When SoCal Gives You Lemons (#366)

If you have a square foot of land in Southern California, you probably have citrus tree. If you don’t, you might have one in a pot. If you don’t have one in a pot, all your friends with lemon trees are currently offering you free lemons (the oranges aren’t quite ripe yet).

Tis the season in SoCal.

Our lemon tree is loaded this year. Andy has made lemon pancakes and crepes with lemon curd multiple times in the last month.

Andy’s crepes with lemon curd

When Baby D had dental work done, Andy made him a lemon posset. (I thought possets died out in Victorian times, but apparently there’s a resurgence.)

When a friend asked me to bring a dessert for a New Year’s party, I figured I’d better use up some lemons. But what to make?

Then I remembered Lawyer Sis raving about her daughter’s addictive lemon cookies. Kickass Niece (who kicks ass in school, social justice, taekwondo, soccer, and baking) was apparently forbidden from making those cookies too often when the rest of the household stopped fitting into their clothes.

I hit Kickass Niece up for the recipe. She told me it was basically any sugar cookie recipe modified with extra sugar and two lemons. (My version of this recipe is at the end of this post.) I got to work.

The cookies came out super lemony (I suspect East Coast lemons are puny compared to ours).

Andy and Baby D tested them for me. They both shrugged.

Andy: “They’re good.”

Baby D: “They’re okay.”

I asked, “Where do they rank compared to my other cookies?”

Baby D said, “My cookies are the best, then chocolate chip, then maple rugelach, then chocolate cookies with white chips, then the cream cheese sugar cookies, then the candy cane and chocolate meringues, then these.”

Andy said, “The chocolate cookies are first, then D’s cookies, then chocolate chip, sugar cookies, then maple rugelach, then these.”

“So they’re last?!”

Baby D shook his head and said, “No, the oatmeal cookies with cranberries or raisins are last. Or the Berger cookies.”

Andy said, “No, the candy cane and chocolate meringues are last. DEAD LAST.” (Andy thinks chocolate and mint together are the devil.)

I sighed and wondered if I should have made different cookies—until I realized that Baby D was stealing the just “okay” lemon cookies off the cooling rack every chance he got. Cookie casualties reached the double digits before I started squirting him with the cat’s water bottle.

The lemon cookies didn’t look very impressive (even though I picked the prettiest ones for the party platter). But only a handful remained at the end of the evening. As we were leaving, I offered the remainder to the mom of one of Baby D’s classmates.

The mom said, “Actually, I think I will. Olivia’s got a cold and these might cheer her up.”

Her friend piped up with, “Oh, and I’ll take some for Janet.”

Olivia’s mom eyed her friend skeptically and said, “Janet?”

“You know, my imaginary friend who will get just as many cookies as your daughter.”

Olivia’s mom gasped in outrage and said, “I really am taking these for Olivia!”

“Suuuuuure,” said the friend.

We laughed and made our exit with an empty platter—which outraged Baby D, especially when he learned that we’d sent the last of the cookies home to Olivia.

He may even have sent Olivia an angry text about her eating the last of “his” cookies.

To which she responded: “What cookies?”

Olivia’s mom is so busted.

Lemony SoCal Sugar Cookies

Since folks on Instagram asked for the recipe:

Lemony SoCal Sugar Cookies (aka Kickass Niece’s Cookies)

  • 2½ cups (318 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt (I used kosher salt ground finer with mortar and pestle)
  • 2 sticks (226 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar, plus ½ cup (100 grams) for rolling
  • Zest and juice of 2 large lemons (maybe 3 if you are using puny East Coast lemons)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium-high speed to beat the butter and 2 cups sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon zest and juice and beat an additional minute. Add egg, egg yolk, and vanilla, and beat until combined. Gradually beat in the flour mixture.

Pour the remaining 1/2 cup sugar into a shallow pan or bowl. Using a small (1 tbsp) spring loaded ice-cream scoop, scoop out individual pieces of dough, drop them into the sugar, and roll them around until they are coated with sugar and roughly ball shaped. Place the dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, spacing at least 2 inches apart—these cookies will spread and flatten considerably as they bake.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the edges brown. (If you like softer, chewy cookies, cook less. Spouse prefers more caramelized and wanted them even browner on the edges.) Cool for cookies for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days, assuming you don’t have a ravenous child who eats them all off the rack.

Man Without a Plan (#363)

My husband is good at living in the moment.

Planning? Not really his forte. Maybe this is because he lacks an internal monologue.

Sometimes I think it must be very restful in his head. He falls asleep much faster than I do. He plays on his phone in the morning and drinks coffee.

Meanwhile, I’m at my desk, writing out the day’s “To-Do” list amidst constant mental chatter:

If I can get through emails in ten minutes then the dog and I should start our walk where I can call Lawyer Sis and ask how to handle the insurance adjuster from hell and we will be back in time for me to do yoga so my back doesn’t go out again while doing laser pointer with the cat so I can wear cat out before locking cat up when the water mitigation guys arrive which will hopefully mean no more ripped curtains in the bedroom and I’ll make the kid breakfast in a to-go container because we will have no sink to do dishes and damn it, Andy still hasn’t talked to his family about Thanksgiving which I asked him about weeks ago maybe I should text his cousins myself—

As you can tell from the above monologue, it’s mostly sometimes irritating for a planner to live with a non-planner.

Andy drives the same way to the same destination every time he goes. He listens to podcasts.

I drive in silence, lest the noise interfere with the shifting efficiency flowchart in my head: If the light is red at Sepulveda, make a right and take it all the way to Maple before turning, but if it’s green, turn at Carson, unless that light is also green in which case turn at Torrance Blvd…

Andy does do a vague mental outline on projects that are important to him, like stealth building his garage gym. Or stealth landscaping half of the backyard into a vegetable garden. But the execution invariably reveals the limitations of said outline—as evinced by either a week-long trickle of supplemental Amazon boxes and/ or multiple trips to Home Depot.

Seems like, I dunno, creating a detailed list in advance might make the process more efficient?

Yet Andy doesn’t seem to mind. He sees multiple trips to Home Depot as part of the process.

I see wasted time.

The efficiency taskmaster in my head undoubtedly honed her skills when I worked as an executive assistant in Hollywood. She went into overdrive when I became a mom. Baby D hardly napped and had a ton of energy. Every day was a campaign to get household tasks done, pets cared for, a shower, and carve out scraps of personal time—all while teaching/parenting/feeding/playing with a tiny, irrational tyrant. If I got a half-hour to read or completed a workout, it was a victory.

Once Baby D went to school, I gained enough time to write again…only to lose chunks of it as Dalton’s soccer coach, school volunteer, etc. I had an agent—a white man, of course—who moaned about how long it was taking me to write the second book in a series and then asked, “What do you do all day?!”

Pretty sure I spent that day plotting his murder.

Anyway, while it’s sometimes frustrating to be a planner in the passenger seat, it’s probably not much fun to be the driver when your wife constantly offers alternate routes on long drives back from soccer games.

Or at least that’s what I figured when Andy told me to take the wheel one weekend. After checking both Google and Apple and getting us on the fastest route home, I asked, “Was I making too many suggestions?”

“You don’t make suggestions. You give orders,” Andy answered absently, scrolling through his phone. “Nah, I just wanted to check on my pension.”

Since I ‘d finally gotten into the carpool lane and we were cruising along at 70 mph, I did not slam on the brake and scream, “You have a pension?! Since WHEN?!”

I merely said, “So. You have a pension.”

Dalton called out from the backseat, “What’s a pension? Why is mom yelling?”

“It’s getting a regular paycheck after you retire,” I called back. “Usually only available to teachers, cops, and other government workers. Which your father isn’t. Which is why I never thought to ask him if he had one.”

Andy, in an Oscar-worthy performance, said, “I’m sure I told you I had a pension.”

“No, honey. You did not. How on earth do you have a pension?!”

“I got hired just before the current company merged with the old company,” Andy explained. “The current company doesn’t offer pensions, but the old company did. It was one of the reasons I took the job—a pension after 30 years. The new company had to promise to honor the old pension plan before the merger could go through.”

“So…you have a pension. All this time, and I never knew.”

I bit back all the comments I could have made about how much I’d stressed, for more than a decade, about not contributing to my 401k anymore, or how we would manage retirement.

Because, all along, the man actually had a plan.

Or at least an outline.

East vs West: Camping Edition (#359)

Our only child was an extrovert. An extrovert with FOMO (fear of missing out). If his friends were doing an activity, Dalton had to do it. T-ball turned into Pony League. AYSO turned into club soccer. Going to the YMCA alerted Dalton to possibilities such as Jr. Lakers basketball, gymnastic class, kid yoga, and porpoise club. Porpoise club gave way to Junior Lifeguards.

There was also Cub Scouts. Dalton was all over that: “You build a miniature car! There’s races! And there’s a camping! And you get to spend the night on a Navy ship! Mom, please we have to join!”

“Sure thing, buddy,” I agreed. Visions of a night alone in the house danced in my chronically sleep deprived brain. “Seems like an excellent program with lots of father-son time!”

“Wait, what?” asked my husband, who hadn’t been paying attention.

“Yay!” yelled Dalton. “Camping!”

“Camping with Dad,” I corrected. “Poor mother will have to stay home with the pets.”

Andy reluctantly got a tent and sleeping bags. He also got air mattresses. I pulled out some old camping plates, tin cups, utensils, and a battery-operated light/ radio. Andy eyed my stash and said accusingly, “You’ve been camping before.”

“Haven’t you?”

Andy laughed and said, “No one goes camping when you grow up in Hawaii. It’s like road trips.”

“I saw campgrounds when we were in Hawaii.”

“Those are for tourists.”

“I bet other people in Hawaii went camping.”

“White people, probably. Everyone else is like, ‘I spent so much on this house, and you want me to sleep in a tent?!”

“Whereas my mom dragged us all out camping when Baby Brother was three months old.”

“Didn’t Baby Brother spend his first month in the NICU?!”

“Yep. I watched him while everyone else was setting up tents and swearing. But the wildlife programs at the ranger station were pretty cool. All about owls and how to avoid being attacked by the raccoons who got trapped in trashcans—”

“Attacked by raccoons? That’s a real camping thing?!”

“It is when they’ve been stuck in a trashcan for hours. And then in my twenties I did a kayaking trip in the San Juan Islands where we camped out every night.”

“Since you’re the one with all the experience, maybe you should—”

“Oh hell no.”

On their inaugural Cub Scout camping trip, Andy forgot the sleeping bags. He texted hopefully from the mountains: I guess we will have to come home.

I utilized the Mom Network and caught a mom before she left. She brought two extra sleeping bags.

Try to imagine Andy’s excitement.

Dalton had a fantastic time, relishing the abundance of activities and playmates.

Andy hated it. He complained about the food, the showers, the dust, the ill-behaved children, the crappy parents who ignored their ill-behaved children, and the hard ground (even with the air mattress).

They were home by 7 AM on Sunday morning. After a two-hour drive.

On all subsequent Cub Scout trips, they were also home by 7 AM. Andy would immediately go sleep in his own bed for 5 hours.

Camping Torture only lasted about 3 years. Once Dalton got serious about soccer, practices, weekend games, and tournaments conflicted with Cub Scouts. And as Andy was quick to point out, “We’re paying too much money for club soccer to miss a single game!”

That man sold the tent and air mattresses as fast as he could.

Several years later, Dalton asked, “Hey, Dad, why don’t we go camping again?”

Andy shot Dalton a reproving look and answered:

“Son. We are HOTEL people.”

Shoutout to Mark My Words for his inspirational post about indefinitely postponing camping.

Guns, and Ships (#357)

I was never going to let my kid play with guns.

I hate guns. Guns make it far too easy to kill people (exhibit A: America). Yes, murder would exist without guns, but pointing and pulling a trigger is simple. Hacking someone to death with a weapon? At least a would-be killer has to work for it. And the time it takes allows potential victims the chance to fight back or escape.

My childhood playmate had no chance against a rifle. She was ten when she was murdered.

I let Baby D play with cars, trains, Legos, and stuffed animals. His screentime consisted of shows like “Thomas the Tank Engine” or “Bob the Builder” or documentaries about firefighters.

He still came home from preschool and promptly turned his Lego cars into Lego guns. He stopped using our dog Woofie’s tail as a fire hose and aimed it while making machine gun noises. When I put a stop to that, Baby D said, “Mommy, can we walk the dogs now?”

“Sure.”

“Yay! I can find some sticks and use them as guns.”

I took my worries about raising a warmonger to a therapist. She explained that most boys have a receptor site in their brain for weaponry (or something like that). Other studies show that “gun play” is important for childhood development and there is no correlation between kids playing with toy guns and criminal behavior.

Despite all the studies, parenting is the newest, least exact of all the social sciences. Parents must choose: ban weapons and risk making them even more desirable forbidden fruit or allow toy guns and risk them becoming a gateway drug to actual weaponry.

Baby D is as stubborn and contrary as children come. I opted for Nerf.

Once the ban was lifted, Baby D went wild in the toy aisle of Target with the piles of Lucky Money showered upon the Number One Son of the Number One Son. Occasionally Baby D opted for other weaponry, such as the Nerf mace (now discontinued because Nerf miscalculated and that sucker can actually do serious damage). For the most part, Baby D chose the latest firearm: zombie shotgun, six-shooter, and even the machine gun (of course there’s a Nerf machine gun). His weapons basket grew into a garage armory. The older kids on the block assigned him the role of sheriff or security when they played town, since he always had a gun. Various visiting aunts, uncles, and cousins engaged in Nerf gun shootouts for days.

I’d like to say Baby D eventually got bored with guns. Instead, he requested a bootcamp themed birthday party in first grade. Then a laser tag party with inflatable tanks all over our yard in fourth grade. He proceeded to use everything he learned from reading The Hunger Games to form short-term alliances, shoot his friends in the back, and win the “Last Man Standing” round. I didn’t know whether to be proud or horrified.

Sometimes, when no other playmate was available, I would take up Nerf arms and play with Baby D. But I think he always knew I’d rather play a board game, or pit a plushie dog/bear army against his plushie cat army.

One day, Baby D grinned mischievously and said, “Hahahaha, Mommy, you’ll be so sad if your little boy grows up to be a soldier.”

I instantly countered with, “Oh, no, Dalton. Our family goes into the NAVY.”

“We do?”

“Absolutely. Your great-grandfather served on a warship at the Battle of Midway in World War II. Your grandfather was a Navy helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War. And my big brother went to the Naval Academy before serving on submarines.”

Dalton thought about this for a few seconds and then said, “But why?”

The real answer was probably because being on a ship is safer than being Army cannon fodder.

But parenting is a long game and mothers are crafty. I leaned down and whispered:

“Bigger guns.”

A Sporting Chance (#354)

The first year I coached my son’s recreational soccer team we lost almost every game.

Undoubtedly due to the shitty coach who had never played soccer.

The second year I coached AYSO, I had all the boys from Dalton’s elementary school. They were smart, Dalton was fast, and there was no offsides rule. The boys quickly learned to send it out to Dalton on the run—he would get to it first, they would sprint for the goal, and he’d pass it back to them for a score. They won most games. We were only crushed by two teams, both stacked with good players—players with dads who had started them young and/ or also had them playing on “club teams.” Club teams are known as “travel ball” teams outside of California, where apparently you have to travel a long way to play other good teams. In a huge city like Los Angeles, with millions of Latino kids (who got soccer balls before they could walk) and Japanese American kids (who got soccer balls as soon as they could walk), no teams had to travel far for good competition.

Club teams played all year.  They had licensed, professional coaches. They were also thousands of dollars annually. AYSO was $165.00.

Dalton at British Soccer Camp

Every summer break, winter break, and Spring Break, I put Dalton in whatever soccer camps were available: AYSO, British, or local club camps. He had a blast and I got a break. Even those camps were a fraction of the cost of club soccer. That was as close as Dalton got to a club team.

Until our worst AYSO season. Once the kids hit U8, AYSO coaches rank their players at the end of each season. The age group coordinators are supposed to use those rankings to make sure the teams are fair. In Dalton’s age group, the coordinator claimed the previous year’s rankings had “disappeared.” She stacked her son’s team with good players, including the great player with the dad who had played soccer in college and now coached. I had three players who had never played soccer before. All Dalton’s prior teammates wound up on other teams.

We were the Panthers, and we were pathetic. In our first game, we were slaughtered 9:0. In our second game, the Crushing Red Typhoon crushed us 11:2, with repeated goal-scoring breakaways from a club player named Jacob. Our one bright spot—aside from snacks bags with brownies—was Dalton chasing Jacob down. Face red and furious, Dalton came diagonally from one goal all the way to the other to deny Jacob a last point.

Then I had to bribe Dalton, who hated injustice even more than losing, with ice-cream to get him to go through the post-game handshake.

But with every practice, and with every game, the Panthers improved. (Probably because getting worse wasn’t possible.) I kept the practices as fun as I could, using games like “Target the Coach” to improve passing or “Simon Says” to work on ball handling. Every week I handed out a little black panther statuette to one player for doing something great…or just following directions. When we managed to tie the Agent Orange team, we celebrated like it was a win.

By the time we played the age group coordinator’s stacked team, we only lost 5:0. At that point, I was almost as angry as Dalton over the disparity in the skill levels among teams. After the handshake line, I told Andy, “Don’t let Edwin get two snacks and don’t let Dalton see the other team celebrating. I’m going to go give the coordinator a piece of my mind.”

“Do you think that will help?”

“Of course not. But it’s the only consequence I can give.”

“Okay. Same deal as Dalton. You get an ice-cream if you don’t hit.”

I did not hit her. I told her I’d watched her stack her son’s team for years, against the AYSO mandate for fair teams in order to build a love for the sport. I told her it discouraged players and that all the kids deserved better. I told her she sucked as a coordinator, a parent, and a human. I refused to accept a single weak excuse and then I left.

For the Panthers’ last game, we again faced the Crushing Red Typhoon. And do you know what?

WE WON. Despite the amazing Jacob (who eventually moved on to the LAFC Academy team). Despite our inexperience. And despite our Goal Keeper getting knocked over and falling into dog poop. When the last whistle blew, it was Panthers: 3, Crushing Red Typhoon: 2.

The jubilation of Panther parents, Panther players, and, yes, the Panther coach rivaled that of any World Cup Champions. (Nobody hoisted our keeper on their shoulders, though.)

During the next Christmas break soccer camp, a coach from a local club team asked Dalton to try out for his team.

Eyes shining, Dalton asked, “Can I do it, Mom? They play ALL YEAR. And it’s a REAL coach, not a parent.”

Andy said, “Ouch.”

I laughed and said, “Sure. You need an actual soccer coach. And I’m gonna retire while I’m still on top.”

“On top? We didn’t win AYSO,” Dalton scoffed.

“Oh, I think we did, buddy. I think we did.”

And I always will.

The Fire Is Out (#350)

Once upon a time, I was good at dating. Like, fire emoji good. If I didn’t have a serious boyfriend, I was usually dating several different guys (and very open about that fact, don’t be thinking I was a serial cheater or something). I was always on the lookout for potentially new, more interesting boyfriends. Every place I went, I automatically assessed the men:

Like every other woman in the world, I sometimes ignored my own assessments and made some Very Bad Choices. I also dated some very nice men where our timing, our religion, or our goals just didn’t work out. By the time I met my future husband Andy, I had accrued quite a few gifts from those exes. Plus a bunch from the messed up ones, too.

Once Andy and I were dating, those gifts not-so-mysteriously disappeared (i.e., Andy broke them or threw them away). The only survivors were jewelry I hurriedly gave to my younger sisters.

After we got married and Andy heaved my box marked “Romantic Correspondence” into a dumpster, he declared victory. (What? Doesn’t every writer keep a box like that? It is was potential material!)

Andy hasn’t been jealous or competitive with other men since. Not that he had reason to be. Other men? An affair? When the fuck would I even have the time, let alone the interest?

Baby D and his army of plushies. Wars staged daily.

 I was (and still am) too busy with our pets, raising our tornado of a child WHO NEVER NAPPED, running our household, volunteering at school/ soccer, and trying to squeeze in writing to even think about men. Except in a smash the patriarchy kind of way.

I figured other moms felt the same. Until the fire department arrived.

Every year, a nearby fire department goes around our neighborhood, stopping at each hydrant to test new recruits on connecting hoses to the hydrant. Every year, the fire truck collects a mesmerized audience of toddlers, preschoolers, and their caretakers. The first year, I followed fire department aficionado Baby D in his little cozy coupe car, grateful I didn’t need to entertain him with stuffed animal wars or Nerf weapons for a whole 15 minutes. (All I had to do was listen as Baby D lectured me on the differences between the pumper truck, the aerial ladder truck, and the urban search and rescue truck.)

When the fire pumper truck finally drove away, one of the moms said, “Some of those firefighters were pretty cute, huh?”

I looked at her blankly and said, “What?” because I literally could not comprehend what she said.

She winked, laughed, and said, “Yeah, right” before spotting her kid scootering into the street. “Wyatt! Back on the sidewalk!”

I don’t know if those firefighters were all male, let alone “cute.” What men looked like no longer registered. One of them could’ve started dancing and stripping down and I’d’ve been like, “Hey, can my kid have your hard hat so he can pretend to be a firefighter and maybe entertain himself for 5 seconds?”

I don’t know where my neighbor mom got the energy to assess firefighter attractiveness.

Maybe little Wyatt took naps.

One Mom, Every Mom (#349)

My husband did (and still does) a lot of wrestling with Baby D. But our son’s main playmate, when there was no school, sports, or playing with the kids on the block, has always been me.

Baby D loves the water. Swimming is a good way to wear out any kid, even those of the inexhaustible variety. We’d always get to the pool at least a half-hour before lessons and play games. And by games I mean:

Baby D: “Mommy, let’s pretend you are Mommy Whale and I am Baby Whale!”

Me: “Can’t I be Mommy Shark?”

Baby D: “No! Because I am Baby Whale!” (Swims out to middle of pool, proceeds to spin and thrash.) “MOMMY WHALE! MOMMY WHALE! Baby Whale is caught in a whirlpool!”

I would sigh, ignore the sniggering lifeguard and go to “rescue” Baby Whale.

Golden Pond, Town Beach

When Baby D was older, but stuck with only me as a playmate at a New Hampshire lake, the games became more involved. They were inevitably based on whatever he’d read most recently:

Baby D: “Okay, this rock is Momdor and you have to defend it and not let me touch it!” (Baby D charges, freestyling like mad. I scoop him up and throw him a few feet back. Repeatedly. I tire out way before my kid.)

Me (mining blowing a horn): “Momdor calls for aid! Momdor calls for aid! Where are the Riders of Rohan?!”

Baby D (outraged): “Momdor isn’t GONDOR! It’s MORDOR!!”

Me: “Not a chance, Baby Sauron. I’m Gondor AND the Houses of Healing.”

I certainly felt like a besieged nurse on a regular basis. Andy had one of his lemon episodes soon after our beloved rescue dog Woofie was diagnosed with a terminal fibrosarcoma. Then our other rescue, Fey, injured herself shoving Woofie out of the way in order to claim attention from friends and neighbors who came visit Woofie one last time (Woofie had always believed everyone was his friend. Turns out, he wasn’t wrong.)

That month had a lot of trips to human and canine physicians. While sitting in yet another waiting room—don’t ask me which kind—I wrote the following (apologies to Tolkien):

Three X-rays for the denizens
In the house of sturdy brick
A canine with a cancer
And a skull that’s awfully thick
His wussy shar-pei sister
Yelps with compressed discs of three
And the man that ought to walk them
Had surgery on his knee.
One Mom to nurse them all
One Mom to chide them
One Mom to find those pills
Wherever doggies hide them.

I was not, however, the only poet in the family. The following Mother’s Day, Baby D’s class wrote poems about their moms. Baby D’s started off and ended as quite the ode:

My mom is hardworking
She always supports me
She lets me do soccer and
Supports me with glee…

…I love my mother truly
She is the greatest for me
Amazing she can see
What is the best for me!

But the middle? It contained this gem:

When my mother is resentful
I know to hide in my room
Else will come my doom!

Maybe Momdor is Mordor after all.

Or maybe every Gondor has a bit of Mordor in it.

Actual poem & picture. Baby D says it’s tree. Andy says it looks like our dog Fey up on her hind legs. I say words always trump illustration.

If you were hoping for a Christmas Post, here’s my husband’s first New England Christmas. If you want Christmas AND you got every single Tolkien reference in this post, here’s the perfect read for you: The North Polar Bear.

 

T-Minus None (#346)

Today I am thankful that Andy’s Engineer Cousin is the one hosting Thanksgiving.

Hosting is hard. You have to coordinate, cook, and clean. And then be cheerful instead of resentful when everyone arrives to eat and party. If you don’t think hosting is hard, then a) you’ve never hosted or, b) you’re a white male with a wife who does all the damned work, and, c) you’re headed for a divorce.

But not hosting doesn’t mean we’ve got it easy.

Andy’s been assigned mashed potatoes (okay, this is not very challenging, I admit). I was assigned “some dessert with maple.” Quite White, Engineer Cousin’s spouse, was miffed last year when I unveiled my homemade chocolate satin pie and pumpkin cheesecake instead of the maple cream pie. Quite White moaned, “I was looking forward to the pie all day! It’s my favorite!”

Maple Cream pie, pre-piped whipped cream.

In vain did I throw Engineer Cousin under the bus explain that Engineer Cousin had asked for something chocolate, not maple.

Yesterday morning I made the maple cream pie, because no one is making the mistake of a maple-less Thanksgiving again.  Yesterday afternoon Engineer Cousin texted and told me that more folks had just RSVPedincluding Andy’s brother and his three kids. So last night I made about 120 cookies (Denny’s kids are partial to my cookies, possibly because his wife won’t let them have any sweets).

At 8 this morning, Engineer Cousin texted again: “I know it’s late notice, but could you bring some gravy?”

It was the moment Andy had been training for. Within minutes, he had all the chicken carcasses he’d been saving out of the freezer and boiling on the stove for stock. Carrots, celery, and onions were added, plus thyme from a pot on the patio.  Then he was was off to H-Mart for chicken livers.

Andy’s as good at whipping up emergency gravy as I am at emergency cookies.

The hardest part was protecting the emergency cookies from my own marauding spawn. Dalton is always hungry—especially for cookies. Andy bought Little Debbie Snack Cakes to serve as decoys. That worked for a bit, but by bedtime, Dalton had made several attempts to “liberate” the cookies.

What? You’ve never slept with cookies on your bedside table?

Last night the cookies slept in our room. This morning, Dalton made a beeline for them and had to chased away.

From the hallway, he yelled, “You have to go to the bathroom sometime!”

When Andy called Baby D into the kitchen later, Baby D ran in, expecting cookies. Instead, his father pointed to a stack of potatoes. “You can help me peel those.”

“What? I don’t want to peel potatoes!”

“Doesn’t matter,” I told him. “You’re eating dinner, you can help make it.”

“But I’ve been doing all the dishes!”

“Which is way less work than cooking or baking.”

“Besides,’ Andy told him, “You need to learn life skills.”

“I already know how to peel!”

“Great,” I told him. “Prove it. Whomever peels the most potatoes the fastest gets a cookie.”

Less than 10 minutes later, Dalton announced he was done. Sure enough, there was a big pile of peeled potatoes on the counter. Andy was still peeling, rather slowly, while listening to a podcast on his airbuds. I handed Dalton a cookie, just as Andy finally looked up.

“Hey,” Andy protested. “He dumped two potatoes back in my pile! I get the cookie!”

Dalton stuffed the cookie in his face and gave two chews. Then he turned to his dad, opened his mouth, and said, “Oh. You want dis? Here!”

And how is your holiday—or regular day —going?

Author’s Note: Don’t worry, I gave Andy a cookie, too.

Enough potatoes for 25 people?

 

I Am Only Here for the Candy (#344)

I don’t like scary things. Not costumes. Not movies. Not books. Not TV.

There’s enough scary shit in real life. Why would you seek out terror?

I don’t understand people who enjoy being scared. Did they not have enough to frighten them in their childhood? I’d wake up with a full bladder and hold it until morning rather than risk running into a monster on the way to the bathroom.

I remember my father being exasperated with me as I child because I was so certain someone could get a ladder, climb up three stories, come in my bedroom window, and “get me.”

Dad explained how loud and difficult that would be. I was unconvinced. He sent me back to bed, but at least refrained from saying, “Jesus Christ, child, I probably couldn’t GIVE away you or your equally feral, troublesome siblings! Why would anyone go through the trouble of climbing a ladder to try and STEAL you?”

I loved Halloween, of course, but only because there was free candy and sparkly costumes. I was every Disney Princess imaginable (Leia included), and a fairy. Never once did I want to be anything scary.

My Chinese-American husband, on the other hand, enjoys scary, suspenseful entertainment. “The Walking Dead?” One of his favorite shows. He’s never met a Resident Evil anything he doesn’t watch. Meanwhile, I’m in the bedroom, yelling at him to turn the volume down because ANY suspenseful minor chord music will make me wonder who is being murdered. I tried to watch “Squid Game,” but had to run out of the room repeatedly. (Andy would patiently summarize the games and deaths for me later.)

Why are we so different?

I have theories.

Andy’s childhood was more secure than mine (though both our fathers were scary and strict). Andy doesn’t speculate or imagine scenarios as much as I do. Sometimes Andy will see me wiping away a tear and foolishly ask, “What’s wrong?”

“Well,” I’ll sniffle, “I was just thinking about what if one of those right wing crazies crashes into the Torrance Farmer’s Market while you’re there because he’s targeting Asians, and you get killed and then I have to tell Baby D and I was trying to figure out what to do for your funeral…”

Andy will hand me a tissue and remind me, “Remember, don’t spend money on a casket. It’s a cardboard box or nothing.”

I once asked Andy if he ever worried that something might happen to me.

He said, “No.”

“You don’t think about it at all?”

“No.”

“What do you think about?”

Andy shrugged. “Nothing, really.”

“You can’t think about NOTHING. No one thinks about NOTHING.”

Andy just shrugged again. I kinda thought he was lying, until I read an article about how some people don’t always have an internal monologue going. That was unfathomable to me (and everyone else who monologues). But while I couldn’t understand not constantly judging thinking, it immediately made sense that Andy was a non-monologuer.

I’m a little jealous. It sounds very restful and zen. My internal monologues go from 0 to DISASTER in seconds. Which means that when I wake up in the middle of the night, I’m immediately convinced that any unusual noise or smell means there’s a fire/ murder/ kidnapping happening.

This is one of the reasons I like having dogs. I’m pretty sure that my dogs will smell or hear any danger long before my comparatively weak human senses detect it. This comforting fact enables me to get back to sleep. Sometimes. (Of course, sometimes you have dogs that snooze right through impending danger.)

Throughout our son’s childhood, I’ve tried to keep him from scary stuff. I didn’t want him to have nightmares or wake up scared like I did. He would pester us to watch Star Wars or Indiana Jones and I’d think of how Darth Vader and melting faces kept me awake as a child. Baby D was on a strict diet of “Thomas the Tank Engine” until the older kids on the block introduced him to The Hunger Games.

And he was fine. Not a single nightmare, ever, not even when Baby D sneakily read the books at age eight (by the light of a ring that flashed red, white, and blue). He sailed through Harry Potter without fears of Dementors.

Baby dressed as a big orange pumpkin.

 

Toddler dressed as a skunkWhen he was little, I could pick the most adorable Halloween costumes for Baby D. Nothing scary, just pumpkins, bunnies, and fluffy skunks.

 

Once he hit preschool, Baby D insisted on being a ninja. For three years.

After that?

Kid dressed at the Grim Reaper, with skull mask and scythe

Kid is going to give me nightmares.

The Hoarder (#342)

As a child, the conversation at my family dinner table was always better than the food on the table. (I kid you not–Kraft Mac & Cheese was the best meal of the week.) My dad might have political anecdotes from Capitol Hill.  My stepmother might tell us how one high school gang tried to break into her classroom to get at another gang. Or we might get a story about our great-grandfather learning how to swim by diving off a piano in a flooded southern parlor from my mom.

My Chinese American husband’s family was all about the food. I learned the hard way that no one expected conversation at the table. Everyone concentrated on eating. This makes sense when the food is both tasty and served immediately (e.g., dim sum). It also makes sense if you’re eating a dish like chicken feet, which involves considerable mouth aerobics, ending in spitting out chicken toenails.

Young boy grimaces as he bites down on a fried chicken foot.
Baby D meets chicken feet.

Andy’s dad also wasn’t much of a talker, unlike practically every person in my family. My family told jokes, made fun of each other, and competed to get the best laughs. We all also like to show off share information.

Maybe this is why Andy’s a better cook than I am. He tastes as he goes and even plates artistically, believing the food should always take center stage.

I love good food, but I also want to hear about spouse/ spawn’s days. The breakfast/dinner table is the place where I find out what’s going on. I believe that communication is connection and sharing is caring.

Andy, on the other hand, hoards information. And he hoards it as long as he can.

I’d walk into the kitchen and say, “That smells good. Whatcha making?”

“Stuff.”

“Sooo…what’s for dinner?”

“Food.”

“Oh my God, would it kill you to tell me what’s for dinner one time?!”

Apparently, it would. Because not once did Andy actually volunteer to tell me what he was making. I had to piece together clues from ingredients and cookbooks on the counter.

Now, when Andy asked me what I was making for our Christmas party, my response was: “Oh, I’m going to do cream cheese sugar cookies with buttercream frosting with about one-quarter teaspoon almond extract, plus candy cane and chocolate meringues—and I’ll need the food processor for both the candy canes and to chop up the chocolate chips extra tiny so they don’t get stuck in the piping tips and also maple sugar rugelach and did you know that I had to order maple sugar from Ben’s Sugar Shack in New Hampshire this year?! I can’t find it ANYWHERE. Or and I’ll make those chocolate cookies with white chips that are your favorite, do you want coconut in them or not?”

It’s a point of pride that, when asked “why?,” by Baby D, I never once responded with “Because I told you so.”

Instead, I dumped elaborate reasoning and detailed explanations on my child until he either fled the room or could out reason/ argue me into changing my mind.

Storage containers and boxes crammed on wire shelving units.
Andy’s least favorite view

The only information my husband shared freely was how much he hated all the boxes in the garage. We had many boxes. That happens with a house less than 1200 square feet and minimal storage space. Heavy blankets, comforters, and winter clothing were stored in the garage in the summer. Window fans and tubs of light linens got stored in the garage in the winter. There were two bicycles, suitcases, pet supplies, cleaning supplies, the extra refrigerator, extra chairs, an extra banquet table, portable chairs for soccer matches, a team soccer canopy, a team bench, and 8 containers of holiday/ season decorations.

Every so often, when Andy got snarly, I cleaned out/ donated anything we no longer used. Andy’s grumbles subsided, especially when I pointed out we’re one of the only families on the block that actually put a car in our garage.

I kept tabs on all the storage containers with decorations, though.

Not long into the pandemic, packages started arriving for Andy. There were at least a dozen. Some were large. One was very heavy. A few were small.

“Gardening supplies?” I guessed.

Andy said, “Stuff.”

I rolled my eyes and let it go. The following weekend, Andy spent an entire day moving items around the garage. He went to Lowe’s and returned with giant mobile shelves—the kind that you can roll together so they take up less space but then roll apart for access once the car is out of the garage.

Also the kind of shelf energetic offspring will try and ride down the driveway when Dad is carrying “excessive” Christmas decorations to the garbage bins.

After rescuing child, shelf, and decorations, I planted myself in front of Andy and announced “That’s it. You’ve been bitching about the garage more than usual and there all these mysterious boxes. What are you DOING?”

“Stuff—”

“NO! No more bullshit ‘stuff!’ For all I know you’re setting up a fucking meth factory!”

Andy said, “It’s not a meth factory.”

I crossed my arms and inhaled. Deeply.

Andy hurriedly added, “We can’t go to the gym so I’m turning one of the bikes into a stationary bicycle so I can ride it to get cardio because I can’t run anymore on my bad knee and walking takes too long. I’m trying to make more space in the garage to set up the bike.”

“That’s…great. But…why wouldn’t you just tell me that?”

Andy shrugged.

“You know, mouths are for more than eating!’ I told him. “They’re for talking! For sharing information! If you’d just explained what you wanted to do, I would have helped you. I could have gotten rid of some boxes, consolidated a few things, figured out how to make more space.”

“Really?”

“What, did you think I’d say no?! To something as important as you being healthy?”

“Uh…”

And that’s when I realized that Andy HAD thought I’d say no. Just like his parents always said no—no sports, no extracurricular activities, no curfew extensions. Andy was so used to his family saying no, he’d learned to never offer information which could result in a “no.” It was maddening…but also understandable.

I consolidated a few boxes of decorations and donated some boxes of older blankets to charity.

Andy’s cardio area, with gardening/ soccer hat on bike.

Andy set up his bike. He rides it several times a week.

Sometimes, now, he’ll tell me what he’s cooking.

The other night, at the dinner table, Andy stopped eating long enough to ask Baby D, “So, little boy, what did you do in school today?”

Baby D replied,

“Stuff.”