Kenny

Who is Kenny? He’s someone I don’t know very well, but I will tell you that he makes me smile every time I see him.

You see, I am one of those rare grocery shoppers that makes a weekly meal plan, a corresponding grocery list and a weekly trek to the store (this usually occurs on a Saturday or Sunday). I want to get it done all in one trip and never go back (well, until the next weekend). I really hate grocery shopping – as much as I hate cleaning the bathrooms.

I described myself as a rare grocery shopper because I don’t usually see many others in the grocery store filling their carts to overflowing and then, watching their baggers navigate two carts across the parking lot. I feel like a rare breed. One time, a fellow shopper asked me if we were having a party and I said, “Nope. This is my normal weekly grocery trip.” She looked horrified (really, I’m not kidding). I wasn’t sure how to respond to that so I didn’t. We just waited in uncomfortable silence in the checkout line until my groceries were bagged and ready for transport.

So, you’re still saying, “Who’s Kenny? And, what does this have to do with food?” Kenny is my grocery bagger. Okay, he’s not really MY bagger, but the poor thing is usually the lucky duck that ends up bagging the seemingly endless stream of food that I buy.

I want to say that while bagging groceries isn’t rocket science, it’s still a science of sorts. Not everyone is good at it. You have to have good spatial skills. There are definitely great ones (fast, efficient use of bags, perfect food placement within the bags and smash-free bread & chips), good ones (somewhat fast and efficient, okay food placement within the bags and smash-free bread & chips) and bad ones (slow, wasteful with bags and smashes your bread & chips). When picking out my checkout lane, I’m not looking for the shortest lane, I’m looking for a good to great grocery bagger. Since I shop at this store every week, I know who’s who and what’s what.

Kenny makes the trip worthwhile. Besides being a fantastic bagger, he is always happy, always has a smile on his face and always has really nice things to say. For example, he often asks about my kids and when I tell him their ages, he always responds with, “Wow! You look too young to have kids in high school!” (Thank you, Kenny!)

Kenny is probably in his early 50s and I think has been working at my local O’Malia’s for about 25 years (give or take a few years). In making small talk out to the car, he will be the first to tell you that he was hit by a car when he was a toddler (2 or 3) and suffered a brain injury in that accident. He loves skiing with his aunt in Colorado because they have a great skiing program for the disabled. He also has a sister in Dallas whom he visits at least once a year (from what I have gathered). His sister has three or four kids and he LOVES them tremendously. He talks about them as if they were his own.

I really admire him – his outlook on life is wonderful despite the cards dealt to him and he seems to find the joy in the moment.

I strive to mimic his perspective and his ability to live in the now.

He always ends the visit with a “Thank you for shopping at O’Malias!”

I hope that Kenny’s coworkers see what I see and take away something positive after a Kenny-encounter. I know I do.

The Middle Life: Making it Real

Hey, everyone! How’s it hangin’? Where have I been? I guess I’ve been on a writing sabbatical and not sure why.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since the school year started. So much so that I’m having trouble putting two sentences together to express myself.

What is the predominant thought swirling in my brain? Middle Age. At 46 years old, I have to admit I’m smack dab in the midst of middle age. By the way, when does middle age evolve into old age? . . . . . . . . You know what? Never mind, I’ll worry about that later.

How did I envision this stage of my life? I don’t have an answer. I’d never really thought about it much until I arrived so I can’t say that it’s not what I thought it would be. I’ve been going through my life like a freight train racing through the farmlands of the Midwest. Everything a blur. Until now. The train has now come to a screeching halt awaiting directions.

It’s so weird not to have plan. I’m a planner. I’ve always had a plan – get through high school, go to college, get an awesome career, get married, buy a house, have wonderful kids, . . . . . . . . Then, the plan is blank. The items listed so far have been completed, but now what?

Obviously, the next stage is . . . . . empty nester. Yikes.

Why am I dwelling on this now?

Rachel got accepted into the first of five colleges that she is considering (yay!) – we found out a week ago.  Reading the formal written acceptance letter was like seeing a Technicolor rainbow while getting pelted with ice-cold rain. Then, the rainbow disappeared. I thought to myself, “It’s really happening – she will be leaving.” I cried the entire day and still can’t talk about it without sobbing. I really need to pull it together, but I’m struggling.

Of course, I’m always thinking waaaayyy too far in advance. Since Rachel got accepted into college, I’m seeing my future with no kids at home (I sure can make the leaps, can’t I?).  What the hell am I going to do with myself when that happens?

The hubs is always saying to me, “Don’t under estimate the value of you quitting your full-time job and being around more for our kids.” I’m sure he’s right, but it’s also easy for him to say. He has a career that he enjoys and will still have this career when the kids are gone. Most of my day revolves around managing the kids. (Holy crap! I’m going to have a lot of free time.)

This next part of my life journey is like an unformed lump of clay. I’m scared of that – I really don’t know what to do with clay.

I need a plan. Any ideas?

Uninspired

Uninspired. That’s what I am. I’m not sure why.

I have a lot to say and there’s a lot going on in this brain of mine, but I’m struggling with expressing it. What are the words?  I’m just not sure.

As I drift off to sleep, I think of what to say (it’s perfect!), but then I fall asleep. By morning my brilliant word play is gone and then, I’m left with trying to recover it. This, of course, is impossible. Back to square one.

Over the last month, I’ve been hit by a school bus (I’m okay), two out of three (three? I know, we are spoiled) of our home computers crashed, and my son had to go to the ER. This series of events have just thrown me off kilter a bit. I sit down to write and my mind goes blank. What’s up with that?

Due to the bus accident, I’m in a rental van (going on week three). I miss my old, red Town & Country. But, what keeps me going is that I know we will eventually be reunited and she will look shiny and new.

The computer situation? We replaced one of the two broken home computers – the new one is so awesome! You may be wondering why we have so many computers. We have just accumulated them as our family has grown. When you have three kids and a hubs that all require the computer to do work/homework, you need three computers. (I did fail to mention that my work laptop has also crashed and it will be replaced on Monday – I have  been cursed by the Microsoft gods.)

My son? He is okay – he slipped and fell in the dugout and braced his fall with his face against the bench (ouch!). It looked way worse than it was (confirmed by a $2,000 CT scan).

Well, that’s it. Nothing earth-shattering or life-altering, just life.

Hopefully, this funk will go away soon and I can get back to dazzling you with my insightful, brilliant and funny posts!

Salmonella with Tarragon & Cider Sauce

It was time.

“Time for what?”, you may be asking. Well, for my mid-year cooking meltdown, of course!

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not a perfect chef every other day of the year. I make things that end up on the Never-Make-Again List, or don’t look like the picture but still taste good, or don’t look like the picture and don’t taste good.

But, I usually don’t put my family in danger by serving Salmonella on a plate covered in tarragon-apple cider sauce!

This cooking mishap occurred on Tuesday. I was excited because I was making two new recipes (I love making new recipes) from my new cookbook, Eating Local.  They sounded so delicious!

What caused the disaster? The 2 mutant chicken breasts (MCBs) that I bought from the grocery. Along with the MCBs, I also bought 4 thighs and 4 drumsticks.

The recipe called for browning the chicken, removing chicken from skillet, making braising liquid in same skillet, then returning browned chicken to skillet for braising. I can do that!

But, wait….The mutant breasts took up my WHOLE iron skillet (there may have been room for one additional thigh and drumstick).  One skillet! I was supposed to be able to use only one skillet!

Curse you kitchen gods!  The chicken pieces and parts had to be relocated to a big pot (now I’m on my second pot/pan) that could handle all of the poultry and the braising liquid. Damn those breasts! There’s not enough liquid to cover the chicken for braising. I ended up winging it a this point to make sure I had enough liquid by adding more chicken stock and apple cider. Now, the recipe was so out of kilter and there was no turning back.

There’s more to this sad chicken braising tale (sauce needed to reduce and thicken and didn’t, blah, blah), but I won’t bore you with that.

We finally sat down at the table at 7:45 pmish (by this time, the people in my house started eyeing each other to decide who would be the first sacrifice because they were starving to death). Everything smelled great. The side dish looked great. I’m a little flustered, but ready to eat.

Mike cuts into one of the MBCs. “Ahhhhh!” There’s major pink. My son cuts into one of the thighs, and again, “Ahhhhh!” Major pink. Now, I’m just plain frustrated. I mean, I browned and braised the pieces double the time stated!

We threw everyone’s uncooked pieces into the microwave (I always consider this a major defeat). And, I reheated the pot containing the remaining chicken and sauce and cooked the crap out of whatever was left in the pot (I needed to make sure it was safe for leftovers).

The consolation? The chicken did have a great flavor (once cooked through) and the tarragon sauce was awesome.  I’m definitely going to make this again, but with some tweaks. When I have the nerve to try this again, I will post it on my food blog – Suburban Foodie. I do have the potato side dish posted.

Look at the size of this sucker:

I think I’m going to buy organic chicken from now on – I’m assuming there’s no breast enhancement in those chicks!

The Year of Letting Go

This begins my official year of letting go. You see, my oldest has officially started her senior year in high school. Next year at this time we will be driving her to college. *sigh* 

Actually, this year is a big one for me because all three of my kids are experiencing transitions – Ray is a senior, Maddie entered high school as a freshman (I have two kids in high school, acckkk!) and my baby entered the world of junior high as a 6th grader. You’ll have to excuse me, but I’m a bit melancholy these days.

The college thing will be my first major, major transition involving one of my children (of course, besides actually bringing them into the world). I will need every bit of this year to prepare myself for day when we drop her off at college and then just drive away.

I do want to assure you that it’s not like I’m new to transitions and I do handle them pretty well:

~First day of daycare: I bawled like a baby that first day when I returned to work full-time (and every morning after that for about a month).

~First day of first grade: I sobbed like a fool after driving her to school for her first day of 1st Grade. When I dropped her off at her classroom door, she marched right in and never looked back. I wanted to give her a final smile of encouragement, but apparently she didn’t need it (I needed it more than she did. She was ready and I was not).

~First time at sleep-away camp: She had just finished 2nd grade and she was going to be gone for two nights. I cried on the way home after dropping her off. She was 90 minutes away for goodness sake! 

~Freshman year: What about the day I drove her to the Freshman Kick-off at the high school? On the way home, I cried so hard that I nearly blinded myself with tears and almost didn’t make it back to the house.

Um, after taking this stroll down memory lane, I’ve been reminded that maybe I don’t handle transitions well at all. I’m doomed.

This next milestone in both of our lives will be different from those previously mentioned. She won’t be coming home at the end of the school day.  There, I said it.

Man, you think I’m a worrier now, what is it going to be like when she doesn’t have to text me when she gets to her destination? Or ask permission to stay later somewhere or spend the night at a friend’s?

I do realize that with texting and skyping it will be easier to keep in touch with her which will ease my worry a smidge. As my parents can attest to, I rarely called home once I got to college and they couldn’t text or email me to find out why I wasn’t picking up my phone!

Wait, wait. What? I’m sorry my hubs is whispering something in my ear –  “Babe, she’s not gone yet!” Oh, yeah, right.

Did Mike and I teach her all she needs to know? My mind will be churning this year trying to make sure we’ve covered all of the important lessons. What are the important lessons? Does anyone have a list I can borrow? I’m starting to hyperventilate and I can’t think properly.

I mean, I think we’ve covered the biggies: Treat others as you would like to be treated, Be cautiously skeptic (mommy, I’m not cynical like you!), Believe in yourself, Use your common sense, Have a good work ethic, Respect yourself and others, ummm, any others? Come on, people! Help me out here.

It’s the stuff that takes a lifetime to learn that I’m concerned about (not laundry or budgeting training). Did we do her justice? I sure hope so.

I need to know if something is lacking in our life skills training at home. I’ve got two others in the queue for the push from the nest and there’s still plenty of time to amend the lesson plans!

What IS that sound?

“What is that noise?”, I say to myself. “Where is it coming from?” And, then silence.

“Ah, I must be losing my mind”, talking to myself as I meander back to my office. Then, “What? That noise is back. What IS it?”

The resurgence of the noise confirms that I’m not losing it – there is a strange noise afoot in my house!  I start wandering around the house looking for the cause of this mysterious sound. It sounds like a cat in agony just after a cat fight or maybe an elephant dying. Maybe we have a strange animal wheezing its last wheezes in our basement. (It really wouldn’t be that far-fetched as we’ve had baby possums in our basement ceiling before – long story).

The noise seems to be emanating from the basement so I cautiously wander into the depths of the house to put an end to this insidious sound. Then……I see it.What? What is it? Something so shocking so as not to be believed.

It is my son practicing the trumpet (without being asked). Yep, the trumpet.

The mystery sound story happened during early June – about the second week after having his instrument.

My son (my baby) is entering junior high this fall (actually next Tuesday!), can you believe it? I sure can’t. I don’t want to talk about it or I will start blubbering. As Jack and I were walking into the middle school this past Tuesday to pick up his schedule and get his locker assignment, he looked at me and said, “Mommy, please don’t cry.” He knows me so well.

Anyway, to explain the trumpet in our house, I have to take you back to the end of this last school year. During this past May 2011 (the end of his 5th grade year), his 6th grade schedule had to be determined. At our middle school, they have to take all of the usual subjects and then, there is the tough decision whether to take band, orchestra, choir, or a study hall. Study hall was out of the question and he immediately said, “No choir!”

Why so adamant about choir? Both of his sisters elected choir at the middle school so he had attended many a choir show. I think remembering the boys (especially the 6th & 7th graders) in shiny shirts and ties doing the choreographed dance moves somewhat awkwardly (I thought they were adorable!) sealed the deal. No choir. Also, unfortunately for him, he inherited my strong inability to carry a note.

So, orchestra or band? Well, at the end of this last school year, the middle school had a “try on”. It’s really pretty great. The kids got to go and literally try on any instrument they wanted. What instruments did Jack choose?  The cello, clarinet, percussion (drums), viola and the trumpet. The band and orchestra teachers watched the children individually at each instrument selected for their “try on” and made notes. I think at this point, the teachers try to narrow it down to two instruments for each child and in doing this they will also take into account the child’s opinion.

Case in point:  Jack had been hounding me about viola lessons and I, being the good mother that I am, essentially ignored him. We had just finished 2 years of piano lessons which also included parental nagging about practicing (or lack thereof). He was gung-ho at the beginning, but then his interest diminished (maybe some of you have experienced this with your own kids). Well, long story short, he “tried on” the viola and decided that he hated it (so even if he had viola-potential, the band director would not consider this instrument for Jack).

Side note: Lesson learned for me? Listen to your gut. NO viola lessons was a good decision.

It was determined that he had the best potential with trumpet or clarinet (SO glad it wasn’t the cello). The band director really wanted Jack to pick the clarinet – apparently his try out went really well. But, Jack picked the trumpet instead. Why?  Well, it has fewer buttons! Duh! Kids crack me up – especially mine.

After practicing all summer (20 minutes a day), the trumpet-produced sounds coming from the basement no longer resemble the moanings of a dying animal. They have improved – now his music resembles the sound of someone blowing his (not hers) nose in a cartoonish, loud, exaggerated way. This is a definite improvement. Trust me.

I’m really looking forward to attending my son’s band concerts – it will be a definite change from the lavish choir shows (costume changes with each song and choreography) we have been attending since my oldest was in 6th grade (she is now a senior. sniff, sniff).

Here’s to my budding band geek! xoxo

 

Live Your Truth

I heard someone say this statement on TV about a month ago or so. As you can see, I’m still mulling over this one. This person (I wish I could remember who it was!) said it in response to a question regarding the key to her success.

Is this a new buzz phrase like “shift your paradigm”?

Anyway, ever since I heard this phrase I’ve been asking myself, “Am I living my truth?”. And, then I’m asking, “What the hell does that really mean, ‘living your truth’?”

For me, it means that you are being yourself in every moment, not hiding. Is that how you would interpret that statement?

That seems really hard to do. Maybe I’m the only one, but I don’t let just anyone in and see the complete Jenni.  Some trust has to be earned first. Yeah, I have rejection issues. I will admit that sometimes I still feel like the awkward 7th grader that just wants to fit in and not be rejected. Part of that girl has never left me.

So . . . . . Am I living my truth?  When the hubs and I were talking about it (after I told him my post topic), I told him that I honestly didn’t think that I was assuming my definition of the statement was accurate.

Why? The big one that popped into my mind immediately was church.

I confessed to my husband that once the kids stopped attending Sunday school, that I would probably no longer attend church. He was surprised by my statement, and in turn, I was surprised by his surprise (3 surprises in one sentence!). I suppose that’s the first time that I have voiced this aloud to him.

By the way, I’m not an atheist – I would call myself spiritual. I am open to the idea of a higher power, so it’s not that. It’s the rules and constraints of organized religion. The concept of “it’s my way or the highway”.  Christianity seems like an all or nothing proposition, right? Either you believe there is the one and only way to heaven or you don’t. Either you believe that Jesus is the Son of God or you don’t. Fence-sitting is not going to get you everlasting life.

Other than the love I feel for my friends and family, I’m not 100% sure of hardly anything in my life (My kids would roll their eyes at this one – to them, I appear to be very certain on most things).  And, I’m a little wary of those people who are. How do you grow and evolve if you’re not constantly questioning?

I feel that by attending our church (I’m a practicing Presbyterian, by the way), I am tacitly agreeing that my Jewish friends are doomed or that I whole heartedly agree that there is one way to heaven or – you get the idea. I can’t reconcile taking communion and feeling the way I do.

The hubs offered up the idea that maybe I wasn’t unique in this regard. Maybe that’s so, but it doesn’t change the fact that I feel like a big faker each time I go to service.

I heard someone on the TV say that she believed in all paths to God. I really like that statement and it makes more sense to me.

Anyway, you may be wondering about my children – I have always been honest with them on my feelings toward organized religion. I’ve also told them that they need to figure it out on their own – I will not tell them what to believe when it comes to something as personal as faith. They love Sunday school, Bible study, church camp, caravan, and their church friends and I won’t be the one who gets in the way of this.

I do have many friends and family that have what I call “true” faith – these are people who attend church because it’s meaningful, not because they want to be “seen”. These are people who have shown me that their faith truly has helped them through really tough times. These are the  people who accept the Doubting Jenni “as is”. However, I’m sure some of them are praying that I eventually come around (right, dad?).

I’m not dismissing faith and religion all together – I have witnessed the meaning and comfort it brings to those in my life.  And, my church does really nice things for the community and the church members. I can’t argue with that!

I guess, if I were living my truth, I would stop attending church because I’m tired of pretending. But, I won’t because I still have my kids at home and they really enjoy it. Shhh. . . . I will have to continue with my little scam for a while.

Wow, I feel like I just sat in the confessional (and I’m not even Catholic) or just came out of the religious closet! 

Are there other areas where I may not be living my truth? Maybe. . . . .but, I have rejection/trust issues as I eluded to earlier and we’re still just getting to know one another so I will leave those for another day. 🙂

What does “living your truth” mean to you?