Archive | September, 2013

Just Eat It

26 Sep

I love to cook. NOW.

I grew up so afraid of the heat from the oven that I couldn’t stand to take the chocolate chip cookies I’d painstakingly mixed and put in the cold oven back out of a hot one. My little sister was braver and better coordinated–I generously allowed her to handle that part.

A telling college story is the time my first real roommate in my first real apartment mocked me scathingly for warming up spaghettios and canned corn for dinner à deux with my boyfriend. “Dinner is SERVED, honey!” she trilled, mincing around the kitchen waving a can opener. (She wasn’t that nice.)

When I was first married I specialized in a category of one pot meals I called “stuff with stuff in it.” For example, cous cous with spaghetti sauce and (more) canned corn mixed in. Or mac n’ cheese with tuna n’ peas–rhymingly delicious.

My mom is an accomplished cook who filled my early childhood with tasty, nutritious meals accompanied by thick slices of her home-baked bread. My dad says he hates to cook, but faithfully churns out beautiful omelets, scratch buttermilk pancakes, perfectly grilled cheeses, etc. Suffice to say I was always aiming at being someone who reliably made good food at home, but I took my time, and sacrificed many cans of corn, getting there.

But, although I say it about myself, I’ve arrived. This past Monday night I roasted two chickens on a bed of apples and onions, accompanied by a butternut squash gratin and steamed green beans with lemon-butter. For dessert I made an apple pie and whipped cream. There was certainly labor involved, but truly, it was the labor of love. And I hope my children understood that in their hearts, because I was a little crabby with them during dinner prep.

And that’s a theme. Kids, I’m in the kitchen sweating bullets cranking out a beautiful meal to show you my love and care. Now, buzz off. I don’t want to be talked to, looked at, questioned, or god forbid, HELPED. Everyone leave the kitchen so I can love you, please!

A favorite phrase I amuse myself repeating ad nauseam is, “something yummy that you will like.” As in:

“What’s for dinner?”
“Something yummy that you will like.”
“What are you packing in my lunch?”
“Something yummy that you will like.”
“Kids, what do you want for breakfast? Never mind, I’ll just make you something yummy, that you will like.”

The second part of the sentence is part brainwashing attempt, part threat. You will like it, because heaven help you if you don’t. I sure as shit don’t want to hear about how you don’t like this yummy food that you actually DO like, now shut up. I AM TRYING TO LOVE YOU HERE, BE QUIET AND EAT.

I’m a great parent, you would love to be my kid. Or just to come to dinner. Don’t bother to ask what’s on the menu. Your job is to supply wine, pleasant conversation, and compliments to the chef. Or else.


17 Sep

Are you like me, eagerly planning and anticipating a summer family trip, only to find, as a friend memorably put it, “I had to stop calling it a ‘vacation’ and start referring to it as an ‘adventure’”? We first adventured as a family 5 years ago, and each summer since we’ve accrued little nuggets of knowledge via the pick-axe of painful experience. This past summer I actually engaged my thinking organ to plan a trip that took into account some of our hard-earned learnings. Our trip was therefore both sort of relaxing and pretty fun! You haven’t asked for my advice, but that’s never stopped me giving it before. Read on for my (idiosyncratic, probably non-transferable) 8.5 Family Vacation Truths.

1. Hey dummy, if you’re going to change time zones during your vacation, don’t do it TWICE.

Let’s start big. This one is like directions that begin, “Plug product in.” And yet, two summers ago I planned a vacation that had us adjusting to two different time zones in a three week period. There is nothing relaxing about jet-lagged children. Multiply it by two and you’ll wish you could check into a psych ward instead of that charming B&B.

2. Don’t stay at a charming B&B.

They may say kids are welcome, there may even be other children staying there, but as a parent you will not know one moment of relaxation. Not when your kids are plundering the thoughtful breakfast buffet, not when they’re playing noisy tag in the serene garden courtyard, not when they’re picking all the cashews out of the mixed nuts served at the 5 pm sherry hour, definitely not when they get lice and you’re forced to beg to use the washing machine and leave a triple digit gratuity.

3. If the kids get lice/the flu/hand-foot-mouth/hand-tongue-butt etc., etc., your vacation is over.

Things will go more smoothly for you from an expectations standpoint if you just accept this fact and start day drinking.

4. If you can swing it, rent something private.

Everyone wishes that vacation meant taking a vacation from all familial exasperations, but unfortunately, wherever you go, there you all are. Don’t judge your family drama, work around it. You’ll feel more comfortable doing your parenting at high volume when there’s no concerned host or nosy stranger listening in.

5. A trip with friends is not really a vacation.

I do love a friend trip, but I love it most when it’s all adults. It’s not us, kids, it’s you.

So by all means, travel with friends, just know it’s not going to be a VACATION. It’s a fun visit with your lovely friends, and their lovely kids, who your kids might love more in theory (at least if your kids are like certain prickly, high-drama children of mine). But a VACATION is herein defined as laying like broccoli being reasonably antisocial and mostly agenda-less. Our beach week of un-cut family time this summer, the first we’ve ever taken, was surprisingly fantastic. I read four novels, slept nine hours a night, and only had one major blow-out with aforementioned prickly child. That’s something very close to happiness, right there.

6. Make peace with not doing all of the things. Just do some of the things. If it’s one of those days, be peaceful about doing none of the things.

When I capital T-Travel, I want to see and eat and learn and feel and do everything, today. Leave no hike unhiked, no painting unseen, no pastry uneaten. Back in childless pre-history I planned a trip to Europe that had Husband and I going to everywhere you can think of including the whole of Scandinavia for 2 days each. He was crying uncle five days into our five week trip. Getting to knooow yooou…

Admittedly, my travel mania is already at war with the whole concept of VACATION. Then we added in kids who need to, like, eat regularly and go to bed on time. It has taken me all these years to fully appreciate that if pushing a full-grown man to accommodate my insanity was bad, pushing people under the age of 10 to do so is just downright silly.

This year we went to two (2) places in two (2) weeks, and I forced myself to only plan one activity per day. If all was going well maybe we could play paddle ball on the beach AND learn to make friendship bracelets AND go out to dinner. Maybe we could make it to the SF Zoo AND afternoon tea. But if what we ended up doing was naps and a few hands of Uno and leftovers for dinner, and no one was crying and everyone was still speaking to each other, that was a good day.

7a. Don’t try new things. Be comfortable in your comfort zone.

I just love the rhythm of a vacation routine, don’t you? Slow start, decadent breakfast, post-lunch siesta, nightly family card game/early cocktail hour. Rinse and repeat. Heaven!

7b. It’s fun to do new stuff as a family!

Discovering a new place is thrilling, and watching your kids discover it is all the better. They notice things you never would have, and their excitement is such an experience-enhancer. Discovering a new place in a new way, as we did with a state park on our very first long family bike ride this past summer, is double the fun.

8. Life is short, eat dessert first.

Since we all agreed that this past summer’s trip was our best ever, I asked the kids what they thought made it so good. “Dessert after lunch AND dinner EVERY DAY,” said one. “Candy, candy, candy. And chips!” said the other. You can’t learn anything from this item except that we clearly deprive our children to a scandalous degree.





What happens after a few too many treats.

What happens after a few too many treats.

Since I couldn’t even come up with ten list items, it’s obvious I still have a lot to learn about family vacationing (especially since I’m currently planning a trip that flagrantly disregards fully half of my list). But, as my mother always says, “Vacations are 30% anticipation, 30% being there, and 40% coming back home.” All I really hope is that my family will always look forward to being back at home together.

For other musings on family travel, check out this post from April.