Are you still cool?

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I always thought I was pretty cool.  Not when I was really young, like 2nd and 3rd grade – then I thought it was cool if you were a fast reader, which I definitely was not and Jay still kids me about how long it takes me to read something.  Fay was the fastest reader, so she was the coolest. Actually, she is still cool so maybe her ability to breeze through Nancy Drew was not the “it” factor anyway. By middle and high school, I started to get the swing of things.  Being the youngest in the family helps I suppose.  I got to “go to school” on everything my older sibs did.  I also learned early how to fly under the radar at home – letting the drama swirl around my sister and brother -  yet take it all in.

I had a friend whose housekeeper, Sally, liked to label us gaggle of girls, individually.  My label was “fast” and she wasn’t talking about the 50 yard dash. I didn’t even know what that meant at the time!  I was not fast!  But maybe it was close enough to “cool” that I was OK with it. 

Which brings me to the present.  I just don’t think I’m all that cool anymore.  At 63, maybe I just don’t care as much. I bet you are either cool or you have some people in your life who are the very essence of coolness.  I’m talking about those women who just look awesome all the time but also like they haven’t had to work very hard to get there.  They have the right jacket that they put with those crazy pants, or a short little boot in a color I would never look twice at in a store or maybe a scarf that is perfectly arranged in a way that looks casual yet just right and stays that way, without a fuss!  I envy others’ pocketbooks too but when I go to buy one JUST like theirs, it just doesn’t seem right for me somehow. And jewelry – like a funky, chunky necklace – I feel like a child playing dress up in anything other than my cross or a boring string of pearls.  Then you go into their homes and whoa. Everything just looks exquisite, from an adorable French country guestroom tucked under an eave with exposed wood beams harvested from an old barn, to their designer dish brush placed just so by the kitchen sink, not anything fancy yet lovely and well….just….cool.

Of my many cool friends, there are two I only really get to see in the summer.  Carrie always wants me to go to the antique show with her.  I usually decline because I’m hopeless when it comes to antiques.  What is just old and what is old and “valuable”?! – I have a hard time telling the difference.  I have been the lucky recipient of a little silver dish on one of Carrie’s ventures though 😊.  Jeannie is my other cool Michigan friend.  Whenever she suggests something to me, I run to order/buy/google it because I know it will be amazing and yes, I do feel kind of cool – by association. She suggested a TV series to me that I immediately binged on and you should too – Poldark.  I defy any red-blooded American woman NOT to love that show! The cast, the scenery, the romance….ahhh.

Last summer, Jeannie gave me the tip of all tips. SHOES!  She told me about two different kinds that have changed my life – well, one did and the other blew my kids away. Maybe they thought I was cool - for a minute.

The ones I adore are called Rothy’s (https://rothys.com/collections/women). They can be casual or kind of dressy, come in a million colors, are so, so comfy AND they are made from recycled water bottles so they are good for the planet AND you can actually throw them in the washing machine. I know. They sound weird and too good to be true.  The only drawback is they are kind of pricey.  My favorite is the flat (embarrassingly, I now have them in four colors) which is the least expensive at $125. If you have a narrow foot, you might like the pointy one. The loafer is new so I haven’t seen that one yet.

The other one that my sons and daughter-in-law wear almost every single day are All Birds: (https://www.allbirds.com/products/womens-wool-loungers?variant=42216034247 )  These are sneakers that are super comfortable and come in beautiful, earthy colors.  The Wool Runners are a traditional lace up and the Loungers are truly that.  I have the latter, in pink, and although they look and feel like bedroom slippers, I wear them out and about anyway. All Birds come in toddler sizes too!

So, if you are cool, you probably already know about these shoes.  But it you’re not, now you can be (at least your feet can). 

Sounding Like Mama

Jay's Mom holding Edward, with John and Philip. Walloon Lake, Michigan

Jay's Mom holding Edward, with John and Philip. Walloon Lake, Michigan

This was written last December but got lost in the shuffle!

I’m starting to sound like my mother. That is not necessarily a terrible thing – I adored my mother and I thought her wise and wonderful.  But still…  maybe it is because, at 63, I am approaching the years that I can vividly remember the things Mama thought and said to me in those important years before she died at the way-too-young age of 66. 

When I was 18, I became what my sister referred to as a “Bible thumper” – my faith became central to who I am and I was not shy about sharing that with anyone and everyone who would halfway listen.  I never could really engage my mother in the conversation though.  Her repeated reply to me was, “God is love.”  She said it kind of like I told our four young sons when they asked is Santa Claus real, “Santa Claus is the spirit of Christmas.”  I guess I was hoping that answer would baffle them enough to move on to something more interesting, like riding their Big Wheels in rain puddles outside. I agree with Mama that God IS love but I think He is so much more than that. Faith is just so personal.  

Thanksgiving was huge, chaotic and glorious, at our house, this year.  We had four sons, three daughters-in-law and two baby grandsons under one roof (although the youngest, a bachelor, opted to stay in the blissfully quiet guesthouse). I was barraged with all sorts of memories. My mother loved holding our infant sons…..for about ten minutes. Then she was ready to move on to a deep, intense discussion with an adult.  I’m sad Mama never got to know our grown children, she would have found them fascinating.  Although I love my grandchildren to pieces, I clearly remember the tedium, the bone weariness of caring for babies who can’t walk yet and can’t yet tell you what’s bothering them.  I remember the long days and the joy of discovering it was almost their bedtime.  Like Mama, after some hours of holding, watching, entertaining a tiny tot, I might just long to sit and discuss anything with another adult.

I was reminded of a time we spent a week at my mother-in-law’s house in Michigan with our four little ones.  It was an unusually cold and rainy summer, so we were stuck indoors. The boys were into making these little coaster like things out of placing beads on a shaped plastic mold which we would then put an iron on to meld the beads together.  Hard to describe!  The point is there were these little colored beads absolutely EVERYWHERE!  We cleaned up the best we could on the day of departure, while packing up the six of us and trying not to leave anything (or anyone!) behind.  We arrived back in Florida to a phone call from my brother-in-law.  He was upset (read irate), as was my mother-in-law, that we had left such a mess in our wake.  The boathouse was of particular concern where life jackets, water toys and inner tubes apparently littered the floor. I should have been embarrassed but instead I was hurt – how could they give us a hard time - when we were barely keeping our heads above water?! 

Well, this week, I saw where my mother-in-law was coming from.  My daughters-in-law are absolutely incredible – smart, accomplished, fun and amazing wives to our lucky sons.  The two with babies have already proved to be exceptional mothers who are engaged, loving and just plain good at parenting.  But the mess is simply impossible to keep up with.  I got mad at one of our sons for leaving the peanut butter, messy knife and sandwich crusts out. (I needed a time out 😊).

So, sounding like my mother (or mother-in-law!) is not that bad.  In fact, it makes me wish they were still here so we could experience this grandmother thing together.

TOMATO

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Don’t get me wrong, I like tomatoes but some people, like my husband, LOOOOOVE tomatoes and eagerly await the amazing ones straight off the vine that ripen late in the summer in northern Michigan.  And then there are “Indiana tomatoes” that my friend, Carrie, swears are the best – those Hoosiers get pretty excited about their corn too.  Maybe this is a Midwest thing and maybe you can relate. If you can’t, but still like a tasty tomato dish now and then, you will flip over this recipe too.

I had this, three different ways this summer and as you might imagine, the actual recipe was definitely the way to go. I learned a few things in the process. Some of you may have seen it on the cover of the August issue of Food and Wine.  It is called the Giant Summer Tomato Tart – and it is truly gigantic, a hearty appetizer for at least 10 people and of course summer is the optimal time to have it.  I’ve been trying to write this for a month – sorry for the delay. But…it would be great for a tailgate party too!

So here it is:

GIANT SUMMER TOMATO TART

6 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

8 sheets of phyllo dough, thawed

½ cup fine dry breadcrumbs

8 oz. cream cheese

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1½ lbs. mixed heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced

Flaky sea salt and pepper

Basil leaves, for garnish

 

1.       Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush a large rimmed baking sheet (I used parchment paper for easier clean-up) with 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Lay one sheet of the phyllo dough on the baking sheet; keep the rest covered with damp paper towels. (more on phyllo below) Brush the phyllo with 2 teaspoons of olive oil and sprinkle all over with 1 tablespoon of bread crumbs. Repeat the layering with the remaining phyllo, olive oil and breadcrumbs.

 

2.       Bake the crust for about 25 minutes, until golden and crisp; rotate the baking sheet halfway through cooking.  Let cool completely.

 

3.       In a food processor, pulse the cream cheese with the mayo until smooth. Spread the cream cheese mixture in the center of the tart, leaving a ½ inch border all around.  Arrange the tomato slices on top and sprinkle with sea salt and freshly-ground pepper. Drizzle lightly with the olive oil and garnish with the basil leaves.  Cut into squares and serve.

 

The tart is beautiful to behold and will totally impress your guests. It is even delicious at room temperature – no need for the phyllo to be hot. 

 

WHAT I LEARNED:

First time I had it – it was made on Na’an which is sort of a pizza crust kind of thing.  It was tasty but obviously was more in the flatbread realm.  Way easier and quicker to make though!

Time two: I couldn’t find phyllo, so I used puff pastry. That was kind of funny because puff pastry does exactly that – PUFFS!  When it came out of the oven, it was 3 inches high so I had to kind of crunch it down to finish making the tart. Again, we enjoyed it but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for.

Finally, I thought ahead (rare for me), by a day and got the ingredients - to the letter. I let the cream cheese sit out for hours so it was really easy to mix with the mayo (no processor needed) and simple to spread as well. True to its reputation, the phyllo was tricky. The sheets are super thin and almost see-through. My suggestion is to get everything totally prepped – your olive oil in an easy to drizzle container (measuring cup or oil bottle with thingy on the top), breadcrumbs in a bowl with a big spoon, clean hands with which to spread oil and breadcrumbs.  Then, unwrap your phyllo – if you cover with too damp a paper towel, you will get a gooey mess so I suggest a very slightly damp tea towel.  If you have a willing helper, you can keep the phyllo folded in half.  The good news is you have tons of sheets in a box so you only need 8 good ones therefore you can toss out liberally. The true secret to phyllo is to work FAST! Don’t worry too much about measuring the oil and breadcrumbs – just get them on there and spread them around with your hands. 

I think the breadcrumbs give the tart some airiness somehow and a bit of a crunch.  I kind of wanted to try using Panko but I was trying to stay with the recipe.  If you use Panko, let me know how it is!

So, there you go. Happy Fall! - with a summer recipe!

 

Cornerstone

Getty Images

Getty Images

I heard on that weird and dark television show, Westworld, the concept of a cornerstone which got me thinking.  I looked up cornerstone and the most obvious, clear cut definitions are:

1. a stone that forms part of a corner in the outside wall of a building and that often shows the date when the building was built

2. something of basic importance

These are not what I was looking for. Oxford says this:

An important quality or feature on which a particular thing depends or is based.

I remembered there are some churches called Cornerstone and so I looked in the Bible dictionary. Hmmm…..mentioned twice in the New Testament that Jesus is the cornerstone of the church.

OK, back to Westworld, the character speaking of a cornerstone is talking about the death of his young son and how that event had become the cornerstone of his life, which this character goes on to define for us as an event in your life that you base your life around, from that time forward. I think that most often this is a sad or tragic thing – like losing a child, or having a crime committed against you – you’ve heard, “don’t let that define you” – easier said than done. I have been very close to two friends losing very young children and I would say that not letting it define you is a daily struggle.  I suppose what is even more important is how you use a cornerstone event – how you let it affect you. I would hope to react as gracefully and inspiringly as my two friends, Betsy and Alice, did and continue to do (see “Why I Think It’s True” 2-28-16 and .

But I wonder – can there be a cornerstone event that is something good that has happened to you?  How about one’s Christian faith as a cornerstone. I would love to have that define me and sometimes it does but it is a daily yielding that is necessary and I am not especially good at that. In fact, doing anything every single day is tough for me (like working out – ugh). How about marrying the right person, who you still love and admire many years later or a job you get great satisfaction from? Maybe we can’t rely on just one cornerstone but we have to see that there are many in one’s life that shape and define you.

Today, I read through a book that made me think of the many different “cornerstones” people have.  The book is called Strong is the New Pretty and I was so intrigued, simply by the title and the cover photo of a young girl who looks like she is about to dive into a pool for a race, that I bought it. It is a collection of photos of girls from about 5 to 18 years old.  It has their first names and a quote by each.  The chapters are titled like this: Confident, Wild, Resilient, Creative, Determined, Kind, Fearless and Joyful. Maybe for some, one of these attributes can become a cornerstone. I would probably pick “joyful” if “picking” was a possibility.  But alas, although I wish it was, joy does not define me. The author, Kate Parker, is a photographer and a mom of two girls.  Her message is clear: pretty is NOT what it is all about. Being capable, trying your hardest, being your true self, going for it - is.  Raising boys, I didn’t personally have to worry too much about this but I sure wish I had been raised like this. Our niece came to live with us at age 14 and she had been through a lot, so she was already pretty, darn strong.  A really cool young woman at our church was not allowed to cut her hair when she was growing up.  Apparently, her father felt that long hair was feminine and what a girl should look like.  I probably don’t have to tell you that she wears her hair very short now – and it looks great.

So, what is your cornerstone? I’m still considering what mine is. I’m so very blessed that I don’t have a tragedy that I can’t get beyond. Yes, my mother (and best friend) passed away when I was 31, pregnant with our third child, and I’ve felt other heartbreak and disappointment now and then but I think I have tried to let God lead me and when I give it up to Him, He is the very best cornerstone I could imagine.

I would love to hear what your cornerstone is and how you’ve handled it. Please comment below.

Crisis of Confidence

John graduated from nursing school (above); he is working in a hospital trauma unit AND he and Mica are due to have a baby December 28th!!

John graduated from nursing school (above); he is working in a hospital trauma unit AND he and Mica are due to have a baby December 28th!!

The term “crisis of confidence” has been swirling around in my head lately.  It seems that I’m kind of old for that. I mean, at 62, shouldn’t I know who I am, feel secure in my decisions, know that the important thing is that God loves me?  But somehow, I seem to be second guessing myself more than ever.

Maybe it is because I am in this stage where who I am is not clearly defined. You’re a child, then a teenager, then a college student, then you are defined by your work perhaps or maybe your role as wife and mother. I got married at 25, had four sons over the course of the next 10 years and then spent the next 18 raising them until William went to college. I liked being a mom and I think I was pretty good at it.  I even extended my mothering for four more years when our niece, Olivia, came to live with us. That is 32 years of feeling totally secure in my role and confident that I was doing a good job.  Sure, I am still a mother, but we all know that once they are out of the nest, it is different – as it should be!

So why now? While it is fun being a grandmother, it is not a day-in, day-out role for me. My sons need me as a phone buddy when they are on the way somewhere. I am working hard at being an awesome mother-in-law but that is fraught with peril (ok, a little exaggeration) – no offense to my incredible, delightful, smart and thoughtful daughters-in-law.  A good friend, who is the mother of one son, told me to get used to being on the B Team as a mother-in-law. I’m not the best at being on the B Team – I feel like Jay and I were Co-Captains of the A Team for so long – so much testosterone – this new placement is kind of hard!

I need to stop whining and see that this is one great life I have and although it is changing every day and my role changes daily as well, that every stage is interesting and different and good. And the self-confidence thing? Well, I am just going to have to do my best and decide that that is good enough. And maybe not take everything so personally. I am reading Wild and Free (again), by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan with a group of ladies and that is their message. Be Wild and Free as God’s daughter. Let go of your defense mechanisms, unfurl your heart to Him, allow Him to calm your fears and anxieties and in fact, just give them over to Him and let Him handle it.

As we approach the wild and wonderful holiday season, I encourage you to take time for yourself. Get a cup of tea, find a quiet corner, silence your phone and just BE for a little while each day.