Monday, October 11, 2021

Kids These Days

"Oh, look!" I said to Susie, as I reached into the mailbox on our way into the house. "A postcard! What fun!"

"What's a postcard?" my formerly beloved youngest asked as she squinted at the rectangle of cardboard I was holding.

[She's gonna write a book someday: How To Make People Feel 100 Years Old in 5 Seconds Flat]

"It's, um, a picture you send in the mail! And you can write on the back, see?" I said, flipping this apparently archaic piece of correspondence over with my wizened 20th-century hand. "They're on vacation in Hawaii, and they're just saying hi!"

"But they can TEXT you a picture," Susie said, frowning in puzzlement. "Why didn't they just text you something?"

"Well, but this came from Hawaii, isn't that cool? Look at the postmark, it took nine whole days to get here! Gosh, I used to collect these..."

"Nine days? That's dumb - if they texted you a picture, it would get here in a minute. And it wouldn't cost anything," said Susie, shaking her head and proceeding through the door. "That doesn't make any sense."

Yeah, well, it USED to...

Thursday, September 02, 2021

The Calm After The Storm

 Uh, anyone still here? Let me just brush these cobwebs off my chair here...

Gratuitous picture of homemade hummus

When last we chatted, 3 months ago, my area was suffering the 17-year cicada plague, which  IN THEORY should now be just a dim memory that - like all trauma - will hopefully fade with time... 

But it's NOT. You see, although the cicadas went away, their nymphs hatched in July, which thankfully I mostly couldn't see -- well, except for the ones covering my car windows, ugh -- but still, they were all going to burrow underground and THEN it would be over, right?

Wrong. It seems that the abundance of cicada nymphs leads to an abundance of microscopic arachnids called oak mites, who feed on the nymphs and then (here's the fun part) feed on people. And when they bite you, you get a huge red circle around the bite, which itches for a week. Even Larry, who seems largely immune to mosquitoes, is walking around sporting multiple red spots and slathering himself in Benadryl gel and hydrocortisone cream. 

I know, I had most of you at "microscopic arachnids."

These creatures bite through clothing. They bite you on the neck. I am currently sporting a lovely bite on my face and praying it goes away before I actually land a job interview. These oak mites seem to be here until the first frost, which now occurs - thanks to climate change - sometime in November.

So, yay! Hot and humid DC summer, now with oak mites! Come for the monuments, stay for the pestilence!

But the big news here? The really big news?

Everyone moved out this summer. OUT. Except Susie of course, who is still the baby, but even she had the temerity to turn 16 and get a job (at Chik-Fil-A, complete with cow mask). 

Sigh. I'm not allowed to post a picture, but I want to.  Here, have a pic of our new collection, instead:

These seem to be piling up in our house now

Anna, who came home in June to get immunized, managed to land a job in DC, so now she is living the young DC professional life (which means sharing a townhouse with 3 other young and underpaid DC professionals). Rachel moved out in July to a nearby apartment and is working full time. Brian went back to college last week.

So I am actually typing this from AN EMPTY HOUSE. It feels marvelous. But weird. 

The best part about this almost-empty nest? Loading the dishwasher. Folks, I never realized how much of my mental space was occupied by dishwasher calculus. Think about it: I had to figure out what would fit, what I would wash by hand, WHO USED ALL THESE GLASSES, etc., once or twice a day for years. 

That doesn't sound like a big deal, right? And it was just second nature for me. But now? Why, I just toss whatever's in the sink in the dishwasher, pop in the detergent, and start that thing up, no thinking required! 

I feel so carefree. Is this how it is supposed to be? And nobody told me?

My container garden on the back deck has gone absolutely insane. I am deluged with basil. Usually, half the plants die by mid-July because of fungus or rot or some other botanical nemesis, so I bought extra plants this year.  EIGHTEEN, to be precise. I wasn't messing around.

Is this real life? Or is it just fantasy?

I've lost only 2, however, which means I've ended up with a freezer full of pesto. And there is still lots of basil on the deck waiting to be transformed into pesto. My kids (remember, they all moved out?) are sick of my trying to force jars of frozen pesto on them. I also have 3 plants full of hot peppers and cherry tomato plants that just won't quit. I have NEVER been this horticulturally successful. 

It's as though I've turned into an old lady overnight, with my cute little deck garden, cooking cute little dinners for just me and Larry (Susie makes her own, unless I make something vegetarian). I've even got a floppy sunhat (mostly to fend off oak mites, but still...). 

Quiche - I'm cooking quiche now. Weird, right?

Is this how it ends, all the craziness and all those years of kids and vomit and mice? With quiche and sunhats and me sitting on the couch in the afternoon, basking in the peace and quiet? It feels like the end of a wild carnival ride, where you suddenly slow to a stop and can stop gripping your partner in sheer terror. Oh, it's over? Wow, that was fast. But I'll take it.

I guess I need to change my tagline, though...

Sunday, May 30, 2021

No Escape

 A long time ago (17 YEARS AGO, in fact), our family lived for a year in Rhode Island, where Larry was pursuing a master's degree. It was a hard year, in general - I mean, picture it: we had 5 kids, ages 1-12, in tow and no support network, nothing. Just us in a 150-year-old house with no neighbors to speak of and a yard that my kids didn't seem to understand how to use, as there were no "other kids" in it. The toddler (that would have been Rachel) was at the age where the sight of books neatly lined up on shelves produced a compunction to REMOVE THEM ALL, so trips to the library or the bookstore were hardly relaxing. 

Oh, we made the best of it - we dragged them to every historical museum/display/site within a 2-hour radius (shout out to the New Bedford Visiting Center - best bathrooms ever!), took them to Mystic Seaport where the two oldest took (incredibly cheap) sailing lessons, and in general tried to make the most out of the opportunity of temporarily living in a different place. I made connections among the Navy spouses and homeschoolers in the town, so there were even a few social opportunities for the kids. And, of course, I managed to get all 5 kids to the beach a few days a week while the weather stayed nice.

It's being New England, though, the weather turned cold fairly early on. All the tourist places shut down. It was an abnormally frigid winter, with the thermometer repeatedly reading ZERO DEGREES when we checked it each morning. It started feeling like Groundhog's Day - the same thing, over and over and over. The kids were super, playing day after day with duct tape and craft sticks and tin foil and homemade playdoh, but it wasn't easy. I was terribly homesick for our friends, our neighborhood full of kids, my own house.

But then May 2004 rolled around. Spring arrived where we were, and at home? CICADAS. Masses of bug-eyed (naturally) creatures emerging from the ground and covering the trees, creating a sound so loud that my best friend couldn't hear me if she was on the phone outside. And for the first time during that long year in exile, I was grateful. Grateful I wasn't stuck in our house with several crying children who didn't like bugs. Grateful for the beautiful New England spring we were finally experiencing. And in no hurry whatsoever to return until all the bugs were gone, which they were by the time we got home, after mid-June.

I made a vow all those years ago. May 2021 would find me on a fun cross-country trip, visiting friends as I toured across anywhere in this great land of ours that wasn't covered in cicadas. Most of my kids would be fully grown by then and living elsewhere, so maybe I could even stay with some of them. As 2021 drew closer, I made a list of places to visit, friends to see. I was all set.

That is, until COVID shut the world down and turned me from an almost empty nester to having a full house again. Here I was in April 2021, in a world where out-of-town guests were not necessarily welcome, sitting in my most emphatically not-empty house, essentially trapped before the coming onslaught. TRAPPED.

In desperation, I booked a week at an Airbnb in Burlington, VT, for mid-May. It wasn't enough, but it was something. I looked up when the cicadas emerged last time and planned around that. Maybe, I thought, I'd miss the worst of it.

Burlington was beautiful and (mostly) bug free

Wouldn't you know it? The cicadas were late this year. They pretty much greeted Larry and Susie and I as we got out of our car - you know, when we came back from spending all that money to avoid them. And here I am, living with these damn bugs. Look, I know many people suffered worse losses as a result of COVID-19 - jobs, family members, friends - but dammit, COVID destroyed this 17-year-old plan of mine to escape the cicadas and I can't quite get over it.

The Saturday after we got back, Larry swept (I'm sorry, did I say swept? I meant SHOVELED) all the cicadas off our back patio. I looked out the back door on Sunday and saw this:

They just keep coming up out of the ground, ew

There are so very, very many of them. They seem to love the color blue:

Larry's in charge of recycling/trash for the foreseeable future

I've been fine with the sound, which surprises me. But as the shells and the dead cicadas decompose on the sidewalks and parking lot, they release the most sickening smell. I tried sweeping out our spots, so at least I wouldn't have to walk on them as I got into the car, but after 10 minutes I felt so sick I had to go inside.

I'm not having fun, is what I'm saying. The cicadas are now at the point where we can watch them swooping in and out among the tree canopy, for all the world like drunken spring break revelers, with some of them - seemingly inebriated by the excitement of it all - falling out of the trees onto the ground (if we're lucky) or sometimes onto our heads (OMG, EWWW).

There's such a thing as cicada pee. I wish I didn't know that.

So, yeah, I was going to tell you all about Mother's Day and the Burlington trip and Susie's birthday (she's 16, my baby's 16, I can't stand it), but I had to get all this off my chest first. I'm mostly spending my time rewatching Schitt's Creek and pretending the outdoors doesn't exist. And trying not to think about the destruction of a cherished 17-year-old dream...

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Mothers WEEKEND, Thank You Very Much

 Why stop at just one day, is what I'm saying...

(Accidental) Mother's Day tulips
Note the dish of strawberry candies on the table in the picture there. They automatically appear in your house once you're past a certain age. DESTINY, DESTINY, NO ESCAPING DESTINY...

I bought those tulips myself, I'll have you know. Whole Foods was having a good sale, so I grabbed these flowers, forgetting Mother's Day was coming and that Larry would be wanting to buy them for me. So I told the kids to just slap a "Happy Mother's Day" sign on the vase on Sunday and I'd be good.

Low maintenance, I am...


When Larry and I returned from a postprandial perambulation on Wednesday evening, I spotted this sign on the kitchen light switch:

Confusing, right? What's a "wasp lid," I wondered? And why is this sign on the light switch? And who in my house has that handwriting that I don't even recognize?

So many questions, which were only partly answered when I swung my gaze from the switch to the ceiling (you know, where the lights are) and saw this:

Here, have a closer look, I sure did:

Ooookay, so a wasp apparently flew into the inset light in the ceiling and Brian decided to trap it there. That boy can think on his feet, that's for sure. "Don't worry," he said. "I Googled it, and it takes them 2 days to die, so we can remove that on Saturday morning."

"Oh, but don't turn the light on," Brian added. "It might melt the Pyrex lid." The WASP LID. Suddenly, everything made sense. Sort of.

We endured a dark-ish kitchen for a few days until the great unveiling this morning, executed by Larry and Brian. "Well?" I asked when I went downstairs for breakfast and saw the light was back to normal. "Was it dead?"

"Uh, we don't know," said Larry. "It wasn't there."

So, yeah, no idea what happened to the wasp. It probably crawled into the ceiling and is plotting its revenge. Nice.


I referred to Brian as a "boy" up there, but he turned 21 last month and would probably not approve of that designation. Also, because he is against generating unneeded consumer waste, we were a little stymied as to how to celebrate his birthday (our usual style being a lot of wrapping paper and gift bags and silly cheap gifts). Susie turned to Pinterest and - working REALLY hard - generated decorations, wrapping, AND gifts out of mostly newspaper, paper bags, and glue.

The results? They were impressive:

Paper towel tube idea was mine, though

They're coasters, duh


Of course, we've left all those rosettes hanging there, because hey, they were A LOT of work and Mother's Day is coming and then Susie's birthday and now that we're all so ecofriendly, why not recycle/reuse them, right? Recently, though, Brian was looking more closely at one of the rosettes and said, "Susie, did you use the OBITUARIES?"

Reader, she did. Turns out, we've been sitting around our house with pictures of dead people dangling from the ceiling of our living room and hey, if any of you need an experienced decorator for shivas or wakes, just let us know, okay?

Friday, April 09, 2021

Of Cabbages And MURDER

 Well, hello! Long time, no see...or write...or whatever, so it's hard to know where to start. Let's begin with a picture of Cara Cara oranges, because why not?

For some reason, when you cut oranges this way, you CAN'T STOP EATING THEM. I'll put out a whole bowl of these on the counter and leave the kitchen and I'll come back later to find Brian with a plate of orange rinds, just polishing off the last piece. 

See all the exciting news you've been missing?

I signed up to volunteer at vax centers in our county, because I'm a wonderful person. Actually, no, I heard that sometimes they give vaccinations to the volunteers and I decided it was worth the gamble. Also, I'm receiving unemployment checks, so it makes sense to do something to earn them.

So the gamble paid off, with my being fully vaxed (Team Pfizer, whoot!), so that worked out. And - aside from the fact that at first I was signed up for 12-hour shifts, OMG - it has been fun to get out of the house and talk to people, even if it is just to say, "First or second dose? ID, please! Right this way..." over and over and over.

Also, I got a T-shirt, so there's that.

I had no reaction to either dose, which is good, I think? I had set aside an entire day to recuperate after my second dose, and I was sort of disappointed as it gradually dawned on me that morning that I could just go about with my regular Monday routine of vacuuming and cleaning out the fridge. Larry slept all day after his, so I guess we know now who's in superior health around here.

Let's see, oranges, vaccinations, what else has been happening? Oh, yes, it's spring, and if it's spring, there must be delicious marinated cabbage salad (which sounds anything BUT delicious, I admit, but trust me here):

I will put on my recipe blogger hat for a moment and share this recipe for Clairmont Salad, because it is just that good. The name comes from the name of a restaurant near to where I grew up, so I guess it was their specialty? I don't know. All I know is that when I mentioned to Larry the other day that I didn't know why the restaurant was called the Clairmont, he said, "Oh, could it be because the restaurant was near MONTCLAIR?" and I was all OMG, I never realized that. So, yeah, the restaurant was sort of named after its location, and the salad was named after the restaurant. An epiphany for me, if you will...

Clairmont Salad

3/4 C hot water

3/4 C vinegar

1/2 C oil

1/2 C sugar

1 T salt

1/2 t pepper

1 t garlic powder


Small head of cabbage, sliced thin-ish (don't overthink this, just slice it up)

2 carrots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds

1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 cucumber (mini or regular), thinly sliced

Mix together first 7 ingredients. Pour over the sliced vegetables. Let sit several hours, stirring occasionally so all the veggies get to soak in the dressing. If you don't have one of the vegetables on hand, don't sweat it - this recipe is very flexible (I mean, except for the cabbage - you need the cabbage). For example, the version in the photo above lacks cucumbers, but it works!

Of course, we had Easter and Passover since I last wrote, which means an Easter/Passover charcuterie board, designed by Rachel:

This was a little short on Passover items this year, as we had already eaten all the macaroons by the time we thought to do the board, and matzoh doesn't really lend itself to this sort of presentation. Also, I know Thin Mints are not necessarily representative of spring or Easter and definitely not Passover, and neither are mini stroopwaffels, but we'll just chalk that up to artistic license.

The weather turned beautiful this past week, so Susie and I went for a hike at a national park about an hour away. Now, I had done this hike with a friend about 5 years ago, and I had a very clear memory of it as being a moderate, uphill hike that branched out toward an impressive overlook, with a view of the town and the rivers.

I got the impressive overlook part right. Someone must have come in and changed the rest, though, because what Susie and I encountered was a long uphill hike, followed by a lengthy downhill part that led to a rocky scramble that ended in the overlook. 

I won't lie - it was ridiculously hot for April, and I didn't want to hike uphill just to hike DOWN to get to the view, and so I was mostly whining, "It's not supposed to BE this way!" toward the end. Susie, intrepid hiker that she is, ran ahead and secured us an excellent picnic rock at the overlook that almost - ALMOST - made up for the trauma we had just endured (especially since we had remembered to pack both potato chips AND Cheez-Its for lunch).

Nice view, if you can reach it (excellent picnic rock in the foreground)

We were sitting and enjoying the view until a very large, very ugly bug came crawling by our feet, whereupon we leaped up, with Susie grabbing our backpack so the bug wouldn't crawl on it, at which point I saw another bug -- a large-ish ant thing -- come crawling out from where the backpack had been, headed straight toward the very large and ugly bug.

And then? The ant thing MURDERED the ugly bug as we quite literally gawked in horror.

Seriously, the ugly bug (again, literally) flipped over dead, and the ant bug (who was obviously some sort of entomological hit man) started dragging its victim's carcass away. Whereupon Susie yelled, "Ewww, I HATE nature!", thereby garnering some rather pointed stares from the other hikers on the overlook.

The hike down was easier and gave us time to try and process the grisly scene we had just witnessed. And by "process," I mean saying repeatedly that bugs are gross and what the hell was that assassin thing, anyway? Also, EWWWW.