Monday, May 20, 2013

The Psychology of Soup

I made soup this last week. While this isn't earth-shattering news, it also doesn't mean that I cranked open a can of Campbell's either. See, I inherited a Soup Gene from my maternal grandmother and that means I don't just make soup, I understand soup, like in a Freudian way.

I think it was back when I was in college and had finally moved into a place with a stove that I called my mother for her Barley Soup recipe. Growing up, Barley Soup and Latkes were two of the only things I'd eat since I appear to have been born with a distinctly Jewish palate. She informed me the first ingredient was water.

"Water? To make soup?" This sounded fishy to me. I'm a little stupid in a kitchen but I would say the first ingredient should have been anything but water.

Then she rattled off a quick list of everything else that needed to be tossed in the pot, with a perfunctory slice here and there: onions, carrots, potatoes, beef short ribs. The mystery of the bay leaf.

"Oh, and barley," she said. "You should probably put in barley. Though I once made barley soup without barley and Dad didn't even notice."

So that's how I make Barley Soup; I just start dumping ingredients into a pot. If I have too many ingredients, and I always do, I go to a second pot. Etcetera. This is how I end up being the go-to-soup-gal for all my sick friends, how I freeze gigantic Tupperware containers full of soup and how I provided my stepfather with soup that he ate sparingly, in impossibly tiny amounts, during his last eight months in Arizona.

So it's really no surprise that the week after he passed away I suddenly found myself with this urge to make soup. Maybe the soup will make me feel better, since I can't save him. Maybe it'll answer the question of where exactly my elderly are for whom I used to make soup? If I make soup and bring it over there, will he just magically appear, regaling me with tales about how he takes my soup and then makes rice to thicken it and extend its usefulness? How magic is this soup anyway?

I would say, "Bob, the soup will go bad, you're making it last too long. It won't be good in a week."

But he looks at me like only someone who grew up during the Depression can, only someone who saves paper and plastic bags, only someone who still pronounces Cincinnati "Cincinnata," and says, "You should try it, Linda! One small box of Uncle Ben's - here I'll show you - and I won't need any more food for weeks!"

Here's what I used to know: I could take one of my gigantic soup pots, put water in it and a bunch of other things and an hour or two later I would have food. From water. From nothing. Food that could keep people alive.

Here's what I know now: I can't. 

Are you in charge of any signature family recipes? Has your family been touched by frugality? Missing anyone?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Life in Fifteen Lines or Less

From time to time I read the obituaries. Like just in case someone I know has actually passed away and I didn't know, or because I'm a writer and I read between the lines - looking at the birth and death dates, the life histories, the old people whose obituaries are accompanied by their picture from World War II. And sometimes I read them because we just need to pay attention. They're there and they memorialize someone's life and I can give them my time.

So I was really surprised when pricing obituaries yesterday, how much it costs to run one. Two hundred dollars for one day and fifteen lines. More for extra days and lines, and even more for a photograph. Somewhere in my naive little mind I thought these ran as community announcements, as community service. Not as ads.

If you read this blog back in 2009 and 2010 you may remember the madcap adventures of the elderly in my life - my Holocaust Survivor Jewish mother and my Ohio Farmer Methodist Stepfather. Her yelling and his deafness, which actually made an ideal combination; his constant puttering, gluing and winching, involved in dozens of mystifying projects around the house, like gluing together ice cube trays and winching broken laundry baskets, because nothing ever needed to be replaced, yet the house was still falling down around their heads. And my mother sat in her place on the couch in the family room, phones and remote controls in front of her - her command center - the living switchboard of our seven daughter family. Who knew those were the good old days?

But then there was decline and a decision that our mother needed to live with one of us due to her need for twenty-four hour a day care. Stepfather did not want to make the same move. He continued puttering about the empty house, still busy with projects, with ham radio, with driving his truck fifteen miles an hour down the road seeking garage sale finds. I saw him often, brought soup. But still I thought, he's 87. He can't live there alone forever.

There were a lot of options available to him, one of which was to move to be close to one of his daughters. And I swear he was alive and well this past January as he shuffled off with his kids, the yard sale items with which the house had been filled compressed finally into six suitcases and a mobile mini.

Who knows what it is that keeps a person in one piece, that keeps a person going? Who knows what strange collection of circumstances and location and relationships - and maybe glue and winches - keep a person going? Because by the end of March, and his 88th birthday, Stepfather was hospitalized, and on May 6th he passed away.

And on May 9th I was on a website trying to figure out how to condense the life of one man into fifteen lines and one day and found that it is impossible.

Rest in peace, Bob Milburn.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Top Ten Reasons Why I Haven't Been Blogging

I'm determined to start blogging again, even though I have so many excuses for why I can't. What would I start with? How can I explain an absence of over a year? So I thought I'd do a Dave Letterman-style top ten list, at least to get my brain working again.

The Top Ten Reasons Why I Haven't Been Blogging

10. The last year has seen me become the mother of two teenagers. Should I stop here?

9. Daughter has grown about 12 inches and gained 42 pounds in the last three years. Can you even imagine how much food has gone into that child to sustain that kind of growth? As far as her height, every time I look away, I look back and it's like a time-elapsed video. Suddenly she's looking me in the eye. And just in case anyone is worried - because who would want to gain 42 pounds in three years? - she now weighs 101 and stands 5'5. Still a Skinny Stick.

8. My book. I'm not going to say much about this because God forbid I promote myself, but the book takes a lot of time. It lived inside my head for so many years, and then it lived inside my computer for several more, so having it out in the world has been amazing, but it's kind of like having an extra child who doesn't live at home. I worry about it. Turns out worrying is also a full-time job. 

7. I started doing yoga last year in addition to my regular exercise. Trust me, this whole over-exercising thing takes up a lot of time. Also, not being the most bendy gal on the planet, yoga has been very interesting. Interesting in that I still can't touch my toes and, just when I'm supposed to be all spiritual and concentrating on my breathing, I'm always somehow adjusting my clothing. In summary, I've found that after a year I'm very good at one thing in yoga: corpse pose.

6. My book won an award (yea) and there have been various things associated with that, including the Writer's Digest Conference - East, and some interviews. Whenever I used to read in Writer's Digest about people who had won the award I won, I always assumed they were famous and about to get a gazillion dollar deal for their books. Just FYI, I'm still not rich and famous. 

5. Both and over achiever and under achiever, procrastinator and perfectionist, I keep taking classes to satisfy my zillions of ambitions. In just the last three months this has included an intro to Improv class, Mothers Who Write and Playwriting. Of course, I want to do everything and am fighting the knowledge that I'm just going to have to lock myself in the house to produce my second book. 

4. Meanwhile, back at my desk, I'm writing that second book, a sequel to Looking Up. Its working, and somewhat facetious, title is Jewish Girls Gone Wild. Yes, it's about my teen years.

3. I was blindsided by the elderly parents getting increasingly elderly, and, having written so many posts about their foibles, found it difficult to write once their decline became apparent. Who knew that one day I'd be looking nostalgically back to when they were their spry 79 and 84-year-old selves? Yet, that is true. It was increasingly hard to be humorous.   

2. Did I mention the teenagers?

And the number one reason I haven't been blogging is...

1. Bat Mitzvahzilla. It's taken me six months to recover, but Daughter had her Bat Mitzvah this past October. During it she wanted me to change the name of the blog to Bat Mitzvahzilla, to which I said no; she wanted to have the kids tables set up to form an "R" for her first name, to which I said no; and wanted to have giant cut-outs of herself for people to pose with at the photo booth, to which I said... well, see for yourself.

Husband, me and our two cut-out Bat Mitzvahzillas

Anything keeping you from doing what you want to be doing? Any high-maintenance children in your life? Aging parents? Forty-two pound weight gains?