Riding In Cars With The Kid

Last Saturday afternoon, Petey and I took a nice long car ride.  We were making a trip to Scrap Exchange, in Durham.  The Matthews Family Band has opened an Etsy shop, and I’ve been haunting all the art and craft stores in the area for supplies.  We’d heard that the Exchange had a shop with a terrific, unusual inventory.

Even though we’ve lived in the area for many years, I still only knew one route to get to its location.  That meant we had to go through town to get to our starting place.

We got a little off-track and ended up driving through Duke Forest.  It was a gloomy day, but the leaves were turning, and the color was glorious adjacent.  Petey and I enjoyed the ride had a very sweet, very meaningful conversation.

That enforced togetherness is such a wonderful catalyst to talk.  Even now, it’s where The Kid and I have our very best chats.  Well, not right now; The Kid, on immunosuppressants for rheumatoid arthritis, is self-isolating.  It’s been seven months since we went for a coffee together, or even shared a hug.

 As the years go by, our very first car ride seems ever more recent.  Sometimes it feels like only days ago.

Imagine it: A young couple with a brand-new human.  Petey and I spent the ride home in abject terror.  By the time we pulled into the driveway, I was ready to beg my husband to turn the car around and throw ourselves upon the mercy of the Duke maternity ward.

Instead, we screwed our courage to the sticking place and went into the house and became parents.

The first clearly enunciated word The Kid ever uttered that wasn’t “Mama” or “Dada” happened in the car.  Our child was teetering on the edge between baby and toddler, and the Matthews Family Band was going out to dinner and discussing what we felt like eating.

All of a sudden a little voice piped up from the back seat, “Cheeseburger!”.  That night, we dined on cheeseburgers almost as big as our heads.

A few months later The almost two-year-old Kid and I were in the car together.  The radio was on, and music was playing, as it almost always is and I was singing along.

Over my voice and the infinitely better voices of the professionals, I heard the voice of my child, in the back seat, yell.

“Rock and roll, baby!”

I laughed so hard I had to pull the car over.

I grew up watching afternoon soap operas with my mom.  It was a daily dose of familiarity and stability in our nomadic military life.

So after The Kid came along, I kept watching.  Many times I would watch my soaps while nursing my infant.  Sometimes, I would have a sandwich and we’d do lunch together. 

As the baby grew into toddler and then preschooler, I continued to watch, with The Kid playing close at hand.  One night we were in the car and our little one was in the car seat in the back, playing with a Barbie and Ken.

I wasn’t paying attention at first.  Then I heard the names of two characters from As The World Turns.  As I continued to listen, The Kid recited the dialog from a scene in the show, almost word perfect.

From that night on, I recorded the shows and watched after putting The Kid to bed.

Which brings me back to the drive Petey and I took.

After the scenic drive, we finally arrived at the Scrap Exchange at about 4:10.

The shop closes daily at 4.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at d@bullcity.mom.

New England Interlude

One morning, at college in Montpelier, Vermont, The Kid woke up blindsided by a  ferocious wall of pain. 

It ran from neck to elbow, and felt like fire was pouring down upon my child.  But that was when no one was touching it.  At the slightest touch, The poor Kid’s pain went from a barely tolerable eight out of ten to a sanity-draining fourteen or fifteen.

Obviously, this sudden and debilitating pain needed medical attention.

Somehow, The Kid dressed and made it to the emergency department at the small Central Vermont Medical Center. 

Not actually the hospital.

At the ER, when told them the reason for the visit, and where The Kid studied (New England Culinary Institue), eyes glazed over, and acetaminophen was suggested.  They assumed my child was just one more partier from the cooking school and wanted something stronger than Budweiser and Acapulco Gold.

So, The Kid went back home and took a couple of Tylenol.

But not only did the pain continue, it got worse.  Classes and meals were missed because it just hurt too much to get out of bed.

Finally, a neighbor and good friend had seen enough.  “Get up, get dressed, I’m taking you to Burlington.”  Burlington is a university town about 30 minutes from Montpelier and the largest town in Vermont. 

They went to the emergency room at UVM, the University of Vermont.

There, serendipity occurred.

The doctor that caught my child’s case was one of the most respected teaching doctors in Vermont.

Not only that, he’d made a study that was particularly pertinent to The Kid and The Kid’s hurty arm.  This doctor had made an in-depth study on a disease, and this is the disease he thought was causing all the trouble.

He diagnosed the scourge of middleaged, immuno-compromised post-chicken pox sufferers—shingles.

My mom has had shingles, so The Kid knew from shingles.  “But I’m young, and there’s no rash!  How can I have shingles if I’m young and there’s no rash?”

The doctor asked, “Did you get the chickenpox vaccine?”

The Kid was actually in one of the final chickenpox studies at Duke.  Petey and I had always thought we did right by our child by getting the vaccine before it was approved for wide-spread use.  It had been used in Europe for years and we thought we’d saved the child from the itching that drove you crazy and those weird lumpy oatmeal baths. 

We’d saved the Kid from childhood chickenpox, but it looked like that tiny bit of virus in the vaccine stayed around inside.  And now, like the monster thought dead at the end of the movie, it had resurrected and transformed itself into shingles and risen to wreak havoc within the body of our little scholar.

But this variation had the added twist of an M. Night” Shyamalan feature.  The main identifying feature of this sickness is a rash with blisters.  The shingles The Kid had, and other young people who’d had the chickenpox vaccine produced no skin irritation.

This type of shingles is known as “Ninja Shingles”.  The lack of rash and the youth of The Kid explained the failure of the original ER to diagnose, or even believe my child was in distress.

See, you can barely see him…

The reason I got to thinking about this unpleasant interlude is because The Kid has been tirelessly haranguing me to get the shingles vaccine.  Not wanting to suffer like my child, I got the first of two inoculations last week.

OMG, my shoulder hurt.  But then I thought about The Kid and what shoulder pain could really feel like.  So, I took a couple of Tylenol got on with life.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at debbie@bullcity.mom.

Summering With The Kid

You know who I admire?

I admire people who say, “I don’t care what other people think of me.”

And mean it.

I’m afraid I’m not so strong.  I hate hate hate it when people are mad at me.  And I also hate it when people I live with are mad at each other.

The recent return of the hellish heat and humidity that is our summer here in the heart of Carolina has me both hiding in dark, air-conditioned rooms, and reminiscing about previous Matthews Family Band summers.

When The Kid was a toddler, Durham had those summer evening events with music, food, and activities for the kids.  It was free, sounded like fun, so one night we decided to go.

We were having a terrific time, The little Kid was dancing and making friends.

And then, it happened.

The Duke blue devil made an appearance.  We pointed him out to our toddler, who loved to see him on TV.

We hadn’t taken into account that on TV, the mascot was seven or eight inches.  In person, he was around six feet tall. 

Panic is an extreme understatement.  The poor child didn’t know whether to scream, cry, throw up, or run.  So all four were attempted at the same time. 

The Kid ran to us, screaming, “We got to go!  We got to go NOW!”

So we left.

But for the next few years, whenever we told The Kid we were going somewhere, the poor thing would get a worried look and ask, “The Blue Devil guy’s not gonna be there, is he?”

Another year, The Kid got to see Mommy in a frenzy of terror.

It was one of those days when I had one last nerve, and my only child was doing an interpretive dance right on it. 

I asked The Kid to go outside and weed the little flower bed around the mailbox.  I figured there wouldn’t be much actual weeding done, but I also figured the break meant I wouldn’t be drunk before dinner.

Within forty-five seconds The Kid was back. 

“I can’t weed.  It’s full of snakes!”

I tried to explain that it was probably a few worms, but my child would not be dissuaded.  I finally went out to the mailbox to prove I was right.

Except, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Some horrible, mean, sneaky, dastardly snake had laid eggs in the bed, and seventeen million of them had recently hatched. 

I was almost catatonic with terror.  The Kid took my arm and gently led me back into the house.

That night, I was drunk before dinner.

At the beginning of this essay, I spoke about my discomfort with ire.

One summer, Petey and The Kid were barely speaking.  Petey insisted our child needed a bicycle for Christmas.  The gift was a bust.

So, in late June, our little would-be cyclist still didn’t know how to ride, and showed no interest.  Husband and child had butted heads about it for six months.  I decided to end the stalemate and teach The Kid.

So one day, when it was about 732° outside, I took child and bike down to an empty parking lot to get it done.  I figured twenty minutes, tops.

Three hours later I was praying for the sweet release of death.  I gave up and that night, I announced I was out.  I was formally withdrawing from the great bicycle debate.  Done.

The Kid never learned to ride, and I honestly have no memory of what happened to that cursed vehicle.

So, here’s hoping that your own summer is not terrifying, sweaty, or frustrating.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

The Best Worst Man

The Kid has already married four people.

No, my child isn’t on a matrimonial race to beat Zsa Zsa Gabor and her nine marriages.  A few years ago, The Kid got ordained to perform weddings for some close friends.  Yesterday was wedding number two.

Because of social distancing, the wedding was held online.  Petey and I offered to help out with a trial run, to make sure the sound and lighting were okay.  Once the soundcheck was completed, we stayed on our video chat and well, chatted—about weddings.

Our poor child has heard enough about our own nuptials that it could probably be recited like the Gettysburg address, Mark Antony’s speech in Julius Ceasar, or the list of actors who portrayed the Doctor, in chronological order.  So we talked about weddings we’d attended.

Or more accurately, weddings in which Petey has served as best man.

It’s only been two,  but they both went so badly that it was enough to seal his reputation as the very worst of wedlock curses.  After the second marriage made the Titanic look like the Good Ship Lollypop, word got around.

Thirty-eight years have passed since he’s been asked to stand up for a groom.

The first time Petey was the “best man”, his friend, Shelby was the groom in question.  The night before the nuptials, a post-rehearsal dinner/drink-a-thon was held.  Petey had a shift as an orderly, so he couldn’t make it.  The bridegroom’s little brother, who was about fourteen or fifteen, was in attendance.

Petey’s absence was probably for the best.

The next day they were all there, standing at the altar, waiting for the blushing bride.  Shelby’s kid brother, one of the groomsmen, was standing next to Petey.  The teenager smelled so strongly of alcohol, Petey almost got a contact drunk.  Suddenly, the kid stiffened, and his eyes lost their focus. 

Shelby’s brother passed slam out.  He dropped onto the church’s carpet as suddenly and completely as if he were a tree that had been chopped down.

He was fine, just doing what most drunken teenagers tend to do—sleeping it off.

The second wedding that Petey served as best man, was for our friend, Wayne, or as everyone in Elizabeth City knew him, Pig. 

Pig was marrying a girl in my class.  It was a rebound relationship for Pig, and a bid for independence for Linda, his betrothed.  Chrissy Teigen and Pat Roberts would have been a more compatible match.  Heck, the Queen of England and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would have been better marriage prospects.

Petey was driving Pig to the wedding.  To this day he doesn’t know whether it was an accident, or a bid to rescue his friend, but instead of pulling into the church parking lot, he kept driving, toward the Outer Banks and freedom.  The guests in the lot were a sea of wide eyes and open mouths as the boys drove right past.

Unfortunately, the groom looked up and alerted Petey that they were off-course.  The wedding took place as planned.

Shelby’s marriage eventually ended when the bride realized that it was putting a real crimp in her very active dating life.

Pig and Linda realized just what a horrible idea their marriage was the first morning they woke up as man and wife.  They limped along for a year or so before they finally put their wedded bliss out of its misery.

I think it’s possible The Kid doesn’t carry the wedding curse gene.  Both marriages, the two-year-old one and the one my child performed yesterday are still rock solid.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

The Kid’s Birthday Cake

Except, it’s not actually a cake.

Disturbing, no?

In 1963 Jello published a cookbook called, The Joys of Jello.  In it are all the whack-a-doodle recipes that you would expect for a gelatin cookbook from that dark period of our culinary history.

Cthulhoid jello salad

There’s the Apple Tuna Mold: A molded salad with apples, tuna, and celery set into lime gelatin.  Another winner is Vegetables in Sour Cream: veggies molded into lemon Jell-o with bullion, sour cream, and vinegar.  And, lest we forget, this nightmare: Barbecue Salad: A regular tossed salad, but with barbecue-flavored Jell-o cubes on top.

It’s no wonder that when children that were raised on this techno-colored dreck got older they did so many drugs.  After a supper of cottage cheese salmon mold we’d all probably want to chemically erase any memory of that meal.

But.

Also in that cookbook was a little something called Strawberry-Pretzel salad.  This recipe had as much to do with salad as a sponge cake has to do with that thing you use to wash dishes.

This is a light version of a cheesecake.  And for something so simple, it takes the concept of balance to high art.

The pretzel crust is crunchy and sweet/salty.  The next layer is creamy, fluffy, and sweet.  Finally, the jello layer is cool, sweet, with the lightly sour pop of strawberries.

For someone who’s not an over-the-top sweet lover, it’s the perfect dessert.  But it’s so good that even someone with a sweet tooth the size of the rock of Gibraltar loves it (ahem, yeah, that would be me).

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Strawberry Pizza

(for some reason, we’ve always called it strawberry pizza)

Crust:

Heaping 2 cups of crushed pretzels

¾ cup melted butter (1 ½ sticks)

3 tbsp sugar

Kosher salt

Bake at 400°.

Mix butter and sugar, then mix in pretzels.  Sprinkle a small pinch of salt on top before baking.  Press into a 9×13-inch glass dish with high sides, or two smaller casserole dishes with higher sides—you need enough room to cover all three layers and the strawberries without smooshing it.  Alternatively you could cook them in individual ramekins, jam jars, or muffin tins.  I think you could get about 8-10 minis from this recipe.

Bake for 8 minutes and let cool completely.

Filling:

(Sometimes I make a larger amount for this part; this is my favorite layer.)

2-8 oz package cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

1-8 oz tub of Cool Whip, thawed

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

To make a thicker layer: use 1 1/2 cup sugar, 3 blocks cream cheese, and 12 or 16 oz tub of cool whip, thawed

Mix together softened cream cheese and sugar until smooth (an immersion blender is especially helpful in getting the cream cheese smooth.

Fold in Cool Whip. 

Spread evenly on top of cooled crust, making sure the mixture has no gaps around the side.  The Jello will sneak through those gaps and leak onto the pretzels, making them soggy.  Place and fridge and let chill and set up (at least 2 hours).   

Topping :

1 large box strawberry gelatin

1-16 oz package frozen strawberries

2 cups boiling water

Directions

Whisk gelatin into boiling water until completely dissolved.  Add frozen strawberries to the hot jello.

When the strawberries are thawed remove them from the jello with tongs, and place evenly onto the cream cheese layer and gently press them into place.

Fry me A River

Not that kind of labor…

It is a straight-up labor of love.

It’s also delicious and addictive.  So much so, that when I make it, it goes directly to The Kid’s house because I can literally eat it by the pound.

It’s fried pasta.

Not that kind of Strange…

I know, it sounds strange. 

Years ago, before I was much of a cook, there used to be an Italian restaurant near us where we often ate.  They had some wonderful dishes.  One of our favorites was an appetizer that was a riff on nachos.  Instead of corn chips, they used pieces of fried pasta.

I decided to recreate the pasta portion.  But of course, I had no idea how.  I also wasn’t as shameless as I am now when it comes to asking for recipes.  If it happened now, I would ask to be in the kitchen and watched the procedure.

So, I was on my own to figure it out.

First I tried using raw pasta, thinking the frying would be the only cook it needed.  Yeah, that didn’t work. 

Frying something draws out the liquid and seals it in that delicious crispy, fried crust.  Dried pasta contains no water—that’s the whole point of drying it.  Frying left it greasy on the outside and hard enough to etch glass.

Then I tried cooking it and frying most of it in one batch.  I got a tough, chewy brick.  I then put less in at one time and it still stuck together.  Finally, I only put in three or four in at a time.

I had to adjust the time spent in the oil so it would come out GBD (golden brown and delicious).  If you just wait until the bubbles stop, that means that all the water is out of the product so it is perfectly crispy.

But I was left with something that was incredibly messy, made the house smell like a fast-food joint, and at a few at a time, took hours.

So, I made it for The Kid, but rarely, and half the time gave up before all the pasta was fried.  Which wasted food.

At Christmas, I make The Kid one gift each year.  Last Christmas I decided to fry pasta.  But I was really dreading the slog. 

While making marshmallows, I got to thinking.  There aren’t many stickier substances known to man than marshmallow goo.  But when they are coated in corn starch, all the outer stickiness vanishes.

So I tossed the pasta in corn starch before frying.

It worked.  I still couldn’t fill the pot, but now I could do 10-12 at one time, making the job so much faster.

Of course, it’s still a slow, messy, involved process.  But so worth it.  In fact, without careful rationing, you’ll probably eat them faster than the cooking took.

But soooo worth it.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Fried Pasta

16 ounces bowtie pasta

Corn starch

Vegetable oil

Fine sea salt & pepper

Herbs, spices, cheese powder, ranch seasoning (optional)

Cook the pasta in heavily salted water until al dente.  When done, drain and toss with ¼ cup corn starch.

Lay out in a single layer on parchment-lined tray.  

Set up frying station:

Put paper towels on large rimmed baking sheet.  Place salt, pepper, flavorings nearby.  Put pan on medium heat, fill about halfway with oil, and heat to 350 degrees.

Fry:

To minimize it sticking together, do no more than 10-12 pieces at a time. Gently place pasta into hot oil, one at a time. If they try to stick, gently separate them.

Fry until golden, and bubbling has stopped.  Remove to lined baking sheet, and season. 

Hard Wisdom

After continued flirtations with death, multiple surgeries, and lengthy hospital stays, there came a point when Petey was stable and recovered enough to come home for good.

And the life which we’d known before his illness was gone forever.

The months-long fight to stay alive had taken a toll.  His strength was such that returning to nursing, or any type of work was now impossible—the simple effort of bathing and dressing exhausts him like twelve hours of nursing used to.

Petey had to come to terms with the fact that his life had become something he didn’t recognize, and never wanted.  He was forced to deal with the anger and shame of being “the invalid”.  He was a carer that now needed someone to care for him.

It wasn’t an easy transition, not for any member of the Matthews Family Band.

The Kid existed in a constant state of terror.  But my stoic child presented to the world both a face and demeanor carved from stone because loss of control meant a volcano of embarrassing and unwanted emotion would crash down in a never-ending pyroclastic flow of feelings.

I coped by indulging in a form of optimism so extreme as to almost be magical thinking; rejecting facts and the situation at hand and substituting a belief that absolutely everything would be fixed by the coming treatment/surgery/medicine/doctor, and our former lives would be restored to us.

When things were too precarious for even my almost hysterical optimism, I would go to my fallback position; numbness. 

When no one with an MD could offer any hope, and returning to that empty house every day made me think I’d die from fear, stress, and loneliness, I’d shut down. 

I’d do and say the appropriate things, but for days at a time, nothing penetrated and I sleepwalked through life. 

It was while living within this continuous crisis that friends and family stepped up or let us down.

My parents?  They burned up the highway between Greensboro and Duke.  They visited almost every day and came in with Starbucks, took us out of the hospital for meals, never left without slipping cash into our pockets, and always presented a stout shoulder and unwavering encouragement.

Other relatives treated Petey’s illness as a personal affront.  They demanded we manage and massage their feelings about the situation.  They offered nothing positive and always had a carefully curated reason why they once again were unable to make a visit to the hospital.

We had friends that carried us away for a respite from HospitalWorld.  They would tease, cajole, and fill us with what, during that dark time, passed for happiness.

And we had people with lots of thoughts and prayers, but very little else.  One neighbor asked me daily if I needed anything.  I hesitated, but finally weeks into our hellish ordeal I asked him to clean up a few piles from our dog because I was never home during daylight hours so was unable to.  He declined.

But the very next day he asked again if he could do anything to help me out. 

Thanks but no thanks.    

Our lives aren’t the lives we inhabited before the illness.  This is our normal now and we’ve had to accept that.  Is it the life we would have chosen for ourselves?

Before.

Not a chance.

But Petey’s still home and is currently sitting on the couch next to me.  And though we have tough patches, every day I hear his laugh that sounds like warm caramel and see the same twinkle of  mischief in his eyes that I fell in love with thirty-eight years ago.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Dinner With The Kid

The Matthews family band love Shake & Bake pork chops and eat them a couple of times a month.  But I haven’t bought a box of it for many years,

I make my own.

Every time we’re down to crumbs in a bag of chips, or crackers, or anything crunchy, I dump the remains into a zip-top bag that lives in the freezer.  Then when it’s pork chop day, I throw everything into the bowl of a food processor along with herbs, Worcestershire, parmesan, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  If the crumbs are dark, I use them as is.  If they’re pale I also toast them for color.  Then I use it just like the store-bought stuff.

Recently, I had a big bag of tiny little pretzels I’d bought to put on brownies.  They were adorable but so small they absorbed moisture from the brownies and went stale after a day.  I don’t put pretzels on brownies so they can add disappointment. 

The Kid was coming for dinner, and I was making pork chops, so I decided they’d be pretzel-ized.

Pretzel Baked Pork Chops

4 boneless pork loin chops, ½ to ¾ inch-thick

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon mustard powder

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

2 cups 2% milk

2 tablespoons mustard (your choice of style)

3-4 cups pretzels, crushed, with some larger bits left for texture

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 425.  Put oil into 9X9 baking dish.

Make three-part dredge:  Put flour, mustard powder, salt, and pepper into large zip-top bag.

In a shallow dish, mix milk and mustard.

Put crushed pretzels in second shallow dish.

Shake chops in flour, dip in milk, then coat with pretzels, pressing pretzels on to get as many as possible and make them stick.  Put in baking dish.

Bake for 10 minutes then carefully flip over.  Bake until internal temp until they reach 140° (approx 5-7 more minutes). 

Serves 4.

For a side, there was The Kid’s favorite potato salad.  Za’atar is a Mediterranean blend of sesame seeds and dried herbs like cumin and sumac.  If can be found online and at middle Eastern markets.

The Kid’s Za’atar Potato Salad

2-3 pounds of waxy spuds like red skin or Yukon gold

1 large lemon, juiced and zested

1 teaspoon za’atar spice

¾ cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon capers

1 shallot, diced

Salt & pepper

In a pot of very salty water, boil whole, unpeeled potatoes until fork-tender.  When they are still hot, but cool enough to touch, peel and cut into salad-sized chunks.

Immediately add half the lemon juice and za’atar.  Gently stir until everything’s coated.  Loosely cover and let cool completely.

Make dressing:  Whisk together mayo, olive oil, the rest of the lemon juice, and zest.  Season, taste and reseason if needed.  Cover and refrigerate for 60 minutes.

Assemble: put caper and shallots in bowl with potatoes.  Fold in the dressing, a bit at a time, until everything’s lightly coated.

Serves 6-ish.

Our veg was broccoli.

Skillet Broccoli

1 large head of broccoli, cut into large/medium florets

3 tablespoons butter

¼ cup water

Salt & pepper to taste

Put everything into skillet and cover.  Cook at medium-high (about 6 or 7) until crisp-tender, adding a little more water as needed.

Uncover, turn to medium, and cook until there’s lots of browning and crisping, turning with tongs frequently to prevent burning.  Remove from heat, check for seasoning and serve.

Serves four.

The broccoli technique works for cauliflower as well.  Just be careful that you don’t over steam the vegetables—you need that structural integrity to get a nice crusty caramelization.

Bon Appetit!

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

An Upcycle Made By Two

In my high school, there was a girl named Kacey. 

She was imposing, and fully, forcefully, occupied all the space her body inhabited, like a warrior queen.  She was neither self-effacing nor apologetic.  Kacey was quiet but not shy.  She had a gaze that could quell both the boisterous and the boneheaded. Even someone as illiterate to the subtle as me could interpret her silent condemnation.  

I admired her.  She was kinda my hero.

Kacey was an amazing artist and her mom was a decorator. The inside of their house was a revelation.  It looked like a spread in House Beautiful

But the furniture and accessories didn’t fall into any one category.  There were pieces from various periods, ethnicities, and design philosophies.  They also used repurposed found objects; this was the first time I’d ever seen a trunk used as a coffee table.  I asked the name of this style.

“Eclectic.”

Kacey’s mom explained that meant using many different styles to make a harmonious whole.  I loved it.  And I loved the idea of repurposing well-worn items to new uses. 

The Kid has an apartment with a small patio containing a hammock chair.  I offered to get a table for the space.

But there were a few, very specific requirements.

It needed to be tall enough that The Kid could easily reach it from hammock height.  It needed to be impervious to weather.  It needed to be either heavy enough to not blow in around in a storm, or easy to bring inside.

I also wanted it to be unique and look good.  Purchasing something purpose built that had the qualities needed would be very expensive.  I would make like Kacey’s mom and create a table from various parts.

Not my collection. For illustrative purposes only.

There’s a thrift store nearby that I love to visit.  I’ve bought a really cool lamp for the living room, books, old Corning Ware which I collect, and other items I find that are interesting and cheap, even if I have no idea what to do with them.

I have a wooden stool in my kitchen that I painted years ago.  I also did one with an Argyle design for The Kid’s kitchen for Christmas one year.  They come in handy all the time.  During a visit to the thrift store, I’d scored another for $8 ($40 at Target).  I put it away until I figured out what to do with it.

Then I had a thought.  The stool would be the perfect height for that outdoor table.  Then I found a large tray to top it, about two feet across with a ridge around it.  I planned on just gorilla-gluing it to the stool.

But then Petey began collaborating on the project.

He had a much better idea than glue.  We went to a hardware store and he helped me choose the right product to make both parts weather-proof.  But instead of glue, he suggested Velcro.

But not the regular Velcro that’s on jackets and children’s sneakers.  He showed me industrial Velcro.  This stuff holds fifteen pounds per square inch.  And the entire tray didn’t weigh three pounds.

Then Petey really stepped up and helped me with measurement, placement and assembly.  It turned out great; The Kid loved it.  It fit perfectly in the back of the car for the ride to its new home.  But if it hadn’t—Velcro; it could’ve been broken down for transporting.

The total of supplies came to around $30.  A quick google for something similar shows the cheapest version online starts at around $80.

So, if my math’s right, I think my project might have earned me fifty bucks…?

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Why We Write

I went to BJ’s and picked up some Nabs for Petey.  And because I got them at BJ’s, there were 36 full-sized packages of crackers and peanut butter in the pack—hey, he likes Nabs, and they were really cheap.

But the upshot was that I was standing in my kitchen wondering how and where to store enough Nabs for, literally, the whole class.  I decided to check our guest/box room for a forgotten basket or vessel of some kind.

final_5c11666232962c0013aa6d0bWhile I was in there, I noticed an old Duke three-ring binder.  I opened it to see if there was anything interesting in it.  In it was pure comedy gold.

Among the many camps The Kid attended while in school (cooking camp, camp at the Museum of Life and Science, a history museum camp that was an immersive experience in the WWII Homefront) was a Duke-sponsored writing camp.  The first year our child was a day-student.  The second was extended day, and for the last year it was sleepaway camp.The Kid has always had an interesting imagination, and a way with words.  Not long after learning to write, my child wrote a story about a pirate that was both afraid of the water and prone to extreme seasickness.  I know that’s my baby, but c’mon, that’s hilarious—I mean, just picture that poor guy.  Somebody’s junior high had the world’s worst guidance counselor.Each morning at camp they had a writing exercise.  They were given a prompt and had a set amount of time.  Where they went was up to them.

I’m guessing that this particular topic was handed out in either later days of a session, or if early on, not The Kid’s first year at camp.  There is a certain element of smart alecky-ness to the result.What follows are The Kid’s own words.  Comments from me are in italics.

I write because:

Because I think my dog is writing about me.  Our new dog doesn’t write, he instagrams and snapchats.crowleygramBecause the mole men tell me to.  They’ve stopped urging creativity and are now focused on digging and building an underground kingdom into which I’ll one day fall while mowing the lawn, never to be heard of again.

Because the lady at the drive-through gave me the evil eye.  She still does.

Because I want to scream but am in a library.  Nothing’s scarier than a librarian’s glare.

This guy says, “write”, I write.

Because a leprechaun I met when I was three told me I had to.  But not one word about that darn pot of gold.

Because my mom likes purple.  Yup.

Because I once saw a gremlin on a plane.  First I’ve heard about that.Because they serve a combination of chicken and fish called a chish.  Gross.

Because I expect the mother ship any day now.  Is mother ship one word, or two?

Because stereoditional is too a word.  It kind of sounds like one of those huge German portmanteau words that possess a paragraph of meaning.  Here’s my take: stereoditional is an object, or a state that can only exist as a pair, like bookends.  Or, an old lady’s purse and Kleenex.Because I have a chalkboard full of ideas and I can’t write about just one.  Lay’s potato chips of the mind.

Because the spirit of Bob chooses you to read your writing.  Don’t know a Bob. I think maybe The Kid was running out of gas here.There you have it.  A hopefully humorous, but more likely unsettling look into the mind of my one and only progeny.  Who’s now living as an independent, unmedicated adult.

Heaven help us all.

Thanks for your time.