Day 6: A Trip to the Zoo

I grew up an hour from Madison, and have many fond memories of Saturday daytrips there with my family.  We’d go to a children’s play at the Civic Center and get lunch at Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry.  We’d pick up wee cinnamon rolls at Ovens of Brittany or bagels from Bagels Forever.  We’d have lunch at Ella’s Deli and go to the zoo.

Let me tell you: it’s really hard to conceive of paying for a zoo after living in close proximity to the National Zoo in DC and after growing up an hour away from a perfectly lovely – if small – zoo in Madison.  I went there with my friends after prom instead of going to Great America like the rest of our class. Shane and I went there together in the first few months we were dating. It’s a special place for me.

You know what’s even better than going to the zoo? Going to the zoo with a very excited toddler, especially one who happens to be quite cute and also related to you. Jenn and Bill met us at the zoo between thunderstorms – our timing was impeccable! – and we had a great time catching up and watching Max point and squeal.

Hhh

Delicate

There he is!

Uncle Shane didn’t want to be upstaged when silly photos were involved.

Grumpy Bear

Highly Suspicious Chicken

Cheer up, Uncle Shane!

Happy Penguin!

A great morning, followed by a great lunch at Chautara and a totally indulgent, absolutely diet-busting trip to Campus Candy, where you can get delicious frozen yogurt topped with ANYTHING IN THE STORE.  Kids in the candy store indeed.

Waiting for the inevitable

My grandpa isn’t doing well. He’s been declining for a while, but this morning his doctor – a long term family friend, best man (I think) in my parents’ wedding, and my brother’s namesake – called my dad at work to tell him how bad things have gotten.

My grandparents still live in the split-level house they built in the 50s, when my mom was a little girl. Most days Grandpa, age 91, doesn’t get down the stairs – and Grandma, age 93, brings food to him, helps him bathe, and changes his diapers. After six decades as a housewife, she is a nurse again.

For years we’ve tried to convince them to move out of this house that is really too much for them to manage. For years my parents have tried to convince them to hire a caretaker instead of relying on a (miraculous, wonderful) neighbor and a series of college-aged girls that help with the cleaning and yardwork. Mom is going over for the weekend to make another attempt at this argument.

Four years ago, when we were in the midst of our nation-wide job search, Grandpa took a fall. I remember locking myself in the studio and crying and wondering if I really wanted to move to, say, Boone, where getting home in case of emergency would require a full day of travel. We live 7 hours away, but we might as well be on the other side of the world for all the good I can do right now.

In this way, old age is cruel: there’s little more to do that sit and wait, knowing that he won’t be with us sooner rather than later, but knowing there’s nothing we can do to forestall this inevitability. There are interventions for injury and disease. There are no interventions for just being OAD, as Grandma puts it: Old And Decrepit.

I am so thankful for having my grandparents in my life for all of my life. My dad’s parents are barely a memory at this point – I met my grandma once when I was a small child, and my grandpa passed away when I was in high school – but my mom’s parents have always been there for holidays and birthdays and long visits in the summer time – and, of late, for rambling conversations about Detroit. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that they won’t always be there.

With Grandpa!
1980

Jen and Grandpa
2006

Being a “Grown Up”

When we were home for the holidays, I had a conversation with my mom about jobs, kids, and home buying – you know, the “adult” stuff you’re supposed to have and do in your 30s. She made a comment that has been nagging at me, especially lately, and I want to try to unpack that while also talking about things we’ve been discussing lately.

Mom and I were talking about our plans for having kids, and I was explaining to her that one of the things I’m constantly turning over in my head is what we’ll give up if we make that decision. Mom said something along the lines of that we’d had time to pursue our interests or our hobbies, but that maybe now it was time to set aside some of the fun things and be grown ups. This wasn’t her exact wording, and it makes her response sound much more judgmental than it was. Regardless, it brings me to what I want to talk about: being grown ups.

We’ve decided to wait another year before buying a house. There are a variety of reasons for this: we’d like to have more money in the bank so that we can put down a substantial down payment and avoid PMI. While I like my new job a lot, we’re still not sold on being in Ann Arbor for the long term, especially not after this interminable winter. Home values aren’t appreciating, which makes buying a house seem like a less than ideal investment. And besides, while we complain about our rental, we’re not on the hook when the water heater breaks or the roof leaks or the driveway needs to be redone.

Similarly, we’re not rushing into having kids. Despite my lifelong ambition to be a mom, the reality is very different than the fantasy. There are certainly many rewards to having children, but right now we’re considering the things we can measure. My career is very important to me, and Shane is really busy with work, mopeds, beer, and whatever hobby will come up next. As a result, our days are very full – and that’s before adding in running, gardening, cooking, travel, or friends – and we appreciate a good night’s sleep. Having a baby would dramatically change all of that. Kids are tremendously expensive in both the short and long term, and that’s if everyone is healthy. Ultimately, the decision to have kids is a huge, lifelong one – there’s no foreclosure proceedings or bankruptcy in this area of your life.

So what’s been bugging me about my mom’s comment is that while I can see that we have selfish reasons for not buying or birthing right now – they are also good reasons. We are making the choice to not have a baby right now – or perhaps ever – because we’ve thought about it and talked about it and come to the conclusion that this is not something we want right now. We aren’t buying a house – even though it’s a buyer’s market – because it is the right decision based on a variety of personal and financial factors. I would argue that making these decisions makes us, in fact, MORE grown up than if we haphazardly embraced her view that these things are what you do when you are married and in your 30s. Which is absolutely not to say that making different decisions than we have is wrong – just that these are our choices based on who and where we are in our lives.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about.

The Holidays, y’all

I could attempt to recount the things we’ve eaten over the last week, but really, you can probably imagine it.  You’ve been reading about our meals for a year.  You know that before we go out of town for a few days, we try to eat down the fridge, which is what we did on Wednesday.  You know that on special occasions like our anniversary or a Thursday, we like to have snacks for dinner, which is what we did for Christmas Eve Eve as we watched Love Actually and opened our gifts for each other.  And you know about the holiday excess we’re trying to avoid.

Festive Shane

We spent Christmas in Rockford with my family, including this handsome fellow who dazzled us with his crawling and his good looks:

Christmas Max

There was the traditional Christmas Eve corn chowder, more bland than it should have been, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with the salt shaker and the most important spice. There were dozens of cookies stashed in the cold garage: gunk bars, brownies, chocolate coconut pinwheels, and sugars.

Mark and Evonne

We had German food for Christmas lunch – Mexican last year – sauerbraten and spaetzle, warm red cabbage, German potato salad, and an assortment of sausages. Somehow – perhaps thanks to the gym – we made room for Swedish pancakes at Stockholm Inn on Sunday, Beef-a-Roo, and cocktails and snacks at Garrett’s with Jenn.

Open wide!

And then on to Lakewood for a few non-holiday days with Shane’s family: tacos and Blizzards with his brothers, scones and excellent coffee at The Root after a visit to Trav’s funny gym:

Post-run olive scone at The Root

A visit to the Cleveland Art Museum, where we saw an incredible Damien Hirst piece made entirely of butterfly wings, followed by a tasty but cold and stressful lunch at Tommy’s in Coventry – I had tempeh salad, nom nom nom. Watching the Hawks win – or at least most of the game – over beers and food with the whole family at Buckeye Beer Engine. Time with kitties, cousins, and grandpa. And a couple of remarkable hot dogs at Happy Dog before heading home:

Happy Dog-14
Photo by edseloh

Among the toppings we tried were blue cheese coleslaw (me), marinated mushrooms (Orin), and habanero pickled red onions (Shane) – plus a really great chimichurri and a garlic-tomato jam for our tater tots.  I wish I had photos of any of this, but despite taking the camera everywhere with us, we only managed a couple of pictures of the cats.  I’ll try harder next time, promise.

1124 Thanksgiving Prep

turkey

We’re leaving in the very wee hours of the morning to drive to Iowa to spend Thanksgiving with my family and also with the Wadsgreens – so tonight was very much about clearing the fridge, packing the bags, and doing a bit of meal prep since we’re likely to roll into Davenport just in time for dinner.

I would say that my grandparents are getting up there in years, but that would be an understatement. They’re old. My grandma was born in 1918, so her first Thanksgiving would’ve been just after Armistice Day. My grandpa was born two years later – his childhood on a farm in very rural Iowa might’ve looked like this:

1920' ish Iowa
Photo by drivebybiscuits1

This year we’ll have eleven at dinner: the two of us, my grandparents, my parents and my aunt Nancy, Eric, Jenn, Bill, and little Max. Mark will be celebrating with friends in California, but will be home for Christmas. Uncle Tom, Aunt Ann, and the little cousins will be with Ann’s family. Uncle Rich will be in Iowa City. There will be turkey and stuffing and Grandma’s mashed potatoes and butterhorn rolls. We will drink wine out of tiny glasses, and Grandma will fuss over the dishes if we don’t get the dishwasher started before she can get up from the table. It will be very warm in the house. These things never change, though this year I’ll be introducing two new dishes: sweet potatoes with pecans and goat cheese and carrot cake, both from Smitten Kitchen.

Part of the reason I love friend Thanksgivings so much is the lack of codified traditions. We each bring our own things to the table – literally and figuratively – and discard the things that don’t work. I love this. But I also love the traditions. I love the fact that our family recipes – boring and predictable as they can be – are ties to the past, to the years of shrimp cocktail before dinner, of being sandwiched at the dinner table between my aunt and my mom, of sneaking sips of wine after the meal. I argued against having a turkey this year, but I know I’d miss it if it wasn’t on the sideboard along with Mom’s cranberry sauce and the small cut glass salad bowls.

Going home for the holidays is expensive and time consuming – hours in the car, money for pet sitters and expensive tanks of gas and food on the road. Moods run thin, we eat too much, and sleep is compromised by unfamiliar beds. I dread the drive and the stress, and part of me will be relieved when we don’t have to make as long of a trip. At the same time, I treasure the years and years of memories, and look forward to the brief amount of time we’ll have with my family around the table. I feel tremendously blessed.

1016 Mom’s Belated Football Birthday

Today was all about Mom – from breakfast to football to cake.

Hawkeye Pride

For breakfast: French toast and fried apples.  I don’t love French toast, but Mom and Shane both do, so while they slept in, I battered and grilled up slices of challah dipped in egg, milk, vanilla, and pumpkin pie spice.  I also cut up and sauteed a couple of apples in butter and cinnamon – perfect for spooning over the French toast or, in my case, stirring into Greek yogurt with a bit of maple syrup drizzled over the top.

While Shane headed off to Detroit to watch moped races at the Thunderdrome, Mom and I hit the farmer’s market and did some window shopping in Kerrytown, then grabbed a quick lunch at Plum before heading off to the game!  I came by my love of Big 10 football honestly, albeit later in life. All of my family is from Iowa, so we grew up cheering for the Hawkeyes and the Hawkeyes only. None of us have ever had much use for professional sports, though I do really enjoy live baseball. Mom follows Hawkeye football and wrestling in particular, and seeing the Hawkeyes in all of the Big 10 stadiums has been on her bucket list for years.

Hawkeyes

Getting to watch the Hawkeyes beat Michigan in the Big House, then, was all kinds of dreams come true.  Mom was jealous of all of the high fives I collected as we walked around the stadium exchanging “Go Hawks” with other Hawkeye fans.  Aside from a few grumps, the Michigan fans around us put up with our cheers – and gave us a good-natured ribbing when the game appeared to turn around in the fourth quarter.  If I hadn’t hurt my knee (don’t ask me how – all I did was stand up), it would’ve been a perfect afternoon.

HERKY!

Shane picked us up downtown, and we spent the rest of the night relaxing at home with chicken stew, red velvet cake, and Wisconsin’s victory over Ohio State. Two of the three were excellent, and the other was warm and satisfying, if not exactly what I’d had in mind when I fired up the crockpot. Apart from the knee, it was pretty much a perfect Midwest fall day – and exactly the sort of belated birthday Mom wanted.

0620 Maid-Rite

In honor of Fathers’ Day, I want to say a few things about my dad.

i am small

His childhood wasn’t the happiest, and he did everything from shoveling dog food to running the mouse game to put himself through college and med school. He has worked long hours all of my life to provide the sort of stability and leisure for our family that he didn’t have. He is a well-respected physician who is adored by his patients and his employees. He is also quiet and reserved, with a dry sense of humor and brown eyes, all of which I’ve inherited in spades.

Those long hours meant he wasn’t always around much when we were kids – but they also meant that Mom could be home with us, for which I’m very grateful. They also meant that we could go to private school, take family vacations, and have money available to us for college. And they mean that when Pop does get home, he has earned his downtime and his peace and quiet, which are the only things he ever ask for at the holidays.

Family

We really had to press him last night to find out what he wanted to do for Fathers’ Day, and he finally said he wanted to go to Maid-Rite for lunch. Shane had never been to a Maid-Rite, so when we walked in, he wasn’t sure what to make of it. It’s a chain of diners, really, and their specialty is a “loose-meat sandwich” – basically a burger, except the ground beef isn’t formed into a patty, and is steamed rather than fried. We had Maid-Rites all around, except Mom, who craved their breakfast options, and Eric, who went for the regular burger.

Sunday, 20th June: Happy Fathers' Day

I had wanted to make a fancy brunch for the family for Fathers’ Day – we really enjoy cooking and good food, and I love to be able to share this with our families. Maid-Rite was definitely not what I had in mind – but then at lunch, as Pop told us about going to Maid-Rite with his dad when he was a kid and about his happy memories of sitting at the counter with his dad, I realized that this was his way of sharing something special with us. A Maid Rite sandwich – like peace and quiet, like a good workout, like a well-worn sweatshirt – is a simple pleasure that offers the kind of comfort, nostalgia, and relaxation that Pop amply deserves. And I’m glad we were able to share it with him this morning.

On Becoming an Aunt

Perhaps someone should write What to Expect When Your Sibling is Expecting. I don’t know what I was expecting with regards to my sister giving birth, but it certainly wasn’t this:

Waves of every single emotion at once. Waiting by the phone.  Obsessively reloading her Facebook profile in hopes of news, and now in hopes of photos of the little guy that we don’t get to meet for another few weeks. Happiness. Jealousy, not because I don’t have a baby of my own, but because her family now includes a perfect little boy, because she has experienced things I haven’t experienced and can’t understand. Sadness that we don’t live closer, that I won’t be able to be a more regular part of his life.  Wondering what my role will be in his life.  Relief and thankfulness that everyone came through (and out) OK.  Getting choked up at the DMV watching mothers accompanying teen sons who are getting their permits.  Getting choked up at pictures of my dad holding my nephew, so similar to pictures of my dad holding me – the joy on his reserved face.   Realizing that I am the same age now as my beloved aunt was when I was born, and hoping that I can be as special and wonderful to my nephew as she has been to me.  Wishing I could do more to help.  Love.  So much love.

Things I Know About Detroit Circa 1948

My grandparents lived in Detroit after the war, and every time I talk to my grandma on the phone, she tells me stories about Detroit. More often than not, they’re the same stories I’ve already heard, but she’s 91 and has earned the right to repeat herself. It occurred to me this weekend that I should probably write some of this stuff down, if only so that I can remember it for future trips to Detroit:

  • There used to be a buttermilk bar in Eastern Market, where you could go have a glass of cold buttermilk, just like you might go to a soda fountain for an chocolate milkshake.
  • They lived on a street called Orchestra Place, which no longer seems to exist, and both worked at Harper Hospital.  One of their neighbors was Hawaiian.
  • I think Grandpa was doing his residency at Harper.  Occasionally they would get to go to the theater or the opera because in those days, they always had to have a doctor in the house.  They once sat behind the heir to one of the major auto companies.  Said heir had just married the heiress to a major tire company.  That was one of my grandparents’ brushes with famous people in Detroit.
  • Grandma was the head nurse on the ward where famous people were treated.  Said famous people would bring their own food and linens, and occasionally the nurses would catch a famous person in bed with a lover.
  • There was only one washing machine in their apartment building, and each household got it for one hour per week.  With two kids in cloth diapers, that one hour was precious.
  • Grandma would take the trolley downtown to do her grocery shopping.
  • Living in a big, diverse city was a big shock for two kids from Iowa, but no one bothered my Grandma when she walked to and from work in her white nurse’s uniform.
  • One time there was a knock at the door of their apartment, and it was a big African-American guy.  He had heard that my grandparents had gone to the University of Iowa and wanted to meet them, as he’d gone to school there as well.
  • There was a place where you could go pick out your chicken, and they’d do all of the cleaning and other stuff for you.

These are some things I know about post-war Detroit.  My grandparents lived there until around 1950, when they moved to Davenport, Iowa, where they still live.

first zine!

[info]weetziefae said that I’m the only person she knows who decided to write a zine after only reading 2-3. This is true!

I made a zine

32 half-sized pages about my family, my favorite holiday, and a whole bunch of recipes raided from my grandma’s cookbook.  I decided to make this because for the last two generations, when a kid in our family moves out, my grandma provides them with a black ledger book full of family recipes.  My brother and sister and I all got the book, but only…