Papa's back in the kitchen

IMG_9116 Callum came up to me on Sunday and whispered, "Papa's managing things in the kitchen."

It's grilled cheese Sunday.

IMG_9128 Neel may love his hoagies, but I sure love his grilled cheeses. I've given up on making them because his are so good. I'm not sure what the trick is. Maybe just the attention he pays. Or the love he puts in them.

IMG_9133 There are pickles and bacon in there...I'm thinking every Sunday should be grilled-cheese Sunday. And hey! Valentine's Day is coming up. Maybe he'll make cheese steaks.

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hip afternoon

  Hipsta5 For Neel's birthday a few weeks ago, we all spent the day together. Lunch and a movie. I didn't have my camera with me. (Will I never learn? Just always take the darn thing.) So I did what all the cool kids are doing and used the Hipstamatic App on my phone.

Hipsta6 First stop, a local icon. The Donut Dinette. I can't believe we've never been here before. With seats at the counter and reviews that command you to "get here early" for the donuts, this place is truly a gem.

Hipsta4 I love the way the maple syrup jars are lined up on the counter.

Hipsta2 Callum had the cheeseburger deal, and Neel and I had BLTs. Perfect, but I almost wish I'd had the chicken and dumpling special. Plus, we really need to come for breakfast sometime.

Hipsta1 And after, the movie. Have you seen it yet? Everybody has. On the recommendation of a friend we took Callum along. I think our little family brought the mean age down by like twenty years. I'm sure there are those who will take issue with the fact that our eleven year old was there to hear some of the, ahem, colorful language. Myself, I don't have a problem with that. And colorful? This is full-on cursing. Impressive and effective. Powerful too. Callum had one giggle when the words first started flying, but after that he settled in. They're just words, after all. And watching Colin Firth masterfully struggle to speak it made me think that the worst words are the ones we can't get out.

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washed up

IMG_8117 As is typical for us around Christmas time, we had a major appliance break down this year. Two years ago, the refrigerator. This time it was the dishwasher. To date, we simply have not had time to go and look for a new one. As Neel is the chief bottle-washer, this change impacts his life most directly.

We're all stepping up. Well, I'm stepping up. Normally, I can not be accused of having dishpan hands. Our division of labor falls, and I think I've told you this before, so that I'm primarily doing what I like, which is the cooking, and Neel is doing primarily what he likes, which is keeping things clean. 

We don't make a ton of dishes, but it's too much for one person to tackle alone. So I take better care when I'm cooking to clean as I go, and I help dry when Neel has a big batch in front of him. Our sink is big and deep, and he fills it with hot and soapy water. If I'm moving around in other parts of the house, I can hear the burble of the water and the clink of the plates and glasses. (Given Neel's propensity for breaking our glassware, this could get dicey, but so far so good!) A couple of days ago he said, "I actually kind of like doing the dishes like this. It's nice, and you can look out the window."

Now if you know Neel at all, doesn't this sound just like him? It really does, but I had to find out too. So one day when he was at work and we had a load piling up, I filled the sink myself and began the rhythm of rinse and soap, wash and rinse. It's the rhythm that draws him, and it draws me too. Rinse and soap, wash and rinse. He's right. You can look out the window, and you sort of lose yourself there and in the rhythm of the work. I'm reminded of a line from Enchanted April, "Your mind slips sideways." I should watch that again.

When I was growing up, doing the dishes was a family affair. Each of us had a job, and there was a rhythm to that too. My mom cleared and put away and my dad washed while I loaded the dishwasher. Rinse and soap, wash and rinse. That evening ritual was as significant as was our sitting down to the table together. Our rhythm here is different. There is much homework to be done, both before and after dinner, and blog posts to be written. So Neel bears the brunt of this important work each night. But I hear the water splash in the sink, and the clink of a glass, and it's all connected. I'm a little girl again. The past is now. Rinse and soap, wash and rinse.

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Papa in the kitchen

IMG_7366 It hasn't always gone well for him, but Neel took over the cooking for football Sunday this weekend.

IMG_7367 He stuck to his roots (Indian food), and that made all the difference.

IMG_7374 Some chutney, some curry, some daal and some chapati. Not necessarily "football" food, but pretty delicious. I think it's made its way into our regular rotation.

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back to life

IMG_6291 Oh gosh we had such a nice visit with my mom. Perfect chill Thanksgiving, and I still think it was my best turkey ever. It's funny about Thanksgiving, at least cooking the "big meal." Going in, it always feels like such a big production. So many sides to juggle, and who cooks turkey often enough to feel completely comfortable doing it?

I was the tiniest bit stressed out on Tuesday because I'd never left my meal planning that late in the game, and I made our family do work at dinner as soon as Mom arrived. We carved out a list and did the shopping on Wednesday, and Thursday actually felt like a breeze. I remember looking around the kitchen and thinking, that's it? Okay, we're ready to go. That was easy. AND I made homemade cranberry sauce! Who knew how easy that would be?

We braved the mall and went shopping on Black Friday (while Neel and Callum went to HP #7, Part 1), and that was loads of fun. Williamsburg on Saturday, and by Sunday we were outing-outed. Beat. I think we spent the day just one step up from jammies. Nice.

Mom left yesterday, and it feels good to be back in a routine. Back to the rhythm of work and school. I love this time of year. I brought all the decorations down from the third floor, Neel put on the lights on the tree outside, and we'll get our tree this weekend. I'm ready for Christmas music on in the house.

Except I think I have a cold. Chicken noodle soup and Zicam time.

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he came bearing gifts

IMG_4682 So my dad came this weekend, and he brought Neel a present for finishing his grant that was due this month. How about them apples?

Lately Neel has been making much fun of my home state of Tennessee. He's been encouraging Callum to join in on the fun as they joke about what a hillbilly, backward place the Volunteer State can be.

IMG_4688 But I disagree. Selling moonshine in liquor stores? I happen to think that Tennesse is quite enlightened.

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it's all good

IMG_9443 You can tell things have been rough, camera-wise, when I'm recycling old photos from trips to the Farmer's Market!

Well, it's been a month now, since the great New School Experiment started, and I think I can safely say that it's all good.

He's so happy. It's different, certainly. More work. More tests. More grades. He tucks in his shirt and buckles his belt every morning. He dresses out for PE. He eats a hot lunch (At his old school, his dad packed his lunch everyday and they ate outside - weather permitting - for an hour.) where he's in charge of serving drinks to the second graders and making sure he gets himself fed in about 24 minutes. He changes classes. He has a lot of homework. That's been our biggest adjustment, I think. The amount of work coming home. And it's not as much the amount of work, as the fact that it just takes Callum a long time to do it. And it takes him a long time to do it because he has to stop and tell us things every few seconds. Or get up and walk around. Or have a snack. Or look out the window.

But we worked on it. September is always hard at our house, and we just worked and worked and tried new things and figured it out. October is like turning on a switch, and suddenly homework, our biggest adjustment, is going better too.

He has after-school activities three times a week, and his old karate teacher is at his new school now. Something familiar in a sea of novel moments. His grades are good, great in fact, and we couldn't be more proud. It's fascinating, really. This kid of mine. What would send me into a tailspin of mortification, what could freeze me with fear: grades...well, they excite and challenge him and propel him forward. Pretty much what they are supposed to do. Who knew?

It's still tough sometimes, because simply everything is new. We're still working out just when to leave in the mornings to miss the worst of the traffic and not be too early or too late. But oh, how I love the brevity of our new commute. We skip the carpool line because for now; Callum likes me to park and walk him in. He likes me to be in the lobby waiting at the end of the day too. He may be the only kid in fifth grade to do this, but as long as he wants it, I'm happy to.

But we're lucky too. His best bud, who is also our neighbor on the street, is in his class, and he rides in with themat least once a week. He knows teachers there and other kids. In so many ways his path was smoothed as much as possible, but in many, many others he was made to feel at home and welcomed and part of a family. He's made friends where just a few weeks there were mostly unfamiliar faces. In a month it's become infinitely more comfortable, and by next month it'll be even more so.

It's challenging and exciting, and he comes home saying how many cool things he's learning. When we first embarked on this journey of considering a new school, it was remarkable that we were even considering it. I'd thought Callum would have stayed at his old school forever. It was small and nurturing and familiar. There were many reasons for why we had to leave, all valid, but not unimportant was understanding that just because Neel and I wanted small and nurturing and familiar didn't necessarily mean that Callum needed small and nurturing and familiar. He's proved to us that he doesn't. He's more confident, more responsible and more self-assured. He's like a kid pulling off a too-small sweater. Stretching his arms with delight. It's not that his old school wasn't right. It's just that it wasn't right for him anymore.

One evening a few weeks ago, Callum and I were having our bedtime snuggle. It's where we tuck into his bed for a bit and chat about the day. We do highs and lows and talk over any clashes we may have had as a family. It was still in the middle of the homework struggle, of the learning curve on handling the increased work load, and we'd had a tough evening. We'd managed to work it out though, and Callum said to me that night, with a measure of satisfaction, "Momma, it's hard, but I think that school has me written all over it."

Little man, I couldn't agree more.

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fried clams

IMG_2946 I've been craving fried clams

IMG_2972 We went to our local seafood joint ("The Local's Locale") for them when Alfie was here, but that wasn't quite enough for me (or Callum), so last night we went back. I love this place. Plastic tables, a  deck with misters along the creek and "Lay Down Sally" playing in the bar.

IMG_2940 Last time we didn't get onion rings, so this time we did. They were good.

IMG_2954 It was all-you-can-eat crab leg Wednesday, which is what Neel ordered and grudgingly shared.

IMG_2957 Of course, Callum and I got the clams. They were even better than last time. So, craving satisfied? Maybe...

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old friend from far away

IMG_2890 We had dinner on Sunday with friends who moved away a few years ago. Our families have been hanging out since our kids started school together six years ago. It was so nice to be together again (minus one...we'll have to rectify that soon, won't we Suze?). Nice and easy.

IMG_2894 There was so much catching up to do. We sat at the dinner table and talked for hours. It's hard to find words for an evening like this. We told story after story. Some from our time together and others from way back..."Mommy, tell about the time you were stung by the jellyfish." Callum would say, "I seem to be full of stories tonight!" And then his eyes would light up and he'd say, "Ah! Another one!" Evenings like that are so wonderful when they're shared.

My mom and I talked on the phone the next night about how important stories are. She was talking about this blog and what a lot of you have said about it. The stories are what makes our life's events feel real. We live it once, and then we retell and retell, somehow cementing the reality of an experience. I think that's why I write this blog. It's not for profit or even posterity...I always say it's a gift to my family. Taking our stories, telling them and making them real.

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summer supper

IMG_2681 We had a celebratory dinner while Alfie was here. Face it, we always have a celebratory dinner, but this time there was actually a birthday to acknowledge.

IMG_2691 This restaurant with its faded charm, seems to me to be quintessentially Old South.

IMG_2704 Gin and tonics of course.

IMG_2708 Fried shrimp with a special sauce. So delicious that people order for an appetizer AND dinner.

IMG_2719 And this guy joined us just in time for dessert.

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sunday supper

IMG_2434 We had Neel's new favorite dinner last night. We're still cooking out of Rick and Lanie's Excellent Kitchen Adventures. With a recipe for Mexican Grilled Corn and a pile of ears from the farmer's market, it seemed a good thing to add to our chorizo and potato tacos. Except Lanie has a suggestion for how to eat this corn that may sound a little odd. For me, it was a revelation.

First let me say that my friend Debbie doesn't regularly read this blog, and for what I am about to tell you, I'm glad. If she is here (hi Deb!), please stop reading and swing back another day. Debbie has a thing (and it's not a good one) about mayonnaise. And what Lanie suggests: well, it takes mayo to a whole new level. The Baylesses recommend that after you grill your corn, you smear it with mayonnaise and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Yeah. That's what they say. I'm of the opinion that mayonnaise makes everything better, and you know what? It does. Even corn. I was the only one brave enough to try it, and it was...awesome. Oh lordy. Don't be afraid, just go and try it.

Callum walked us through the meal Top Chef-style, describing each ingredient and answering the judge's questions. When he didn't quite finish his corn, I was happy to oblige.

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what we did

IMG_1477 We drove up the Eastern Shore of Virginia for Father's Day. The original plan was to head to the battlefield at Yorktown, but with temperatures in the upper 90s, traipsing around a battlefield didn't seem like the most fun we could have. So we opted to explore the strip of land between the waters; it's a part of our area that we haven't spend nearly enough time in.


IMG_1475 We stopped at an historic inn for lunch...when we saw all the elderly people walking in, we knew we were onto something good. Callum had no trouble finishing off both of our cups of crab and corn soup. My BLT with "shore tomatoes" was delish.

IMG_1499 After lunch, we drove on to a winery. There are three vineyards on the shore (Virginia, at least), and we'd like to hit all three. We started here, at Chatham Vineyards.

IMG_1496 I love the juxtaposition between the old, old house,

IMG_1486 with the high-tech work that goes on next door. That's the press, there in the back.

IMG_1483 Some low-tech work too...I love a process like winemaking which continues apace...centuries old traditions tweaked but not forsaken.

IMG_1487 The tasting was delightful, from two chardonnays (one aged in oak barrels, one in steel), to a surprisingly refreshing rose' right through to the dessert wine. (Although I think Neel and I both would have appreciated a slightly bigger pour...)

IMG_1490 Guard dog.

IMG_1493 Very menacing.


IMG_1501 From the concrete and steel of production to the rows of grape vines, full to bursting, this was a very nice day.

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