Family = Dysfunction?

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I’m just coming off a 4 day Thanksgiving Holiday, split between my husband’s and my family’s, in 2 states, about 2 1/2 hours apart…

Have you seen ‘Home for the Holidays’?  Great movie about a grown-up family getting together for Thanksgiving and trying to cope with all the differences in expectations and reality, and a high level of dysfunction…very entertaining and heartbreaking.  A bit like our recent ‘vacation’…

and obviously there is a similar thread running through not only these 2 examples mentioned above, but also in the book I just completed and cannot recommend highly enough – The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout.

What a superb read!

Elizabeth Strout is incredibly talented.  Her books do not draw you in because they are suspenseful page-turners, but rather they draw you in because of the relatability of her characters, the beautiful storytelling, the reality of her subject matter.  You feel when you immerse yourself in the world she’s conjured.

 

SPOILER ALERT:

 

And in Burgess Boys you feel the melancholy surrounding Bob.  He cannot seem to come out from under the weight of guilt at having accidentally killed his father when he was 4 years old.  You feel how he views himself, as a shell of a man, unworthy of good that befalls him in his life and deserving of and almost seeking the belittling he endures by his brother and twin sister.

You feel the grandiosity that is Jim.  You, too, are torn between thinking he’s a savior of the family and a complete jerk.  And you feel his pain as you witness his descent.  You understand his need to hide behind his obnoxious self-aggrandizing and patronizing.

You feel for Susan.  You feel sorry for her; her lonely existence, how brutal her mother was to her, that her husband left her.  Then you hate her for how she treats Bob.  Then you forgive her for her failings as you realize that she has built a protective fortress around herself and her feelings to keep from getting hurt.

You can feel the difference between Manhattan and Shirley Falls.  The hustle and bustle of the city, the anonymity, the ease with which you can reinvent yourself, the solitude, versus the ties that bind you to your hometown, the familiarity, the fact that you cannot hide from your past or who you are, the comfort that comes from living with that honest version of self.

By the end of the book you are left embracing the probability that abnormal is normal when it comes to family.

 

 

 

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Try, try, try again

If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.

So that’s three times that you’re trying, right?  You with me?

This was my motto growing up.  I heard it one time and thought to myself, ‘Great idea!  I’ll try, try again until I get it right!”

This is a fantastic idea, in theory.  It can get pretty monotonous, and downright disheartening,  when you continuously do something, putting forth the effort, only to fail at it.

It is extremely ambitious to have this be your life’s mantra, which is great!  You should definitely have high expectations for yourself.  Yet, as always, everything in moderation.

If your expectations are too high and you force yourself to keep at it, whatever “it” may be,  even when it appears futile, you may end up beating yourself up and discourage yourself from exerting effort in a different area, in the future.

Don’t forget:

  • that as productive as this cliche is meant to be, being an extremist about this may be detrimental.

And

  • that Einstein’s definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again, expecting different results!

So, if you are having a tough time with those word problems in your high school calculus class’ homework assignment, try to solve them. Then, try coming back to them again.  And then, one more time.  If you still cannot make heads or tails of it, walk away, at least for now.  Sleep on it.  Ask your parent. Look at the answer in the back of the book and try to work backwards from it.  Give it another 3 shots and if you’re still stumped, it’s ok.  Go into class tomorrow, without it done, and be proud to show your teacher your efforts and not too proud to ask them for help.

After the 3rd time, you need to either decide that it’s good enough or to walk away and come back another time to try, try, try again,

or run…

In the words of Kenny Rogers, “You gotta learn to play it right. You’ve got to know when to hold ’em. Know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away. Know when to run.

you gotta know when to walk away…

But don’t be hard on yourself or lose faith in yourself.  Though it may not be working out right now, perhaps if you sleep on it, take a breather, ask someone else’s perspective, etc, you’ll be able to get it later.  Perhaps not.  And you have to be ok with the results, either way.  Let it go if it doesn’t work out.

I believe that what I’ve learned over the course of my life is that the effort and the willingness, not necessarily in that order, will lead to success; if not in this particular venture, then in another!

Apple Bar Delight

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Oh, this one’s a keeper!  It’s like candy, only much, much , much healthier for you.  (I’m pretty sure…)

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Start by peeling, coring and chopping about 3 apples, roughly 2 cups worth.

 

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Crack 3 large eggs into a large bowl.

 

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Add 1 cup vegetable oil.

 

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And 1 3/4 cup white sugar.

 

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Whisk above ingredients.

 

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Add 2 cups all-purpose flour directly to the wet ingredients,

 

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then 1/2 teaspoon salt,

 

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1/2 teaspoon cinnamon,

 

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1 teaspoon baking soda,

 

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Gently fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients, using a rubber spatula.  Gently…not the time to hurriedly whisk a batter together…take a deep breath, slow down and gently fold.  Did I mention you should fold this gently?  Ok, ok, I’ll stop.

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Next you can add 1/2 cup chopped pecans, or walnuts or whatever nut you love, or no nuts at all which doesn’t take away from the ‘delight’ of these bars one bit!

 

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Lastly, the apples go in and again, gently, fold the delicious batter together till you cannot see anymore flour bits.

 

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With spatula… Everyone? …gently…spread the batter onto a generously greased full sheet pan (26 x 18 inches or 66 x 46 cm).

Bake at 350 degrees for 21 minutes or until golden brown and it smells like grandma’s kitchen!

Cool completely.

Now it’s time for the glaze.  Oh, you thought this was done?  No, no.  It just keeps getting better and better with each layer of yumminess added!

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Sift 1 cup of powdered sugar into a medium bowl.

 

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Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and 3 tablespoons water.  Whisk.

 

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Drizzle over the top of the bars, all of it.  Don’t skimp, now.  Cover every corner of this pan; you don’t want one section envious of the other!

And that is one easy and delicious way to please a crowd.  This can be cut up into at least 24 pieces.  Enjoy!

Well, I have officially used up my last 3 apples from my parents’ apple orchard to make this wonder of wonders, so that’s a wrap with the apple desserts for a while folks!

Bon Appétit, Ma Chérie!

Won’t You be my neighbor

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Hmmmmm…how to get across the importance of neighbors;  of good neighbors…

When hearing about life 100 years ago, with the strong and close-knit communities, towns, neighborhoods and families, do you sometimes feel as though we live in a different world today?

It seems as though our childhood is spent as part of the nucleus of our immediate family and then as soon as we become adults we move off by ourselves and start our own nucleus family and kind of isolate ourselves all over again.

What happened to families living in the same town they grew up in, alongside all of their relatives?  When did that become ‘uncool’?  What happened to that sense of community; the inclusiveness, the familiarity, the feeling of being a part of something greater than oneself?  Where did all the neighbors go?  Does anyone still believe that “it takes a village to raise a child”?

It’s easy to become wrapped up in your own life.  We’re all super-busy with work, school, marriage, kids, homework, play-dates, sports, etc. It’s more convenient not to have to worry about anyone outside of your home, because your plate already feels full.

Which is why it can be so important to involve others around you in your day-to-day life, because you’d be surprised how much help they can be.

Being a good neighbor usually, hopefully, inspires your neighbors to be good ones, too. And this creates an environment that thrives on community; you help them shovel their driveway and rake their yard, and they, in turn, offer to have you over during a power outage to sit in their warm home, powered by their generator.  They care about you and your kids.  They keep an eye on your house when you’re away, for an afternoon or a week.  They offer help during any emergency. And if you’re lucky, you consider them part of your family.

Channel Mr.Rogers.  Really.  Be a great neighbor, in your backyard and in the town.  Greet the postman, get to know the librarians, chat with the guys at the dump and town hall, go to the town farmer’s market, bake sale, plant sale, craft fairs.  Bring cookies or a zucchini bread to welcome new neighbors.  Go as a family to welcome them.  Keep in touch with your neighbors.  Have a BBQ block party.  Or bring them extras from your garden, or baked goods from your kitchen.  Send them Christmas cards.  Send them thank you cards.

This Thanksgiving one of the may things I am grateful for are my amazing neighbors.  My little Beach Rose is lucky to be so loved and cherished by them and she gets to feed their beautiful horses!

The value of ‘a beautiful day in the neighborhood’ is priceless.

 

 

 

 

Traditional Pumpkin Pie

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Happy Turkey Day!!  Gobble, gobble, gobble…

I love this Holiday.  It forces me to stop and set aside time to review all that I have to be thankful for…which is an endless and ever-growing list…

I’m thankful for my French heritage.  I’m thankful that my parents had the courage to ‘take the boat’ to a new country and that they chose the United States of America and that they settled in New England.  I’m thankful for my family, my husband, my little sweetie-pie, my Mom & Dad, sisters, brothers-in-law and nieces and nephews.  I’m thankful for my home, the beach, my garden, etc.  I’m thankful for the Pilgrims who came here, just a couple hundred miles away!, and befriended the Native Americans, learned from them how to survive in an inhospitable land and celebrated their generosity with a feast.  And I’m thankful that this is now the American tradition: to celebrate all that we are grateful for with those we cherish most.

Oh, and of course, I’m thankful for butter, and salt, and bacon, and sugar.  What a wonderful food day this is…and I’m all about the traditional platters on the table.

One of those delicacies being a glorious pumpkin pie!

Let’s make one together…start with these simple ingredients for the filling and a prepared 9-inch pie crust.  (You can purchase one that is pre-made or make one, like I did here.  I will divulge the secrets to this recipe soon…stay tuned!)

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Really easy.  So simple that you can have your 4 year old do it for you…well, maybe not all of it, or you’d end up with half of the sweetened condensed milk in her belly rather than the bowl…

Alright, you’ll want to preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

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Then begin with one can (16 ounce) of pumpkin scooped out into a large bowl,

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Add one can (14-ounce) of sweetened condensed milk to this,

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2 large eggs,

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1 teaspoon ground cinnamon,

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1 teaspoon ground ginger,

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1 teaspoon ground nutmeg,

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and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

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Whisk until…

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beautifully combined.

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Pour said beautiful combination into the unbaked, prepared pie crust.

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Smooth and level the surface of the pie with a spatula or offset spatula.

Pop into the oven for 15 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees, place foil around the crust of the pie and continue to bake for 35-40 minutes.  Allow to cool before serving.

Bon Appétit, Ma Chérie!

Creamy Potato Leek Soup

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Ahhhh…the French sure do know how to make a glorious soup!  This is one of my favorites from my childhood…

Don’t be intimidated because it’s a recipe from France.  I’ve learned that some of the most delicious food they create is extremely easy to replicate.  (Hey, that rhymes!  I’m a poet and I don’t know it….) This would be one of those simple and exquisite recipes!

You’ll need 1 1/2 pounds of potatoes and 1 1/2 pounds of leeks (weigh them with their dark green stems on).  Depending on the size of the potatoes, it’ll be about 4-5 medium potatoes (these look a lot larger than they are!).  And about 3 large leeks (these from my garden are smaller than the ones from the grocery store, but separated into 3 piles they’re equivalent, in size, to 3 large).

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You’ll also need 1/2 cup of chopped celery (about 2 stalks worth).

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Peel and chop potatoes to about 1/2 inch, and chop up white and light green parts of the leeks.

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Combine with 6 cups of chicken broth in large stock pot on stove.

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Add about 1/2 teaspoon salt…

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Add about 1/2 teaspoon pepper…

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Bring to a boil over medium-high heat…

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Reduce heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for 40 minutes.

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Filling the blender about 1/4 of the way full at a time (not much more than that because since it’s hot it will expand when you turn it on and could burst out of the blender and burn your hand/body and splash all over the place…be careful!), blend all of the soup in the stock pot, until barely any little morsels of potato remain.

Return all the soup to the pot and place back on the hot burner.

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Add 1 cup, not teasing you, of heavy cream.  1 cup.  Don’t even think about skimping!  I promise it’ll make this soup unforgettable…

Season  with salt and pepper to taste and serve hot.

Soooooooo tasty!

Bon Appétit, Ma Chérie!

Bad Hair Day

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What is the definition of a bad hair day?  Is it just that your hair looks horrendous, in your opinion?  Or that the day hasn’t started off on the right foot and looks to be disastrous?

Literally, a bad hair day is deemed as such when you try and try to get your hair to turn out ‘right’, to no avail.  You’ve got a stubborn cowlick that refuses to be tamed.  Or your hair is laying exceptionally flat, no matter how much voluminous spray you add.  Or you didn’t have time to shower and have this rat’s nest in the back of your head that won’t comb out.  The belief is that when you start getting cranky that your hair will just not behave today, it is usually an indicator of how the rest of the day will follow suit.

Figuratively, it’s a day when everything seems to go wrong or seems unmanageable.  In general, a bad day.

Well, stop me if I’m wrong, but I think you can avoid ever having ‘a bad hair day’.  How?

1st:  Don’t mess with your hair.  The less you do to it, the less you’ll have to worry about it and whether or not it will come out ok.  Find a simple, flattering style that requires NO FUSS. Don’t buy a blow dryer, or curling iron or flat iron or hairspray.  Don’t do it!!!!  If you can be one of those lucky ladies who gets out of the shower, brushes her hair and goes about her business, imagine how much time you’ll save!  Having a bad hair day takes a lot of time to try to eradicate, folks, let me tell you!

2nd:  Don’t let the fact that you jammed your toothbrush into your gums in your exuberance to get rid of that morning breath kick start a series of unfortunate events for the day.  Don’t allow it to get to you.  You’re in charge of your mood.  You’re in charge of your attitude.  Picking up the kitty to pet her after you’ve held your hand up to your sore mouth will probably make you feel a lot better than kicking the bathroom vanity will.  (Your big toe will thank you for choosing the former, I promise!)

Forget your hair.  Brush it and walk out the door.  Disregard the morning altogether if it started out disastrous.  Start over.  You can do this because either way, literally or figuratively, it’s a choice.

Well, in almost all cases…

there are always exceptions, right?  Like, if you’re dog-sitting for your neighbor and as you open the door to let him out to tend to his morning business, he shoots out like a rocket and runs away and you’re stuck roaming the streets looking for him for 3 hours, making you late for work… ya might be in for a tough day.  Or if you go to get your hair trimmed at the new salon down the road, which was so very highly recommended, and they ‘trim’ 6 inches, this could absolutely qualify as a legitimate bad hair day…

But otherwise, you choose whether or not you let the little things dictate your reactions to the day…