I used to like summer, but then I had school aged kids

Summer in Texas was about soaking in the rays, hanging out with friends at water parks, driving with the top down with the music blaring and eating late night dinners under the stars. Even in college and just past, that didn’t change much for me, even with an infant or toddler. There were lots of places that catered to young families where we could all converge with our little ones in tow, share a bucket of beer, a great plate of sizzling fajita and let our kids play in a giant sandbox until their eyelids drooped. I looked forward to the long days of breezy sundresses and sandals, no make-up because our skin was bronze from the kiss of the sun, and the calming effect of the heavy heat slowing everyone down to a snail’s pace. Summer was a season I looked forward to every year.

My first summer in Michigan was much cooler than I had expected. I don’t think I put on a pair of shorts or a short skirt once in 2001, but the longer I live here, my body temperature seems to have adjusted comfortably. Although 52 at 8:00 in the morning isn’t exactly the same balminess I grew up with, it is still fun to drive with the sunroof open. And by lunchtime I do enjoy a quick read on the back deck with the dog and the sun. For a while, summer as a mom was still about spending the hours with friends, pulling together meals in the backyard and even sharing a cooler filled with drinks.

But then my kids started school.

This is our first official week of summer. Last week was sort of the “teaser”, the week where school ended and the summer schedules had not started yet.

The Hare stood in our mudroom, arms crossed, scowling.

“I just cleaned this zone yesterday and now look at it!” she yelled, “How in the world am I supposed to keep my zone clean if other people keep leaving their stuff everywhere?”

The kids are responsible for specific areas of the house this summer, regardless of whose items are left behind. She was clearly agitated that her sister had left a pair of shoes on the floor rather than put them on the shoe rack. I can’t even imagine how that feels.

“I hate this new zone rule!” she hissed rushing past me.

The Tortoise sat silently, seemingly bored.

“How’s your math going?” I asked. The kids are required to do one 30 minute math lesson a day this summer to keep up their skills and to introduce next year’s new concepts.

“I’m behind by two days,” she grunted, “I hate doing math. I’m bored and I miss my friends.”

Both The Tortoise and The Hare have tested the limits of my clothing boundaries by ever so slightly rolling up their short length a smidgen each day to see if I’ll notice.

“Those are too short and not what we agreed on in the store,” I said.

“Then I’m never going to wear these shorts again!” shouted The Hare.

“You just want me to dress like an old woman!” snapped The Tortoise.

This morning, I got the kids up at 6:45am so we could get ready for the day. The Tortoise swims from 8 – 10 am five days a week, while The Hare practices from 8:30 – 12:30 four days a week and then once a week until 2:30 pm. Then of course, they also have chosen one extra activity, voice lessons for one and the other wants piano lessons. The Tortoise barked at me when I suggested she eat some breakfast before practice and The Hare snapped at me because she didn’t want the large blue water jug I had filled up for her for practice. By 7:30 am, both of the kids were irritated with me, the dog was refusing to go potty before we left, the house still looked like a train wreck, and I was trying to figure out how to squeeze in the cleaners, the grocery store and laundry between pick-ups, drop-offs and requests for sleepovers tonight.

DW will be at his golf league.

“You must be glad summer is finally here,” DW said recently.

Perhaps tonight’s big plan will include my pajamas by 7 pm, a bottle of wine and take-out.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

I have spent ten Christmas drives from Michigan to Texas planning where to eat.

Twenty-five hours is a long time to fantasize about food.

Only getting to eat perfectly seasoned white meat at  Chick-Fil-A, creamy bean and cheese tacos at  Taco Cabana, or the most moist smoked brisket at  Rudy’s once a year is torture.

And no one makes sweet tea like Bill Miller’s BBQ.

The most coveted restaurant  is  Niki’s Tokyo Inn and their garlic dumplings, gyoza.  The dark paneled walls and matted red carpet transport you back to when the restaurant opened in 1970. I have been eating there since I was little. The family’s houses and vegetable gardens hide behind the restaurant parking lot. The owner’s grown son, a brilliant Yale graduate, is quirky and tells crass jokes, but has a genuine heart.

Everything on the menu is exquisite, but the gyoza is divine. They melt in your mouth, taunting you to eat more. The garlic is sweet and tangy. Served as an appetizer, these 8 little dumplings are garnished with fresh cabbage to cleanse the palette.

I don’t share.

I eat a whole plate by myself.

I eat any leftovers that are missed.

I collect everyone’s unused garlic sauce to pour over my rice.

There is a long list of things you shouldn’t eat while you are pregnant, garlic being one of them, and the first Christmas home after moving to Michigan I was pregnant.  I craved gyoza for double the months, increasing my desire to order this delicacy on our next visit.

When I stepped inside, slipped off my shoes, and sunk into the soft squishy pillows surrounding our table, I knew I was home. My legs assumed the usual position of criss-cross-applesauce as I patiently waited for our order, grateful to my in-laws for watching our children so we could have a date.

Still in a garlic euphoria, I kissed The Tortoise goodnight and then nursed The Hare before going to bed.

A few hours later, I was startled from a deep sleep.

The Hare was screaming and crying.

I ran to pick her up, her little body squirming, belly distended.

Her diaper was full, gushing. An overpowering smell of fresh garlic ignited, burning my eyes and nose. I cleaned that up and quickly put on a fresh diaper. The Hare continued crying and writhing, filling another diaper. After a few diaper changes, she began to settle down. I cradled and rocked her.  Her sweaty head still oozing the scent of garlic from her pores.

Apparently, garlic wasn’t conducive to nursing either.

Lesson learned.

This week’s RemembeRed memoir prompt from, The Red Dress Club, asked us to write a post that either starts or ends with the words “Lesson learned.”

Ten Years without Texas

Ten years ago today, I married my best friend, DW.

It was hard to imagine ten years into the future as I packed up my little green KIA Sportage to make the trek from San Antonio to Michigan, the rest of my personal belongings stashed inside a U-Haul truck. I didn’t think I owned much, but what I did have was important to me. Some of it more than others. (The TV armoire in our bedroom was purchased with my very first Mary Kay director’s check.) DW drove the KIA while my father-in-law drove the truck. It was a long couple of days. Hours spent planning our future, day-dreaming about how we were going to raise our family, decorate the house, go to church and the friends we were going to make.

A more blonde me on the left, saying goodbye

It was bitter-sweet leaving Texas. My heart was burdened slightly from saying goodbye to my parents and closest friend, leaving behind the only city I really knew, letting go of personal baggage, and memories that still made me smile. There was also some apprehension about starting my life over.  I knew I would only get to see my family  a couple of times a year, an overwhelming thought, but there was a peace and contentment about knowing I was going to spend everyday with this wonderful man, believing in myself as much as he believed in me too.

How could you not love that face? (DW and E)

Advice you hear often is not to make too many big changes all at once, it puts stress on a marriage, and yet here I was, moving to a new state, giving up my job, contemplating having another baby sooner than later and making new friends. Yet, there was no stress, we stepped into our new life confidently. And for ten years it has just been a continuous flow of affection, admiration and respect.

One of my absolute best childhood friends has been visiting with us this week, and we’ve been reminiscing as much as we have been catching up. Something she remembers the most about spending time at my house, was how cute my parents were. She remembers catching them kissing in the kitchen, hugging in the hallway or holding hands while they were watching T.V. She was always a little embarrassed by their constant intimacy. Although totally uncommon in other households, it was just normal to me – my mom would even go to the corner gas station with him to fill up the car on Sunday nights. There was a part of me that thought I would never find that perfect relationship, one that somehow balances romance and longevity. The bar had been set higher than I ever thought reachable.

Last weekend I hopped in the car just to ride to Home Depot with DW, while he got a part he needed. I wasn’t avoiding housework or escaping bickering children. I simply wanted to be near him, and my presence was welcomed. It felt like a little date as we chatted in the car about our upcoming anniversary and the plans we were making.

It felt as exciting and new as our drive from San Antonio to Michigan.

Like It Was Yesterday

I don’t know what it is about traveling to Texas that makes me want to break out singing 80’s rock ballads, but all I could  think about while my plane touched down in Dallas Thursday night was the song Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now by Jefferson Starship. Texas is where I grew up. It’s where most of my childhood memories are rooted and it’s where many of my friends still live. One of my best friends from high school got married this weekend and I got to be a part of the celebration.

Senior Prom

It’s hard to believe that she and I have been friends for 24 years. That’s more than half my life. We’ve had our share of ups and downs, but at the end of the day, we’ve always been there for each other. Our history includes moments of shared joy, like the births of our children or marriage, as well as devastating losses like divorce or the death of her father. There are few things that have been a constant in my life over the years, but Ra has been one of them. There aren’t many memories that don’t include her somewhere.

High School Graduation

When I think of high school and Ra, I think of midnight meals of Jack in the Box egg-rolls and curly fries dipped in buttermilk ranch dressing. I picture us double dating for dances, breaking curfew for one last joy ride or one last kiss. I remember the wind blowing our hair like crazy, the windows wide open, while driving down Loop 410 the night we graduated. A thousand stories of broken hearts, new crushes, nicked legs from botched shaving jobs, giggling until dawn, and passing notes in the halls. (And trying to pass off peppermint Schnapps as mouthwash). We don’t always see eye to eye on religion, fashion, or housekeeping but what we do have in common is a love for family and a desire to serve others.

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

At mine and DW's wedding

Friendships are a lot like marriage, I think. They take work and commitment. You have to be willing to love someone unconditionally, through thick or thin, for better or worse. Sometimes you have to be willing to put someone else’s needs above your own, extend compassion instead of criticism, forgive even when the other person isn’t sorry, and be quick to admit when you are wrong. You have to be willing to let go of past hurts or disappointments, accept each others flaws or short comings, maybe even love them for their imperfections. Friendships have to sustain themselves through months of silence, missed birthdays and anniversaries.  And, like marriage, require communication and honesty, loyalty and patience. Perhaps it is even harder to maintain long-term friendships than a marriage. There is no paper binding you together, no legal agreement that you will share a life, and no assumption that you will be together for the next 24 years.  There are only choices along the way, choices through each season of your life, about who we spend time with and who we let go.

At Ra's rehearsal dinner this weekend

It’s harder as we get older to keep in touch. Living thousands of miles away doesn’t help, either, but mostly because our lives are no longer our own. Children, family, spouses and work absorb most of our attention leaving little left over to share. But each moment we do get to spend together, it is like it was yesterday. There is so much history between us, threading together the past and the present, that our friendship is seamless.

Savory Saturdays: My Favorite No-Fail Spanish Rice

The thing I miss the most about living in Texas (besides my friends and family, of course) is the food. Mealtimes are events in the south. They happen late in the day, lasting hours, over drinks and music. Everyone brings a dish to pass and no one leaves before pitching in to help clean the kitchen. Always.

After growing up in Texas, one of my favorite ethnic foods is Mexican. My palette is quite snobby too. I have yet to find a restaurant here in Michigan that comes close to the mouth-watering flavors of authentic Tex-Mex cuisine. Except maybe one: La Fuente in Ypsilanti, MI. Whenever we try a different “authentic” Mexican food restaurant, I hold my breath in hopes of finding “the one”. I always order the same things too: enchiladas and spanish rice. If those two items are good, then the restaurant passes inspection. If not – well, we never darken their door again. There are not enough Margaritas to make me forget crappy food.

The other night we had some left-over rotisserie chicken. My pantry is always stocked with canned enchilada sauce, refried black beans and tortillas; so it was a no-brainer on dinner. I filled flour tortillas with chicken, a handful of shredded cheese and diced onions. Then rolled each one, placed them seam-side down in a glass baking dish. On top I sprinkled more cheese and poured a generous amount of enchilada sauce. The whole pan was put in the oven with home-made spanish rice. I believe this recipe to be the best Tex-Mex rice this side of Texas and takes almost no time to make. It’s great to have meals that come together easily and all at the same time.

Love me some sour cream

My Favorite No-Fail Spanish Rice

1 whole green pepper, chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 can of Rotel tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup tomato sauce
3/4 cup uncooked long-grain rice
1 bay leaf
A generous dash of cayenne pepper
1/2 cup beef stock
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Saute first 2 ingredients in hot oil in a large skillet until tender; drain. Drain Rotel tomatoes, reserving liquid. Add enough water to tomato liquid to measure 1 cup. Add tomatoes, tomato liquid, tomato sauce, rice, bay leaf, and cayenne pepper to green pepper mixture, stirring well. Bring mixture to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Add beef stock to the rice mixture. Stir in remaining ingredients. Spoon into a shallow baking dish (I use a small Pyrex oval casserole dish.) Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Remove bay leaf.

Yield: 4-6 servings
Source: The Southern Living Cookbook