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Throwing in the kitchen towel

Sometimes it pays to know when to throw in the towel. And this morning it was the case to throw in the kitchen towel.

I have never claimed to be a great cook or baker, but I have gotten more and more comfortable cooking in the last decade. But this morning it just wasn’t happening.

My first mistake was deciding to try my hand at my husband’s vegan pancake recipe (with the addition of some semi-sweet chocoalate chips of course). I wasn’t particularly set on eating vegan, but they are really yummy and that is the first recipe I came across. I should have gotten out my trusty dog-eared red and white checked Better Homes and Garden cookbook. My second mistake was pour way to much oil in the pan. Let see third mistake getting the pan too hot. Fourth mistake using our worn out frying pan that the oil all goes around the side and leaving the center to scorch anything you put on it. Sixth mistake, or no fifth mistake, oh I have lost track at this point. I put the one pan with the stuck dough in the sink and got out the cheap one that burns your hand on the handle.

Well needless to say we didn’t have chocolate pancakes today. I decided to get out the oatmeal of course I broke the top shelf in one of our primitive cupboards. But now my stomach is filled and order is restored in the universe or at least our tiny 9 by 9 kitchen.

Lets find our way back to the garden

I came upon a child of god.
He was walking along the road.
And I asked him, where are you going?
And this he told me,
I’m going on down to Yasgurs farm.
I’m going to join in a rock and roll band.
I’m going to camp out on the land.
I’m going to try an get my soul free.
We are stardust.
We are golden.
And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.

— Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”


And Target is hoping that the half-a-million strong find there way back to their nearest store and stock up on some nostalgia in the form of beach towels, candles, mugs, picture frames and of course replicas of the original posters.

When the brightly colored picture frame caught my eye I was thinking this is pretty cool.

I love the logo with the chubby white dove perched on the neck of a guitar. “Maybe my sister Janet would like this.” (who was in fact a bona fide hippie).

Then I realized how ridiculous it was. This is what we have come to or should I say this is where we are still at forty years later?

The almighty buck. Countless inexpensive merchandise made in China. Let’s relive the summer of love and say how much can we charge for that “trip” back.

Many of those sweaty people at that farm in Bethel, New York truly believed in a different way. A way in which consumerism wasn’t king, and there could be real peace on Earth, an Earth that we take care of instead of abuse. Some I’m sure was just looking for some good pot and definitely some amazing music. Woodstock was a time in history that as much as we would like we cannot recreate. It was (forgive me for using an overused term) an organic shared moment.

According to one article Michael Lang, one of the original promoters, doesn’t want anyone else to do concerts or festivals celebrating the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. even though he hasn’t exactly gotten it together to have a 2009 Woodstock himself. (see the New York Times article) So make sure your have Lang’s permission to say words like “peace” or “love”  this summer…and you may have to pay for it too.

Lets really try to find our way back to the garden and think about where that $5.99 frame came from. Check out the Story of Stuff video.

During Woodstock Joni Mitchell dreamed she saw bombers riding shotgun in the sky and they were turning into butterflies. Now forty years later we all wish the bombers were beautiful butterflies, but no such luck. You know they paved paradise and put in a parking lot (for a Super Target so you go and buy a hippie costume.)

“Save for Retirement”

No other adage rings as true. At least that is now that I know someone facing the harsh reality of growing old.

DSCN0805Having my parents live with us has been quite a learning experience. I really had no idea what was in store for us last October when my husband and his two brothers packed up all my mom and dad’s earthy possessions and drove the u haul truck across country.

For one thing, I have learned what it is like to navigate through the endless paperwork and phone calls to establish social services. It has been my mom who has taken on that enormous (and ongoing) job. And we have been shown great kindness.

For instance, a dapper gentleman who reminds me of Jimmy Stewart volunteers every Thursday to stay with my dad so my mom can get out of the house for a few hours.

Sometimes we go to doctor’s appointments or other random errands. But  usually we end up at the local Goodwill store. Fortunately, even when we go crazy on a “spending spree” it only sets us back about twenty bucks (I love that place!).  Or we go to Baker’s Square and share a piece of pie. My mom tells me stories of the past. Stories I have never heard before of a time when she was younger than me.

Or we talk about my Dad.

“Do you think that he is worse?” she asks me over triple chocolate threat. His confusion and anxiety fluctuates each day. Some days he has a hard time figuring out where to sit to eat or gargling mouth wash six times in a day because he seemed to have forgotten he just did it.

The care giving is taking its toll on my mom. Yet, at the same time it has kept her strong, not succumbing to the Parkinson’s or Diabetes.

We have looked into a few nursing homes in the neighborhood for my dad. It would cost close to $6000 a month for him to get 24 hour care. He would have to be put in the Alzheimer wing because of his dementia and memory loss. My parents can’t afford anything close to that on their fixed income of mostly social security.

I know that I can’t take over for my mom in care giving for my dad. The time constraints of working and mothering a four-year-old would make it impossible. Besides that, I just don’t think I could do it emotionally. My dad and I have bumped heads. Really, we don’t talk that much. I don’t think my dad has ever had an adult conversation with me. I guess he still sees me as his little girl.

I’ve always resented my dad for the way he has treated my mom, always expecting her to wait on him hand and foot, never taking her to a show or a museum.

Don’t get me wrong my dad is a good man with a big heart but he is also stubborn and selfish. He is human. He would always take over projects from me thinking I couldn’t do it myself. This of course gave me quite a complex. Well anyways, I just don’t think I could care for him like my mom.

And now through a generous grant from the organization Transition another home care aid is coming twice a week to help my parents. She will do household jobs and stay with my dad if my mom needs to go out (even if it is just to the backyard). The woman is very sweet and my mom calls her a “godsend.”

I can’t afford to take my mom out three times a week, but I’m hoping she will take an art class or at least use the travel easel we got outside in the garden to paint pictures.

And hopefully this spring/summer I can take her to downtown Chicago to see the sites. Time is such a valuable commodity, I hope we use it to the fullest.

Chicago Mourns

One of the greatest moments I have had as a writer was getting a chance to interview Leon Despres. The notable Chicago statesman was turning 100 years old and I was on assignment for the Hyde Park Herald.


I had become an instant fan of Mr. Despres after reading his memoir, “Challenging the Daley Machine.” As a new transplant to the Chicago area it was this book that served as my history primer. Leon Despres’ history is Chicago’s history.

Leon, a lawyer and alderman from 1955 to 1975 of the historic Hyde Park neighborhood, spent his entire life fighting for justice. Fighting for civil rights (although he is white he was called on more than one occasion “the lone Negro on the city council”), fighting for women’s rights, workers rights and fighting to keep parks assessable to all people and children safe from lead paint. He rode his bike miles to work long before it was fashionable to do so.

I visited Leon, called “Len” by his friends, in his home that overlooks Jackson Park and Lake Michigan. I tried to take in all there was to see in this Stoney Island apartment; the impressive artwork, stacks of eclectic books on the coffee table one happened to be about Frida Khalo, even a piece from a historic Chicago building that he failed to save from the wrecking ball hung on the wall. All artifacts of a colorful life.

During the course of our interview his phone rang a half a dozen times. Each time he politely took the call. And each time he was discussing either a newspaper article, a book or a new restaurant that had opened. This was truly a man who was living in the present and looking to the future.

Untitled-1_largeIn 2007, Kenan Heise wrote the book, “Chicago Afternoons with Leon: 99 1/2 years old and looking forward.” Heise describes outings he took with Leon around Chicago and what he thought about the schools, gentrification on the near South Side, the libraries and the parks. The book was a memoir but it was also a commentary on what should be done (or not done) in Leon’s beloved hometown.

I was saddened to hear that Mr. Despres died Wednesday at 101 years old. He was someone who lived his life to the fullest. Accomplishing more than most could in several lifetimes. I wasn’t sad for Leon. I can picture him now with his arm around the love of his life, his wife Marion, sipping a cocktail with his good friend Studs Terkel. No, I am mostly sad for Chicago, a place that still had a lot to learn from him.

I Love You

So I got five “I love you’s” from my little boy all before I let him out of the car at school. I usually don’t keep track but I was thinking about how amazing those three little words are. How do we learn to say them and what do they really mean?

I would say it all the time when he was a little baby and toddler. I would call his name and he would look at me or when he was old enough ask “what?” and I would reply “I love you”. Now he does the exact same thing to me 80% of the time when he calls Mom or Mama it is to tell me that he loves me.

I have to wonder when that sweet and sensitive side will be drowned out by the rough and tough side of boyhood. I know that it is important to fit in with friends and there are things that your friends just won’t allow…and someday that will probably be saying I love you to your mom. The other day at the park I was walking ahead about 5 or 6 yards and he yelled loudly MOM I LOVE YOU. It makes my heart melt. It makes all those hours of trying to get him to clean up his toys or to get ready for bed worth it.

Last weekend at a friend’s party he was playing t-ball with some other kids he hit a little boy in the head with one of the waffle balls. When we came running over both of them were crying. Max felt so bad for hurting him even though it was an accident. But will that kind of empathy be tolerated as he gets older.

How do kids become bullies? I really don’t want him to be a bully and I don’t want him to be the victim of bullying.

I just hope that he will always tell me that he loves me.

For the love of tomatillos and spring

I never would have thought that I would be a gardener. My thumb has never been green and most of my house plants have died. Of course, it doesn’t help that I have a cat who goes after all plants. Even after many stomach aches over the last 16 years his enthusiasm has not wavered.


Last year my husband unveiled his plans for a vegetable garden. And like all things my husband does he was going all out. We had 7 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes (and he really doesn’t like tomatoes!), many types of hot peppers (including one called fish which has been traced to the late 1800s grown by African Americans in the Chesapeake Bay region), miniature bell peppers, eggplant, potatoes (who knew there was a variety called French Fingerling) , strawberries, cucumbers, peas, crooked-neck squash, pumpkins, collard greens, cabbage, spinach, kale, basil, oregano, thyme, leeks, okra, carrots (eaten by our friend “peter parker rabbit”) and last but definitely not least…..


Salsa Verde has always been my favorite salsa. And coming from the Southwest that is saying a lot. I asked my husband to grow tomatillos because I hoped that we would end up with some jars of green salsa to enjoy. I had never really thought about the fruit beyond that. A cousin of the tomato I assumed and I do love tomatoes.

My love affair with this delightful fruit grew with the garden last year and now I can say it is bordering an obsession.

Tomatillos, also known as husk cherries, Mexican tomatoes, jam berries or ground cherries, have this magical paper-thin husk that forms. I know that it must be this fruit that inspired the creation of the Asian paper lanterns. I didn’t know what to do with these husks at first. Where is the fruit? I asked. But it soon became apparent that the bright green fruit grew within this protective layer until it almost split it in two.

Tomatillos have this interesting taste a mix of smokey and sweet. I hesitantly tried it right off the plant. Then I started tossing them in with meat and other veggies to cook in the oven. It was so delicious, really bringing out the sweet flavor. I want to find out all that is tomatillo. So please share if you have any tomatillo stories.


Well thank god it is Spring again. And I’m as excited as my husband about the garden. Like philosphers and writers through the ages have waxed poetic about being one with nature, there really is no better feeling than to be digging in the dirt or havesting bags and bags of vegetables. And this year we are growing five types of tomatillos!

Trip to the VA Clinic

This morning my mother mentioned to my son we were going to the VA Clinic. “That is where they take care of the soldiers and veterans of the war like your Grandfather.”

“I want to go! Please Mom can I go? Is that where the people from the Army Wars are at?” asked my son.

It took me some time to convince him that he would have more fun at school than a doctor’s waiting room.

He usually wants to do anything that his mom and dad are doing. He just knows he missing out on some fun adventure. And add the part about the “army wars” and forget it. He has been saying that he wants to be in the army for the last few weeks. I really hope this and his wish to be a wrestler with the WWF (don’t ask me when he saw that!) will pass.

So after getting the little army guy to school, my parents and I were off on our “fun adventure” to the VA Clinic. When taking my Dad out I brace myself for anything happening. The clouds were a dark grey and the rain was constant, yet not heavy.

Despite stereotypes and other past experiences at other VA Clinics, everyone at this clinic is very nice and helpful. The doctor seemed to be overwhelmed with my Father’s situation. Flipping through his large stack of medical records, she took notes and made comments. “Why hasn’t any of the other doctors given him something for his dementia and memory loss?” she asks.

Good question. It is like the other doctors acknowledged that he was having problems and that he was confused, but didn’t say what could help. More like a rhetorical statement, thrown out there that doesn’t need a response. Now, I’m really not sure what this doctor can do either, but is what is refreshing that she was at least thinking that way. She said that any medication they give him at this point may slow the memory loss, but won’t help recover what he has already lost.

Today, more than any other day, I realized how much my dad’s mind has deterated. He was so confused and at times looked very scared. Minutes after giving blood he asked if we had checked in already. He said, “I haven’t given any blood yet.”

I wonder if I’m strong enough for this situation. I’m sure everyone asks that, but keeps on going whether it is caring for a sick child or a confused parent.

In the car on the ride home he sang one of his favorites, “I love that hillbilly music…” and we stopped for the usual fast food.

Yes indeed, we did have an adventure today.

Those silly chickens

I recently finished Nicolette Hahn Niman’s book, Righteous Porkchop: Findaing a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms. And I can no longer ignore how my meat (or eggs, or cheese, or butter) got to my plate.

I like so many Americans just take my food for granted. Blindly walking into my local grocery store and bringing out some piece of meat to fry up on the grill. Animals are put through a living hell just so I can get the butcher’s special. Like so many other products for sell we have compromised our values, our ethics to save the almighty buck. I’m just as guilty as the next person, buying the cheap tennis shoes from the big box store.

I know I sound a bit harsh, but I’m so mad.

Today while I was on break at work I happened to catch a Perdue Chicken commercial on TV. A goofy-looking drill sergant is making his way through a chicken “coop” calling the chickens to order. The room is extra roomy and the chickens all have nice wooden perches lined with fresh clean hay. The sergant confenscates packages of candies in one hen’s nest.

THIS IS SUPPOSE TO REASSURE ME. I’m so releaved that the Perdue company takes that extra time to inspect their products. I wouldn’t want any of those silly chickens spending their days eating bon bons.

Factory farming is not the only way. There are many other family farms that produce higher quality meat, eggs and dairy products without being inhumane or harming the environment.  A great place to start to find food you don’t have to feel guilty eating (or get some horrible flesh eating staph infection from (see Kristof’s Nytimes column or Mother Earth News article) is The Eating Well Guide online. I know that I have not completely made the jump to humane and healthy foods but I hope to.

For those of you with strong stomaches here is a video that shows reality for so many animals raised in the US. And this in a country where we buy cute outfits and gourmet treats for our pets.

Winter of His Life

I don’t know how I ever lived somewhere that didn’t have changing seasons. Growing up in Arizona I never saw the fall leaves or the winter white blanket of snow. It was either really nice out or just too damn hot. At Christmas time we would use spray-on “snow” for our window sills and of course here in the Midwest we have plenty of the real stuff.

The transformation from Winter to Spring is even more bittersweet with my 90-year-old Dad living with us.


This truly is the Winter of his life, the slowing down and shedding of ambitions and thoughts. Last month my father lost both of his surviving siblings, his 94-year-old sister and his 96-year-old brother.

He told my mom, “Now I’m the only one left.”

Like my father, I didn’t shed any tears when I heard about their passing. I had only seen my aunt a few times when I was a child and we visited the small town where she and my Dad had grown up. And I don’t think I ever meet my father’s brother, except for possibly at a funeral I never committed to memory. I think the reason my Dad did not shed any tears was because he thought they were better off with no more suffering.

I have tried to imagine what my Dad feels like being “the only one left.”

He was such a force to be reckoned with when I was young. Always on the move selling something or buying something. I remember an acre full of bicycle parts and poodle puppies. He was so strong it was rumored that he lifted a car off the ground once. He raised four very different girls. He never had time for museums or parks. He fought in the second World War and had his own auto dealership. His life has indeed been long and filled with old-tyme songs and stories that he still recites.

dscn0579Now he shuffles more than walks, going from the bedroom to the bathroom and back again, during this long and cold Winter.

Bringing home the bacon

I can’t help but feel I’m not living up to my potential. At least my financial potential. Come on,  I have a college degree (that I still owe mountains of cash for in student loans).

I have been using the bad economy for an excuse. No one is able to find a job these days, especially writers. But honestly, I don’t know if I want to get a full-time job.

Part of me does. I can picture myself wearing fashionable semi-professional clothes, carrying my commuter cup and sporting a really cool hair style. I’d be walking downtown Chicago to some hip office. After work I would meet up with my like-minded, extremely creative and fun coworkers for a couple drinks before catching the South Shore train home. People would appreciate how witty I was and they would swear they couldn’t believe that I was turning 40 on my next birthday.

But really how likely is that scenario.

I’m trying to find that perfect balance between work, family and passion….the topic that countless theses have been based on.

I love being with my son, especially at this age when he still wants to spend time with his mom. And I appreciate being able to spend time with my own mom, who has always been a good friend. So now I just have to figure out how to fit making money into my life too. I work a part-time retail job and I’m even trying my hand at selling Tupperware (which will probably just mean that we have some new shinny kitchen containers and gadgets). As far as freelance writing, I just have to start writing. I need to send out those all important and intimidating query letters. The ideas are flowing but translating them into nice pitch letters is another thing.

Eventually, my husband and I want to open a Bed and Breakfast on a small farm where we will grow heirloom vegetables and beautiful flowers. We will have classes on home-brewing and crafting.

But until then…