O my God, thank You for an incredible weekend — meeting brand-new grandson Theo, doing the Hokey Pokey with big brother Jonah, and playing with him in the snow! Monday morning, with its to-do list, isn’t nearly as much fun. Yet, OMG, I’m still smiling.
Does anything spell h-o-m-e like a kettle of simmering soup?
I grew up in southern Indiana, where winter (aka slop season), gleefully dumped rain, sleet, snow, or all of the above on us. After school, my siblings and I slogged through frozen fogs and bogs. After petting all the wet dogs we could find, we arrived home looking like mud-sicles. The bubbling, meaty fragrance of Mom’s soups thawed us out and cured a host of maladies: lost-library-book anxiety, gym class climb-the-rope deficits, spelling-contest memory loss and flat-chest syndrome. That delectable vapor also scared away any viruses that had followed us home.
Dad, after long days at his construction job, noticed a similar curative effect. His sore muscles unknotted. The what’s-this-economy-coming-to hammer on his temples slowed.
Mom’s soups, consisting of between-paycheck rations, wouldn’t appear on The Food Channel. Teeth-defying beef bits were simmered into submission with potatoes and frozen vegetables from our garden. She boiled ten-cent-a-pound chicken wings, then cooked “slop-and-drop” rivels in the broth. My Southern-born dad looked forward to ham-bone bean soup. Saturdays brought chili, a suppertime ritual sacred as the weekly bath night.
When no meat remained in the freezer, Mom cooked creamy potato soup. Occasionally our family saw several days of bean or potato soup in a row, a silent marquee that proclaimed, “Don’t ask for money.” Still, those soups warmed us up, filled us up and helped us grow up.
Perhaps, by law, every northerner should consume one steaming bowl of soup daily from November through March.
Groucho Marx wouldn’t agree. In the classic 1933 Marx Brothers movie, Duck Soup, he elaborated, “Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you’ll duck soup the rest of your life.”
Duck soup? He obviously hadn’t tasted my mom’s soups. Perhaps Groucho had been sampling Chinese bird’s nest soup. This concoction with an unappetizing name — and a literal bird nest— currently costs $30-100 per bowl. Or maybe he ate lunch with a Japanese mountain tribal group who served their soup of bananas, beans, and dirt (twigs included). Perhaps Groucho hadn’t recovered from a trip to the island of Palau, where bat soup — boiled whole and hairy with ginger, spices, and coconut milk — is considered a delicacy.
I’ll stick with less exotic fare. Tonight, beef vegetable barley soup, using Sunday dinner’s leftover pot roast, plus crusty bread, will take the Groucho out of Hubby and me. And leave us only one pan to wash.
Simple. Cheap. And, as an old canned soup commercial declared, “Mm-mm, good!”
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What favorite soup warms your winter days?
O my God, when I’m with grandsons, I lose decades. Such fun! But after a museum-sprinting, pizza-eating, pillow-fighting weekend, I feel 157 — and look it. Still, OMG, thank You for every tackle-hug — and the sweet time warp of being a grandma!
When we moved into our first house with a fireplace, a primeval pyro urge pumped through our veins. A friend gave us firewood, appropriately enough, as a housewarming gift. We could hardly wait to rest chilly bones by a roaring fire, snuggling close with our children and toasting marshmallows.
The kids would say, “Tell us stories from long ago, Mom and Dad. Teach us your words of wisdom.” When we needed wood, they would fight for the privilege to trudge into the cold and haul it in.
We built a real fire. Once.
My pyromaniac father considers this immoral. He turns on gas heaters only in an emergency (if the U.S. is attacked by ice aliens). We wear shorts during visits, even in January, because Dad builds fires that make us sweat like August athletes.
He designs woodpiles as objets d’art. The wood must be perfect in composition, age and texture. With the precise calculations of an engineer, he stacks it in symmetrical rows, and woe to the bumbling, fumbling fool who upsets his perfect balance.
Dad mostly grants sons and grandsons the privilege of helping. Occasionally he extends this glorious favor to granddaughters. But I, his 60-something daughter, endure the ignominy of being left out with a martyr’s smile. Somebody has to sleep in front of football games.
Occasionally, we adult children consider buying him firewood because we fear for his safety and well-being. But we don’t, because we fear for ours. The wood never meets his standards, and Dad, seasoned by years of chopping, can also throw it.
My siblings and I confess, to our shame, that we have not inherited his noble fire-building genes. We own wussy gas fireplaces with ceramic logs and fake coal beds that don’t emit the magic fragrance of wood smoke. We, the children of hardy pioneer stock, use decorative fire pokers and shovels to hit the ON button. From the sofa. Before we fall asleep in front of football.
Occasionally, Dad has visited, condescending to sit by our fireplace and marvel at its convenience. Just the same, we hide any old Boy Scout hatchets hanging in the garage and count our trees every morning.
We stand in awe of our father — but we keep his fire-building activities a deep, dark family secret. After all, we don’t want him to get in trouble with the government. Despite extensive research, they still don’t know Dad is the primary cause of global warming.
And if they try to take away his ax or woodpiles, we know Dad will get a little fired up.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you use your fireplace? Is it the real thing? Or fake?
These January words echo across several decades.
Actually, as a child, I liked my clumping, galumping boots. Despite Mom’s firm faith that I would catch 19 diseases, their podiatric force field protected me when stomping ice-covered gutters.
I wished in vain, though, for thigh-high fishing boots like Dad’s. Such superhero footwear would have rendered me invincible, like him.
Unfortunately for my parents, my feet and my siblings’ grew hourly. While my sister acceded to wearing my hand-me-downs, I drew the line at my brother’s galoshes — unless gutters were way full.
Recycled boots weren’t always an option because we children had honed losing winter wear to a fine art. Sporting only left mittens, we misplaced right boots, too.
The positive side: Lack of sufficient winter garb kept us inside warm classrooms at recess. While friends shivered outdoors, I read books I’d longed to sample.
Some favorite stories featured boots. In Little Women, Jo March’s boots helped her play swashbuckling heroes and villains in homegrown dramas. In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy, a traveling cobbler designed Almanzo Wilder’s first manly pair. Puss in Boots never would have brought his master fame, fortune and a princess if he hadn’t strutted about in that all-powerful footwear.
Still, boots seemed mostly mundane until go-go boots invaded the fifth-grade fashion scene. Unbelievably, my mother refused to buy me white boots amid the muddy slop season.
I whined. I pined. I promised I wouldn’t lose them, not even one.
She wouldn’t budge. So I languished without the go-go boots every girl on the planet owned, except me — and Becky Andrews, a nonconformist who wore tall black boots like Nancy Sinatra’s when she sang “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.”
Ten years later, I wore a similar pair that stretched my height well past six feet.
But snow time with my toddlers required sane mommy boots. My little ones readily wore garage sale Strawberry Shortcake and Ninja Turtles boots, even with PJs. They also waded in yucky gutters, despite my warnings.
Years later, they cornered me in a boot discourse similar to my go-go debate with Mom decades before. My children wanted me to spend a gazillion dollars on short-topped “boots” designed to frostbite toes. When I refused, the kids left the row of sensible boots I’d bought to an undisturbed existence in the closet — until I discovered my son’s worked well when I shoveled sidewalks.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you wear your good boots during yucky weather?
During my childhood, Christmas cookies had such a short life expectancy that baking them hardly seemed worth it. The December appearance of a mixing bowl at our house ignited a war to determine who would “help.” When Mom or I dared take a restroom break, the kitchen was plundered by cookie-starved barbarians.
The first holiday stay at my future in-laws’ home completely muddled my Christmas cookie worldview. Perfect reindeer, Christmas trees and Santas were baked, with no fear of masked marauders. After decorating them like a culinary Michelangelo, my future mother-in-law openly displayed her creations on kitchen counters.
It was like visiting an unguarded art museum.
A kind woman, she chose not to prosecute me. When I married her son, she gave me her recipe!
Forgetting my brothers now lived hundreds of miles away, I baked a typical triple batch. My new husband and I ate little stables and mangers until Valentine’s Day — and loved it.
When our eldest, aged two, took her debut Christmas-cookie-baking lesson, the initial batch of dough hit the floor. Experimenting with the mixer’s beaters, she distributed another batch on the ceiling. Finally, I shoved a bowlful into the refrigerator to chill. She parked in front of it.
Toddler: Cookies ready yet?
Mommy: No, honey. They have to get cold.
Toddler: (Yanking on fridge door) Don’t want cold cookies!
Mommy: We’ll bake them, but first, they have to get cold.
Toddler: (Suspiciously) Okay.
Mommy: I’ll set the oven timer—
Toddler: For the ’frigerator??
Mommy: (Looking heavenward) When it dings, the cookies will be cold.
Toddler: Okay. (Sits in front of oven.) Timer ready yet?
Later, she mixed frostings so that her mossy green and dark blood-red Christmas cookies could have graced a vampire’s holiday table.
New sons-in-law, however, scorned cookie cutters as insults to their rugged individuality. They custom-designed mutant mittens, alien reindeer and Christmas carburetors. With the appearance of additional little helpers over the years, we once again turned out dozens of Christmas vampire cookies.
Worst of all, Grandma sneaked store-bought dough into the equation.
Now, a few years later, the grandchildren make their own — circumventing Grandma’s appalling shortcuts — and bring them to family gatherings.
With them taking charge, our family’s Christmas cookie history should flourish for generations to come.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What favorite cookie will you bake (and sneak) this Christmas?
O my God, thank You for Thanksgiving! Feasting, fussing, playing and praying, our four generations celebrated Thanksgiving with everything in us. Today, however, I will make lunch for two instead of 18. I walk without laming myself on Legos. Quiet reigns again in our empty nest …
OMG, how I miss that marvelous mess!
O my God, today I’m scrubbing bathrooms. Feeling thankful? Not much. Till I recall that visiting my grandmother included “over-the-river-and-through-the-woods” trips to an outhouse.
OMG, have I ever thanked You for two-and-a-half baths? With 16 precious people coming for Thanksgiving, I’m thanking You now!