the laundry, overseeing the science fair board, and the PTA stuff.  I cooked for a crowd again!  Just put a figurative sign out that said, "I am busy" and emitted those vibes to everyone who wasn't in the house. 

And the in-between was wonderful.  Lots of catching up (face it, those college kid stories are much better acted out, in real time, instead of emailed) laughing and reminiscing (I always learn something new during these conversations....usually something mischief-related.)  This time I learned that Kathleen and Mary Morgan are still having words about whether the tape was on too loud/soft and whether the fan was on too little/much. This is a going-on-fifteen year-battle from when they shared a room.  This was also the time that I learned that my daughter, Claire, told all her friends that her name was "Claire Annette" and that her grandfather was the inventor of the musical instrument of the same name.  

The goodbyes are always so agonizing.  I hold onto my departing kids just a bit longer than usual.  My dad is 82.  He doesn't walk with his confident stride anymore.  He sort of shuffles. He hangs onto the doorframe as he steps down the back step.  That brings tears.  And I will them back.  But the three kids who are standing there after Wood and my dad pull out of the driveway to go to the airport, know.  They know what I am thinking before I can say it.  They are nodding, heads cocked, ready to listen, hug, looking for me to take the lead.  And this is, indeed, the circle of life.  One day, it will be me, stepping carefully down the back step, as my kids and their kids watch. 

And four days later, my daughter Elizabeth delivers her second baby.  We keep Piper, kid #1 who is about to have her two year old world turned upside down by a seven pound screaming, demanding high maintenance sister!!   Standing in my daughter's hospital room, seeing the simultaneous glow of joy mixed with fatigue.  I see in her the ready-to-get-home-and-get-the-routine-figured-out impatience with the hospital rules.  And so it life, old life, both standing on thresholds.  

Monday, April 6, 2009

All-Out Cleanup, Family Style

Patti Dickinson

I love to do family-wide cleanups.  Much better than Mom-only cleanups.  I mean, we've got six times the manpower when all are engaged.  (Note: "Engaged" doesn't mean enthusiastic, or that the definition of "cleanup" is the same for all participants.) We are having lots of company for Easter. So I prepped the kids all week.  Told them what was coming on Sunday.  That way, when the actual day dawned, I didn't have to listen to a litany of excuses.  "I have homework", "My science fair project is due tomorrow, and I need one of those tri-fold boards and a glue stick" (and Hobby Lobby is closed on Sundays) or "I think I ate something that has me breaking out in a cold sweat and I am having some moderate heart palpitations."  This is what I've got to work with.

Cleaning day dawns.  Well, let me rephrase that.  Mid-afternoon dawns.  This is after a volleyball tournament that started with us leaving the house before seven a.m.  We pull in the driveway a little after two.  I know, a late start. Doesn't bode well.  

I am happy to report that the yard has been mowed.  Andrew and I had an agreement that I wouldn't bug him about mowing if it was done by Sunday.  I told him that he ought to check the weather forecast (he didn't) before he put it off to the last minute.  You know where this is going.  He mowed yesterday with a lot of wind (40 mph) and scattered sleet.  Good kid.  A man of his word.  

Inside, things weren't quite so wonderful.  I could hear the gentle echo of Mario Cart.  Two horizontal bodies camped out on the couches.  Chocolate milk glasses on the table, and a buffet of snacks (I am known neighborhood-wise for the good snacks we have at the Dickinson house). Ohhh boy.  I have my work cut out for me.

Well -- we got it all done.  Big yellow trash bags coming down the stairs and being carried out. You don't even want to know the before picture of those rooms.  But we pulled together and got the job done.  Of course I am paying for that today.  All the clothes that were on the floor of their rooms hit the laundry basket at the same time.  
Truth be told, the shoes in the middle of the entry hall, the papers on the refrig, the piles of clean clothes stacked, by-kid, in the laundry room (which is a "first floor" dresser), the toothpaste globs in the bathroom sinks, and the seven different bottles of shampoo on the shower floor are tangible signs that a lot of good living happens around here.  

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Skimming Takes The Cream

by Pat Antonopoulos

Email is convenient, quick and inexpensive. Users can dash in and dash out, choosing both time spent and length of message. Doing business on email allows easy access to information and almost instant response time. Some users type all lower case letters and forgo punctuation so the process is even faster. We have all learned to skim through our emails, noting what requires an action and what is quickly deleted. There are spam deterrents to save more time, to trim the waste. Even the 'friendly letter' email often gets the skim. And so we loose the richness, the cream.

A friend may write with a true need to communicate, to share at this moment. But that need might be buried in the email and easily missed as we skim for 'just the important stuff'. The cream of the friendship is watered down to the barest communication.

Recently, I received an email from a long time friend, someone from high school days. Much of the email was the catching-up kind of communication, like long ago chatting over coffee. Tucked in the middle was a message that I missed because I was in skim mode and hurried though the text. Later, as I worked to delete old messages, I decided to reread his email.

There are 'thud' moments and there are moments of feeling a weight on the chest...a weight of failure. This was one of the heaviest kind of thuds. My friend was asking for a part of our old friendship, a dollop of cream to soothe a need. And I missed it.

My follow-up email apologized. I truly meant the apology and did my best to give the support that was needed, but I knew my message was diluted by carelessness---by too much hurry and too little caring.

Preserving the cream of family and friend communication has to be worth the few extra minutes it takes to read with interest and concern, taking care to hold a hand that is stretching towards us.

Boys Will Be Boys in the Very Best Sense of the Word

Patti Dickinson

Funny story.  Andrew is a high school senior.  Managed the whole college application process seamlessly on his own. Reasonable number of speeding tickets (he comes from a maternal lead-foot so I share some of the blame.  I said some.) Gets himself up and out every morning. Cell phone alarm makes that happen. Does his homework.  Mows the yard with only a little coercion. So he's ready to be "launched".  The maturity is there. But wait.....a cops and robbers re-make?

The high school seniors play a game every spring.  It's called "Assassin" (I wish they hadn't called it that, because it sounds so uncivilized and bloody).  The game goes like this.  Whoever wants to play kicks in $5.  Each kid draws a name.  That is the kid they have to "get" with a water gun.  There are a bunch of rules.  You can't "get" someone in their house.  You can't "get" someone on school property. And no "gets" between midnight Friday and 6 pm on Sunday. If the police are called (because there are kids running around the neighborhood ambushing each other) then the kid whose house it is is out. Everything else is fair game.  The first night Andrew slept in the garage. Mattress, sleeping bag, something for breakfast.  He brought his toothbrush to school with him. Went right from sleeping bag into his car, so no one could get him.  Everytime he returns to the house, he calls from the garage and has whoever's home "check" the surrounding area, and then he comes toward the house like a rocket.  So far, so good.  He plots and plans his every move, based on how vulnerable he will be.  He thinks that Taco Bell and a tennis tournament go hand-in-hand.  He hasn't had a taco in a week because there is no drive-through. 

I have enjoyed every single minute of this.  There are still good kids out there. This is good clean fun.  It brings kids together.  The morning chatter at the lockers is all about who got who and under what circumstances. Kids are just looking for ways to be good. Believe it.