A brief interlude

IMGP2184I got a chance to travel to Florida this weekend to a friend’s wedding, a long-time compatriot from my newspaper days. She was the matron of honor at my second wedding (or third, depending on how you count it), and I’m the godmother of her first son. That being said, we haven’t been closely in touch for years, though we do manage to have a face-to-face at least once every couple of years.

Florida is beautiful and sunny in May, though the temperatures were considerably higher than I was used to, after a long winter in the IMGP2180frozen Northlands. The wedding itself took place on the beach in Melbourne. Both the bride and groom wore white–before Memorial Day! *fans self*  Most of my lady friends in the South would have fainted dead away. It was short and sweet, and the view was delightful. The ceremony was followed by a small but energetic reception with some of the best food I’ve had in awhile–jerk IMGP2181chicken, reggae shrimp and this lovely cake:

I also fit in a trip to my dear friend Edde’s in Fort Pierce, where we had lovely weather except for the last night, when IMGP2190some serious dark clouds rolled in over the ocean, dragging thunder and lightning with them. But we still had a nice visit. She was feeling a good deal better than she had been in December, when last we visited, so that was something to be grateful for.

Little Miss spent the weekend with her dad, which I hope did them both some good. Certainly a little “me” time was appreciated. And of course, nothing says Florida like this:IMGP2172

Not something you see every day….



Konnichiwa! to our new guest from Japan

We’ve embraced the idea of an exchange student once again, after a good many years. The last one we had was Patric from Sweden, and I remember his favorite thing was to walk by K and her friends watching Titanic and tell them “The boat sinks.”

(oops–spoiler alert!)

But that was probably 13 years ago, and Ayako several years before that, so we thought we might try it again.  We have been blessed with a lovely young woman named Yurie from Tokyo, Japan. She has meshed with the family very well, and we are learning from each other all the time–mostly about cooking!

She’s very active, and so one of the first things they did was all go on a walk up the hill into the woods. Doctor Do-Be-Doo is clearly playing Indiana Jones here; I’m not sure they came home with anything purely archaeological in nature. 🙂

She’s a very hard-working student, which is a good example for our two at home. Even though she’s still working on her English (which is pretty good, considering!), she decided to take up Spanish here– I’m not sure how she keeps her brain from spinning. And she’s adapted to staying in a family with some special kids. So that warms my heart. 🙂

But like I said, she loves to cook. Her family has spent considerable time in the US, so she’s interested in all sorts of food. She’s been here almost two months, and we STILL haven’t gone to McDonalds. Can you believe it? But she’s showed us how to make sushi, homestyle–so much easier!!– and Japanese curry, while we’ve made Cuban black beans, Mexican food, Indian chicken and all kinds of stuff. One day we finally had meat and potatoes, and she’s like, “Is this American food?” Poor kid.

And she made her grandmother’s famous cheesecake. BEST CHEESECAKE EVER.

Yurie is very sweet and brought all sorts of nice things for the family, including this stunning kimono for Little Miss. The worn out tennis shoes add such a fashion statement, don’t you think?

This has been carefully hung up and saved for a special occasion, for sure.

We got to go camping in The Vehicle one weekend, anyway, but then Himself got signed up for a community theatre show and all the weekends got blocked out. Yurie and the Doctor got drafted to work back stage and even to have a few lines onstage, too, so it’s been an interesting experience.

She finds that Americans, particularly the students, are not as ambitious and hard-working as those in Japan, which doesn’t surprise me a lot. But we’ve adjusted her school schedule so she has more than just academics, like food, and broadcasting, and she also signed up for intramural basketball and hip-hop dance lessons, so she’s a busy girl!

She’s looking forward to the holidays as much as little kids do, so we’ll have a chance to demonstrate what Americans do for some of these holidays, as far as celebration. Her parents have celebrated Halloween and Christmas before, from their previous time here, so we’ll see if we do it differently. Probably. I bet she’s never had frozen pizza for Thanksgiving. (Long family story waiting to be shared).

We’re hoping to travel later in the year and take her to Florida at Christmas, to Asheville, and who knows where else. The program she’s exchanging with has organized trips as well where she can see all about DC and NYC and other places in a tourist sort of way. Any suggestions as to what’s “not to miss” for a nine-month visitor to the States?

Holiday dining at its finest

Our original plan with this most recent southern trip was to take it in December, when we would use the free day at Disney tickets we received after volunteering to make blankets for Project Linus last year.

Unfortunately, the economy dictated that we wouldn’t have quite the vacation fund necessary to accomplish this goal, even with a free day apiece included, so we traveled to my daughter’s house near Pensacola, where her husband serves our country in the Navy. Seeing all the fam was certainly the highlight of the trip, but we splurged in small ways in the area of dining, to make sure it felt like a real vacation.

The NOLA sidetrip was of course, a chance to indulge in beignets and creole delights, and we took full advantage of that. I mean, how often do you have a chance to eat alligator? Really?

M made a full ham dinner with all the trimmings on Christmas night when we arrived, and we were able to eat those tasty goodies pretty much the rest of the week, too. We made cinnamon rolls one morning, thanks to Miss Chloe (no, not Grandma Rosie’s kind), and made our own garlic bread pizzas another night.

But the highlight of the trip has to be the place where people are encouraged to throw food. No, not Animal House!

Lambert’s, the home of throwed rolls, in Foley, Alabama. Yes, “throwed rolls.” J was sure we’d think this was a real kick, and it was. Not only does the menu include all sorts of delicious southern foods, once you get your plate they come around with more, huge bowls of fried okra, black eyed peas, fried potatoes and onions, macaroni and tomatoes, and slop more on your plate, as much as you want. On top of greens, and a host of other incredible food.

The highlight was the manner in which patrons obtain their meal’s bread portions. Every ten or fifteen minutes, someone brings out a tray of oven-hot rolls. If you want one, you raise your hand, and then they throw one to you. From the front of the restaurant. Hard. As in we were fortunate to have a little softball player at our table to make sure we could eat. 🙂  And what rolls. Hot, yeasty, delicious. Even Little Miss caught a couple–she was thrilled.  So. Throwed Rolls. Yes indeedee.

An impromptu spaghetti dinner with the Cabana Boy’s long-lost cousins was nice, again with homemade bread, and a new bread machine for us!!

But the meal closest to my heart has to be the one where, like Mary, Joseph and their newborn son, we wandered from place to place on Christmas Eve, searching for a place to have a meal with K, who’d come to meet us from Asheville at our hotel on the road. Everywhere was closed, no room at the table, until we came to the Knoxville Waffle House.

So we shared a repast, our first all together in months, around the counter as the jukebox played in the background, without a Christmas tree, without carols, without snow,without all those commercial trappings, just us and some cheesy grits and burgers. And somehow, it was one of the best holiday meals of my life.

Dear Santa, please bring us a toilet…

Now I’m not sure of the exact protocol here, but plumbing should definitely be on the list of items accessible through the Jolly Old Elf. Especially when you are a family of five, most of them teenagers and you’re down to one bathroom.

The destruction of the Throne was a multi-layered event; blame cannot be laid at the door of one person. B was the proximate cause, apparently, during her recent visit, when the rusted parts finally gave way. The Cabana Boy, too, opened it up and took apart the insides and then had some issues with the bolts. But really the issue, I think, is that date on the inside of the tank: February 11, 1985. This toilet is older than most of my children. I don’t know the life expectancy of a toilet, but I’d think a quarter-century ought to be pretty commendation-worthy, right?

To his credit, the Cabana Boy pledged himself to the all-day chore of tearing apart the guts of the thing, much braver than I would have been, but the rusted bolts were his undoing. A circumspect genuflect served to put the thing to rest, and we are now waiting for the arrival of the reindeer with our shiny new works…or maybe the plumber, if he gets here first.


It’s aboot the cheese, eh

I’m really looking forward to several visits from family and near-family over the holidays, including a first from the charming Canadian host of our stay in Toronto.

He and B will be here for Christmas–i.e. he can meet the whole clan and decide if he ought to bail before it’s too late– and it will be a houseful again, which I do like, despite the stress.

On his behalf, B asked what he should bring to us, as his hosts, and of course there was only one answer. But first I must digress, to a tale of the year 2001 (pre 9/11 for reasons that shall become obvious), when my best friend came from California for a visit, and we expanded her horizons internationally by taking her across the border to see Niagara Falls.

During this delightful trip, we went up in the Skylon Tower, from which you can see…wow. Everything. I went to my first Hard Rock Cafe. We gambled a bit in the casino next door, and I lost my whole $20 stash. But it was fun doing it.

All in all, a great time, and the last thing we did was stop at the duty-free shop about 11 p.m.  to stock up on…well…booze. It is, after all, cheaper. I think I still have some of it. On our way out of the duty-free parking lot, there was a team of uniformed men stopping cars, which we thought was a little suspicious, but we were in a rollicking good mood after the day, so we pulled alongside them and smiled.

“Good evening,” the clean-cut young man said as he looked in our car window and noted how many people were there. He asked how long we’d been in Canada, and we told him just for the day, and his partner looked in the car from the other side.

“What brought you to Canada?” he asked, pen poised to write something eloquent.

My friend Chase leaned over with a wide grin and said, “The cheese!”

He looked at her very oddly, looked over the car at his pal, and I was sure we were headed off to some well-padded institution.  He looked back at his clipboard, and then shook his head, wishing us a nice evening before he stepped away from the car.

We left quick before anyone could change their mind. And laughed. A lot.

Today, the folk at the border are much less jolly, for obvious reasons, and we make sure we smile just enough and have our papers ready, so as not to call attention.

But when someone asks what is our favorite gift from Canada….what else could we say?  CHEESE, of course.

And with any luck, it won’t be limburger or casu marzu or something…. odd. And no one will get arrested.  It’s Christmas, after all. Joyeux fromage, one and all.

(Broken) Home for the holidays

A phenomenon many divorce attorneys encounter each year between mid-November and January 2 is the sudden drop-off of clients and client activity.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s the holiday lull, the last-ditch effort to grasp the fast-fading warm feeling of family or at least the rational attempt to try to preserve the illusion that ‘everything is all right’ for the children.

Often, the holidays are a happy blurred memory batch from childhood, with ham dinners with families gathered at grandparents’ house, favorite (and not so favorite) presents we’ve received over the years, candlelit church services, carols and much more.

Overlay this with the commercial media blitz of glitter, bling (every kiss begins with k?? Awesome!) and price cuts, and the secular Holidays take on an almost sacred tone of their own.

We want our children to experience this, to feel whole, to be glad and warm and loved. Often we are able to swallow our own pain–or drown it with well-doctored eggnog– long enough to let the little ones experience Santa and the magic.

But what we also see as the years have passed is the carving up of these happy days with a broad knife, dividing the time the children “must” spend with father, mother, siblings, grandparents and others. When parents cannot look beyond their own needs to compromise with their children’s lives, the court will do it for them, with lack of emotion or feeling to guide it.

Four hours for mom. Two hours for grandma. Twelve hours for dad. Splitting the day so you have to be hauling kids on the road for two hours of the holiday you’d all rather spend at home. Alternating years, so every other Christmas your hearth is empty and dark with no children to celebrate. Christmas Eve. Christmas Day. Thanksgiving Thursday. Friday? Maybe, if you’re lucky, a few extra days of the vacation when the children can have a parent all to themselves without other obligations.

There’s no good way to do it, so this yields the sucking-up and effort to maintain through the holidays “for the kids.”

In my generation, divorce was not as prevalent as today, and we visited in summers only, so our holidays, though father was absent, were not disrupted. My children, however, were subject to visitation orders, and spent most holidays with their fathers, which was fine with me. Holiday is a state of mind, as far as I’m concerned. You can have a special day on the 23rd, 25th, or even 31st, if you put your mind to it.

Many more children of my kids’ generation grew up in split parenting situations, so maybe for them, it’s not as traumatic for their own children to be visiting other households during these magic periods. And often, no matter how hard you’re trying to hold things together, the children are well aware of the tensions underlying the surface. If those tensions become toxic, then perhaps separation, even this time of year, could be the right choice, for everyone’s peace of mind.

But even if the magic fails on one front, there are many more, like these suggestions from Suzy Brown. As she says, “Holidays are about peace and sharing and gratitude and love. During tragedy, or divorce, or heartache we have to reach down and find those core things at a deeper level, a more meaningful level.”

Brian James, who is a trained divorce mediator, also adds tips, including not trying to buy the child’s happiness with “stuff”, and making sure if you celebrate together that the children don’t take this as fulfillment of their fondest wish–that you’re getting back together.

If you feel that you can’t hold on, for any reason, please seek professional help, whether in the form of legal counsel, psychological counsel, or just a heartfelt cup of cocoa with a good friend or close relative. Take time out for yourself. Most decisions about situations (absent actual danger) can be put off for a week or two. Give yourself and the children time in as de-stressed a manner as possible. This will pay off as they learn coping skills from you they can use all their lives.

For Goodness’ Sake

As the holidays creep not so stealthily upon us, we hear parents remind their children to be good “because Santa is coming.”

For years that worked for me, with my older girls. There was a three to four week respite when they tried really hard to be well-behaved so they could receive the gift of their choice. I was grateful.

But is that really a lesson we want to teach our children?  That the only reason for being good is to receive some sort of specific reward?

I started thinking about this when I read news stories about the American Humanists’ ad campaign starting this week, with ads that read “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” The ads are expected to appear on Washington, D.C. buses through December.

Christian groups have protested the ads, claiming that God must be included in the discussion of good and evil. CNN reports this comment from American Family Association president Tim Wildmon:

“It’s a stupid ad,” he said. “How do we define ‘good’ if we don’t believe in God? God in his word, the Bible, tells us what’s good and bad and right and wrong. If we are each ourselves defining what’s good, it’s going to be a crazy world.”

So does this mean that Christians only do what’s right because God says it is? And of course the corollary, if you don’t do good, as defined by God, then you’ll be punished? So…to carry that out to it’s logical conclusion, the only reason you’re good is…to get a specific reward. The same thing as Santa Claus.

Fred Edwords, of the AHA, says that the message of the Humanists is that anyone can have moral values, “as a natural result of who we are as a species and who we have become as a civilization. Each one of us knows what it means, generally, to be ethical. We may disagree on specific details…but we all get the basic idea.”

In dealing with my children, their autism often comes between them and their decision-making process. They also take what we say very literally, and cling to it with the fiber of their being.  So what message do we give them when we say there is a Santa Claus and then a few years later, point out that there isn’t and we lied to them? It really throws them to the point of meltdowns, bad behavior and loss of trust.

Wouldn’t it be better to teach them that we all, Christian, Humanist, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist–take your pick!–that we all should be good because it’s the right thing to do? Not to gain some reward or get a pat on the head or to impress some other person–but because we can make choices that are part of the greater good? Take that literally. We’d all be better off.