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!  🙂

Vacation!

Hello, world!  I’m home!

The family and I spent nine days visiting with friends and relatives throughout the Midwest.  I call this trek our annual Midwestern Tour, as we hit Illinois, Indiana and Michigan in the same week. This time of year the area where I grew up is amazingly beautiful.  You wouldn’t believe how green everything gets.  Even the corn fields look beautiful when I haven’t seen them in a while.

We spent the first couple of days in Chicago, then drove south to central Illinois to visit my grandmother.  We then drove three hours north through Indiana and Michigan to reach my mother, other grandmother and various relatives who live in the area.  It was fast, organized, exhausting and incredibly fun.

Here’s the highlight reel…

10635748_10152955877379574_8811372455149121989_n[2]While in Chicago, my college friend hosted a house party and invited all of our girlfriends from school, along with their families.  We BBQ, drink, laugh and relive our glory years together while our kids run around and make new memories and form new friendships.  This year the adults sent the kids to the basement to play so we could play the game, Cards Against Humanity.  If you’ve never heard of it, it’s an adult card game of mostly vulgar and inappropriate topics.  If you’re not too uptight and appreciate a dirty joke, then this game is for you.  I will say that I did surprisingly well in the game, and my two most popular cards read, “Altar Boys,” and “Two Midgets Shitting in a Bucket.”  Feel free to use your imagination here as to what these cards may have been in response too.  🙂

We visited my grandmother, who is 94 years old.  I’ve always had a very close relationship with my Nanny and she’s an incredible woman.  She is in amazing health but starting to lose some of her short-term memory.  We looked at the same photo album about four times, and although it was new for her every time, I continue to be amazed at her ability to remember details about family history from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  Her own mother was born in 1897, and every conversation feels like a history lesson, but one you don’t want to miss.  When I ask her how it feels to be 94, she tells me, “getting old is not for sissies!”

St. Joe lighthouse

St. Joseph, Michigan

While in Michigan, we visited with several of my high school friends, my mother, grandmother, aunt and a few cousins.  I went to my favorite childhood restaurants.  We drove to St. Joe and took the kids to Silver Beach, which is on Lake Michigan.  My kids ran down the pier alongside the lighthouse, disbelieving that Lake Michigan wasn’t as big as our Pacific Ocean back home.  I found a lake house there I would like to buy for the low, low price of 1.6 million dollars.  What a steal!  LOL!  At one point Bryn looked at me, while having dinner outside on a patio overlooking a beautiful lake active with boats and jet-skis, and she said, “I can’t believe you got to grow up here!”

Yeah, I got to grow up there.  It’s funny how so often in life we don’t appreciate what we have until we can look back with some perspective.  Growing up, I didn’t appreciate the beauty of the fields, the lakes or the small community that looked out for each other.  I took it for granted and was more excited to see other places.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that the older I get, the more I appreciate where I come from, and this annual trip means more to me every year.  I want my kids to experience the things I loved about growing up in the Midwest.  Admittedly, my kids have opportunities that I never had as a child, and I’m thankful for that.  But I also want them to appreciate the simplicities of life.  The small things and traditions that add up to big things when you look back on your life and remember what you loved most about your childhood.

lake canoeingI want them to gorge themselves on strawberries while picking them fresh from the fields, and then bring the berries home to make fresh strawberry jam in grandma’s kitchen.  I want them to canoe the rivers of my hometown and camp under the stars, even if it’s just in their grandmother’s back yard.  I want them to catch fire flies,  sit around a bonfire in a field with their cousins, learn to water ski on the lake and marvel at the incredible beauty of the leaves turning in the fall.   I want them to know who their people are, and why, no matter what they choose to do in life, it will always be special that their family comes from this incredible place.

So yeah, it was a good vacation.  😉

 

 

Wanda Says…Blogging Awards, number 3!

 

neatblog

 

It happened again!

A Girl Named Wanda has been nominated for the Real Neat Blog Award by Ray over at The UnsimpleLife.  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Ray through his blog and you should head over and check him out.  He has a fun, wicked sense of humor combined with the madness that is raising children, and that makes reading his posts a real good time.  Thanks, Ray!

I love blog awards, and let me tell you why…there is validation in being recognized by your peers.  To receive that recognition is to know that other people ‘get you.’  They pick up what you’re putting down, and they enjoy it.  I love knowing that when I write a post and throw it out there for the world to read or discard, that even if only one person hits the like button, or only a handful of people read it or leave a comment, that someone understood what I wanted to say and maybe felt the same way too.  Or maybe I made someone laugh with my stupid sense of humor and not-so-artfully placed F-bombs, which is even better.  So again, thank you for the recognition, and thanks for reading my Wanda!

Let’s get to the award!

Real Neat Blog Award Rules:

1. Put the Award Logo in your post

2. Answer 7 questions asked by the person who nominated you

3. Thank the people who nominated you, linking to their blogs

4. Nominate any number of bloggers you like, linking to their blogs

5. Let them know you nominated them (by commenting on their blog etc.)

Here are Seven Questions for me to answer, provided by Ray at The UnsimpleLife….

imagesCIAWB5U7If you could be a sound, what would it be?

Have you ever been at an airshow, and an F-18 fighter jet flew overhead?  Have you heard the earth-quaking sound and sonic boom as the jet breaks the sound barrier?  Felt the way your bones compressed with the energy and noise?  If I could be any sound that’s what I would be.  It’s strong and creates an intense physical reaction.  It forces your heart to beat a little faster and chills to sweep up and down your body .  You can actually feel that sound moving through you and the ground vibrates beneath your feet from the enormity of it.  Yeah, I would be a totally fucking badass sonic boom.  (My friends who read this are probably like, “You’re more like a sparkler, or a weak firecracker, Wanda.”  And I would say, “Oh yeah, screw you guys!  I’m a sonic boom and you know it!”).

What is the most wonderful thing that ever happened to you?

Of course, becoming a mother is the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me.  If you’re a parent, you get it.  If you’re not, then let me describe it as the moment in your life when you truly and irrevocably become part of something bigger than yourself.  And I think it’s the most amazing thing in the world.  Everyday I look at my kids and think, “I can’t believe I made you.”  (And please, God, help me not to screw this up!).

loch nessIf you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?

I would go to Scotland.  I’ve always wanted to visit Scotland.  It’s so beautiful in pictures and I want to explore old, ruined castles and spend hours imagining the lives of the people who lived there.  And I want to go to Loch Ness and look for Nessie.  I totally believe in Nessie, and I don’t care what anyone says.  And just so you know, Mermaids are real, too.

If you could invite any three people (living or dead) to dinner, who and why?

First and second would be both of my grandfathers.  Each, in their own way were larger than life and two of the greatest men I’ve ever known.  I would introduce them to their great-grandchildren and my husband.  To be able to spend an evening with them, just one more time, would be one of the greatest gifts I could ever receive.

imagesJJGJ5OSEAnd third, I would invite Linda Carter, but only if she shows up as Wonder Woman, parks the invisible jet in my driveway and demonstrates the Lasso of Truth to my kids.  Wonder Woman was my childhood hero and I still idolize her today.

 

What is your ideal sandwich, and why?

The Rueben is my favorite sandwich.  I love it because it’s sweet, salty, and a little bit sour, just like me.  😉

What is true about you today that would make 10 year old you cry?

As a child I was painfully shy and insecure.  I grew up in a dysfunctional household (who didn’t?), which didn’t help with my low self-esteem.  It wasn’t until I became a young woman that I began to embrace my own inner-strength and to speak up for myself, as well as others.  As an adult, I would tell my ten year old self to be patient, because life gets better.   I would tell her that she has to learn that she can survive the hard things in life, because that is part of becoming who she is meant to be.  I would tell her….you are good enough, and one day you will feel the unconditional love and acceptance that you so desperately wanted as a child.  One day, you will feel whole instead of fractured.  One day, you will be confident and happy.  And it will have been worth the wait because you will be made stronger and smarter for the more difficult things you experienced in life.

What do you get out of blogging, and why do you continue to blog?

Blogging helps me to feel more connected to others.  Since giving up my career and becoming a stay home parent, I’ve struggled with my sense of self and my sense of purpose.  I like being a stay home mom, but it’s hard to feel connected to the world when your life seems to be centered behind the walls of your house.  Being a part of the blogging community takes me to different corners of the world.  I can read and share in the lives of others, both near and far.  And I can contribute my own little piece to the ever-expanding puzzle.  Plus, I feel valued differently when I write something that another person enjoys, finds interesting or funny.  It makes me feel good to know that another person appreciates what I have to say, and also appreciates my participation in their blog, or their little piece of the universe.   I also enjoy reading and gaining the insights of others on topics that I may not have much experience with.  People are fascinating, even if you don’t always agree with them.

Now, onto my nominations….to the nominees listed below, if blog awards aren’t your thing, no big deal.  But hopefully you’ll enjoy some new traffic based on the super awesome things I’m about to say about you.

1.  I Refuse to Follow Your Blog  (This blog is very funny and the mastermind behind the catchy title enjoys making fun of all things in life that he considers to be pathetic, which is pretty much everything, including himself.  It’s a great read so check him out!).

2.  inspired4business (I’m new to this blog, but I love it.  Steve’s posts are always positive, upbeat and inspirational.  Just the pick me up many of us need to regain some perspective and insight on life and how we interact with others.  Check him out and I dare you not to be moved by his amazing attitude and outlook on life).

3.  Ben’s Bitter Blog  (Now, Ben’s blog has been around for a little while, and he’s been nominated for multiple blogging awards.  But not this one, because I checked!  Ben is very bitter, about everything.  And I really enjoy reading his bitter ramblings, and if you like to laugh, you will too!).

Now, I could list seven new questions here, but I found the questions provided by Ray to be thought provoking and entertaining.  So I’m going to mooch off his genius and save myself some time.

Thanks again for the nomination, and happy blogging!