Memory Lane

My grandfather owned a drive-in restaurant for many years.  It was a small, family run business in the town of Bloomington, Illinois.  The restaurant was called Kip’s and it was a mainstay of the local community.  It was one of those small town place’s where everyone knew each other, and all the employees kept their jobs for years.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the restaurant lately.  Mostly about my family history there.  The years I spent sitting in the back booth, close to my grandfather’s office.  The dark wood paneling of the dining room, a throw back to the 70’s and probably the last time the dining room had been remodeled, and the orange formica tables and booths; the booth benches were hard, without cushions, but easy to clean and sanitize with bleach.  My grandparents were meticulous when it came to the cleanliness of the restaurant.  Like their home, there was always a faint but pleasant smell of bleach in the air.  It just smelled fresh.  I also recall the times I spent in the back kitchen, helping my grandmother make the Cole Slaw, or peeling potatoes.  My reward for a job well done was a delicious lunch of Coney Dogs, Cole Slaw and an ice-cold frosty mug of Root Beer.  Heaven to a ten year old.

My grandfather passed away in the ’90’s, and the restaurant was handed down to my father who ran it for another handful of years.  Unfortunately, with the growth of the town and the restaurant boom that hit Bloomington in those years, Kip’s was unable to keep up with the many chain restaurants that had become popular at that time.  Even the most loyal locals like to add diversity to their dining options, and my father was forced to close.  To the heartbreak of our family, Kip’s faded into the history of the town, but not before people came out in droves to enjoy their favorite comfort foods, one last time.

It’s been many years since I’ve enjoyed my favorite meals at Kip’s.  My father kept all the family recipes, but for one reason or another, we stopped making them.  So the recipes have sat unused, the paper turning yellow, thinning over time, and the print of my grandfather’s handwriting fading with each decade.

Last week my kids and I went to Dallas for our Spring Break.  My dad and brother live there with their families, and we spent the week enjoying the hot Texas sun and swimming in my brother’s pool.  I suggested to my father that we do a Kip’s family dinner night.  My kids had never tasted a Coney Dog, or the Cole Slaw that I loved so much as a kid.  I wanted them to experience that part of my childhood.  I wanted them to taste the food their great-grandparents created, built a successful business around, and understand that this was part of their family legacy.

So my brother, my father and I spent an afternoon cooking.  My dad unfolded the recipe for the Coney sauce, and it was the most fragile thing I’ve seen in years.  The paper bearing my grandfather’s distinct handwriting was yellow and splotched with years of use.  The creases in the paper were so worn from being folded and unfolded that even the tape applied years ago to hold it together had begun to deteriorate.  How many years had it been since he had written out this recipe?  Sixty, maybe?  We had to convert the recipe down to a useable quantity, as the original recipe was written to produce ten gallons of sauce for the restaurant.

And then we cooked.  The three of us banged out the Coney sauce and Cole Slaw within a couple of hours, and it was the most fun I’ve had in ages.  We laughed and reminisced about our childhood and the years spent in the restaurant.  My dad told us stories of his teenage years working the curb service.  At one point, I looked at them both and said, “I bet Nanny and Paw-Paw are so happy we are doing this right now.”  Then my dad handed me a spoonful of Coney sauce to taste.  The moment the flavor hit my tongue, I was absolutely transported.  Back to the booth with the orange formica tabletop.  I was ten years old again.  And I could hear my grandfather’s voice and the sounds of the kitchen and feel the slide of the ice down the frosty mug full of foaming, ice-cold Root Beer.  It always amazes me how a smell or a taste of something meaningful can take you back to a time or place long gone.

We assembled the family that evening, excited to force our food memories upon them.  They were skeptical at first.  A few of the girls don’t eat hot dogs, and a Coney Dog is essentially a hot dog smothered in Coney sauce.  The teenagers were also not too excited about being forced to eat Cole Slaw.  It wasn’t their thing.  But we insisted they try both.  Annnnnd……it was a hit!  My son ate four Coney dogs!  And even my niece, who hates Cole Slaw, said she would eat this Cole Slaw, any day.  Coming from her, that was high praise.

I knew they would love the food, because good food is just good food.  But what mattered to me more was that they got to experience a part of our family history, tangible through food.  They never got to meet their great-grandfather.  He had passed before any of them were born.  But they got to experience a huge part of him, and our family, through this dinner.  Through these recipes.

Food is universal. It speaks to all of us, whether it’s about comfort, health, or enjoying a shared experience.  And for that reason I’ve decided to create a Kip’s family cookbook! I will include all the best recipes from my grandparent’s kitchen, as well as a history of the restaurant that brought so many people together across the community it shared.  I can’t wait to share it with you!  🙂

Random & Expensive Stuff

My week has been crazy.  Here are a few snippets….

Mother’s Day was good for me.  My husband always does a stellar job of spoiling me on that day.  He got me my favorite donut for breakfast, took me to brunch and we went shopping with the kids.  He also made dinner and did all the dishes.  The finest moment of the day, however, was his discovery of an app on Facebook that allowed you to generate your own Top Gun call sign.  Did you know Mother’s Day also fell on Top Gun day this year?  I didn’t even know there was a Top Gun day, but I was thrilled to share in it.  And for shits and giggles, I made the decision that for the entire day, we could only address each other by our new Top Gun call signs.  I was “Boom.”  Dan was “B.A. Baracus,” and Bryce was “Hoser.”  That one was my favorite!  Bryn was “Cat,” which she loved because cats are her favorite animal.  We laughed and made fun of each other’s names all day.  It was magnificent.

U2 at The Forum

This past Wednesday, my husband was invited by one of his vendors to attend the U2 show at the Forum, here in Los Angeles.  I have never seen U2 in concert.  To be honest, I’m not a huge U2 fan.  The last time I was actively interested in one of their albums was back in the 90’s.  I’ve always liked U2, they just haven’t been on my bucket list of bands to see live.  I didn’t want to go.  The show was on a school night and I wanted to wear sweat pants, sit on the couch after helping the kids with homework, order sushi for dinner and go to bed super early.  I suggested Dan take a friend and make it a guys night out.  He said, “I like you.  I want to spend time with you.  You are my wife, and I want to take YOU to the show.  You have to see U2 perform live at least once in your life.”  Well, isn’t that sweet?!  So I went to the show.  And I didn’t regret it.  It was amazing.  Even though I only knew about five songs on their set list, it was an incredible night of visual and musical artistry.  I love rock music, and they did not disappoint.  I even almost cried, twice.  Almost.

My refrigerator died slowly this week.  It was fifteen years old and the compressor went out.  The repairman said it would cost around $600-700 to fix it, and even then I would be lucky to get another 3 years out of it as other essential parts started to wear out.  He recommended that for that amount of money and the age of the machine,  I should research and look into purchasing a new unit.  Thankfully, as we are approaching Memorial Day weekend, everything is on sale.  So Dan and I went to Home Depot last night to start looking.  When I told the Home Depot sales guy that I was replacing a unit that was fifteen years old, he looked like he was going to choke on his tongue.  He informed me that the refrigerators today are just not made the same, and I should not expect more than a ten year life span for any new unit we buy.  I wish I could say that surprised me.  Maybe it’s because of the technology, but products just don’t last as long as their older generations.  We keep finding ways to make things cheaper, less durable, more disposable, yet they cost more.   Anyway, an hour later, I left with a receipt for a new refrigerator that cost twice as much as my old one, and will die in half as many years.  Good times.

Minnie

Also this week, my cat had what I believe was a seizure and scared the hell out of us.  We had gone to bed, and as I was laying there half asleep, I hear what sounds like two of my cats wrestling their way across the floor.  I sit up and look around the dark room to see the shadow of one cat rolling around uncontrollably.  Dan jumps up and flips on the light to find our cat Minnie scrambling around like she’s trying to run away, but half her body isn’t working.  By the time I got my hands on her she was panting so hard her tongue was hanging out of her mouth and her pupils were severely dilated.  I was worried she’d had some kind of a stroke and was going into shock.  Dan took her to the emergency vet, and initially the vet suspected she might have had a blood clot.  A few hours later, a round of blood work, two x-rays and a bill for $600, we had no definitive answers.  Dan brought Minnie home and by the next day she was fine.  No coordination issues, no lingering side effects of whatever had caused her body to go hay-wire the night before.  And did I mention it cost $600?  As Dan would say, “Fucking cat.”

I’m looking forward to this next week, and no unexpected surprises.  No emergency vet visits, no last minute late night rock shows, and no appliance apocalypse.  This is Boom, and I’m out.

Her Eulogy

A little over a week ago we lost my beloved grandmother.

Some of you may recall that I’ve written about my visits with her every summer. Getting Old is not for Sissies  She was 96 years old and passed peacefully in her sleep.  It’s a blessing to know that her passing was quiet and quick.  It’s heartbreaking for me to accept that she is no longer with us.  A physical and emotional presence that reminded me every day to be my best self, even when I wasn’t.

This past week our family came together in her hometown of Bloomington, Illinois to celebrate her life and lay her to rest.  We are a family strong in Catholic roots, and my Nanny was a devout Christian Catholic woman to her core.  So, as you would expect, her service included a Catholic mass in the church where she was raised, and where she also raised her family.  I was baptized in this church.  My parents were married in this church.  My grandfather was memorialized in this church.  Our family’s life is intricately entwined with sacraments and services that took place in this church.  I spent countless Sundays sitting in the pew next to her, learning how to participate in the Catholic mass by watching my grandmother.  Memorizing the responses, imitating her motions of kneel, stand, sit.  Kneel, stand, sit.  This particular house of God has immeasurable significance for me in terms of emotional and physical memories.  To stand in the sanctuary, in front of her casket, was almost more than I could bear knowing it would most likely be the last time I ever had cause to visit this place.

When the service started I was beside myself with emotion.  As were the rest of my family.  My Nanny meant so much to each and every one of us.  We were all trying to manage our grief.  The service was lovely, but something was missing.  The priest gave the eulogy for my grandmother.  This is not common.  Typically, a family member would do it.  But for some reason no family member had been identified or asked prior to the service to give the eulogy.  I don’t know why, and wouldn’t dream of questioning the decision because I was not the one responsible for planning the service.  But it felt incomplete.  The priest did his best to honor my grandmother, but he did not know her. He could not convey with any depth of emotion or real intimacy the woman that she was, or what she meant to all of us.

I know I wouldn’t have been able to stand at the alter and talk about her without completely breaking down, and I’m talking about some serious ugly crying.  And because I need closure I decided to write my own eulogy, of a sort,  honoring her and my memory of her.  So, this is what I would have wanted people to know about my grandmother….

Kathryn, or Kay, as most people knew her was born in June of 1921.  She was an Irish Catholic Midwestern girl who grew up during the Great Depression.  She often told stories about the depression, describing food shortages and what little money most families earned at that time.  She talked about having one pair of stockings that she had to wash out by hand every night so she could wear them again the next day.  She told these stories in an attempt to help us understand how good we had it growing up.  I’m embarrassed to say that at the time we were just horrified  to learn that she had to live without things like Doritos and Taco Bell.

My Nanny was very meticulous with her appearance.  She wasn’t necessarily vain, but it was extremely important that she always look her best.  Perhaps this was something learned during the depression, as she had so little material possessions or clothing.  She learned to work with what she had.  She did her hair and make up every day.  She pressed her blouse and her slacks.  She sewed clothes for herself and her children.  Once, she made herself a beautiful camel colored wool-lined dress coat.  She loved cashmere turtle-neck sweaters and wool blazers.  She once made my cousin and I matching plaid, wool, pleated skirts to wear to Christmas Eve Mass.  I would give anything to have that skirt back.  She also slaved to ensure that her husband and children went out into the community every day as representatives of her household.  They were meticulously dressed, pressed, and laundered.  At her funeral service my cousins and I were laughing and trading stories.  One cousin told me that she came to Nanny’s house one day wearing a pair of ripped and torn jeans.  Nanny asked her if she bought the jeans like that, and when she confirmed that she did, Nanny said, “Poor girl.  Can’t even afford to buy a whole pair of pants.”

She kept her home in the same meticulous manner.  She made her bed every day.  Hospital corners.  She cooked and baked almost every meal from scratch and she always had a cake or pie prepared in case someone dropped by and she needed to offer them something.  She knew how to refinish wood floors, kept a garden, and everything had it’s place.  She tried to teach me the importance of these things.  As a teenager I would laugh.  Make my bed every day?  Well, that was just crazy talk.  But when I stepped into her home I would breath in the smell of freshness, with a hint of bleach, and it was comforting.  I loved knowing that I would crawl into a bed that night with freshly washed and ironed sheets.  And that I would wake up to the sound of eggs frying in the pan and the smell of biscuits coming out of the oven.  My own childhood home was often chaotic and unorganized, so being in her home provided a sense of old fashioned comfort.

Given that my Nanny was a devout Catholic woman, she was truly a servant of God.  She took her responsibility as a Christian seriously and every moment was a teachable moment.  She prayed openly for everyone.  She and my grandfather organized and coordinated a prayer group every week, and they were huge members of the charismatic movement within the Catholic church.  No one loved Jesus more than my Nanny.   Last summer when I was visiting her, she was worrying quite a bit about family members, and I said to her, “You know what you need to do.  Just give it to God and everything will be ok.”  That’s what she would have said to me.  She looked up at me with wide eyes and said, “You have been listening to me all these years!!!!”  Even when I didn’t want to, I was listening.

I have a strong personality, much like my grandfather.  Nanny would always remind me that my tongue could be sharper than a sword.  She would say, “Mind your words.  They are like feathers, and once you let them go, the wind takes them and you can never get them back.”  I didn’t want to hear it at the time, but over the years I found myself measuring my actions and words by whether or not she would approve.  I can honestly say that in those moments where I held back, or didn’t do something impulsive because I knew she would disapprove, I never once regretted the choice.  The thought of doing something that might embarrass her was unacceptable.  She would often say to me, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, and that covers a lot of territory.”  Of course, I often did thing she wouldn’t do, and in my adult years I would sometimes tell her stories of my bad behavior.  Sometimes she would laugh and other times she would roll her eyes and say, “Well, I will pray for you.”

She loved the Lawrence Welk Show.  She would sing at the top of her lungs while cooking or doing housework.  She made me homemade mashed potatoes and gravy every Sunday because she knew it was my favorite.  She helped my grandfather manage their drive-in restaurant.  She coached the young people who worked for her at the restaurant on how to mind their manners, develop a strong work ethic, and represent their employer and community with pride and dignity.   She was an old fashioned, fierce, Godly woman who loved her family and loved her Jesus.  She refused to talk poorly about others because she felt it was a terrible sin.  She taught me about faith, unconditional love and how to respect myself and others through her actions.  She could talk the talk and walk the walk.  She held her loved ones to a high standard, and she voiced her disapproval when we fell short.  But there was always love.   She was love and light, with a little bit of sass.

The last time I saw her prior to her passing was last July during our annual summer trip.  Her Alzheimer’s was progressing rapidly and she had become more emotional and confused.  I knew it was the last time we would make the trip as a family.  Too many people in the room made for a rough afternoon.  As I was leaving and saying good-bye, she was the most distant she had ever been,  like she was saying good-bye to the mail man.  At the door as I was about to walk out, I turned around and said, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”  In an instant she lit up from the inside and said, “And that covers a lot of territory.”

She was laughing as I closed the door behind me.

Beyond the Veil

Hello, world.

It’s been so long since I’ve done this that I feel as if we’re on a first date, again.  Honestly, I’m a little nervous.  It’s been a while since we’ve spent any time together. Will you still like me?  Will I say something funny or interesting, and will you laugh?  Will we be able to regain that sense of mutual interest and connection?  Will you text me later and say you had a nice time?

I promise that if you do, I won’t wait another eight months to respond.  😉

The past eight months has flown by in a whirlwind of activity.   Work, kids, husband, friends, travel, work, kids, husband, work, family, work, PTA, kids and work.  It’s all been good, mostly.

My job, which I started nine months ago, has been going pretty well.  After six years as a stay home mom, I took a part-time position working for a music publishing company as a music coordinator and personal assistant.  It’s been fun.  We create and license orchestral music/sound design for movie trailers. I love music and movies, so it seemed like a good fit, although I have no previous experience in either industry.  As it turns out, my penchant (read OCD) for detail and organization lends itself nicely to the trailer music industry.  A lot of people ask me for examples of what we do.  Did any of you happen to see the debut trailer for The Last Jedi?  The epically moving, raise the hair on your arms music in that trailer just happens to be ours!  Yes, it was a BFD.  We celebrated the next morning after the release of the trailer with mimosas and French omelets.  Just in case you haven’t seen it…

Later, my daughter asked me, “Mom, what did YOU actually do to contribute to that movie trailer?”  I couldn’t tell if she was mocking me because she thinks I’m lame, or if she was looking for proof that I’m really as cool as I tell her I am.  So I was honest with her and said, “Not a damn thing.  My job is to do all the other stuff, so the people I work for can focus their time and talents on creating music for projects like this.”  I’m pretty sure she took that as validation of her initial assessment, which is that I’m lame.

Despite how well my job is going, I will admit that I’m still waiting for my lightening bolt.  For a long time I’ve had this sense that there’s something I’m supposed to be doing, yet I have no idea what it is.  It’s like there’s a thin veil hanging over my life, and I can’t quite see through it, but I know the answers I need are on the other side.  I’ve always envied people who understood their talents. People who have a clear vision of their path in life.  Some people know without hesitation what they are meant to do. Their talent and drive toward that goal manifests itself clearly for them.  For me that has never been the case.  Despite doing well in the career/jobs I’ve chosen, I’ve always struggled to fully grasp my sense of purpose, and after celebrating another birthday this past September, I feel a sense of urgency toward whatever self-discovery needs to take place in order to put myself on the right path.   I’m not afraid of hard work, I just want to realize what I’m supposed to be working toward so I can get on with it.  Is it too much to ask to wake up one morning with a hand written note beside my bed that reads,

Dear Wanda, 

You are destined to become a dolphin trainer.  Please make arrangements for whatever training is necessary to complete this task and file your application for employment at Sea World, as soon as possible.  

Your welcome,

The Universe

I think I would take a clue like that seriously.  I tried asking my kids what they think I’m good at.  Their answers are ridiculous but I love their honesty.  My son says stuff like, “You’re good at snuggles, Mommy.  And you make the best meatloaf.”  He also told me I was good at being a mommy, and he suggested I open up the baby factory and have another one so he could be a big brother.

So that’s where I’m at.  Attempting to support one company on it’s path to greatness while I strive to discover my own.  If any of you can relate, it would be awesome to hear about it.  And by the way, to those of you who reached out to check on me during my little blogging hiatus, I want you to know how much I genuinely appreciated that, so thank you!  🙂

Little Boy Laughs #2

A conversation today with my 6 year old son…

Bryce:  Mom, I’m really sorry.

Me:   For what?

big eyesBryce:  I was reaching into your purse for a tissue, and I accidentally dropped my booger in your purse.  Now I can’t find it.  It was an accident, Mom.  I’m really sorry.

Me:  You dropped a booger in my purse?

Bryce:  Yeah, but hopefully it will be crusty by the time you find it.  Then you know, no surprises.  That’s good, right?

Boys are gross.

Little Boy History Lessons

martin-luther-king31This morning, I asked Bryce (age 6) if he knew who Martin Luther King, Jr. was, and why we celebrate him.

He responded with this…

“Yes, I know who he is.  He was a great man who went to jail, like thirty times, so that black people and white people could eat together.”

(Insert proud mom moment here.)

It’s a simple answer, yes.  A complete answer, no.  But through the eyes of a six-year-old, it’s one hell of a start.  🙂