“I won’t be gone long,” Daddy assures Mama. “I just want to pick up a few sparklers, maybe a coupla Black Cats, nothing big.”

“Only a couple of Black Cats,” Mama says, giving him the fish eye. “The girls are too young for explosives, Ronald. Those things will scare them to death. Sparklers are fine.”

Daddy pulls a face. “Jesus, Mary, it’s not ex-plo-sives. It’s just fireworks. It’s good fun. When I was their age, I was lighting Bottle Rockets in the backyard by myself.”

“Proof of the quality of your upbringing.”

“I’ll be back soon,” he says, riffling around for the car keys.

“Oh, no,” Mama says. “You’re bringing those girls with you. I’ve got floors to mop and I don’t need them underfoot, so skeedaddle.” She grabs a large bucket from under the sink. “Plus, they’ll keep you honest. Just keep looking at them and remember how small they are.”

“Jesus. Okay.” Daddy harumphs a little, and from the stairwell, where I’m sitting eavesdropping, I can tell that he wasn’t counting on two little chaperones on this errand.

“Girls!” Daddy hollers. “Get down here. You’re going with me.”

I’ve already launched downstairs, in search of shoes, but I hear a groan from my sister’s room. “I’m busy!”

“Get down here!” he counters. “Now.”

“Garg!” My sister flings her bedroom door open and thonks down the stairs with heavy, moody feet.

Daddy rolls his eyes and shoots me a look. I think I’m going to laugh but she’ll kill me if I laugh so I dig my fingernail deep into the mosquito bite on my earlobe. What kind of weirdo gets a mosquito bite on her ear? It itches like wildfire.

We climb into our brazenly orange TravelAll–the tangerine behemoth that Mama still hasn’t forgiven Daddy for–and he whistles as he turns the key in the ignition.

“Your mother,” he says, as we back out of the driveway. “She doesn’t understand the 4th of July. It’s fun. It’s good, clean fun and when I was a kid, we’d stockpile our fireworks into one big heap–all the kids on the block–this big old mountain of Black Cats and Cherry Bombs and Bottle Rockets, and fire them off for the entire week. We’d take ‘em down to the train tracks, matchbooks spilling out of our pockets, and blast the bejeezus out of the place. It was great.”

“Mama says that’s a good way to lose a finger,” I pipe up from the back seat.

“Aww, Hell!” Daddy says. “I’ve been lighting crackers since I was barely able to walk and look…” he waves a hand in the air. “Fingers still attached.”

My sister sighs and looks out the window.

“Your mother, she worries too much. Ruins all the fun. I love the 4th of July. Parades, watermelon eating contests, burgers on the barbecue, fireworks in the sky. Can it get any better?”

There are several firework stands to choose from, but Daddy keeps driving until he finds the biggest one. “Some of these stands are pathetic,” he scoffs.

The biggest firework stand is actually a pavillion, tent-like structure with streamers decorating the entryway. The placard reads: Honest John’s Fireworks! Start Your 4th of July With a Bang!

Daddy grins so wide he looks about ten years old. “Yeah. This is the place.” We hustle out of the orange beast.

We haven’t taken two steps into the pavillion before we’re assaulted by a ridiculously tall, emaciated man dressed up like Uncle Sam. He’s sweating like gangbusters. I eye his blue and white striped pants. Is that velour? In summertime? His white wig is slightly askew and his eyes bug out like a gekko. He reeks of cigarettes.

“Hello, sir!” Uncle Sam says, and shakes Daddy’s hand with manic verve. “Honest John, that’s my name and welcomewelcome.” He slaps Daddy on the back. “Lemme show you around. We’ve got lotsa terrific stuff, here.” He spies my sister and me and crouches down a little. I can see his nosehairs sticking out. His wife should take care of that.

“Hello, little darlin’s! Ain’t you pretty?” he says, extending his hand for a shake. I shake his hand even though I don’t want to but Mama says she’ll skin me alive if I forget to be “gracious,” so I shake. My sister turns her back and heads outside to the picnic table up front.

He slaps Daddy on the back again and we head into the store. “Little girls, such a blessing,” Honest John says. “You’re a lucky man. Boys, they leave you in the dust but little girls? They’re yours forever.”

I’m pretty sure Daddy’s not listening. He’s looking at the racks and bins and barrels of fireworks and his eyes glaze over a little.

“This reminds me of when I was a kid,” Daddy says, eyeing the display.

“That’s exactly right,” Honest John bleats, showing a rack of nicotine-stained teeth. “Miles of fun right here. That’s what the 4th of July is about.” And then he leans forward and says in a hushed, secretive voice, “You know, sir, that this is the last year for fireworks in this state.”

Daddy’s face falls. “What? Seriously?”

“God’s truth,” Honest John says solemnly. “I love this great nation but I don’t know what those politicians are thinking, outlawing fireworks, and this is the last year you’ll be able to get ‘em. Last year, I tell ya.”

He shoots a wink at me and ruffles my hair and I hate it when people do that but I keep quiet and gracious.

“It’s lucky though, you found out,” Honest John says. “You can give your little ladies the best–and last–4th of July of a lifetime. Give ‘em one they’ll never forget, Pop.”

“Pop?”  Who calls people that? But Daddy doesn’t seem to mind. He’s too busy coralling a cart and shoving fistfuls of Cherry Bombs, Bottle Rockets, Smoke Grenades, Black Cats…everything…into the cart.

“Outlawing fireworks, that’s just baloney,” Daddy mutters under his breath, scooping up a very large explosive called a Screaming Eagle. “Nobody lets anybody have any fun any more, I tell you. But you know what? We’re going to have fun this year, dammit.” He’s so agitated that he doesn’t even give me the guilty look for cussing.

Daddy forks over several hundred dollars to Honest John at the checkout.

“It stings, I know, but you won’t be sorry,” Honest John assures him. “Last year. Last year, for any of this.”

Mama takes one look at Daddy, enormous box in hand, and she orbits.

“Ronald! Whaaaaa?! What have you done? For God’s sake!” She snatches the reciept out of the box. “That’s our entire shoe budget for Fall–what am I supposed to put on those girls’ feet in September? Where’s that money going to come from–out of thin air?” She huffs around the kitchen, slamming silverware into drawers.

Daddy looks hangdog sheepish and he gives his trademark shrug. “Mary, what could I do? He said it was the last year. Ever.”

Mama skewers him with a look. “A guy dressed up like Uncle Sam gave you his word.”

“Hey,” Daddy sputters. “His name was Honest John!”

“Honest John, my fat fanny,” Mama says, still slamming. She closes her eyes and inhales sharply, several times. She opens her eyes, looks hard at Daddy. After a few seconds, her face starts to wilt. “Lordy.” She shakes her head. “What are you? Just a big old kid.”

Daddy tries to look forlorn but his mouth twitches. He’s out of the weeds and he knows it.

He makes gin and tonics for both of them and they sit on the porch. “You’re a piece of work, Ronald,” she says.

Later, we head out to the city dump–Daddy insists it’s the safest place to let off our bounty. “No little kids around or anything and we won’t bother anyone with the noise. No dogs barking, either.”

I’m not so sure about hanging out at the city dump, but Daddy’s enthusiasm is contagious. He opens the back of the Travelall and we crack root beers and toast to America.

I decline sparklers. I don’t like the way they crackle and spit. For some reason, sparklers scare me more than any Black Cat, but my sister twirls hers in the air like Tinkerbell. Daddy shoots off firecrackers that explode and then transform into little parachutes, which catch the air and fall gently to the ground. I’m smitten, and I beg him to light off more, scampering through the debris to catch the parachutes as they sway down.

Black Cats pop and Bottle Rockets shoot. My sister dances with sparklers and I swat mosquitoes and Mama laughs, in spite of herself.

“Screaming Eagle, coming up!” Daddy announces. Mama, my sister and I return to the hatchback of the TravelAll, eyes glued to the sky.

The Screaming Eagle is so hideously loud that I have to cover my ears, and whenever I cover my ears I have to shut my eyes for some weirdo reason, so I miss the best of the excitement.

“HolyShitJesus!” Daddy yells.

“Ronald!?!” Mama gasps, mouth agape.

I open my eyes and see smoke. And flames. Daddy and his Screaming Eagle have set the dump on fire. And it’s a doozy.

“What. Now. Ronald?” Mama asks, and from the way she says it, I know Daddy’s in big trouble.

“Mary, I’ll handle it,” Daddy says, holding up a hand to pacify. He thinks for a minute, nostrils flaring. And  then he does what any reasonable and responsible adult would do.

He barks at us to “get the Hell in the car,” screeches the orange monster out of the dump and ricochets around until he spies a pay phone. He makes an anonymous call to the fire department.

Because can you believe it?  Some nitwit has set the dump on  fire.

 

{ 32 comments }

 

P1030616        ^Forgive the sentimental, old picture. It’s just my favorite summer pic of them, ever.

 

I am happy to report that Ukelele Girl came home from sleepaway camp in one piece and in high spirits. Miss M. and I tagged along for the ride to retrieve her, which shows how much she was missed–the little one and I are not fond of car rides on winding, narrow, nausea-inducing mountain roads. We both were a little green around the gills when we got there.

Miss D. was returned to us about 2 shades darker in skin tone and 5 pounds lighter in body–this was a sports-centered camp and she busted her butt every day. She had fun and made many new friends, but it’s going to be a long time before she wants to be in the company of anything insect/creepy crawly. She also confessed to feeling a little homesick several times, which made me feel strangely pleased. Home must not be such a bad place if our teenager misses us.

We did hit a couple of snafus this weekend. The first was when I went to unpack D.’s camp duffel bag and we realized that we’d accidentally grabbed the wrong one. Ugh! What are the odds that another kid had almost an identical duffel? My husband had to make a trip down to Denver for a mutual duffel exchange. The second calamity was when I opened Miss. D.’s (correct) duffel and this huge whiff of STANK assaulted me in the face. “Gah!!!!” I hollered. “What in the holy Hell happened here?”  My husband came running to investigate, took one whiff, and recoiled. “Jesus! What died in there?”  Apparently, some wild animal had pissed all over her duffel, and believe me, it was gag-inducing. I had to wash her clothes five times to get the stench out.

While my husband was busy driving like a madman, I was poring over cookbooks and food magazines, trying to figure out our Fourth of July menu.  We haven’t really solidified our plans for the holiday, but there’s always some kind of grilling involved. Sometimes we’re content to go the traditional burgers and hot dogs route, but this year I wanted to do something a little different.

I’d gotten my hands on some beautiful, enormous shrimp–definitely a splurge. I wanted to do them justice, but seafood on the grill can be a little tricky. Just a minute too long on a hot grill, and your investment can go up in…smoke. I came across this recipe and thought it sounded perfect because a) it’s super easy and b) the shrimp cooks in foil packets on the grill, which greatly reduces your chance for error.

The foil packets keep the shrimp tender because it actually steams the shrimp. Lots of yummy flavors infuse those little devils, like lemon and herbs and wine and salty, umami-rich anchovy.

Yes, anchovy. Don’t fear the fish, people! If you cook anchovy paste/anchovies, the flavor isn’t fishy-tasting at all. Honest. Cooked anchovies get melty and buttery and toasty-tasting. Nobody will even know they’re in there, so shhhh, you don’t even have to say a peep.

Another bonus? You can assemble these packets of shrimpy goodness far ahead, pop them in the refrigerator, go about your holiday revelry, and when it’s time for dinner, all you have to do is sip a beverage, throw the packets on the grill and Voila! In about 15 minutes, you have a delicious meal. No flipping, no fussing, no having to cook meat patties for different lengths of time to pacify the rare or the well-done crowd. Sounds good to me. I like it when I can enjoy my own party.

Whatever your plans for Independence Day, I hope you enjoy yummy food and jovial company and, of course, some good old fashioned horsing around.

balloon fun                    ^Our day will definitely involve these. Bring it, suckas!

 

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^There will be badminton. Miss D. is the Serena Williams of badminton.

 

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^ This is hubby’s “Bad-ass Badminton Stance.”   Dork.

 

 

WP_20150628_12_04_41_Pro                                                                                                                           ^Mozz-man says, “Have a chill 4th, dudes.”

 

 

 

 

 

P1050855

Easy Breezy Shrimp Packets

serves 4

slightly adapted from Food Network Magazine

 

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 minced garlic clove

1 lemon, zested and then juiced

1 tablespoon anchovy paste*

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

kosher salt and pepper

2 pounds jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined (leave the tails on for easy eating, if you wish)

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

4 green onions, sliced

1 Fresno or red jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup bottled clam juice

2 tablespoons butter

thin slices of lemon

baguette, for serving

 

Heat the grill to medium-high.

Whisk the olive oil, minced garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, anchovy paste, basil, parsley, paprika, crushed red pepper, 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper together in the bottom of a large bowl.

To the bowl, add the halved tomatoes, shrimp, scallions and red pepper. Toss together well to coat.

Tear off 8 (16-inch) sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Lay four sheets down on a work surface and top with the other 4 sheets of foil, so you have 4 double layers.

Using a slotted spoon, divide the shrimp evenly among the 4 layers of foil.

Whisk together the wine and clam juice. Spoon evenly over the shrimp mixture. Place 1/2 tablespoon butter over each packet. Place a few lemon slices over the whole shebang.

Seal the packets, crimping the edges tightly but leaving a small bit of room in the packets–they will puff up on the grill.

Place the packets on the grill and shut the lid. Grill for about 8-10 minutes.

Remove the packets from the grill and let rest a few minutes.

Let each guest carefully open their own packet and serve with warm baguette for dunking.

 

P1050856

{ 2 comments }

The Walk

June 24, 2015

Happy birthday, Mama. I’m so lucky to have spent another year with you. Thanks for all of the hours spent walking, talking and sharing stories.

*This story is from the archives, but I don’t know a better way to say how much I love you.

 

Growing up, there was no place I loved better than the kitchen, standing right at my mother’s side. Mama and I spent a lot of hours rolling dough, patting out hamburgers, glazing cookies with sweet icing. Especially in long North Dakota winters. Many of Mama’s recipes came from people she’d known and loved, and inevitably, there’d be some kind of story lurking in the background. I thought that was the coolest thing ever–that something as mundane as a slip of paper had a person, a time, a moment behind it.

And believe me, Mama could spin a story.

But really, I learned most of my stories on The Walk.

The Walk wasn’t something we were looking for, and at first, it was an awful reminder.

When I was in the third grade, my sister and I walked the four blocks home from school, boots thunking through February snow, bickering and hurling insults. We fumbled at the doorknob with mittened fingers, entered the foyer and…

My father was sitting at his desk.

This was weird. Dad usually traveled during the week. And if he didn’t, he was at the office and (being the good German that he was) never came home until 6 o’clock sharp.

I didn’t get it. Thursday+3pm+Dad=weird.

Plus, I didn’t smell anything yummy in the air. Where was the smell of buttered popcorn, or oatmeal cookies, or yeast rolls with jam? Where was my after school snack, always waiting for me at 3pm sharp, because Mama knew I was starving after school?

My sister and I cut eyes at one another, animosity forgotten, now comrades in a strange and quiet room. And then something happened that terrified me. My sister, still gawking at my father, reached out and took my hand.

Mama didn’t die, but she was supposed to. She came close. When she returned to us, weeks and weeks later, she only had one lung. And as fate would have it, the one she got to keep was the one scarred from bronchitis, so it was kind of a bum deal.

She wheezed a lot, fought for breath. Doctors told her that she needed to strengthen that lung, make it so mighty that it could do the job of two. But face it, she was a frail bird. She certainly wasn’t going to slap on a pair of leggings and Jane Fonda it to aerobics class.

So the doctors told her to walk. A lot. Start small, they said, until you start to feel better, but walk, and do it now.

Mama wanted rather badly to live, so she did. At first, she would just meet me outside school and we’d walk home together.

By summertime, she could walk up the steep hill to the neighborhood swimming pool, scan the sea of small faces until she saw mine. She’d holler my name, smile broadly, wave. And I’d wave back, whole body rocking, so happy to see her there. And then she’d leave me to my playmates and my cool water, journeying back home alone.

By fall, she was zipping up her windbreaker, telling us that she’d be back in 45 minutes.

And so it went, The Walk, every day, for several years. The bum lung got strong. She felt good. Her legs had muscles they’d never had before. And then she got a blood test back with a totally fucked white blood cell count.

And she dealt with it. And she kept walking. In fact, she decided to walk more. She worked up to 90 minutes, which was an awfully long time to spend alone. So she suggested I join her.

I’d just hit 6th grade, was gawky and miserable, had 1 friend to my name (thank you, Julie Nicodemus, don’t think I’ve forgotten) so I agreed. Hey, it was something to do.

You can cover a lot of ground in 90 minutes. And we did. Five miles and lots of stories. We took The Walk together every day that we could. Even in 100 degree heat. Even at -10 in January, which we learned was a bad idea, because Mama got frostbite on the tip of her nose.

We walked together for 7-plus years. That’s a lot of stories, tears, confessions, changes, challenges.

The neighbors began calling us The Walkers. When people see someone hoofing it around the neighborhood every day for years, they start to think they know you, so Mama and I would get accosted in grocery stores and post offices.

“Have you walked enough miles to reach San Diego yet?”
“You two are so inspiring! I’ve watched you for years, and now I’m starting to walk, too.”
“Crap, would you give me some of your motivation?”
“I’m embarrassed to say it, but my husband looks forward to seeing you two girls walk by every day. He’s a pig, but he means no harm.”
“You two are so lucky to have each other.”

And we were. We are.

It seems like such a simple thing, walking somewhere with another human being, but believe me, there’s power in it. There is grace.

Today, I ask this of you: Lace up your shoes, grab someone you love, and let the landscape and air and the rhythmic sound of your heels on hard ground take you away.

{ 7 comments }

To the Beach

May 22, 2015