Friday, September 20, 2013

The unfolding of an RV trip


Apparently we took an RV trip when I was a young child, but my only recollection is running out of gas on the highway somewhere in Tennessee and standing on the side of the road, completely afraid for my life.
My next memory of a camper is the one parked in the driveway of my childhood friend, Liz’s, house.  I don’t even think it was theirs, but it was there and we would go in and play house and her mom served us roast beef deli meat sandwiches with A1 sauce on them, something I had never had before.  This luxurious adventure had definitely turned around my opinion of the house on wheels, not to mention opened up a whole new flavor profile for lunchmeat.
As an adult I admit the fascination has always continued, and so when my family decided on a summer vacation this year, we wanted to fulfill our dream of RVing out west.  The thought of only having to unpack suitcases once as we traveled between parks and cooking family favorite meals on a tiny stove next to a tiny refrigerator and tiny sink was far too enticing and we booked it.
If you are ever thinking of taking a family vacation in an RV, here is how the first few days might go:
Day one.  You pick up the beastly vehicle and upon opening the door, your children rush in and immediately start bouncing from chair to chair, laying on every bed, opening every cupboard, window, and nook and cranny.  They stake claim on their sleeping spots and within seconds somebody is begging to use the bathroom, because the thought of a bathroom on wheels is just about the most fascinating thing to a child.  
Later that day, they realize that the availability of snacks is too much for their little self-control to handle, and by the end of the day, you realize there is a fifteen second gap of time between the time someone has to pee or wants something to eat.  It all feels very exhaustingly fun, but the saving grace is the bed that you can reach in a matter of milliseconds.
Day two.  By this time, the children have come out of ultra excitement mode and are settling in to life on the road.  Or the campground.  They have learned how to turn the table into a bed and vice versa and are pros at flushing the toilet.  You feel like you have become domestic master because there is nothing you can’t cook in that kitchen with three square inches of counterspace.  The husband struts proudly around because he has officially figured out the hoses and buttons that come with keeping this monster running smoothly.  Kids are playing cards and drawing pictures.  Everyone is considering selling the house and moving in to one of these babies permanently.
Day three.  The novelty is starting to wear off.  The general odors involved with five people in a small box start to become a permanent fixture and you think that maybe moving hiking boots to an outside storage compartment would be a pretty good idea.  Flatulence has been completely outlawed and even mimicking the sound earns you a stern look from a mother who cannot take it any longer.  Playing cards have been ripped.  The cupboard is full of half eaten bags of chips and you realize there is not a vegetable to be seen.  General fatigue has set in, but there’s that bed.  Right there.  
Day four.  A new dawn is a new day.  Parents get strict and start barking orders to fold bedding and change underwear and brush teeth because moms know these things and before long, everything is clean and happy and we are ready to roll again.  First stop: grocery store for some roast beef and A1 sauce.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Our great National Parks


I really thought I was doing a part of my civil duty—showing our children a few of the great national parks that speckle our country.  They are jewels of amazement that are, if you think about things in the scope of the world, right in our backyard.  And so we flew out west, rented an RV, and headed out to see the sights.
And what sights they were.  
My husband and I have never been to the Grand Canyon before, and we wanted to make sure we gave our kids the experience while they were the right age: old enough to remember and young enough not to think we were totally dorky parents.  I think for their sake, we hit it just right.  But for my sake, it was incredible.  
They say the Grand Canyon is a fantastic hole in the ground, but I will tell you that upon walking up to it for the very first time, I got a little choked up.  I don’t know that I have ever seen such amazing beauty, so vast and powerful.  Even as a writer, I was without words when someone asked me about my first view of the canyon.  Maybe I could put it into a haiku:
Wow.  Wow wow wow wow.
Amazing, amazing, wow.
The Grand Canyon.  Wow.
Because that’s what you do when you walk up the edge, after of course you realize that it’s 5,000 feet down to the bottom and your kid is doing some little boxing dance, antagonizing his sister.  Once you get him settled and everyone is safely holding hands behind the guardrail, you stand there, as a family and bask in the glory.
And then, if you’re as lucky as our kids who have parents with degrees in geology, you can stare off into the red wonder and pretend you are listening while your mother blabs on and on about limestone and schist and faults and joints.  By the end of it, you think you are hearing some other foreign language….because you probably are.
One of the biggest things we noticed while traveling through our country’s national parks was that the visitors were not from our country.  American English speaking people seemed a minority, even more so if you counted the elk and mule deer that graced our presence every so often.  
I understand that visitors come to the USA and hit the landmarks.  I certainly would as well, if I were traveling somewhere else.  But we were really surprised at how few Americans were hiking the trails with us.  And it got me all fired up.  Or maybe it was hiking the six miles in the canyon with temperatures reaching 100 degrees…but still.  There seemed something wrong with the picture.
Our country, the United States of America, is big.  It’s diverse.  And it’s beautiful.  From sea to shining sea, our country has protected and preserved incredible natural landmarks so that we can view them and learn about the nature that surrounds us and makes up the very land on which we step.  And yet, so few of us actually take the time and make the effort to see what there is to offer.
Since 1872 when Yosemite was named a National Park until today where we have over 400 areas that make up the National Park Service, there is no good excuse for us Americans.  National Parks cover over 84 million acres in every single state, and chances are that a visit to one or more of them might be something you may have thought of but never followed through with. 
Please do.  Please visit a National Park.  Even a State Park.  Find a piece of American nature and get a taste of the frontier on which this country was founded.
I promise it’s good for your soul, and maybe even for your collection of haikus.



Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Give five minutes to the goose


According to some silly books that I’ve read, the Canada Goose excretes nearly two pounds of feces every day.  A fairly reliable source states that it poops every 12 minutes.  This may all sound very mathematical, because I know you are sitting there calculating how many times per day and how much per release, but really, that’s not what my story is all about.
The street where I live is an add combination of wild and suburbia.  We’ve had our fair share of misplaced critters, and though they seem to be diminishing with development, geese have started setting up camp and becoming our official neighbors.
The Canada Goose as it is called, is a rather pesky bird.  It is interesting to research that after the Civil War, the honking bird was all but gone from the state of Ohio and in 1956, a mere 10 nesting pairs were introduced by the Division of Wildlife.  In just a few decades, they multiplied and multiplied and realized that golf courses and subdivisions were the ultimate slap in the face to anyone who has ever thought, “mmm… goose jerky.”
And now they live on my street, these birds.
But normally, they fly.  They are, indeed, birds.  When it comes to comparing the list of flightless birds to flying birds, flightless birds are few and far between.  The Canada Goose normally flies and honks and poops, even in mid-air because 12 minutes happens quite often.  The goose on my street, however, does not.
I first realized it when my dog was going bonkers and a quick glance out my front window had me looking at a goose walking down the sidewalk in my front yard.  It walked all the way across, and then up and over a hill where it disappeared in the field.
And life went on.
But the very next day, I heard my dog barking and looked out to find the goose walking directly down the middle of the street.  He or she (both genders look pretty much identical) was taking a stroll from the field all the way down to the retention ponds at the other end of the street.  
And so it continued, this goose walking up and down our street from somewhere in the field to somewhere near the pond.  Curiosity was getting the best of me, and one day I could take it no more.  I went goose stalking.  I followed the goose, leaving plenty of space because I’m pretty sure it would peck off my face if not.  I followed it through my yard, over the hill and into the field where I stood for around five minutes watched it nibble on spring plants and waited until it did something spectacular or something.  
But it never really did.  It was just being a Canada goose.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of watching a single animal in the wild, do so.  I waited for something special, and truthfully, I got it.  I got to watch this big bird take a long journey to find something that it wanted, even if it couldn’t fly.  (I still am not sure about that part of this story.)  Watching nature remains something satisfying for one’s soul, a sneak peek that brings us closer to the rest of the world.  
So I encourage you all to give five minutes to the goose.  Or a groundhog, or a squirrel.  Anything really.  Just make sure that if it’s a goose, you only give them five minutes.  If you give them any more, say twelve, well, you might have a different story to tell.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dishing up a life sandwich


When I tell people that I write a column in the newspaper, they always ask me the same question.  “What do you write about?”
I suppose they are looking for an answer like fitness.  Or cooking.  Or politics.  But I always disappoint them and say, “well, I just write about stuff,” and they stare blankly back at me, as if I stopped mid-sentence.
“You know,” I say, in poor attempt to elaborate, “I write about stuff that happens to me or my kids or the silly stuff my husband does, or how the dog puked all night.  Stuff like that.  So basically, life.”
And it’s true.  I write about life.
Usually my words appear somewhere in the newspaper near where you find other standard life items.  There may be club news and stories that tug your heartstrings.  But there are also other sections that make my job in this paper a little sweeter.   The whole circle of life appears right there, in one short little condensed place on a piece of paper so thin that if left to the elements would disappear faster than the headlines on the gossip pages.  
There are the listings of births, the announcements that proud parents and grandparents make.  I read the names and chuckle about the utter creativity of people these days, and how before you know it, a boy named “Joe” will be the only one in his class.  I remark at how big or small they were at birth and wonder what that little baby will become and what headlines he or she will make down the road.  Someday I could see that same name in the business brief headlines.
Maybe that child will grow up and get married, and a glance at the marriage announcement section of the paper will always be a favorite.  Just to look at the people, young and old, falling deeply in love and posing for an often cheesy engagement photograph—perhaps the cheek to cheek pose, or the one when they stand with their arms around each other.  Each couple I wish a future of love and happiness.
But sometimes it doesn’t work, and the divorce section of the paper is short, without pictures, and never anything to smile about.
Other times, it does work and lasts forever, until one of those people are called Home and we read a celebration of their life in the obituary section.  I always make sure I give credit to each of those faces and names, for each have lived a life that is worth a moment of my time.  If nothing else, even a second or two to internalize each name and know that somewhere in my community, there is a grieving family who could use an extra prayer or two.
And then there, maybe even on the very same page, among the listings of births and marriages and deaths, is me.  Writing about everything else that happens between all of those major events that we deal with in our lives.  The daily routines, the things that make us laugh and the things that make us cry.  
If I stop to think about it, I know that just like when all of these events appear so close together on a piece of thin paper, these events have a real effect on what happens to us all.  Every single day.  It is because of them that our daily life is the way it is.  We call it life.  
It is life.  It is stuff.  It is all connected and a constant changing world that we often need to step back and realize how we are all a part of one another, from the births to the deaths, from the celebrations to the condolences.  The rest of it, in between, is the “stuff” and the glue that holds it all together like a big, giant Life Sandwich.  And we would be fools to not appreciate every single bite.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Benefits of Barefoot, a Shoe-free Summer


It happens about this time every year, when the wisdom of my grandfather and my mother tells me that Mother’s Day has passed and it’s finally safe to plant a garden and embrace life in the flower beds.  The leaves have nearly fully sprouted and the grass goes from its spikey dormant self to a lush carpet that needs to be mowed every other day or else small children and dogs will be lost by walking out the back door.
It’s the magic of spring, which is truly a gateway to the vigor of summer, which for me means that for the next few months, my short fingernails are allowed to be dirty and shoes are only required where that little sign hangs on the door, refusing service.  Because as soon as it’s close to possible, we don’t wear shoes.  I won’t say that that is my favorite thing about summer living in Ohio, but it ranks right up there.  Sure, it’s no pie and ice cream, but here are some convincing arguments for ditching your shoes and wiggling your toes in the summer sun.
Cut the clutter.  If you have a large family such as we do, chances are there is a room where all of your shoes gather and accumulate and assemble in such force that one day they and their odor might take over the world.  Once the barefoot policy has been made, your home will appear to be much more neat and tidy.
Excuses for pedicures, or lack there of.  Some people like to have ornamental toenails.  Others, such as my barefoot self, will destroy any speck of polish that makes contact with my body in a matter of seconds.   If you are the kind of person who likes fancy feet, going barefoot will work in your favor, requiring you to decorate.  If you are the kind of person who would rather not, you can share my excuse.  “There’s no use of trying to pretty these things up—the only color they see is caked on mud or grass stains.”
A little bit of dirt between the toes does a brain good.  Studies have shown that some of the bacteria found in soil is actually good for your brain.  Certain bacteria can activate the neurons that produce serotonin, a well-known natural antidepressant.  Therefore, there’s a good chance that playing in the dirt can make you happy, and I’m not just talking about the tickle you get by squishing it between your toes.
Free massages!  Going footloose and shoe-free makes every step a mini-massage.  Your feet are full of about a zillion different muscles and when they are cramped up in shoes all day, they don’t get to do their thing.  According to some foot historians, people didn’t start having tootsie problems until the Renaissance, when shoes became the cool thing to do.
Electrical powers keep you young.  One set of beliefs says that walking barefoot on solid earth allows you to properly absorb free electrons from the ground beneath your feet.  And then after a bunch of science gobbelty gook, the end result is that your body has an increase in anti-oxidants, which we know are the good things that keep us healthy and young.  
Save money!  With three kids whose feet change sizes every other week, we have a constant mountain of non-fitting shoes around.  Not so much in the summer, though, and with the money saved from all that footwear we can enjoy our summer with as much pie and ice cream as possible.  
So once full-blown summer hits, you can find us out the back door with our dirty feet.  We’ll be smiling and relaxed, feeling healthy and electrically charged enough to not worry about the condition of our unpainted, plain piggies.  Unless we drip the ice cream.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Enough room for love


Of all of the misused and overused words in the world, one of the biggest culprits is the word that is on everyone’s mind this time of the year.  Love.
Think of how many times a day we use it, and what we use it for.  I know how many times I day I tell my children or my husband that I love them, but I also say things like, “I love Chinese food!” and “I love it when I do a few loads of laundry and don’t have any mismatched socks!”  I talk to my mom nearly every day on the phone and end it with “love you.”  I end every email with my husband “love, Karrie.”  I sometimes tell my children that I love them so much, I could squeeze them until their heads pop off.
We love songs and television shows.  We love movie stars and seasons of the year, restaurants, cars, and fashion.   Toby Keith sang about how much he loves a bar, and Ray Charles sang that he can’t stop loving you, and the Beatles are well known for preaching that, above all else, all you need is love.
It all seems like a lot of love.  Almost too much for one word to handle, and if Love knew what it had to go through every day, it’d probably be fairly stressed out.  How can one simple four-letter word (that doesn’t follow simple grammatical rules, by the way) have to cover everything from socks to pop music to the Indian restaurant about an hour away?
The answer, I think, came to me during my first job in the real world.  My boss was a very wise man, as down to earth as they come and his knowledge continues to resonate in my head.  The father of many children, one dark early morning before they had even turned on the overhead florescent lights, we sat drinking coffee by lamplight and discussing our work for the day and like we did so often, we got off topic.  There in that office, he shared something so special with me that I carry it with me and see the truth in it in so many facets of life.
“When I got married, I thought I loved my wife more than all the world.  And then when we were about to have our first child, I got really scared.  I thought to myself, I love my wife so much, how can I ever have enough love for a child, too?”
A newly married woman, I sat in awe and listened.
“And when the child was born, I realized that I had enough.  I loved that child like I loved my wife.  The three of us were in so much love with each other, it was beautiful.  I thought I had maxed out on love, so when a few years later we found out we were expecting another child, I got scared once again.  How could I possibly have enough love to share with my wife, my daughter, and now another kid?”
Knowing this bearded boss of mine had a mind and heart of infinite wisdom, I waited for his answer.
“And you know what?  I did.  I had enough for that child, too.  And the next, and the next, and the next, and the next.   And enough for my wife, and God and all things that are good in the world.”
So whenever I feel like the word “love” is overused, I go back to that sunrise conversation because I learned that love is not something that can be measured, defined, calculated, or even described.  We can love everything, with enough room to go around, and that’s what makes this world such a special place.  Maybe John, Paul, George, and Ringo were right, and it’s really all we need.  (I just love the Beatles.)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Wiping up motherhood


Sprinting up late to my son’s baseball game, I caught a glimpse of my daughter with-- I’m not going to sugar coat this-- snot dripping down her face. 
“I need a tissue,” she said.
“No kidding,” I replied, but I didn’t have one.  I quickly searched my pockets for a scrap of tissue or paper or anything remotely resembling an appropriate tool for cleaning her nose, but found nothing.  So I did what came naturally to me.  I wiped it with my finger, and then wiped my finger on my pants. 
A nearby dad said, “And that’s the sign of a true mother,” which I completely shrugged off because wiping a nose is nothing special to me.  I have also licked my thumb and cleaned peanut butter off of their faces even though I swore to heaven and back that I would never repeat that horrific act that my mother did so many times.  I guess it is just part of being a mom.

I would have never guessed it, but wiping is actually a huge part of motherhood.  This proclamation should not deter any young women out there considering pursuing this elite profession, because it’s more than you think.  Sure, we wipe a lot.  Noses are just the start of it.  There’s the cheesy stuff that forms behind newborn ears.  We wipe on lotions and creams.  There are the obvious countless diaper changes and potty training adventures.  There are tears of joy and sadness and boo boo’s and dirt and the never-ending task of wiping up the messes they make around the house.  I’ve probably spent more hours wiping than I have sleeping in the last 12 years.
But of course motherhood is more than just wiping, and the list is far too long to even begin naming.  Sixth sense, ability to find lost things, and magical healing skills to name a few.  Thankfully, anyone willing to learn the great talents of motherhood doesn’t have to look very far because anyone who has been a mother to her own children sort of takes on that role for everyone else.  For example, if in a group of people a baby starts crying, do you not see the majority of women rocking back and forth as if calming a child?  An instinct that we can’t deny.
My own mother lives states away.  We talk nearly every day on the phone and see each other as much as possible.  My mother-in-law lives close enough that we cross paths and share meals whenever our busy schedules permit.  I love spending time with my mothers, and really any mothers in general.  I know that we’re all together to take care of each other because deep down inside, that’s what we do best.  For that reason, unbeknownst to them, I have self-adopted dozens of mothers in all sections of my life.  At work, in the neighborhood, at various social settings.  I would be remiss if I didn’t specifically mention the great group of women at our local YMCA who make my mornings better by saying hello and smiling and chatting about this and that.  They have no idea what a big place they fill in my heart.  All of these ladies, I feel, have offered me a sense of trust and security and deep down I honestly feel like if I needed something, they would be there.
So this Mother’s Day, I urge everyone to take a second to notice and recognize the many mothers in your life.  It’s not like you have to get them all a card or take them out to brunch.  You don’t even have to buy them all a designer pack of tissues even though there has never been a more practical gift for a mother.  If you even give them an extra smile or say a kind word or two, they’ll know you care. 
Their sixth sense will surely pick up on it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The world’s best parenting advice


Somehow I am subscribed to a parenting magazine’s email list, and a few weeks ago I got an email with the subject of “The World’s Best Parenting Advice.”  Having been a mother for a decent chunk of my adult life, I clicked on the email and found that every single tip was a way for a mother to get out of her job, as a mother.  
There were ways to avoid having to rocking a child to sleep.  How to trick them into eating healthy.  The best videos and apps to keep kids occupied.  Other such things that are very valuable I’m sure, but all seemed to be some sort of alternative for putting in the time and effort that it truly takes to be a decent parent.
So that’s why I’m scrapping everything the email said and giving you my own advice.  The best parenting tip I have is to learn how to whistle with your fingers.
I couldn’t always do it, no matter how hard I tried.  It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized that it was something I needed to learn to be a good parent.  Because good parents don’t yell.  It sounds desperate and exhausting and annoying to everyone else within ear shot.
Good parents don’t yell... good parents whistle.
So there I sat one night when I’m sure I had something much more pressing to do, I said to my husband, “there’s got to be a good online video teaching me how to whistle with my fingers.”  (I have also said the same thing about juggling, which does not have such a success story attached to it.)  Turns out, I was right.  There are about a million videos, and a million different ways to whistle with your fingers, which I now know is called “wolf whistling.” 


I won’t say it was an instant success, but after sifting through a few methods and covering my laptop and self in shower after shower of spittle and dribble, I heard my first bit of a whistle.  Maybe it’s a beginner’s form, or maybe it’s just what works for me, but the only way I could get a sound is if I used the four-finger method.  Two fingers with each hand making a perfect angle with an impeccably curled tongue, a sharp blast of air, a lot of practice.  That’s all it took for me to obtain the greatest parenting tool I have yet to discover.
My children have become well aware of my new talent, and just like how babies know the sound and smell of their own parents, the distinct sound of my wolf whistle can be detected by my kids above all other sounds.  
“Watch this,” I say to a friend as we watch our children running rampant around a playground, not paying attention to any other parents yelling for them that it was time to leave.  I let off a big ol’ wolf whistle.
“Coming, mom!” yells my son, knowing full well it was me calling him, and that my whistle meant business.
“It’s like magic,” I told her.  “I whistle them in for dinner from all the way down the street and I don’t have to look like the pathetic parent standing there shouting and straining my vocal cords.”
“I have always wanted to be able to do that,” she answered.
“It’s only an online video away,” I told her.  “Just hunker down with clean fingers, a bib, and a computer.”
And with that, I passed on some of the greatest parenting wisdom on Earth that will sadly never reach the eyes of email readers around the country but will definitely reach the ears of my children.  Even when I don’t think they are paying attention.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ping pong injury proves a mother’s love


By the time this column runs, my nose will have completely healed and I will no longer need to apply extra natural beige makeup to the spot where my sunglasses so painful rested.  But I would be remiss if I did not at least get this story down in writing so that in years to come I can pull out a yellowed piece of newspaper and point at and say something like, “remember the stick?  And my nose?  How can you possibly think that I don’t love you?!??!”
Because it’s true:  I love my children very much.  I love them as much as my mother loved me when I said to her that I was going to slide down that muddy hill and she quickly scooped me up so I could ride down on her lap, thereby hitting every root and rock on the way down and bruising her legs so much that she wore long pants for a month. I have yet to live it down, because every so often I am reminded of the pain and humiliation she endured all because of some strange thing I did and how she saved me, blah blah blah.
But what I did for my youngest daughter should definitely be something that she never “blah blah blah’s” at because, above all, it’s a great story.
As a busy mom, I sit down approximately 2.7 seconds a day if you don’t count my car, doctor’s waiting rooms, bleachers, and other such luxuries.  After brilliantly whipping up something in a slow-cooker on a dreary day, I politely served all of my children before fixing my own plate.  I had just begun to sit when I asked if the outdoor toys had been put away because our dreary day had turned into a torrential downpour.  With not even a full second of relaxation, my son informed me that he had put away the bikes and balls, but that his sister’s stick was still lying in the driveway.  At this point, the blond curly-haired angelic cuddly usually semi-calm child burst into ultra-dramatic tears because, and I quote, “my Snakey!  It’s getting wet!  Save it, mommmmmmy!”
Reason does not work with a five-year-old, but in desperate times that doesn’t mean that we don’t try.
“It’s a stick.  From a tree.  It will dry,” I pleaded, just wanting to finally rest my body and eat dinner.  But actual salty tears were streaming from her face, so I hung my head and put down my fork and headed out the door into the stormy weather to retrieve a three-foot stick that apparently resembles a snake.
A horrible downpour, I sprinted out and grabbed the stick and raced into the garage where I placed Snakey safely out of the danger of vicious raindrops.  In just the few seconds out there, I was instantly drenched like a cat in a shower.  Stumbling across the floor, I wiped my eyes just long enough to impair my vision against the dangerous, yet playfully entertaining, Ping-Pong table that my son had retro-fitted into a single player game by folding up one side and making an instant ball return with every sled that we own.  (Don’t ask.  I just had to give creative details for effect.)
Without even knowing it, I plowed directly into the leg of the Ping-Pong table with the bridge of my nose, cursing through the thundering rain and hoping that it didn’t bruise.
Looking back, though, I’m kind of glad that it did, even though it was easily covered with an extra bit of make up.  For if it hadn’t been for Snakey’s valiant rescue, I would never be able to hold it over my daughter’s head in years to come, when reason overtook her once again and she thought for even one second that her mother didn’t love her.
And I have it as proof, in print.  Though if I was super lucky, it would have scarred, but I’m only a mother and I’ll take what I can get.


Monday, September 9, 2013

The world’s last Hootenanny Cake (as we know it)

Four generations, one delicious cake

Helping my parents move, my daughter was assigned to clean out the pantry.  Like most parents of that generation, I find, my mom has an ongoing love affair with out-of-dated food.  We have been visiting and discovered food that was outdated when we were first married, almost 14 years ago.  
“Pickles don’t go bad,” said my dad.
“But it’s cloudy.  And they’re white.”
It’s not always that bad, but it seems that there are plenty of packaged foods hanging around longer than the date on the side says it should.
My daughter thinks this is hilarious.  Every time we visit my parents, she plays this little game where she finds the most out of date item because she gets such a kick out it.  So when my mom told her to go through the entire pantry, she was giddy.  Laughing and tossing things out, there was barely enough to fill a box that was still technically edible.
But then she pulled out a box of pudding.
“Look at this one, mom.  It looks so old fashioned, I’m not even looking at the date.”  And with those words, she sent it careening across the room towards the trash receptacle, and just like in the movies my life switched into slow motion as I screamed “noooooo!” and I’m pretty sure I dove and caught it and landed in a perfect martial arts roll.
Because it wasn’t just pudding.  My daughter had found the last box of Royal Instant Toasted Coconut Pudding probably on Earth.
My dear grandmother who just celebrated her 90th birthday is famous for her Hootenanny Cake, which uses the above-mentioned type of pudding.  I realize there are plenty of other recipes for Hootenanny Cake out there, but my grandma’s recipe calls for THIS pudding.  The company sadly stopped making it a few years ago.
How do we know they don’t make it anymore?  We wrote.  We called.  We begged and pleaded with the Royal Pudding Company.  My grandparents even sent them a copy of her recipe.  Alas, it was all for naught because they just said they were sorry and sent us coupons for inferior pudding flavors.
Unbeknownst to her, for years my mother had had this box of prized pudding hiding in her pantry, back behind the old pickles and multiple cans of chicken broth, stashed under the boxes of Jello.  And after catching it, I held it up in the air and screamed for my mom until she came running.  From there we danced in circles and laughed and yelled for my father and called my grandparents on the phone and the two of us were giddy past all reason.
Naturally my daughter thought we had completely lost our minds.
But she doesn’t understand yet at her young age of 11 that something like a cake has magic powers, and this cake has powers beyond anything she has ever seen.
When cakes are served, special things happen.  People gather.  People celebrate.  My uncle will rise from a slumber well before he is ready for a piece of cake for breakfast, and everyone knows that skipping birthday cake is like bringing a boatload of bad luck upon yourself.  Cakes mean coffee, and coffee means conversation, and conversation brings people closer together in a way that magnifies the love that makes this world go round.
If that all doesn’t sound amazing enough, my Grandma’s Hootennany Cake can do all that.  And then some.  Before it’s even out of the oven.
My parents and grandparents live out of state, and so this year we traveled to celebrate her birthday.  Upon our arrival, she had waiting for us a delicious dinner and the very last Hootennany Cake that she made with her 90-year-old hands.
Never has it tasted sweeter.


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