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Romantic Gazpacho

Today, as my husband, Alex, fell asleep on the couch watching Michigan football, I made a batch of Gazpacho. It’s a cold Spanish soup with pureed tomatoes as a base then peppers, onion, celery and cucumbers.

Twenty five years ago, when Alex and I were first dating, he was trying to renovate his five acre redneck ranch. (We still live in the same house) Alex is a chef, not a contractor, so it was slow going. I called him, “Hey, since you bought dinner last night I’m bringing you a surprise lunch.”

He sounded excited that I was coming out to check out his house and bring lunch. He gave me explicit directions and the address.

I stopped at a little café in Hot Springs and bought some Gazpacho and fancy grilled cheese sandwiches. I felt very sophisticated and confident that Alex, the handsome, swarthy chef would be impressed.

Finding the entrance of our driveway has always been nearly impossible. It’s like finding the entrance to Narnia. With my gazpacho and sandwiches on the front seat I drove past the driveway over and over, finally I drove four miles back to a little gas station and asked to use the phone

Frustrated and embarrassed I called Alex in tears. He laughed at me gently and said he would stand at the bottom of the driveway, so I couldn’t miss the turn.

We sat down in the living room and I tried not to show my concern when I looked around the house. It was a wreck. There were so many half finished projects and power tools everywhere.

But I proudly presented my lunch. I poured the Gazpacho into bowls, carefully placed the crotons on top and handed Alex a plastic spoon. then I unwrapped our delicate little grilled cheese sandwiches.

Alex smiled at me, “Wow, thank you. This is great.” He took a bite of soup. “It’s really good. You want a beer?”

We shared a cold can of Bush and ate lunch while he told me all the things he planned for the house. He ate the Gazpacho so fast I barely got any and that made me so happy.

Alex and I have been married for 23 years now. We’ve raised four kids, buried dogs and watched a lot of football. What I didn’t know all those years ago was that Alex absolutely hates tomatoes. He picks them out of everything. When he saw me making Gazpacho today, he gave me a hug and whispered “gross.”

Love, it’ll make you do all kinds of crazy stuff.

Almost The Sweetest Valentine…Ever

There seem to be two kinds of women in America, 1. Those who hate Valentine’s day; they think it’s a commercial ruse that inflicts ridiculously high expectations. Lots of women boycott the holiday on principal.

2. Then there are those who buy in and go hard. Their men must spend at least a hundred dollars on candy, flowers, food and cards or he clearly “doesn’t love or appreciate you enough.”

Both ideas are kind of dumb and unnecessarily harsh. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a holiday that encourages love. But taking a second mortgage out on the house to prove our love seems kinda moronic too.

Yesterday, after being “together” and married for 25 years, I think, Alex got it absolutely right.

First, there was a scribbled note on half a sheet of notebook paper next to the coffee pot.  All it said was, “Will you be my Valentine?” Nice! And there were two Hershey kisses. Perfect, he remembered the day! Pretty immature and adorable. Well done sir!

When I got home there were daffodils he’d picked in a vase and he fixed dinner! I’m trying to lose weight on the low carb diet right now and he took that into consideration…steak and lobster while we watched a new episode of The Big Bang Theory. Killed it.

But the best part of this Valentine’s Day? He changed the sheets on our bed…all on his own…without me asking. I woke up in the middle of the night and thought about how great those sheets felt as he snored next to me like a jacked up Harley Davidson.

Thank you Alex. You get a 10 out of 10 this year!

Immigrants vs Plastic Water Bottles

Three weeks ago I bought a 24 pack of bottled water. Then, I had a conversation with my adult son, Jack. He asked me to start teaching my youngest child, Sandor, about the dangers of water bottles and plastic bags. Plastic bags and bottles take roughly 1,000 years to decompose. That means those 24 bottles will be gone from our land fills and oceans in 3018. Crap, this planet in trouble.

Everyone has heard of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive island of trash, made up, for the most part of plastic, and it’s bigger than the state of Texas.

Eighty five percent of sea turtles die because of plastic stuff in the ocean.

Plastic crap is destroying our beautiful little green and blue planet. And that’s what all my kids are afraid of….not immigrants. I have four kids and not one is worried about immigrants taking something away from them. They are all smart, educated young people. They are not naïve or stupid. And they simply understand the dangers of plastics and pollution.

They also understand that the likely hood of an immigrant or refugee ever doing them physical harm is statistically minute. According to Business Insider, ” The chance of an American being murdered by an undocumented immigrant terrorist is 1 in 10.9 billion per year. ”

Not one of my children wants a minimum wage job, so they are not worried in any way, about immigrants or refugees taking jobs. Plus, they appreciate the beautify and diversity new cultures bring to America. They love and thrive on new experiences and ideas.

My husband and I will be gone in 20 years and we’ll be leaving the great country to our kids and others like them. So I’m going to follow their lead.  They are not worried about immigrants and know with smart laws and restrictions there’s room in America. But they are terrified of the destruction brought on by plastics pollution. Plastics will take more form them, entire species of animals, clean water, air and land, than immigrants ever will.

You want something to be afraid of? Each day, people in the U.S. throw away more than 60 million plastic water bottles, most of which end up in landfills or as litter in America’s streets, parks and waterways.

We can only make things better when we recognize where the true danger and threat lies.

Door Knobs

Our house, Hampoland, is a comfortable mess. A strange, unorthodox home that’s served as a sanctuary not only for our four children, but for many of their friends, kids, stray dogs and young adults, who have sometimes needed a safe and happy refuge from the world.

Structurally, it’s miraculous the house still stands. Walls are cracked, so we spackle and paint. The floors rise and fall with the seasons. The answer…more throw rugs. Hampoland, is a five acre redneck homestead, our youngest daughter, Lex, who is 22, compares to a Dr. Seuss “Who House”.

This morning, I realized what I’ve known for years.  Most of the doors in our house can’t be fully closed and most of the door knobs are splattered with paint and are  a rattling, jacked up mess.  Our knobs are unable to fully close and lock any interior door in the house, much less keep it secured. They are loose and jangle in their holes, incapable of keeping anything inside or outside a room. Our doors can be pulled closed, then just as easily pushed open.

Years ago, we could have replaced all these useless door knobs, I suppose. But it never seemed important. New furniture has been moved in and out, cars have been bought and sold, kids have headed off to college, graduated and started their lives. But replacing the ten dollar door knobs was never a priority.

In this house, doors can’t really be closed. Push just a little and you’ll always be able to get in.  And maybe that’s a good thing. So, when Alex and I die and this house is demolished, I hope each of our children will take a trashed and useless Hampoland doorknob. Because, when there is love, doors can always be opened.

Love At Rocky’s Corner

Dating is a funny thing.  You want to help each other…but how much and when?  All those boundaries have to be worked out.

Twenty five or twenty six years ago when Alex and I first started dating, I was trying to get my little magazine, The Spring, up and running and I worked as a waitress at Rocky’s Corner, a legendary Hot Springs Pizzeria.

I’d left my first husband in Key West and was struggling to make things work. Jack and Mary were three and four and we all lived on pizza toast and spaghetti noodles. I met Alex and the first thing he did, was start making “real dinners” for us. The kids were so excited to have three things on their plate, at the same time!!

Alex and I had been dating about a month when he realized how bad the brakes were on my car.   He was so concerned he asked several times if I would let him get me some new brakes, and then I could pay him back.  But I refused.  I didn’t need his help and I wasn’t going to take him money. We’d only been dating a month.

So, Alex came up with a solution on his own. One afternoon, while I was working lunch, unbeknownst to me, Alex snuck into the office at Rocky’s to talk to the owner Joey Diorio. Joey was the PERFECT Chicago style pizza place owner.  He had the look, the accent and the attitude. He was a Chicago style pizza pie come to life, thick and cheesy, loud, abrasive, loving and funny. Alex explained the situation to Joey who immediately understood.  He summoned an older waitress from Romania or  Czechoslovakia, with a heavy accent, to his office. A few minutes latter she stole my car keys out of my purse while I was taking a drink order and delivered them to Alex and Joey.

Alex then snuck out, stole my car and got my breaks fixed.  Two hours latter he returned, put the car in the same spot, then took my keys back to Joey, who found the old Romanian or Czechoslovakian waitress, who returned my keys to my purse. She’d been winking at me all day, but I didn’t suspect anything.

Two hours later I got off, sat at the bar counting my tips and drinking a draft beer. I said goodbye to everyone and Joey was acting super odd. Smiling too much and telling me to have a safe ride home.

Going home, everything was great. I had the windows down and the radio turned up loud.  I was probably listening to Color Me Bad singing “I Wanna Sex You Up.” It was all just great till I came to the first stop sign…..and almost went through the windshield.

I’ve been married to that car thief for a long time now. But sometimes that’s what loves does. Puts you right through the windshield.

 

They Tapped My Daughters Phone! For Real

My daughter Mary called and said emphatically, “I think my phone is tapped, Mom.”
I smiled and wondered if she was off her medication because this has happened before. Then in my smarmy, patient Mom voice I said, “Why would anybody tap your phone honey?”
She took the bait. “Ok, consider this. I work with Middle Eastern refugees and I’m studying Arabic.”
“Yeah, but look at the stuff you teach your students. How to shop and use coupons, how to rent an apartment and fill out a job application, that’s not crazy or dangerous.”
“I know, Mom, but they don’t know that. they just know I spend a lot of time with Middle Eastern refuges.”
I nodded. “Ok.”
“Because my students are from the Middle East, I study a lot of Middle Eastern websites so I can understand where they are coming from. I check out sights from Syria, Iran,Eritrea, Congo, Somalia, you know.”
“yeah, I get that.” I say, seeing the pieces of the puzzle come together.
She continued, “Andy and I work with the ACLU and go to a lot of protests. And I took a pretty long trip to Uganda this year.”
I sighed, “Yeah, I forgot about that. ”
“And technically I work for a Chinese corporation. I mean, that’s who writes my checks.”
That’s when I grimaced. “Man, you do check a lot of boxes. If I was the CIA or something like that, I’d totally be checking you out. I think our tax dollars are being well spent.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought, and a lot of my friends have told me my phone makes funny noises right before I pick up.”
I grunted, “That’s not good. Ok, if they interview you you just need to tell the FBI or CIA, who ever that you are Episcopal, and Episcopalians don’t get radicalized. We play golf.”
Mary laughed, “Good point.”
“Ok, and honey, there’s a whole list of words and phrases you probably need to avoid on the phone. But I can’t tell you what they are.”
The truth is Mary, my beautiful daughter is super patrotic, loves America and wants to save the world. But if you call her….you probably need to be careful what you say.

Middle School Mean Girls

Last week I accidentally bought a novel…written for children. I decided to read it anyway. Here’s the plot: a 12 year old girl is going into middle school and suddenly (well over the course of a couple of months), her very best friend in the world turns into a Middle School Mean Girl. She becomes popular with the “popular kids”. It’s a heartbreaking story with an uplifting end.

I knew my friend Amy, who is a DJ on one of the stations I work for, had daughters. So, I gave her the plot synopsis and asked if her girls would enjoy it.

“This must be a God thing,” Amy said. Then told me about her beautiful daughter who is going though almost the exact same situation.

Her story killed me because I remember so well, struggling though middle school with my oldest daughter. She had a few wonderful friends for several years, then they all turned on her. We never figured out why. But my girl spent a couple of years in my pocket and miserable. Her former friends were saying all kinds of stuff, about her. They said she was ugly, fat, gay, stupid, a slut and she wasn’t Christian. One of the reasons we took her out of that school was to get away from her old friends.

Every week in restaurants, at the pool, in Walmart I hear middle school girls talk to their parents in a way that is shockingly mean and hateful. The parents just laugh it off, they don’t think their girls are serious. They tell themselves “it’s just a game, or a phase she’ll grow out of”. But they know, in their hearts, they never spoke to their parents that way.

Boys are gross and annoying, they make fart jokes and fall out of booths at restaurants, but they don’t sigh and roll their eyes at their parents, as though warning them to keep their mouth shut. I swear sometimes it looks like the parents are hostages.

So what’s the deal with so many Middle School mean girls? Why do some turn cruel and ugly? Why do they quite caring about old friends and focus on popularity and good hair?

Boys  might get in a fight with their friend, they might even try to beat him up…but they generally don’t get catty, cruel and start spreading rumors.

I think parents might be part of the problem.
We tell our daughters they are beautiful and can be anything from an astrophysicist to pop star, we tell our daughters they are strong, not to be kept down by anyone. We tell our daughters they can accomplish anything. We put our daughters waaaay up on a pedestal, we buy them the very best “high horse” And they listen. they believe us, the believe they are better than other girls, that they are smarter and prettier. We drill this stuff into their heads CONSTANTLY, and so do tv stations, songs on the radio even public service announcements.

But do we ever tell them to be kind? Do we tell and teach them to empathize? Do we tell them to be sweet and nice. No, because those virtues are seen as weakness. I’m thinking back and I don’t think I ever had conversations like that with my girls. I’m sure I hoped they would see their family being nice to folks and get the idea…but I don’t think that’s enough. The truth is, some of our daughters are turning into bitches, right in front of us.

Moms, I’m putting this on your shoulders. I suspect most of us know when our daughters has turned that corner and become a mean girl. But very few of us are willing to own and correct the bad and hurtful behavior. We are too excited our daughter is “popular”. We can’t forsce them to be friends with another girl but we can absolutely demand and make sure they are kind. We need to tell our kids we disapprove of cruel behavior and then demonstrate kindness , everyday, in front of them.

And consider this, when we are all old and dealing with health issues and trying to stay in our own homes , when we need help with everyday life and desperately want someone to treat you kindly and with dignity, chances are our mean ass daughter will be in charge.

Sweetness, kindness and compassion are not weaknesses. They are virtues that make all of us stronger.

I Hate Baseball

I hate baseball. Ok, maybe ‘hate’ is to strong a term. But I don’t really like the game. I can watch completely random football or basketball games on tv or in person and get passionately involved…but baseball? Not so much. It’s boring.

Here’s my problem. My youngest son, Sandor, is in 9th grade and plays baseball for the Ft. Lake Cobras. Purple and white pine stripes all day long. There he is on third base, looking handsome.

I try to be a good mom so we try to make some games, to be supportive. But the games are soooo long, and there are soooo many games. Two or three a week! Typically nobody get’s hurt and it’s hot sitting in the bleachers. Still, we go to games and I yell like a maniac even though I don’t really know the right things to yell. “Take him out!” is one of the wrong things I’ve learned not to yell. Other parents give you stink eye.

Earlier this week Sandor was playing third base and missed a pop fly. Nothing terrible happened because of his bobble but he was really upset with himself.

I really like to fix problems. So, the next day, after work, I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods and bought five baseballs.

I put Sandor in the middle of the yard with his mitt and started hitting balls at him. I was doing ok but I kind of freak out when he throws the balls back to me. The kid throws pretty hard and I catch like a four year old. So, I recruited his dad to catch.

Things were going pretty well until our big dog Aries got involved. Every time I hit a grounder , Sandor had to out maneuver and fight her. If Aries won she trotted back to me with her fluffy tail raised high and gave me the slobber covered ball.

For thirty minutes the four of us played and laughed in the yard until the sun set and it was too dark to see the ball.

Sandor had a game last night and he took care of a grounder easily. He told me all about it at breakfast this morning.

There’s another home game tonight. I’m pretty excited.

Love Changed My Daughter

My oldest daughter, Mary, was a spectacular kid. But when she was young she was…..well….really really greedy. She laughs about it now, we all do, but when she was six, eight, ten, I was a little concerned.

Mary always wanted more. She idolized, adored her older brother Jack. She literally worshiped him.  Jack was her everything, he even tried to fail first grade so he could be held back a year. He thought he should to stay in Mary’s grad and then he could take care and protect her. Still, Mary would steal Jack’s stuff all day long, even if she didn’t really want it.

Every Easter, for at least seven years, Mary woke up early, studied the baskets the Easter Bunny left, then she put all the good stuff, including chocolate, in her basket. And she filled Jack’s with the cheap candy, do-dads and toys she didn’t want.

She did the same thing with the Christmas stocking. Then she’d shrug and say something like, “I don’t know why Santa likes me better.”

Mary was a beautiful, wonderful, selfish, greedy little kid.

But a few years ago, something changed in Mary’s heart. She met Andy and fell in love…. as she’d never fallen before.

The week after Thanksgiving the texts, emails and facebook messages began. She sent me links to things Andy would love for Christmas. There was a pair of brown Aldo loafers she desperately wanted him to have, but couldn’t afford. A week later she called her dad, to tell him about a saw that would make him so happy.

The “suggestions” went on and on. The girl who stole all the chocolate Easter bunnies’ literally didn’t care what she got for Christmas. She only wanted Andy, the man she loves, to be happy.

Mary told me over and over, “don’t worry about me this year, Andy deserves everything.”

Was this my Mary on the phone? Had some kind of a ”body snatchers” thing happened while she was in the basement?

“Big Love”, the kind of love that makes you forget about yourself, is rare. Lots of folks get married and live together for years and years and years but they never stop thinking about themselves.

Mary has crossed that line and grown into a more beautiful person. She loves Andy so much she places his needs above mine, above the families’, above everything. And she fiercely protective.  Now she chooses Andy, her husband and her love. And that’s the way true love and a marriage are supposed to be. I believe God has given both Mary and Andy a higher job order.  Now, they are supposed to take care of each other. That’s the first requirement and these guys have it right.

I love and admire this new woman she has become. And Andy Stanley is a lucky man.

Four Year Olds, Human or Alien?

I found this story today. I wrote it eleven years ago, before I had a blog.  But it’s still true.

Right now Sandor is racing up and down the house dragging a bull whip, which the cat chasing.  He is laughing hysterically. And I’m pretty sure he’ll run into something soon, hurt himself and cry. He’s been doing this for almost twenty minutes.  He is giddy, rowdy, insane and happy.

In the past hour I put him in time out for jumping off the back of the couch and I fussed at him for being disrespectful.

I read him two books but he kept trying to start a pillow fight. I nearly beg him to hold still, for just a few minutes. but he can’t. I’m so tired from work and frustrated by his energy…I want to cry.

When I try to dress him he scootches and wiggles like a squirrel in a pillow case. At dinner he turns his silverware into drumsticks and action figures.

Sandor is not ADD. He’s four years old. Sometimes four year old are unbelievable annoying and usually that means they are normal.

Some children need medication but most normal children are loud, rowdy, sometimes nearly uncontrollable and frustrating. they seemingly have unreasonable amounts of energy to burn off and simply can’t hold still. It doesn’t seem natural. But it is.

Fifty years ago parents let  kids play outside for hours at a time, even four year old. We had lots of space and parents didn’t have to supervise or watch them all the time. The world was a different place. My parents din’t hear from us until we were hungry, it got dark or we were just too tired to play.

When children came home we were exhausted from riding bikes, jumping out of trees and just running around. When my cousins and I were four, five a six we ran wild for hours on end. We didn’t bug our parents cause we weren’t with them. today, parents and kids spend a lot of time together.

Typically, I pick the kids up from school or pre-school, take them to taekwondo , soccer practice or cheer leading for a couple of hours. I watch them work out and play then we go home and they play while I fix dinner. We eat, I help them take baths, get ready for bed and that’s the day.  We are always together.

There’s good news and bad news. I think my kids and I are a lot closer because we spend more time together.  My folks were rarely around. The downside is my kids wear me out and seem absurdly high strung.  But they are not. Years ago when I was with my cousins, there’s no doubt we were constantly moving, loud, crazy and ridiculous. If any adult had spent hours with us no doubt they would have tried to medicate our entire neighborhood.

Kids have fewer recesses today, then many have structured activities after school, adults are always watching. It’s not wonder kids want to blow off some steam.

So, when Sandor spends two hours hopping like a frog, barking like a dog, yelling new words he’s made up and trying to do somersaults off the couch, I know he’s a normal boy.  That’s what we all did years ago, but our parents weren’t around to tell us to “cut it out”

So, don’t assume your child need medication just because he’s driving your crazy. It’s his job.

 

Author’s note, today Sandor is a awesome 15 year old boy who makes good grades, makes us all proud and still drives us crazy sometimes. Last night we spent a little bit of time with a wonderful 4 year old boy. He did all the stuff Sandor used to do!  All of it! Sandor looked over and said, “I think this kid is my spirit animal.”

 

 

 

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