Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More than Tradition

Standing on my tiptoes, I reach up to retrieve a glass pie plate from the top shelf of my cupboard. I hold it for just a moment before laying it on the counter top. It belonged to my grandma.

The ingredients are lined up, ready to go. I open my recipe book. The binding is split, pages fall out, and the corner is tainted with a mysterious stain. I really need to replace the book, but can't bring myself to part from all the handwritten cards and pages. I turn to the pie recipe I copied years ago when I finally converted to my mother-in-law's amazing pie crust.

Pie making in our family is more than a tradition. It is a series of memories strung together, it is an art form, it is an act of love. I have been watching the making of pies my entire life. My grandma who has been gone for four years was a brilliant pie maker - her blackberry pies are legendary in our family. My Mom and Dad can whip out pies faster than anyone I know. And Katie's use of cookie cutter decorations on her crusts (a trick I've adopted) turn pies into masterpieces.

So as I measure, sift, stir, and finally roll the dough I think of my family, spread out across the United States. This year, none of us will be together, and I feel a little sad. I form the edges using my finger and thumb and wonder what everyone else is doing. As soon as I put the first two pies in the oven, I call my sister Katie. She has just put her pumpkin pie in the oven and has already talked to Mom this morning. It turns out Mom is baking pies today too.

Katie tells me, "Mom (as you know) isn't known for overt sentimentality. But today, she began her pie making by saying softly, 'Hello Mom.'" I put a floured hand on my heart for just a moment as the "missing family" becomes tangible.

On this Thanksgiving Eve, I'm thankful for family past and present. I'm thankful for traditions that tie us together across years and miles. And tomorrow when I take my first bite of delicious pie, I'll think of all of them, and in my own way, say hello.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sister, Food, and Hockey

My sister, Jen, is here visiting from Seattle. It's been four years since I've seen her (I know - WAY too long!) I lured her here, promising that I'd go with her to a Capitals Hockey game!
But our evening at the Caps game was more than just a game. Madi, Jen, and I started our evening with a trip to the Portrait Gallery for a look at the Norman Rockwell exhibit. (Did you know the Portrait Gallery is adjacent to the Verizon Center, like right across the street?) It was well worth the stop. Those faces, the characters, the scenes...captured by Norman Rockwell...some so familiar, others new to me. Here's what I loved - I responded emotionally to each picture whether it was a laugh or a tug on my heart. What an amazing artist.

After the art museum we looked for a place to eat dinner. I had wanted to go to GB - which is a great restaurant in this neat old building with a coffered ceiling. But the wait was too long. So we walked up and down the sidewalks through the swarm of red (Caps fans are serious fans!) until we happened upon Carmine's Italian Style Restaurant. There was an open table next to the window. Carmine's serves family style food. The waiter warned us that the portions were large...but we were still surprised. I think there were at least two heads of broccoli in that bowl. We were served an entire loaf of the bread. And the meatballs were the size of tennis balls. It was so fun.

Nothing could have prepared me for the excitement of a Caps game. It's a spectacle. The red lights, the music, the fans...and of course, the game. We cheered, screamed, and hid our eyes when they started fighting. The game went into overtime and then to a shoot out. Though the Caps lost, we had a great time!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Taste of Victory

It's soccer tournament weekend which means we got to watch Madi's team play two games today. Bundled in scarves and mittens, we gathered early in the morning at the dewy green fields. The fields were surrounded by trees that blazed with autumn reds and golds. And we watched and cheered as Madi's team fought two hard won games.

In those final moments of victory, when the ref blew the whistle and the team, coaches, parents, siblings, and friends erupted in an explosion of cheers - I realized that the final victory was not one definitive moment, but the sum of all the small victories through out the game. Here are some of my favorites small victories, those I hope to always remember...

Victory was Heather, frowning at her mom because she knew it was going to be hard to cover the best opposing player, but doing it anyway.

Victory was Bree's goal punts that landed at mid field.

Victory was Diana clearing the ball out of the goal box, again and again.

Victory was MaKayla and Sidney taking direct hits to their faces with line drive kicks, shaking it off, and continuing to play.

Victory was watching Madi, Sidney S., and Fallon run in triangle formation and passing four (FOUR!) times before scoring.

Victory was Rachel being in the right place during the last ten seconds of the game to deflect a direct shot on goal.

Victory was watching Lizzy, one of the smallest girls on the team, challenge girls twice her size and never backing down.

Victory was Shannon who played with pure heart in both offense and defense positions (not to mention, taking a head butt and shaking it off).

Victory was getting shoved and shoved and even slide tackled, and still choosing to play clean.

Victory was Coach Valakis and Coach Colleen who never yelled a single harsh word from the side line and remained positive even when we were coming from behind.

I feel so blessed to be part of such a wonderful group of people. And today, I'm grateful that Madi and her team tasted the sweetness of victory...with the final whistle and in the accumulation of wonderful moments.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


This year was a "choose your own" costumes Halloween. Every other year we do a family theme. We had quite the array: Leasie and Baby C were angels. Madi was the Goddess Artemis (NOT Athena, and heaven forbid she be mistaken for Aphrodite!). She had a bow - no arrows - and a pelt which she wore over her shoulder (not pictured) to help make the distinction. T-man was a skeleton. The costume stayed safely tucked in a drawer which no one dared open for the past couple weeks because of the scare the costume was guaranteed to produce. Meya was a witch. Her favorite part of the costume was the Harry Potter wand that had sound effects.

We were bummed that Halloween was on a Sunday this year. But we got our candy fill at a church trunk-or-treat and a party sponsored by the high school. Our next door neighbor invited the kids to come over Saturday night. The leaves crunched under our feet and the air was cold enough that we needed jackets.

On Halloween night we invited friends over for dinner. We dined on ghoul intestines, vampire blood, and ogre buggers (spaghetti and meatballs) and washed it down with a creepy crawly punch made by Leasie. Then the kids gathered in the living room with treats and pillows to watch Harry Potter 3 (the world is much more wonderful with Harry, don't you think?) And the adults talked and played "Ticket to Ride" (Owen won, of course).

The loot! Baby C caught on to the candy accumulation part of Halloween in record speed. She told everyone, "Happy Ween!" and collect more candy than anyone else. Then she raided everyone's candy bags on Sunday and Monday, and I finally had to stash the candy in the basement. Her detox has been brutal. :-)

Halloween, with it's fun, sweetness, spookiness, changing leaves, and family traditions is one of my favorite times of the year.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Writer's Conference Part 2

This has very little to do with the writer's conference, and even less to do with just happened to be the same trip.

So my dear friend Lisa called me Wednesday before my trip and told me she'd love to come with me. I had made a blanket invitation to all my friends (since I had a room with two double beds) but never really thought anyone would be able to make arrangements. I was skeptical that she really wanted to come and hang out at a hotel all Saturday. But she assured me that time alone with a laptop and room service would be heavenly.

I'm so glad she came! I forgot how long 4 and 1/2 hours is in the car - but with a friend to talk to and laugh with, it was a piece of cake. I forgot how lonely a hotel room can be when you're solo - but with Lisa, it was like a slumber party.

My favorite moments of the weekend:
* Lisa administering CPR to "Judy Garland" (her not-so-trusty GPS).
* Michael's (Lisa's husband) suggestion, via phone, that we go into NYC Saturday night because "you're only 30 minutes away."
* Fabulous dinner find - little Italian restaurant between 40th and 41st street. Got seated in a window seat so we could watch the NY foot traffic (fascinating and entertaining).
* Catching the broadway play Screwtape Letters based on CS Lewis' book. So good! Great seats! And out by 10pm!
* Back in the hotel by 10:30pm and choosing to watch a pay-per-view movie "Salt."
* Yummy breakfasts two mornings in a row.
* Having fun with a friend all weekend long!