Tag Archives: family

The calm before the holiday storm

holiday chaosAs you pop that fun-sized candy bar you just rummaged from your kid’s dwindling Halloween booty into your gullet, consider this:

You only have two weeks left.

Two weeks before the grocery store starts looking more like a Caligula-era Coliseum, when otherwise mild-mannered citizens try to scratch each other’s eyes out and grocery carts become crashing chariots in an epic battle just to get that last can of pumpkin on the shelf.

Two weeks, before your sister-in-law passive-aggressively implies that her stuffing recipe is better than yours. Two weeks, before your father complains about the Thanksgiving sleeping arrangements. Two weeks, before you have to inspect the fire extinguisher in case Uncle Pete starts another grease fire while frying the turkey.

Two weeks, before your wallet begins it’s annual hemorrhage, as you fall prey to holiday shopping pressures, buying a gift for every Tom, Dick, Harry and school janitor. Two weeks, before you have to feel guilty, because you bought yourself two pairs of shoes and a handbag while out shopping for Aunt Gertrude.

Two weeks, before your neighborhood begins an earlier-than-ever home decorating extravaganza, attempting to turn your street into the Las Vegas Strip. Two weeks, before everyone wraps their houses in more twinkle lights than the Andromeda Galaxy, lines their sidewalks with plastic decor, and fills their front yards with giant blow up snow globes.

Two weeks, before little kids you don’t recognize, but who claim to be from your neighborhood, and who won’t take “no” for an answer, show up on your doorstep asking you to buy rolls of wrapping paper, tubs of cookie dough, tins of caramel corn, cans of ham, jars of scented candles, kitchen gadgets, poinsettias and wreaths.

Two weeks, before you open the mailbox to find piles of holiday cards containing three-page update letters chronicling every significant and insignificant event in the lives of people – and pets — you have not seen in years. Two weeks, before you have to juggle multiple invites to family holiday parties, school holiday parties, work holiday parties, neighborhood holiday parties, cookie exchanges, secret Santa gift exchanges, elementary school holiday choral concerts, high school holiday drama productions, and middle school holiday band concerts (ear plugs not included).

Two weeks, before you find yourself stumbling through life in a leftover turkey tryptophan haze. Two weeks, before your body begins its slow transformation from reasonably unhealthy to alarming levels of egg nog induced cholesterol and Christmas cookie induced diabetes. Two weeks, before your rapidly expanding thighs cause so much friction, you fear you might spontaneously combust if you walk too fast while wearing your favorite corduroys.

Just. Two. Weeks.

With such a short time left before the chaos begins, use this petit repose to preemptively rest, relax, and brace for the inevitable holiday onslaught we all know is just around the corner.

Reduce your home décor to a tranquil minimum – throw your skeletons back in the closet and your gnat-infested jack-o-lanterns in the trash. Let your intestines rest up for the impending month-long holiday smorgasbord by eating light meals that are easily digestible. Avoid holiday newspaper inserts, commercials, emails offering shop-early discounts, and those gaudy in-store displays that went up before Halloween was even over.

As for me, I plan to resist any urge to shop, decorate, celebrate, overindulge, photograph, or wear novelty sweaters. Instead, I’m going to hibernate with my family of five in our little base house, and be thankful for the peace and quiet while it lasts.

I’ll take heed. I’ll take stock. I’ll take two weeks — and I won’t call anyone in the morning.

She’ll do it

Grrrrr......

Grrrrrrowl……..

Husband comes home from work, carrying dirty coffee cup. Entering kitchen, he sees that everything is neat, tidy, and put away. Sink is empty, Counters are wiped. The aroma of dinner emanates from the oven. Standing equidistant to dishwasher and sink, husband thinks, “She’ll do it.” He puts dirty cup in sink and heads for his Barcalounger.

Teenage son enters bathroom to take shower. In one Houdini-esque fell-swoop, he heaps his clothing on the floor as follows: socks bunched up, jeans with phone and various wrappers still in pockets, belt still in loops, boxers still inside jeans, sweatshirt, and t-shirt still inside sweatshirt. Some items need to be washed and others are relatively clean. Approximately one foot away is the laundry basket, and son’s dresser is down the hall. Son thinks, “She’ll do it,” and throws entire lot into laundry basket.

Teenage daughter comes home from school and bursts in the front door with backpack, gym bag, and Vera Bradley lunchbox. Her mother has considerately provided bins with children’s initials on them on stairs inside front door, a basket in nearby laundry room for emptied lunchboxes, and a shelf for each child’s school books in nearby office. Standing only a few feet from each of these organizational aids, teenage daughter thinks, “She’ll do it,” and drops all of her belongings in the middle of the front hall.

Note the handy but conspicuously empty tote on the stairs.

Grrrrrumble……

Middle school daughter runs into kitchen after tennis practice, famished. Everything is put away, and there are no crumbs or other debris on counters. Taking out a pot, she proceeds to make a batch of her all-time favorite, mac-n-cheese. When finished, she carefully puts the leftovers in Tupperware bowl in refrigerator. Remembering that her father likes to confiscate her precious leftovers, she takes at least 5 minutes to find construction paper, a marker and tape, and affixes a homemade sign to her refrigerated bowl that reads, “Do Not Kill.”  Before plopping onto the couch to watch reruns of “Dance Moms,” middle school daughter glances at her cheese-sauce enameled dish, fork, pot, wooden spoon, and measuring cup laying on the formerly clean countertop, and thinks, “She’ll do it.”

Growl.......

Grrrrunt…….

Mom comes home from grocery store to find dirty dishes in kitchen, backpacks in hallway, and laundry in bathroom. Growling under her breath, Mom wonders why, despite years of stating otherwise, the family still thinks she’ll do everything. She contemplates blowing a royal gasket, telling everyone to go pack sand, and leaving town for a week; but thinks it might be easier to just clean up the mess and go microwave herself a cup of coffee.

Later the same week, Husband needs reassurance after a bad day at work. Teenage son wants someone to come watch him receive an award at school. Teenage daughter needs a shoulder to cry on about her biology test. Middle school daughter needs a Band-Aid and a kiss for her freshly scraped knee. And the family dog wants a snuggle.

There is no hesitation. No need to think twice. Without doubt in hearts, they know, “She’ll do it.”

"Who's gonna ride the roller coaster with me?"Weeeeee!

Weeeeee!!!!

How to eat crabs without losing an eye

My extended family, about to gut some crabs at our beach cottage in the Outer Banks, NC.

Human beings have evolved from their spear-chucking, cave-dwelling, hunter-gathering days. Today’s man walks upright when not sitting in lounge furniture, lights fires with starter logs, and procures meat from the Harris Teeter deli counter.

Thanks to the advent of modern-day farms, fisheries and meat packing plants, men can fill their bellies with meat without even getting their khakis dirty. However, there is one particular circumstance in which modern man continues to voluntarily, willingly, and even eagerly maim, slaughter and gut his pray with his bare hands.

As long as there are plenty of twist-top beers available, modern men actually enjoy the experience of butchering their own steamed blue crabs. But eating steamed crabs is not all ruthless savagery. There is a specific step-by-step method which has been passed down to generations of beach vacationers.

First, one must cover their dinner table with newspapers to protect it from mallet blows, flying debris, and spilled innards.

Next, pile the hot steamed crabs in the center of the paper-covered table, and surround the pile with various accompaniments – lemon wedges and bowls of melted butter. Don’t bother with napkins, just have a garden hose ready for clean up at the end.

Important! Before handing out wooden mallets and alcoholic beverages, it is highly recommended that the host ask each participant to sign a release form absolving her of liability for any resulting physical injuries or mental trauma.

When everyone is seated at the table, tell each person to take a crab from the pile and place it on the table with the abdomen facing up. Considering this critter is nothing more than a glorified spider, it is very important to follow this specific series of steps in order to extract the edible bits of meat.

Place a thumb under the “pop tab” on the white underbelly, and gently lift. Without revealing that this is actually the crab’s genitals, snap off the shell tab to reveal a small opening. If breaking off the creature’s reproductive organs was not savage enough, now place both thumbs in the opening and apply pressure until the upper red shell separates from the white abdomen shell.

Discarding the red top shell, one is left with what appears to be a totally revolting carcass full of gills, intestines, membranes, fecal matter and multicolored goo. Take a deep breath and a sip of beer to ward off any gag reflex, and beware of wannabe crab connoisseurs who actually eat the gooey yellow and green “mustard” of the crab, claiming that it is some sort of delicacy. Don’t be fooled – if it looks like crab guts, it’s probably crab guts.

Holding either side, crack the rest of the crab in half down the middle. If the guests have not completely lost their appetite by now, explain that it is finally time to extract the meat.

 Pinching the paddle leg at the top joint, ease the lump of meat out of the carcass. Look at the morsel attached to the end of the leg. That’s as good as it gets, folks. Dip it in butter, drizzle it with lemon, and enjoy it for the nanosecond it lasts. It’s all pretty much downhill from here.

Take each of the other legs, and one by one, use the same pinching method to ease any attached meat out of the crab carcass. Then, if anyone hasn’t already fainted from starvation, break each of the tiny picker legs in half and suck out the miniscule bits of meat and juice, reserving the claw for last. In order to avoid common claw cracking injuries, goggles, helmets, Kevlar vests and steel toed boots are advised.

Using the provided wooden mallet, viciously pound the claw at the center joint to break open the shell without smashing the meat. Be advised that shell fragments will often fly across the table and hit other guests, or crab juice will squirt into someone’s hair. As long as no one is injured, firing crab shrapnel at your dinner guests is an acquired skill and should be considered part of the fun.

Once the claw meat has been extracted and eaten, repeat the aforementioned steps until the rest of the crabs have been picked. But don’t forget the last thing to be picked – where to go get pizza when everyone complains they’re still hungry.

Making pigs of ourselves at the annual crab feast.

How to cook crabs without getting arrested for domestic assault

Last year, while on our annual beach vacation, a rental car pulled up to the corner outside our cottage. Three Asian men got out, with a bushel basket of live crabs, and started arguing with each other in some foreign language.

Sensing these men were from out of town, I shouted from our deck, “You folks need some help?”

The one who could speak a bit of English came forward and explained that they were Korean businessmen who had just returned from a chartered crabbing trip. He opened the bushel basket, revealing layer upon layer of beautiful gurgling Blue Crabs. He told us that they were staying in a hotel and, unless we wanted to take the crabs off their hands, they were headed to the beach to release them.

On one hand, it would have been hilarious to watch the three well-intentioned Koreans inadvertently cause utter terror and mayhem as they empty a bushel basket of vicious crabs amongst the sunbathers at the beach. On the other hand, it’s not everyday that someone walks up to your deck, where you are sitting comfortably with a drink in your hand, and offers you over $60 worth of fresh-caught seafood for free.

Needless to say, we took the crabs “off their hands” because that’s the kind of generous Americans we were. Bowing and waving, they thanked us profusely for helping them out, and we graciously accepted their mistaken gratitude.

As the rental car pulled away, we – my brother, sister-in-law, husband, mother and I – looked blankly at each other. “OK,” my brother finally said, “How the hell are we going to cook these things?”

We remembered summers past when crabs were steamed on our stove cracked at our newspaper-covered table; however, none of us could remember how we did it. “I’ve got it!” my sister-in-law yelled, holding a rusty can of Old Bay Seasoning from our spice cabinet. “Says here, fill the bottom of the pot with equal parts water and vinegar, bring to a boil, then layer the crabs in the steamer with seasoning. Cover and steam 20-30 minutes until the crabs turn red.”

Piece of cake. As we readied our ingredients, we clinked our beers in mutual admiration of our ingenuity. We knew we were not like all the other beach tourists. We owned our beach house, had a steamer pot, and cooked our own crabs. We were just like locals, swarthy and seasoned.

“Water’s boiling!” my mother yelped, and my brother nervously retrieved the basket of crabs from our deck, where the kids were poking them with sticks and watching them snap. As the rest of us huddled at a safe distance, my brother skittishly picked up the angry crabs with tongs and lowered them, one by one, into the deadly steam.

The kids looked on, confused. Like most kids these days, they loved animals and they loved food. But they did not often take part in the ruthless conversion of animal to food. “It’s not going to hurt, is it?” my youngest daughter asked. “Oh, no, they think they’re taking a nice bath,” my mother lied.

Just then, a crab leapt from the pot in a desperate fight for survival. As the escapee scrambled sideways toward us, my husband emitted a girlish squeal and knocked me out of the way to get onto a barstool. The kids wailed and dug their nails into each other, while my sixty-something mother sprang spryly onto the couch. The rest was a little foggy, but two minutes later, our kitchen broom was broken in half, two kids were crying, I had a mysterious scratch on my shoulder, and the escaped crustacean was back in the pot.

Thankfully, the neighbors did not report the commotion to the local police, and apparently, there are therapists who will be able to adequately deal with any residual trauma our children may have experienced during the incident. Despite it all, the crabs were steamed to perfection, and we enjoyed a tasty supper as the sun went down.

Tune in next week for “How to eat Blue Crabs without losing an eye.” And remember, if a strange foreigner gives you a case of crabs, consider yourself lucky.

Vacationer’s Deadliest Catch

Blue crabs in net

Blue crabs in net (Photo credit: chesbayprogram)

[Or, How to catch Blue Crabs without winding up in the Emergency Room]

The Bering Sea crabbers have nothing over summer beach vacationers. Sure, catching King Crab isn’t exactly child’s play, but until one experiences the veritable odyssey of catching, cooking and eating Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab, one doesn’t truly understand the meaning of “deadliest catch.”

The sweet richness of Blue Crab meat is not easy to come by. These elusive little critters first must be caught, and if that wasn’t difficult enough, properly cooking them is a science not many dare to attempt. However, at the dinner table is where the real work begins — eating steamed Blue Crabs is an experience like no other.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We must go back to the beginning and take this matter one step at a time.

Unless you plan to spend your children’s college fund ordering Blue Crabs for the whole family at a restaurant, it’s best to catch them yourself. You can find the necessary fishing equipment by rummaging through your garage and kitchen junk drawer – a net, a long string with a sinker and hook tied on one end, and a cheap cooler with a lid. A quick poke through the garbage will yield your bait – smelly, rotting chicken necks work best.

However, be forewarned: A myriad of secondary supplies are required, depending on the tolerance level of your family. Your crabbing expedition may involve chairs, smelling salts, cards, lawn darts, badminton set, Jenga, full length copy of War and Peace, ear plugs, brown paper bag, ointment, bandages, aloe vera, tweezers, and an enormous cooler of cold beverages.

Note: Do not use the beverage cooler to store your crabs unless you like them marinated in Dr. Pepper. These nasty critters may be small, but they’re mad as hell and can pierce an average beer can with a snap. Moreover, the minor convenience of bringing one cooler is not worth the risk of the severe puncture wounds you will suffer as you reach in for a cold one.

Haul your supplies to a suitable location — any old dock on the bay will do. Place one rotting chicken neck firmly on your hook, making sure to have smelling salts nearby in case you pass out from the revolting odor. When fully conscious, hold one end of the string, and chuck the baited hook several feet from the dock. Tie the string to the dock, take a seat in your lawn chair, and open a cold beverage.

Ahh, crabbing’s not so bad, you’re thinking, right? But please, be aware that it may take anywhere from thirty seconds to a full 24 hour and 52 minute tidal cycle to catch a crab. This would be a good time to make use of the cards, lawn darts, Jenga, badminton set and full-length copy of War and Peace.

Every so often, check your string for vibrations indicating that a Blue Crab is nibbling your bait. When you feel a twitch, pull your string ever so slowly, luring the unsuspecting crab toward the dock. Your prey is no Einstein – its pea-sized brain will think the putrid chicken neck is trying to escape and will grasp it even tighter.

Once you are able to see the crab, do not remain calm. Gasp, jump, knock your beverage over, and exclaim loudly, “I got one!! Grab the net!!” If you have not scared your catch away, have a family member scoop up the crab as it reaches the surface while you yell, “Get the darned thing for Pete’s sake!!”

You will inevitably fail at your first attempt to deposit the crab into the cooler, resulting in it scrambling around on the dock while your family emits blood-curdling screams at high decibels. Earplugs and brown paper bag may come in handy.

Once you manage to secure a crab in the cooler, repeat the aforementioned steps 34 times, yielding a half bushel of crabs – just enough meat to feed a family of five, as long as you also have corn on the cob, watermelon, bread, hamburgers, salad, beans and plenty of desserts to fill everyone up.

When you are done crabbing, properly dress your crab nip wounds with bandages, treat your bug bites with ointment, apply aloe vera to your sunburn, and pull out dock splinters with tweezers before heading home to cook your catch.

Stay tuned next week for Step 2 – How to cook crabs without being arrested for domestic assault. And remember: Don’t be a crab, you’re on vacation.

Callinectes sapidus

Callinectes sapidus (Photo credit: S. F. Pitman)

The Annual Holiday Letter

Dear Friends and Family . . . [oh boy, I can’t even get past the salutation without a dilemma. “Friends and Family” or “Family and Friends?” Better lead with “Family” unless I want to tick off our Italian relatives.]

Dear Family and Friends,

Merry . . . [almost forgot, the Weinsteins are on our mailing list] . . . Season’s Greetings! We hope our Annual Holiday Letter finds you and your families . . . [hmm, Frank’s cousin Gilda never married and I don’t want to send her into another tailspin of depression] . . . finds you happy and healthy . . . [Uncle George was just diagnosed with diverticulitis] . . . happy and mentally stable . . . [definitely doesn’t apply to our family] . . . happy and with all of your teeth . . . [darn it, Uncle George again] . . . happy and prosperous . . . [Frank’s college roommate just had his car repossessed] . . . happy and human [close enough.]

This year has been an eventful one for our family. After those greedy blood-sucking scoundrels at Green and Green laid Frank off . . . [hmm, might come off a tad bitter.] After nine years as a successful litigator [he did win that one case, after all] with Green and Green, Frank was offered a prestigious new position [mail boy with potential for promotion if Frank brings in some clients] with The Law Offices of Bernie Slawitschka.

When Frank isn’t busy with high profile mergers and acquisitions, he’d love to carve out a bit of time for family and friends. So please call him now at 1-555-SO-SUE-ME, if your breast implants are crooked [my sister,] you’re going bankrupt [Frank’s college roommate,] or you got another speeding ticket [Grampa.] Or feel free to stop by – the offices are located just above Izzy’s Body Piercing Emporium on 13th and Vine – ring at the back entrance by the dumpsters and bring cash only.

Our son, Buddy, 19 [aka “Bed Head,”] still lives at home while he patiently awaits various college acceptance letters [it is called “Acme Online Small Appliance Repair College” after all] while using his gap year [parole] to gain valuable experience in the carnival sciences [that’ll explain why he’s been the Caterpillar operator at Bob’s Amusements since getting his GED.]

It took a bit of convincing, but Frank and I have finally decided to allow Suzie, 16, [here goes nothing] to pursue her dream of gender reassignment. She’s happy to report that hormone therapy has enabled her to grow sideburns, and she’s almost saved enough money from weekend caddying for her surgery. Oh, and she now prefers to be called “Floyd.”

And our little munchkin, Robbie, 11 [aka “Lucifer,”] has made explosive progress [thank God that Molotov cocktail he made didn’t detonate in the cafeteria] since being identified as “delayed” by his teachers. He has advanced so much in his Industrial Arts class, where he recently constructed a missile launcher out of nothing but our gas grill [charcoal is better anyway] and the neighbor’s lawn mower [so relieved they agreed to drop the charges,] that his doctor has agreed to reduce his meds if there are no other incidents at school.

Pickles, our miniature poodle-blood hound mix, continues to bring joy [incessant barking] and constant companionship [we can’t leave him alone or he’ll eat all our shoes] to our lives, so we have finally agreed to forgive him for the tragic death of our beloved cat, Hairball.

As for me, [better make this good] I continue to fulfill my life by donating to charity [daily purchases at the Salvation Army Thrift Store] but am excited to announce that our home will soon be profiled on the hit show “Hoarding: Buried Alive.” I plan to use the proceeds from the show to fund my creepy doll collection and penchant for boxed wine.

We love [gross exaggeration] and miss [like a hangnail] you all and invite you to come visit us at any time [we’ll just turn the lights out and hide like we do on Halloween.] Have a wonderful holiday and a terrific new year!

Frank, Buddy, Floyd, Robbie, Pickles and Me.

[Done. Now where is that boxed wine?]

I kinda suck, but will you vote for me anyway?

I am a flawed person.

No matter what I accomplish in life, my psyche hones in on the negative: the things I haven’t done, the mistakes I’ve made, the things I am not good at (like figuring out how to not end a sentence with a preposition without sounding snooty.)

I am constantly perseverating over my inadequacies. My laziness, my flubby gut, my lack of fashion sense, my bushy hair, my pathetic cries for attention, my slouched shoulders, my poor math skills, the dark circles under my eyes, my short attention span, my poor memory, my armpit chicken fat thingies that make me look unsightly in a tank top, my lack of social sophistication, my double chin, and my inferiority complex.

There are more, but due to my poor memory and laziness, I must stop there.

At a very young age, I learned that I could use my sense of humor and self-deprecating nature to overcome my lack of self-confidence and win a few friends. Much to my mother’s dismay, I was elected Class Clown in Junior High, and again in High School, and continued to do stupid, funny things throughout my adult life.

Before I was able to channel this trait into my writing, I was somewhat ashamed of my goofiness, seeing it as just another flaw. But now that I can call myself a self-syndicated humor columnist, I feel that I may have touched upon the one thing that I may actually do quite well.

Problem is, my inferiority complex is so ingrained, I suck at promotion and marketing, which are absolutely necessary to succeed in this business.

Today, there is a vast sea of mom bloggers out there writing about their every day lives and trying to be funny. Some are really good, some are just OK. Many have almost no writing ability and are just blathering away at their computers every day about everything from hangnails to chicken pot pies and every mundane, boring detail in between.

I am not sure where you think I fall in this spectrum, but rest assured, I think I am worse than you think I am. But, there is a tiny spark of realism in me that knows I am a decent writer and that I deserve to succeed at this.

OK, enough with the dramatic build up, I’ll get to the point.

I was just notified that my blog has been nominated as one of “The Top 25 Military Family Blogs” in the Circle of Moms Social Network. Circle of Moms is allowing the public to vote for their favorite military mom blog from now until May 25th, and in my pathetic, inferior way, I am asking you all to vote for me!! Whew, I said it! That wasn’t so bad!

You can vote once per day every day until May 25th, after which, Circle of Moms will announce the Top 25 Military Family Blogs and, hopefully, my blog will be shared with six million active viewers on all of Circle of Mom’s social media outlets.

Just click on the link at the top of this page, or here, and scroll down the list to find my blog. Click on the little yellow “thumbs up” icon on the right of the listing, and you are done! No registration or sign ups needed. Please vote as many days as you can between now and May 25th!

Thanks guys, I really appreciate it. I’m sorry if you are annoyed . . . I hope you still like me . . . although I’d understand if you didn’t . . . I am kind of annoying . . . and my clothes are frumpy . . . and I’ve got that weird mole . . . and . . . and . . . .

Rule No. 1: Follow the Rules

Fifteen years ago, I took on the role of stay-at-home mom with determination to go above and beyond the call of duty. I wanted to be one of those strong women who could handle just about anything, and for the most part, I was. I cooked, I cleaned, I nurtured, I maintained complete control. Nothing could faze me.

That worked for a little while, and then, strangely, my children started to think for themselves. No amount of time outs, gold stars, yelling, grounding or wooden spoons would make my children obey me every time. No matter what I did, they chipped away at my power, worming their way into my captain’s chair.

My breaking point came during a family camping trip. Ever the idealist, I envisioned us having hilarious family game nights in the cabin, meaningful talks on the docks under dappled sunlight, delicious barbeques, and gooey chocolate smiles after eating s’mores by the fireside. 

It rained for four days solid.

Thankfully, our cabin was equipped with electricity, and the sedative affect of the television was the only thing that kept us from going mad. On the fifth day, the clouds parted, and I was determined to have a happy family barbeque to salvage our experience. 

Without dry wood, we lit a smoky fire with damp sticks and charcoal briquettes. While the kids ran around the muddy perimeter of our cabin squealing and fighting, we cooked a few sad hot dogs on the smoldering fire.

I covered the slimy algae-stained picnic benches with blankets, set the table with our sad hot dogs, and called the kids to our happy family barbeque. Channeling June Cleaver, I bellowed, “C’mon kids! Time for din-din!”

Five minutes later, no one was at the table, so I started to count, “One, Two….” Lilly appeared, splattered with mud up to her knees. A few minutes later, I stormed off to find the other two, physically escorting them to their seats.

 “I don’t wanna eat it – it’s cold,” Anna said, staring down at her mac-n-cheese and singed hot dog. “I can’t find my shoe,” Lilly mumbled, just as I noticed her purple Mary Jane embedded in the mud a few feet away. I swatted the gnats and tried to maintain my composure.

I planned s’mores for dessert and hoped that this would be a sure fire hit. We held the marshmallows against the metal grill in order to get heat from the nearly extinguished briquettes, but in the end, the sugary confections were stiff, and tainted with smears of black soot and hot dog residue. The kids were too busy fighting over the Hershey bars to notice. 

Finally, my husband and I gave up and ordered everyone inside. The “electronic nanny” (ie, television) lulled the kids into a catatonic state, and we collapsed onto the couch. Frustrated with my lack of control, my mind raced.

Just then, the proverbial light bulb blinked on in my head. I leaped off the couch to find the art supplies I had packed for happy family crafts that never took place, and grabbed paper and colored pencils. I scribbled and sketched furiously like a mad scientist writing an ingenious formula. After an hour or two, my masterpiece was complete: The Molinari Family “Rules” were born.

A few days later, we were back home and I was determined to set a new standard.

“Ahem. I hereby call to order the first official Molinari Family Meeting. Please take a moment to write your name at the top of the four page agenda I typed up this morning.” I pronounced while pushing in Lilly’s booster seat.

I unveiled “The Rules” in dramatic fashion and asked everyone to read them aloud with me. Lilly, not yet a reader, mumbled as she watched our mouths, trying to imitate what we were saying.

After 30 minutes, the kids were slouched in their seats. After an hour, their heads were on the table. I closed the meeting sometime into the second hour, ending on a positive note – something about how much we loved them.

After the meeting, I felt refreshed, rejuvenated, armed, and in control. I was convinced that I had taken back the reigns and was going to steer the family on a straight course.

A year later, there I was again, furiously typing up another long Molinari Family Meeting agenda. About five such meetings have taken place since that ill-fated camping trip. Before each meeting, I ask everyone to recite “The Rules” together, in an attempt to reclaim order and civility in our little tribe. And after each meeting, I always feel so much better.

Recently, when things started spinning out of control, I immediately knew what I had to do.

Another agenda, recitation of “The Rules” and two hour meeting, always ending on the usual high note – something about how much we love them. As always, I felt so much better.

The next day, as I picked up the umpteen things left lying around the house, I realized that absolutely nothing had really changed. It occurred to me that perhaps the meetings were only for my benefit. Was everyone in the family simply sacrificing a couple hours of their time so Mom could regain her sanity. 

Embarrassed by this realization, I contemplated making my futile meetings a thing of the past. But then it dawned on me — In a twisted sort of way, my family’s sacrifice was sorta sweet, and besides, such behavior was exemplary of “Rule #1: Be kind.”

Feeling justified, I hung “The Rules” back on their nail to await the next Molinari Family Meeting.

I wrote and posted this article last year, but it was recently published in my weekly column in The Indiana Gazette. For those of you who have been long-time readers, thanks for tolerating the reprint – I wanted The Gazette readers to be able to come to my blog to see the photos related to the story.  And besides, “The Rules” still apply!

The Stuff Families Are Made Of

Recently, I’ve been told that my family of five weighs nearly 18,000 pounds. 

No, we are not morbidly obese – that figure is actually the total weight of all of our stuff. Everything from the half-chewed pencil in the desk drawer to the 1978 Baldwin upright piano, and all the socks, cookie sheets, end tables, and dog toys in between.

As a military family, we have to move every few years. Each time, a team of movers wraps all our stuff in paper, packs it into boxes, nails it into crates, weighs it, and delivers it to our next temporary home.

Prior to every move, we take a few weeks to sort through our 18,000 pounds of stuff and “purge” unnecessary items like old clothes, outgrown toys, and beat up furniture.

Getting rid of things has always been difficult for me. As a child, I used to squirrel everything away – toys, coins, rocks, shells, candy, notes, photos, etc. – and I am still doing it to this day. I can attach practical or sentimental value to almost anything to make it worth keeping.

Fourteen years ago we were about to move from England to Virginia, and were sorting through our stuff in preparation to be packed. My husband was going through all the little drawers in his big roll top desk, and came upon a small white plastic clamp holding a hard brownish object.

“What the heck is this?” he asked, holding the clamp up to the light.

“Oh, that’s Hayden’s umbilical cord.” I said, briefly looking up from a file box of bank statements.

“His umbilical cord?!” he said, astonished, tossing the dehydrated fragment back into the drawer. “That looks like something you’d find in a bowl of Chex Mix…what if I had accidentally eaten it? I’m throwing it away.”

“WAIT!” I shouted, lunging for the dried up morsel of sinew. I held the plastic clamp and gazed at the petrified remnants of the bridge of flesh that once connected my son and me. I thought of the life-giving nourishment that flowed through the cord and how it symbolized my undying love for my son.

Just then, my husband interrupted my reverie, “Hon, you’re not going to keep that thing are you? It’s like a dried up piece of raw chicken!”

As I reluctantly threw the scabby scrap into the trash, I wondered if discarding our original physical bond might adversely affect the emotional tie between my son and me. 

Crazy, I know.

That is the insane thought process I go through every time we move.

I could give in to my hoarding tendencies and tell myself that every scrap of paper and old shoe is indispensable, because it is useful or holds some dear memory. But then, the US military would fine us for going over the allowable weight limit for a family of five.

Thanks to Uncle Sam, I am not a hoarder, but I still battle my propensity to packrat every time we move.

This time, I hesitated over a restaurant matchbook from a night when the kids didn’t embarrass us. I had a lot of trouble parting with my 1980s Bermuda bag and its buttoned covers, still convinced that wooden handled purses will come back into style. And I couldn’t get myself to part with the tin drum that my son used to beat when we went Christmas caroling with the neighbors.

With each move, I have to remind myself that, although our stuff comforts us and makes us feel at home in unfamiliar places, the 18,000 pounds of stuff that follows us around the world does not make us who we are.

It is merely stuff, without which, we still have a hefty family life, weighty with memories, loaded with laughter, and laden with tons of love.

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Hitting the Slopes

“We’re going skiing this weekend,” I tell anyone who will listen. As the words part my lips, I hope the listeners envision my family clad in all the latest sportswear slicing effortlessly between snowy mountain moguls.

Little do they know, my family does not own a pair of skis.  My husband thinks skiing is a total hassle. Our kids are little more than beginners. But our friends don’t need to be bothered with the details. All they need to know is that we are skiers, and as such, we are totally cool.

Our family foray into skiing began a couple years ago when we moved to Germany. Although I grew up skiing in the small mountain resorts of the northeastern states, my family had little to no experience. But I truly believed that they would soon share my enthusiasm for the sport if they just gave it a try.

I knew my husband would be a tough sell due to one winter in the 1970s, when he and his siblings were forced to take ski lessons on Saturday afternoons. The cold, the scratchy wool, the paralyzingly stiff boots and the bafflingly complicated bindings caused irreparable childhood trauma from which my husband has never fully recovered. The only thing that got him through those heinous lessons was the promised Styrofoam cup of hot cocoa he got to drink in the station wagon on the ride home.

Despite my husband’s negative associations with skiing, I thought maybe the snooty nature of the sport might appeal to someone with his exclusive Chevy Chase, Maryland upbringing. Much like golf, crew and squash, skiing attracts a pretentious crowd, and I figured that it might tap into an embarrassingly haughty aspect of my husband’s personality kept hidden since his crew-rowing days as a frat boy at George Washington University.

So, I signed us up for the barracks Ski Club and bought a cool-looking ski carrier for the roof of our minivan. Although we only load it with grocery bags and luggage, the ski carrier with the Ski Club sticker are tell tale signs that we are a family that skis.

I may have jumped the gun a bit, but I was eager for my family to experience the winter fun that I had as a kid on the manageable little slopes of Pennsylvania’s Blue Knob, Laurel Mountain, Seven Springs, Hidden Valley, and even the tiny slope with it’s rope tow behind our local YMCA.

I wanted to relive my High School Ski Club days when my best friend and I would lie to cute boys on the chair lift, telling them our names were “Brooke” and “Claire” and that we went to boarding school in Massachusetts. I wanted to come to a quick stop at the end of a good run, sending up an impressive spray of snow, then triumphantly sip peppermint schnapps from a Bota bag.

Essentially, I wanted to deny the fact that I am a middle-aged housewife with three kids who could care less about skiing and a husband who just wants to sit in the lodge and drink beer, so I blinded myself to reality and dragged my reluctant family through our European ski adventure.

The charade did not last long. On our first family ski trip in the German Alps, our youngest daughter nearly threw up on the gondola before we even set foot on the slopes. Later on a t-bar, my son was mortified when he fell off and knocked four other people to the ground, including two very cute teenage girls, bringing the entire contraption to a grinding halt. All three kids ended up in tears for one reason or another that afternoon, and my husband projected the bitter resentments of his traumatic childhood skiing experiences by encouraging the kids to treat me as the primary source of their discontentment.

The day ended abruptly when I lead everyone onto a long intermediate slope from which there was no escape. As we descended the trail, it got steeper and steeper, until my son and husband began a freefall that looked something like the famous “agony of defeat” footage on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. 

Subsequent ski weekends followed, and although each family ski trip has been unique, a common occurrence on every outing is the inevitable moment when I grit my teeth and vow to myself, “I swear to God, as long there is breath in this body, I will never ski with these damned people again.” 

But eventually, I get over it and start planning our next trip. 

Sure, I admit it. Our ski-carrier has never actually carried skis. My husband is afraid of intermediate slopes. I fantasize about sending my kids to military school when I am on the chair lift. I post ski trip photos on Facebook that make us look like we are having fun when we are actually in pure hell.

I like to believe that perseverance is all one needs to be a skier, and even though my family may not really enjoy skiing or have any skill whatsoever, no one can take away the fact that we are skiers. Besides, who’s to say that the person who coined the phrase “hit the slopes” wasn’t describing a painfully embarrassing fall?

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