Nana and Grandpa’s Let’s Go Bag

I confess. I may not exhibit full-blown OCD, but I definitely lean that way. I sort my M&Ms by color and then eat them so as to even out the piles. I stack silverware in the tray. Open dresser drawers WILL be closed after I walk by. . . . and I make lists. It’s a family thing. I remember my mother taping lists inside our suitcases before we went on vacation each summer and my father made lists for e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. He was a meticulous recordkeeper who kept mileage calculations and a daily expense ledger that would pass IRS scrutiny right up until he went into the hospital three days before he died.

I also love little adventures, day trips, hikes; whatever you want to call them. These short outings of exploration are one of the things I most look forward to sharing with my grandchildren.  Between my upbringing, my Girl Scout training and previous parenting and grandparent experience (I think everyone can relate to the toddler public venue full-diaper diarrhea blowout), I realized that a little advance planning and preparation was probably in order. Trying to hose down said toddler in a restaurant ladies’ room sink, discarding his clothes because they made me gag,and carrying a naked and crying 3 year old past all the other patrons to grandpa waiting in the car is not a scene I wish to repeat anytime soon.

Another thing I notice is many parents, even the most focused and dedicated ones, tend to sabotage their own efforts to get their little ones out the door on a happy and relaxed note. Getting kids ready to go anywhere at anytime is a challenge.Kids have their own agenda and we adults don’t always telegraph our intentions real well. Either the parents spring the news on the little tykes (that’s right, they didn’t hear you talking about it for the last half hour), then expect them to drop everything without complaint and run to the door, pulling on shoes and picking up toys in one fluid motion; or they announce with great excitement that “we’re going bye bye” and then proceed to spend the next 15 minutes gathering everything together while simultaneously trying to get Junior dressed, and they wonder why Junior keeps wandering back to his toys. Everyone’s stress level ratchets up a notch and communications aren’t always zen-like in tone. A little advance logistics planning and preparation is worth well the time.

Enter Nana and Grandpa’s “Let’s Go” Bag! Basically a diaper bag for the toddler to pre-teen set, it will stay packed and replenished with perishables and age-appropriate substitutions, ready for planned excursions or an impromptu walk on the butterfly trail, to help ensure the comfort and safety of our little charges and maybe a few more minutes of sanity for Grandpa and Nana.

Tomorrow we are taking our almost 4 year old grandson and 7 year old granddaughter to one of our favorite places, the Genesee Country Village and Museum in Mumford NY, meaning a couple of hours of walking and a good amount of that time outdoors. Food and drink are available but not always convenient. Dominic is potty trained now, so we no longer need a diaper stuff, but we’ve learned that messes happen, that they are hungry and have to go the bathroom at THE most inconvenient times and they get restless easily. So, Nana is packing our Let’s Go bag tonight.

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Get a lightweight and not-too-dorky looking backpack and load ‘er up.

Contents [Large Zip-Loc or mesh bags keep things organized within the backpack]: 

The Comfort and First Aid Bag:

  • Diaper Wipes for Sensitive Skin {better than hand wipes because they are larger and don’t have a lot of alcohol}
  • Paper Towels [use as placemats or for big spills]
  • Baby sun screen,
  • Band Aids
  • Sting Eze or After Bite Itch Eraser
  • Small water tight covered container, balanced sterile saline solution [tooth preservation kit]
  • Eco-friendly, non-toxic bug repellent (I used Burt’s Bees)
  • Lip Balm 

Disaster Recovery Bag:

Plastic grocery bags, hand sanitizer, disinfecting surface wipes, and extra T-shirt, shorts and underwear for each child. So even if they toss their lunch on the Teacup of Terror Ride, you can still get them semi-presentable in a jiffy and not have to ride home with all the windows down. 

Snacks and Drinks:

  • Water
  • Sippy Cups or Reusable Drink Boxes with Built-in Straws
  • Straws and extra paper cups (also double as collection cups for pretty rocks and leaves)
  • Child size plastic eating utensils
  • Small covered dishes 
  • Covered Plastic Container and Zip-Loc Sandwich Bags
  • Individual packages of snacks for each child (sharing is a mess waiting to happen)

Boredom Buster Bag:

  • Fat Crayons and Small Activity Books or Paper Pads
  • Stickers
  • colored pipe cleaners 
  • Small plastic cars or figures
  • small puzzles or books

We discourage the use of electronics when we go on outings because, well, we want to spend time with them, educate and entertain them,  and maybe even have them remember what we looked like after we’re gone. I will admit though that after the 14th game of “I’m going camping and I’m bringing a_____” on the car ride home, Grandpa begins to turn white around the lips, at which point a little handheld game may or may not appear out of Nana’s wonderful magic bag. 

Happy Trails!

 

 

 

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Weeds! Glorious weeds!

Winter just held its breath until it turned blue. I did not even get a spade into the ground until late in May, and what we have is a bare bones garden of a few tomato plants, pumpkins, fennel, cucumbers, and collards. So here we are almost to July and I nearly blushed with embarrassment when some friends posted their first harvest of berries, radishes and summer squash. What I DO have though, in abundance in fact, is weeds.

Luckily, I am not a fussy eater, and even luckier, I have learned to identify, utilize and appreciate some very tasty and incredibly nutritious edible wild plants. Nature, it turns out, provides for my sustenance better than I and my feeble gardening skills.

The knowledge comes from a variety of sources over a fifty year period. I think the first I remember is when I was maybe six years old and living the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. I remember a woman’s voice, my mother I suppose, although I cannot see her, telling me that the hoary velvet-leaved plant could be steeped into mullein tea. I do remember Mom, paper sack in hand, picking dandelion and plantain leaves in the yard. We didn’t have a lot of money, but I am certain she was not picking them because we didn’t have money for “real” food. It was just what one did. Another vivid memory around that time was being in the woods and biting into the shiny leaves of a low-growing plant known only as ” mountain tea”. I still remember that flavor vaguely reminiscent of wintergreen and sassafras.

Summers at my Grammy’s meant lots of good cooked greens, which were most always a mixture of wild and garden greens – collards, beet greens, mustard, kale, chard and poke, cooked to perfection with a bit of ham and seasonings? Later, when my family moved north to upstate New York, my father, who fancied himself an amateur archaeologist, would take us out into the woods hiking, looking for old farm and native people sites for his digs. I could not have cared less then about old bottles, button hooks, broken pottery and arrowheads, but I looked forward to the real treasures he showed us near rotting logs and tree stumps. Leeks or ramps, fiddlehead ferns and puffball. But it was one of the neighbor kids who told me you could snack on the “sour grass” growing around the foundation of our house in town.

Once as a young wife at our home on a few acres stretched from a wooded hillside down to a creek, I asked my sister who was visiting one spring with her new husband ( a city boy), if she would like to go get some greens for a salad. As we grabbed a bag and headed for the door, he asked her didn’t she want the car keys? Silly boy.

Even with all that, it was not until a trip one of our favorite places, the Genesee Country Village & Museum that we were introduced to purslane. In reading about the incredible nutritive value of this ubiquitous member of the portulaca family, that I began to fully realize the value of this acquired knowledge. Most people cannot get past the fear that they will accidentally eat something poisonous, thanks to every adult admonishing us to never eat anything from “outside”. What a shame. The internet now makes it possible to have an illustrated field guide in our pocket that our parents could not have imagined. I am so grateful that eating wild plants was a natural part of my experience growing up. I truly believe it contributed to my present health as well as my adventurous palate. I look forward to passing along the gift on many walks with my grandchildren for many years to come.

Pictured is tonight’s “weeding” salad of purslane, dill that has reseeded itself all over the place, cilantro, chives, and wood sorrel ( sour grass) tossed with 1 tablespoon lemon juice, salt, pepper, a few drops of light olive oil and a 1/2 tsp. stevia.

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In Defense of Genteel Speech

I get it that some of your friends think you are funny as hell, that you have an acerbic wit, a dark or ribald sense of humor. I understand you grew up where life is faster, edgier; that you have had different life experiences. Maybe you have issues because someone you identify with a type or group has taken advantage of you, or is seemingly getting a benefit they do not deserve. Let’s face it; people out there are sometimes just dumb, thoughtless, arrogant, ignorant, selfish and mean. I understand we sometimes seek and receive affirmation for our frustration with all of that by posting on FB. But HOW we describe the foibles of humanity for humor’s sake or just to vent, does make a difference. It makes a difference in how our comments are received – whether they cause laughter and “Oh, I TOTALLY get that!”, or a ripple of recognition and a silent promise to self to try not to be “that” person, or whether they cause hurt and alienation among our audience of “Friends”. I am not talking about the passive-aggressive shot at someone you really do want to call out. I am talking about labeling the anonymous. Language allows us to be funny, cutting, edgy, witty and even brutally honest without being thoughtlessly hurtful. Be careful how you describe someone whose behavior has annoyed you. Try to confine your description of the person to criteria that actually matter. People will respond very differently to a post that reads, “Just almost lost it – the driver of that white sedan just crossed three lanes of traffic in front of me like a stone skipping the surface of a pond – while texting!!!” than they will to, “Nothing I hate more than people like that sliver-lipped ass-less grey hair who just cut me off!” Why? Because nothing matters about the physical characteristics of the driver in the story – until you label them. The first tells me you are annoyed by dangerous behavior. The second tells me you make broad generalizations about people, that you equate reckless behavior with people who may be like me in some respects and are likely to regard all people with those characteristics unkindly. To borrow from Marshall Rosenberg, if we speak the language of jackals we should not be surprised when people respond accordingly. We live in at a time when our culture and the media engulfs us in angry, combative, aggressive jackal language every waking moment. It pits us against each other for sport (sports like ratings and political races). It diminishes us. I used to tell my children that swearing/cussing was what people did because they were too ignorant to use words that actually had meanings. It takes presence of mind to elevate our speech above the 2nd grade level we are fed every day. It is going to take individual acts of conscious and courageous self-will not to be dragged down to the level of animals snarling at each other in a pit. The first step is to understand the power of language and to choose our words carefully, even in casual conversation, even in disagreement – or maybe especially then.

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Having the Girls Over

The last month has been busy with mostly good things – a wonderful week long visit with my son and his family in Virginia, welcoming a new colleague at work, winter finally giving up the ghost and the yard work that comes with it. I was feeling guilty because I don’t have a single thing planted in the garden. Hell, I haven’t even prepared the soil! I haven’t executed an honest to goodness cleaning binge in a good three months, the mail’s piled up and I still have a basement full of my parents’ things to go through and organize. I haven’t made a card since around Easter, and sewing patterns and skeins of gossamer butter-colored yarn, nascent visions of adorable heirlooms for baby Naya (yes, baby Blossom has a name!) taunt me every time I walk into my craft/ sewing/dressing room. So what do I do? Well invite the girls over for a direct sales party, of course!

“The Girls” are a crazy quilt of women – some I’ve known for almost 30 years, others only a couple of years. They are farm wives, business women, mothers of school age kids, grandmothers I met at work/kids’ activities/church/neighborhood. We’ve shared office war experiences, parenting angst, mountaintop experiences on mission trips and more tears, laughter, cups of coffee and glasses of wine than I can count. The common denominator is that I cherish them all. A cookware/jewelry/makeup/home decor/craft party is just the excuse you need sometimes to do nothing but enjoy each other’s company and engage in a little retail therapy – and the guys are sure to hightail it out of the house for a while too.

Honestly, it was also a chance to brag on my husband a little bit and show off all the work he’s done around here lately, the kitchen wainscotting, woodwork and refurbished cabinets and the beautiful floors throughout, even some of our furniture. Oh, and did I mention that girlfriends make the BEST guinea pigs when you want to try out some interesting sounding recipes you’ve found on Pinterest? So what does one serve at a grown up ladies’ ” tea party”?

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Caprese Salad Stacks: Skewer bite size mozzarella balls, fresh basil leaves and grape tomato on a toothpick, sprinkle with sea salt, coarse ground black pepper and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Classic summer freshness.

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Prosciutto-Wrapped Stuffed Dates: Cut large pitted dates in half (but not all the way through), stuff with a chunk of Gorgonzola, Feta or other strong cheese. I used herbed goat cheese. Wrap with a strip of prosciutto. I placed them on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and roasted in convection oven at 400 degrees for about 6 minutes. These were absolutely delicious!

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Guacamole Deviled Eggs

Salted Caramel Pretzel Brownies: Yes, I used a brownie mix. Don’t judge. Fudge-y, crunchy, gooey, salty nirvana.

Drape your table in something unabashedly girly, put on the spa music, light a scented candle and serve up the lemonade in your prettiest pitcher, and you’ve got your self a party. Oh, and wine. Don’t forget the wine!

For Pauline, Kathy, Amal, Judy, Donna, Marie, Jennifer, Abigail, Rekha, Cindy.

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Milking stool, vinegar jug and candle mold

Ever wonder what artifacts will remain of your time here?

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My father, and his mother before him, were the custodians of a few items from my great grandparents and their families, now passed along to me. What strikes me is how personal they are. Simple household tools, made to last and used every day, they beg to be touched. No modern packaging has the tactile appeal of my great grandmother’s primitive vinegar jug. From family recipes like Switchel and potato salad handed down through the generations, I know vinegar was an important commodity in her kitchen.

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How precious would light be if your only source were candles you made yourself? Her candle mold would have been as important to them as any appliance in our homes today. No fine jewelry or furniture could tell me more about this woman than these tools she used regularly taking care of her home and family.

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One can almost see Uncle Burton Potter casually swinging the handmade milking stool in one hand and the milk pail in the other as he rose to go from one milking station the next. Clearly repaired several times with hand cut nails and scraps of feed bag, birch bark still clinging to the worm riddled wood, preserved for 100 years by the sweat and oil of a humble farmer’s hands and most likely a few decades of cow urine and barn muck, it has become the favorite perch of our three year old grandson, who swings it just as easily from its usual place by the fireplace to the bathroom to brush his teeth.

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And what will future generations know of us? They will certainly have more photographs and writings, but I wonder if anything from this culture of disposability will beg to be touched and speak of the dignity of hard work and convey anything of the person who touched it every day.

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Not Your Mamaw’s Soul Food

A lot of the recipes I cherish come from my family; solid farming folk from upstate New York and Kentucky; my grandmother Norma’s corn pudding, baked beans, Switchel and German potato salad (which is probably more like Pennsylvania Dutch style and NOTHING like that horrid gelatinous stuff in a can or served at buffets) and “Grammy” Mahala Joe’s pimento cheese, coca cola ham, jam cake and Kentucky Wonder pole beans that cooked all day with a little fat back and to this day is the one exception I will make to my “crisp tender” rule for vegetables. Lordy they were good!

But not all my favorite recipes are traditional. Some my children never had at my table growing up. My parents were fairly adventurous when it came to trying different foods, “ethnic” foods, even though they had not been exposed to much diversity themselves. My mother told me once she never tasted pizza until she was in her late teens! But we didn’t have much money and eating at restaurants was reserved for very special adult occasions or emergencies on the road. Now Rochester, New York, is hardly what you’d call a mecca of haute cuisine. But one thing I will say is that we have a lot of darn good, real deal, Italian restaurants. One dish that is a staple is “Greens and Beans”. Sometimes it’s an appetizer, sometimes a soup, sometimes a main course. Nothing fancy – escarole and cannellini beans. Italian soul food. The first time I had it was at a little hole in the wall place in a suburban strip mall in Webster, Proietti’s. I’ve tried it in probably 5 or 6 other places and they’ve all been good – but they’re not Proietti’s. I read somewhere that their recipe was featured in Bon Appetit. Yeah, it’s that good.

After having a wonderful dish out, I will often try to replicate it at home. After some experimentation I came up with a reasonable approximation, very tasty IMHO, and my husband and family have given it the “More Please” seal of approval, so it has become a staple. The fact that it goes together with a minimum of prep time and is pretty forgiving (read, you don’t have to measure anything) doesn’t hurt either. The way I make it may not be authentic, but it’s a simple nutritious meal in a bowl made with easily available inexpensive ingredients and my family loves it. That makes it soul food in my book.

Ingredients for Greens and Beans

Ingredients for Greens and Beans


What you’ll need: a pound or so of bulk Italian sausage (I have used hot, mild, poultry. Use whatever you like, or none at all); a bag of chopped escarole (6-8 cups fresh); 1 quart chicken stock or broth; 2 tablespoons or more minced garlic, 1 c dry or semi-dry white wine, 1-2 cans cannellini (white) beans; coarse ground black pepper; grated Parmesan cheese.
Brown the sausageBrown the crumbled sausage in a sauté pan, then remove from pan and set aside or put in a stock pot.
Wilt greens

In the fat left in the pan, gently sauté the escarole and garlic until the greens are wilted.

Remove the wilted greens to the stock pot. Deglaze the pan with the wine and cook over medium heat until reduced by half. About this time is when my husband stops what he is doing to see what smells so good.The real wine

Oh, did I mention – that nice bottle of wine in the ingredients photo?

Yeah, I didn’t use that. I’m saving that for dinner. I used the box. Like I said, this recipe is very forgiving!

Next throw the beans in with the sausage and escarole, then add the wine (and any yummy bits therein) from your pan. Last, add the chicken stock and a little pepper and simmer for at least 30 minutes. Have a glass of that nice Sauvignon Blanc while you wait.Add beansSimmer
Just before serving, garnish generously with grated Parmesan cheese, break off a piece of crusty bread and finish that bottle of wine with your favorite folks around the table. Enjoy

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Dear Blossom,

Spring Babies

We haven’t met yet and Blossom, I am fairly certain, will not be your name, but your Nana has loved you for a long time now. I call you Blossom because we will first meet in the usual sense around cherry blossom time. And, like the cherry blossoms, everyone is anxiously awaiting this miracle of beauty and renewal, this gift of spring, this new life – you. Your Mommy and Daddy, your Grandma Marietta and I, your aunts and uncles, are all trying to imagine what you will look like, what your personality will be like, what will your passions in life be and how you will grow and blossom into everything you were meant to be. We all have our own special wishes for you and, just as we do for your big brother, we make little promises in our hearts to help you, to share what we have learned in our lives so that you might have a life as full of joy and discovery and love as we can possibly make it.

It’s funny how we humans have this strange habit of thinking of you tiny new people as the culmination of all the lives that led up to you and the hope of all those who will come after. That’s quite a responsibility for someone who won’t be able to talk for another year yet! But we do. You and Jaxon have such a rich and varied heritage. None of this will mean a lot to you until you are much older but you will inherit stories about brave, hardworking, creative and smart women of long ago, and some you will meet and I hope come to know very well. Some of those stories will be told while we are in the kitchen. Your Grandma M will show you how to make Pancit and Lumpia, and she’ll tell you about how she learned to make it, about how she made it for your Grandpa; how it is that simple foods bind families together. I’ll take you for walks in the woods and fields and show you what plants are good for eating, how to tell a storm is coming, how to walk quietly and discover what wonderful things you can see when the animals don’t know you are there, just as your great grandparents did with me. I hope we do a good job of telling our stories, so that you will hear the love and pride in them. I know you will probably roll your eyes and tell us you would rather be out climbing something or working on your latest discovery, but I hope you hear enough to know we are giving you the gift of all our families’ strengths in those stories. We are assuring you that whatever adversities come your way – you will triumph over them. Whatever dreams inspire you, you will persevere and achieve more than your dreams. Whatever challenges you face, you will learn to gather around you the support and encouragement you need to shore up and overcome your weaknesses and let your strengths and talents lead you.

For now, though, I am content to smile to myself when I think of the glorious riot of sun-drenched colors, the interplay of sounds we interpret as music and how it speaks to us, and of the miracle of love, tolerance,  encouragement and respect that is a family, all waiting for you. As I drove home from church this morning I could not help but think as I admired the snow-flocked trees lining the roads and the drooping boughs of the evergreen trees around our house, “I can hardly wait to show you all of this.” You will learn this soon enough, but your Nana will stop a conversation mid-sentence to point out a pretty bird who has arrived at our feeder, and often chooses “shortcuts” (which Grandpa T knows always take more time) just so she can wind through forests and fields instead of highway signs. And maybe that’s why you, little Blossom, and Jaxon, and every new person is such a blessing. Each of you reminds us to see the world with new eyes,with more wonder, with more joy; reminds us to be grateful for every day we are given to go exploring with you.

Love you forever,
Nana

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