Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Twenty Five

This life that lies before us-
do you want to live it with me?

These things that make up the days-
do you want to do them with me?

We’ll see the snow piled eleven feet high outside our window and Amish buggies in the Wal-Mart parking lot and north Atlantic waves that crash at our feet.  We’ll feel the high desert wind sting our face and Florida steam soak our clothes and Canadian glacier cold ignore our high performance fleece.  We’ll smell the Yellowstone sulfur and damp mold from the apartment flood and salty air outside the Admiral’s home we rent.  We’ll taste the lobster from Maine and strawberries from our yard and pizza from that place in Indiana where they chop everything up real small.  We’ll hear the sound of the fire extinguisher when the car catches on fire in Cleveland and the horn of the ferry all those times we had to commute across the sound and the crack of the tree branch when it breaks off in that ice storm.

We’ll see that crazy cat climb the Christmas tree and see our friends get divorced.  We’ll feel what it’s like to be apart and we’ll feel our hearts pound hard when we see each other again on the pier.   We’ll smell the exhaust from the race car and smell the giant lilacs in Kay’s Colorado yard. We’ll taste Kathy’s potato salad with the big potato chunks and pickles and we’ll taste that Skagit hospital food when we aren’t that hungry at all.  We’ll hear that turtle bang his shell on his tank and hear the sound of the phone ring at one in the morning and know that it isn’t good news.

We’ll see that first ultrasound picture and know life has instantly changed. We’ll feel their pain every single time they hurt.  We’ll smell diapers and Play-Doh and chlorine at swimming lessons and muddy, sweaty cleats.  We’ll taste pureed squash and Goldfish and macaroni and cheese from a box and a whole lot of kale and almonds when they decide to become vegan.  We’ll hear them say “Mom” and “Dad”.  We’ll hear them say “I love you.”  We’ll know those are the only words that matter.

Do you want the big moments and the little moments?  Do you want the easy days and the hard days?  Do you want the things you always remember?  Do you want the things you wish you could forget?  Do you want to see them born?  Do you want to see them die? 

Do you want the happy and the sad?

Do you want all the stuff that ends up falling somewhere in the middle?  

Do you want to go through it all with me?

These decades and years and months and days,
these hours and minutes and seconds-

do you want to spend them with me?

Twenty five years ago
I walked down that church aisle.

Twenty five years ago I said yes.

Twenty five years ago

I said

I do.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


His cookie crumbs fell to the floor, he drank his milk in two gulps and then he asked for more.  We sat in the dining room at the oval oak table and he told me about his day.  I sat right next to the teenage boy when he wondered why and when he said he couldn't believe it and when he laughed out loud.   I wondered how I ever got to be so lucky and how he managed to grow up so fast.   I sat right next to him and I hoped he would never stop talking to me.

I saw the writing on his arms when he finally took his coat off.  The teenage boy’s arm was covered in pink marker.  I saw the word “Hi” with a heart dotting the “i”.  There were smiley faces with hearts for eyes.  There was a phone number or two with hearts at the end of each number.


Girls had done that to my boy.

I promise that someday, I will be open minded enough to accept whatever wonderful girl the teenage boy chooses to bring home to his loving mother.

Today is not that day.

Today these girls cover him in ink. They flirt with their markers.  They take his coat when they are cold.  They paint their yoga pants on and wear low cut shirts.  They bend over forward and take a selfie.  They post it to Instagram.  They screech the teenage boy’s name in the hallway when they see him.   Hugging is not optional.  They eat parts of his lunch because they are “literally” starving to death. Their lives become complete when the red Starbucks Christmas cups arrive.  They fill them with coffee because last night they became part of #teamnosleep because they “literally” could not stop watching Pretty Little Liars.  They wear their Victoria’s Secret “Pink” sweats on days like this.   They can’t believe how ugly they look when they are “scrubbin’”.   They rest their head with its perfectly flat ironed hair on the teenage boy’s shoulder and pull out their sad puppy dog eyes.  Did he know that they will “literally” die if their parents don’t buy them the newest iPhone?  Today these girls are 14 years old. Today they drive me nuts.

Someday they won’t, however.  Someday they will learn how to flirt with their brains and not their markers. Someday they will post a selfie that isn’t R rated.  Someday they will remember their own coat and their own lunch.  They will realize that the coffee tastes the same no matter what color the cup is. They will go to sleep before midnight because they have goals they want to accomplish the next day. They will realize that even on their “scrubbin’” days they look awfully darn cute.  Someday they will realize their wavy hair is absolutely perfect just as it is. Someday they won’t need to communicate with puppy dog eyes.  Someday they will be well spoken, smart, thoughtful young women who buy their own iPhones.

Someday I will sit in the dining room at the oval oak table and the boy will tell me about a young woman. 

He will wonder why and he will not believe it and he will laugh out loud.

He will wonder how he ever got to be so lucky.

I will sit right next to him and hope that he never stops talking to me.

 Check This Out!

My friend from high school, Andrea, in addition to being one of the funniest people I know, is an awesome cook.   One of my favorite recipes of hers is also one of the simplest.

Throw some chicken thighs in a crock pot.  Pour in two cans of Herdez salsa 

and two bay leaves.  Cook it for quite some time on high or even longer on low. Andrea sometimes throws in a can of green chiles as well.  Use the meat for tacos or whatever else sounds good.

Last time I made this I only used 3 large chicken thighs, 1 can of salsa, a splash of water and forgot the bay leaves.  I cooked it on high for about 4 hours and then turned it to low for another hour and a half.   It was still awesome.

Also, if you live near me and need a real estate agent you should contact Andrea.  She is an honest, approachable "Fancy Real Estate Lady-FREL" and comes highly recommended by all who know her. Check out her Facebook page here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

How Do You Say "Creepy" in Spanish?

Their small beady eyes never moved.   Their piercing gaze was locked on me. There was never any doubt that I would be the one to blink first. I would soon turn away but it was quite clear that those two black rats would continue to leer at me from behind the potted plant.   

The lobby of the Mexican restaurant was decorated for Halloween.  Orange and black streamers, miniature pumpkins and witch shaped wall decorations surrounded me.  I sat in the worn leather chair waiting for my rice and beans to go.

The manager hurried through the lobby with a tray of drinks perched above his shoulder.  He politely smiled at me and quickly muttered, “¡ Hola! ¿Cómo está hoy?”

“I am doing just fine”, I immediately responded in English.  The quick moving manager was almost out of the lobby when he abruptly stopped and backed up.  He cocked his head to the side and had an uncertain look on his face.

 “Do you speak Spanish?” he questioned me in English.

I paused longer than would be expected as I tried to decide whether or not I did speak Spanish.  The manager chuckled at my indecision and then rushed out of the lobby again with his tray held high.

I resumed relaxing in the shabby chair and waited for my rice and beans.  I used the time to try and compose the sentence in Spanish, “Hey buddy, those black rats behind that plant are a pretty darn creepy Halloween decoration.  Those rats don’t make me think happy thoughts about your restaurant.”

I went up to the cash register when my food arrived.  I made polite chit chat, paid my money and took my hot bag of food.   As I turned to walk out the door I glanced back at the potted plant.  I was going to give a ceremonial wave goodbye to those beady black eyes.

Except, those two rats were gone.  There were no beady eyes staring back at me. That potted plant sat all alone.

 I rushed out the door a little bit perplexed and a little bit creeped out.  And I wondered to myself how I would say in Spanish, “Next time I’m going to Subway.”


Check This Out!
The Spice of the Month here at Slightly Exaggerated is smoked paprika. I find myself throwing a few shakes into more and more dishes recently.  Canola oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, tons of cumin, a shake or two of chili powder, a squirt of lime juice and a generous shake of smoked paprika make a super great dressing. To make it a bit creamier I dolloped in a bit of Vegenaise (vegan mayo for the vegan teenage boy in our house) but you could use sour cream or real mayo.  Throw it all in canning jar and shake it up.  Pour it over a mexican salad or pasta or rice. It's awesome!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Ladies Who Lunch

“Send me your digits, ladies! I lost all my contacts!” the one dressed in pink yelled out.  The entire fast food restaurant now knew that she had dropped her phone in the toilet and had to get a new one.  We knew that she wasn’t that sad about the whole thing because her new phone was covered in crystals and that made her feel rich and fancy.  All of her friends pulled out their phones.  If I was their mother I would have told them to quiet down.   The five of them had not stopped talking since they entered the restaurant.

They could have been 17 years old.

The one in the flowered shirt pulled a lipstick out of her Coach handbag.  She lamented the fact that Macy’s no longer carried her favorite shade.  She bought the last 4 they had of Lancôme Amber Spice.  It matched the blazer she liked to wear back when she had to go court.  That blazer intimidated the prosecution she said, laughing.  One friend sighed loudly and said she couldn’t remember the last time she wore a blazer.  She knew it was before her kids were born and that was years ago.  Another friend laughed and said, “Yeah, my kids sucked the life right out of me.  But God bless them, they are so wonderful.”  They all nodded in agreement. 

They could have been 34 years old.

“Who wanted salsa?” said the one wearing the neon orange Nike Free shoes. She began distributing the little plastic cups of hot sauce to the entire table.  She didn’t take any for herself.  The other ladies reminded her that she grew up in Texas and probably drank hot sauce from her baby bottle.  They hounded her, “What's the matter?  Why didn’t you take any hot sauce?”  She reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a small bottle of pills. ”My doctor says I have reflux.  I have to take these pills for awhile and knock off the hot sauce and a few other things.  I hate it.  It makes me feel so old.” Between the five of them the restaurant learned there were two acid reflux cases, one diabetic case, two high blood pressure cases and one friend who still needed a little help from her happy pills.

They could have been 56 years old.

As the ladies munched on Mexican food, the one with the monogrammed LL Bean canvas totebag threw her hands in the air. “Oh!  I almost forgot!  I brought pictures of Frank and me on our cruise. Who would like to see them?”  She reached in the bag and pulled them out.  One friend wiped her hands on a napkin and looked through the pictures.  She shook her head and lamented, “That’s what I miss the most about not having my John with me anymore.  We enjoyed our trips so much.” The LL Bean lady nodded her head, “Yes, it’s so sad.  I’ve been to two funerals in the last month alone.”  And for the first time since they entered the restaurant the ladies were silent.
They could have been 73 years old.

The restaurant watched as the one with the cane got up to leave. The ladies asked her how her new hip was feeling.  “It’s doing pretty good. I can do almost everything for myself now.  My doctor is mad at me though because I can’t seem to keep any weight on.   Do you know how many years I wished I was skinny?  Now I finally get there and they tell me it’s a problem!”  The ladies laughed.  One patted her belly and told the restaurant she had NEVER had that problem.  Another said the only time she lost weight was when she was in the hospital for her gall bladder surgery. That hospital food was so bad she filed three official complaints-one for bad breakfasts, one for bad lunches and one for bad dinners.  All the ladies laughed and accused her of officially being a cantankerous old woman now.

They could have been 85 years old.

The ladies huddled outside the restaurant.  Their arms were around each other as they said their goodbyes.  As I walked to my car I heard the one in pink declare to the group, “With Rachel and Donna gone we may no longer be the Sensational Seven but we can still be the Fantastic Five.  So until next month’s lunch ladies! I love you all.”

The one in pink grabbed the arm of the one in the flowered shirt and they began their walk to the bus stop.  The one with the LL Bean canvas bag helped the one with the cane onto the shuttle bus that had just arrived from Farrington Court Senior Living Center. They sat together in the 2nd seat back on the right hand side.  And the one in the neon orange Nike Free shoes climbed into a 1987 Chevy Caprice and drove herself home.

Check This Out!

One of my favorite books lately is Eat & Run by Scott JurekJurek is a vegan ultramarathon runner.  He is considered by many to be the greatest ultramarathoner ever. In Eat & Run, Jurek comes across as a genuinely nice person.  While many of his stories center on running and his vegan diet, much of his inspiration can be applied to every single day of your life.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Zack Spoke Louder

The macho dads standing next to me yelled out “Shake it off!  Be a man!  You’re ok!”

 The boy is now a teenager, but many years ago he was a small 9 year old soccer player lying flat on his back, motionless, in the middle of a muddy field.  It wasn’t immediate, but he did eventually rise and with help walked to the side of the field.   I looked into the boy’s eyes.  I’m not sure he looked back.  I asked him a question.  I’m pretty sure he didn’t give the right answer.  The macho dads spoke to him, “Get some water and get back out there, buddy!  We need you!”

But Zack Lystedt spoke louder.  He is the reason the boy and I left that game and went to the hospital. He is the reason I knew those macho dads were very, very wrong. 

It was the kind of news that causes you to draw in your breath quickly. Your hand involuntarily moves to cover your open mouth.  Somehow you mutter, “I can’t even imagine.”

It was the kind of horrible situation where the only good news was the fact that he was still alive.

7 days on life support.  9 months without speaking.   13 months until his left arm moved.  2 years with a feeding tube.  4 years until he could move his leg on purpose.

 It was a lot for a 13 year old Zack Lystedt to overcome.

Zack received a concussion in a junior high football game and his life was never the same.  Reality for Zack and his parents, Victor and Mercedes, was a horrific nightmare that came to life.  They have been through hell.  Yet somehow, they have not only survived, they have become an inspiration.   Zack, Victor and Mercedes personify all that is good and right about this world.
 (I encourage you to learn more of Zack’s story from this 2012 ESPN story. http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=7525526)

Over the years Zack has spoken louder than one would have thought possible.  He has the ear of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.  He’s been profiled by Dan Rather. Nearly every major media outlet in America has done a story on him.  Google his name and you could spend all afternoon sifting through the results.  For years now, Zack and his parents have continued to proactively do what is necessary to make sure no one else will live through the nightmare they did.  They are the reason that today, in 47 states, the Zackery Lystedt Law and concussion education are integral parts of all youth sports.      (You can learn more about the Zackery Lystedt Law in this March 2013 video from NFL.com     http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-network-total-access/0ap2000000150769/Breakthrough-in-football-safety)

When Zack Lystedt’s name was announced a hush came over the gym.  It was the kind of moment that causes you to draw in your breath quickly. My hand involuntarily moved to cover my open mouth.  As Zack’s father watched him cautiously walk to the podium, I thought to myself, “I can’t even imagine.”  I could feel my eyes start to tear up.  I know I wasn’t alone in my uneasy silence.

 It was the senior awards ceremony for the graduating class of 2013.  Zack was there to present the “Zackery Lystedt Scholarship Award” to a student who had overcome significant life challenges.   Zack’s dad Victor helped announce the award. 

When Edwin was called to the stage his peers erupted in boisterous cheering.  It was clear he was well liked.   Edwin was a big, strong and very talented wrestler who had overcome significant challenges in his life.  It was true he wanted to go to college.  And it was true he needed help paying for it. When Zack announced that Edwin was the winner of the Zackery Lystedt Scholarship Edwin cried.   When Zack’s dad announced that this scholarship would take care of the first two years of his college education, Edwin bent over in utter disbelief, obviously moved.  It was clear that Zack Lystedt had just changed Edwin’s life.

Zack Lystedt has spoken louder than his tragedy.  Zack told me to get my kid off that soccer field.  Zack convinced politicians in 47 states to agree on something.  Zack told Edwin he has a future. 

I’d be surprised if there was a dry eye or a hardened heart in the gym that evening.  It was the kind of impactful moment you remember for a long time.  It was the kind of poignant moment that touches people deep on the inside.  It began so many years earlier with a tragedy you can’t even imagine. It began with the kind of life changing event you are convinced you don’t have the strength to survive. It began with the kind of situation that could consume you forever. 

 But Zack spoke louder than all of that.

For at that moment, in that gym, there was only good.

Check This Out!

The teenage boy and the husband have gifted themselves with a new mouse. It is the R. A. T.  5 gaming mouse. According to the box it has 5600 dpi and is a 'truly groundbreaking mouse'.  (Please don’t tell me how much they paid for it.  I would prefer stay uninformed.)  They claim that it is awesome and if you like PC gaming and being awesome, they highly recommend this mouse.  I am convinced, however,  that it will soon transform itself into the sidekick of Optimus Prime.

Friday, October 11, 2013

You've Got Mail

They come from a world where imaginatively abridged grammar, shift key created symbols and underground slang are the vehicles used to profess the melodramatic declarations of youth.    Yet, recently, their little used Facebook pages have become littered with dorm addresses from their new college homes.  This texting generation now begs for someone to send them a real letter-one with real words and sentences and expressions of meaningful sentiment inside.  They pull up Twitter and tweet to the world that they know they are loved because in their dorm mailbox today was a letter from their mother.

 A letter from home.

They tweet to the world about the purple ink that letter was written in.  They tweet to the world about the picture of their dog that was included.  The tweet about the lighthouse stamp that was on the envelope.  It reminds them of the best family vacation they ever had.  They attach an Instagram picture of that trip to prove it really was the best trip ever.  They post a 6 second Vine video of them holding the letter near their heart.  They say that it makes them so happy and so sad, all at the same time, that letter from home.

The teenager has become a college girl.  Despite being 19, calling her the teenager no longer seems appropriate.  Because she is 19, calling her a woman doesn’t seem appropriate just yet either.  And the suggestion to call her the “co-ed” is just something a mother cannot stomach given the #2-#5 rated R definitions of the word in the Urban Dictionary. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Coed

 And so, for now, she will be the college girl.

Like her peers, the college girl would like a letter in her dorm mailbox.   I’ve quickly learned, however, that it’s not just letters these college kids want.

 They want care packages.  

They want food.

And boy, do they get it. Perhaps it’s not only midnight pizza and certain beverages that deserve indictment in the case of the Freshman 15.  Guilty as well is the Grandma who couldn’t decide between brownies and chocolate chip cookies and Rice Krispie treats-so she sent them all.   Her close accomplice is the mother who fills a box with 37 packs of M&M’s… and Skittles…and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups…and a family size pack of licorice.  Because, food is love and it makes people less lonely.

 My college girl would not receive pounds of food in the mail like her peers.  She’s running track for her college and is trying to eat well and stay in shape.   I didn’t think she’d be interested in boxes and bags of sugar and fat.  Besides, I’m cheap.   Food is heavy.  It would cost a fortune to mail.

So instead, I bought a pumpkin.

I would send this pumpkin to the college girl. This tiny pumpkin that fit in my hand only cost me a dollar.  I knew the college girl would be so surprised to get a pumpkin in the mail!  She would be the only one in her dorm with such a creative mother. I was sure she would be so happy to not only get a package in the mail but she would be grateful when she realized the wonderful comfort of having a seasonal dorm room decoration.  I knew my plan was a brilliant one.  

Mailing a pumpkin, however, is not as easy as one might have thought it would be.   Visions of postal violence resulting in splattered pumpkin guts kept popping into my brain.  I knew I’d have to protect that cheap little pumpkin.   I covered my tiny orange friend in bubble wrap.  I filled a box halfway with Styrofoam peanuts and gently placed the protected guy inside.  I topped him with more peanuts, included a cheery greeting and sealed the box.

“That will be eleven dollars and 17 cents,” said the post office lady.

“What…um…………..how much?”  I stammered.

“$11.17.  Unless you want it there tomorrow, then it would be $15.64”

“How come it’s so much? “ I managed to spit out.

“Well that’s a pretty big box you’ve got here.   I see it’s going to a college address.  There’s food inside, isn’t there.  That’s pretty much the only thing college kids want, isn’t it?”

“Wow.  I had no idea it would cost so much.”

“Yeah, especially for a box as big as this one.  It can get pricey fast.  Hey, next time you could try writing a letter.  It’s cheap and kids just love seeing an envelope in their mail box at school.   It makes them feel loved.”

Said the wise post office lady.

Check This Out!
If I were to send cookies to the college girl, this is the super easy recipe I would probably use. The now vegan little brother of the college girl loves these cookies. If I didn't tell you they were vegan you would never know.
Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
from the book
Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (I've been told any milk will do-soy, cow etc)
1 TBL tapioca flour (makes the cookies chewy-I found it easily in my regular grocery store)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cups chocolate chips (most dark chocolate chips are vegan)
Combine sugars, oil, milk and tapioca flour in mixing bowl.  Mix well by hand for about 2 minutes until the mixture resembles smooth caramel.  Mix in the vanilla.
Add 1 cup of the flour, the baking soda and the salt.   Mix until well incorporated.  Mix in the rest of the flour.  Fold in the chocolate chips.
For 3 inch cookies roll the dough into ping pong size balls and flatten a bit.  They will spread a bit.  (For 2 inch cookies-walnut size balls, then flatten )(For some reason my dough has never been particularly stiff.  I've just glopped a soup spoon full of dough onto the cookie sheet and called it good.)
Place the cookies onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 8-9 minutes (6-7 for smaller cookies)  until they start to brown around the edges.  Cool 5 minutes then transfer to wire racks.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Oddball Out

I sat near the top of the bleachers in the gym and waited for the next basketball game to start.  I watched all those around me stare at their phones.  Occasionally they pushed the phone with speedy rapid fire fingers.   Far too cheap and far too introverted to be a candidate for a seat on the cell phone party bus, I sat alone in the stands, the obvious oddball out.

I do have a cell phone.  In fact, the teenager received a new phone for Christmas and I am the new owner of her old phone.  I’m not sure I could tell you the number.  I use it occasionally- for calling.  It would take me half an hour to text you a sentence.  I rarely remember to charge it.  And that is why, when I finally decided to call the husband-to join the cell phone party in the bleachers-I pulled a useless dead phone out of my purse.

The teenager had given me her new cell phone to hold while she played her basketball game. I held her fully charged phone in my hand and pushed the on button.  It didn’t turn on.  I pushed the other on button.  It didn’t turn on.  I may have pushed a few more buttons, randomly, in my efforts to turn the phone on.  I did not push those buttons out of frustration. I pushed out of curiosity.  I wondered out loud to myself, “How hard could this be?” 


It wasn’t very hard for the boy.  The boy knew how to operate his new phone almost immediately, almost instinctively.  Now a teenager himself, the boy did not want a “stupid phone”.   The rest of the family owns cheap, pay as you go phones that, while rarely used, are still a significant upgrade from our fairly recent status of owning no cell phones at all.  The boy was not impressed with our progress. He was however impressed when a sympathetic Santa Claus gifted him the most advanced pay as you go phone on the market. His friends at school seemed impressed with the boy’s new $40.00 touch screen phone with camera, video recorder, MP3 player and Bluetooth, mobile web and app capabilities. They had never seen such a phone.  “It’s like an iPhone, but smaller!  It’s so cool. What kind of phone is that?”  The boy, ad libbing, told his friends it was a “Samsung Optimus LG Sierra Touch 4 “.  Without question, they nodded their approval and vowed that someday they would own one too.  The boy, a far more social being than the rest of the family, quickly became attached to his phone.  He is most certainly eligible to hitch a ride on the cell phone party bus.

It’s true, I lack the proper appreciation of this modern gadget-the cell phone.  And it's also true that I have made little effort to further my relationship with the cell phone.  As a result, I do not possess the same instinctive cell phone skills that the boy does.  I did finally, weeks later, learn how to operate the teenager’s phone.  I was not however, successful that night, sitting in the bleachers at the basketball game, pounding away on the buttons.   I never did get that thing to work.


After the game, the teenager asked for her phone back.  I gave her the phone and she turned it on immediately. 

She quickly turned to me, her face a bit paler than usual and calmly announced, “I’ve just called 911.

Given the seriousness of her announcement, I stared back, a bit surprised, for longer than I should have.  I wondered why she would do such a thing.  

“ Hang up!” I finally yelled, which suddenly seemed obvious to me. “I think you can go to jail for that!”

“Mom,” she said soberly and very deliberately, “What    have   you   done   to   my   phone?”


Check This Out!

Big Salad of the Week

1 corn tortilla
salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder

1 small head romaine, chopped

1-2 TBL green or red onions, chopped

1-2 TBL cilantro, chopped

1-2 TBL jack or pepper jack cheese, grated

1/4-1/3 cup frozen corn, defrosted.  Heated if you wish.   

1/4-1/3 cup black beans

1-2 TBL light Caesar dressing

A few shakes of cumin, garlic powder, salt and pepper. 

A squirt or two of lime juice (optional)

Cut corn tortilla into strips, toss with a bit of oil or cooking spray.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, garlic powder, cumin and a tiny bit of chili powder.  Bake on a cookie sheet, 400 degrees, until crispy…10 min??  Perhaps toss half way through.

Toss romaine, onions, cilantro, cheese, corn and black beans.

Stir dressing with remaining spices and lime juice.  Pour over lettuce mixture and toss.  Top with tortilla strips.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Guardian Angel

If you were to remind me that it’s been 5 years, 3 months and 3 days since my mother died, I would swear that somehow you were wrong.

 And then I would change the subject.

I wouldn’t tell you how I really feel about the whole thing.  I wouldn’t tell you about the good and the happy.  I wouldn’t tell you about the sad and the void.  I know I wouldn’t say much at all.  I’d keep it all inside.



But then along came Gracie.


She is beautiful and innocent and every part of her is good.  

Somehow fate has determined that my mother would never meet her 5th grandchild. Gracie would never sit in her arms, look up at her face and giggle.  Granny would have loved Gracie.

 It all seemed so incredibly unfair. 


I look at Gracie’s Facebook pictures and each one is cuter than the last.  I read the comments about how much she looks like her mom-and she does look like her mom.  But sometimes she looks like her dad.  Sometimes I’m staring at a baby that looks just like my brother did when he was a baby. 

It was either Thanksgiving or Christmas, 1975.  The picture was taken at the Bernice Street house.  We were all sitting on the orange and harvest gold flowered couch.  Grandpa had that thin short sleeve button up shirt on with those black rimmed glasses.  Uncle Steven had a freckled face and sat on Grandpa’s lap in wearing Toughskin jeans.  I was missing my front tooth and had hair that flipped up at the ends.  Great Grandma Titus sat on the edge wearing an oversized sweater draped over her best housecoat.  She crossed her hands across her chest in the same way I’ve seen every female in our family do.  And Granny sat on that couch, right in the middle, wearing a matching two piece black and white polka dot polyester ensemble.  Her hair was done. She was smiling.  On her lap was my brother, Gracie’s dad.   He was 7 or 8 months old.  He was wearing brown overalls and didn’t have any socks on.  His hand reached for the ribbon in my hair, his face full of concentration.  It is the same face of concentration I saw in Gracie’s Facebook video.

 My mother would have told Gracie she looks like her dad.  She would have showed her that picture.  She would have told her that story.



The chaos of the Christmas shopping crowds swirled around me as I looked at wrapping paper in Target a few weeks ago.  I mindlessly debated what I should buy when I was tapped on the shoulder.  I turned to find no one there.  I turned back to the wrapping paper.  There was yelling in my ear.  “I said turn around!”  But it was a quiet yell, somehow.  I knew it was only in my head.  I turned around to face the wall of Christmas ornaments behind me.  They were almost completely sold out.  There were 4 Disney ornaments off to the far left side.  And there was one ornament left smack dab in the middle of the display, all by itself.  It was an angel.  Carved into the ornament was, “Guardian Angel”.  


I don’t have any proof that I’m not crazy. 

I don’t have any proof that angels exist.

I can’t explain who spoke in my ear and said, “It’s for Gracie.”   But without one single ounce of doubt, I know I heard them. 

I have no way to explain how in an instant, in the midst of a crowd of Target Christmas shoppers, all was peaceful and all was good.  

But without one single ounce of doubt, I know that it was.




If you were to remind me that it’s been 5 years, 3 months and 3 days since my mother died, I would swear that somehow you were wrong.  And then I would tell you that it’s been over 3 months since my niece Gracie was born.  I’d tell you how sometimes she looks like my brother.  I’d show you the pictures to prove it.  I’d tell you how much my mom would have loved her.


And if you were lucky, I might even tell you a little story about a guardian angel.

Check This Out!

Of course, if you haven't seen one of the best angel movies ever, I strongly encourage you to watch It's a Wonderful Life.  With Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in the lead roles, it's a classic everyone should see at least once.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Call Me Jose

It was Cinco de Mayo when the drunk man handed the boy a small Mexican flag and asked him when the train was going to leave.  The boy took the flag, looked over at me nervously and then told the drunk man that the train had already started moving.  The drunk man looked outside the windows, confused, and said,”Nooo!  This train is NAAAWT moving.  It’s the people outside that are moving, not the train. Right?”  The drunk man then turned around suddenly and commanded all those who could hear him, “Hey!  Stop with the Mexican jokes!  This is no time for Mexican jokes!”


The boy and I were lucky to find empty seats on the loud and crowded commuter train that would take us home. We were surrounded by boisterous, mostly intoxicated, mostly harmless soccer fans celebrating a victory.  It was the drunk man however, who took the final empty seat beside me.

He looked to the boy, seated across from us, still holding the Mexican flag.  His face lit up. “Hey, buddy!  Where’d you get that Mexican flag?  Did you know today is Cinco de Mayo?  Do you know the real reason for Cinco de Mayo?  Well, really, it’s an excuse for Americans to drink.”    The drunk man then lectured the boy and I on the history of Cinco de Mayo.  We also learned about his wife and his kids and his job and the biggest regrets of his life.


Across the aisle, a group of young men were debating what to draw on their friend who was “resting” with his eyes closed.  One put down a Sharpie marker and reached in his backpack.  He announced, “ZONE Bars!  These are my victory ZONE Bars!”  ZONE Bars were passed out to all.  The loud, young men were overly polite and offered unrestrained hellos to all who passed through our train car.  The man closest to the door was even kind enough to secretly drop a piece of ZONE Bar in every bag or purse that passed in front of him.  One member of the group chastised 3 kids who ran through the train.  “Where are your parents?  You are disturbing the nice people on this train!  Sit down and put on your seat bolts.”  Someone else yelled out, “Seat BOLTS!  You said BOLTS!”  And all the men laughed.  Someone in the group opened a beer he had hidden in his coat.  And all the men cheered.

The least rambunctious of the young men looked across the aisle and saw the boy, the drunk man and I staring at his group of friends.   He tried to hush his them, “Hey guys, hey guys, calm down a bit.  That lady over there--she’s clearly with child. You should really calm down.”

I turned around to find the pregnant person behind me.  There was no one there but me.


The drunk man next to me began asking me questions.  Did you like the soccer game?  Is that boy holding that Mexican flag your kid?  Where are you from?  Are you married?  For how long?  What do you do? 

I told him that sometimes I write stories.

“Are you gonna write about this train?  Are you gonna write a story about ME?” he said with a smile.  “If you do, don’t use my real name.  Don’t call me Pete.”

There was a pause and then he requested proudly,

  “Call me, Jose.”

Drunk Jose then turned to the boy and with much surprise asked him, “Hey buddy!  Where’d you get that Mexican flag?  I used to have one just like it.”


When the train pulled into our station, the boy and I stood up to leave.  Drunk Jose said it had been a pleasure.    And then he grabbed the boy by the arm and looked him in the eye. “You’re a good kid.  I can see that.  Don’t ever change that.  Ever.”

And with that the boy and I and a small Mexican flag departed the train.

As we walked off the platform I wondered out loud to the boy if our train ride was awful or hilarious.  I wondered if he was scarred for life.  And then I remembered those young punks across the aisle.

“Those drunk Zone Bar guys who kept yelling ‘seat bolt’-- I didn’t like them at all.” 

The boy shook his head in confusion. “Why? What are you talking about?”

“They thought I was pregnant!   They said… ‘She is clearly with child.’”

The boy was dumbfounded. “They didn’t think you were pregnant!”  He said, shaking his head.  “They didn’t say ‘clearly with child’ they said you were, ‘here with her child’.  They were talking about me!”  The boy didn’t have much more to say to me after that.


The boy and I walked away from the train station in silence.  He waved his new Mexican flag.  I looked at my reflection in the store front windows trying to see if I really did look pregnant.  And somewhere further down the train tracks, drunk Jose, on his way home from a soccer game, was thoroughly enjoying a Zone Bar as he tried to remember where he left his Mexican flag.


Check This Out!

At a loss as to what to recommend to you this time, the teenager has submitted her new favorite lip balm.  She is quite taken with Nivea- A Kiss of Smoothness Hydrating Lip Care SPF 4.  She declares it "the best Chapstick ever!”.  I agree, since she stole it from my purse.