Mama and Daddy came up for Sunday lunch this past week. It had been a while since we’d seen them; Mama had been down with two infected salivary glands, which was holy-whaa? bizarre. She woke up one morning with:

~two golf ball-sized lumps on the side of her throat

~a tongue so swollen that it was like an alien sponge and

~a throat that singed like fire.

She couldn’t eat anything but stuff crap in liquid form for over a week.

I didn’t know salivary glands could get infected?

To top it off, the universe really decided to mess with her because then her hip went out. The pain has been excruciating and she’s still hobbling around, cursing her fate. Physical therapy helped for about a day or two and then Bam! Out it went again. A cortisone shot did zippo, too.  As I write this, she’s at the doctor, and we’re hopeful something can be done to ease her agony.

The salivary gland issue was resolved by the time she visited for lunch, which was a relief to all involved. Who wants to suck down an Ensure and watch everyone else at the table devour yummy food?

For lunch, we kept it laid-back and casual–just some amazing heirloom tomatoes from the farm stand, some meat on the grill and these Sriracha-laced potatoes.

I know, I know, it sounds mean to feed your gullet-challenged mother potatoes with Sriracha on them, but don’t beat me up just yet. These potatoes really weren’t that spicy. If you fly your Spice Flag high, increase the amount of Sriracha on these guys.  As is, the potatoes had a gentle heat and a nice garlicy kick–nothing overwhelming. Plus, they turned a charming shade of orangey-pink, kind of like a summer sunset.

Mine got a little crispy around the edges, but that’s the way I like them. I roast the hell out of my potatoes because I like a little char. Feel free to adjust the roasting time on the short side of the spectrum if you’re not into crusty spuds.

It was lovely to catch up with them and eat a leisurely meal and the girls were tremendously excited because my parents brought ice cream cones–with sprinkles! Sprinkles just make the world a little nicer, don’t you think?

The steamiest days of summer arrived in the Rocky Mountains this past week, only to be chased away by some pretty serious rain and periods of flooding. Summer weather is never stable in these parts, but we’re crossing our fingers that the flood-waters don’t race through our mountains and towns like they did last year.

August weather is usually a little more stable, so look for more grill-friendly recipes–they’re a’comin’.  And maybe, just maybe, a refreshing cocktail or two.

The girls have less than 3 weeks left of summer. Less than THREE WEEKS? How did that happen? They’re already getting a little glum about the prospect of returning to books and strict schedules (especially our D., who found her maiden year of middle school deeply torturous and is expecting more of the same).  I’m hoping to fill these last days with lots of fresh air and swimsuits and yummy afternoon treats. Ah, summer. Why do you leave us so fast?

 

 

Sriracha-Roasted Potatoes

 

serves 6

 

1 pound small/baby roasting potatoes, halved or quartered, depending on size

1/2-1 teaspoon Sriracha*

3 tablespoons olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

 

Cut the potatoes and put in a large bowl or zip-top plastic bag. Add Sriracha and toss until potatoes are well coated. Set aside for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss potatoes with olive oil and place them on a large rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper.

Roast for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to ensure even cooking.

*Add more Sriracha if you like ‘em spicy.

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I know most of the Internet is asleep this week–it seems almost everyone but me is at BlogHer’14 right now, but that’s okay. I had to give BlogHer a pass (those days in Italy added up, yo) and frankly, I’m kind of enjoying the quiet.

But these stuffed tomatoes? I just couldn’t wait, readers. I had to come in and sing their praises, because dang, they are tremendous.

It may seem silly to stuff tomatoes when tomatoes are just so delicious on their own right now, but trust me on this one. Take your precious summer tomatoes and stuff them with cheese and herbs and pasta. Throw them on the grill, plop the lid on, and wait.

Your reward will be Tomato Nirvana.

Truth is, I could make a meal out of these babies, and I almost did. The tomatoes get a little melty and smoky on the grill and the filling gets bubbly and oozy and scrumptious. How cool is it when your vegetables are more delicious than a charred hunk of beef? That doesn’t happen very often.

You should make it happen, though, and do so as soon as possible. Things this good need attention.

So fire up the grill this weekend and eat your veggies! Your Mama and I say so.

Grilled Stuffed Tomatoes
recipe courtesy of The Neely’s
serves 6

6 large tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
6 ounces goat cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups cooked orzo
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan

Preheat the grill to medium heat.

Cut the tomatoes and core them, removing all the seeds and juices.

In a medium bowl add the onions, basil, and goat cheese. Mix and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add cooked orzo and combine. Stuff the tomatoes with the mixture. Drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes. Top the tomatoes with parmesan.

Even un-grilled, these guys looked good enough to eat.

Grill for 10 minutes with the lid closed, let rest for a few minutes before serving, and then dig in. Feel free to eat other things at dinner, too, but I loved these so much that I ate 2 and called it “dinner.”

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He cried when he left. A hard cry, not a few crocodile tears. I was in the kitchen making coffee, and he was in the foyer, wrestling with his bags.

“Do you have your passport?” I called.

I waited a few beats and when I didn’t hear an answer, I walked across the kitchen and around the corner, and found him hunched over his suitcase, shoulders heaving, tears running down his cheeks.

He’s 15 years old, and I’m sure it wasn’t easy, having me catch him in tears, but he let me hug him and comfort him and by then, I was waterlogged, too.

In a mere 4 weeks, this teenager from France had become family. That’s what hosting an exchange student–even for a month–can do. We had a mere month to get to know this boy, but in one month, we learned so much about him.

We also learned a lot about ourselves, lessons that surprised us.

Lesson: Your Family Has Strengths You Take For Granted

One day, after a trip to the swimming pool and the wonderment that is a Dairy Queen soft-serve, we decided to play a rousing game of HeadBandz. Our family plays board games a lot; we also take no prisoners, so there was plenty of playful teasing and arm-punching and banter back and forth. Later, after the game and familial jousting/barbfest was over, Valentin (our student) turned to me and said, “Your family–you are so funny with each other always.”

It took a few minutes of back-and-forth to get the exact translation, but what he was trying to tell me was that our family is unabashedly playful with one another. We find each other amusing and humorous and our family tends to rest on the more lighthearted side of things. Sure, there are times for serious stuff, but for the most part, our family runs on laughter. That’s a gift we give each other.

A gift I sometimes forget to appreciate.

Lesson: Goals are Good.

Before Valentin arrived, we sat down with the girls and talked about things we thought it was important for him to see and do in our fair state of Colorado. Items ranged from the small (experience a large American supermarket, plant a garden) to the large (whitewater rafting in the Rocky mountains). We also emphasized to the girls that taking someone into the family–one who may or may not understand what we’re saying very well–was going to be a process of adjustment. There was going to be patience and empathy and yes, sacrifice involved.

So, what was our goal, here? We decided that our goal was to show him a wonderful time and try to make him as comfortable as possible.

Translation? Everyone gives a little and makes an effort to be on best behavior.

Articulating that goal really helped us focus on what was important, and it also came in handy when someone had to sacrifice what they wanted for the “common good.”  The littlest Minx, for example, had to push herself our of her comfort zone (the house) and go on outdoor adventures. I had to put down the novel and join the boys in watching the World Cup. My husband had to sacrifice his day off to take Val shopping for gifts to bring home.

Having a goal and recognizing that everyone was working hard to make that happen made everything go a lot more smoothly. And it made me wonder what would happen if we took this experience and tried to work more goal-oriented planning into our daily lives?

What if we sat down and talked about our family goal for say, the first month of school? What would our goal be? A mission to get settled and organized and adapt to a new routine? A schedule of a few stress-busting activities on weekends to get over the starting-school blahs?

What about the last few weeks of summer? What would our goal be? To have more cookouts in the back yard? To make that epic (and parentally dreaded) trip to the giant water park? To begin a few pages of homework a week to ease into academics again?

Our family really benefitted from having a goal to work towards this past month, and I’m determined not to squander what we learned. When we work together, good things happen. More goal-setting is in store for our family.

 

Lesson: Articulate Your Gratitude

This is related to the lesson I mention above. When sacrifice was made, we were certain to do a couple of key things: a) acknowledge the sacrifice being made and b) express appreciation to the family member who went the extra mile for the group.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many “thank-you’s” or “hey, I really appreciated that’s” in my life. We were really, really diligent about this during the 4 weeks we had Valentin with us, and it had a big impact. Just taking the time to say, “I know this may not have been easy/your first wish/convenient, but I want you to know that I’m grateful” means a lot. Too often, we take these small acts for granted or view them as expected, and that’s a mistake.

I found this to be true especially with the girls. Just the simple act of saying, “I saw what you did. I appreciate it. Thank you,” worked wonders.

Particularly powerful was the “I see you” part of the message. When my kids were toddlers (and when I still read parenting books in volume), I made a concerted effort to “catch them being good” and to comment on that behavior. As the girls have grown, however, I’ve gotten lazy or complacent or maybe just oblivious, but I forget to give them kudos when they show grace or perform acts of kindness. This month was a potent reminder that kids still crave that praise; no matter the age, we flourish under positive reinforcement.

My eyes are open again.

 

Lesson: No Matter the Language, Some Things are Universal

We lucked out with Valentin–his grasp of English was pretty darn good. He was here in an English immersion program, so he wasn’t allowed to speak French, so all communication was in English.

Well, not really. We found many ways to understand one another: futbol, food, action movies, dogs.

I was shocked to learn how true it is that futbol is a universal language. I have always had ZERO interest in soccer, but with both the US and France participating in the World Cup, I thought it would be a great way to spend time with Valentin. I was right. Especially in those first tentative days, asking Valentin to explain the game, identify the star players, tell me why a certain call was “bullshit!”…it was golden. He was eager to share his expertise, I wanted to learn, and we got to share the experience of rooting for our respective teams.

Speaking “World Cup” with Val was one of the highlights of his month with us.

We also made his mother’s chocolate cake, which you hopefully already read about (and you’ve made it, right? You really should make it). We also fed him Thai, Indian, Mexican, Japanese, Italian and Vietnamese food. Sitting down to a meal connects people, and nothing delighted me more than watching Valentin gamely stick his chopsticks into pad thai or try to wrap his jaws around a Chipotle burrito. Watching him taste those things for the first time made me appreciate it with a new eye, too.

And of course, there was Mozzy. Valentin wasn’t sure what to make of the Mozzerator at first–such a white, wiggly, assault-via-tongue kind of creature. It took maybe two days for that small dog to worm his way into Valentin’s heart. Without a doubt, Val fell for Mozzy far before he fell for us. Soon, he wanted to help me take care of him, so he joined me for walks and helped me give him baths and soothed him after one particularly taxing trip to the vet. The Language of Mozzy was probably the easiest of all to speak.

 

Lesson: Leave the Comfort Zone Once in a While

I am a huge advocate of the comfort zone; so much so that I rarely leave it. Adding another family member put the kibosh on comfort and lazy routine. It just did. We pushed ourselves to do new things, keep an open mind, and stretch our already full lives and hearts this summer. All for one earnest, sweet and adorable boy. It was hard work, but also so laced with joy and compassion and hilarity and camraderie. It reminded us that no matter how set in our ways we are, there’s room to grow.

 

Thank you, Valentin, for sharing your life with us. You taught us more than you know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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