Monthly Archives: September 2007

Yet another visit from my relatives

This weekend I had yet another parade of family members at my house. Ok, so it wasn’t exactly a parade. More like just my parents, but since in the past week and a half I’ve seen my mom, aunt, step-mom and dad, all who live at least two hours away, it seems like my house has developed a revolving door for everyone related to me. Plus my in-laws are coming to town next weekend, so it’s going to be a busy month.

Luckily since it was my family I didn’t feel compelled to go on the mad cleaning spree that always accompanies a visit from my in-laws. It’s not that I don’t want things to be nice for my parents, but they remember the chaotic mess I called a room in high school, so the small collection of papers and books littering most of my tables is a real improvement. Plus, I know they aren’t judging me. I’ve seen their houses, afterall, and I am pretty sure I have the tidiest house of the bunch. This is not true of my in-laws. My mother-in-law’s house is immaculate. I worry sometimes that my meer presence will sully it’s shiny veneer.

As usual my folks came bearing gifts. Most of them were for the baby (clothes), but this visit we got treats as well. My step-mom works for a trucking company and apparently a truck came back with a refused load. This has happened before. Last time we got a case of hoity-toity jams and Stelladora breadsticks. I didn’t care too much abou the jams, but those crispy little breadsticks were tasty. This time we got a 10 lb. bag of rigatoni, Ritz bits cheese cracker sandwiches and a dozen or so packs of Mott’s applesauce. If anyone has a taste for regular flavored apple sauce, I’ve got the hook up.

As is tradition with every visit from my parents, one afternoon was spent shopping. My husband jokes that several members of my family are stricken with a shopping bug. I laugh it off as I often benefit from these shopping adventures, but it is true. My step-mom loves to consume. Half the time she buys things just to buy them. Any time we go out together if I so much as mention something is cute or I’ve been thinking about purchasing an item, she tries to throw it in the cart and get it for me. For many this may seem like a dream, but as a grown adult I can’t help but feel guilty about it. I don’t really need a 5 lb. bag of the newest M&M flavor. Nor do I need the latest mop with some technology that will no doubt annoy me and I’ll stop using after a week or two. I certainly don’t need any more clothes, especially since I’m trying to lose my baby weight still. It’s sweet of her to offer though.

Usually I can talk her out of buying things for me. She realizes I’m a grown adult and I can rationalize why I don’t need the umpteenth bottle of shampoo, even if I love the smell. When it comes to things for her grandson though, there is no reasoning with the woman. Our recent foray into shopping world saw me carrying in five different bags. My baby now has five new toys, including a penguin bowling set, although I was able to convince her to take that one home, wrap it up and give it to him for Christmas. He also has a set of Colts’ sippy cups and a Colts’ fuzzy sleeper. These are in addition to the fuzzy lion sleeper, Thanksgiving sleeper and matching bib and t-shirt she bought him that says “I’m with the band.”* Not to mention the new bottle he can hold himself. She would have bought his baby food and diapers as well, but I got them on the conveyer belt first and was paying for them before she could stop me.

I don’t actually get annoyed with her. It’s not like she doesn’t think I can afford these things. She just wants to show her little Doodle how much she loves him. She’s an American and consumption is what she knows. She shows us she loves us by getting us things she thinks we’ll enjoy. It’s sweet. It really is. I keep trying to tell her he’ll be just as happy with a 59 cent jar of bubbles and time spent in her arms making faces at him. She holds him every chance she gets, so I guess I just have to be ok with the fact she wants to spoil him with gifts too.

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The Journey and the American dream

Last night I partook in what can only be described as the epitome of American decadence. At least as far as cuisine is concerned. My aunt was in town so instead of preparing the rustic potato soup I took out of the deep freeze a few nights earlier, I was planning a quick meal of spaghetti and meatballs. Not fancy, I know, but there wasn’t enough soup for three and it was the only meal I could throw together without a trip to the grocery store and actual meal preparation. 

On the way home I had to fill up. I stopped at Sam’s Club since they have the cheapest gas. While at the pump I couldn’t help but notice a new restaurant had opened right next door. I’d seen the signs announcing its eventual opening before school started back up, but since I no longer get off at the same exit, I’d forgotten about it. The reason I took note of it in the first place was because it claimed to be a seafood, steak and prime rib buffet. I love all three of these things and during the summer was anxious for the grand opening. I’ve been to other buffets like this while on vacation in Florida and while the food was never exactly phenomenal, they did have all-I-could-eat lobster, crab and shrimp, three things I love, even if I can only eat one serving of each. There pricey $25 per person bill isn’t actually that far off from a similar meal at a place like Red Lobster, and since they were in Florida, I figured the seafood was at least fresher.  

There were no details other than a big grand opening sign in front of the building so when I got home, I called for details. Sadly there would be no lobster, but the cheaper $17 per person fee intrigued my husband and aunt who are always on the look out for anyone who will let them eat all that they can, so we packed up the baby and headed over. Outside the place doesn’t look like much. Inside, however, it’s actually fairly nice for a buffet place. The wait staff were all dressed in solid black with the long black aprons I’ve seen at trendier upscale places. There were multiple fountains and they had cool circular booths adorning each section. We were seated in a regular booth, but everything looked so fresh and new I didn’t care. We couldn’t see the actual food from our table, but we did pull out the “menu” to see what was in store for us. It must have had close to 200 items on it. 

While every person working in the place appeared to be petite and of Asian decent, whoever came up with the idea for this joint had a good eye for his typical customer: obese Midwestern America. This is an overeater’s heaven. To start with the plates are humungous. I’ve never been to any restaurant with larger plates. I’ve been to buffet places before and often have to make a second or third trip to try everything I want. I think I might have actually been able to fit one of everything in the entire place in only two trips. Before I even reached the food I was greeted by a chocolate fountain that was nearly as tall as I was. It was surrounded by bowls of strawberries, bananas, marshmallows and cookies. Suddenly the lack of lobster seemed unimportant.  What about the actual food you may be wondering? Well, the best way to describe it is something like Old Country Buffet meets random Super Happy Chinese Buffet meets sushi bar. The place had a definite Chinese influence, even on dishes like shrimp and scallop scampi which were basically shrimp and scallops cooked in butter, without any sort of actual spices to them. The generic fried shrimp and scallops found on most Chinese buffets that have no real taste to them at all were also present. There were several tubs of mysterious orange and red sauces near friend dishes. I assumed they were of the sweet and sour variety so I abstained. The atmosphere of a souped up Chinese buffet did disappoint me since I don’t really like Chinese food. They did, however, have some American favorites like prime rib (ok), strip steak, turkey breast, two kinds of pizza, rigatoni, quesadillas, garlic bread (tasty), mac and cheese (very cheesy and I liked it) and ribs. There salad bar, which was on a counter shaped like a giant mosaic tiled boat had some good salad fixings and lots of fresh fruit which also made me happy. What set this apart from a typical Chinese buffet (which always seems to have some “American food” to appease those like me) was the sushi selection. I have to give them props here. It was not the typical Chinese place sushi. They actually had row upon row of sushi. They had nigiri, rolls and sashimi. There were actually at least a dozen types of each. The rolls had actual flavor and some zip to them. They even had the eel roll things with the brown sauce. All the sushi I ate was tasty and while certainly not Ichi Ban caliber, it was definitely worth eating. And more importantly, there was lots to sample from. They supposedly had tempera there as well, but I think I missed it.  

As with all buffets, they had a dessert bar as well. This reminded me of typical Chinese buffet fair. There was a multitude of ice cream already scooped and stacked in a freezer, which meant it all had the freezer burned look to it. There were various puddings, cookies and fruit based dishes. The only stand out was the chocolate fountain and even though I covered tiny macaroons with the contents of the fountain, I was a bit disappointed. It didn’t taste like milk or dark chocolate to me, but more like semi-sweet. I realize semi-sweet is generally cheaper to get, but that’s because it doesn’t taste as good.  

Still, when all was said and done, I definitely left the place feeling in the typical fashion of Midwesterners leaving a buffet place:  a bit nauseated. This place definitely seemed to understand the American dream, excess and lots of it.

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Signs do actually have meaning

As I was struggling to lug my nearly 19 lb. son and his 10 lb. car seat from my parking spot midway up the aisle into the grocery store this afternoon, I noticed a car dash into a space clearly marked for expecting mothers and parents with toddlers. Even though I don’t think anyone would actually throw a fit if I pulled into one seeing as I do have a baby to constantly haul around, now that I can once again walk comfortably but don’t have any children who can, I prefer to reserve these spaces for people who really need them. The woman who parked as my feet shuffled across the parking lot with labored steps clearly was not one of these people.

I know these spaces are not like the handicapped spaces. It is not illegal to park in them, however, it is courteous to save them for people who really need them.  By the time I got my son’s car seat into the cart, she had found her item and was already in the check out lane. I watched as she scurried back out to her car and drove off. This ticked me off. The woman who sprang from this car was not pulling any small children along with her. These spaces are also for pregnant women, and I’ll admit that in my 8th and 9th month when I was having intense pain because my little guy was laying on a nerve, I did take advantage of these spaces on the days the thought of walking any farther than I had to made me wince. She, however, didn’t look pregnant. I realize not everyone carries their pregnancies in the same way, but if she was pregnant, she couldn’t have been more than three months along, which is far too early to be milking the pregnancy space.

I know it’s not a life altering matter, but much like her, I only had a few items to pick up (actually six of the exact same item–jars of baby sweet potatoes). I wasn’t in the store more than a few minutes. I had had a long day at work and had family arriving at any minute. And yet I parked the couple of extra feet away from the door in order to make life a little easier for someone else who needed it. It irks me that she didn’t do the same.

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The sweet potato king

Since I am the beetqueen, I now declare my progeny to be the sweet potato king. How did this vegetable monarchy come to be you may wonder? Well, it’s simple. Several years ago I was looking for a screen name for Yahoo, or Hotmail or some such program. After realizing Happy Phantom (a favorite Tori Amos reference) was taken and I’d have to add numbers to the back of it if I wanted to use it at all, I glanced over at my book shelf to find something literary if my musical reference wasn’t going to work. See, I know myself and some random string of numbers just wasn’t going to work with my memory. As it is I have seven phone numbers memorized: my home and cell phone, my husband’s cell, my work number, my dad’s, my aunt’s and my grandmother’s. Three of those have been the same since I was 12 and one hasn’t changed in three years. Sadly, I just memorized my husband’s cell during my pregnancy, a full two and a half years after he got it. My shelf showed me the novel The Beet Queen by Louise Erdrich and when I typed it in, there were no other beetqueens out there. I’ve had this name now since either college or right after. It’s been so long that I’ve lost track. To be honest, I’m not even all that enamored of the novel. I mean, it’s perfectly fine, but not in my top 10 or even my top 20. And no, I don’t like beets. Or at least I don’t think I do. I haven’t had one since I was about 8, but I didn’t like it then, so why worry about it now? I have had several morons on line contact me trying to have cyber sex over the years, not realizing a beet is a type of vegetable, not an indication of what they think I might like to do to their genitalia. If it was that type of beat, I’d be more likely to beat them upside the head for being so icky and annoying. But as usual, I digress.

The whole purpose of this rambling, aside from the fact it’s been a weird posting week to due death, family time and the holiday, is that my little family has entered new territory. My baby is now six months old and eating real food. Well, as real as pureed vegetables can be considered. So, we have crossed into a land of stained bibs, clothing, carpets and who knows what else. A land where baby poop is apparently no longer just green or yellow, but takes on the characteristics of whatever they’ve eaten last. A land where the formula intake begins to dwindle and the let’s face it, the food smells a heck of a lot more like what I consider edible. A land where my son devours an entire jar of baby food in one sitting and like the remorseless eating machine he is, cries out for more. In short, a land where he becomes the sweet potato king. I realize his jar of baby food only had 2.5 ounces, but I think he would have licked it clean if his little tongue was that coordinated and we’d have let him. There was hardly any mess because he didn’t even bother to try to spit any of it out. He gulped it all down, happy to have each bite.

We’ve reached a major baby milestone. It’s hard to believe that my son, who is still so much like a baby in some ways is so much like a big boy in others. I know it’s cliché, but it seems like only yesterday I was gazing at him from across the delivery room as they wiped him clean and checked his responses. Now he’s sitting up for minutes on his own, gulping down foods not all that far off from what I eat and rolling over so much I have to watch him every second. I know everyone in my life keeps telling me this, but I feel like every time I blink he grows. Before I know it he really will be in college. For now though, he’s just my little junior monarch of vegetables.  

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I fear I may be becoming my mother

My mother is back home again and I’m a little saner as a result. That’s probably a little unfair as I didn’t actually spend too much time with her while she was in the state, but she did break our once every five year visitation rule, so my schedule is off and I’m a bit out of sorts. She wasn’t here for pleasure, not that I’m sure you could quite call any of our visits pleasurable exactly. She came to help look after my grandmother who is taking the death of my second cousin (her nephew) really hard. Since I’m the only family member in the state who lives within two hours of the airport, I had to pick her up. This meant a long day ahead of me, and the drive was only part of it.

 

I was actually surprised that the car ride up north passed so quickly. Our conversation was not strained and there were only a few lapses into silence. I’m not sure what sort of statement that actually makes about our relationship as I felt pressed to keep talking in order to avoid any silences. They wouldn’t have been the comfortable type. Luckily I had to drag my son along with me so she got to play grandma and give him a bottle, tickle his toes and exclaim every few minutes about how much he’s grown in the last month. We stopped for dinner at a Cracker Barrel just off the highway. For all their hype and claims of down home cooking, I have to say my chicken and dumplings were really bland. So were my mashed potatoes and green beans. In fact, the only decent thing about the meal was the roll. I’m not sure whose cooking they model their recipes on but it’s not what I think of as good country cooking. It’s more along the lines of Sunday dinner at my grandma’s house, which is of no comfort (or flavor) to anyone. We sat in the place a little longer than normal due to a rather nasty storm that pounded the windows but miraculously cleared moments after we’d paid our bill. My mother relished the extra moments to slurp down some more Coke since it’d be her last for the next four days. My grandmother does not approve of soda, or chocolate or anything that actually tastes good for that matter.

 

I only spent a few minutes at my grandma’s house before getting back on the road and heading to my aunt’s*. Since my grandmother only has a two bedroom house, and I conveniently forgot my pack n’ play, I had an excuse not to spend the night there. I haven’t actually slept at my grandma’s house since I was 14 years old. Even then something about it bothered me. Maybe it is the room full of antique dolls that stare at me through those hollow glass eyes. Maybe it is the sheets which always felt starched and itchy. Maybe it is the giant picture of my mother (as a blonde) and my own seven year old face starring down at me all through the night. Personally, I think it has something to do with the wind up monkey that plays the symbols which sits on the dresser. It is just like the one from Stephen King’s Monkey Shines and I am still terrified it will suddenly start clanging it’s metal hands together when I walk by it.

 

My son was thrown off his routine since we didn’t even get to my aunt’s house until close to 10pm and his usual bedtime is 8. He finally got to sleep around 10:30, which meant he didn’t actually wake up until 12 hours later. As soon as he did we bid a quick goodbye to my aunt and headed back to my grandma’s house. Almost as soon as we sat down my grandmother called over to my great aunt’s house to see if it was a good time to visit. I knew this was coming and I really wanted to go see my great aunt and uncle, but I was hoping to build myself up to it. They are both very sweet people who I used to visit every summer, but since I went off to college more than a few years ago, my visits have been few and far between. The last time I saw them was at my wedding two and a half years ago and the time before that may have been at my first wedding over a decade ago. They only live five minutes from my grandmother, but somehow I just never seemed to make it that extra few miles.

 

My great uncle met us out at the car. I could see his eyes were rimmed with tears. Though he is the youngest, he is still in his early 80’s. Most of memories of him though are of a smiling farmer who always had an ear of corn to give me or a cow to show me. At that moment though, he looked too frail to open the door, much less plow anythign. I’m sure some of that is time, but the sorrow on his face seemed to be weighing him down even more. My mother enveloped him in a hug. His tears were met by hers. She had comforting words for him. Sadly she understands his pain first hand. I hugged him next, but our hug was brief because he wanted to help my grandmother into the house.

 

His wife, my great aunt, met us at the door. My mother had a hug for her as well, but it didn’t last long. My hug with her was shorter and much more awkward as I was holding my son. She smiled to see him. In typical fashion, despite her tragedy she was composed. Ever the Amazon, she towered over us, fixed places for all of us to sit and spent half of our visit reassuring my grandmother that the cat she is so terrified of would not bother us. Her eyes only welled up briefly when she showed us a picture a friend had taken a few weeks back of her son. It was candid and struck me as the epitome of who he really was. I had not seen him in at least 15 years. He was graying and his face was weathered from many seasons harvesting hay, wheat and corn. It was easy to recognize the face of the smiling boy on his graduation day which adorns the bedside table in my grandmother’s guest room. When she passed the picture around, my grandmother started crying again.

 

My other second cousin, his sister, joined us a few minutes later. She’d been getting ready, although I could hardly tell as she had on what appeared to be a jogging outfit. She had not been exercising though. Her eyes, like my uncle’s were tear stained. My mother, who has always seen her as a rival for everyone in the family’s affections (including her own mother’s) hugged her warmly. I gave her a small hug as well, but it was an automatic motion. Not that I don’t like my cousin, but I hardly know her. She is only a few years younger than my mother and was out of the house long before I have any memories of visiting my aunt and uncle. My only real record of her is a picture, from some beauty pageant, which also sits on the table in the guest room of my grandmother’s house.

 

I’ve found myself in many uncomfortable situations before, but when my cousin’s son walked in, I think it actually became the worst one ever. My mother hugged him, but I’d never met him before, so I had no idea what to do. Luckily he didn’t cross to my side of the room, but the little wave I gave him seemed far too cheery for the mood in the room. Everyone around me was grabbing for tissues and softly sobbing and here I was waving like a moron to a boy who had no idea who I even was. I felt so out of place. I was sad for their loss, but I couldn’t bring myself to cry. I felt that if I cried, it would be false and cheapen their pain. I’d done my crying for their loss only a few days before and sitting in my aunt and uncle’s living room, all I could do was sit quietly with my son, trying to keep him from getting too agitated while everyone around him cried. I felt horrible that I couldn’t do more for them, but I realized I hardly know any of them and while I know the sorrow of the death of a loved one, I felt as if I was intruding on their sorrow. I was an interloper and while no one was pushing me away, everyone knew I didn’t quite belong either.

 

I left my grandmother’s house shortly after we got back from lunch. I had to return to work the following day and had a long drive ahead of me. I couldn’t go to the funeral or the wake because of the drive and work the next day. I was relieved. While I hate that any of them are hurting, especially my grandmother, I knew I would be intruding again. Instead I helped by picking my mother up again today and taking her back to the airport. We talked about politics, my sister’s cruddy marriage, and of course, the funeral and wake. Like me, my mother found herself an outsider. She knew almost no one at either ceremony, but was forced to sit up front with my grandmother who also did not know most of my cousin’s friends. Being family she was supposed to help out, but her absence from the family for the last nearly 30 years of her life has left her completely out of place. Ever since she left them behind at 18 she has been railing against them. She has never been happy in their company and brought me up to feel the same. My exposure over the years has brought me closer to my grandmother, but most of my mother’s family are family to me in name only. It makes me sad during times like these because I have no idea how to comfort them. Despite growing up with them, my mother really doesn’t know how to relate to them either. Sometimes it scares me how much we have in common. 

*My dad’s sister.

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