Sunday, October 31, 2010

Treat Yourself Well

The volume of sweaters, jackets, jewels and scarves should not have surprised me but alas, I was in awe of each jam-packed bureau and closet—seven total. What the heck, Mom?

Yesterday Katie and I picked through just about every closet, drawer and cabinet in this house. We started with the cookbooks and made our way through the spa stuff and her jewelry. After a break for dinner, we then carefully eyed every thing in the clothes closet, trying on about every fifth item.

There were silly moments when Katie or I would turn our hands palms-up with a perplexed expression on our faces and wonder why she had the same skirt in three colors when we never saw her wear any of them. We found numerous shirts that were wider than there were long and we’d wonder when our mom began wearing belly shirts, as we had never seen her bear any midriff. The silliest moment was when Katie accidentally doused herself in the bluish-purple glitter of one of mom’s many holiday decorations.

There were sad moments when Katie would put on our mom’s class ring from Temple and start to tear up while saying, “My hand looks like mom’s.” We found the suitcase she took to Pittsburg still holding shampoo, underwear and two sweaters of the same color.

Aside from picking out select pieces of jewelry (Thanks Aunt Susanne!), the most useful items that I will enjoy are her spa products. Every so often, my mom would encourage me to bring a girlfriend to Fort Wayne for a Spa Day. She would prepare yogurt parfaits for breakfast, cucumber sandwiches for lunch and toasted almonds stuffed in dates for dessert. We’d sit on the sofa with soothing pads on our eyes, fresh lotion on our hands and cotton balls between our toes. One of my mom’s most coveted rules was: TREAT YOURSELF WELL.

A few years ago at the end of a trip out east, my mom was enjoying a spa treatment using Susanne’s paraffin wax machine. Within a few hours my mom was to be on an airplane to come back to Indiana. Suddenly, my mom appeared in the kitchen, visibly excited about something, and asked for a spatula. “What for?” my aunt asked. Dismissing her question, my mom rushed back upstairs. Aunt Susanne followed her upstairs to find that my mom had spilled the paraffin all over the bathroom and was desperately trying to scoop it back into the container using the spatula.

What was she doing trying to move the machine anyway? When I asked Aunt Susanne this question, she explained that my mom was trying to put the machine back on the floor, where it was normally stored, to help her stay organized. She was, in fact, trying to treat her sister well.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Holiday Grand Plan

To my mom, the first of September signified more than my birthday. On this day, she would sit down at the dining room table and begin planning for the holidays using The Holiday Grand Plan. I'm not sure if this was a Martha project or from one of her many holiday celebration books or from a random website. In fact, it may have been a collaborative effort with the Hoosier Stitchers. Either way, it was a crummy way for a teenager to celebrate her birthday.

Of course, the Grand Plan began at the entrances of the house. She scrubbed the foyer fervently with hopes of celebrating the most wonderful Holidays. She would request wish lists for Christmas weeks in advance, and naturally, my mom would begin finding and fine-tuning recipes for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Last weekend as I perused my mom's vast supply of old and new recipes, I found last year's Thanksgiving menu. In her funny way, my mom always wrote in all caps to emphasize formality.












I won't be making any grand plans in the next few weeks, and I don’t know what this year’s Thanksgiving will entail. Frankly, I'm worried that our glue is gone. She synced our schedules and prepared the most delicious foods. It is sad to recognize that none of us will be able to match her enthusiasm, although she'd love to know we are celebrating. For the time being, I will be focusing on staying sane and continuing to stay in contact with my family.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Life Leaves No Time for Organization

At this point, I’d like to say that I’ve thumbed through all of my mom’s recipes, although I would not be surprised if more lurked somewhere in this house. Without cracking any of the 70 cookbooks, I spent 2 hours perusing the shiny box and a large leather folder. Afterwards, I decided to stretch my legs and found a bin harboring more recipes—almost two reams of paper and magazine clippings. This is cathartic, right?

I have to admire my mom’s desire to organize. In the shiny box there were numerous newspaper clippings, handwritten note cards and computer-printed recipes. Through all of the browsing, the majority of oldies but goodies were hidden in the shiny box: Emeril’s Wedgie Salad, Monkey Bread, Pasta a la Puttanesca, Country Breakfast Casserole, Peanut Brittle, and Everything Cookies. Regarding her organizational skills, however, I found a pretty stack of divider cards—which weren’t dividing anything.

In the leather folder, I discovered more recent and healthier recipes: Cauliflower and Roasted Garlic Soup, Dr. Oz’s Energy Balls, Quinoa Veggie Burgers, and Maple-Glazed Parsnips and Sweet Potatoes.

Luckily, the large bin had multiple copies of the same recipe so there was less work to do. I can’t imagine why she made multiple copies for everything but I can speculate. Possibly, she wanted to protect her stash just in case one lot was destroyed. My mom was like a squirrel preparing for winter, hiding food in multiple locations. There are other clues, however. For Martha’s Macaroni & Cheese 101, there were six copies and six pairs of names at the top of each: Mary/Will, Kathy/Bruce, John/Susan, Polly/Mike, Frank/Linda, and Susanne/Matt. For other cherished recipes, there were three copies: Justin, Katie, and Maggie. She had copies of instructions for putting together and sending care packages.

I am constantly surprised she isn’t here. She would be delighted to know that I’m looking at her recipes. I want to tease her about having multiple copies of the same recipe hidden in numerous locations. She’d roll her eyes at her misuse of the divider cards and say, “I just get so excited to cook for you that when I find what I need, I never put anything back!” Then she’d race into the kitchen, recipe in hand, and shriek about how she was going to whipping up something delicious.

The Shiny Box

I opened the cabinet of cookbooks and browsed old favorites of my mother’s: Moosewood, Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Betty's Crocker's Cooky Book. Overwhelming large, The Joy of Cooking sat on the bottom shelf. In fact, the cabinet itself was tremendous. More than 70 cookbooks stared menacingly at me.

Martha’s blue colored every third or fourth book. The bottom right corner housed a large silver box, squatting in the middle. Easing the box out between and underneath the books, I admired the ornate M (for Martha, of course) carved on the top.

My mom and I shared an odd fondness for boxes, and naturally, I would be drawn to this one. As a child I stored thread and paperclips in Tic Tac boxes while my mother spent hours meticulously fixing a stitched dragonfly to a stamp box. This box, which held handwritten and computer-printed recipes, would be my starting point. 

I sat down at the dining room table and embarked.