Boots to the Ground

img_1120This morning when Henry came downstairs to eat his bacon and pancakes, his first question was about who won the election. I had heard about people mentally writing the script for telling their own children the news; thoughtfully penning words that seem unfathomable to so many of us. My carefully crafted response was: “The man who denegraded women, minorities, the disabled, and the undocumented immigrants, and who has threatened to nullify our gay marriage, was elected President.” But like Trump, I went off script and could barely choke out the words; “mother fucking Trump.” He understood.
I couldn’t bear to be at home today, so after dropping off my family at school and work I went shopping in search of ingredients to make a comfort meal to soothe our broken and battered soul. Meatloaf. Yes meatloaf and mashed potatoes is what will start the healing process. I skipped the chocolate cake I briefly eyed because I don’t need caloric guilt heaped on top of our already heavy sadness.
I headed to my favorite thrift shop and I found myself staring blankly at shelves of pots and pans, realizing minutes had ticked by and I was still looking at the same pile of cheap cookware. I just want to curl up in a fetal position, pull an old quilt over my head and sleep. I wondered; “where do we go from here, and how do we make sense of this?”
I wandered over to the shoe department and my eye caught the glint of a highly polished pair of wing tip boots; handsome, my size and dirt cheap. I slipped them on and as I admired them I knew the answer. We walk. We walk forward pulling those along who will try to drag us back. We walk in protest of unfair laws and poor decisions. We walk to spread the news that climate change is real and that we must continue to protect our planet. We walk to make sure everyone has access to affordable healthcare. We walk for those who cannot walk or feel they have no voice. And we walk to make certain we are understanding who is hurting, and who is
feeling left out by our government, so last night does not happen again.
These are my boots. And I will keep walking.


Fraudship; When Friends Lie

This week, a group of us on Facebook have been dealing with the news that the moderator of our online support community has been unmasked as a fraud. In fact, not only he, but also a couple other men who he brought into the circle, were essentially made up profiles. I’m not so naive not to realize that many people present a contrived version of themselves online, sometimes rewriting some of their personal narrative to white wash those things they’d rather forget.

But this guy was the moderator of a group of gay dads who were there to talk about their unique challenges and triumphs around gay parenting. And while we’ve only been able to piece together parts of the ruse, it appears the guy may be; not only straight, and not living where he claimed, but also likely not even a dad. Hell, for all we know,  he could be some middle-aged woman sitting at a computer in a call center in Mumbai. You just don’t know. And It’s troubling on so many levels, including the fact that many of us posted photos of our families, and we talk quite frankly about some personal issues. Because it is classified as a secret and closed group, it’s always felt to be a safe place for candid discussions. Several of the guys recalled long and personal heartfelt one-on-one online and voiced conversations with the moderator over the course of months, and in some cases, years.  So for them, it’s been a terrible blow.

The whole thing started to unravel as he added individuals to the group who had apparent close ties with him, and we started to see some inconsistencies and similarities in those members.  For many of us, we had questions about this grandiose wealthy life he lived, his multiple bouts with cancer, and the numerous kids he had allegedly taken in.  A couple of the more tech savvy guys followed the IP addresses of some of his posted photos and it all came to an abrupt end.  As far as we can see, they’ve now simply disappeared from FB.

The big question for all of us has been why he would do this? Why would some straight guy pose as a fellow gay dad and moderate their support group? There is no monetary gain from the position and really no access to financial or personal data. He was a brash and funny story teller, good looking, seemed like a devoted dad and husband, and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind in a very colorful manner, so we found some of his posts rather entertaining.
So what was his motive? What did he get out of this game? And a part of me worries whether he’s still out there hiding behind yet another profile.

This reminds me of a similar situation that happened to a group of us in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, before Facebook and about the time Mark Zuckerberg was born.

In Sioux Falls we had one gay bar that all of us frequented. One night my roommate and I met a guy named “Craig.” He was young and a fresh face in a city where not a lot of new gays moved to town. We hung out with him and eventually we invited him back to our place. Over the next couple of weeks we started to hang out, and we learned that he lived a few counties to the west but was commuting to Sioux Falls for school.

One day he showed up at our house, his face red from crying and he told us that his mom and dad had been involved in a terrible automobile accident outside his hometown. His dad had been killed instantly and his mother, severely injured, was lying in the hospital in a coma. He didn’t need anything, but asked if he could stay with us a few days while they were making arrangements for the funeral and dealing with his mom’s injuries. I went with him to a music store to find sheet music for the service soloist.  He talked about plans for his dad ‘s casket being pulled by their team of horses on an antique carriage his dad owned.

Then a day or two later, we got the surprising news that while running tests on his mom, they discovered that she was pregnant and that they needed to decide wether to keep her in life support so she could carry it to term. While most would find the idea of a 50 year old woman pregnant absurd, my own mom was a surprise birth to her 48 year old parents, so for me his story was a real possibility.

Sometime in the midst of this madness his sisters had a large chocolate chip cookie from Mrs Field’s delivered to our apartment. It was inscribed in blue frosting: “Thank you for taking care of Craig” with a card signed by his sisters. That same evening, he cried on my shoulder while he talked about ordering the funeral flowers and how much his mom loved daisies.

I remember calling my mom back in Wisconsin and literally breaking into tears as I recalled the sad story of my friend Craig. And unlike how my normally kind and loving mom would have reacted, she cautioned me: “Honey, I’m sorry for your friend, but it sounds too far fetched to be true.” I was dumb founded by what she said, because it was beyond my comprehension that someone could make up such a tale about their own mom and dad.

But then on the day of his dad’s funeral, I was working at Dayton’s and spied Craig walking across the food court in his jeans and t-shirt. I called to him and as he approached I asked why he wasn’t at the funeral which was scheduled to happen within the hour in his hometown, which was a good half hour away. He replied that he realized he didn’t have a suit to wear and ran to the mall to find one.

That was the moment I knew we’d all been taken by this guy.

My friend and co-worker Mary, who has always been fearless, found the phone number of the family and boldly called to offer them her condolences. She made certain that they did indeed have a son named Craig, which they did, and of course there had been no accident, no death, no coma, no chocolate chip thank you cookie sent by them, and certainly no miracle pregnancy.

Craig must have gotten word that we called, because he disappeared.

Years later I ran into him at some cowboy bar in St Paul. I never had the balls to confront him about his lies, mostly because I was probably more embarrassed about being emotionally taken by him than he would have been in explaining the lies. I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. But sadly every time it happens I mourn the loss of trusting people, and I question the motivation of those who I know only online. But hey, it also happened with someone who lived with us. I’m lucky in this latest incident that I didn’t have much emotional energy invested in the moderator. I just don’t get it. And I feel terrible for those who thought they had a friend, instead of a fraud.

Harry Hasheian

image Local artist and educator, Harry Hasheian of Chestnut Hill, died suddenly on Saturday, July 18th, at the age of 77. He and his family were life long Philadelphia residents and his work was known throughout the region.

When interviewed about his work as an artist, Hasheian said: “It’s a great time for an artist to be alive. I was fortunate enough to have studied with some of the greats of the 20th Century, such as Mercedes Matter, Morria Berd, Alex Katz, Jacob Landau, Louis Kahn, Angelo Savelli, Aldo Giurgola, Henry Varnum Poor, Albert Gold, Leonard Baskin. Their influence on whom I eventually became as an artist is boundless. German Expressionists had an influence on me. Their raw, divine clumsiness and their directness enabled me to be boisterous and willing to be rough, bold and ready. Kandinsky and Gorky opened the window to the visually sophisticated doodle, and by taking similar chances, I feel validated by them to proceed upon those principles of Abstract Surrealism. A colleague once called me “an artist’s artist” and one reviewer called my work “playful, yet disturbing,” which seems an apt description.”

Born in Philadelphia, June 22, 1938 to John and Azniv Hasheian, proud Turkish- Armenians. Harry graduated in 1956 from West Philadelphia High School. Mr. Hasheian was the recipient of Full-tuition scholarships to both Philadelphia College of Art (Now the University of the Arts), receiving his B.A. in 1960 in Art Education; and to the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his MFA. in History and Practice of Art in 1961. He was the recipient of the Thorton Oakley Medal for Creative Achievement, the Bocour Award for Excellence in Painting, and was chosen to attend the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine.

Mr Hasheian joined the faculty at Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science in 1961, and was assistant professor at Edinboro University from 1965 to 84. He has taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Cabrini College, Mercyhurst College, in higher education; and at Salem High School; and the Green Tree School at the elementary and secondary levels. He served for three years as Director of Visual Communication at the Art Institute of Philadelphia from 1987-90. He also taught at the Woodmere Art Museum in Philadelphia.

Mr Hasheian’s unwavering dedication to education is well-documented. He has participated in seminars; moderated panels on education and the arts; has been interviewed for radio and television; and has served as researcher and project consultant for national and international consultants in the arts. Mr. Hasheian’s work has been shown in numerous exhibitions including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with four pieces in their permanent collection; the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco; and the Butler Museum of Art. His work is held in Private collections and museums.

Hasheian is survived by his wife, Marilyn, their two children Molly (Hovanness) Papazian of Los Angeles and Max Hasheian of Philadelphia. He is also survived by three children from a previous marriage; James Hasheian of Philadelphia, Hester Hasheian of Detroit, MI, and Gwen Hasheian Norton of Quinton,NJ, a sister, Mary Hasheian Mumford of Selbyville DE, two grandchildren, and numerous nieces, nephews, cousins and friends. He was preceded in death by his parents and his sister Hester Hasheian Young.

Memorial service for Harry will be on Saturday July 25th 2015 at The Skyspace Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting, 20 E Mermaid Lane, Philadelphia, PA (Chestnut Hill) 19118. Service begins at 11:00 am.

Luncheon following at St Gregory The Illuminator Armenian Apostolic Church located at 8701 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia, PA (Andorra).

Memorials to the Hasheian Family.

When Friendships Fade Away

Two years ago I wrote about the perplexing loss of a long-term close friendship.   At the time, three years had passed and now at the five year mark, I decided to revisit that story:

February 2013

Recently one old friend asked about another old friend. And I had to confess that I really had no comment. We have not spoken in about three years. Not a word.

When he pressed me for more details, asking if we’d had a falling out or an argument, I was at a loss for words.
“I don’t know what happened, it’s just over.”
What is odd about it, is the fact that I can’t point to a precipitating episode that lead to its demise. I honestly can’t say that over time, we found to have less and less in common or that our conversations became burdensome or less frequent.
It simply ended, with no apparent cause, explanation, argument or the benefit of a revealing, heart to heart talk. There was no debriefing.
I can tell you this. It was mutual. But only in as much as it was the result of mutual inaction.

Looking back on our thirty year friendship, we had a deep intimacy and closeness. It was one of those relationships where we could tell each other pretty much anything. For much of our friendship, we lived on opposite coasts and so most of our communication was done over the phone. But we managed to see each other every year or two. I am a night owl, and with him being three time zones away, I could call in the middle of the night when he was just starting his work day. We talked about our own relationships, mutual friends and work. Usually the conversations were about the mundane. We have a similar sense of humor and could laugh over the same things. But we also could talk freely about the painful and rather difficult aspects of our lives; and it was usually something about our partners and family. And we also talked a lot about ourselves. We had a confessor type of relationship, one where we’d say things to each other that we’d probably not tell anyone else. The words of our hearts flowed freely, and were met with love, kindness and without judgment.

Okay, if truth be told, it’s not as simple as it just ending. At some point I realized that most of the communication was initiated by me. Though because of my changing schedule and his more predictable one, it worked for us. Almost four years ago, we moved to Philadelphia and in the craziness of house hunting, shopping for schools and learning the city, I realized that we hadn’t talked for quite a few weeks. I resumed some contact and even saw each other once briefly for lunch, but I decided to conduct an experiment. I decided to stop initiating communication. I figured that a few weeks, maybe a month or two would go by and he’d pick up the phone to check in. So I waited. And waited. Weeks became months and now months has become three years. Three years. Where did the time go? A quarter of my son, Henry’s life, gone.

Do I regret doing that. You bet. Do I miss him? Of course. Have I done anything but blog about it? No. I know that I could pick up the phone or send an email, but I fear that too much (or too little) has happened over these thirty-six months and it can’t be repaired. I wonder whether he feels the same way, and what I would say or do if he called me. I am saddened and angry that he didn’t care enough about this old friend to make more of an effort. And frankly, I guess he could say the same about me. I changed the rules of the game and didn’t give him the playbook. My take away from this is; Unless something is really broken, and I mean truly broken in a friendship, don’t mess with it.  Think twice about what you are discarding. I wish I had continued to make the effort.  I’ll keep you posted how all this turns out.

Update:  As I mentioned earlier, it’s now been five years with no contact with that particular friend.  Those years have been busy for our family and time seems to whirl past at breakneck speed.  You’d think after all this time that I wouldn’t be giving this another thought.  And yet I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about him and wanted to reach out and reconnect.  Once I even picked up the phone and considered just calling as if it hadn’t been five years but merely a few weeks or months.  I thought; “Maybe he’s been so busy that he won’t even realize how much time has passed between us.”  I imagine he’ll ask if Henry is eight or nine and I’ll laugh and say that he’s now almost fourteen and looking at high schools.  We’ll pick up where we left off and make plans for a visit sometime soon.  You know, it would be easier if we had fought about something, broken up over some irreconcilable differences.  At least I could name it.  Call me an idiot, but I’m considering reaching out sometime soon.



The Farm

The last parcel of our family homestead is up for sale. The Minnesota farm, which was homesteaded by my Norwegian ancestors back in the 1860’s, has been held by our family ever since. My great grandparents, Lars and Louise Troseth, whose parents originally laid claim to the land, worked it as a dairy farm for many years, raising a family and building a good life. They were successful dairy farmers complete with a delivery wagon emblazoned with “Troseth Milk and Dairy” on the side. They were the last of the family to truly work the land. The acres hold the remnants of the original sod house, built into the side of the hill leading down to the creek and nearby woods. Later, they would construct a log home and then a simple wood-framed house. And as they prospered, they eventually built the “Big House” in 1912 for $5,000 cash. When farming became difficult for the aging farmers, portions of the property were quarried for sand and gravel and this sustained the farm for many years. The fruits of this property helped fund Gol Lutheran Church, St Olaf College and later paid the tuition for my grandfather and great aunt Gertrude to attend that same school in nearby Northfield. Gertrude and Grandpa eventually left for careers and marriage, and created lives of their own off the farm, returning to that place when my then widowed grandpa and aunt Gertrude, retired in the seventies. As kids, we loved to explore the barren gravel pit; a tomb for the rusty old dilapidated steam shovel, abandoned when the digging stopped sometime in the fifties. We’d wander the woods, wade in the creek and search for treasures in the attic and the remains of the old clap board house. This was the place of births, weddings and wakes. One hundred and fifty years of living and dying.

The majority of the good land was sold a few years ago, and now, just the old big house and woods is left.
It’s sad, but none of us have really had much to do with it for a number of years. As the family is scattered across the country, it’s difficult for any of us to care for a crumbling farm from afar.

I had the privilege to live there for several years with Willie back in the late eighties and have some wonderful memories of holiday gatherings, hayrides and walks in the woods. We raised chickens, ducks and goats and planted trees and tilled a large garden. We made good friends, canned hundreds of jars of pickles and learned to shoot a 12-gauge shotgun. It holds secrets and it spawned legends. Love was found and hearts were broken there. And it was the place where my mom danced with my dad for the very last time.

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that the farm itself is the keeper of memories and that the house is the urn that holds the ashes of all that has been. It’s not. Lars and Louise left homes and family in Norway to create new memories in America. And so it was with my grandparents, my parents and now with me. I get really emotional when I think about our home in Seattle. I loved it so much; the design, the view of Mt Rainier, the lake and the fabulous kitchen. But without Scott and Henry, none of that has any real value. Everything that is good in my life is about them and the rest of my family. And our four years in this one hundred and sixty year old Philadelphia home is just a blip in its many years of memory making. Eventually, when we leave, we’ll pack up those good times and take them on to the next place.
As for the Berg farm, it is time for some other family to make some memories in that special place. Because without the joys and difficulties of life happening there, it’s just a house, a broken down barn and woods.

Berg Farm

Berg Farm







Channeling Beverly

Last evening, Scott and I went to Scoogi’s, a local Italian joint that on Wednesday nights hosts a spiritual medium who reads cards and does a bit of channeling. She’s not exactly the Long Island Medium…but she seems to get the job done without the big platinum hair and the annoying L.I. accent asking perfect strangers: “who’s the ‘s’ who paaassssed, who’s paaaasssssed????” while she’s picking up her dry cleaning.

I had barely sat down when the medium said she had my mom with us. And after she did the typical “validating”, she talked extensively about how much time she and I spent together in the kitchen. I said, “Yes, when she was alive, we did spend a lot of time together in the kitchen”. To which she replied; “She’s there right beside you every time you cook or bake.” She also wanted to know the significance of “CH”. CH? I wracked my brain trying to figure out what mom was saying..cheesecake? Chunky peanut butter or cherry chip ice cream? I may never know. But I do know, at least, what she means about mom’s presence. Last year I wrote a story about the cookbook mom hand wrote for me and how much she influenced my life in the kitchen. I do really feel her presence especially when I make recipes she taught me, or when I use one of her utensils or pans. But I digress. The medium told me that when odd things happen when I’m cooking, it’s a way for my mom to let me know she’s there watching over me. Okay, sure. Well today Bev came through loud and clear. And was she annoying. I loved my mom, but she and I had very different approaches when it came to cooking. She burned stuff all the time and was notorious for having to substitute ingredients, (with varying degrees of success), because she had forgotten something at the store. She wasn’t what I’d call a careful cook. But she loved to cook.

Those who have ever cooked with me, know I am a really precise baker. I am a true boy scout; always prepared, except I’ll let anyone into my kitchen. I figure if I’m taking the time, making the effort, and spending good money, it sure as hell better turn out. So I’m careful. When something needs to bake for a specific length of time, I will set numerous timers in the event one of them fails. I have a “measure twice, cut once” mentality when I bake. I even make sure to use both dry and liquid measuring cups just to get it right. That is, I get I’m a bit of a freak.

Today since it was rather hot and muggy, I decided to throw together a Key Lime pie to go with dinner. I dug out an antique ceramic pie plate that was my grandmother’s and went to work. I prefer a regular pie crust over graham cracker crust and my usual recipe has me bake it for about 40 minutes. But this afternoon I went off script and decided to use the traditional recipe found on the bottle of my Key Lime juice. It promised to be easy and had just three ingredients. You can guess where this is going.

I lined the pie plate, made the filling and as I was pouring it in, realized that the recipe calls for it to bake only about 15 minutes before chilling it….that is, if you are using a graham cracker crust. I hadn’t even finished pouring when it dawned on me that I should have pre-baked the crust. I started thinking; “what would mom do?” I know what mom would do. She wouldn’t have realized her error until she went to serve the soggy mess and had to resort to Sara Lee for dessert. I got a hold of myself and thought; “No, what would Julia Child do?” as I frantically tried to calculate how long I should bake it for, and at what temp so that I don’t end up with an under-baked soggy crust and an over-baked filling. I had used the last eggs in the house and I just didn’t have it in me to go to the co-op and start over. Maybe it’s a sign I shouldn’t be making and eating stuff like this. Or maybe it’s my mom’s spirit playing a little joke on me. I guess I’ll have to see just how much she’s watching over me and what power spirits weld on this side. I picture both mom and Julia having a good laugh over this. I’ll keep you posted how it turns out.

Bottom line is, I will definitely think of Bev when we are either enjoying it, or sending it down the garbage disposal. Today, both of those scenarios work for me.      


The Sweet Smell of Youth

I was a driver the other day for Henry’s school softball team. As several of them piled into the car and settled in, my eyes started watering as the stench of stale sweat quickly wafted through the closed in space. I glanced around as I rolled down my window, trying to determine who the culprit was. At first I was pretty self-congratulatory as I recalled Henry taking a nice long shower the prior night, and remembered the wide array of deodorant, body spray and acne medicine containers that littered the bathroom vanity. There was also a scattering of nail clippings and a glob of toothpaste in the sink, but at least he had accomplished that task as well. I look after my son. I am a good dad.

But as Henry threw off the shirt he had worn all day and pulled on his new Under Armour sleeveless tank, I realized the smell had grown suspiciously stronger as the rumpled shirt landed next to my seat. The potent ripe scent was not emanating from the other boys. No, it hung over my own son like a heavy morning fog, but with an essence reminiscent of Durian fruit, beef jerky and burning tires. I leaned over and whispered that we needed to have another talk about what drives girls away. Henry, of course, rolled his eyes and dramatically mouthed for me to: “shut it”.

It seemed like just yesterday, that whether he had gone a day or a week without bathing, he always smelled like “new baby”; a combination of lavender scented talc and formula. And even with a drenched diaper, he still somehow smelled sweet.
It was twelve years ago that we first met him at his orphanage in Cambodia, placed in our arms by his nanny. And it was twelve years ago last week that we flew thirty long and exciting hours, carrying him through immigration to his new home. Even at nearly a year, Henry could not yet crawl; always carried around by Kat Minh and never allowed to flex his muscles on the tiled floor of the baby house. Now he runs and catches fly balls and kicks goals. He spits and laughs and can curse like a sailor and he sweats and yes, he stinks. When did this transformation happen? I fear I was too wrapped up in trying to keep my own mortality in check that I forgot to keep him from growing up. Unbeknownst to me, that ship sailed and now my baby is thirteen. What the hell was I thinking? I knew intellectually that kids grow up, but in my heart I was holding on to that little baby…our Buddha baby; so round, always smiling and so sweet smelling.

It’s time to face reality as we prepare for the teenage years and start navigating his foray into the world of high school entrance exams and his dreams of one day driving. I also realized that we’ve reached that milestone where his time left at home is less than his time he’s already spent with us. I can’t tell you the panic that wells up inside when I think about all the unfinished work we still have ahead. And don’t get me started on all the mistakes we’ve made that I hope we can still somehow fix. I’m sure there will be times when I’ll be tempted to sabotage his inevitable leaving, but then I’d be failing at my job; preparing him for new adventures. I guess for now I’ll focus on middle school and all the trials and tribulations that comes with that. Well, that and his personal hygiene.


Getting It Right

Yesterday was one of those mornings when my parenting skills were really called into question. And if truth be told, when I say morning, it started at one a.m. when I was suddenly awakened by my bladder and realized I had fallen asleep before checking in with my son Henry. If it wasn’t bad enough that he was still up at that ungodly hour, he was of course, playing a questionable M rated video game and requesting a burrito. Yes, a burrito. In the middle of the night.

We really like Henry’s pediatrician, but we don’t always see eye to eye. And in an epic fail he contradicted me at a recent checkup. I had explained to him that Henry was having trouble falling asleep, and also snacking late at night. I felt that “feeding the furnace” was part of the cause of his insomnia. He told Henry if he was hungry, even late at night, that a nice hearty snack might actually help him fall asleep. That was right after I asked him to explain to Henry the importance of not picking at his scabs. His response was; “Maybe, instead, you should focus on clipping his nails”. I just couldn’t win. But I’ve got to give Henry some credit, though, for watching my back. When the doc asked Henry what time he generally heads to bed, without missing a beat Henry replied; “8 pm”, with the conviction of a preacher. I thought, “8pm?, In what time zone?” But I wasn’t going to correct him since I already looked like a loser parent. As the doctor turned towards his computer, Henry looked up at me, flashed a sly grin and mouthed, “you owe me.”

My partner Scott, gets up quite early, generally about 4:45. And normally I lay there in a twilight zone between sleep and a slow awakening that finally gets me up around 6:30. But yesterday, between my one a.m. short-order cook shift and my clumsy fingers, I must have hit ‘off’ instead of ‘snooze’ on my iPhone and we overslept. A lot. I woke when our Italian Greyhound, Dexter, stuck his head out from under the covers and I caught wind of a smell that emanated from a dog who clearly had finished off Henry’s early morning burrito. And like Barbra Streisand’s final long-sustained note in Evergreen, the hang time of Dexter’s fart held heavy in the air like a stage reading of John Milton’s, ‘Paradise Lost’.
As I cleared my head, I noted the time, and frantically dressed myself as I searched for something relatively clean for Henry to wear. He was slow but seemed to rally a bit, buoyed in part by his morning ablutions consisting of copious amounts of Clearasil and a generous misting of AXE body spray. Honestly, our drill is normally a well-oiled machine.

You see, since January, we’ve changed our morning routine. In the past, we fought intensely about doing homework after school to the point where it became a real road block in our relationship. I found myself dreading that daily battle. I would try reasoning with Henry, explaining that if he did it right away after school, that he’d have the whole night looming free and unfettered of that daunting task. Every day it was the same. I’d ask him to do his homework, he’d beg me to let him take a short nap. I’d forget the sleeping boy until it was almost bedtime at which point I’d wake him, beg, plead and barter, followed by me yelling, him slamming the door, and one of us ending up in tears. Usually me.

So I met with the school counselor and together we came up with a plan. I gave Henry the choice to pick when he would like to accomplish homework. As it turned out, Henry knew what was right for him. He’s a morning guy. Who’d a thought? So I get Henry up early and he does homework without any fuss while I fix him breakfast of scrambled eggs, some fruit and a can of diet coke. Not really. The coke is for me. I pack his lunch and then head out to warm up the car and turn on the heated seats. Henry drapes a blanket over the warm radiators and at ten minutes to eight, we race to school with him bundled in a toasty warm blanket. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

Yesterday, not so much. I pretty much did his homework; calling out questions as he shook a jar of bacon bits into his unbrushed mouth, washing it down with a swig of OJ drunk straight out of the carton. He sucked on a couple Altoids as we made our way to school arriving just in the nick of time. I think the lunch I packed was pretzels, a container of hummus and a couple dill pickle spears.

Today was a better day. Homework was completed, breakfast eaten, teeth brushed, nails cleaned and a wholesome lunch locked and loaded. Okay, it was a Lunchable, a bag of Fritos and a can of V-8, but the rest is all true. I probably won’t win any parenting awards, but hopefully when Henry’s older, he’ll remember the times when I got it right.


Are You Fixing Dinner, Or Is That Just Your Wet Barn?

If you know me at all it’s no surprise that one of my favorite hobbies is food. Essentially I love everything related to food; innovative kitchen appliances and gadgets, purveying foodstuffs, cooking and of course, eating. But I’m also a cook book and food magazine aficiondo .

I have a decent and diverse cook book collection, and while I rarely cook directly from recipes, I glean from them all sorts of ideas and inspiration. As a writer myself, I love authors like Ragavan Iyer and Lynne Rosetto Kasper who weave magical stories amongst their wonderful recipes. And I am impressed when a writer has a gift for transporting me to their mother’s kitchen or a Cordovan olive grove in Spain with their adept word smithing skills. There’s nothing better than a well-crafted description of a cheese that convinces me I’m smelling the pungent aromas of the Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.

Unless you count the summer when I was 11, and took a week-long kids “cooking-with-gas” class at NorthStar Appliances in Decorah, Iowa, I’m not at all formally trained in the culinary sciences. So I’m not particularly keen on food writings with overly technical language and I quickly lose interest in a story that tries too hard to impress me. Thus I love a great recipe with an interesting tale.

But I digress. While perusing the most recent issue of Saveur magazine a photo of a sumptuous dish caught my eye. Not recognizing what it was, I read through the caption and within those couple of sentences, I immediately knew my destiny. I would be making a Tartiflette. With this riveting description and beautiful photo, my plans were set in motion:

“Soft, pungent reblochon, a washed-rind cheese from eastern France’s mountainous Haute-Savoie, is at the heart of my obsession with tartiflette. This rustic regional casserole of potatoes, white wine, lardons, and the cheese, with its wet-barn aroma, is like a wonderful bear hug on a winter’s day. It’s a simple dish with no secrets or tricks, but it sings an homage to the Alps as it bakes, perfuming the kitchen as the rosy rind of the cheese bubbles to create a tangy crisp top.”
–Litty Matthew, Los Angeles based free-lance writer. Saveur, Jan/Feb 2014.

With two poorly trained dogs living in my house, I can’t guarantee that the wafting scents will “sing an homage to the Alps”…but I’m confident I can pull-off the “wet-barn aroma.” And, despite myself, hopefully Tartiflette will be my new obsession too.



Feeding the Masses

I’d like to say that this is a “throw-back Thursday” photo….but it’s not.  It’s also not prop food from “Fargo”.  It’s dinner.  At some point in Henry’s short life he went to a pot-luck and had tater-tot casserole, loved it and now requests it from time to time.  Today was one of those times.  Having grown up in the midwest, I have cream of mushroom soup coursing through my veins and I was in junior high before I realized potatoes didn’t grow in the form of little cylindrical crunchy barrels.  So I know my way around a hot dish.  And since I grew up in a pastor’s household, potlucks and the ubiquitous hot dish was a way of life. It wasn’t just that they were a staple of every potluck, picnic or funeral luncheon, and since we didn’t have a lot of money, a casserole or hot dish was a way for mom to stretch her very tight food budget.  

A few days ago I posted about the handwritten cookbook that mom gave me shortly before she died.  And if you page through it, you’ll find many examples of hot dishes that mom prepared throughout our childhood.   Some good, others not so good.  But all came from my mother’s hands.  A couple of our family favorites included something we called “Russian Hot dish” which we had for the first time at a Russian Orthodox festival in northern Minnesota.  This inter-continental dish was made with ground beef, elbow macaroni and ketchup.  Another staple at our table was a nod to the indigenous population; “Squaw Corn”. This native dish was made with ground beef, bacon and creamed corn.  When we wanted to go “oriental” we’d have beef chow mein; ground beef, the bottom can of La Choy Chow Mein, rice and the top can of crunchy chow mein noodles.  If we wanted it a little bit spicy we’d sparingly drizzle a few drops of soy sauce on top.  Later on in life we had a special hot dish that was fancy enough even for company; “Malaysian Hot dish”  This was sophisticated on several levels.  The first being that it was an exotic array of ingredients but also it was a deconstructed hot dish. The components were artfully presented and each individual assembled it on their own plate.  Malaysian Hot dish was comprised of hamburger, rice, and small bowls of condiments: shredded coconut, ground peanuts, cucumbers, tomatoes, green onions, pimento and I wish I had italics for this….crushed pineapple.  

But for me, my favorite hot dish was the one dish that happened at the end of the month; when the money was gone and even hamburger was beyond our budget.  It’s also the one dish my mom did not include in her book.  I don’t know if it held painful memories, or was just not one of her favorites, but I absolutely love it and to this day, I call it; “End of the Month Hot dish.”  It was simply Birdseye frozen mixed vegetables, béchamel sauce and homemade croutons on top made out of stale bread.  It was simple, wholesome and I loved the garlic buttery crunchy cubes of bread.  

I realize I sound like I’m making fun of my mom’s cooking, but her greatest assets were her ability to feed a family of six for under five dollars, and her sense of humor.  And she would have enjoyed my stories about our family.  As an adult, I appreciate how stressful it probably was for her to feed her brood on a tiny budget.  And who knows what sacrifices she must have made in order to feed us the occasional ham, roast or special dessert.  When she signed up for this gig, she probably had no idea what it entailed.  But we were always fed, sated and happy. 



Tater Tot Casserole

Tater Tot Casserole