Puppies are Good for Empty-Nesters

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A Favorite Photo-My Husband Admiring our Baby

Dear Reader:

One of my favorite regular columns in any magazine is the Harper’s Index in Harper’s Magazine…of course. It’s a simple list of interesting factoids that makes for fun reading and sharing. Today I learned:

Percentage of U.S. pet-custody cases that involve dogs: 96%

That involve cats: 1

Apologies to the “cat people” in my life, but I was not in the least bit surprised to read this! After all, dogs have a “pack mentality” as do people. (More trivia: what is the name of a group of cats????? Got you, right?!) All three of my four-legged family members are draped across my legs as I write this. It’s a chilly morning and they are earning their keep!

My husband and I have been married for 33 years and for 25 of those years we’ve had at least one dog. We were excited the day we finally moved into a pet-friendly condominium. It didn’t take long for us to adopt our first dachshund, Carly. For eight years, our friends and family had speculated as to when we’d have a child. They had a good laugh when we purchased a small library of books in the genre of how to raise the perfect dog and consulted a baby naming book.  There were whispers that we were “practicing” for our first child. The speculation grew when we took Carly to Sears for Christmas pictures.

Alas, the next member of our pack also had four legs. Bill, another long-haired miniature dachshund, joined us the year after our first. Jeff and Karyn of Wagsmore Dachshunds named the dog after the president “before the Lewinsky scandal” they told us. We thought our new puppy looked rather “presidential” so we chose not to change his name. It would be another two years before we had our only child, Natalie, and Bill would be the first to arrive in her room when she cried.

It’s impossible to imagine our home without a dog or two or three and perfectly outrageous to ponder me and my husband embroiled in a custody fight over them. But, there is no danger of this as we are happy together and have further bonded over the arrival of our latest baby “Winnie.”

Michele

P.S. A group of cats is called a “clowder.” I looked it up.

 

 

 

My Favorite Kitchen

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Dear Reader:

I started another writing course this week through Stanford Continuing Studies; I’m having trouble with it. When I write to you, I decide on the topic. But, today,  I’ve been given a writing prompt that I must adhere to!  You, dear reader, now have the opportunity to read my first submission to the class: an essay about a “memorable kitchen” with a bonus recipe!

 

I’m not much of a cook, but I do love to eat so it seems appropriate that the only kitchen I ever really loved was a kitchen that I did not cook in. It was very small and it existed in a different time. One could move between the sink, table, stove and refrigerator with just a few steps. It was brightly lit with three windows counting the one that occupied the top half of the back door that led to the herb garden. There was no dishwasher or microwave, but the phone resided there on a tiny table adjacent to the stove.

This kitchen was alive. I can not picture it empty and yet, of course, it was …when Nonnie slept. I had many meals there and, without exaggeration or exception, they always satisfied me. I could tell you about the dough that was handmade, rolled and cut on the kitchen table or the sauce that simmered on the stove all day. I could try to convince you that a simple vegetable soup with a bit of pasta and meat could be a culinary delight. Or I might conjure up the image of crispels frying in a pan of oil until crispy and then covered in powdered sugar or warm honey and enjoyed with coffee.

My grandmother spent most of her days in this room. It delighted her to cook for family, friends and, of course, the clergy. She prepared meals for the priests at her church often and the bishop was thrilled when his visits coincided with her food deliveries. (Priests lined up to give the eulogy at her funeral!)

Her kitchen was akin to an artist’s studio, but she generously shared it. It was calming and reassuring to simply sit and watch her mix, roll, cut and fold. She completed these repetitive tasks with great joy and precision. She did not require participation in the task at hand, but she was glad to have you step outside to pick the herbs she needed or to allow you to take over the task of frying or filling.  Often, I just sat, though, and fully appreciated the warm companionship she offered while she worked.

Truly, I loved everything Nonnie cooked and baked, but it is a small meal in a mug that I remember most fondly. I would love to share the recipe with you!

 

Nonnie’s Beaten Egg Breakfast

Ingredients:

  • strong coffee
  • egg yolks
  • brown sugar
  • milk
  • and a loving companion

Brew the coffee while warming the milk slowly in a small saucepan. Crack and separate the eggs placing a yolk in each cup. Add a bit of brown sugar and beat the yolk and sugar together. Slowly, while stirring, add the hot coffee to the eggs to temper them slowly. Finish with warm milk to taste.

 

I remember many mornings spent with Nonnie enjoying this simple, sweet pleasure. I lived with her for several months after my parents divorced and I started college. Those coffee mornings gave me the sustenance I needed to pursue my future independently and the love my grandmother gave me remains with me to this day.

Thanks for reading!

Michele

 

 

 

 

 

What Am I Going to Do With This?!?!

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Me with a childhood portrait

“It’s so big I can’t even scan it!” said my husband.

Dear Reader:

Downsizing, I think, is a lot like writing; both exercises require one to discard what is not beautiful or useful. Brutal elimination of the extraneous is a painful process. But hard work and commitment offer the potential to create a deep sense of satisfaction and true pride. My husband and I are collectors and we’ve been alive for over half of a century, so when we moved two years ago into a  home, half the size from our previous home, there were a lot of items we were forced to hold in our hands and decide to keep or donate.

Back in the days when we had little money, we could measure the depth of a friendship by the willingness of a person to help us move. You see there were many, many, many heavy boxes of books and anyone who knew us, knew that! So, if someone turned up on moving day, we knew we had a true friend. Books are still a shared passion for us, but, thankfully, we can afford to hire big, burly young movers.

I started the process of downsizing a year in advance and thank goodness for that! When my friends ask for advice, that’s the first thing I say:  Get a head start!  The act of purging builds on itself. It’s kind of like losing weight; you lose one pound and you’re more motivated to lose the other four. It does take a lot of time, though. You have to develop a rhythm. It’s easy to decide the fate of some things. Yes, I’ll keep every love letter my husband ever sent me. There are a lot as we had a long distance relationship while he was away at UC San Diego  and this was before cell phones and laptops (I’m very old!)! The closet took forever as I tried on each item of clothing and modeled it for my husband. The kitchen was a nightmare.  I’m a wanna-be chef so through the years I’ve purchased many small appliances that promised to help me achieve my culinary goals. Sad to say many of them were never used.  Bye, bye panini maker, waffle maker and food processor! I was forced to acknowledge that I’d never make a crepe or a donut. I did keep my large roasting pan only to discover on our first Thanksgiving in the house that it was too big for my new oven!

My second suggestion is to recruit the help of an honest friend. You know the one who knows how many cake plates you have and isn’t afraid to ask why you need all of them. Self talk is also very helpful. This can be of the silent variety or you can run it past your four-legged furry friends. It goes something like this: “When was the last time I used this? Am I sentimentally attached? Is it really fab or really handy?” Finally, if you’d like to buy a book to inform, motivate and support you, I offer the following recommendations:  It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff  by Peter Walsh and the hugely popular primer by Marie Kondo,  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Today we are happily living among our very carefully curated collection of things. My husband and I have never been, nor will we ever be, minimalists.  We still have a lot of stuff, but it’s all good stuff! Oh, and about that portrait…the frame is gone, but the picture  remains in a large art box filled with my daughter’s early masterpieces.

Best,

Michele

P.S. I can still find room for small dachshund shaped items and most anything in the color of petal pink.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Flowers from my girl!

Dear Reader:

I am lucky enough to be spending Mother’s Day weekend with my daughter! One forgets how good food is in a college town: donuts, pizza, bagels and smoothies oh my!

Best wishes to my dear friend, Courtney,  mother of four girls all under the age of nine, and hugs to my mother-in-law, Mary , who gave me my wonderful husband!

Love,

Michele

A Kiss for You…and Me

Dear Reader:

My pink shed is filled with all manner of things that inspire me, inform me or simply please me. One of those things is this bird; you squeeze the sides and its beak opens to reveal a chocolate kiss. It’s been with me for 25 years now. The yellow has faded and it has been stained with coffee spills. It used to hang from a knob above my coffee maker in my old home.

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It was hand-made by an elderly woman who lived down the hall from Nonnie (my Italian grandmother) in her last residence:  an assisted living facility. I remember the day I acquired it quite vividly. I was visiting with the rest of my family and Nonnie was uncharacteristically demanding. She wanted “the bird with the kiss.”  We kept re-directing her back to the garden as it was a particularly pleasant day. But, she wanted the bird. She wanted the bird her neighbor made that gave kisses.

It took a while for us to consider her request seriously and decide to comply. We were, I remember, confused and impatient. But, she persisted, and led us down her hallway and into the room of a woman perched on her bed surrounded by skeins of bright yellow yarn. Indeed, she was making birds that offered chocolate. It was a cottage industry and she could barely keep up with the demand. We each purchased a bird and then retired to the garden where we enjoyed chocolate in the sunshine.

My grandmother died a week later.

I look at that bird and wonder:  is there a moral to this story? Is it a reminder to listen better and judge less or to stop and be patient? Or does its value simply come from the smile it produces on my face when I look at it and remember one of the most beautiful people who ever graced my life.

Tell me about your interesting mementos,

Michele