Thursday, December 25, 2014

Silent Morning, Holy Morning

It's 6:30 in the morning. And, as is usual during school vacation, not a creature is stirring Chez Wiles.

Except for me. I've already showered and dressed. Coffee is brewing. And Sausage Bread is warming in the oven. The kids love Sausage Bread any time of year, but particularly as part of our Christmas morning tradition.

That's right. It's Christmas morning, and I'm the only one awake Chez Wiles. Don't hate me.

Carter is 19, and Julia is 17. Long gone are the Christmases when I had to lay down two rules. One: Santa can't come if you don't get to sleep. And Two: No one is allowed downstairs before 6:00 tomorrow morning

Not, of course, that they ever had to wake me up. I was always as excited as a kid myself -- well awake before they were -- making coffee and making Sausage Bread and most of all, making them wait. They'd sit -- with sleep in their eyes and bedheads that would be memorialized in Christmas photos for years to come -- at the bottom of the stairs, on the last two steps, nearly vibrating from anticipation. From that vantage point, they could just peek around the corner into the living room -- without their sweet little feet touching the floor -- at the lit tree and abundant gifts and overstuffed stockings. 

Flash forward to Christmas Day 2014. My "kids" are nearly grown. There's no more waiting on the stairs. Instead, I'm the one waiting. At 7:15  a.m., they're both still dozing. I'll jostle them awake soon enough. We'll tear open gifts and dump out stockings. We'll stuff ourselves with hot, toasty Sausage Bread, and both kids will join me in a cup of coffee.

For just a few more minutes, though, I'll enjoy the silence. We'll have plenty of time for hustle and bustle later. For now, though, I'm grateful to have an awakening of my own -- and a few silent moments to reflect on the many blessings and joys in my life and on this Earth.

Merry Christmas, friends. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chutes, Ladders, And The Steps To College

So that’s that. Julia’s winter exams are officially over. “World Religions” marked another senior year “last.”

With that exam, she takes another step toward college. I’d rather not think that it’s another step away from me.

You might thing the path is predictable, but it’s not. It’s more like the Chutes and Ladders game we played when she was little.  There’s the Candy Cane Forest of college applications and the Gum Drop Mountain of exams. Julia moves forward a couple of steps, I get mired in the Molasses Swamp, and then, with a big fat college acceptance in the mail, she ascends a ladder. She moves forward a couple of steps, I move forward a couple of steps, she wonders about dorm life without her cat, Lionel, and before you know it, she tumbles down a chute.

Mostly though, Julia moves onward, onward, inevitably onward. And not just onward, but happily onward, too.

But not tonight. Tonight we’ll spend the evening watching old episodes of Parenthood and The Perks Of Being A Wallflower.  Again. And before you know it, I’ll be blinking back tears. Again.

But despite what you think, I’m happy about all these steps toward college. I really am.

Because when she’s gone, Lionel is mine. All mine.

Broccoli Soup
In my usual effort to pack in extra nutrients during exams, this "broccoli" soup also includes carrots and celery and onions and garlic.
1/2 stick butter
1 onion, chopped
16-20 baby carrots, chopped
1 Yukon gold potato, peeled and chopped
1 rib of celery, chopped
6 cups broccoli florets
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 quart chicken stock
1 cup cream
blue cheese crumbles (optional)

In a large, deep skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in onions, sauté until soft. Stir in carrots, celery, potato and garlic. Sauté until soft and slightly browned. Stir in broccoli and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then, reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, until vegetables are very soft. Use an immersion blender to smooth to an even consistency (I like mine somewhat chunky). Stir in cream. Season well. Serve hot -- with blue cheese crumbles on top, if desired.

Monday, December 15, 2014

One Last Time. With Potato Soup.

It’s broad daylight now, but I’m afraid to go upstairs. OK. I take that back. “Afraid” may not be the right word. More like “terrified.” “Petrified.”

Because although it’s been days since I climbed those mahogany-stained steps and peered over the wrought-iron railing, I know what awaits.

Our home is diseased. Closets, dressers, desks, athletic bags and backpacks are spewing forth their contents. Papers -- printed and lined and blank -- lie piled, stacked, crumpled. All-but-empty Diet Coke bottles are cast about like forgotten bowling pins. Coffee-residued cups line the end table. The bedroom wastebasket – usually emptied every month or so –can’t contain the current collection of dried out markers, inkless pens, inexplicable index cards, and Clif bar wrappers.

It’s exam time. Julia’s last set of high school exams. Sigh.

This isn’t my first rodeo. I know my job. I grease the tracks. I stay out of the way. I’m ever-present. You want fruit? Strawberries, blueberries, kiwi and grapefruit are in the fridge. Not happy with the lunch at school? I’ll be in the neighborhood – why don’t I bring you a chicken salad bagel? Running low on gas? I’ll fill you up. You’re tired? Let me fluff the pillow.

This is my job. I know it well. I’ve done it for years. But this my last. This is Julia’s last set of high school exams. She’ll have plenty more exams, of course. She’ll rocket off to college and pull all-nighters and down espressos and bounce off walls, but she’ll do it without me.

What’s most important in that sentence, I guess, is she’ll do it without me. She’ll be just fine. She’ll be awesome.

And me? I can’t even imagine. Really? I won’t be tiptoeing around the house at this time next year? I won’t be indulging unexpected requests for soup and cookies and Jello? I won’t be making last minute runs to deliver lunch to school? I won’t be dropping everything to hear what amounts to a 15 second story about a friend’s college acceptance? Or a 15-minute story about the cat?

What am I going to do?

I guess I'll cook. And perhaps, venture upstairs. Which will be neat and orderly and clutter-free –welcoming my exhausted college student home, with clean sheets on the bed, and nary an empty Diet Coke bottle in sight.

Potato Soup
Our tradition has always been that, as Julia studies, I cook and bake and try to anticipate what she'll want next. I lucked out with this potato soup tonight.

4 slices of raw bacon, chopped
1 onion, sliced thinly
16-20 baby carrots, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4-6 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
2 bay leaves
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup cream
2 tablespoons butter
sour cream 

In a large, deep skillet, sauté bacon over medium heat. When very crispy, remove bacon browned bits, setting aside for later, and keeping bacon grease in pan. Add onion, carrots, celery and garlic to pan. Reduce heat to low, and sauté, slowly, until onions are translucent and slightly browned. Stir in potatoes and bay leaves. Pour in broth, raise heat to high, bringing to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 30-45 minutes, until potatoes are very soft. Remove bay leaves, and using a potato masher or immersion blender, smooth out the consistency (we like it a bit chunky). Stir in the cream and butter. Season well with salt and pepper. Serve hot, with bacon bits on top, and, if desired, a large dollop of sour cream.