Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Kindness of Friends, Family, Strangers -- And Eggs

Last week was wretched.  Miserable, horrible, terrible.  So very bad that, if it hadn't had been so very awful, it would been comical.  But not very.

I don't want to re-live all the details, but suffice to say that divorce is devastating.  Being a single mom is gut-wrenching.  And being kids of divorce is worst of all.  At some point last week, everyone Chez Wiles was enraged or tearful or both.

Then, Cougar Bait (my 200-mile-away lifeline), who was recovering from the flu, came down with pneumonia. I ran out of shampoo. Son's Eagle project got tanked two days just before he finished the proposal.  The dog peed on the rug.  A dear 87-year-old friend passed away.  I left a raw chuck roast on the counter overnight.  A much-needed therapist was hospitalized.  And although all these things were true, I plainly couldn't even prioritize which things were worth grieving.

I was wretched.  At one point, I called in "wretched" to work.  Some people call in sick.  I call in sobbing.

To clear my head, I decided to go for a walk-run on a 5K trail in another part of town.  Historically, this doesn't always work in my favor.  A few months back, I made a similar choice and ended up with a fractured elbow. (See "Worst Mom Ever Falls Down And Goes Boom.")  This time, though, I finished with a more peaceful attitude, a fresh perspective and tear-free eyes -- that is, until I got to the parking lot and found my rear passenger window shattered and my purse gone.

Shap.  Shap, shap, shap, shap, sh*%!

I couldn't even think what to do next.  Who to call?  After initially dialing CB, I hung up to call the police.  Shap.  Then CB.  Then "All-Knowing Neighbors."

And suddenly, things began falling back into place.  When the officer arrived, and I glumly said, "Tomorrow will be a better day," he smiled and said, "C'mon now.  Tonight will be a better day."  (To my credit, I didn't even point out the difference between "night" and "day.")

Before the policeman had even finished his report, CB had already ordered a new window and made arrangements -- with Jordan, my new friend, who has no problem with crying women --  for repairs.

"All-Knowing-Neighbors" brought gracious plenty cash.  And the sandwich bags and bread I needed to pack lunches the next day.  And the number to the DMV, so I could get my license replaced.  And wine.  A whole bottle.  It's hard to say which was more needed.

"Beloved Family" called and sympathized, saying to me what I'd been preaching to the kids all week, "Not to worry.  You're strong.  You're smart.  You can handle this.  It'll be OK."

So I cancelled the credit cards, notified my bank, and tried to think of what else had been in my purse.  (Duh.  Health insurance cards.  Two prescriptions -- one filled and one not.  An unreasonably large check made out to me.  And -- my Costco and Starbucks cards.  Sigh.)

Then, no kidding, some young kid in a button-down and tie shows up in my driveway.  He works for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and when he stopped for a Big Gulp on his way home from work, he found some of my cards -- including my license -- strewn through the parking lot.  I could've cried.  And I probably did.  I'd already cancelled the credit cards, but still, it just felt good to get some of my stuff back.  And even better to know that someone would be kind enough to bring them back.  Even if I didn't have any cash to give him as a reward.

Turns out the police officer was right.  With the love and support and bank accounts and wine cellars of friends and family -- not to mention the kindness of strangers -- "tonight was a better day."

We're going to be just fine.

Shrimpy Eggs
Tough times call for comfort food.  Wretched times call for comfort food in a hurry -- and nothing's quicker or more satisfying than eggs.  In Charleston, we'd have variations of this dish for breakfast -- based on leftover shrimp from the night before -- but it's also a terrific dinner dish all on its own.

For every two eggs, you'll need ...

1 teaspoon butter or olive oil
4-5 raw shrimp, peeled and cut into bitesize pieces
2 tablespoons chopped red bell pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon crumbled goat cheese (optional)

Heat butter over medium heat in a medium-sized nonstick skillet.  In hot butter, saute shrimp and bell pepper until shrimp is pink.  Whisk eggs together with salt, pepper and a small splash of water.  Stir into skillet, with chives and goat cheese (if using).  Cook, scrambling, until eggs are done to your likeness.  Count your blessings.  And savor.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Tale Of Two Boys.

A guest post by David R. Bonner, a.k.a., "Cougar Bait."

The story begins May 6, 1988.

Easy for me to remember, because it was the day my son Matthew was born. Funny thing though -- one of my sister’s best friends was in the room next to us birthing her own son, Benjamin. The boys were born within minutes of each other.

What timing.  We all had been in Lamaze class together and as luck would have it, the boys came into the world on the same day. We pledged to stay in touch and make sure the boys played together as they grew up. But like most good intentions, it just did not happen. We had led different lives before, and I guess we settled back into them.

We stayed in touch a little, I guess. Went to each other’s birthday parties and such. And of course, we knew that Ben was diagnosed with liver cancer when he was 2 years old. 2 YEARS OLD! I was shocked and scared -- one because I worried for Ben, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether this horrible disease would strike my son also. After all, they were born right next to each other. Fortunately, Matthew was fine.  And eventually, so was Ben. Ben was strong and feisty and quite frankly kicked cancer’s ass. Again at 2 YEARS OLD! But some small lingering heath issues have remained -- the result of chemotherapy on a toddler. As recently as last week, though, his doctor gave him a clean bill of health.

Both boys did well throughout their teen years. Ben went to Bishop England High School, Matthew to James Island High. Ben went to the Citadel.  Matthew went to the College of Charleston.

Currently, Ben’s hair is what you would expect of a Citadel man, high and tight. Matthew has hair down to his shoulders. They truly look like the odd couple. Ben’s father and I exchanged stories concerning both of them today. Oh yea, did I mention that we put the boys on a flight for three-month visit to Costa Rica today? Did I mention neither of them has a job there, or an apartment, or any idea what they are going to do, other than surf, chase girls, and go clubbing?

Matthew has dreamed of doing this since he was in college. Ben shared a similar dream of spending time in the Virgin Islands. Last year, almost 22 years after they were born, they ran across each other at the Hibernian Hall March 17th banquet.  Matthew told Ben of his plans and Ben said what any red-blooded young man should say -- Hell yeah, I’ll go with you!

For a while, we weren’t sure they were actually going to make it happen, but Matthew worked and saved his money, and Ben knocked off a Brinks truck (Just kidding).

And finally the day came. Ben’s father and I took them to the airport and dropped them off. We chatted on the way home and made some side bets on who would crack first, Ben or Matthew. Then a phone call came. It was Matthew. Small change of plans. They meet a woman in the airport and she owns a bar in Costa Rica! How convenient! (Did I mention that both Ben and Matthew are proficient in clearing their livers with alcohol?) She promised to help them get an apartment and possibly employ they. Only catch is that she is on the other side of the country from where Ben and Matthew were planning to go. For me, that would be a deal breaker. I like to plan and then I like to execute the plan. Not these boys. They thought for a nanosecond and said, you guessed it, HELL YEAH!

So off they go on an adventure. No telling what will happen. Hopefully neither will come back married. But Ben’s father and I absolutely agree: we are proud of our boys. Many kids have big plans and dreams for what they’ll do after college, but few actually follow through. Our boys are doing it, and they are doing it without hesitation.

So do me a favor boys, take photos. Lots of them. Write your mothers as often as you can. And most importantly, enjoy. Then again, I’m guessing you already are.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Putting Our Lives Into Words and Our Words Into Lives

I am, by turns, both thrilled and terrified by writing.

I feel compelled to "use my words"  – I find the process exhilarating – but even as I post my carefully constructed phrases and meager manic ramblings, I cringe, bracing for the worst. The criticism. The discovered typos. And the nagging fear that no one is reading.

Yesterday marked the birthday of James Dickey (1923 – 1997). You may know him as the author of Deliverance. Or, as one the great poets of 20th century America. To me, he was more. Author and poet laureate James Lafayette Dickey was my first college English professor.

With his massive 6’ 3” frame, Professor Dickey was imposing even before he unleashed his booming, raspy drawl. There were about 10 of us in the class – 10 slack-jawed, sleepy-eyed, wildly unappreciative 18-year-olds.

I was, by turns, both thrilled and terrified.

I can’t recall ever feeling so inspired – or scared to bits.  I came to tears listening to him recite Randall Jarrell's "The Death Of A Ball Turrett Gunner."  I dreaded handing in assignments. My eyes watered to think of Professor Dickey critiquing my ill-conceived, dashed-off essays.  Some days, I couldn’t even bring myself to cross the classroom threshold.  I couldn’t bear the scrutiny.

Like a moth, though, neither could I stay away.

I thought I was sufficiently stealthy, until on one assignment (which I’d turned in late), he wrote, “STOP standing outside the door during class. It doesn’t matter whether your paper is complete; it matters whether you are present.”

I was, and still am, dazzled. Exposed, to be sure, but dazzled nonetheless.

Writing can be soul-baring, and unlike the spoken word, once we put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, our written words become permanent, immovable, memorable and susceptible to judgment. Which is why I so admire anyone willing to put fingers to keyboard and share their story.

Last week, Cougar Bait’s 22-year-old son packed his bags and set off for Costa Rica. Sure, he’ll be back, but it could be a few months. It’s a sweet story – one we’ll all want to remember – which may be why CB took the time and made the effort to put it down in words.

No, CB doesn’t aspire to be a novelist or poet laureate or even a regular blogger. Like other writers, he just has that need to share and willingness to risk scrutiny by writing it down for everyone to see. If you’d like to take a peek, here’s the link: A Tale Of Two Boys.

I was, and still am, dazzled.

Fried Potatoes
I believe the phrase I used most often with Son and Darling Daughter when they were little was, “Use your words,” which may be why I was so gratified one recent evening when, instead of merely saying “thank you for dinner, “ Darling Daughter said, “Those potatoes were great! How did you make them and when can we have them again?”

4-6 medium sized Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut in 3/4" dice
1 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teasoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients is a large, nonstick skillet with a lid.  Bring to a boil, put lid in place, and reduce heat to medium low, until potatoes start to get tender.  Remove lid, increase heat to medium high, and cook, stirring or shaking frequently, until the liquid cooks off and only the oil remains.  Keep shaking and stirring until potatoes are well browned and crispy.