Don’t Cook in Your Bikini – a letter to my sons

Today, I was working on my cookbook. It’s a book I’ve been working on for my sons for the past 10 years. First, handwritten, and then entered into the computer and now organized and digitized, it’s almost finished. I’ve got a few more recipes to add, and a few pictures to throw into place, but I think it’s almost done.

If I can just get them to stop asking me to add more recipes…cover-image

But as I was reading and editing, I found this – the introduction to the cookbook (aptly named “Don’t Cook in Your Bikini, and Other Things I’ve Learned in the Kitchen”), a letter to my sons as they turn from boys to men.

I hope they listen.

Dear boys – 

Over the past 30+ years, I’ve spent hours in the kitchen. Probably days or weeks, if you add it all up.

And I’ve learned a lot from all that time sautéing, roasting, spicing, creating and burning… I mean, browning… the meals that y’all have mostly enjoyed. I’ve learned from my successes and I’ve learned from my mistakes.

Mostly, I’ve learned enough to keep you all from sending me on to “Worst Cooks in America.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned though, it’s  Don’t cook in your bikini.

Why not cook in a bikini?

Well, let’s just say “grease splatters.”

It’s all well and good to think that even though a summer storm has popped up outside, you can still grill burgers inside on your griddle. But, when you decide to keep your bikini on and only cover up with a holey sweater, then you’re not really thinking.

And I wasn’t.

Right up until the moment when some of the grease from the griddle jumped up and splattered burn marks all over my stomach.

Then I started thinking a lot of things, many of which ended with “%$#@!!!”

Not that there are that many people who actually WOULD cook in a bikini, but it occurred to me that if I was stupid enough to do it, then YOU might think it was a good idea too.

Apple. Tree. You get the idea.

It occurred to me, however, that cooking in a bikini was a lot like wearing a three-piece suit to garden in – it’s just not a good idea. For every particular job or activity you’ll do, you’ll  have “appropriate clothing.” And there’s a reason for that clothing. You don’t see chefs wearing bathing suits in the kitchen. You see them in long pants and comfortable shoes, and short-sleeved shirts.

Why?

To protect themselves from spills, or dragging their sleeves through the food, or, you know, catching on fire. Yes, honey, that’s a real thing. And you don’t normally see businessmen in jeans and a t-shirt. Why? Because the formality of their attire matches the air of importance they give to their products and services. It’s simple sales, really.

All that got me to thinking … there are a lot of things that I’ve learned in the kitchen that  apply to other parts of your life.

Little bits go a long way. When you’re seasoning something, the best thing to remember is to add a little at a time, and let it cook for a bit before adding more. Think about it – if you added pepper to something and throw in a full tablespoon of it, you run the risk of having whatever you’re cooking come out way too hot. But if you add a pinch or two at a time, you can get to just the right taste.

And that’s kind of like life too. When you’re adding things to your life, try not to add too much at once. Don’t decide you’re going to start a new job, start playing softball, start dating a new girlfriend and move all in the same month. Pick one, do it for a while and then add another until you feel like you can take on something else. Add too much at one time and you’ll be overwhelmed by it all.

You’re not always going to be able to do that though. Life has a way of looking at all of your well-laid plans and happy little dreams, and saying “HA! You are SO cute when you think things are going to go your way like that…” Sometimes life is going to throw a million things at you at once. The best thing you can do when that happens is to just sit down and eat a little at a time until you’ve cleaned your plate. Then you can take a step back, rest up and get ready for dessert.

Don’t be afraid to try something new or make something up, but be creative with a measure of caution. You really should never be afraid to try new things, seek out new people or combine things you love together. For every goofy idea, there is a great success, as much as there is an abysmal failure. You know, buffalo chicken quesadillas started out as a crazy idea, but it worked! Same with the Skyline Lasagna. You should never be afraid to mix things up – whether it’s with a recipe or in your life.

But, remember… just because you like two things, doesn’t necessary mean they go well together. You may like chicken and you may like bananas, but that doesn’t mean chicken and bananas should ever, under any circumstances, in any part of the world, and in any way, shape or form, be combined in one dish and put on a plate.

Similarly, beer and skiing; steak and strawberries; Chuck E. Cheese and a migraine; lima beans and …well…anything… probably not a good combination. Be careful, but always be brave and try new things.

Know when you can fudge a little. Sometimes in cooking, you have to measure carefully. Sometimes, you can wing it. You just have to know which time is which. For example, in barbecue and pizza, really, there’s not a lot of measuring. In those cases, a little of this, a little of that goes a long way. But when it comes to baking, if the recipe says “1 ½ teaspoons of baking soda” you’d better damn well be sure that you measure out exactly 1 ½ teaspoons of baking soda. I’m not kidding. Exactly.

The same is true in life. You may be able to be to skip sweeping under the coffee table every other day at home, but when it comes to work, you have to do the best and most thorough job you can as quickly as you can. You’ve got to know when it’s okay to wing it, and when it’s important to do your best. It makes a huge difference in how successful you’ll be in the long-run.

Be careful where you put your fingers.  You know, it’s important to know where your fingers are when you’re slicing something. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve told you all to curl up your fingers when you’re holding something to cut, and to be careful with knives and food processors. That applies to burning your fingers in the oven (note my hands some day) and putting stuff in hot grease too.

But it applies to other people’s business as well. You don’t need to go sticking your nose or fingers (or any other body part) into someone else’s business. If they want you to know about something, they’ll tell you. If they want you to get involved, they’ll ask you. If they want your help with something, they’ll let you know. I’m not saying, don’t ask if someone needs your help, but certainly don’t take on someone’s problems if they don’t want you there. Be loving and caring with people, and by all means, let them know you are there for them, but don’t stick your fingers in places they don’t belong.

Quit holding on to your recipes  Everyone has secret recipes and things that are theirs and theirs alone. But it doesn’t do anyone any good to hold on to them too tightly. Sharing your gifts with the world is the only clear way to get something back in return.

If I weren’t to share my recipes with you, either by writing them down for you, or cooking them for you, they’d all sit on a shelf and go to waste. But by sharing them, not only do they get a life of their own, but you give me something in return. Whether it’s “Oh, Mom, this is the bomb,” or “I loved your recipe for chicken bog, did you want my recipe for chocolate cola cake?” you get a little quid pro quo action going. When you give a little of yourself, you get a lot in return.

The things you make with love will always surpass the things you throw together Every time you cook, you should absolutely put your heart into it. And by that I mean, when you are creating something, care about the result, because someone is going to be eating that. Do you want to eat something that someone threw together without caring how it tasted, whether or not it was burnt, what kind of texture it had, whether or not the ingredients were rotten? Of course not. You want to eat something that shows someone took the time to do the best they could just for you.

Would you want something that showed someone took the time and effort to make something really great? Or would you want something that someone threw together without thinking about the end result? Put effort into what you do, care about the result – whether it’s in the kitchen or not – and your results will always be better.

Simple ingredients and simple cooking methods are sometimes the best – Eating at a French restaurant can be an amazing thing. Your Dad and I have always said French cooking is about taking out every ingredient you own and cooking them in every pot you own, cleaning all the pots and using them again to come up with an entrée the size of a walnut. It’s all very expensive and very complex and very beautiful and very tasty.

But none of it compares to a bowl of soup beans, or chicken bog, or a really good fried bologna sandwich. Not everything has to be about microgreens, or vodka-infused something or the other, or even about pan roasting something with black truffle oil and pink Himalayan salt. Sometimes, the good stuff is just about three or four ingredients put together and cooked up in the most simple of ways – strawberries and sugar with whipped cream; bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches; scrambled eggs with cheese. It’s the simple stuff that makes a difference.

And in that same vein, when you’re working, sometimes just having good quality products, without all the bells and whistles and razzle dazzle, is all you need. Got a Powerpoint slide show to do? Just do the presentation and make the information sing. Do you need slides that swoop on to the screen and blast the text from out of nowhere? Not really. Let your work stand on its own without trying to baffle people with bullshit. People know what bullshit looks like, regardless of how much glitter you sprinkle on it. Trust me.

I wish I had some beautiful, lyrical words to tell you about living a great life and making a success of yourself and being happy. I don’t. Because I really don’t know what the secrets are.

But I do know this. You only get one chance at life. Do what you want to do. Be who you want to be. Take the risks that will make you happy. It’s always better, in my mind, to look back with a smile at the end of your life and say “I can’t believe I actually did that” instead of looking back with regret and saying to yourself “I wish I had tried to do that.”

I love you both so much. You have made my life better just by being a part of it. Even when I was screaming and angry or crying and worried, you have been the biggest part of my heart and you always will be. I never knew that I could love someone so much that I would give up anything to make their life better. I know I haven’t been able to give you everything. I know I’ve made mistakes. But I also know that I tried to be the best mom I could be. And I know that no matter what, I will forever keep trying to be that and that I will always be here for you.

Probably will still be asking if you’ve brushed your teeth and done your laundry, but still… I’ll be here.  :-*

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2017

How are we supposed to take Curvy Barbie?

This weekend, I watched a story on the new Barbies.

Apparently, you can now get Barbie in sizes other than “bone thin and completely unrealistic.”

people-barbieAccording to Mattel, Barbie will now come in four different sizes, seven different skin colors, 20+ different eye and hair colors and, presumably, an inordinately large number of coordinating outfits and shoes, some of which you will even be able to find after you open the package.

There’s Tall Barbie, Petite Barbie and Curvy Barbie to go along with “regular” Barbie – still super model on crack thin with annoyingly perky boobs.

The new dolls are a response to concerns that Barbie promotes an unrealistic body image to girls and add to body issues.

And it only took 60 years – go figure.

As near as I can tell, Curvy Barbie consists of thunder thighs and small boobs. I would put her at about a size 12. Granted, I’m about as fashion conscious as a linebacker for the Houston Oilers, so I wouldn’t take my word for that.

Petite Barbie is just shorter with the same sized boobs and Tall Barbie is just Barbie after a few hours on a Medieval rack.

But the thing that struck me was that after the piece on Barbie was over a Weight Watcher’s commercial came on….starring Oprah.

Huh.

So, the goddess of the television, whom we’ve all watched struggle with her weight is now hawking Weight Watchers.

What does THAT say to girls about body image?

oprah-winfrey-weight-watchers-commercial__oPtFor most of the women I know, they related to Oprah because she wasn’t perfect. Oprah had curves. Oprah looked good despite her curves. Oprah succeeded in spite of her curves, not due to her lack of them. Oprah was, and still is, funny, savvy, smart and compassionate. No one looks at Oprah and says, “She would get so much farther in life if she’d just drop 10 pounds.”

Trust me, I’ve heard that in my life.

She was perfect because she WASN’T perfect.

And we all related to that.

But now, are we saying “not perfect” isn’t enough?

I know the commercial says we should want to find our “best” us, but damn… isn’t what they’re really saying is that the “you” that you are right now ISN’T your “best” you.

I wonder how that makes women who’ve identified with her for such a long time feel.

About the same time, a friend sent me the daily diet of California juice guru Amanda Chantal Bacon as published in Elle magazine.

Af285f930090179560c060802ef21f5fapparently, this female entrepreneur’s diet consists of mostly teas, peppered with the occasional zucchini ribbon, and a bevy of other ingredients of her own discovering like brain dust, vanilla mushroom protein, coryceps and activated cashews.

God knows, nothing is worse than eating those regular old, lazy, inert cashews.
Now, let’s not forget that this Bacon girl, whose name is only slightly ironic given her air-based diet, is the guru to the star whose mere existence makes the rest of us look pallid in comparison – Gwyneth Paltrow.

According to Goop, Paltrow’s … jeez, I don’t even know what the hell to call Goop… other than the only place I know where vapid blog posts about how you, you lowly earthly scum, can’t even boil an egg right, and need this web site to learn how to do it better than Martha Stewart, all while buying $5,000 juicers and $1,800 sweaters to go along with your $400 lip balm.

Anyway, apparently, Goop says G.P. went to Bacon in the throws of a “Brain Fog”, only to have Bacon sell her a full supply of $65 jars of Moon dust and some activated fermented sea vegetables to nibble on. Seems it not only cleared up her brain fog, but helped her extra sensory perception as well.

I swear, I really wish I were making this up.

So, Elle – a magazine whose media packet boasts that the majority of its readers are 18- to 49-year-old women who are, according to Robbie Meyers, editor-in-chief, “the first person to try something and she brings all of her friends along on her fantastic journey” – decides to publish a diet for a woman who believes in Cosmic provisions and preventing your body from having to actually chew anything as disgusting as, well, … food.

How does THIS help women’s body images?

How in the world is a fat doll supposed to help girls with their body image if everything around them says “Hey, it’s not enough to be thin, you need to live off air, and if you’re not skinny, you should be ashamed of yourself no matter how successful you are because it’s not your ‘best’ you”?

Why even worry about putting out a fat doll, at all?

Until everything else changes, nothing Curvy Barbie says to girls is going to make a bit of a difference – except to reinforce for girls who don’t fit into regular Barbie’s image that they’re somehow not as “good” as the original.

When I was a little girl, I had Barbie. I got the airplane for Christmas along with Barbie, Ken and Skipper. And Barbie’s horse. I distinctly remember Barbie pushing the serving cart around the plane while Skipper headed off on the horse to see what was going on with my Star Wars figures.

Barbie looked really pretty in her clothes, when I could get them on her. Although I have to admit she spent a lot of time sitting around looking pretty while I played with my science kit or my Dad’s microscope (with my hand-made slides of squooshed bugs, blood and the occasional booger).

apollo and starbuckShe always smiled politely while Skipper and I battled Darth Vader, or occasionally joined Captain Apollo and Lt. Starbuck in some attempt to outwit and evade the Cylons.

And I’m pretty sure even Skipper wasn’t around the day my friend Claire and I decided that all of the floors in my mom’s house were lava and the ottomans were our only way to get from room to room. Traveling down the stairs and into the hallway to the guest room on that ottoman is an adventure I will never forget.

Yeah…. Sorry Mom.

But still, for YEARS, I struggled with who I was, based on who I was not. I didn’t even LIKE Barbie and I STILL compared myself to her. I had a picture of what I thought were the perfect Barbie-esque thighs hanging next to my full-length mirror in my closet from the time I was in junior high until I graduated high school. As a matter of fact, they are still there.  As a swimmer and a curvy girl, I was never going to have that kind of thigh gap. But I still felt like that was what would make me popular/datable/attractive/successful/perfect.

I’m not Barbie. I’m not like the women I see on TV. Hell, I’m not even as skinny as “plus-sized” models!

And that’s okay.

Now.

It wasn’t okay for a long, long time. Truth be told, I still have trouble with it sometimes – breaking down in tears because I don’t look like what women who are not the butt of jokes and wisecracks are supposed look like.

I wonder what’s going to happen to those little girls who get curvy Barbie?

Are we still telling them at an early age “You’re just not measuring up, honey.”?

What are we telling girls if on the one hand we’re telling them “Here’s a doll that looks more like you,” and on the other telling them “You know, honey, being a successful multimedia mogul isn’t enough. You have to be thin too?” What are we telling them when we glorify a woman whose whose $700 a day diet has fewer calories than Gandhi lived on?

Why not just tell them it’s okay to be who they are and what they are?

Girls don’t need a doll to tell them they don’t look like other girls in school. Trust me, they know already.

And they don’t need idols telling them you can have everything, but it’s not enough if you’re not thin.

Girls need other women telling them to be who they want and be proud of who they are. And they need guys in their life telling them they like girls with curves too.

 

Copyright © Liz Carey 2016

Images remain the property of their respective owners.

A mother’s curse

When I was 12 years old, my mother cursed me.

And I don’t mean she yelled profanities at me, I mean, she put a curse on me through my future progeny.

I remember the day clearly. I was home watching ZOOM! in the living room.

Write ZOOM!, Z double O M, Box 350, Boston, Mass 0-2-1-34
Write ZOOM!, Z double O M, Box 350, Boston, Mass 0-2-1-34

Remember ZOOM on PBS? It was an after-school show where kids did all sorts of fun stuff sent in by other kids. It was one of my favorite shows and identified me early on a dork of enormous proportions.

On this particular episode, they were capturing spider webs. In this scenario, clearly not intended for children without adult supervision, you took a piece of construction paper and placed it behind a spider web. From there you softly sprayed spray paint onto the web. What wasn’t web would show up on the construction paper as paint, leaving behind the design of the web in negative. Easy enough, right?

My sister was at work.

My mom was at work.

I was home alone, hoping to find something interesting to do.

“Well,” my little pre-teen brain said. “This looks like fun.”

pedal carSo, I went into the garage and got the only can of spray paint I could find. It was bright red. Fire engine red, in fact. I know it was fire engine red, because it was the same spray paint I used to paint the antique powder puff blue convertible pedal car my Dad had gotten me… I don’t recall mom or dad being too happy about my actions that time either.

Anyway, spray paint in hand, I went looking for construction paper.

One would think that the house of a kindergarten teacher, my mom, would be filled with construction paper in many different colors, but I couldn’t find any.

Granted, I was 12, so without it being in the open, on top of a stack of anything other than laundry and with a six-foot-tall neon sign saying “THIS IS THE CONSTRUCTION PAPER YOU’RE LOOKING FOR!” pointing to it, I wasn’t likely to find it even if I tripped over it.

After more than six whole minutes of dedicated searching my pre-adolescent brain decided I didn’t need it. In fact, it came to the conclusion that in this activity, construction paper was like coconut in a cake, completely optional and most likely not at all necessary.

Armed with a spray paint can and an eagle eye for anything arachnid, I ran outside and searched the yard for spider webs to create art.

I didn’t see any webs on the grass and I didn’t find too many in the bushes and I didn’t notice any at all in the trees.

I did however find a number of them in the garage windows.

spraypaint11Let’s take a moment here to recap the ingredients in this particular activity – several spider webs, one can of red spray paint, one willful 12-year-old tom boy, several garage windows framed with white paint.

No matter how you mix it, it was a recipe for disaster.

When my mom came home, every window on her garage facing the street had little circles of red covering the corners of the window frame and onto the glass itself.

To say my mother was a more than just a little mad, would be like saying that Ghandi was on a low calorie diet for a while.

“Mary, what have you done?” she screamed.

As hard as it may be to believe, this wasn’t the first time I had heard those words.

“My windows, Lord Almighty, my garage windows!” she screamed. “What on earth possessed you to spray paint the garage windows??? What were you thinking?”

I looked at her incredulously.

momdaughter yell“They were they only ones with spider webs on them,” I replied matter of factly.

I’m pretty sure the fact that I didn’t say “duh!” is the reason I am still alive today.

Mom closed her eyes, grabbed her head in her hands and gathered together her wits. You could almost hear her counting to 10 in her head.

And then, it came.

“Mary Elizabeth Carey, I swear, one day I hope you have a child just like you,” she said.

There it was.

The curse.

The longest running curse in the history of womankind, bestowed at one time or another on every misbehaving kid on the planet by their mothers.

And it worked.

I have a child who is just like me.

When I was a kid, for a while I wanted to be an Olympic bicyclist, until the day I wiped out on gravel and ended up in the hospital with 22 stitches in my leg.

Boy jumping
Boy jumping

My youngest son, Max, was determined to be a super hero when he was five, and jumped off a slide to prove he could fly. When he landed successfully the first time, he decided to do it again to show his friend, and promptly fractured his foot on landing.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t find a brush one day, so I used one of those little pot holder loom thingies to comb my hair. The resulting rat’s nest of a tangle required an emergency visit to the stylist.

Max decided one day he didn’t like his bangs or his side burns, so he cut them himself, using a razor, leaving one inch stubble over his right ear and bangs slashed diagonally across his forehead. This also required an emergency trip to stylist and an entire summer growing out a crew cut.

When I was a kid, I wore my favorite red patent leather go-go boots until they were so tight that my second toe on both feet grew crooked because I wouldn’t let them go.

Max had one pair of pants that he would wear all the time. All. The. Time. until they could no longer be called “floods” or “highwaters,” as much as really long shorts which I had to steal from his room in order to throw them away.

When I was a kid, I would stay up late at night, reading Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mysteries until my Dad came to tuck me in or I passed out asleep.

Max will sneak his way to reading Creepy Pasta and other things online on his Chromebook until the wee hours of the morning, or until I walk into his room at 1 in the morning and tell him it’s time to go to sleep.

I have a nasty habit of just walking off, away from the people I’m with, if I see something that interests me. When Max was little and we visited the zoo, as we often did, my husband, older son and I routinely took turns at “Max duty,” to make sure he didn’t walk away and end up figuring out a way to get into the giraffes cage or end up petting the Bengal tigers.

Now I understand what my Mom went through raising me.

I understand the sheer terror of wondering what your child is up to because the house suddenly goes quiet.

I understand the fear of not knowing whether or not you child will survive into adulthood even without the threat of you beating them to death.

I understand what kind of conflicted emotions she must have felt the day I accidentally sucked the gerbil into the vacuum cleaner trying to help out with the chores, or when I spilled India ink on her new carpet while drawing her a picture.

I’ve stood in her shoes.

It’s not exactly a true curse, and it’s not exactly a true blessing, but I think it’s a little of both.

581719_3662309190010_2038050352_nMothering any child had its heart-stopping moments. But having a child like me, helps me to see the world through my mom’s eyes for a while, and helps me to understand the world Max sees as well.

I hope that as Max grows into a man, that I can be like my mother was with me – patient (most of the time), willing to let me be me and understanding of her willful adventurous little girl.

Mom taught me a lot about letting your child be independent and responsible and capable of facing up to the consequences of their actions – especially if it involves stealing the family car for a joy ride at 14 and knocking over a basketball pole, something I pray Max never does.

And I hope I can be as firm as she was in her resolve to teach me how to be a better, calmer, more focused person. It’s a daily task, I’ve learned, that isn’t easy and forces you to look into your child’s hurt and confused eyes while you dole out punishment. She taught me how to do that, even if she never told me how hard it was.

How she did it alone, and without killing me, is beyond me.

Thanks to her, I think I turned out pretty good. And because of the things I learned from her, I think Max will turnout pretty good too. After all, he’s well into his teen years and he’s still alive, so… there’s hope.

It goes without my saying anything that one day Max will have a kid just like him.

And my mother and I will have given Max all the tools he needs by then to deal with the curse.

Hopefully, he will see it, as I do, as a blessing instead.

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2015

Why the Easter Bunny still visits our house

Even though my sons are 16 and 15, the Easter bunny still visits my house.

easter-basketGranted, the baskets aren’t as elaborate as they once were, but they are still full of chocolate bunnies, jellybeans and the occasional Peep.

This year, there was none of the plastic grass that clings to every living thing in the house, and it lacked its usual bevy of toys. But each one did include an envelope full of money, which is all my sons really wanted in the first place.

The solid chocolate break apart bunny was just a bonus.

After all, they’re teenagers and toys, candy, colored eggs and plastic doo dahs don’t do it for them as much as cold hard cash-ola.

Ever since they were born, they’ve been the recipients of gifts brought to them by anonymous mythical creatures who wish to buy their love through sweets and trinkets.

At the same time, we’ve spent their formative years telling them to beware of evil men in cars with lollipops and missing puppies who are waiting for the opportunity to kidnap them and of “stranger danger.”

No wonder this generation is completely screwed up.

Throughout their childhood, from the tooth fairy to the Big Guy himself (you know – Mr. Claus) to the Birthday Monsters, there seemed to be no end to the parade of mystical creatures bestowing gifts on my kids.

Sandra Boynton's Birthday Monsters
Sandra Boynton’s Birthday Monsters

Spoiler alert kids – Some of them are completely made up.

Take for instance, the Birthday Monsters.

When my guys were very little, every year on the night before their birthday, I read to them Sandra Boynton’s “The Birthday Monsters.”

In the story, a group of monsters comes to visit you and proceeds to celebrate your birthday by wrecking your house, opening your gifts and eating your cake, only to make it all perfect again before they leave.

Somewhere along the way, in our house, this turned into a tradition of waking up on one’s birthday morning to find presents on the kitchen table and eating birthday cake for breakfast.

All these early morning discoveries, of course, required a lot of late night basket decorating, stocking stuffing, quarter leaving and present wrapping on the part of one particular person in our household.

I remember one year talking online with a friend and asking them if they thought it would be okay if I left the boys alone in the house, since they were asleep upstairs, and ran to the store to grab more Easter candy for their baskets. They weren’t particularly enamored with the idea. I ended up filling some plastic eggs with spare change that year instead.

More spoiler alerts kids – now might be a good time to go watch a YouTube video or something.

My oldest son, Mason, figured it all out when he was 8 years old. He came to me and said “You’re the birthday monsters, aren’t you?”

Look! Mom has wings!
Look! Mom has wings!

I admitted that I was.

“That makes you the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny too, doesn’t it?” he asked.

I nodded my head.

“Oh… then that means,… hmmm,” he said. He knew it all.

“Just don’t tell your brother,” I said.

When my youngest son, Max, found out he was nearly 13. For years, he had been a believer, even to the point of ringing a Christmas bell around us (while we had to act like it was broken) to prove that the magic in it still worked.

Once the realization the Big Guy was just me, all the other night visitors fell into their appropriate places in history for Max. His belief suspended, he realized the myths for what they were.

“My whole life has been a lie,” he lamented.

I guess it never occurred to him before then that it was a little strange that every few months supernatural beings were breaking into our house, not to mention stalking us and keeping tabs on our behavior.

Of course, these mythical entities were great discipline tools. Mom had Santa’s cell phone number. She would let the tooth fairy know if one of those bicuspids didn’t exactly fall out on its own. And no one wanted to see what the Easter bunny would leave if he got an email telling him they weren’t picking up their room.

But now, those tricks don’t work. They know there will be an Easter basket on the kitchen table even if they fail to change their sheets and that their Christmas stockings will always be full of the little joys they never expect.

So why do these gifts keep appearing?

finger-pointingMaybe it’s because I want them to be my kids always. I want them to know that they are loved. I want there to be one moment every once in a while where I can still surprise them to make up for the all the times I’ve yelled at them about grades and jobs and dirty laundry.

Maybe it’s a chance to spoil them when I’m so hard on them the rest of the year.

Maybe it’s because I like carrying on a tradition we started and which will one day be carried down to their kids.

Maybe it’s because the gifts are so appreciated. Today, when they got up at the crack of noon, they both got their Easter baskets and began to immediately make plans for the cash. Soon thereafter, Max came in the living room and hugged me. Mason, in turn, got out of bed and kissed me on the forehead.

They liked the baskets, even if they’re not full of jellybeans and Reese’s pieces and Peeps.

Those are the parts of the basket the Easter bunny kept for herself…

 

Copyright (c) 2015 Liz Carey

23 things only a child of the 70s will know

I was talking to a friend the other day when we got into a discussion of Star Wars.

All he knew was the remake.

For him, Greedo shot first and Han was just defending himself.

WRONG!!!!

The conversation reminded me that cultural differences can span just a few years.

The first time I realized this was in college. I was in my first summer of college and I was working at a fast food joint. During a heated debate, I piped up “Jane, you ignorant slut.” You would have thought I had actually meant to insult one of the girls in the room, despite the fact I was only talking to boys.

Another time, a friend of mine and I went to our first U2 concert. It was the Rattle and Hum tour and we were in floor seats at Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY. As was their tradition, U2 played Beatles music during the warm up. My friend and I were in college and were having the time of our lives when the girls in front of us asked us who the warm up music was.

“It’s the Beatles… you know? John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison?” we said.

This was about the time that George Harrison had a hit single “I’ve got my mind set on you” on the charts.

Stellar lyrics there, “I’ve got my mind set on you” repeated about seven million times. A little less thrilling than “Norwegian Wood” if you ask me.

“Oh! My! God!” the girls shrieked. “George Harrison was in a band? We have GOT to check them out.”

I’d never felt so old.

And later, as the oldest woman (at the ripe old age of 28) working at a local ISP (remember ISPs?), I was talking to one of the teen-ish guys working there who was excited to be seeing Star Wars in the movie theater for the first time. I didn’t get his excitement. I saw it in the movie theaters when I was 12… I think I sprouted my first grey hairs that day.

And now, I realize, there are just some things a child of the 70s, who went to college in the 80s, will know, that others just can’t begin to understand…

First things first…

  1. Han shot firsthan shot first
  2. Time travel required the Libyans
  3. Barney was the devilBarney+731895
  4. The coolest alternative music came from the British Isles and Athens, Georgia and was best heard on “97X… BAM! The future of Rock and Roll”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBGiU4usqqg
  5. Fonzie should never have jumped that shark. And no one cared whether or not Joanie loved Chachi

    Seriously, who water skis in a leather jacket????
    Seriously, who water skis in a leather jacket????
  6. Rutger Hauer was the most badass, scariest villain ever
  7. Rocks make good petsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  8. Mainstream rap started in new wave/punk rock with the insane tracks of Debbie Harry
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHCdS7O248g
  9. Conversations were just more intense when you stepped around the corner and wrapped yourself in the phone cord
  10. Hours spent in front of the radio with your tape recorder making a mix tape meant true love
  11. Bionics just can’t beat the Alien Bigfoot Alliance. And by the way, that cave was just damn scarythe-six-million-dollar-man-Bigfoot
  12. Before he was Joe Cool, Snoopy was a World War II flying ace
  13. Blue M&Ms used to be tanOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  14. Video games meant more when they cost one of your hard earned quarters
  15. Musicians just sang, actors just acted and everyone left politics to the politicians
  16. School lunches of pizza, corn and fruit with boxed milk were the bomb!pizza
  17. McGee always made Dr. Banner angry, cars could talk and Southern Sheriffs were always stupid. Oh, and no one ever got sued for portraying anyone as stupidrosco(1)
  18. Trapper Keepers and a new lunch box were necessary elements of going back to school.
  19. Peter Gabriel, Robert Palmer, Bob Geldhof, Phil Collins and George Harrison were in bands. Some made it big with solo careers, I hear.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBAl9cchQac
  20. A car horn that played Dixie was THE cool thing to have
  21. Recipes came in cook books and on hand written note cards, snide remarks were made to one person at a time and comments on news stories required letters to the editor
  22. Weekday afternoons meant the Brady Bunch, Thunderbirds, and Gilligan’s Island reruns. Friday nights meant videos. Saturday mornings meant cartoons. And summer days meant being outside until Mom turned on the porch lights.gilligan
  23. Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Bosom Buddies and Facts of Life/Return of the Killer Tomato were all proof that embarrassing career moves CAN be overcome.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PShKWD2NKUE

My kids will never understand. Half of the people that I talk to everyday will never understand. But those of us who grew up on less than 10 television stations, Saturday Night Live, and a life without DVDs, OnDemand or email will get it.

And seriously, let’s get one thing straight.

Han definitely shot first.

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2015

8 life hacks every teen MUST know

Everyone knows that there are secret life hacks that can make their lives easier.

As parents, we know all the little tips and tricks learned over years of housework. There are just some things that make life all the much more livable.

But, spend few minutes living with any teen and you’ll realize, if it comes out of a parent’s mouth, it can’t be true, it has to be on the Internet for that.

So, here it is, the top 8 life hacks every teen must know – on the internet no less!

1 – Clean hair dyeIMG_20150119_183101 from a white bathroom sink using just bleach and an old rag! Pour bleach on stained area, wipe down with old rag and cover stain with bleach a second time. Let stand for 5 minutes, or more depending on the darkness of stain. Wash off bleach with water and rag. BONUS HACK: Use a white rag and allow the bleach to clean stains out of the rag as well.

2 –  Writing assignments and their due dates on a calendar, the day they are assigned, prevents forgetting them until the last minute or missing them entirely. Result? Less stress and better days!

3 – Use a relatively new invention – the trash can – to store all of your old candy wrappers and empty soda bottles. When full, carry trash receptacle to the garbage can outside to dispose of all of your garbage in one trip! You’ll be able to tell when the can is full when pieces of garbage start falling out of it. Being ahead of the game and taking the garbage out before being asked can save you from being interrupted during a great run of Call of Duty by Mom yelling to get to your chores.

4 – Folding your laundry and putting it away immediately after it is finished in the dryer helps to prevent the need for ironing clothes as well as keeps your mom from yelling at you that you look like a street urchin or homeless man. As an added bonus, this saves countless hours of looking through your clothes for what to wear that day, or confusing clean clothes with dirty clothes, requiring you to wash all of them over again.

IMG_20150119_1836445 – Shave minutes off chore time by simply putting dishes IN THE DISHWASHER instead of in the sink five feet to the side of it. This is an even more effective hack instead of leaving dishes in your room.

 

6 –  Rub a toothpaste tube along the side of the sink and bathroom countertops from the bottom of the tube up, in order to move all of the toothpaste up into the useable part of the tube. Hint: This only works if you remember to put the cap back on.

7 – If you smell the cat litter box when you come in the back door of the house, chances are, it’s time to change it. Doing something simple like this can save up to 20 minutes of nagging per WEEK!

8 – Using Kleenex or toilet paper to blow your nose, instead of picking it and wiping it on your gaming chair or your jeans will not only save time cleaning your chair, but also help to make you look like less of a loser in your friends and families eyes – they do see you do it, you know.

IMG_20150119_183253 9 – When it’s your turn to clean the bathroom, make sure you take a long hot shower first. Then, after drying off with your towel, use the moist towel to clean loosened dirt on the countertops and sink. Wet towel with a little water from the now clean sink, and use the towel to “mop” the floor. After you get dressed, throw away the garbage and clean out the toilet and you’re done!

With just a little planning and a few extra steps, you’ll be on your way to a calmer, more grown-up way of life. In many ways,

And now, it’s on the internet, so it HAS to be true…

 

Tasting memories

Since Friday, I’ve been thinking about the premiere of Downton Abbey.

As Masterpiece Theater classic television goes, it is the best of high period drama. It is also one of my guilty indulgences.DOWNTONABBEY_SEASON5_TT_hires-scale-690x390

When I watch it, I sometimes think of what it would be like to be Elizabeth McGovern’s character and live out my days leisurely with servants to do all of the things I scream at my kids to do. I imagine dressing for a dinner that someone else cooks, on dishes I’ll never have to wash and going to sleep in a bed I’ll never have to make or wash the sheets of.

Of course, that’s all just a dream.

But it doesn’t stop me from wanting to bring a little English culture to our home. As a lifelong slight anglophile, I have admired English culture since I was first introduced to it through Camelot and Robin Hood.

When I was graduated from high school, my mother took me to England, Scotland and Wales. It was a dream come true. We traveled to London, where she took some classes while I walked through the streets of the town, looking at the sites. After going out on a date with one of the servers from the restaurant of our hotel, Mom and I traveled to Scotland, through the Dales and into the British and Welch countryside.

As we traveled, our plan was simple – eat the hotel’s continental breakfast (hard “toast”, one croissant, jam, butter and tea), then have high tea instead of lunch because it was cheaper. full-english-breakfast035Took a while to figure out that biscuits were crackers. When we were in bed and breakfasts, we’d eat their rather sumptuous breakfasts (which shocked the heck out of me because it was the first time anyone had ever served me baked beans and tomato slices along side bacon, eggs and toast), have high tea and then go for a light supper. That was a rasher of bacon was the meaty bit of a bacon slice and the streaky was the fatty bit.

And yes, it really is true that when you’re a stranger in a small town, walking into a pub will result in everyone stopping in the middle of their conversations and looking at you, which doesn’t even stop when you order what ever it is they are serving for supper.

Today, as I was waiting for the return of Downton Abbey’s fifth season, those memories came flooding back to me; Mom and I walking through churches built before America was even discovered, watching the changing of the guard, hitting Edinburgh and touring the castle just as 40,000 David Bowie fans stormed the city, many of whom serenaded us under our hotel window after the concert was over at 1 a.m.

I loved the castles. I loved the history. I loved the smell of the Scottish heather perfume that I bought there.

I hated the food though.

Steak and kidney pie? Bleck. Bubble and Squeak? Basically leftover potatoes and cabbage and Brussels sprouts with beef and gravy. Right. And let’s not even get started on Haggis, black pudding or jellied eel…Nigel-Slaters-classic-bub-006

Still, the memories of all those afternoons spent with my mom over tea and scones with clotted cream and jam made we want to relive some of my real memories before I embarked on my fantasy memories later tonight.

I decided to make Welsh rarebit, or Welsh rabbit, depending on how you decide you want to pronounce it.

The American version of Welsh rarebit is basically, a cheesy bechamel sauce on toast. But the English version is more of a cheese and beer paste that is spread on buttered toast and broiled for a late Sunday “what do make when the pantry is empty” supper.

Of course, I had to make my own version. Just a little here, and a substitution there, and next thing you know, Bob’s your uncle and all that.

First, I started with three slices of honey wheat bread, spread with butter and toasted lightly in the broiler. At the same time, I fried up about six slices of bacon. Once those were done, I put them both to the side and started on the cheese sauce.

Most British recipes call for dry mustard and stout. I don’t have either. I had Dijon and Thomas Creek’s Red Ale. So that’s what I used. Combining about a tablespoon of ale and a tablespoon of Dijon mustard in a small saucepan, I whisked them together until they were smooth. Then I added another two tablespoons of ale, a tablespoon of butter, about a teaspoon of Worcestershire, some paprika and a dash of red pepper. Then I heated those until the butter melted, stirring frequently.

Once the mixture came to a boil, I added half a cup of shredded Colby jack cheese, half a cup of shredded cheddar and about a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese and whisked them all together until the cheeses melted and the mixture was smooth. You’ll see that this turns into a nice sauce that just coats the fork or whisk that you are using.

To this, I added one egg yolk. I pierced the egg yolk with a fork and added to a warm, but not hot, cheese mixture. So that the egg yolk doesn’t scramble in the heated mix, I whisked it really quickly until it began to thicken. You’ll see that the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and starts to form more of a paste like consistency.

welsh-rarebitAt this point, I started to assemble the sandwich. I sliced a tomato into three slim slices and put them on a paper towel to dry out a bit. On a cookie sheet, I put each piece of toast and topped each piece with a tomato slice. I topped that with two pieces of bacon, cut in half. From there, I spooned the cheese mixture on top of the sandwich until it covered the bacon, tomato and bread. After sprinkling the completed sandwich with parsley, I put the cookie sheet into the broiler and broiled the sandwich until it was bubbling and browning a little.

In all, the sandwich took about 15 minutes to make. It was a great easy lunch to make for a grey and raining afternoon.

But more than that, it helped me reconnect with my Mom. And with my kids. Raymond-Briggs-The-SnowmanLittle Mason thought it was pretty good, but Max wasn’t impressed. It wasn’t tea at a little shop in the middle of Oxford, but it was my way of introducing them to the culture I love. Max is already reading the five-book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (yeah, that’s correct) and I’ve made them watch Raymond Briggs illustrated cartoons and Tin Tin since before it was cool to do that.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to take the to England or Ireland or Scotland, but for now I’m sure they’ll indulge their old Mom on a few of the finer points of English cooking… at least the palatable ones.

 

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2015

Back to drool shopping

It occurs to me that high school is the denouement of back-to-school shopping.

Or maybe it is the eye of the storm between kindergarten and college.

school_shopping_0811It’s hard to tell.

Mostly, because it’s so boring.

This year, back-to-school shopping for my high school students has been less than fun.

When my boys and I went shopping a few weeks afo – with obligatory stops at Hot Topic, American Eagle and Aeropostale – the reaction ranged from “Yeah, it’s cool, I guess” to “Mom! Stop! You’re touching me in public! Have we not discussed this?”

And no matter where we go, it’s all the same stuff.

I’ve bought enough jeans to clothe the entire male population of Bolivia.

wcfanzoneHalf of these jeans look as if they have been worn BY the male population of Bolivia every day for all 378 days of the World Cup. The other half looks as if they have been dipped in the vat of dye that changed forever the color of the Joker’s hair.

Everything else is black. Or blue. To match, one can only assume, my kids’ moods.

Where are the dress shirts and the kicky sweaters that got pulled out for the first day of school and on picture day?

No where, that’s where.

Which, of course, is also where their underwear is. Every time I ask if they need new ones, they mumble and shrug, leaving me to believe that all the good underwear I bought them last year has been traded to the Bolivians for pairs that show more wear and tear. Ditto their socks.

Come to think of it, maybe the Bolivians are to blame for our recent spoon shortage as well.

Gone are the long discussions where my sons and I anxiously decided between Iron Man or Bakugan for the perfect backpack personality for the new school year. Gone are the smells of a brand new Trapper Keeper, or the never before opened box of 64 Crayola crayons – complete with silver, gold and bronze. Gone are the walks down the aisles of Kmart, buying matching Granimals and Underoos.

Now, instead, I buy notebooks, dry erase markers, loose-leaf graph paper and 3-ring binders.

Bleah.

I used to look forward to back-to-school shopping as a kid.

The new backpacks, the new lunch boxes, the loose leaf paper and crisp sharpened pencils – it’s like you get to go crazy at Office Depot! And the clothes! Oh, my GOD, don’t get me started.

When I was a little girl, each August meant two new pairs of jeans, one dressy outfit, a new pair of Nikes, at least three or four new shirts, and a smattering of really cool skirts that would spend more time on my closet floor than on my hips, but that came straight out of the pages of Seventeen, so I knew I would look good whenever I got around to wearing them.

God, I loved those go go boots... is it okay for a middle aged woman to wear short skirts, sweater vests and go go boots still?
God, I loved those go go boots… is it okay for a middle aged woman to wear short skirts, sweater vests and go go boots still?

One year, I got a red plaid school lunch box with matching Thermos, that matched two of my new outfits in red and black. I even had red, shiny go go boots to go with them, which was WAY cooler than the year before’s purple corduroys and purple turtleneck body suit that SO did not match my Jonathan Livingston Seagull lunch box.

“Thanks, Mom! I love them!” I said, flinging my arms around my mother’s neck.

It really was much easier to please me back then.

In years past, I even looked forward to buying all the things my kids would need to be stellar students.

One year, their back-to-school supply list included, along with the regular paper, pens and pencils – one ZipLock gallon freezer bag, one box of Kleenex, one bottle of anti-bacterial liquid and one bag of candy. The boys used to get a kick out of picking out their candy, their favorite colored folders and their new pencils with their almost sharp enough to be deadly tips.

Not anymore.

This year’s list included: one artist’s sketch pad, one Pearl eraser (pink), two TI-83 calculators (cost $140 per), four packs of index cards (that I can guarantee you will never be used), post-it note pads and a different 3-ring binder for every subject.

Not one mention of a Trapper Keeper anywhere!

And when I ask my sons if they like the new stuff we’ve picked out, their responses range from “Eh.” to “I guess so.”

Joy.

This past week, I bought what we needed in terms of pens, and pencils, and paper. Whatever.

pens-and-pencils-300x217Seriously, how much paper do teachers think that two teenagers are going to go through in a school year? I’ve bought enough paper to keep my office in business for half a year, and we’ve got seven people in there! I’ve bought enough blue and black pens to write “I will not chew gum in school” for my junior high school teacher Ms. Ford seven BILLION times – which coincidentally, is roughly double what I wrote for her when I was actually in her class.

I know that in two years, it will get better. My oldest will tromp off to college and there will be new college-themed clothes, the microwave and the mini fridge to buy – along with the matching bedroom set and the bathroom towels. And I know most of this he will use and then inevitably throw on the floor, only to bring home to me to clean and get rid of the “funky smell.”

It’s just not fair. It’s like this let down after years of detailed lists and character stuff that forever reminded me that they were kids.

Where’s the fun in buying warehouse store quantities of office supplies? Where’s the challenge? Where’s the creativity?

Maybe it’s the fact that they are in high school. Maybe it’s the fact that they’re not “kids” anymore. Maybe it’s just another fact of being a mom to boys. But there’s no getting over the fact that it’s boring.

I blame the Bolivians.

 

2014 (c) Copyright Liz Carey

9 things I’d like to tell high school graduates

Since no one has invited me to speak at their high school graduation (yes, Ohio and Wisconsin, I’m looking at you – there’s still time!), I figured I would take it upon myself to let high school graduates know what I think.

You're almost on your way!
You’re almost on your way!

Personally, I’m pretty sure this is the safest way to do things, since sometimes, not even _I_ know what will come out of my mouth.

When I graduated from high school, more than 30 years ago, I felt I knew it all. Graduation comes with a feeling of excitement that parallels the feeling of being out on your own, almost – at least for many of you – and being away from the prying eyes of mom, dad, the nosy neighbor who always snitches on you and any younger siblings or cousins you may have.

You, as you sit there in that chair, are not imagining doing dishes, or getting up at unGodly hours of the morning to make your way to class/work/daycare. You are imagining a life where no one will tell you no.

I know this, because I was in your shoes once.

And that unbridled enthusiasm is a good thing. Really it is. It is what has propelled you through your high school years, and will propel you through your salad years. And for many of you, your Ramen noodle years.

But there are a few things you should know as you go out into the big blue world.

1) High school never ends. Remember how you used to talk to your friends during lunch? And you’d say “Oh. My. God… (please say this with me in your best surfer girl voice) I canNOT believe she is going out with HIM! What WAS she thinking?” and “Dude, he totes gets away with everything! It’s like the crap washes right off of him and lands on someone else.” Uhm, yeah… that never ends. Grown ups still do that, and we call it office politics and gossip. It never ever ends.

No one wants to visit you and your dirty bathroom.
No one wants to visit you and your dirty bathroom.

2) Learn how to clean a bathroom. This will become really, really important when you live alone and date. Same goes for learning how to master at least three really great recipes. I suggest Shrimp Scampi, Beef Tournedos and Chicken Marsala. Trust me on this.

3) Stop taking selfies. Seriously. We’ve all seen enough of you. Maybe you could, I don’t know, take pictures of the rest of the world. There’s some pretty cool stuff out there that may be a little more interesting than you, as hard as that is to believe, and you might want to remember it.

4) Read. I don’t care whether it’s books, newspapers, magazines, textbooks or auto manuals, just read. It is, by far the most important thing you have learned to do, and will continue to be the most important thing you will do in the future.

5) Learn to be by yourself. Because you will be. And it’s good to figure out how to not have someone else entertain you. It will come in handy during the rough times. Trust me on this as well.

big bang6) No one lives like they do in TV and the movies. No one gets 2-bedroom rent controlled apartments with great views on a physicist’s salary. People have jobs that they go to for upwards of 8 hours a day, five days a week, with paychecks that do not afford them the luxury of a daily cup of coffee at Starbucks unless they either go without dinner, or rack up debt equal to that of Bolivia’s. You are not going to leave college and land a $100,000 a year job managing a tech company. You will likely make $25,000 a year and struggle until you either a) get promoted; b) get married or c) die. And it’s okay. Because millions of people do it every year and are happy. Really. Happy. And if you’re not happy in your job, find a new one. If you enjoy what you do, you will reap more than just monetary benefits. Nothing sucks more than dreading to go to work. Nothing. But if you love what you do, you’ll never feel like you’ve worked at all.

7) No one owes you anything… not a job, not an education, not a happily ever after. You have to work for those things. Generations of your family have come before you to make it possible for you to have so much. Don’t blow it. You have just enjoyed an 18-year vacation. Go out and earn that.

No one gets a trophy for 9th place.
No one gets a trophy for 9th place.

8) There’s no trophy for ninth place. In fact, there’s no trophy for second place. As a member of the trophy generation, we know that you all have been given trophies for just showing up. Real life doesn’t work like that. Honestly, there’s no prize for anything other than first place. Strive always, for winning. And if you don’t win, try again. And again. And again. In fact, never stop trying to be the best even if no one ever rewards you for it. There is a prize for that too. It’s called pride.

9) Have fun. This is your place and time. These next few years will be some of the best of your life. One day, you will look back on these past four years, that have meant so much to you now, and you will think “What did I ever think was so fun about that?” At least, I hope you will. I hope that with every age and every stage of your life, the next one just becomes better than the last. High school, growing up, becoming an adult – it’s hard. But it gets better.

Life really is like an oyster bed… you pick one and eventually it opens up. It may be nothing more than an oyster – in which case, with a little hot sauce and lemon juice, you’ve got a helluva snack. But sometimes, it’ll have a pearl. You’ve got to keep trying until you find those pearls. Find a long string of them. To you, they will mean the world, because you worked for them, and you earned them. The easy ones – the one’s that open up quickly – those aren’t any good. They’ll make you sick. But the ones you have to work for? Those are the best ones and the ones you’ll remember.

(c) Copyright Liz Carey 2014

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