February 25, 2014

Fancy this

Coach and I were invited to a dinner with a group of his coworkers at his boss Vern's house last Saturday.    The invitation described an evening in Vern and Rachel's home where several courses would be prepared and presented by a personal chef.  Exquisite. There was a menu emailed detailing the food that would be prepared.  Food that I never knew existed.  Vern included directions and wardrobe suggestions.  Casual.  He planned to wear jeans, and slippers.  Funny, there was no mention of a sleepover . . . yet, slippers?

Before we left the house I delegated the pyramid of power.  Or should I say, I reconfigured it.  Tetonka would answer to no one, but would be in bed by 9:15, or we would find out.  Laddie was given no control over anyone.  He would not be awake when we came home.  Eddie would be in charge of the balance of the kids.  On the drive up, I recalled picking up Vern's wife Rachel for a company weekend away about 8 years ago.  Vern was already at the Wisconsin resort  playing golf, so Coach and I picked Rachel up on our way.  Different house then.  That place had been a fairly standard, suburban colonial.  Not too different from the house that Coach and I lived in at the time.  Back then the conversation focused on the addition they had just put on to their colonial, or one that they were about to add on to it.  I don't remember.  Over the 8 years since Coach and I had occasion to be at their home, there was a dramatic shift.  Two years ago they built a million dollar mansion.  Vern was doing well.  They were living large.  Tasteful and beautiful, but large.

Their house was built on a tear down lot backing up to a park.  Rachel pointed out that for 2 years they waited patiently for exactly the lot that they wanted.  Swell.  Makes me wonder if my patience in waiting for almost 6 years (and counting) to purchase window treatments for the living room, dining room, and study in our 'new' house will provide me with the same kind of satisfaction.  Six years ago while I was pregnant with Curly, we had plans drawn up to add on to our cozy colonial.  After discovering that moving to a slightly bigger, younger house equipped with a three car garage was less expensive than adding on to our current place, we found a great deal across town and moved in when Curly was almost 6 months old.  Even after all these years, it's too soon to replace the once white carpet.  Our kids' destruction phase has yet to pass.  Call our offspring consistent in this regard.  Each hollow interior door that we own bares scars from many forceful closings, attacks by broom handles (with results that resemble gun fire), and failed lockouts run a muck.  These visions of our own abode made it that much harder to process this paradise complete with a stocked 12 x 15 foot wine cellar, a gorgeous gourmet kitchen, spacious rooms, magazine inspired decorating, current furniture, and a home theater room for those relaxing nights with their two kids.

Vern offered us a drink in the massive foyer.  I requested a glass of Riesling wine.  Rookie.  Vern suggested a wine that was paired with the first course of the night - either a white or red version depending on my preference.  I enjoyed the white wine, and chose to stick with it rather than switch varieties as often as we switched courses.  Let's not push my adventurous side.  Spread across the kitchen table were several cheeses, a variety of crackers, samples of fig or orange preserves, honey mustard dipping sauce, grapes, and very thin slices of cured ham.  Apparently this was tapas.  Since I'm not that cultured, I wasn't aware that these were tapas dishes.  Delicious.  I sampled as much as I dared.  The remaining courses were groupings of unusual foods paired with flavors and sauces on tiny plates.  Each course was announced as it was beautifully displayed in neat rows on the granite island.  Each guest hesitated before casually selecting an art project-like plate.  Our palates were introduced to a food combination that most of us never dreamed of.  Or perhaps due to my sheltered taste buds, I am the only one that never dreamed of them.  Being a meat and potatoes kind of girl, these foods departed greatly from my comfort zone.  The roasted Brussels Sprout salad with fired pita - guessing a mouthful of grass clippings would be a close comparison.  I really enjoyed the roasted parsnip puree topped with crispy garlic shrimp.  The puree part reminded me of mashed potatoes.  Safe.  There were tasty sweet potato fries with truffle oil, sprinkled with goat cheese and fried leeks.  The cherry tomato spit tomato sauce at my dress, but otherwise very tasty.  Duck empanadas.  Never again.  Seasoned duck in a puff pastry served with chimichurri aioli didn't do it for me, but one of our friends found them succulent and indulged in a second helping.  The lesson from the next course:  if I hadn't heard of it, I probably wouldn't find it edible.  White bean, roasted fennel and arugula with manchengo cheese, smoked paprika, citrus vinaigrette topped with spanish churrizo.  What?  Finally, lamb, mint and feta meatballs with saffron champagne creme rutabaga hash.  Firm believer that mint should be left to ice cream and girl scout cookies.  Coach and I both found this course a daring exercise in careful bite selection.  The meatballs were unique and yummy, but the bed of 'rutabaga hash' had to be avoided at all cost.  Seriously, it just sounds like inmate food.  Rutabaga hash.  The chocolate fountain ending I approved of.  I couldn't help but think my mother would have struggled to disguise her growling stomach until the dessert round reward.

We mingled with the other guests.  Nice people.  Because we don't get out much, I admit that I prefer socializing with my friends rather than Coach's counterparts.   Enjoyable company, just not my peeps.  Maybe my ideal cuisine isn't the only thing I am hesitant to steer away from.  Only one of the guests chose to go the 'slipper' route, following the host's lead.  She stretched fitted, flowered lady's totes slippers over her feet as if she were an 80 year old grandma settling in to watch the 'Wheel of Fortune.'  There was a similarity among the group that didn't take long for me to pinpoint.  Majority of them lacked body fat.  Workout-a-holics.  I identified with the two pregnant women.  OK, it's been awhile, but I can still remember those days . . . delivery looming in the next few months.  I recall looking like that  . . a few weeks after peeing on a stick, certainly not in my 6th or 7th month.  My imagination won't allow me to ponder the discomfort of enduring a pregnancy full of food deprivation.  If I was more familiar with our locale, I might have slipped out and purchased a big bag of cheeseburgers and fries.  I fantasized about  replacing duck pellets with the fast food on the pristine white plates.  Not because the food was inedible, but because these fitness focused prototypes (non pregnant and pregnant people alike) were in need of some fattening up.  There was only one guest whose waistline proved that her lifestyle was not in line with that of her professional compadres.  Yes, you guessed it.  She was wearing slippers. 

When it was time to go, Coach pulled up in our 11 year old, run down, salt covered minivan.  I got in, ignoring the oil light that has recently become a constant fixture on the dashboard, and let loose.  I was shaking and it was only in part due to the horrible Chicago cold we've been experiencing.  We can't even afford a used car.  We continue to pour money (possibly as frequently as our hosts pour wine) into this beat-up, eye soar and these people have remote controls to manipulate every aspect of their living space.

Perhaps it was just my tainted perspective, but a tasty night like this really left a bad aftertaste in my mouth.  Coach and all the other guests are making a decent income, but Vern and Rachel showed just how incredibly set apart the corporate route has made them.  I fear their gratitude dinner might allow for some disgruntled feelings.  Apparently this dinner replaced the annual gift that Vern and Rachel generously bestow on his employees each holiday season.  I think I prefer to open a gift in my substandard home surrounded by splintered interior doors and sticky floors in a fish bowl-like room with no window treatments rather than witness the fancy lifestyle adopted by the elite corporate staff.

The next morning Laddie wondered if we had fun.  Since I am never shy, and I am perpetually hungry, I would say the night was good, just frustrating.  I chatted with other couples a bit, sampled outrageously posh food, had a few drinks, and caught a glimpse of how the other half live.

February 9, 2014

ode to . . . it doesn't just happen in the movies

Coach showed up to Laddie's home swim meet last week just in time to see Laddie complete the last lap to the 500 freestyle individual event.  Despite the fact that the 500 is a 20 lap race, Laddie typically finishes first.  Coach hadn't witnessed this feat, and was trying to make it in time to cheer Laddie on. 

Coach is currently refinishing the basement, so in order to buy him more time to work on this latest home improvement task I went to the meet early.  Solo.  I prepared all the fixings for a tasty taco dinner before I left.  Mr. fix It's role in dinner involved building some tacos and throwing them on plates when the kids needed to eat.  Eddie had plans to attend a high school basketball game during Laddies' meet, so all the kids needed to come with Coach to the meet, since the older kids wouldn't be home to babysit. 

I texted Coach from the meet and tried to give him an idea of when Laddie might swim.  I followed up an urgent text with another one offering a tip that there was a break in the action and he should be able to make it for the 500.  I struggled to hide my disbelief that he didn't arrive prior to Laddie's last exhausting lap.  'You know how it goes,' Coach commented.  He proceeded to mock the children's voices, 'I want another taco, I can't find my shoes, I'm not done eating yet,' etc.  I do know how it goes, but I don't usually have the luxury of being on the flip side of late arrivals.  Thankfully my trusty video camera captured the race, so anyone interested in watching six minutes of slow paced swimming with a somewhat close finish could tune in for the replay.

A few minutes later, Coach asked me if I had seen Tetonka.  We glanced around the bleachers.  Not there.  I asked if maybe he followed Eddie into the basketball game in the gym.  No, Coach was positive that he hadn't.  Then he turned to Mini, 'Was Tetonka in the car?'  I was startled by this line of questioning, but even more shocked at the response.  'No,' she replied with no hesitation.  I thought she was messing with him, but then I asked the other kids.  They were all confident that he wasn't in the car.  How do you not know what kids are in the car before you reverse down the driveway?  It's not as if having a surplus of kids is a new situation for us.  Early on, we had our moments . . .

Eight years ago, about a week or two after Reggie arrived, Coach and I took the clan to Sunday mass.  Getting out the door with five kids was a major undertaking.  I worked hard to time it so that Reggie didn't demand to nurse during that one hour of public exposure.  Fingers crossed.  It was January.  Dangerously cold.  Arriving on time has never been our family's strong suit (I take most of the blame as I always try to accomplish just one more thing . . .), and with a newborn in tow we didn't stand a chance.  Coach pulled up to the doors of church after mass had begun and we all bailed out.  Prime seats in the back ten pews were unavailable.  Of course.  The usher escorted the four kids and I to a pew in front.  'Is Coach coming?' he whispered.  I nodded, 'Parking the car.'

After the usher pointed in our direction, Coach slid into the pew.  I noticed it right away.  No baby.  Now there were families at church who loved our babies.  I turned to look in the back to see if someone we knew had 'borrowed' baby Reggie for a baby fix.  No.  I motioned to Coach, who was three kids away from me, by cradling an imaginary baby in my arms.  My eyeballs bugged out and my eyebrows darted off my forehead in a catoonish-like inquiry position.  He chuckled slightly, apparently thinking I was joking.  I wasn't laughing.  After his obligatory double take, he slid back out of the pew.  It seemed like an hour before he returned.  Baby carrier in tow.  Imagine the rest of the congregation who was undoubtedly entertained after watching our little family drama unfold in the front pew of church. 

When Reggie was six years old, I left the kids home while I raced off to grab a Pet-smart gift card for an animal rescue themed birthday party Eddie was invited to.  Pulling into the driveway - gift card in hand, I motioned for the gang who were all playing outside to jump in the car.  Eddie insisted that he not arrive late, so he practically threw the younger kids in the car from the driveway.  We didn't get very far when I realized something was off.  'Is Reggie in the car?'  A ten second search.  No.  I was less than a mile from home.  Eddie lost it as I maneuvered the great white van into a u-turn.  'He'll be fine, just drop me off at the party first.  I'm already late.'  Reggie was in the basement (pre-xbox days), and was unaware that we had driven off. 

I managed to drive all the way home from the kids' Catholic School a few years ago without Mini.  At that school, kids bounded up to their parents when dismissed.  Moms and dads parked and walked towards the front doors of the school until they found their youngsters.  Mini walked with us towards the car, but somehow didn't make it inside the van.  I was almost home, when I realized the chatting deficit.  Eddie announced that he had seen her, but he waved to her because he thought she was going to a friend's house.  In my world, 2nd graders don't arrange their own play dates.  U-turn.  Another mom was waiting with Mini in the parking lot.  Fortunately it was a mom with a big family.  Simply amused, not alarmed.

Flash back to the swim meet.  Coach called home.  Tetonka didn't even know the crew had exited the building.  Home alone.  Fortunately, Tetonka is 11 and can stay home alone for brief stretches of time.  He claimed that he had run down in the basement to save his game on xbox (don't get me started on the evil component and energy-sucking black hole of video games).  In reality he probably got sucked in again, and didn't make it upstairs when the happy bus was being loaded.  Tetonka inquired how the big race had gone, and asked his Dad to congratulate Laddie for him . . . as if he was away at college and might not see Laddie for months.  So our abandonment issues might not be as exciting as the Hollywood version, but I'm surprised that they keep cropping up. 

February 2, 2014

the once over at the ortho

I dragged a handful of kids to the orthodontist in a snowstorm in December.  I dropped them at the door,  found a parking spot, and sloshed through the snow into the office waiting room.  The loud clomping noise my boots produced was unavoidable.  Embarrassing, but unavoidable.  I hate my boots.  They are ugly, uncool, and sensible.  The only fashion statement they make, or shall I say scream, is 'I don't care what I look like when it snows.'  I could never bring myself to spend a pile of cash on Uggs or some other fancy brand.  Instead I hope sidewalks and parking lots I must navigate through have been well plowed by the time I show up wearing my shoes.  That's right, in most in climate weather I try to squeak by with shoes.  Unless I am going to take the kids sledding or go to the grocery store during a snowstorm, I abandon my boots in the back of the closet.  Not the most practical of plans considering that I live in a suburb of Chicago, but I am a slave to fashion.  Or perhaps I am a slave to affordable fashion.

Our orthodontist office is located in a very posh town.  I removed Curly's hat and tried to fluff her matted locks.  She practiced reading to me from the book I brought while we waited for her to be called back.  Laddie and Tetonka sat and read or looked at magazines.  Curly plodded back in her purple, puffy, hand-me-down boots when her name was called.  That's when I saw them.  Two kids who were sitting across from their mom watching Curly shuffle through the waiting room.  The kids were wearing expensive bog boots.  Name brand coats.  Impeccable.  I don't mind name brands, or impeccable looks.  I know lots of kids born into money whose appearance dripped of wealth, but whose personality traits were rich in meaningful ways.  My fellow ortho waiting room companions proved to be rich in only monetary ways.

I got the impression these two weren't admiring Curly's natural, bouncy doo, or her purple Velcro winter footwear.  Glamour mom decided to ignore the 'no cell hone, please' signage.  She had an air of importance about her.  Self-created, purchased at a swanky boutique importance. Her cell phone usage certainly couldn't be restricted by the same boundaries as random lowlifes.  While her call was quick, it could've been made after taking 2 haughty strides to the comfortable confines of the hallway, but whatever.  Glam -mom continued her love affair with her phone.  Texting, surfing, etc.  Meanwhile Jack and Jill delivered glaring once overs to a preteen patient who was sent to retrieve her mom from the waiting room to chat with the doctor.  Preteen didn't stand a chance.  I'm assuming her newly installed apparatus was to blame for her protruding mouth, which refused to close completely.  Nudging elbows, raised eyebrows, and suppressed smiles were exchanged between the prince and princess of perfection.  Glam didn't notice her offspring's 'better-than-everyone' air.  Guessing the issue would be hard to recognize, since she probably originated the attitude anyway.

Allow me to clarify.  I'm familiar with 'the look.'  The once over.  Very familiar.  My Dorothy Hamel haircut was hacked into a boy look-alike style (I use the term loosely) once my mom chose to cut my hair herself.  She already cut my brother's hair.  Why not?  Dorothy would have cringed at Mom's technique.  Her use of a straight edge razor blade was meant to produce a feathered style.  I think.  Glasses didn't help.  My height made fitting into the crowd impossible.  The result:  poor posture.  My wardrobe was inherited from my older, SHORTER sisters.  Got the picture?  So, yes, there were looks.  In hindsight my outward appearance struggles forced me to grow in other ways me.  Without a 'cute' factor, I had to pave the way into people's hearts with my glowing personality and my quick sense of humor.  (This is where I could elaborate on how I fear for Mini and Curly.  They are both cute.  Almost wish they had a late bloomer factor so they weren't accustomed to such constant positive feedback from total strangers.  Hopefully, having four brothers will equip them with more survival mechanisms than most unbecoming girls have to start). 

In the waiting room, my chin dropped open.  Harsh words hung off the tip of my tongue.  Laddie sensed something was up and I filled him in.  He grew nervous that a scene was about to unfold.  'Don't, Mommy.  Please don't say anything.'  These self involved children were so wrapped up in their private world of zingers aimed at girl-whose-mouth-needs-saving, I doubt they would have heard me chastise them anyway.    Curly stumbled across the waiting room eager to invite me back to hear the orthodontist's recap of her under bite.  Their eyes burned wholes in my boots and perhaps other uncool aspects of my appearance and Curly's as we passed them.

Fortunately the doc only took a second of my time.  We had one more doctor appointment to get to and the steady snowfall would interfere with any small chance I had of arriving there on time.  On my way out the door, I observed caddy and judge swivel in their chairs so they could stare at my unsuspecting children and I as we left the office.  I held the door for the kids to exit.  They I turned and ducked my head down to their x-ray vision eye level.  I recreated from my own childhood the universal symbol for 'I just caught you staring at me'.  I bugged my eyeballs out as far as they would go pulling back my eyelids as much as possible.  Held the look until I hoped that they 'got it.'  Stink eye delivered.  Then I left feeling somewhat victorious, but not as much as I would have if I had delivered a swift kick with my cheap, totally unhip winter boots to their designer jean clad behinds!