Today’s Post Brought to You by the Number 40-Something

Today’s blog is about the mid-forties which are, from what I can tell, the middle school of mid-life. Replace zits with cysts, braces with dental implants, and school dances with school auctions and there you have it. Middle schoolers get callbacks for the school play; forty-somethingers get callbacks for mammograms. Middle schoolers obsess over their hair color; we obsess over our hair color.

But the forties don’t stop there! Weird medical things start happening that doctors have no cure for, like giant squawking hiccups, or an allergy to coffee, or your right nostril deciding to always have a tiny something peeking out of. The therapists of our 30s start retiring and we get new ones that are younger than us and don’t understand why we keep wanting to talk about chin hair.

By the forties, our kids’ problems are bigger than band-aids and we’ve already been to all the fancy restaurants.

And then there’s the thing that happens at the end of the forties.

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Fifty looms ahead, dark and heavy and shapeless—like that thing from Neverending Story that freaked us out of our high tops in the 80s.

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(Perhaps all Atreyu had been running from was a premature midlife crisis?)

Fifty is a number that makes you look back and evaluate whether you accomplished everything your teachers said you had potential for. The number fifty is coming, and it wants to see your work.

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The OCD Workbook 2.0 I’m reading says to live in the present. Anxiety and worry only apply to the future. It’s when we think about things that could happen that we feel anxious. The solution is easy: Stop thinking about the future.

(I’ll wait for the laughter to die down.)

For those of us who are always balancing on our tippy-toes, trying to see a little farther, it’s impossible not to think about the future. But maybe we could look ahead a little less often. Maybe, optimistically, a lot less?

So when I was cooking dinner the other night I took a moment to enjoy the rhythm of the chopping, the sizzle of the butter, the smell of chicken browning in the pan. I soaked up the feeling of my boys gathered at the dinner table, complaining good-naturedly because Kevin put the soccer channel on in Spanish again. I lived in the moment and mmmm. It was better even than the smell of chicken Parm.

I did it! I thought. I’m doing it!

Then I accidentally peeked ahead to the future where it’s just me and Kevin at the table for dinner, alone night after night after night. The future where this kind of cooking and gathering and teasing only happens on holidays.

Oh great, here we go again, I thought.

But we didn’t! We didn’t go again, because my thoughts took a different turn. Instead of being saddened that the good times will end some day, I was happied* by the thought that I get to have a holiday every day for a very long time. Boom, I was back in the moment, where the boys were now seeing who could eat the most pistachios in a minute and Kevin was asking, “Donde esta la biblioteca?”

Maybe if I can’t stop looking to the future, I can at get better at bringing myself back to the now. Or I can hang onto the happy thoughts about the future and toss the sad ones away instead of latching onto them like it will save me sadness in the future if I go through it all now.

Wait, where am I? What was this post supposed about? What was my point? (This is what happens when I don’t think about the future.)

Oh right!

So the 40s are awkward.

So 50 is coming.

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So what.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Italian wedding soup
Hard dough bread
Lemon garlic beans
Chocolate cake a la mode

*If saddened gets to be a verb, then happied should be one too.

King Sticky Fingers

Vincenzo has been teaching himself to make popping boba lately, which, he insists, has nothing to do with the sticky refrigerator handle or the sticky stuff all over the cabinet fronts, or the floor that makes a sliiick, sliiick, sliiick sound when we walk on it. It certainly has nothing to do with my good dish towels being smudged with mango-colored fingerprints. They’re so sugar-stiff they stand up on their own when you set them on the counter. Vincenzo is like King Midas, only instead of turning everything into gold, he turns everything sticky.

The other night I spent 45 minutes trying to help him mix xanthan gum into water to thicken it. It kept clumping. I went to the Internet for help, but no matter what we tried (making a slurry, using the blender, pushing it through a sieve, heating the water, adding less, adding more), nothing worked. Then Kevin walked in, looked at the same website I had open, and said to use an immersion blender. It worked.

“Thanks, Dad!” Vincenzo said.

I balked. “I just spent 45 minutes helping. Dad only helped for like 20 seconds. I even opened the webpage he used! And he gets all the thanks?!”

“Oh. Thanks, Mom,” Vincenzo said.

I sniffed.

Then I told him about the time I brought Kevin to dinner at my parents’ shortly after we started dating. I made a blackberry reduction sauce to go with dessert and Kevin helped stir it a teensy tiny bit.  When it was dessert time, Kevin set the sauce on the table with a flourish and announced, “Here’s a blackberry reduction sauce. I made it myself.”

I looked at him, eyes popping. “What? I picked the blackberries! I found the recipe! I measured the ingredients and boiled it down! I only asked you to stir it for ten seconds!” But he continued to take credit for it and bask in the compliments my family was thickly laying on him.

“Watch out,” I said. “Keep this up and I’ll dump you and you’ll never see my family again.”

Then my Dad said, “No; if you dump him, we’ll never see you again.”

It has been a very long 18 years of marriage.

I told this all to Vincenzo, who was by then demonstrating how he thoroughly cleans up his boba messes by wiping the counters with a clean dish towel. I have been trying to break him of this habit for several months. He thinks I’m acting crazy.

“That’s what dish towels are there for!” he asserted.

I explained for the hundredth time that Dobies are for cleaning messes; dish towels for drying clean hands and dishes.

“Okay,” Vincenzo said, but it sounded more like, “Whatever.” He would have given Kevin a “she’s crazy, but we love her anyway” look, except Kevin had disappeared after his heroic 20 second appearance.

“I will now find a NON DISH TOWEL to clean the counters with,” he announced, looking around like maybe there was an TV audience laughing at his mom’s unreasonableness.

“Exactly!” I said. When he went for the Dobie, I sneak-stirred his boba mixture a couple times so I could take credit for the popping boba when it’s finished.

After three days, 27 messes, and lots of nagging about the Tupperwares of yellowish goo in the fridge, I present to you, with a grand flourish…

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Oh never mind.

I’m going to go wash some dish towels.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Biscuits & gravy
Omelettes
Edamame
Brownies

Leo @ 10

Leo’s blog post, age 10, is going to be mostly in pictures: the goofy faces and the random places I find him around the house, doing things not because they’re funny but because they feel normal to him. Like how I found him playing pinball yesterday.

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And how I found him so often in the summer, when he went through his Fitted Sheet Stage.

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Then, there are the intentionally funny moments.

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At least, I think they’re intentional. It’s been so long since I’ve seen a natural smile that maybe this is his natural smile.

It’s not like this is a new thing. The goofiness runs deep with this one.

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Man, I love this kid!

Leo is the most emotional of my kids. Fortunately his main emotion is happy. I’d say he’s about 70% happy, 20% irritated, and 10% raging mad. The happiness usually comes from punching and kicking things; the irritated bit comes from Rocco; and the raging mad part is usually at me, for helping him with homework.

In fact, he hates advice and constructive criticism of any kind. We hired a soccer coach for Leo during the off season, and the guy made the mistake of actually trying to teach him actual things. Leo kept breaking down. We went back to the drawing board and tried to find a coach who would chase him around the field with his shirt over his head, Beavis and Butthead style but couldn’t find one, so we just had to cancel.

Leo claims he doesn’t like reading, as this picture neither confirms nor denies.

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He’s still in speech therapy (8 years and counting!), and one of his speech issues is that his ideas sometimes come out in a mixed-up order or missing pieces—like when you get a piece of Swiss cheese that’s more holes than cheese. I wish he’d accept my offers of help, but I might as well offer my hand to a hungry wolf.

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(Those teeth are sharper than they look.)

He still has the soft, round cheeks of Baby Leo—the one who snuggled with me morning, noon, and night—only he has cut me off from all hugs, kisses, and physical affection. For me, it’s like living in a kitchen smelling of freshly baked brownies, but never getting to eat a brownie.

Leo does, however, love when I casually walk past and punch him in the stomach or kick him in the shins, so that’s what I do instead. As Leo would say, “Don’t question it.”

Don’t question this either.

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Or this.

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Even though he’s all grown up now, I did catch him twirling his hair like he used to when he was a baby, listening to me read stories.

I couldn’t find pictures of his knotted hair from yore, but I did stumble upon this one that has the same heart-melting effect.

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Oh look! I finally found a picture where he’s smiling nicely and not trying to be funny! He’s holding up his fingers to show his age.

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And there you have it: even when he’s not trying to be goofy, he’s goofy.

I know more than to tell him he’s wrong, though. Let’s just try something easier.

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My baby is a whole set of antlers old.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Florentine frittata
Pasta
Roasted vegetables

Leo’s Golden, Double Digit Birthday

February 10th was Leo’s golden birthday, which I made the mistake of telling him is a thing that exists. Plus, he reminded me, he’d be turning double digits. This is going to be huge!  He began talking about having a live band for his party, and a circus, and sending personal limousines to pick up his friends. They guests be given real gold chains to wear! They’ll take home diamonds for their party gifts! And keep the limousines!

I  managed to talk him down a bit. This is what he woke up to:

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A golden llama pinata stuffed with gold candy is almost as wild as the other plans, right?

He also got a very special treat. Something the boys never get to have. Something that only comes once in a lifetime for them.

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A store-bought cake! He went for froyo: birthday cake and Oreo flavors, with marshmallow and caramel filling. It tasted…confusing.

Then for his party, he wanted to do Minecraft. Yes! I’ve done Minecraft parties and Minecraft play dates before! I can throw a Minecraft party in my sleep! The only thing I really had to put any effort into was the cake. He wanted one made out of Rice Krispies and brownies, like the one I made before. I told him I hadn’t made one before. I just put out cut-up brownies and Rice Krispies. I showed him a picture for proof:

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He kept insisting I had made a full-on cake, but whatever. I went to the Internet for ideas, and I stumbled across this picture on a blog:

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Wait—what? That’s my blog!

Sheesh, guys. I’m getting old.

But my cake skills are getting better! (Leo placed the figurines. It took every ounce of self-control to stop myself from turning the pig around.)

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The rest of the party took care of itself. Square food on square plates, shooting creepers in the yard, playing Minecraft, you’ve seen it all before.

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Planning two birthdays for one kid was exhausting (and expensive!). I thank my lucky stars that Rocco won’t have a golden birthday until he’s 24 and Vincenzo when he’s 29. I am hoping they have other people in their lives to make their birthdays special by then. I am very much looking forward to the limousine ride.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Tacos!

Encyclopedia of My Life

Today I’m going to cheat and steal some words instead of writing a fresh blog post. But, as the words I’m stealing are my own, you don’t need to call the Plagiarism Police just yet.

A few years ago I first read Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life written by my spirit animal, Amy Krouse Rosenthal. It’s an encyclopedia of everyday words, plus her attempt to define and/or comment on them using her life as fodder. I started one of my own, which is now 54 pages long now (single spaced!) and which can never get published because someone else did it first.

Anyway, here are a couple entries:

MONDEGREEN:

A mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase in a way that gives it new meaning (Wikepedia definition 2.7.22)

The expression “When it rains, it pours” is a mondegreen. It was not coined to mean that when something bad happens, it really happens. The saying is actually a slogan created by Morton Salt in the early 1900s because their salt would pour even in rainy or humid weather. The slogan was invented alongside the Morton Salt Girl, who is holding an umbrella in the rain on Morton Salt containers.

ENGLISH CUCUMBERS

There is no way to remove the wrapper from an English cucumber without it feeling incredibly inappropriate. It is best, when hosting a party, to remove the plastic on an English cucumber before guests have arrived.

ANTI-CLIMACTIC

When my oldest son was 15, he accidentally put dish soap in the dishwasher instead of dish detergent. We knew because the dishwasher started making a slightly bumpy noise and about a quart of vaguely bubbly water seeped out. It was the most anti-climactic moment of my life.

BOOK MOMS

Whenever I read a middle grade book (or any book) that has a mom in it, I always imagine the mom to be ten years older than me. I imagined it when I was in my 20s and when I was in my 30s, and in my 40s. I suppose when I’m in my 70s, I’ll still imagine the book moms to be 10 years older than me.

SUMMER

Summer is a crisp white blouse you put on at the beginning of the day, feeling fresh, ready to conquer the world, but after a while it loses its corners, wrinkles at the places you bend the most, sticks to your back, and all you can think about is taking it off and slipping into a soft cotton shirt and sweat pants, and that is where fall comes in.

LARGE NUMBERS

When I’m learning facts about things that deal with large numbers, like the age of Grand Canyon or how long humans have been in existence or the distance to the moon (1,000 miles? 10,000 miles?), they lose meaning to me. I can never remember if the Grand Canyon is 6 million or 6 billion years old. I’m sure the national debt is way past the trillions, but I don’t know what comes after trillion. I can’t remember if humans have been around for 1 million years, or 1 billion years, or something completely different.

I looked them up. At the time of writing this, the Grand Canyon is 1.84 million years old, humans have been around between 5 and 7 million years, the moon is 238,900 miles away, and the national debt is about $29,880.991,000. Still in the trillions.

I have proven my point. I am quite embarrassed. And I already forgot how old the Grand Canyon is.

(It makes me feel better that Vincenzo’s guess about the moon was 290,000,000. When I told him the real answer, he said I hadn’t specified which moon. When I asked Kevin how far away the moon is, he said, “Half as much as I love you.”)

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Leftovers:
(It’s first-come, first-served, so show up early!)
Twice baked potatoes
Chicken pot pie
Chicken quesadillas
Roasted broccoli
Candy cane ice cream

College letters

Ever since Vincenzo started his sophomore year, our mailbox has been bombarded letters with such ferocity, you’d think Hogwarts was trying to get ahold of him. We open each in hopes of finding the “unsubscribe” button at the bottom. So far no luck, but in the search, we did find a nonconventional letter, sent by Kenyon University.

Front:

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Back:

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Transcription of back:

Ten feet wide, nearly a mile long, Middle Path runs the length of Kenyon, bisecting but never dividing. A central line that takes you where you’re going, invites you to cross over, to bump into one another, to pause and reflect. It’s our main drag, our beating heart, connecting us to this place and to each other.

Not to brag, but my college had paved paths. And to save you some trouble, it’s not in Kenya. It’s in Ohio.

The poster was the only thing in the envelope. Not a word of academics, no student testimonies, no glossy pictures of campus life, not even a mention of ROTC.

I looked it up. It’s actually quite a nice path.

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I think we’ll hang the letter, if you can call it that, in Vincenzo’s room, as a kind of warning: get good grades or you will be choosing colleges based on the materials of their paths.

Oh woah woah woah, guys.  Slow down! There’s controversy! There have been paving rumors! Not everyone is able to equally access Middle Path. Looks like Middle Path does “divide” after all. Proponents of the path say it should remain gravel, for tradition’s sake. Opponents say this is the same argument people use in favor of hazing. My question for Kenyon students is this: When the path invites you to “cross over,” which side will you stand on? Who will you accidentally “bump into” on the way?

Wait, where am I? What is it I started out writing about? I have strayed from the straight line the path was meant to keep me on! Let’s zoom out to look at this clearly:

There exists in this country (not in Kenya) a college that wants us to give them tens of thousands of dollars plus four years of our son’s life, and their most compelling reason to do so—no, their only reason to do so—is that they have a gravel path.

It’s crazy.

But what’s even crazier is that their campaign is working. Kenyon is the only college from the big stack of junk mail whose website I have visited. It’s the only one I’ve blogged about. It’s likely the only one you’ve read about lately.

I am normally a person who does not like to be manipulated, but honestly I am too awed by the strategy to be upset. The central line has, indeed, taken me where I’m going. Or at least to where I’ve been.

If only it could tell me where I am now.

Is “confused” a place?

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Beef enchiladas
Brown rice
Pinto beans

Random Stuff

I don’t have anything thematic to blog about, so I’ll just give you a couple glimpses of our past weeks.

In the only moment of spontaneity I’ve had in my entire life, I went to Bainbridge Island yesterday with my dear friend. Here’s the view from the ferry when we left…

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And the same view when we returned.

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It was so dreamy, I am planning to be spontaneous again. I think I have time on the 22nd.

In other news, we were tired of Leo rolling around on the carpet saying, “I’m bored,” and asking what he can do, then rejecting all our suggestions and storming off to his room, mad at us. He doesn’t have any hobbies outside of eating candy and playing video games, but he does love punching/kicking Kevin, so we did the natural thing.

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Now there are 90 fewer minutes in the week when Leo rolls around on the carpet saying he’s bored.

The taekwondo lessons pair nicely with that thing we finally figured out to get him for Christmas.

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Now all I want for Christmas is a basement that doesn’t look like a Crossfit gym.

Relatedly, after Christmas I made my yearly attempt to the get rid of an amount of stuff equal to the amount of stuff we brought in. Among the stuff: my wedding bouquet. I’m not sure what I was saving it for. Maybe in hopes one of my kids would use it for “something borrowed” in their wedding? Or perhaps I had the foresight to know I’d start a blog and need a random photo for a post during a week not much was going on. Get out the Kleenex…

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Oh! Here’s something actually deserving of a post! Kevin decided he was tired of all the maple trees free-loading in our backyard and decided it was time to pay rent, so he and my sister tapped them.

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One year later and a lot of making fun of him…

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The syrup is in the small glass cup at the top of the photo. All four tablespoons of it. We’re calling it “brown gold” and now we no longer laugh when Kevin heads outside, saying he’s going to “work the land.”

And finally, here is tonight’s dessert:

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Do you guys remember this? Walnut crust, a cream cheese layer, pudding, and Cool Whip? I was craving it and know I’ve had it, though no one I know has ever made it. You’ve had it too, right? But you don’t recall when or where, right?

Make it. It is even better than you remember.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Mac ‘n cheese
Grilled salmon
Salad
Four-layer chocolate dessert

The Blues get Whited Out

The post-Christmas blues got postponed this year because the day after Christmas, it snowed!!! Snow is best summed up in pictures, so here they are.

A good idea:

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A bad idea:

A big snowball:

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A bigger snowball:

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Something that went according to plan!

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Something that didn’t:

A few more pictures from a very happy week:

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Smoked brisket
Coleslaw
Mashed potatoes
Onion rings
Peppermint snowball cookies

Christmas Takes a Turn

For my family’s white elephant gift exchange this year, I was confident we’d have the best gift there.

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Whatever could it be? A pony? A donkey? A unicorn?

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No! It was a giant pinwheel!

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But one thing it wasn’t was the best white elephant gift of the year. My SIL won that contest, and as I’m the one who ended up with the nightmare of a gift, I’m the one who most definitely lost.

So, with no further ado, let me introduce you to Smokey Sue.

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Smokey Sue hails from the public school where my SIL teaches. In times of yore, it was used in classrooms to teach kids not to smoke when pregnant. “Smokey Sue smokes for two!”

As horrified as I was to unwrap her, I feel she needs a bit more unwrapping.

Here is her thinning yarn hair.

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Her is her grayish mouth hole for putting a cigarette in.

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Here is the pump that makes her smoke.

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Here’s what happens when you light her up.

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Here is the dead wrinkled fetus.

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And here is one you can buy $194 on Etsy.

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Any questions?

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Beef stroganov
Garlic broccoli
One bazillion Christmas cookies

Scrappy Do

Finished another scrapbook! I put these pictures here because my scrapbooks are kind of like the Arc of the Covenant in Indiana Jones, neatly labeled and stored in the bowels of Hangar 51. If not for this blog post, they might never be seen again. Here are a few of my faves:

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If anyone wants to see the full set, knock yourselves out.

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Omelet-wrapped quesadillas
Roasted cauliflower
Hard dough bread (which is actually super soft!)
Jamaican black cake