Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Waging, But Not Winning, The War on Bathroom Lights, Halloween Costumes and Wet Towels.

I am a winner.

Or, at least, I have won the battle.  OK.  I have won a single battle.

Still.  As the single mom of 14-year-old Snarky Son (SS) and 12-year-old Darling Daughter (DD), I engage in hand-to-hand, wit-to-wit combat every day.  I'll take any victory I can get.

Some encounters are predictable, of course.  Every parent of school-age children sees frontline action in routine academic-expectations conflicts -- some more bloody than others.  We also encounter ongoing appropriate-dress skirmishes.  Really, who would think I would ever have to say -- out loud, mid-winter -- "no pants, no dinner"?  Do manufacturers no longer make girls' tops with sleeves?  And are those jeans?  Or some kind of new-fangled denim tights?  Clothing casualties abound Chez Wiles.

I can't help but engage in the day-to-day respect-for-your-elders battle, even when I brandish nothing more threatening than such war-weary cliches as, "Because I said so," and "I don't care what your best friend is doing," and ultimately, "Just stop talking to me."  Easy to see how I earned the title, Worst Mom Ever, right?  And chores-ignored?  Well, as SS and DD hear it, Whah, whah-whah, whah-whah.  Hmmph.  So much for my planned stealth attack on individual responsibility, contributing to the household, and those dang cat litter boxes.

These are just the routine clashes, of course.  We've recently added the issue of rock concerts.  On school nights.  And phone calls.  After midnight.  And appropriate language.  For 14-year-old boys.  And 12-year-old girls.  And there's always Old Faithful -- the perpetually "up" bathroom switch.  Seriously.  Is it that hard to turn off a light?

One current issue is the upcoming Halloween holiday.  When the kids were little, I'd choose what they'd be, I'd make the costumes, and I'd decide which houses we'd visit -- based largely on the type of beer I'd be offered.  I'd then decide when we were done (serendipitously coinciding with when my beer bottle was drained), and I'd eve help the kids decide which candy they would like.  ("Yuck.  You won't like those.  Let me get rid of those Kit Kats for you.")

Sigh.  Those choices haven't been mine for a while.  This year, DD is dressing up as a Wannabe Ballerina.  Don't ask.  All I know is that it involves striped tights, navy blue lipstick and a Fat Hen t-shirt.  Nice.  SS is considering gathering his posse to make the rounds for their own sugar stash, but knows I'll insist on a costume.  ("No pants, no dinner.  No costume, no candy."  Who thinks these things up?)

So here's the question:  Does a t-shirt reading, "No, really.  This is my Halloween costume" count as a costume?  I was afraid so.

Yep.  Parenting only gets tougher as they get older.  These kids are clever.  Persuasive, too.  As SS recently said, "I just told you a lot of stuff that should make you change your mind."  Sheepishly, I agreed.  Yet, I have my victory.

The dreaded wet-towel-on-the-floor beast has been slain.

I fought the good fight.  I pleaded, I threatened, I cajoled, I reasoned.  I docked allowance, billing the resister with a "maid service" fee every time I scooped up a soggy towel.  I made reminder checklists and dutifully called any offender home from a playdate should so much as a washcloth be left on the floor.

I told embarrassing stories to friends and family, and at one point, I banished towels altogether.  Turns out I was more uncomfortable with the resulting 70s-style streaking than they were.  That, and I couldn't help but join in with the giggling.

The power shifted one recent evening, though, when I called a repeat-offender upstairs, with the usual admonishment, "Towels belong on the rack, not the floor."  (If I only had a beer for every time I've uttered that phrase.  I could open a pub.)

Then, genius struck.

"Think about this," I said, "See where you left your towel?  That's exactly where the cat walks on his sweet, little pink paws. Just after he steps out of the stinky, smelly litter box, after depositing a fresh batch of the dog's favorite treats -- Tiny Tiger Tootsie Rolls.  You dropped your damply absorbent towel there.  And later, you're going to rub that same towel on your body.  Yuck."

Hasn't been a towel on the floor for three days now.  That's one in the "W" column for Mom.

To keep my winning streak alive, I'm making one of the kids' favorites for supper -- corned beef.  Actually, their "favorite" favorite is corned beef hash, but since I wasn't able to cook the corned beef in advance (BTW, the slow cooker is the best way to go), I'm making Not Corned Beef Hash -- serving roasted potatoes, etc., with all the flavors of hash, alongside the corned beef.

Another victory for me.  I now feel brave enough to tackle the perpetually-on-bathroom-lights -- after snagging a few Kit Kats for dessert.

Not Corned Beef Hash
3 Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled, cut in 1" dice
1 onion, peeled and cut in 1" dice
16-20 baby carrots, cut in chunks
1/4 vegetable or olive oil
several sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 ladle corned beef cooking broth (about 1/2 cup)

Soak potatoes in cold water for about 30 minutes (to remove excess starch and improve browning), rinse and drain well.

Preheat oven to 450 (or 400, if using convection).  In a large roasting pan, toss drained potatoes with onions, carrots oil, thyme and Worcestershire sauce.  Sprinkle with kosher salt.

Roast about 15 minutes, or until vegetables begin to brown.  Stir in cooking broth, toss well, and continue roasting until done -- browned and crispy -- about 20 minutes.

Serve with freshly sliced hot corned beef.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Name Game -- Fun For Kids And Adults Alike!

They call me “Mrs. Wiles.” 

Or “Ms. Wiles.”  Or “Cheri.”  And sometimes, “Miss Cheri.”

Turns out, the name game is pretty complicated -- and as I get older, increasingly so.

Expectant parents can spend three entire trimesters debating the merits of family names versus uncommon names, versus distinctive names versus flat-out convoluted, how-do-you-pronounce-that, how-did-you-come-up-with-that names.  Even after you narrow it down, you still have to take into account the “playground factor.”  Sorry, mommies- and daddies-to-be, but you should be aware that there are unflattering words that rhyme with “Bart.”  And “Rick.”  And “Belle.”  And “Cam.”  And although those words may not leap to the mind of a 36-year-old, they certainly do to a six-year-old.  Trust me.

Even pet names are controversial.  Local radio personality Sheri Lynch last week told the story of a dog with the unfortunate moniker, “Mommy.”  Really, I’ve got nowhere to go with that.  But I think my kids would agree that one “Mommy” per household ought to be the legal limit.  And there are days when even that seems excessive. 

Currently, the pet names Chez Wiles have musical roots.  Our rescue dog, Josie, is named for a blink-182 song.  Our cat Lionel, with the Mike Tyson personality, is actually the namesake of Lionel Richie, formerly of the Commodores.  Funny, too, that we’d choose tuneful names, when not one of us could carry a tune if it were handed to us in a gift-wrapped box.  In a shopping bag.  With a handle.

Post-divorce, the name game has only grown trickier.  Previously, the rules were pretty straightforward.  My children know to address adults by the appropriate title and the appropriate last name, e.g., Mr. and Mrs. Pitt.  The only exception would be for close family friends, whom the kids could call by their first name, as long as it was preceded by the appropriate title, e.g., Mr. Brad and Miss Angelina.

Problems crop up, though, as a single parent considers dating.  You’ve got to think short-term and long-term.  Several years after her divorce, my own mom was lucky enough to marry a wonderful man whom we’d known for years and I’d called “Uncle.”  But as my stepfather, could I call him “Uncle”?  Ewww.

And how should my own kids refer to someone I date?  "Mr. Damon"?  (Ahem.  It's my blog isn't it?)  If we married, they’d be stuck calling their stepfather by a needlessly formal name.  But "Mr. Matt" seems silly, too, right?  On the other, other hand, saying, “Hey Matt, where are y’all going tonight?” the first time they meet a Hollywood movie star seems presumptuous.  (Again, don’t judge me.  I’m just saying...)

And what about me?  Am I Cheri?  Am I Ms. Wiles?  I’ve been told I should be offended when someone calls me Mrs. Wiles, but I was Mrs. Wiles for so long that I don’t even notice it.  But to be called that by the kids of someone I’m dating?  Umm.  Awkward.

Maybe it would be best to go with the “call me whatever you want, but don’t call me late for dinner” approach.  As long as dinner is something as satisfying as this Chicken Chili.  Or is it White Chili?  Well, you can’t really call it “White,” because there are tomatoes in it.  Maybe “White Bean Chili" ...

Whatever.  Just call it dinner.

Chicken Chili With White Beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 large cloves of garlic, minced

4-6 cups chicken broth (hold aside 2 cups to be used as needed)
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes (I prefer the “petite” dice)
1 12-ounce bottle beer (optional)

2 tablespoons chili powder (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ cup chopped fresh basil

6 grilled chicken breasts, chopped (could also use thighs)

3 14-oz. cans cannellini beans

In a large pot (with lid) sauté onions over medium heat with olive oil.  When onions are translucent, stir in garlic and continue sautéing for about five minutes.

Stir in liquids, spices and chicken.  Don't taste it at this point.  It will taste like an culinary experiment gone bad.  You've got to be patient.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer (with lid) for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally.  (It takes this long for flavors to meld.)  Stir in undrained cans of beans, and simmer another 30-40 minutes.  Add additional broth if needed.  Before serving, check seasoning.  Depending on the freshness of your spices and how “hot” you like it, you may need more of everything – including salt.  Serve hot.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Getting Things Right -- With Or Without Me.

Tonight was Snarky Son’s first Homecoming Dance.

It’s a pretty big deal at his school.  In anticipation of the big night, many of the freshman girls, frantic there will be “nothing left” come October, buy their dresses over the summer, well before they have dates.  The same frenzied line of thinking, I suppose, prompts many of the freshman boys, despite repeated warnings from upperclassmen not to be “that guy,” to brazenly invite girls to the dance the very first week of school.

(Yep.  Everyone over the age of 18 knows that some of those pairings won’t actually make it to the dance.  And some that do, shouldn’t.)

I was pretty enthusiastic about SS’s first “big” dance.  Considerably more enthusiastic, as it turns out, than SS.  He informed me, gently at first and then unyieldingly, that he had zero intention of inviting someone to the dance.  He was going with a bunch of friends.  The end.  Just. Chill. Mom.
There was a back story, of course.  There’s always a back story.  But still.
Not that there’s anything wrong with the “group date,” of course.  But I’d been looking forward to this dance.  The way I saw it, it was an opportunity to make sure he got things right.

I’d intended to share with him – from a “girl’s” perspective – the many responsibilities and requirements of a young man on a date.  You’ve got to ask a girl out in person, for example, not by text, Facebook or the dreaded “through-a-friend.”  You’ve got to consider the color and style of your date’s dress when ordering a corsage.  You’ve got to choose your restaurant by asking your date and her friends what they want (soup and salad), not what you and your friends want (steak and steak).

I was prepared to impress on SS the impression a clean car makes – even though he’s too young to drive said spotless vehicle.  I’d make sure he knew to open his date’s door – and that he wouldn’t close said door on her dress, shoes or worse, her.  I’d remind him that, while being attentive to his date, he can, and should, also dance with other girls – particularly those who arrive without dates. 

I was ready – armed and dangerous.  But as my dad would say, I had nowhere to go and all day to get there.  Despite, and perhaps in spite of, my substantial preparedness, SS denied me the chance to exercise my vast experience and opinions.  He would not ask a date.

I was flummoxed.  Without a date, how could I make sure he learned to get things right?  Is it possible he’ll go all the way through high school, and I'll never have another opportunity to impart my wisdom?  Could he land in college, entirely uninformed and inept, and as a result, spend four years, entirely dateless?  Will he then be spit out into the real world, unable to make his way socially, forced to live a meaningless existence of night-after-night ramen noodles eaten in front of a TV?

Whoa. Was I hydroplaning there for a minute?

OK.  The truth is, although SS had entirely circumvented my overwrought intentions, he was fine.  He was, after all, going to the dance.  He had his ticket.  He was going with friends (most with dates, but some without) to dinner.  His shirt and slacks were pressed, his blazer from last spring still fit – although this is surely its last public appearance. He also opted, perhaps in a concession to me, to wear a tie that's one of my favorites.  Pink.

He was set.  But then, a friend-who’s-a-girl-but-not-a-girlfriend texted him this morning.  (Of course there’s a back story.  There’s always a back story.)  Turns out her date had the flu.  As she told SS, now she didn’t have a date to Homecoming, either.

I"m not sure what happened next, because without warning and without guidance and without the benefit of my carefully prepared, but unverbalized teachings, SS got things right.

“I’ll go with you,” he texted back.

Um.  Did that just happen?

Better not to ask.  Better, I suppose, to direct my over-thought, unnecessary attention to other things – like some easy-to-assemble Halloween treats.  If only for rising to the occasion, SS deserves them.

Besides, no one else is downstairs right now.  If I head down to the kitchen, I can do my own little happy dance, and no one will be the wiser.  Because I’ve got a kid who, every now and again, despite my very best efforts, knows how to get things right.

Witch Hats, Witch Brooms and Peanut Butter Ghosts

Witch Hats
You’ll only need four ingredients for those sweet treats – Keebler Fudge Striped Cookies, Hershey’s Chocolate Kisses, a can of spray frosting, colored sprinkles.

Unwrap a Kiss for every cookie.  Turn cookies striped side down.  Squirt frosting on bottom of Kiss and stick on the cookie, forming a hat.  Apply sprinkles to excess frosting on top, shaking off the extras.  Let dry.

Witch Brooms
This one only requires two ingredients – thin pretzel sticks and fruit roll-ups.  Unroll one fruit roll-up, cut in 3-inch (approximately) lengths.  (Leave on paper.)  While still on paper, use scissors to cut fruit roll-up into “fringe” (cutting about 2/3 of the way up).  After cutting, remove “fringe” and wrap around end up pretzel stick.  Repeat.

Peanut Butter Ghosts
My kids love this one, but we try to remember that, because of allergies, many of their friends can’t enjoy them.  All you need is one package of Nutter Butter cookies, a bag of white chocolate chips, and some miniature chocolate chips.  Lay cookies out on a sheet of plastic wrap.  Melt some (about half) of the white chocolate chips in the microwave.  Dip cookies, one by one, in melted chips.  (Alternatively, you can brush or spread melted chips on.)  Lay dipped cookies on plastic wrap and use miniature chips as eyes and mouths.  May take a couple of hours to harden.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I'm OK, But Could Someone Tell Me What To Do About This Bathroom Paint?

Crap.  (Sorry, Mom.)

When I pulled into the driveway a few days ago, a 20-foot tree limb blocked my usual parking spot.  Again.  Only a few weeks ago another sizable branch had plunged to the lawn, just a few feet from this one, leaving a significant divot.

Even though an arborist trimmed the deadwood last fall, these things happen -– particularly with the recent blustery, wet weather we’ve had here in Charlotte.  It doesn’t take a seventh grader to know that a spongy, dry, dead branch soaks up a LOT more weighty water than a healthy, impervious, well-attached branch.

Big whoop.  I know where the pruning saw is.  I’ll hack the thing into somewhat more manageable pieces, drag them to the street and pray to God no one witnesses my ineptitude.  That sawing business, I learned last time, is a lot easier, not too mention a lot more fun, when done by other people.  Try though I may, I’ll never achieve that hopped-up, blurry sawing technique demonstrated so effortlessly by the likes of Wile E. Coyote, Foghorn Leghorn, Jerry the Cat and other Saturday morning friends.

The downed branch is a reminder though, that since I’m no longer married, I'm the one in charge.  Of everything.

When the gutters overflow, when the cat mounts a successful escape, when the basement freezer holding 10 meals worth of Folly Beach shrimp defrosts while we’re out of town, when a baby possum dies (disintegrates and practically dissolves) under the house in 90 degree heat, when the master bathroom paint puckers and peels off in name-that-state-shaped latex sheets, it’s all on me. 

I’m "da man."

When you’re married, there’s a certain division of labor.  There’s also a division of knowledge (you know when the car needs new tires, I know when to schedule teacher conferences) and even a division of worry (you worry about saving for college, I’ll worry about our 14-year-old staying out until midnight).   But for nearly two years now, there's been no division.  More like multiplication.

True, I’ve always been fairly independent.  OK, when I was little, I don't think my teachers used the word "independent."  But "bossy" rings a bell.   And perhaps, "doesn't play well with others."  But what I can’t get used to is that I no longer have someone to run my ideas and decisions by.  (“Does this make me look fat?”  “What do you think of this paint color?”)  

On the upside, I guess, I don’t have anyone to run my ideas and decisions by.  ("Hmm.  I want a cat.  Oh looky there.  I got a cat.")

Like dinner tonight.  I like chicken.  But we had chicken last night.  (Panko-Crusted Chicken With Lemon and Dill, recipe to come).  Still, as I said, I like chicken.  And it's my decision.  So guess what’s cooking Chez Wiles tonight?

Yep.  I'm just fine.  But could someone else take a look at this bathroom paint?

Chicken Roll-Ups with Proscuitto & Sage 
My kids love this dish.  It looks special and fun, but is very easy to make, using very few ingredients.  Feel free to substitute herbs (maybe basil or rosemary) or try Virginia ham or pepperoni in place of the proscuitto.  I often serve it with Thyme-Scented Lemon Rice.)

Three boneless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2 thickness
three fresh sage leaves
three very thin slices proscuitto
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1-2 tablespoons butter
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 dry white wine (or 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice)
1 tablespoon capers

Sprinkle each flattened chicken breast with salt, pepper and lemon zest.  Center one sage leaf on each chicken breast (smooth side down).  Lay proscuitto on top. Roll up, fairly tightly from narrow end up.  Secure with toothpicks.

Heat oil and butter in a large skillet (with a lid) over medium high heat.  Brown chicken roll-ups, until browned fairly evenly on all sides.  Reduce heat to low, place lid on skillet, and cook until juices run clear when pricked with a toothpick (about 10 minutes).  

Remove chicken from skillet and deglaze pan with stock and wine.  Stir in capers.  

Slice roll-ups in 1/2 inch slices and pour sauce over.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cancel The Pity Party. Start The Stir Fry.

I’m a terrible procrastinator.  In the evening, when I’m trying to dodge mundane responsibilities -- like fixing dinner --– my postponement tool of choice is my Mac.  I’ll check e-mail, the school website, Facebook, Twitter, ESPN,  Whatever. (Hard to believe, but I still have the gall to wonder where my kids get it.)

As I postponed the inevitable a few nights ago, I scanned the screen for new messages, cringing as I read the e-mail subject line: Click Here To View Your Evite.  I didn’t need to “click here.”  I knew what it was.  And frankly, party invitations don’t hold the appeal they once did.

In this case, it was one of the grade level "socials" held for parents at my kids' school.  And although benignly labeled as “socials,” there’s one sentence that appears on every invitation, every year, betraying the actual event: This is not a school-sponsored event.

That’s right, folks.  They won't be serving lime sherbet punch and Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies. So you know I'm gonna be there.  With bells on.  And a wine glass.

Honest. I know the food will be great and the company better.  It’s always a fun night  -- entertaining, relaxing and best of all, wildly informative.  I"ll get to hear about classmate crushes, classroom hijinks, and if I'm really lucky, stuff about my own kid –- which is all the more valuable when your son or daughter is going through a tight-lipped phase.  Or a tight-lipped lifetime.

A couple of times, I’ve even been responsible for planning these soirees, so I’ve also got a good idea of what the crowd will look like.  Couples.  Couples.  Couples.  And me.

Hey – it’s not their fault I’m divorced.  And the God’s honest truth is that for the past two years, my friends have been supportive in ways I never could’ve anticipated or requested.  Awesome and awe-inspiring, really.  But still, things like these social are now suddenly awkward.  For me and for them.  I feel it the instant I step over the threshold.  Solo.

Sigh.  I decide not to "click here" to view my Evite.  It can wait.  Besides, while I was busy slipping into a funk, another e-mail popped up – this one from a Wry Mom Friend who’s funny, observant, irreverent and always click-worthy.

I click away.  Turns out, WMF wants to know if I’d like to ride with her and her hubbie to the Social.  Dang.  So much for my pity party.  It's hard to feel sorry for yourself when you’ve got such thoughtful friends.  

Constantly and consistently, during my separation, divorce and the aftermath, my friends are always somehow, invisibly, right beside me, showing themselves when I need them most – with a surprise birthday lunch, a Valentine treat, a supportive card, a carpool offer, an encouraging e-mail, dinner when the kids are with their dad, and when the occasion calls for it (and really, what occasion doesn’t?) -- a lovely bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

I don’t yet know what I’m going to do about the Social.  But I do know that that one thoughtful e-mail propelled me out of my computer chair and over to the stove to get dinner done – a super quick, super easy and nutritious stir-fry – thanks to my friends, visible and not.

Beef And Vegetable Stir-Fry

You can do this with chicken, shrimp or pork.  I used beef because I had a single steak in the freezer that needed to be used.  When you use pre-cut, cleaned vegetables, the dish comes together very quickly.

1 12-oz bag raw, stir-fry vegetables (the brand I use, Eat Smart, includes broccoli, snow peas and carrots)
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large filet mignon steak, sliced very thinly, into bite-sized pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger (or ginger paste)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
½ cup water
3 cups freshly cooked, hot rice

In a large, heavy-duty lidded skillet, steam vegetables with ¼ cup water, until colors become bright, but vegetables are still crisp.  Drain and keep on a separate platter.

Heat oil in skillet over very high heat.  Quickly sauté steak and garlic, until steak is no longer completely pink.  Stir in steamed vegetables and stir fry another minute or so.

In a measuring cup, combine ½ cup water, soy sauce, cornstarch and ginger.  Pour over meat and vegetables, stirring until sauce is clear and thickened.

Serve over hot rice.  Pass additional soy sauce to taste.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Breaking Rules and Making Memories. With blink-182. And My Son.

Yes.  Today is Wednesday, which means last night was a school night. 

And yes, my 14-year-old (Snarky Son) does indeed currently hold a somewhat lower GPA than he -- or rather, we -- would like.  And yes, I knew that when I took him to the blink-182 concert last night.  Which was 40 minutes away.  On a school night.

Don’t judge me. 

blink-182 is SS’s very favorite band.  (Yes, it's a struggle for me to type blink-182 all lowercase.  But with a name like Cheri, who am I to cast stones?)  He knows all their songs.  Half of them he can play on his guitar.  Plus, blink hasn’t toured in years.  This was a reunion tour, so there’s no telling whether they’ll ever tour again.  Plus, a bunch of other kids he knows were going to the concert, too.

Whoa.  Now I sound like the 14-year-old.  But am I wrong to see his point?

Rules are rules, and there are plenty of ‘em Chez Wiles. We’ve got rules for saving money, for donating money and for spending money.  We’ve got rules for putting away laundry (gratefully), for loading your own dishes (immediately) and for playing the guitar after 10 p.m. (quietly).  There are homework rules, dinner table rules and no-girls-in-the-bedroom rules.  (Except, of course, for Darling Daughter, who, when the occasion arises, will have to abide by the no-boys-in-the-bedroom rule.)

But c’mon.  It was blink-182, dude.  And it was SS’s first concert.

Who doesn’t remember his or her own first concert?  OK.  A few staggering teenagers who were escorted out by loyal friends last night -- before blink even took the stage -- may not have total recall.  I only hope their churning liquid demons were liberated before – not during – the car ride home. 

I remember my own first concert -- The Commodores, 1978.  (Of course I blogged about it.  Click here.)  On Facebook, I recently mentioned that I’d been to an Earth, Wind & Fire concert in Columbia, SC in 1979.  Sure enough, a Facebook friend, who I didn't know then was at the same concert.  And it turns out that Cougar Bait (one of the knights-in-shining-armor when my car was broken into last week, click here for the whole unsettling story) and I were at the same Doobie Brothers concert in 1980.  I know, right?  Serendipitous.

I love knowing that SS and DD are, at this very minute, constructing their own music history.  As she does her required reading, DD is listening to The Killers, Are We Human.  SS, natch, has blink-182 on a non-stop loop.  I love knowing that DD associates Journey’s, Don’t Stop Believing, with her first middle school dance.  (I think I do, too.)

And I love knowing that SS’s first concert was with me.

It occurs to me that, if I were still married, I may not have been the parent of choice at last night’s concert.  I might have been designated to stay home with DD.  I might have chosen warmth and a good night’s sleep over crowds and ringing eardrums.  I might not have ended up being one of so few 47-year-old moms in attendance that we all could’ve fit in the bathroom at one time.  In a single stall.

Instead, I got to be with SS, ridiculing the warm-up band, singing All The Small Things with 15,000 other blink-182 fans, teasing SS about the existence – and his eventual purchase – of blink underwear.  (Honestly, the boy wears boxers.  What made him think those "emo" – his word, not mine – underpants were a good idea?  And why did he choose the T-shirt with the cartoon character, instead of the one with the tour info?)

OK.  I didn’t actually get to sit with SS.  He hooked up with his buddies before we were even patted down at the gate.  But he checked in with me throughout the concert, advising me not to listen to the warm-up act.  (Quote:  He's terribad.  Don’t listen to him.  I’m not listening to a stupid white guy pretending to be black.)  And best of all, I got to be with him on the ride home, hoarse from singing, exhausted from dancing and buzzing from adrenaline.

So we broke a few rules.  I was there.  Lucky me.  And since I’ve been to a concert or two in my day, I’d planned ahead, nutrition-wise.  Early in the day, I’d made a good-sized batch of granola.  That way, I could break a few cholesterol-, carbohydrate- and calorie-rules at the concert.  And make a memory with my son.

Blueberry Pecan Granola

I’ve pored over a lot of granola recipes recently, before coming up with this one, which incorporates my favorite nuts (pecans) and dried fruit (blueberries).  I like it right out of the bag, but it’s also good with yogurt or in a bowl with milk.  Note that it's essential that the various ingredients be toasted, carefully and separately, before combining.

5 cups rolled oats, toasted in a 350 degree oven
2 cups coarsely chopped pecans, lightly toasted in a 350 degree oven
1/2 cup sesame seeds, lightly toasted
1 cup sweetened coconut shreds, toasted (carefully)
1 cup dried blueberries
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350.  Mix oats, pecans, sesame seeds, coconut and blueberries in a large bowl.  Combine oil, honey and cinnamon in a glass measuring cup, and microwave 45 seconds.  Pour over oat mixture and stir gently.  Spread in a large roasting pan and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Bake about 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and cool completely.  Store in airtight containers or zipper bags.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What I Do Best: Worry. And Then, Cook.

I remember it as if it were yesterday. Darling Daughter’s eyes were bloodshot, her cough sounded like that of a smoker with a 60-year-habit, and her forehead was eerily akin to a baked potato fresh from a 400 degree oven. No doubt about it.  She was sick. As I rubbed her back, she attempted a weak smile, but ended up in a puddle of tears.  Within minutes, she collapsed into a deep, damp sleep.

I snuggled her favorite pale pink jersey blanket against her cheek, smoothed the sticky tendrils of silken hair off her forehead and tiptoed downstairs.

What a relief. 

An hour later, I tiptoed up to check on her.  Just in case.  Yep.  Still sleeping.

Another, somewhat more anxious, hour passed.  I checked again.  Yep.  Still dozing.  I turned to leave.  But wait.  Had I seen her chest rising and falling?  I spin back around, fighting back ridiculous worries.  Yep.  Definitely breathing. 

Or was she?  I inched closer.  I couldn’t tell.  The blanket was moving, wasn’t it?  Or were my eyes are playing tricks on me?

I chastised myself for being so paranoid.  But what if … ?  I’d never forgive myself.

I edged closer.  I considered getting a mirror.  In old movies, that’s what they do.  If the person is breathing, even slightly, their breath fogs the mirror. 

Have mercy.  What was I thinking?  Was I thinking at all?  I’d never seen that in a movie.  I’d only heard about it.

So.  Breathing or not?

I edged closer still.  I couldn’t decide.  Time to panic?  Or time to tiptoe my crazy butt and crazier thoughts back down the stairs?

Then, without warning, DD shifted her legs.  Slightly.  I recoiled as if struck.  My heart felt as if it were trying to exit my body.  Yep.  Definitely breathing.  Humiliated, I slinked downstairs while DD slumbered on, blissfully unaware of the preposterous thoughts of the woman who gave birth to her.

When our kids are babies, we parents can scarcely stop worrying about them.  But so far as I can tell, as the kids get older, those worries don’t cease.  The scene I just described is from last week, when 12-year-old DD had the flu.  The only difference between my parental worries now and when she was a baby is that maybe I don’t show my panic as much now.  Maybe.

Worrying is what we parents do best.  We worry when they’re sick.  We worry when they might get sick.  We worry when they’re with a sitter.  We worry when they’re so old they don’t need a sitter. We worry when they don’t eat.  We worry that they eat too much junk.  We worry when they don’t get perfect grades.  We worry that they’re working too hard to get perfect grades.  We worry when they’re “out.”  We worry when they’re "in" and everyone else is "out."  We worry when they worry. We worry they don’t worry enough.

It’s exhausting.

It’s been a week since DD was sick, and although she still has a lingering cough, I feel like I’m also recovering, trying to make sure she gets ample rest, hydration, and of course, nutrition.

As her appetite returned, we started back with bland food.  But “bland” doesn’t mean “tasteless.”  Even something as basic as rice can be something special.  And when I prepared this Thyme-Scented Lemon Rice last week, I got a genuine smile from DD -- and no tears.

Plainly, we’re both well on the road to recovery.  Wonder what I'll worry about next.

Thyme-Scented Lemon Rice

1 cup raw rice
2 cups chicken broth
1 lemon, zested
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2-3 springs of fresh thyme
juice of ½ a lemon
1 tablespoon butter

Combine rice, broth, lemon zest, salt and thyme in a 2-quart, lidded saucepan.  With lid off, bring to a boil.  Once boiling, turn heat down to low, put lid on and cook (without stirring) 13 minutes.  When rice is done, remove thyme springs, fluff gently with a fork, and stir in lemon juice and butter.  Serve hot.