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

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

White Girl Chic… at 40+

The other day my son told me I looked like a “white girl.”

I’m sure he meant that as a compliment.white girl

There I was in my oversized sweatshirt, leggings and Uggs, and my son was stunned.

“Yeah, you look really fresh,” he said. “You look like a white girl.”

The thing is, this is not a new look for me.

The leggings are somewhat permanent.

I typically spend all of my off time in my Momm-iform (Mom Uniform) which consists of leggings of some sort and a big shirt. Or a pair of jeans and a big shirt. Or leggings and a tank top and a big shirt. Or just a big shirt over a bathing suit…in the summer, of course.

I mean, seriously, I spend a lot of time in really big shirts.

But for some reason, now he thought I looked different. Maybe it was the Uggs. Maybe it was the haircut I’d just recently gotten, or the fact that my hair was back to blonde instead of whatever other color laced with grey that it used to be. Maybe it was because I had lost a few pounds.

For some reason, he thought I looked like a girl. Specifically, a white girl.

And here I was worried that my biggest fear growing older was to know when I slipped into the ever-feared aging blonde category…

Now picture this for a minute… we live in the South and the only time ANY girls around here put on Uggs is when the temperature bottoms out at 60. We pull out the sweatshirts when the temperatures hover around 50.

It was in the 40s. We were heading to the grocery store. And it was a Saturday. I was in my comfort element. I really wasn’t going for any style other than Mom-irrific.

leggings and scarfHere, on a typical day in the South, the momm-iform is more capris and a camp shirt over a tank top with flip flops or those $5 sneakers you buy at KMart, or even walking shorts and a twin sweater set. Well, March through November anyway… But this was February and the typical Momm-iform then is to throw on leggings, a turtleneck, thigh high boots, one terrific scarf and one of the three heavy sweater you actually own.

Face it, Northern ladies, we may suck at colder weather, but we’re just like you… only prettier… and better dressed.

Still, I don’t think most people look at me and immediately say “Oh, look! There’s someone who spent a year as PTA president! You can tell by her sweater set and perfectly groomed toenails!”

I’ve read other suburban moms saying that yoga pants and a tank top are their momm-iform. I don’t buy it, as many of these women look at if they are at the gym on an hourly basis, and at their hairdresser’s when they’re not, but… if that’s what they want us to believe, so be it.

Honestly though, my look hasn’t changed much since college – whether I was a mom or not.

Of course, what this all means is that when my son said that I looked like a “white girl,” the first thing that popped into my head was not that I looked any different, but .. what the
heck did he think that I looked like before?

Ghetto mom?

White trash professional?

The Goodwill wife?

By day, it’s true, I’m a mild mannered executive who tries diligently to marry comfort and style, but I usually fail miserably – mostly because I am not a fashionista at all. Heck, it’s kind of hard to be fashionable when you’re an overweight mother of two pushing the waning edge of your 40s.

Is there one of those Facebook posts out there that tells you what not to wear when you’re pushing 50 and don’t want to look like a high school trollop?

pajamasBut by night, I am a grime fighting super mom who regularly wears clothing inappropriate for stepping out of Cinderella’s basement, let alone picking up one’s kids in church parking lots. Which, of course, is what I usually wear when I pick my kids up in church parking lots.

I never actually get OUT of the car, but still… I’m pretty sure I’m the only one there at the mega church on a Wednesday evening in pajamas.

Even as I write this, I am in black and red plaid pajama bottoms, a black three-quarter sleeve shirt and a red hoodie sweatshirt. It’s a nice ensemble to go with my awesome fuzzy grey slippers. I might also add that it’s 7:30 and I probably won’t go to bed for another four hours.

But this is my comfort zone and this is where I get to wear what I want and be who want in whatever I want right?

mom and kidSo maybe I did used to look like something else to him. He sees me at my best and at my worst. He sees me when I’m getting ready for work. Usually, since he has better taste than me, he’s the one I ask whether or not I’ve been able to successfully pull an outfit together. And he’s seen me at my worst, which usually involves sagging gardening shorts and dirt-covered tank tops when I work in the yard.

Now he thinks I look like a girl.

This is a big change from a few years ago when I told him I could help him talk to his latest girlfriend and he responded, “What do you know about girls? You’re a mom!”

I guess, though, what I should take away from this is not what I used to look like, or what I look like now, but what I look to him.

Regardless of how whether it’s good or bad, how many 40++++ women can say their sons think they look like a girl?

At least one I can think of.winking mom

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2015

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

All I want for Christmas is a horror movie death

Every year my sons and dear husband ask me what I want for Christmas.

christmas-list-version2And every year, my answer is the same in my best June Cleaver voice…

“Oh, honey, you don’t have to get me anything. I already have everything I want. I have you all.”

Of course, in reality, we all know that if I didn’t get anything for Christmas, there would be many tears, many days of silent resentment and a lot of pink socks for the rest of the year.

It’s just that I have a hard time asking my family to spend some of our limited holiday budget on me when I know that it could go to them instead.

Motherhood martyrdom at its best.

And the truth of it is that I don’t want to tell them what to buy or how much to spend. I want them to somehow telepathically figure out what it is that would make me happy.

This, of course, from three guys who didn’t notice that I was wearing two different socks this weekend.

I’m not talking like a navy blue sock and a black sock. I’m talking one over the knee green leprechaun sock, complete with belt buckle print, and the other a sock that looked like a Chuck Taylor high-top canvas sneaker.

Yeah, I know… I was tired and didn’t feel like going through all of the laundry piled up on my chair in the bedroom. So sue me. My feet were cold.

Anyway, it occurs to me that I’m expecting miracles from three men who only notice whether or not I’m happy or sad, and react accordingly.

My youngest son, Max, looks at me when I’m happy and dancing in the kitchen in my mismatched sock feet and wonders why he must suffer through the torture of being born into such a weird family and leaves the room.

My oldest son, Mason, sees me in a bad mood (that can come about because of anything from an errant email to a bad day at work), comes up, puts his chin on the top of my head, hugs me and… leaves the room.

I’m sensing a trend here.

They don’t know why I feel the way I do, and most times they don’t ask. They just leave.

Or ask for money.

Anyway, here I am faced with putting down a list of what I want for Christmas.Family in living room with mother receiving gift and smiling

In the past, without asking for anything, I’ve gotten some really great things – some really beautiful teapots for my collection, some antique salt and pepper shakers for my collection and some enamel boxes for my collection. I’ve gotten a wine opener, hand-painted wine glasses, a Pyrex baking dish and some wonderful bamboo cutting boards.

I’ve never been one of the moms who gets presents they don’t like. I love the “Queen Mom” coffee cup one of my sons gave me one year (still use it) and the rhinestone angel necklace I got another year (still in my jewelry box). When they look at me with that expectant half-worried look on their faces about whether or not I actually WILL like it, it makes me like it all that much more.

I mean, it’s worked out really well for me to not say anything. I still end up really happy.

ralphieIt’s not like there’s any “carbon action, dual barrel, Red Ryder BB gun” for Moms out there.

This year, the requests have come early. Like, starting in Labor Day, when the Christmas decorations came out in stores, they wanted to know what I wanted Santa to bring me.

And since they told me that they’re sick of buying salt and pepper shakers, cooking equipment, tea pots and painted wine glasses, I guess I need to help them out a bit.

So… here goes… my Christmas list.

Max: What I really want is a replacement for my skillet. I don’t want a set of teflon coated skillets from Targegreen-gourmet-nonstick-skillet_lgt or Kmart, I want an exact duplicate of the one that I have. I bought the one I have at our grocery store. It’s about $20 and they are located near the candy aisle – which would be a great place to pick up one of those Lindt chocolate reindeer sets that I’ve always wanted to find in my stocking… not in replacement of anything, but in addition to… just saying.

Little Mason: Now that you’re a working man, and clearly have better taste in clothing than I do, what I would really like is something from your store that you think I would look good in… age appropriate please (I’m not 14… but I’m not 124 either… think 34) … And no “cougar” t-shirts, no matter how funny you think that might be. And remember our shopping motto “use discounts and shop from clearance.”

Big Mason: Now truth be told, I really feel guilty about asking you for anything. Just this last weekend you bought me two antique salt and pepper sets (one was a mini Schlitz beer bottle set – SWEET! – and the other antique silver cowboy boots – SUPER SWEET! wait, am I gushing a bit? yeah… deal with it) and then you went and got me 52 bottles of wine in a raffle at the Furball for the Anderson County Humane Society. I’ve literally got my wine advent calendar set and still have bottles left over for the rest of the year.

So, what do I ask you for? I don’t know. I really don’t know…. can I get back to you on that? Slippers are good… a nice robe? Matching socks?

Really, what can you give me that you haven’t already given me seven fold before?

Mom: I want some really nice Christmas towels for the bathroom and the kitchen. I think the ones I have are more than 300 years old, and more than likely, ones that I’ve stolen from your house over the years. I’d just like to have a set that I can bring out the day after Thanksgiving and enjoy the rest of the year. Last year, you sent me to the Erma Bombeck Humor Writer’s Workshop, so you’re off the hook for anything big for years since you crossed something off my bucket list.

I guess, speaking of bucket lists, what I really want is something that would let me cross another one of those things off of it. What I really, really want … what I think this year is my Red Ryder BB Gun this year, is to have someone fund an indiegogo.com campaign for “The Campground” (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/roman-jossart-s-the-campground-varsin-s-vengeance) in my name so I can be killed off in a horror movie, with my friend Harry McCane doing the make up to make me look good and dead.campground2

I realize that watching me being killed may, in fact, be the Christmas dream of a few people out there, but think about it… buy this and we’re both happy!

Mason, my dear husband, always says “Why can’t you want anything normal for Christmas?”

And I kind of agree… I probably should like normal things like normal people.

But … in the partially altered words of Lina Lamont “I ain’t normal people… I’m Liz Carey!”

But in a pinch, I’m pretty sure chocolate and wine would suffice.

 

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2014

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

Riding in cars with mom

The other day I came home to see my 15-year-old, Mason, in the passenger seat of a car driven by his newly drivers’ licensed friend.

They just were pulling out of our driveway as I drove up. While my heart sank, Mason looked at me from the window and waved.

kidsincarsI really could only think of one thing.

“Okay, Mom. I get it.”

All of a sudden, I could hear my Mom’s voice in my head – “I’m not sure I want you in a car with someone who just got their license.”

And I could feel it beginning to come out of my throat as I mouthed the words “Wait!”

As Moms we get to experience a lot of things – the joy of having your child wrap their fingers around yours; the frustration of a poop explosion at exactly the wrong moment; the heart-bursting pride of watching your child succeed when even they thought they couldn’t; the unexpected blend of concern and consternation when the projectile vomiting begins, and the awe of watching them grow up.

Life has its ups and downs.

We never really think about what it meant to be our moms, until one day, you’re confronted with the reality of being a mom yourself.

My Mom was pretty cool when I was Mason’s age.

She let me be myself, even though there was more than a little bit of gentle prodding to wear something other than jeans and a t-shirt, my Dad’s surgical scrubs or purchases from the Army/Navy store clearance rack.

She let me date losers to find out on my own what kind of losers they really were. And never ONCE did she say “I told you so.” Well, not to my face anyway. She told me once that she knew if she said “No,” I would run right to him and really be in trouble. Smart woman. And she did confide in me years later that she was really, really, REALLY glad her plan worked.

She bought me beautiful dresses and skirts when I needed them, even though I hardly ever wore anything other than jeans and usually ruined the whole girly look by doing something stupid like pulling the crinoline all the way up to serve as makeshift strapless bra or matching my beautiful madras plaid skirt to a popped collar polo under a ripped neck sweatshirt.

Look, I was going for a “Flashdance” meets “punk” meets “preppy” look. Don’t judge.

She was always there for me, always teaching me how to be a better person, how to let go of expectations, how to deal with tragedy with courage and bravery.

Still is, in fact.

But she always worried about me, especially when I was in a car.

woman-wagging-finger“Don’t let your friends drive too fast,” she’d say. “Stay off those country roads. Be careful at four-way stops. Don’t go too fast. Where are you going? Who are you going to be with? When will you be back?”

For me, it was pure torture.

“OH MY GOD! Does she NOT understand? Doesn’t she trust me? It’s not like I’m out doing drugs or screwing around, I’m just going out with friends! What harm is there in that? ”

What could possibly go wrong?

I’m sure that’s what Mason thought when I looked at him from my car with that look of abject terror on my face. “Relax, Mom, what could possibly go wrong?”

I’m sure that’s what Mason thought when I looked at him from my car with that look of abject terror on my face. “Relax, Mom, what could possibly go wrong?”

I was worried. I didn’t want him to go. He was already out of my reach and slipping through my ever-controlling fingers more and more every day. I started to worry.

My Mom still worries when I’m driving.

I’d like to say this is due to the time I sort of stole the family station wagon and took all my friends for a joy ride before wrecking the car, but I’m sure there’s more to it than that.

She worries about what could go wrong.

Recently, on a drive from Kentucky to South Carolina, she was worried about me being careful. Not that she thinks I can’t drive, she says, but that other people are crazy.

 

potkettle“Look, pot, I want you to watch out for all the kettles…”

She warned me about the semis.

“You know, keep an eye out for those semis. Those truck drivers can be just dangerous. Every time you see one of those horrific accidents where a semi wrecks into another car and bursts into flames, it’s almost always on a Sunday afternoon.”

Thanks, Mom.

For the longest time, I used to roll my eyes and shake my head at her concerns.

But as I sat there in those fleeting seconds while Mason and his friend pulled out into the road, every possible “what could go wrong” – from running out of gas, to being attacked by mutant hill people, to getting hit by a semi – ran through my head.

Yes, those were actual thoughts that went through my head.

And I let them go anyway.

I realized being a mom is a job you keep forever. My mom will always worry about me, just like I will always worry about my sons.

But you have to let them go in order for them to come back.

I’m so not ready for mine to leave yet. There’s so much I still have to teach them… I’m not even sure if they wear clean underwear when they go out yet.

It takes strength to let someone go and trust they will come back to you.

As I waited for them to head out, Mason flashed me a smile and waved. He was elated. They were in charge of themselves for a while. They were making their own history.

finger heartThen he made a heart shape with his thumbs and fingers and blew me a kiss.

And I realized what my mom had gone through when she watched as I ran headfirst into the wind that was the rest of my life

And it clicked.

“Thank you, Mom, I finally get it.”

(c) Copyright Liz Carey 2014

The last of the Franken Berry

My Erma BomBUST entry… Thank GOD I signed up in December… 😉

Any minute now, my children will realize I have eaten the last of the Franken Berry cereal.

At least, I hope so.

If I were to guess, their reaction would be “No fair! You got the last of the good cereal just because you got up early.”

It is, after all, a little past 10 a.m. on a Sunday.

Most Sundays, I get up late and indulge in a few moments of quiet time… a cup of coffee, a quiet house, some morning news shows and I am a refreshed woman. Add in a bowl of cereal with marshmallows and I am giddy with relaxation. Or maybe it’s the sugar rush… it’s kind of hard to tell.

Those marshmallow cereals are a treat that I hardly ever indulge in. As a child I never got to eat these cereals except during summer vacations. It was a rare treat.

Of course, my life hasn’t changed that much. My sons tend to eat the marshmallowy goodness within hours of its coming home from the store, so I never get any. As teenagers, they consume food like a hoard of locusts on a Kansas prairie.

For one blissful hour and a half each week though, I can grab the box of cereal, fix myself a bowl of indulgence, ignore the housework, and sit without a care in the world.

But now, the box is in the trash, my coffee cup is drained, the cereal bowl is empty and my kids will wake up soon.

I’d like to imagine that there will be moaning, whining and wails of “What? There was a box of Franken Berry left? What the heck? Did you hide it or something?”

And the truth is – I did. Like a little girl, with my secret treasure, I hid it on the top shelf of the cabinet behind the “healthy” stuff like the instant oatmeal and granola bars.

Granted, it was right out there in the open where anyone could see it, but since they are boys and have close to no ability to find something unless I point it out to them, I’m pretty sure I could have placed on their bedroom floors and they would have had a hard time locating it… and that’s WITH me picking up the dirty clothes and assorted trading cards.

Looking at the box though, it occurs to me that they will probably never even notice. After all, it is located in the garbage can, and finding it would require them to not only realize that we HAVE a garbage can, but also to acknowledge that it may be required to be emptied at some point.

Yeah, I pretty sure my secret is safe.

© Liz Carey 2014

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