Friday, July 4, 2014

Remembering Pa

The smell of burlap and old wood drifts into my memories every 4th of July. I've been afraid of fireworks for as long as I can remember but still, the 4th of July is a day of fond memories for me. I've wrestled with this irony for some time now and I think I've finally settled on what it is that draws me back to warm chunks of nostalgia every year. I've finally put my finger on it. It was Pa.

My grandfather, who only went by Pa in our home, was not fond of holidays. He mocked us on Christmas, barely leaving his room and he teased us about Easter and baskets of candy. He did seem to enjoy Halloween, as long as everyone who ventured upon his front porch was shorter than a yardstick. He was known to retrieve his shotgun to run off late-knocking teenagers. I don't remember him being a part of any of our holiday celebrations, with the exception of the 4th of July.

Early in the afternoon on the 4th, he would venture out to the old shed and carry back the burlap gunny sacks. The scent of that dusty burlap is seared forever in my memory. He would gather the ice cream makers, a sledgehammer, and a few old wash tubs. We were making ice cream! This was an every year tradition and I got to help.

He would pull milk cartons of frozen water from the big deep freeze, put them in the gunny sacks, and bust them up with the sledgehammer. Sometimes he let me help, but I was usually doing it wrong. Now, to fully appreciate this ice, you have to understand something about my Pa. The man never spent a dime he didn't have to. He had dimes- that wasn't the issue. But he was not about to give them away. We were not about to go down to the corner filling station and buy ice. You don't pay for frozen water! That would be silly. You make it yourself. There were always milk carton-shaped blocks of ice in the freezer and when you needed ice chips, you got out the sledgehammer.

While we created ice chunks in the backyard, my Grandma Nonnie made up the ice cream mix. We had two flavors every year when I was young- chocolate and vanilla. I would get to walk to the grocery store with Nonnie and pick out the Junket ice cream mixes every year. There wasn't really much picking out to it- we had chocolate, and vanilla- but it was always a fun thing to do. Nonnie would make up the two mixtures and then the fun really began.

There were two ice cream makers. One was electric. I can still hear the motor churning through the ice. The other was an old hand-crank outfit. Pa would add the ice cream barrels and layer in the ice chips and rock salt and then the chore was delegated to my sister and I. We would sit on top of the ice cream maker, crank between our knees and start churning for what seemed in my young mind, hours and hours. When one got tired, the other took over, but my sister, Kimmie always had to finish the job when the mixture got to solid for me to crank.

Nonnie always let me have a little bowl as she scooped the soft-set ice cream into old tupperware containers to firm up in the freezer. When I was a teenager, we took to making a strawberry recipe in an electric mixer as we continued the tradition, but the fake vanilla taste of that Junket package ice cream holds a place in my heart. I would lick the lid clean, until I ran onto a chunk of rock salt and ran sputtering to wash my mouth out with a sip of Coke.

Once the ice cream was made, the grill came out. My next job was to help Pa shuck the corn. We always had fresh corn and if I was lucky, I got to find a worm in one of the ears I shucked! I had to hurry though, because Pa was a lot faster at it and he would find all of the corn worms before I did. This makes me giggle today. I would be somewhat mortified if I found a worm in my corn now. I have also come to realize that something has changed- we no longer find worms in the corn husks and I'm sure that is because the pesticide levels have increased, but that is another story.

Pa would light the grill while I went inside and watched through the back door. (I've always  been afraid of fire!) We would have burgers and hot dogs with corn on the cob, and then I would dance around the house for hours anxiously awaiting fireworks and homemade ice cream.

Fireworks consisted of several novelty fireworks- tanks, camelias, smoke bombs, glow worms, and such- nothing that went 'pop' and nothing too big. My hometown had some sort of ban on fireworks and the police were fairly serious about issuing tickets and fines, but that didn't stop Pa. He would venture out into the street, far enough behind the house to make it difficult to detect which house the illegal fun belonged to, light the firework, and then hustle back up to the door to watch. After a few we would go inside and wait for a police cruiser to drive by, then he was back at it again.

At the end of the night, he would retrieve from his stash, a cherry bomb. These were not legal anywhere, I'm sure. They would blow a hole in the dirt and remove a two-foot ring of grass from the earth. He would tell me the same story every year about going fishing and throwing one of these in the lake "to blow the fish right out of the water so you can just scoop 'em up." He would promise to take me fishing some time, but he never got around to it.

The 4th of July was never a favorite holiday for me, but it was the one holiday that I spent most of the day with my Pa. I think the memories that flood my senses every year- the corn worms, the smell of old burlap, the sight of a glow worm burning on the concrete porch- those memories remind me of time spent with Pa.

Our 4th of July traditions are different. We haven't made homemade ice cream in years now and we usually don't pull out the grill on this day. Instead, we'll pack a picnic dinner with Mason jar desserts and go watch a professional fireworks display. But all day, I'll smell burlap and think of ice cream and smile.  


Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Letter to the Pyros

Dear Fireworks Lovers Everywhere,

We need to have a little talk. A come-to-Jesus meetin' if you will. See, I have a little problem with your choice method of celebration. As Independence Day draws near, and you all begin celebrating our independence as a nation by blowing things up, I am overcome with a familiar feeling; FEAR. Yep, fear. I am all out flippin' terrified of the 4th of July. There. I said it. is no surprise to anyone who knows me well. I have an irrational fear of fire. Well, duh, you say. No. No, no. I had an irrational fear of fire before the crock pot burned my house down. I've always had it. Let me give you a little background to help you understand.

When I was a wee one, I liked fireworks as long as they didn't make any noise and they weren't anywhere close to me. That pretty much limited the 4th of July celebration to sparklers (way over there, stuck in the ground please), glow snakes, smoke bombs, and those pretty spinning flower things that would chase my grandpa down the street when he lit them. Anything else made me very uneasy.

When I was a teenager, I witnessed my first bottle rocket war and that experience was pretty much like watching an actual war battle with tanks and explosives in my mind. I was mortified. I had hives. I cried. It was horrendous. I am possibly scarred for life from that incident.

Then I got married and met my husband's family and Oh. Dear. Lord. I tolerated their celebrations for a few years, but then we had children and I all but had a nervous breakdown trying to protect the fruit of my loins from the macabre fire-filled chaos they enjoyed. The Big Guy soon consented to making the 4th of July a private, just-us-and-the-kids celebration. It was that, or admit me to a mental health facility on the 5th of July.  

Over the years, I've come to realize that there is no end to the stupidity displayed in amateur patriotic celebrations. No end, people. Couple that realization with the pain of rebuilding our home and lives after a fire and my fear has multiplied a bajillionth.

I HATE FIREWORKS. The big ones in professional shows are pretty and all, but really...I would be just fine if I never ever saw another firework. If they all disappeared from this blessed earth, it would hurt my feelers not at all. Alas, they don't let me make the laws so you're all safe, you fire-loving maniacs, you.

With that said, I might be able to survive this holiday with my sanity still intact if y'all could just observe some basic safety precautions.

I like my home and I want to keep it, so keep your fireworks to yourselves, please. I also value my skin. It is pasty white and somewhat transparent, but it is mine and I'm attached to it. I would greatly appreciate it if you could just keep all sparky searing-hot things away from it. Oh, and my eyes? Yeah...I need those too. So, if you could just refrain from launching flaming missiles my way, that would be fabulous. And please stop setting them off in the street when I'm driving through because my car runs on gasoline, which is flammable, thank you very much. It would also be incredibly respectful of you to limit your 4th of July celebration to some reasonable period of time that is actually near the 4th of July, and for the love of all things sacred, stop setting them off by midnight.

I'm glad we could have this little talk. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll just be in my little happy place, securely tucked away from flying fire, celebrating our nation's independence with food, the way I choose to celebrate everything.

Happy fire-wielding blowing-things-up-day to you!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Birthday Party #68

The Fish is turning 14 and she could think of only one direction for her party to take- that's right, ONE DIRECTION! Like, HARRY STYLES! O. M. G!

Yup. We've got a Directioner in the house.

Tuna baked 1D cookies and we slapped some buttercream frosting on and finished them up with some sparkly black gel.

Of course, there was cake. It's been a long minute since I've decorated a cake and I've never ever worked with fondant before, but this cake got a passing grade from the birthday girl.  

I molded some chocolate and white candy hearts for fun. One lovely birthday guest declared that the chocolate ones "had a LOT of cocoa." Bless her heart. That was not cocoa- I burned the chocolate. (I know, I know- how exactly do you burn chocolate?! Look folks, I'm exhausted. I don't really know what happened. It looked fine when it came out of the microwave. Yes, I microwaved it. Stop judging me!)

I did find these really cool printables over at Anders Ruff. Tuna helped sticker a few pounds of Hershey's kisses for the party favors. (If you don't have a teenage girl around to help with party preparation, I highly recommend recruiting one.) 

As we were watching the One Direction movie, This is Us for the better part of the party, we used the printable for movie candy boxes and covered Fish's fave- Reese's Pieces. 

The party wouldn't be complete without a photo booth.

And...because we're gluttons for punishment we love our girl, we invited three teenage girls to sleep over, on Friday the 13th, with a full moon above. It sounded like a herd of bison were settling in above our bedroom in the late hours of the night. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Finish Line, aka The Last Day of School

We've crawled to the finish line. That is to say, we've survived another school year. We've made it. Barely.

For reals. We are crawling across the line. We are worn and weary, beaten and bruised. We are done. Stick a fork in us done.

We've put up a courageous fight, but we are ragged. We've lost a homework folder. We've forgotten reading logs. We are out of clean laundry. We're showing up at the wrong time for events and picking our kids up late from practices. Our house should probably be condemned. Foul language and whining is at an all time high.

Tonight, we've fallen to a new low. The menu said we were having tortellini and garlic toast. We said "forget that mess. We're having donuts."



For dinner.

Don't judge us. It's called breakfast for dinner. It's like waffles. Sort of. But the syrup is in the form of sprinkles. And creme filling.

(Actually, the conversation was something along the lines of "who is picking the girls up from practice?" and "we didn't buy the tortellini yet" and "oh filth...the guinea pigs are out of food...need to pick up pig food.")

Our kids think we're awesome. (It could be the sugar talking.)

It couldn't be helped really, this disastrous low. It's been weeks in the making. It started somewhere around standard testing and then it ramped up a notch with spirit week (with a different outfit required for each day- DRESS up! BATTER up! All sorts of ups. It was mind-boggling.) Then there was teacher appreciation week, which we forgot a flower for. (We love you Mrs. B.) Then came grad parties, bachelorette parties, and weddings. Field trips, field days, guard practices. Orthopedic appointments, clinic appointments, and a pre-surgery appointment. A talent show creeped in with the relentless singing, the dresses to be made, the rehearsal...

We just kept crawling toward the finish line looking more haggard each day.

Then, with just one half-day left, we fell out. The Big Guy collapsed on a chair and I flopped back on the bed and we looked at each other and said with a sigh "dinner." And then the Big Guy, the stay-at-home dad extraordinaire, the rock of this family, said "donuts?" And so it was.

Tomorrow, we will drag our sugar-logged butts out of bed and push and drag each other over the finish line.

Goodbye 2013-2014 school year. It's been real.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

Super Sidekick

Little Bean: This is THE X-MOTION SUPER-RACING CAR. I added the and car. When you roll it, it goes and finds a problem. Then we go find the car and it tells us the problem. Then me and Tuna set off to fix the problem.

Me: Huh.

Little Bean: Today it's going to help us find sticks to pick up.

Me: Oh. So does that mean you're going to help Tuna move the firewood?

Little Bean: No! She's going to help ME. She's my Super Sidekick.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Throwback Thursday- Kitchen

Insurance inventory spreadsheets still dominate much of our time and conversation each week and the lack of siding on our house is a constant reminder that we are still in fire recovery- two and a half years later.

Sometimes, when it feels like we will never be completely recovered, it helps to take a look back at where we've been and then take a good look at where we are now.

In honor of Throwback Thursday, let's take a look at the kitchen.

This was our kitchen, post-fire, fall of 2011.

The darkness at the top of this photo is not shadowing- it is soot. This scene left me speechless and in tears.

This was our kitchen, post-fire, mid-demolition, in the spring of 2012.

The kitchen floor was red, but you can't see that under the layers of ash and debris. This scene left me saying "no more ugly counter tops!" (Also, "we're not moving home any time soon, are we?")

It was a long, long road, but...

This is our kitchen today.

This scene makes me say "ahhh."

We may never get this mess completely behind us, but the kitchen is open and that's the heart of the home.

It's all good.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Day Fit For A Momma

Photos with my lovely children- it's the one thing I ask for every Mother's Day. This year, the plan was to take a little lunch out to an urban setting and watch my kids romp and run while I snapped photo after photo to my heart's content. I planned to have little Mason jars full of lemon cake and lemon curd topped with fresh buttercream frosting, looking all hip against a backdrop of concrete and artful graffiti, perfect children posed just so.

Nobody cares about my plans. Mother Nature whipped up an 80 degree wind storm that was not at all conducive to picnicking or photo-taking. Whatevs.

So, we decided to have a Mother's Day game day instead.

It wasn't a bad plan at first deal.

Then Little Bean started to get all serious. 

Fish was in some sort of shock.

Tuna got all puckered up about something.

Rough Stuff was completely overwhelmed.

And then things rapidly deteriorated into some sort of far-noise making festival. Seriously- a five-minute, five-child fart noise serenade.

At this point, I realized I was not going to get Mother's Day photos. I realized that my children may never outgrow potty humor. And, I realized that I didn't really care, because at the end of the day...

I have five of the most fabulous kiddos any mother could ever hope for. I received the kindest cards, the most wonderful letters, and some of the most creatively crafted jewelry I could ever hope for. They spent the day with me and it was a perfect day in every way, fart concert included.