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Daughter Knows Best

Before I became a mother and knew better, I thought I wanted two girls. Instead, God blessed me with a son and then a daughter. I learned to embrace all things boy with JavaBoy and while not holding to purely traditional roles (he cooks, he owns a tea set), I am not one to dress my son in princess costumes – those I saved for my daughter. I had hoped my daughter would share my love all things glittery and glitzy. The screaming over tights in baby ballerina classes may have been my first clue what the future held.

My daughter will look you square in the eye and say, “I am not a princess type of a girl.” Instead her dress-up outfit of choice is the knight costume from LEGOLAND — with its helmet, sword, shield and cape. She is a dragonslayer, running through the house on her invisible steed protecting us from an onslaught of scaly, fire-breathing monsters.

She has many beautiful princess dresses and costumes — gifts from well-meaning friends and family and things I bought before fully understanding her. When we had tickets to Disney on Ice, I made sure her Cinderella dress was in good shape to wear for the evening. Instead, it remained on the hanger. She had no interest in dressing like the princesses — even after seeing hundreds of other little girls doing so.

However, she’s not your classic tomboy either. As much as she loves digging for worms and playing with amphibians, she is quite vain about her fingernails and likes to sport a purple manicure and pedicure whenever possible. She enjoys her glittery lip gloss from a birthday party favor bag and has definite opinions about fashion. She’ll wear beautiful dresses — but only when she feels there is a reason to — for example she believes “fancy” dresses are only appropriate for church on Sundays.

This is perhaps why I have been so slow to understand the complexities of her strong anti-princess-and-the-like conviction. She likes purses and jewelry, enjoys picking out her clothes and trying to “match” things (though we’re still working on the difference between coordinating vs. monochromatic attire).

The social ramifications of her preferences come up more often than one would think. She politely declined to wear a tutu for an Angelina Ballerina party. When her friend was over and wanted to dive into her dress-up clothes and pretend they were princesses at a masquerade ball – JavaGirl finally declared firmly, “I don’t want to be a princess, but I will be a princess’s horse,” and began whinnying while walking on all fours. Upon learning about another friend’s princess party she bargained, “I’ll come as long as I don’t have to dress like a princess!” The girls worked out a deal between themselves and everyone was happy.

As much as I wish sometimes she’d just go with the flow, I have admired her immense self-confidence. When she was four, we entered the beauty salon in the Playseum and I asked her if she wanted to try one of the fun wigs. “No thank you,” she said. “I like my own hair. I like myself just as I am.” Wow. I remember silently praying that she’d always feel that way.

I try to remember that — the importance of liking one’s self — whenever I find myself wishing she’d be more like some of the other girls. And yet, another birthday party came up — a tea party at a tea parlor with a Fancy Nancy theme. I tried to cajole JavaGirl into wearing one of her beautiful dresses and accessorize as crazily as she would like. She’d have none of it. Instead, she got a Fancy Nancy book, paged through, and seizing upon what the character wore for a soccer game, decided to construct an outfit of her own.

She started with a Gymboree sequined whale shirt, because I had told her a few days ago when she had changed clothes for us to pot some plants that the sequined shirt was not “play” clothes and was too “fancy” for digging in the dirt. She added a pair of jeans and a ribbon skirt with jingle bells on the ends. Several plastic necklaces. Finally, as a concession to me, she agreed to wear a rhinestone tiara.

I looked at my daughter and her funky, jingly, glittery outfit and wondered if she’d look like a complete outcast at the party. I couldn’t help but flash back to a time when I made a poor choice of outfit as a young teen. I was in a local beauty pageant (the only one I was ever in) and having won for my town, I was now in the larger competition. I won my title in a very conservative pleated skirt and blouse — something not pageant-like at all. My mother tried to convince me to get a different dress for the next level, something more along the lines of a party dress. But I remained firm in my conviction, feeling like I had won in the first outfit, I should stick with it. I placed fourth — which meant I had no title or duties. First place of course had the title, second and third were essentially fill-ins who made appearances and rode on the float.

It got back to me that I would’ve placed higher had I worn a party dress like the other girls — although we were not judged on our clothing choice, the fact that I was not dressed like the other girls was jarring to the judges.

That is the first time I remember questioning myself and my judgment. So as JavaGirl and I discussed her wardrobe choice, I teetered between not wanting to damage that inner self-confidence and yet also wanting to shield her from a moment of feeling like she should have just gone with the flow. Don’t get me wrong, I was never one to bend to peer pressure and I don’t want her to either, but there are lessons to be learned about getting along in society as well. If we are always swimming against the current, we are too tired to fight when there is a real reason to. If we are always counter-culture, sometimes people are less likely to listen to us when we stand up to say that the current culture is wrong in a particular instance.

I asked her to try on a red party dress “just to see” in the hopes that she’d choose to wear it to the party. It’s a dress that she wore for a Christmas concert and felt quite confident in. But on this day, it merely made her frown. I could see her emotions on her face — she was fighting back tears and though she tried to hide it, the sadness was breaking out all over her face.  She was torn between wanting to please me and not wanting to wear the dress. I was equally torn between wanting to protect her from potential scorn and not wanting to make her miserable.

I hugged her and reassured her that I didn’t want her to be miserable. I told her I loved her just the way she was. I explained that she might be the only girl in jeans at the party and asked if she was going to be okay with that. She was.

We arrived early at the party as I was taking the birthday girl’s big brother out to an event with JavaBoy. The birthday girl opened the door and squealed with glee.

She was wearing leggings, a t-shirt, a tutu, jewelry, a boa and a feather tiara. Putting them side by side they had on very similar outfits.

My daughter is wise beyond her years. Some days, I try to learn from her.

Untarnished Memories of a Sterling Friendship: The Final Gift of a Beloved Pet

Sterling the tabby catI wanted a tiny, little kitten. She, of course, had other ideas. As I would learn, she often did. And she often won. Of our two strong-willed Aries personalities, hers was just a tiny bit stronger.

I entered the Santa Clara, CA pound looking for a kitten. Having relocated from across the country months earlier, I was starting to put down roots. With a relatively stable paycheck in my future and a new apartment, I was ready for the commitment of a pet. Plus as a shy, young twenty-something in Silicon Valley, I was lonely and needed some form of companionship to come home to. Oh sure, the Valley was full of men. Engineer types. Who either didn’t notice the curvaceous blonde in front of them or found what was on their computer screens far more interesting.

Yes, I needed someone to come home to.

On my first trip to the pound, there were no kittens. But a silver tabby with gorgeous green eyes who was several months old reached out through the bars of her cage to bat at me. She meowed loudly, more like a Siamese than an average street cat, beckoning me to pay attention to her.

“Yes, you are a gorgeous kitty!” I murmured to her. “You have beautiful green eyes, just like my Shadow cat.” Shadow was one of my favorite cats growing up — a beautiful Russian Blue who would snuggle up next to me each night.

“Mee-rooowr,” she replied.

Guilt settled in. Growing up, we always had several cats. We seemed to have a beacon over our home that only stray animals could see. Cats and dogs of all shapes and ages would find us, somehow knowing this was the home where animals would be taken care of. Though I had taken in older cats before, I was really hoping to get a tiny kitten.

“You are obviously a sweet kitty. Someone will be here for your soon, I am sure. I’m sorry, but I am looking for a kitten.”

She batted at me again, and looked into my eyes. I scratched under her chin, and walked down the aisle of cages, looking for my future pet.

Though I am grateful for the services they provide, I hate going to shelters. I can’t stand the thought of the stories behind all the animals who end up there. I walked by and looked at all the cats — no kittens today. An employee told me that the kittens are usually snapped up pretty quickly. As I walked back down the long row, the gleaming silver tabby meowed and reached out to me again.

“Goodbye darling. I am sure you will have a home soon,” I said as soothingly as I could.

I don’t even remember the circumstances that brought me back — whether the shelter called me to say kittens had come in or I just went to check, but what I do remember is that I thought about that tabby a lot. I grew up with several tabbies, but I had never seen one who was truly silver rather than gray. Her coat was soft and glossy like a rabbit’s. Her tummy was white with black spots. Eyes of emerald green and instead of the expected gray or black nose, an adorable cinnamon-colored nose. I often associate “tabby” with “common” yet everything about her brought to mind a certain regalness and she certainly let you know she expected to be treated like royalty!

During the adoption process, several things about her paperwork made me laugh. Her original name was CJ, so close to my own, J.J. She, like me, had an April birthday. The reason given for adoption was “one too many kittens.” And when asked what her favorite toy was, her previous owners had written, “Anything not nailed down!!!” (Underlined three times.)

Yes, clearly, this cat and I were made for each other.

I quickly changed her name to Sterling — both for the color of her coat and her fine qualities. I had no idea how fitting that would be, right to the end.

I had been in a car accident just before I adopted Sterling (or shall we just admit, she chose me?) and shortly afterward, I had knee surgery. In addition to keeping me company in my bed and cuddling with me during my painful recovery, she delighted me with her bedeviling activities, one of which included retrieving bloody gauze bandages from garbage cans and running through the apartment with them at lightning speed. My father, who was visiting and taking care of me, did not find this so delightful. But I loved her pure sense of play — exactly why I had originally wanted a kitten — and enjoyed her utter zest for life. Everything was a game to her and when she exhausted herself, she would come back to me and go completely limp and purr loudly.

When I recovered, I ended up moving to Southern California for a while — telecommuting for work — and Sterling took to antics such as pulling off the pins off my bulletin board and sticking her head into my printer and shredding papers as they printed, decidedly not helping with my work-at-home productivity. This was slightly less delightful behavior, and I decided that Sterling need a companion, and thus, a second cat came into our lives. Once again I went in to get a kitten and instead, came home with a cat of a different age — in fact this one was 3 years old. A tortie-tabby, I ended up naming her Patina (get it?), Tina for short. And thus, Sterling ended up becoming Alpha Cat of what I didn’t know was ultimately going to become the growing JavaFamily “herd.” Down the line there would be “hers,” “his” and “ours” cats — growing to a maximum of 8 cats (currently at 5). But Sterling was always the top cat.

Of all the cats, she never, ever got a flea. She never had an injury. And she never got sick. She was a lean cat and when she started to get alarmingly thin and act peculiar, such as only wanting to eat in my office and insisting on only drinking water from red, plastic Solo cups (don’t ask how I figured that out) — I rushed her to the vet in tears. Hundreds of dollars later, even the vet was shaking her head and said, “I was prepared for us to have a diagnosis for you of anything from thyroid to leukemia but I have to tell you, this is the healthiest cat I’ve seen all week. I think she’s just being a stubborn old cat!” So from that point forward, I started to simply adjust to her idiosyncracies, and assumed as long as she was eating and playful, she was fine. She finally decided that she would eat downstairs again, but I added a daily personal dish of canned food to the communal dry food that was available. She gave up on the red, plastic cups, but did seem to prefer having a separate small bowl in addition to using the larger cat water bowl. In other words, I figured she was an old lady, I’d indulge her. She still liked to sit on books as we tried to read them, bat around paper balls, and sit on top of us at the most inconvenient moments. She was Sterling. Just thinner.

I prepared for her death for 18 months, certain that after 16+ years, it was imminent. Every time we needed a pet sitter, I would warn them that if Sterling suddenly passed away, not to get upset, it was just meant to be.

And yet, though we can prepare our minds, we really can’t prepare our hearts, can we?

It was a Sunday morning when I realized Sterling wasn’t eating anything. Because she was thin, she like to sit on warm things like our laptops, so I had prepared a warm spot for her a few weeks earlier on her favorite ottoman, covering a heating pad with fluffy towels so it would be warm and soft, but not get too hot. It was in the family room, one of her favorite places to be as it is the center of activity in our house. Her routine of late had become fairly simple — meow at us to prepare her a breakfast of canned food with her special dish of water in the kitchen, clean herself in the family room, then hop onto her “bed” on the ottoman. If one of us chose to sit on the sofa, then she would come to us instead of the heating pad. But Sunday, she had no interest in breakfast. Not even when I carried her over to it to show it to her. She simply went back to her perch on the ottoman instead. No one else in the family seemed to, but I swore she took on a smell that I called the smell of death.

At that very moment, my heart started breaking.

We had been scrambling to get out the door to go to church.  The children were performing. I sat there, somewhat numb. Praying to God.

“Please God, please don’t make me do this. Don’t make me choose. Please, please God, this is too much. If she needs to go, please take her from us quickly in her sleep.”

I felt horrible guilt. I had known, of course, that it was possible when she started to get thinner that she might have had diabetes or a thyroid condition, but I had also decided that if she did, I was not going to go down the road of forcing pills or shots on her. She was 18 years old. She was happy and active and as long as she was, I was going to let her be.

But suddenly I wondered if I had done her a terrible wrong. Should I have handled things differently? The guilt, the doubt, the pain roiled inside of me, an emotional typhoon I was trying to keep anyone from seeing. After church I had us run a few errands, I am sure in part to delay facing things when I got home.

Sterling was obviously on the decline — not interested in food. Still wanting to be held and loved, but not playful, not interested in anything else.

It is probably important to point out here something I have not yet shared with you. At this point JavaDad and I had been nearly two months into our trial separation — after ten years of marriage we were living under separate roofs, figuring out where to go from here.

JavaDad swung into action — feeding everyone dinner, taking care of the kids’ bath and bedtime routine, and then dealing with me.

We knew it was time. That the next day we would be calling the vet to have Sterling put down. It was what good pet owners do. But it hurt like hell. I went into the “bargaining” part of the Seven Stages of Grief — “But what if there are heroic measures we can take?” And he counseled me, “Is that fair to her, at her age? And for what? Another month of life? What kind of quality of life?”

I cried, like a wounded animal. Gutteral, awful sounds coming from me. And then came the triple-play that happens when my emotions are more than my body can handle. The simultaneous laughing-crying-asthma-attack. I’ve never seen myself in a mirror when it happens, but I am sure it is a frightening sight with the tears streaming, snot flying, loud laughter and wheezing all at the same time. It is not one of my finer qualities as a woman. And yet, it is something  JavaDad has come to understand about me (I won’t say appreciate, I’m not sure he appreciates it — but at least he doesn’t run away.)

Because I wasn’t sure what time we’d see the vet, in the morning I had to explain this to the children. As this was the first pet they remember losing, it was frankly, one of the worst conversations to have with them. (This, however, was a week before the Sandy Hook shootings, which turned out to be THE worst conversation.) My kids aren’t the kind of kids you can “gloss over” anything with. Especially JavaGirl. Her ability to grill someone should put her high on the CIA’s watch list for future recruits. With her unique blend of intense belief in Christianity and need for very factual explanations for everything, she wanted me to explain in great detail what would happen both to Sterling’s soul and body during the euthanasia process and afterward when she was cremated. Trying to keep myself together while being the mother I needed to be for them during this time was excruciating.

I called the vet’s office. I had steeled myself to be calm and factual. I was for the first four words. Fortunately they are pros, and they found a time slot for me with our preferred vet late that afternoon.

The children came home and sat with Sterling, taking pictures of her with their Nintendo 3DSes, which I found to be an interesting coping technique.

It was a gorgeous day and I took Sterling outside to feel the warm sunshine, but she made it clear that she did not want to be on the front step or anywhere outside. Though that morning she started to lose the use of one of her hind legs, she started to run inside. It made it clear to me that this was the end.

I held her for those final hours. She purred and nuzzled me, and I petted her and told her how much I loved her. I reminded her of how she had chosen me, and that we had been through a lot in 18 years, and I loved her through every bit of it.

JavaDad came home early from work to go to the vet with me — he didn’t think I’d manage to make it home on my own. Given where we were relationship-wise, the gesture was gigantic on his part.

After the vet’s office, the grief was unbearable. I couldn’t look at the dishes used to feed her. I couldn’t even look at the kitchen counter where I had prepared her food. JavaDad came over that day and the next to prepare lunches and dinners for the kids. He did something he hadn’t done in a long time — he hugged me. Later that night we flipped through photos and laughed about things Sterling (and the other cats) had done over the years. Laughing together was also something we hadn’t done much of lately.

In a short time things we had been working on for a long time were being worked out. At the risk of sounding (more) like a crazy cat lady, it was as if Sterling’s very last act of devotion — after her passing — was to push JavaDad and I together and force us to set things aside and reform into a family again. The grief of losing a beloved pet transformed into the joy of reconciling a marriage I wasn’t sure was going to make it. The same day I picked up Sterling’s ashes from the vet is the same day JavaDad moved back home.

I am so glad Sterling got her way.

S’mores Represent Everything Great About Camping #CampBondFire #smores

Mention going camping and JavaGirl will inevitably ask, “Will there be s’mores?” The two are inextricably intertwined in her mind and I fear the day when she encounters a camping trip without that marvelous, gooey treat. The disappointment is sure to involve tears brimming in her big, brown eyes while trying to put on a brave face — a look so pitiful that it breaks the heart of any grown man within a 50-foot radius.

Her association is not unique. I, too, can’t imagine a campfire without s’mores. In fact, I love all campfire cooking. S’mores were essentially the gateway to teaching me all about the joys of harnessing the raw power of fire to produce cooked food out in the wilderness.

Don’t get me wrong. I covet my air conditioning and California King pillowtop bed as much as the next girl, but I appreciate how empowering camping feels and I am dismayed at how often I see families shy away from it. Both JavaKids are in scouts and when their organizations have family camping trips, I’m astonished and disheartened by the number of  families who choose to come for the day and not stay overnight. We switched JavaGirl from one troop to another and one deciding factor was an insistence of one of the organizer that camping trips be catered. What?!

Most of my camping growing up was done as a Girl Scout, with my church youth group, or at summer camps. Through these experiences I learned:

  •  everything from how to pitch a tent to how to make an emergency lean-to;
  • not to be afraid of spiders (okay, sometimes I still am, but not as much);
  • that I can cope with scorpions, leeches and ticks (not that I want to, but I can);
  • a little bit of rain isn’t going to kill me;
  • going to the bathroom in the woods is also not going to kill me (even if the cow who snuck up on me and mooed almost gave me a heart attack);
  • I am capable of paddling a canoe for 20 miles;
  • I can build a fire;
  • I can use a pocketknife without ending up in the ER;
  • you can wrap just about anything in tin foil or put it on a stick and it will taste terrific when cooked on a campfire;
  • and most importantly — you don’t need electronic gadgets to have a good time and nothing is as beautiful as a starry sky on a cloudless night when you are far away from city lights.

As parents, we hear so much about self-esteem. We are bombarded with media reports with interviews of “experts” telling us what we should be doing to build up our kids’ self-esteem, what tears it down. What causes bullies, what is media doing to this generation’s self-esteem? Are we eating dinner together enough as a family? Are they watching the right shows, the wrong shows? In the right sports? Are we praising them correctly?

And then we refuse to spend a night outdoors with them? And teach them some basic life skills? Really?

It may not seem like much, but give a kid a stick and a marshmallow and watch his face. Why is he so delighted? Do you think it is really just the sugary snack? I mean, yes, I think s’mores are a slice of heaven — the honey-crunchy goodness of the graham cracker and just-right softly melted chocolate with the ooey-gooey marshmallow. Pure bliss! But what your kid is thinking is, “My mom just handed me something pointy! And she is letting me step next to a FIRE! And wow, I can transform this marshmallow! COOL!” Watch how your kid experiments with the different ways to cook the marshmallow — holding it close to the fire, further away from the fire, actually setting it on fire. Call it science if you want to (and indeed, it is!) But part of it is also esteem-building. A sense of control. No, the cavemen didn’t have s’mores, but imagine how they felt, experimenting with fire.

When I’m in charge of the s’mores supplies (and I usually am, because I don’t want to disappoint JavaGirl!) I like to mix things up a bit and prepare a s’mores buffet. For the last camping trip, I brought chocolate marshmallows, jumbo marshmallows as well as the standard ones. I provided chocolate graham crackers and the usual honey ones. Because kids often dive into s’mores like locusts on a fresh crop, I like to prepare plates with the crackers already broken into half (s’mores sized — although now you can also buy some already in squares), the marshmallows in bowls, and the chocolates already portioned in bowls. A trick I’ve learned is that you can also use the snack-sized Hershey’s chocolate bars rather than breaking the large ones — I go with whatever is the best price at the time.

We have amassed a collection of telescoping campfire forks over the years. It began with our wedding registry when I saw some for the first time at Crate & Barrel and just had to have them. People thought we were crazy and they were one of our most remarked-upon registry items (but we received them!) Since then, we’ve managed to acquire more and now bring extras with us to every camping event. For some reason, this “civilized” way of making s’mores appeals to the non-campers and we’ve noticed that the adults are willing to jump in on the s’mores making if handed a telescoping fork.

When everyone is nestled into their seats, munching on their s’mores, I try to engage them in conversation about other campfire foods. Banana boats, hobo hamburgers, hobo omlettes. Recently I’ve acquired some pie irons and am itching to make some mountain pies. My kids started with s’mores, but have now learned to cook other foods as well.  It was the food that lured JavaGirl into being willing to try camping even though she wasn’t sure if she wanted to stay in a tent overnight. And now she’s a tent-sleeping, frog-catching, s’mores-cooking camper, just like her brother. Looking forward to the day when she’ll get her own pocketknife so she can try her hand at whittling like he does. It is my hope that by getting other families to see that campfire cooking is fun, they will then be willing to give up a night of air-conditioning to try out sleeping in a tent and discover what else camping has to offer. Frankly, s’mores are the universal lures of campfire cooking — not everyone likes hot dogs!

Yes, we can make s’mores on forks or in foil packets on the grill. We have an indoor s’mores maker with a sterno pot. Now you can even make them in the microwave. But there’s something to be said about instilling the love of the old-fashioned way – around a campfire with your friends, just before retiring to your tent filled with the memories of a day spent outdoors and the confidence that can only be gained by doing things yourself and knowing that if you ever really did have to rely only on yourself, you could.

—————–

Disclosure: National S’mores Day was Friday, August 10. But who needs a special day to enjoy this awesome treat? My kids’ first experience with s’mores was not on a camping trip, though I highly reccommend that if you can!  Find a time this summer or fall to spend some time outdoors with your family around a campfire roasting some marshmallows. I had the pleasure of riding the Hershey’s #CampBondfire sponsored bus home from BlogHer ’12, which inspired this post.  Hershey’s and Walmart  provided me with a ride home from BlogHer, two scrumptious s’mores kits, and some “welcome home” goodies from Walmart.

Spontaneous “Discovery” and the Red Pajamas

There was a time when my husband found my spontaneity endearing. Enticing. Sexy, even. Now, it is more often met with an eyeroll and a look that says, “Really, I’m in the middle of eating my dinner here.”

No, I’m not talking about that.

I mean when I looked at him and said, “Hey, two of my friends have arrived at Dulles airport in the past couple of hours and said they saw Discovery on the tarmac. Let’s hop in the car right now and see if we can find a place where we can see it!”

Commence pained look from JavaDad.

Okay, I understand his perspective — he’s tired, he’s almost done eating dinner, it’s raining. He doesn’t like rapid change. It wasn’t previously discussed.

This is my perspective: Ohmygodohmygodohmygod….IcangetMOREpicturesoftheshuttle…..itwouldbesoCOOLto
seeitontheTARMAC!!!  RememberwatchingplanesarrivewhenWEwerekids????
THE KIDS WILL LOVE IT!

See my point?

We were losing daylight fast, there was no time for debate. It was either hop in the car in the next five minutes, or the opportunity was lost. Forever. There would be no do-overs.

I offered him an out — something like, “You can stay here if you want, but I’m taking the kids and we’re going!” With a chirpy voice and a slight frown on my face. Simultaneously being supportive of the fact that he can be a stick-in-the-mud while subtly reminding him that it was this unique brand of craziness that he claims to have fallen in love with way before he had a driver’s license.

Did I mention I was in my pajamas? My bright red pajamas with hearts on them and phrases like “Be Mine” and “KissKissKiss” all across the legs. Not 20 minutes earlier my sinus infection was making me miserable and uncharacteristically ready to snuggle under a blanket and call it a night. Usually I am up until well past midnight, but tonight, I was toast. Thus, the pajamas.

I told the kids to throw on some jackets, grab their shoes and get in the car. I threw on a red fleece and figured that I’d throw caution to the wind and just go in my PJs. After all, we were just going to pull over on the side of the road in the rain — who would ever know I was in my PJs?

We’ve never watched planes at Dulles (IAD) from the road before. We’ve certainly done it from the observation tower at Udvar-Hazy, so I guess we never had a reason to do so from the road. We were surprised not to find a true observation point like most airports have. But we found a narrow shoulder and indeed, saw Discovery, still strapped to the jet. Space Shuttle Discovery parked on the IAD Tarmac

JavaGirl was unhappy with her vantage point from the backseat on the passenger’s side, so she and JavaDad finally decided to get out of the car and JavaBoy joined them, which prompted me to hop out so I could get a photo of them.

Just then, a minivan pulled behind us and the driver enthusiastically waved at us.

Oh no, surely I am not standing here, on the side of the road in my bright red pajamas and someone who knows me has pulled up?!

Oh yes, not only that, but my friend K. from the Junior League. Now I’ll admit that shamefully, I often show up at school pickup in my “schlumpy mom” look — no makeup, shorts, flip-flops, ponytail or my hair looking a bit flyaway. I shouldn’t, but on those days when the most exciting thing I’m doing is laundry, the grocery store, or writing, I often focus on getting the tasks done in the window between the first and last rings of the school bell more than my appearance, but when it came to my time at the League, I tried to at least pull it together and appear decent most of the time. And I certainly don’t appear in public in my pajamas even on my worst days!

Fortunately, K. had a big laugh over it. In fact, she said some other friends of hers was debating coming but were worried because their kids were in pajamas and moments later, said friends called on the phone to get directions to our vantage point.

They showed up, pulling up in their minivan, parking in front of us. Why not, let’s have a party! Everyone there, you know, with me, in my bright red pajamas… They weren’t even my CUTE pajamas. Or my satin ones. I have special pajamas for when I travel to conventions and have to share a room with female friends and want to appear somewhat presentable. Nooo, couldn’t have been THOSE pajamas.

So K.’s friends were polite but I think were slightly suspicious of this grown woman in red pajamas with hearts. (They are Valentine’s Day pajamas, for goodness’ sakes, they weren’t even the appropriate season! Note to self: Buy some Space Shuttle pajamas.) I tried to redeem myself by sharing our binoculars with them. We swapped space shuttle sighting stories while my children became inexplicably ill-behaved in my SUV. And then when we all decided it was time to pack it all in, K. went to her minivan to find her battery dead.

JavaDad once again shot me a slightly pained look. The Iwasjusttryingtoeatmydinnerwhathavochaveyouwroughtnow look. As we were now wedged between K.’s minivan and her friends’ minivan, we needed to pull out, do a highly illegal but unavoidable three-point turn on the one-way highway exit, and position our SUV so it would face her minivan so we the cables would reach in order to jump K.’s battery. Then, both JavaDad and the husband from the other couple bravely admitted to each other they didn’t remember exactly how to jump a battery and wisely allowed me to look up the instructions in my car’s manual despite the fact that I know this violates the very highest law of The Man Code.

So there I was, in the rain, off Highway 28, reading from page 325 of the Toyota Highlander manual how to jump a battery to two men who were half-listening to me. Gesturing wildly for emphasis in an attempt to get their full attention. In my red pajamas. While my kids acted like wild banshees in the backseat.

Her car started, the men disconnected the jumper cables without blowing up anything or harming anyone, JavaDad once again successfully executed another illegal three-point turn, and we were on our way home.

“That was COOL!” JavaBoy exclaimed.

JavaDad grinned slightly. I think he just may remember why he married me after all.

 

Bertolli Weeknight Special Meal Challenge

Bertolli Frozen Meal SoupsSo many weeknights find us rushing around, making sure homework gets done, going from one evening activity to the next, that dinner is often more about the necessity of nourishing our bodies than actually dining. When Bertolli challenged me to prepare a special meal for my family using their new restaurant-quality Frozen Meal Soups and only one hour of prep time to do something special, it made me realize how rarely we turn dinner into an event.

Tonight was the perfect time to put the challenge to the test. The kids had a science fair at school in the afternoon and both had evening activities. Could we pull together a quick, delicious dinner that felt special in under an hour?

You betcha!

Taking our cue from the Bertolli® Frozen Meal Soup Tuscan Style Beef and Vegetable we chose, the kids and I decided on an Italian-themed night. And given our time frame, I opted for every shortcut possible. Right there on the bag it suggested fresh Italian bread. Grabbed that from the bakery section. Added some salad in a bag, already sliced mushrooms and cherry tomatoes into the cart for a quick salad. Then, sudden inspiration hit, and I steered us back to the bakery section and put a tiramisu into the cart.

“Who is that for?” JavaGirl asked.

“For us!” I exclaimed.

“Us? Why? Who is having a party?”

“Just us, we’re having a just-us, family party!’

From that point on, JavaGirl made a point of letting everyone she saw know that we were having a family party that night — who knew that making a special weeknight dinner would make such a difference?  It wasn’t the dessert, we certainly have dessert other nights, it was that we were make an event of things.

Our last stop was the floral department. What’s a special night without some fresh cut flowers?

Magazine ads, HGTV and Pinterest would have you believe that everyone else is eating dinner on beautifully set tables every night, when I would bet that I am not the only mother who long ago turned to easy-to-wipe tablecloths and doesn’t print out custom menus for her family on a nightly basis. We just don’t like to post those photos on the Web.

dining roomBut it is important to remember to “bring out the good stuff” not just when company comes, but also for family.  Not just for special occasions, but also “just because.” So when we got home, I pulled out the special tablecloth JavaDad’s grandmother embroidered for us a wedding gift, broke out the wedding china and crystal, found some candles, and put the flowers on the table.

Dinner itself was a cinch. The Bertolli Meal Soup can be cooked on either the stovetop or on the microwave and since I was cooking two bags (each bag is meant for two people) I decided to try both methods. Since this particular soup included bowtie pasta, I was curious to see if the pasta would turn mushy in either method and pleased to see it didn’t.

We sliced up the bread, threw the salad together, served up the soup, and unwrapped the tiramisu and placed it on a cake stand. JavaDad poured some wine, lit the candles and dimmed the lights. Voila! A special meal on a Monday night.

In addition to helping us shift our moods and slow down (briefly) between events, though we often take our kids out to restaurants, this gave us the unexpected benefits of making our kids feel special (our daughter particularly kept talking about how pretty everything was) and also an opportunity to remind our kids about table manners (break bread in small, bite-sized pieces, then butter it, eat your soup by pushing the spoon away from you). I am quite thankful to Bertolli for reminding me that a special meal does not necessarily mean one that takes a long time to prepare. It was a simple dinner, perfect for a busy night like this one, and yet with a few very easy touches, it turned into a special one.

Want a quick meal for your family? Find where to get Bertolli Frozen Meal Soups here: http://www.villabertolli.com/where-to-buy.aspx

Share your tips for a special weeknight meal in the comments section!

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Disclosure: I was compensated by Bertolli to participate in the Weeknight Meal Special Challenge. As my loyal readers know, my opinions are always my own and I always tell it like it is, no matter what! My family liked this soup and we’re going to get more to stick in the deep freezer.