Goodbye to Great Grandpa

Kevin’s grandpa, the steady and solid Vito Beto, died peacefully at the end of October, age 93.

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He’s a tough person to write about because he was a simple man who spent most of his life doing the same things day in and day out.  He worked one job his whole life, at a wallpaper factory, and the day he was eligible for retirement he just didn’t show up and that was that.  He ate the same sandwich for most of his years there (minced ham).  In World War II they told him not to take his shoes off and he thought they meant for the rest of your life.  (It was so hard to get the man out of his shoes.)

Every Sunday we brought Grandpa donuts.  He’d choose the same one every time–a chocolate long john.  He’d ask the same questions every Sunday.  “How are your parents doing?”  “Any new neighbors?” “The boys out of school yet?”  He’d ask these questions over and over during donut hour and we’d answer them the same way each time.  And each time he’d be pleased with the answer.

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The questions, they made everything feel safe and comfortable.  The rest of the world might be moving and changing too fast, but when you were with Great Grandpa, nothing changed. It felt like nothing needed to.

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But then, every once in a while, you’d say something like, “Vincenzo is in a play,” and Grandpa would light up and say, “I was in a play once.”  What?  This is something new!  “I played a mouse,” he’d add.  We’d want to know more.  We’d ask him questions.  He’d take a bite of his chocolate long john and say, “How are your parents doing?”  We’d squirrel away the little piece of information and add it to the lore of Grandpa.  The stories of his long-ago past didn’t seem to match up with the quiet man sitting with us.

Like how he grew up in extreme poverty during the depression, surviving by collecting bits of coal or old bricks to sell.  Or how  manned an anti-aircraft gun in WWII.  And how he fell in love with a girl before he joined the service, and he’d send her Valentine cards that came in boxes, signed by Vito, a curlicue hanging from the bottom of his V.  Grandpa wrote her love letters from overseas.  “My dear, darling Violet,” they’d begin.  “Do you still want to marry me?”  Of course, she did, and lucky for all whose lives were given or made golden by that marriage.

When Grandma died a few years back, Grandpa did not want to go on.  He wanted to go to sleep and not wake up, but he kept waking up anyway.  It felt unfair.  Grandma was the love and purpose of his life.  In his last weeks, Grandpa sometimes saw her.  He could hear singing, and he said they were singing his name.

Of course, it’s hard to say goodbye.  It’s hard knowing there is someone else in Grandpa’s room at “the club,” as he called the nursing home.  It is hard when Sunday morning comes and goes without our hour sitting in his 100-degree room, answering the same questions over and over again, comforted by the predictability of it all.

But it’s a good thing, because Grandpa is finally where he wanted to be.

After all these years, after all those minced ham sandwiches and Sunday mornings and chocolate long johns, Grandpa was finally ready for a change.

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Together again.  And together is where they are happiest.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Potato gnocchi with chicken sausage and broccolini
Mango lassies

Tricked

Oh look, our kids carved pumpkins!

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Right.  Except that seconds after these photos were taken, Rocco declared his arm was tired, Leo said he didn’t want to get his hands messy, and Vincenzo couldn’t get the pulp out of the tiny hole he carved.  So as happens every year, the kids tricked us into carving their pumpkins.

Kevin and I scooped and cut, scraped and carved, and no one stood around taking our pictures because they had all left, so we have no proof.

We had the same very loud conversation we had every year about how we carved our own pumpkins when we were their age, and kids these days are getting soft and have no knife skills, and the Internet has RUINED pumpkin carving with its fire-breathing dragons and Jesus faces and pumpkins freaking eating smaller pumpkins.  We had three choices as kids: triangle, square, or circle. 

Our kids just kept watching the football game as if they couldn’t hear us.

When we finished, the kids came back to get their pictures with the pumpkins we carved for them.

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Okay, so I exaggerated.  I do have one kid who carves his own pumpkin.  And even though it looks like Vincenzo just turned a pumpkin on its side and called it good, there is a tiny triangle or two carved out of it.

He clearly does not have the knife skills of his mother. 

He should totally have me do it next year.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Pizzas.  A ton of pizzas to feed a ton of people that I’m not sure are all going to fit in the house

Excuses

Oh sheesh, I haven’t blogged in a week?!  Remember when I used to blog 3 to 5 times a week?  What time warp was I living in then, and can someone tell me how to get back to it?  I seriously think time is outright broken lately, and I hope someone fixes it soon.  And I’m not talking about daylight savings time here.  That is a MISNOMER.

Take Saturday, for example.  The day held two soccer games, two end-of-season parties, one kid birthday party, one workout for me, plus Kevin’s 40th birthday party.  Somehow, it all fit. 

But then today all we had was one soccer game and I ended up sitting it out because it was too much for the day’s schedule.  I just couldn’t fit it in.

See what I mean?  What is happening?!

Anyway, there are other reasons I haven’t blogged much lately, and so I present to you:

MRS. MOUTHY’S SEMI-COMPLETE LIST OF EXCUSES FOR NOT BLOGGING MUCH LATELY:

1.  Time.  Bro.  Ken.

2. I started instagramming as a way to “get out there” as an author.  I now spend hours shopping for, setting up, and applying different filters to spreads for my picture books, like these:

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3.Cleaning up the colossal messes from making the spreads, such as rainbow frosting ABSOLUTELY EVERYWHERE.

4. Starting a website (shh, don’t tell this blog—it’s the jealous type).  Coming soon!

5. Writing.  I spend a couple hours of my day writing picture books and chipping away at that novel, so now instead of putting all my words out here for everyone to have, they stay safely inside a folder inside a folder inside a folder inside a folder somewhere inside another folder on my computer.

6. Submitting.  I am coming out of my cave to put one picture book out there (The Rhinocorn, if you must know) because it’s making this cave too damn bright and the rainbows are giving me headaches.

7. Reading.  I have finally decided to make time for it after 13 years of wondering if I would ever have time for it, and it is guh-lorious.  But it takes time, so much time, to do so much reading.  And yet, there is still not enough time for reading.  (See item #1.)

8. The soccer schedule has us by the BALLZ.

9. The dog ate it.  Maybe not applicable, but you can’t go wrong with a classic.

And that, my friends, is why you do not have a proper blog post to read today.  Thankyouforyourtime.

Who else is being driven crazy by the fact that I ended on 9?  For all you people I give you…

10. WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Leftovers, including:
Turducken (thanks, MIL!)
Mashed potatoes
Stuffing
Gravy
Cranberry sauce
Hummingbird cake

Pumpkin Farm!

Pumpkin farm day smells like a basket of green apples, tastes like kettle corn and feels like sitting in front of a warm fire.  Well, some years it feels like sitting in a cold shower with all your clothes on but this year, at least, it had the cozy warm fire feel.

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This is what it looks like when you have a mouth full of Kettle Corn but also have a compelling reason to say “quack quack.”

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We flung dozens of beautiful green apples into a field.  It felt a little criminal, literally throwing away buckets of food, but who were we to question the system?

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Sigh. I wish I were Cal-sized.  But I guess that would make things weird between me and Megan.

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Here I am in a game of human foose ball.  Take a good look at #29 there because you won’t be seeing him again.  Shortly after this picture, I kicked a ball straight into his stomach, and when he ran crying to his mommy, he clogged his head on one of the foose ball poles and was down for the count.  GIRLS RULE BOYS DROOL.

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Why am I always taking pictures of my boys feet?  Even when Vincenzo makes very questionable sock choices, I still love the feet pictures!

The rule was: if you can carry it, you can have it.

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Of course Rocco found the loophole.

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Three guesses on which of these kids is going to love haunted houses some day:

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Megan and I agree that Pumpkin Farm Day officially starts the holidays season for us.  This is it!  The holidays are upon us!  Feel the cheer!  Spread the joy! Put the carols on the spinet! Layer it on thickly because no matter what I said about summer, this is the best time of year.

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I could live in this day forever.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Breakfast for dinner!
Pancakes
Fried eggs
Bacon
Fresh fruit

Halloween Cookie Awards

We decorated cookies this week, because there’s nothing the days before Halloween need like sugar cookies covered in powdered sugar frosting topped with sprinkled sugar.

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Here they are, our assortment of ghosts, pumpkins, cauldrons, and bats.

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My neighbor has convinced me that everything looks better when it’s sorted by color.  Even this sad, sloppy looking lot of cookies.

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It’s true, isn’t it?

Anyway, a few of these cookies stand out from the rest, so I thought they deserved some kind of awards.  And now, here you are: the Halloween Cookie Awards ‘18.

Most sarcastic, 3rd grade division

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Most sarcastic, 7th grade division

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(I didn’t even make green frosting, so I’m not sure how how this happened.)

Best “Beat the System” Cookie

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(During some past year, the boys realized they could eat two cookies in one if they sandwiched them together.)

Best “What Even Is This?” Cookie:

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Most Expensive Cookie

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(Seriously, this is like $1.99 worth of sprinkles)

Thank you for tuning in for this year’s awards.  And now you will not wonder why absolutely every surface in my kitchen and living room are sprinkle-covered and sticky.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Potato gnocchi with anchovy sauce
Broccolini
Fruit
Pumpkin Pie

Longing for Today

After the post I wrote about feeling lost when my boys went back to school, my dear friend, Andrea, wrote me an e-mail that changed how I think about life.  She wrote that her youngest left for college this fall and even though I’m having a tough time with my kids back in school, she wants me to know: I am still in the sweet spot.  She said how she doesn’t have any to-do lists on the fridge, no crazy soccer schedules to work around, no parent meetings or sleepovers or dioramas to help with.  And she missed her to-do lists.

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I think about her e-mail all the time as I get yanked around by fall’s crazy schedule, with its hours of silence at home followed by its hours of madness, of high-fiving my husband on the way out the door, of standing in the pouring rain eating soggy sandwiches for dinner.  Again.  I remember that this is the sweet spot. 

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When the boys come home and plaster the quiet, clean house with papers to sign, art projects to exclaim over, dirty lunchboxes to clean, and party invitations to not lose, I remember–this is the sweet spot.

When I have to wake everyone up to take them to speech appointments and choir practice, dentist and orthodontist appointments, when I have to pack them breakfast for the car, I remember—this is the sweet spot.

When I am so spent it takes a real effort to muster up enough energy to say “goodnight” to my husband before falling into bed, I remember—this is the sweet spot.

Because the thing is, those soccer games, the birthday parties, the parent meetings and doctor’s appointments—they’re not the things getting in the way of life.  They are life.

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I stand with the moms on the soccer sidelines and joke about throwing together a halftime show—how much could we embarrass our kids today?  The boys and I show up at speech therapy ten minutes early and Leo snuggles next to me and asks me to read him a book.  The receptionist asks me how my books are coming along;  I ask to see pictures of her newest grandson.  We pick up a carload of kids to take to practice and they laugh and tease each other and I learn more about my kid’s life from that car ride than I did from asking how his day was all week.

I had been aching for those simpler, sweet times when we’d have friends over for dinner or put the baby stroller and walk along the lake on a Saturday afternoon.  For those times we had the luxury to ask, “What do we want to do today?”  But now I realize that some day I will ache for this time of life—the one that’s happening right now. This crazy, missed-appointment, show-up-late, triple-booked time of life when friends and family are built into our days because our schedules all crisscross and overlap in the most beautiful, complicated, messy way. 

The soccer games that get in the way of dinner, the homework that gets in the way of soccer, the times in between, all of these little moments?  They’re not little at all.  They’re huge. 

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And I am glad to be here for each and every one of them.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
I blogged instead of cooking today.  I guess we’ll just have to eat this blog post for dinner.

*Also, if you are wondering Andrae, I keep seeing pictures of a fabulous Vegas vacation she and her husband are on, so I don’t think we have to worry about her too much.

Thirteeeeeen!

Vincenzo had a hard time deciding where to have his birthday party.  He had a hard time deciding who to invite.  He had a hard time deciding what cake to have, what kind of pizza he wanted, what presents he wanted.  He’s a kid who is happy with something or with nothing, which is nice in certain situations but completely aggravating when you are his mother and want him to just CHOOSE A FREAKING PLACE/TOPPING/GIFT ALREADY!

In the end, he settled on laser tag, so we went to a sports center with ten of his buddies.  I was thrilled that the center’s party policy was, “No decorations, including table cloths, balloons, or centerpieces.”  The old me would be warding off the new me with a garlic necklace if she read this blog post.

So, to review, Old Me (which is, ironically, also Young Me):

under the sea blog

New me:

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(Please note the lack of color coordinated or thematic anything, the generic paper cups, and the clear “I don’t give a fig if anyone’s smiling” air of the photographer.)

My heart sped up a bit when we paid for the boys to play laser tag and the pricetag was $100 for 10 minutes, and we had slated the party for three hours.  I started to do the math on that and it was some scary math. 

But after laser tag, the boys sprinted the bouncy house toys so I shelled out another $100 and prayed for them to last twenty minutes—at least twenty minutes pleeeease.  I must be some kind of superstar pray-er because the boys spent the next two hours jumping their little hearts out.  (Kinda makes me wish I had prayed for a cure to cancer or a new president instead.)  They stopped only long enough for pizza and cake, then went back to the bouncing.

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There’s at least a 40% chance they know the kid in the fetal position.

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There was also this magical moment.

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I love the posse of friends Vincenzo has collected to go through his school years with.  Hopefully his life with!  They are his bouncy-house jumping, DND playing, rec soccer league-ing, cookie-baking, good-grading, family-loving friends who will never be too cool to team up against the five-year-olds in a game of bouncy house basketball.

Vincenzo again asked for donations to Wolf Haven instead of gifts for himself, but we couldn’t give him nothing on his birthday.  So he got this giant box of socks and a pro tip.

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I’m wondering if he’ll ever notice this slight modification I had to make to what is definitely not a pair of women’s socks?

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Meh.  Probably not.

We got home from Vincenzo’s party and before the rest of us had even walked up the stairs, he was already in his cave, reading a book on his phone.

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This is The Cave.  I like to call this picture, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” by Vincenzo.

We peeked in on him a while later, made him repeat, as we often do, “I AM NOT A CAVIE!” then left him alone for the rest of the night.  It’s all he really wanted, after all.

Well, that and box of socks.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Lemon balsamic chicken
Parmesan risotto
Something green
Fruit
Gingerbread cake