When cooking goes to the dogs

Christopher, 25, flopped down in my hammock the other morning, exhausted.

He was nearly two hours earlier than I’d been expecting him, and was blinking in the sunlight, hair standing on end.

“They got me up by standing on me. Right on my chest,” he said, indicating two puppies who were now energetically chasing each other around my yard.

Pammy and Christer adopted Alfie two years ago, and in recent weeks added Paco to their family. Both dogs are rat terrier Chihuahuas, which means they’re runty little balls of distracted crazy.

Pammy had been away for a couple of days and Christopher was in charge. Christopher looked like the father of a newborn. With colic.

“I have to shower here, ‘kay? And I need everything, like a toothbrush. I brought clothes. Do we have anything to eat? My wallet is in Pam’s car and I’ve been scrounging at home.”

“Do you want some money?”

“No! I’m doing great! I had crackers and cheese the first night. And I made eggs. Well, I sorta made eggs. That didn’t go so well.”

“How did you screw up eggs?”

I handed him a plate of leftovers of one of his favourite dinners. His eyes lit up.

“Is there any more of this?” he asked.

“No. I invited you guys over when I made it but Pammy said you were busy.”

“I was definitely not busy, and I was definitely not consulted.”

He looked at his plate glumly, realizing he could have had these leftovers instead of old crackers and sad eggs.

“I Googled how to make hard-boiled eggs,” he began.

I swear my sons will call me to ask how to defuse a bomb before they’ll ask me for cooking tips.

“It said to put the eggs in and bring it to a boil. I did that, but I guess I didn’t wait long enough because when I cracked one it was still full of egg. Like, raw egg.”

“That’s a sign,” I told him.

“So I went back to Google and decided I hadn’t boiled the bubbles hard enough.”

“Boiled the bubbles hard enough?”

“You know what I mean.” Yes, I knew what he meant. Scary.

“So I did it again, but something went wrong, ‘cuz they still were weird. And, I was down to nine eggs in the pot now…”

“Wait. How many eggs were you making? Didn’t you just make two and start again?”

“No, I had 11, I think, but now I’ve wasted two, and I’m still hungry…”

He continued his story while I looked at him over my glasses. You know the look.

“… so I put them in new water and started all over again. And this time, I waited ages, so they’d be done. But when I tried to peel one, it wouldn’t peel. I was just falling apart. So I Googled that, and it turns out you have to put vinegar in the water. That’s why they wouldn’t peel,” he concluded.

“Yeah, that’s why they wouldn’t peel,” I nodded. “Not because you’ve cooked them three times and they’re within an inch of death.”

Alfie and Paco came bounding up the stairs.

“I’d better feed them,” said Christer, getting up from the hammock. “Pammy leaves their food with very specific instructions.”

He went into the house to get it ready.

I looked at their two tiny faces, waiting patiently.

“Your mama loves you very much,” I told them.

No hitting Google to feed these two. Thankfully.

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Carsick cats and leather interiors

Mark the Cat goes outside a little, but I make him wear a bell, which is like your mother making you wear a bow tie to school on picture day. He goes around the corner from the house and tries to take it off, just like that kid on picture day did, and he is often successful. I have so far bought six collars in seven weeks. I know I’m going to run over one with the lawn mower.

He doesn’t go far. He comes whenever I call him. But yesterday he came home squinting. At first I told myself it was the sun. It wasn’t the sun. I’ve seen enough cats squint at me to know a scratched eyeball when I see one. I asked him if he’d poked it in some bushes. He squinted at me.

I rummaged through the medicine shelf for some cat eye drops. I found some dog ones, and hit the Googler. Close enough. I got him in a headlock and threw some in, and kept Googling for a vet. I’d switched vets after I lost Maggie because it made me sad to go in there, and also because indoor cats are basically free once they’ve had their shots and you’ve fixed their kitten makers. It was time to re-up his shots anyway, so I found the vet clinic that had been part of his original adoption.

I don’t put Mark in the car, because the one time I tried to take him to the cottage he threw up and pooped all over the car. I had suggestions of how to drug him but I’d rather pay someone to move in with my cats than drug them into submission. It wasn’t until Ari and Taryn moved out that I was finally forced to appreciate just how much I took for granted, flouncing off with little notice knowing someone would always be around.

He’d been in his cage on our aborted trip, but he’d been flailing around so much that he’d rolled it. Cat cages have little holes all over them, so he tumbled about. Picture a cat cage filled with a cat covered in things now on the outside of a cat that should be on the inside. Now picture all that leaking out of a holey cage while a cat screams like he’s being murdered. That is why I don’t take Mark in the car.

But I looked at his squinty eye and knew I had to get him to a vet, the first time I’ve attempted a cage match since the Great Cottage Carsickfest. I brought the cage up, and he strolled around it nonchalantly knowing it couldn’t possibly be for him. I stuffed him in. He started howling.

I grabbed for my car keys before realizing that I didn’t have my car. Ari had my car. I stared hard at the only car in the driveway: a friend’s classic Mercedes. I looked at Mark, who was screaming in his cage. I looked at the car. I put him in the front seat and begged him not to throw up.

The road to the vet has a posted speed limit of 40 km/h. For the first time ever, I was going less than that. For the first time ever, I saw a police officer car tagging speeders. I’ve attempted a few different ploys to dodge a ticket, but I’ve never had a threatening-to-explode cat save the day.

Save for the non-stop yowling, we got to the vet and back relatively unscathed, including the car. The only heart-sinking moment?

The vet told me I have to bring him back in a week.

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This is what I feed kids who are always hungry

After years of shopping in army quantities, now I need almost nothing.

I used to laugh and laugh at what I called movie shopping: a character carrying a grocery bag containing lemons, carrots with the tops still on and always, always, always, like some movie rule, a baguette. Now I understand that this isn’t movie shopping, this is just how people can shop when they don’t have to feed children you own as well as ones you don’t.

At the cottage recently, a bunch of the kids had been up well ahead of me. I let them know I’d be arriving late one evening, a week into their stay.

Christopher, 25, grabbed the phone.

“Will you be making nachos?”

“I’m not sure how late it will be. I’ll be tired,” I said.

“It’s OK. We’ll wait.”

The kids love going to the cottage on their own, except for the having to cook part. I’m noted for providing decent dinners and most excellent platters — their late night feeding. I’m not much of a cook, and stick to things I know work.

When you’re faced with palates that are more drunk than discerning, it’s not hard to hit a lot of home runs. Quantity is key. It was after 10 that night when we rolled in to find a living room full of revellers, all looking at me expectantly. I had promised them nachos.

An hour later, I plunked two loaded trays in front of them. I will admit to missing the love and affection — real or imagined — that comes from feeding grateful kids who have been on the lake all day. Christer’s friend Cort said he’d actually chosen which weekend to come up based on when I’d be there. It’s not for my sparkling personality, it’s for the nachos.

An invite to a friend’s cottage last week sent me into army shopping mode. As I offered to handle dinner one night and asked about numbers, I was told maybe 15 people. Most of them were teenagers, and there would probably be more as friends dropped by.

I knew that even though I was working alongside a couple of terrific women who knew these kids like I know mine, cranking out a full dinner was going to take time.

Sure enough, starving teenagers started wandering in and out of the cottage long before food was going to hit plates. It made me miss my kids, but I went to my usual default. I grabbed a big pan and started rooting around in a strange kitchen for cookie sheets.

The first lad who tried them looked up at me.

“These are the best nachos I’ve ever had,” he said around a mouthful.

Years and years of testing, gone in a few minutes.

I’ll happily take that as a sign of success.

Motherlode of Nachos

1 package (450 grams) ground chicken or turkey

1 large jar of hot salsa, chunky (Don’t worry; the hot cooks off.)

1 bundle of green onions (Two bundles, if they’re wimpy. Chop them up.)

1 large package of sturdy tortilla chips

1 package of shredded TexMex cheese (the bag that’s about 5 bucks), or grate a cup or two of Monterey jack

Brown the ground chicken in a frying pan. Make sure it’s well broken up.

Preheat oven to 350 F, middle rack. When meat is cooked, dump in salsa. Let it cook down until most of the liquid is evaporated.

While that’s happening, put foil over a large cookie sheet. Spread all the chips around. Spoon the meat and salsa evenly over the chips. Put the green onions on top. Put the cheese on top of that.

Bung it in the oven for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and chips start to brown. It’s easy to make a separate one with no meat: heat up the salsa.

Recipe doubles easily; I suggest you double it.

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Back-to-back back woes

I’ve wrecked my back, and I’m placing blame for it everywhere but where it belongs: with decisions I make.

I’ve yanked and mashed it in the past, to be sure. But this time I can’t seem to lasso it back from the brink of constant irritation, if not downright pain.

When I had the kitchen ripped apart for renovating, I lost my office. I instead perched on the couch with a laptop, no doubt the pose that has a big red X through it on the how-to primer for proper desk posture.

I lifted too much and painted too much and hunched too much. To mix things up a little, I’d go weed too much. I got my chiropractor involved, who in turn got a massage therapist involved. Both looked at me the same way that I look at a cat who has just barfed on the bedspread.

One day, between treatments from the two of them, I felt great. So I came home and rototilled my yard. This was put in the “too much” category. Back I went.

“What are your plans this weekend? Can you take it easy?” asked the massage therapist.

“Oh, yes,” I replied. “I’m driving to New York State. But don’t worry, it’s a manual transmission, so I figure that’s like a gentle workout six hours each way.”

She looked unconvinced. A week later, when I was back on her table with the failed results of that reasoning handing her a bunch of knots, she again asked if I was taking it easy in the coming days.

“Yup. Going to Chicago, but I’m taking a luxury car. I think the seats even massage my bum,” I said, wondering if the car I was taking indeed had that setting. I like that setting.

“As much as I’d like to be pleased you’re not rototilling, this is not a recommended activity,” she said. “You know that, right?”

I didn’t tell her I’d assembled two heavy bedframes earlier that day. I continued to blame the sports car from the week before.

My chiropractor made my back emit some weird noises before telling me I was probably using very bad form at my desk. On the way home, I stopped and bought a new office chair. In order to take advantage of this astute purchase, I dragged the box into the house and proceeded to assemble it. And undid all the work she’d done that morning.

I got my family doctor in on the equation, and she tossed me some new miracle cream she’d just been introduced to.

“Let me know if it works,” she told me.

I went home and did my stretches, slapped on the new miracle cream, ingested a muscle relaxant and sat at my new chair to work. All of this made me sleepy, so I took a nap instead.

There was really only one big job left to do. After trucking a couple of big bed frames to the cottage last weekend, they needed assembling. With my niece Kat helping, we finally got the huge bolts in place and tightened them. We were both sweating, and while my back was yelping a little, it knew the lake was right there. We stood admiring our work.

“We put it together upside down,” I told Kat.

“I know,” she said. “But when I figured it out I didn’t want to start over, so I just let you finish. I think it looks fine.”

My sister Gilly will be up next. I hope her back is in better shape than mine, because that upside down bed is going to make her nuts.

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Vacuum of confusion for the men in my life

While cleaning up my garage to move recently, I found a shop vac.

It was a big, robust fellow and I wasn’t certain where it had come from. Maybe contractors who did some renos five years back had forgotten it. It seemed like something a little large to overlook but it had been in my garage for half a decade and I’d never noticed it, so there you go.

If you own a big shop vac, go and vacuum your car. It’s amazing. You can just shove the nozzle under the seats and suck up things like grocery bags and banana peels and mittens. I was a vacuuming madwoman, because I knew I’d have to call my old contractor to give it back. I experience the same level of excitement when I have a dumpster in my driveway. Dumpsters are my jewelry, my roses.

A phone call to my ex cleared up the mystery. He’d purchased the vacuum, one of those hidden man-purchases much like I may have hidden evidence of my umpteenth pair of brown suede boots. He told me where he’d left a spare filter. I put the vacuum to great use as I prepped the house for sale, and then didn’t sell. I made the mistake of telling my colleague, David Booth, about my decision to stay put. He laughed and laughed and then gathered himself.

“Women,” he said, within earshot of his girlfriend, who was being sweet to me about the whole non-event.

“I swear, I will never understand this. How can you go to sell your house and then not sell your house?” he yelled, because Booth yells most things.

“It was just a decision I made when I had new information,” I patiently explained.

After getting everything fixed that was wrong with my house, I discovered I loved my house after all. Makes perfect sense. Except to Booth.

“This is exactly what confuses men!” he bellowed. “I remember a few years go, after an aggressive campaign by Acura, every single woman I ran into asked me if she should buy an Integra! It didn’t matter what kind of car they were shopping, the Integra was always in the mix!”

Booth uses a lot of exclamation points when he talks.

“It was always ‘Should I buy an Integra or a minivan? An Integra or a pickup?’ I mean, seriously, an Integra or a pickup! Are you kidding me?”

I asked what this had to do with me not selling my house.

“Just that I will never understand women! Integras are not pickup trucks! They’re not even remotely trucklike! I mean, if you decide to sell your house, well … you sell your house!”

I acknowledged that small, sporty cars are indeed not pickup trucks, but some people like a wide range of choices. Women people. Some days we like brown boots. Some we like Cobb salads. I can picture myself in both a small, sporty car and a pickup truck, though I know enough not to ask Booth for his opinion on anything except the salad.

“Maybe they wanted your opinion of Integras and pickup trucks,” I reasoned.

Booth is a valuable source of information on both.

“How can you be choosing between those two things?” he roared down the phone. “It’s like choosing between…..” — a pair of boots and a Cobb salad, he probably wanted to say, but his mind doesn’t work like that — “Oh, I don’t know what it’s like choosing between!”

“You two should come for dinner one night,” I said. “Now that I’ve decided to stay.”

I heard the phone clatter to the ground before it was rescued by a woman — long suffering — who understood why I didn’t sell my house.

“We’d love to,” she said.

Booth was barking in the background, though whether in frustration or laughter, I’m not sure.

Men and women are different.

But everybody loves a dumpster and a good shop vac.

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Who Needs A Bed When You Can Have A Hammock?

Now that I am un-moving, I find I have to re-furniture.

I told the kids to take what they wanted when they moved out because my new life was going to be downsized and I imagined everything I could possibly need would fit in a thimble. The act of not actually moving, but having kids actually take things, means I have to reboot.

Lorraine 2.0 is much more streamlined, much less cluttered. Lorraine 2.0 has guest rooms, guest rooms that don’t have suitcases stuffed in the closets or cat cages under the beds. One room actually has a dresser with a tequila bottle with ferns in it; I decided it looked arty. Mark the Cat decided it looked like salad. The ferns lasted a day.

I needed a bed frame for the smaller room, as I’d committed the existing one to the cottage. I went online, found a suitable frame, and drove to the store to get it. On the way to the bed department, I tripped over a silly hammock thing in the summer section. I sat in it. I swayed gently and tried to imagine if this ridiculous thing would fit on my new deck. I decided it wouldn’t and told myself to stop being so stupid. They were out of the bed frames and told me to come back tomorrow.

The best way to avoid impulse purchases is to come back tomorrow. Everybody knows that. I knew the feeling would pass, like when you consume bad sushi or good vodka and wake up knowing you shouldn’t have done that. I returned to the bed frame store, which they still didn’t have, and bought the hammock.

The instructions consisted of a leaflet with dire warnings about wind and fire and hammocks written in nine languages, then a series of exploded diagrams with no writing whatsoever. The thing was so heavy, I had to open the box — after dumping it out of the van onto my front lawn — and carry the pieces one at a time to my back deck. The cats were curious, if a bit worried.

I carefully lined up and counted all the bits. My impulsivity ends where rules begin. As I selected the first monster piece of the base, I glanced at a warning I’d missed.

“Assembly requires two people and a stepladder.”

I had one person, three cats and a glass of iced tea.

I decided I would progress until I couldn’t. As I was carefully threading washers onto a bolt, one dropped beneath the deck. I crawled under to get it, scratching my left knee because I was wearing artfully torn up jeans that featured no knees. If you feel the urge to purchase such jeans, just put on your normal ones and crawl around under your deck. You’ll get the look without the cost.

My sister Roz called and asked what I was doing. I told her I bought a hammock and I was assembling it. I admitted I was one person and a stepladder short. Roz adheres to instructions. I could hear her shudder through the phone.

“Ouch,” I yelped as a wrench slipped.

“What are you doing?”

“Wrenching. It slipped.”

“So now you’re doing it all wrong while you’re on the phone?”

“I didn’t want to be rude and hang up.”

I don’t like speakerphone, and my neck was getting a kink in it from holding the phone while I tried to hold up one section with my knees and another with my shoulder.

“I’m gonna let you go,” she sighed.

I sent her a picture later. She called it a contraption.

Two people and a stepladder? Bah.

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Hickory Sticks are the last snack you will ever buy

If you have any American friends, you know there’s a steady black market for things requested when you visit.

Ketchup chips, Coffee Crisps, Smarties, over-the-counter codeine.

In my world, it’s Hickory Sticks. Yes, the lowly little splintered potato bits that are as addictive as they are salty.

I turned one friend on to them years ago by displaying them elegantly in a martini glass, like a porcupine hunched over sleeping. I pretended they were a high concept appetizer like kale chips that have been coaxed into lacy fans dipped in anything that can make kale taste better. Sawdust tastes better than kale, so not much effort is required.

She appreciated my artistic flair, but her eyes widened in disappointment on learning that they would have to be smuggled home for her family to enjoy.

The upside to Hickory Sticks? They don’t break in transit, because they start out as small broken things on purpose. Win-win.

But the true value of Hickory Sticks is that they are made from magic. You cannot empty a bag of Hickory Sticks. When I go on road trips, I pack apples, almonds, water … and Hickory Sticks. There is a math to everything else — how many hours, how many people — but there is no math to Hickory Sticks. You need one bag. You can open that bag in the first hour of the trip (and you will; trust me) and you will still have half a bag when you return that night or a week later, even if everyone in the car is eating them the entire time.

I like potato chips so much I can’t buy them, ever. I can inhale a regular sized bag of plain Lays in the time it took me to type that sentence. When I buy the family size, Ari, 22, says, “Well, I guess you technically have a family.” And I can plow through that bag, too.

Once I bought the party size, and he said, “Well, I guess you’ve been to a party.” I can’t buy them.

Someone once asked my idea of a perfect evening and I simply replied, “Tie me to a salt lick and bring me a bottle of wine.”

A bag of Hickory Sticks weighs approximately four or five pounds — a couple of kilograms, easily. A bag of potato chips weighs negative five ounces. You can see already why we’re ahead here. When you open a bag of chips you see air, because contents may have settled in shipping. I learned that phrase as a kid, on learning I’d bought a bag of air that actually sighed in disappointment along with me when I opened it.

Procter and Gamble believed they’d beat the problem with Pringles, but Pringles taste like dust and salt that someone waved a potato over. Maybe.

Someone brilliant went the other way, and made Hickory Sticks. They are the soldiers of the potato chip world, the journeymen players who fill a void you can’t define and sometimes forget. You don’t know you need them until you have them, and in a clutch they perform brilliantly, only to sink once again into obscurity as the world moves on to their more famous cousins now being flavoured with things like poutine and maple syrup: two flavours I hate in their original incarnation let alone when chemicalized and added to potato chips.

I am a purist.

I recently visited American friends and took a couple bags of Hickory Sticks as part of a hostess gift. I accidentally opened a bag on the road trip down, but reasoned it didn’t matter.

The one I gave them will last forever.

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Teach your kid to stop screaming

Grumpy old woman alert.

Since when did it become OK for your kids to scream? I’m pretty sure that, if anything, my hearing is less sharp over the years. But increasingly, I’m inundated with the ear-splitting, spine-mashing screech of children feeling free to scream whether they’re being kidnapped or not.

Stop it.

There is noise, and there is unacceptable noise. I’m not talking about your kids playing in the pool or shooting hoops or hollering as they play baseball. I’m not talking about late night parties on the deck with music and laughter. I live in a downtown core and have always accepted, if perhaps not always enjoyed, the proximity to my fellow man that entails.

I have wonderful neighbours; at times I have had horrible neighbours, and I very much recognize the difference. For one summer, we had someone nearby rent to a crew I felt certain was filming a D list frat movie featuring sky high bonfires in the middle of the yard (our yards are all connected with hedges — and not the fireproof kind) and music and yelling that started at midday and went into the following morning. I learned a lot of new swear words that year, at a time in my life when I felt certain I’d heard it all.

No, I’m talking screaming. It’s usually girl children, but it’s hardly gender defined. A high pitched pierce that makes dogs run the other way.

Your kid is not allowed to scream all the time. I’m fully aware there are medical reasons that result in some behaviours; I know people who cope with this, and this is not a blanket grumpy old woman jab at them. This is about parents or caretakers who turn a deaf ear to inappropriate behaviour.

Well behaved kids don’t just happen. It takes a ton of work, a lot of time, nerves of steel and the word “no.” A lot of no. Kids do things — dumb things — to gauge what kind of reaction they’ll get. When they scream indiscriminately, your reaction should be “no.”

We become inured to things we’re repeatedly subjected to, and run the risk of blocking out important warnings along with irritating noise. Remember when car alarms were first introduced in the 1970s? Within 10 minutes everybody was hating, and ignoring, the constant wail of the car that cried wolf.

We’ve created car interiors that are so insulated and comfortable that people are able to shut out the rest of the world — even the flashing lights and sirens of emergency vehicles. Ask anyone who drives a fire truck or an ambulance or a police car; people cruise along immersed in their own world, indifferent to the very urgent situation taking place right beside them.

A child’s scream should be an alert, an alarm. I like to think that if I hear your child in distress, I could hop a fence or lift a car to help them. We are hard-wired to respond to distress calls, maybe not always in a way we could predict but certainly in a way that reveals we care about one another.

Kids, especially siblings, do dumb stuff all the time. If you dump ice cubes down my back, I’m gonna scream. Once. Because no way in hell were my sisters or I allowed to scream like little banshees. Ever.

I am not misremembering my childhood; we were well behaved because we were raised that way. We were typical children but we also knew we were not the centre of the universe, and other people mattered.

One look from my mother could shut that nonsense down.

Learn the look.

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When garlic welcomes more than it wards off

So the garlic is back. It’s the whack-a-mole of my yard.

Dad had a huge garlic patch — picture the dimensions of a king-size bed — and he used to rotate it around the garden. Where I poke things in and hope for the best, he had a complicated system of crop rotation, sheep manure, compost and buddy planting, or whatever you call putting a marigold next to a tomato plant like some kind of little sister to tell off the critters. Dad was organic before organic was a thing.

But the result of the travelling garlic is that every year, I get weird pop-ups. They’re random, and 21 years after his death, you’d think the garlic would give up already, like that other stalwart — rhubarb — did a decade ago. It hasn’t. It’s as stubborn as he was and this year, it’s come up in a place I haven’t seen garlic for decades. It’s back in the original place he started it when I was a kid, as if it’s taken a scenic trek around the yard and now come full circle.

When the plants first came up, I thought they were lilies.

Lilies all look the same in their infancy, and I can never remember where I’ve put things. But over the weeks I suspected it was garlic, and finally dug up a plant to check.

This is the Sommerfeld Child method of discovery. We used to pull up carrots to see if they were “done” yet, and on finding carrots that definitely were not quite done, we’d just jab them back in the hole we’d pulled them from. We thought my father didn’t know; my father knew.

I held that immature garlic plant in my hand and wondered if Dad might be watching. I stuck it back in.

I’ve rototilled the yard again to try to replace grass that got destroyed when Ari built a new deck, and even though this clutch of garlic is right in the middle, I went around it.

It looks ridiculous. I don’t care. Everybody knows by now that I see messages everywhere, most often in my yard. If my father chooses to speak to me in garlic, who am I to argue the language?

I still feel a twinge of guilt whenever I buy garlic, which is often. I can’t stand the fact that so much of it is grown in China when I know the best garlic I’ve ever had was grown outside my window. We’ve taken the world and twisted it upside down, forever believing that cheap is best. As I hunt for domestic, or at least as close to home as I can find, I remember the long strands that hung from the shelves in the garage all winter, my father’s favoured stinky necklaces of wonderful flavour.

When I was cleaning up the garage as I pretended to move recently, I found bits of string still clinging to the upper racks. He’d reuse the same pieces over and over, displaying a patience for unknotting tiny pieces of twine that I rarely saw him display in unknotting anything else, including his relationships.

If you ever wanted to see the two sides of Dad, you just had to see him caged all winter in the house and released to his garden come spring.

I came very close to ditching my tomato stakes a few weeks ago, but something held me back. Maybe I thought I’d take them with me when I moved. Maybe Dad was pushing me another way.

They’re now holding up this year’s tomatoes.

I’m still holding out hope for the rhubarb.

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What you find in loss

The first clue was the toothbrushes.

In my bathroom one morning I saw five extra ones, neatly slotted into the holders, making themselves at home. I smiled.

Jill is one of my dearest friends, and the past few months have been a braided twine of love and loss. As her widowed father neared the end of his life, she came from her home in Holland to help care for him. She had no return flight booked; such is the nature of stubborn diseases and more stubborn men.

Instead the Wilkinson siblings embraced the contracted time they all had together, and I got to see more of my friend at the same time that her own family in Holland was understanding her absence while wishing for her return. She bore her emotional tug-of-war well.

My home, despite being mid-renovation, was one of her few outlets as she handed off duties with the others. We’d perch on the edge of a cluttered couch or an unfinished deck, skirting paint cans and ladders and even just sip wine in bed when that was the only room untouched. Back and forth we’d go, recognizing that food is love but the soul also needs sustenance. We’re both orphans now, though I have more experience at it. There’s no joy in that; I hurt for my friend.

As her father left the room quietly one night in April, Jill prepared to return to her life, to reconnect with children who’d camouflaged their own needs for weeks in messages of love and support, and a husband who’d held the fort half a world away. Plans were made for all of them to return, for family from all corners to unite last week for a final farewell.

As local houses were allotted various chapters of a sprawling family, Jill sent me a note.

“Hey! Can we stay with you?”

I didn’t hesitate for a second. My house was out from under the chaos, and this was a perfect chance to get to know her family better after having had their mother all to myself. I wanted them to feel welcome, I wanted them to be comfortable and I wanted them to feel at home.

Notes flew as I forced her to give me a shopping list. Teenagers may not know what they want to eat, but my now-empty fridge would never do.

“Just breakfast stuff, even,” I demanded.

I stacked towels and made up beds and told the girls they could borrow my shoes. I vacuumed out a car, handed them the keys and went about my day.

I’d smell coffee before I got up, the time change meaning I would never be the first one down to the kitchen. Her oldest, Jeroen, smiled at me the first morning from around a spoonful of Frosted Mini-Wheats. He’s Ari’s age and when they finally met, sure enough, I spied them deep in conversation.

I adored having teenaged girls in the house again, Kendra and Noa somehow making a couple of suitcases unpack into acres of clothes.

Noa shyly dangled a pair of heels from her hand one day, asking if she could borrow them. My heart smiled; she made my day and she’ll never know it.

Kendra chopped peppers alongside me one night as I told her to get outside with the others.

“Mom said I have to help,” she said simply.

The house was a hive, a whirlwind, for most of a week. I wanted my guests to feel like family, not guests. And when I spied the toothbrushes casually, automatically, in the family holders, I knew we were there.

Her kids have an open invitation here in Canada.

Life, as always, is just a bittersweet Lost and Found.

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