The girls are both back to school today, and the house feels cavernous and deadly quiet without them. Miss M. had her first day of middle school yesterday, and while it was just the 6th graders in the building, I felt a pang watching her as she exited the car, straightened her shoulders and took those steps through the door. Her sister surprised both of us by choosing to wake up early–I thought D. would spend her last free day snoozing while she still could.

“Hey, you’re up,” I said, as she fumbled her way downstairs.

“Yeah. I wanted to be up so I could go in the car with you when you drop M. off,” she said. She plopped down on the couch next to her already morose-looking sibling. “Don’t worry, M.,” she said, patting a knee. “You got this.”

That warmed the cockles of my cold, black heart. That she even thought of doing such a thing for her little sister almost made me cry but I managed to hold it together until after dropoff. Later, I may have shed a few tears in the bathroom but that’s between me and the dog. Well, and now you all, but I have a feeling you’ll understand.

As Miss D. and I drove away, she asked, “What’s M. doing today in school?”

“Don’t you remember from when you went to middle school that first day?”

“Heck no,” she snorted. “I’ve completely blocked those years out.”

To be truthful, I sort of had, too.

 

Turns out, Miss M. spent the first half of her day doing “team building,” or some such thing.  As soon as M. entered the car after school, she poked her sister in the shoulder and rolled her eyes.

“Can you believe that?” she said. “First day of school and they made us be social.”

Dear God, that girl is her mother’s daughter. Cross your fingers, folks, it’s going to be a long year. The good news is, said girl reported that her first day was: “Pretty good, considering I didn’t go to the wrong class and didn’t have a locker fail.”

Hooray for low standards!

 

We decided to spoil M. a little by making a special treat for her when she got home, and these fit the bill. Usually, we go for milkshakes or fro-yo after the first day of school, but these peanut butter s’mores bars were such a hit when I made them earlier this summer, I thought I’d bust them out for another go-round.

They’re everything you love about a s’more, but in compact form. I’d almost venture to say that they’re better: gooey marshmallow, melty chocolate, buttery graham cracker AND the addition of peanut butter? Sign me up. They were the perfect treat for a budding middle schooler. And her thoughtful sister. And a neurotic mom.

The remainder of these cookies will be sent in lunch boxes this week, a little reminder to the girls that I’m thinking of them. The dog and I will be pouting the rest of the week, trying to wrestle with the silent house and the sense of restlessness that always follows in the wake of their return to school.

 

 

                                                          ~Mr. Morose this morning.

 

 

I tell Mozz-man that the girls will be all right.

With a few extra cuddles when the Minxes come home in the afternoon, I think he’ll be all right, too. As for me, I guess time will tell.

 

 

                                                  -s’okay, Mozz. They’ll be home soon.

 

 

 

 

 

Peanut Butter S’mores Bars

makes about 16

slightly adapted from Pinch of Yum

 

1/2 cup melted butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/4 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

6 graham crackers, crushed into crumbs

1/2 cup peanut butter

2 4-ounce chocolate bars (the extra-big, extra-thick size)

1 (7 oz.) jar marshmallow fluff

a little melted chocolate, for drizzle (optional)

 

Preheat the oven to 350.

Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.

Combine the melted butter, sugar, brown sugar, vanilla, egg, flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Stir in the graham cracker crumbs. Set aside roughly 1/3 of the crumb mixture. Press the rest of the crumb mixture into the parchment-lined baking pan.

Top the crust with chocolate bars. Dollop peanut butter evenly over the chocolate. Dollop marshmallow fluff evenly over peanut butter. Top with sprinkles of the leftover crumb mixture.

Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool. If desired, drizzle with a little melted chocolate and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Cut into bars.

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I was always a quiet child. I didn’t speak unless spoken to, and even if spoken to, I sometimes didn’t answer. My parents weren’t particularly bothered by this. In fact, Mama sometimes said it was her saving grace, having one taciturn child.

“Thank goodness you weren’t a chatty one,” she told me. “Lord knows, your sister talked enough for the both of you–enough for a whole town. Filling up the space with words, sometimes just to hear herself talk. It nearly drove me bonkers, trapped in the winter with you girls and all of the yammering and chirping. I had to hide in the bathroom, just for a moment of peace.”

I don’t envy her those years. I, too, seek quiet spaces. Harsh light and hard noise have always made me skittish. I’d rather be drawn and quartered than spend time in a crowd of boisterous people. Leave me to the cool indoors and silent room, thank you very much.

Nobody really commented on this personality quirk until I started grade school. I came home with the following report card:

 

At conferences, my mother was defiant.

“She’s not nervous,” she insisted. “She’s sensitive. She always has been. And as for her being quiet, isn’t that somewhat of a relief for you?” Mama said. “You’d think you’d be grateful for a quiet one, in a room full of little bodies.”

When Daddy came home that weekend, Mama fussed at him about it.

“Really! Complaining about a quiet child! Can you imagine?” She rinsed the dishes and took her yellow rubber gloves off, thunking them on the counter.

“Mary, it’s fine,” Daddy chuckled. “Nothing’s wrong with her. She’s always been like that. Just one of those kids–you know the saying–‘Still water runs deep?’ That’s our girl. She’s a thinker.”

Mama nodded. “A thinker. Yes. You’re right.”

“Of course I’m right,” Daddy said. “And Jesus, wouldn’t it be nice if more people were thinkers, not talkers? We’ve got way too many talkers already. Thinkers stay in their head, where it’s quiet.”

***

It’s been over two years since I became afflicted with tinnitus, a constant ringing sensation in the ears. Back then, I went to the doctor and heard the discouraging news that basically, I was fucked. They don’t know what causes it, don’t know how to alleviate the symptoms of it, and can’t cure it. They don’t know how long I’ll even have it. It could end tomorrow or it could be forever, for all I know.

Not all tinnitus is the same. Some people only have tinnitus in one ear. For some people, the tinnitus comes and goes. Some people’s tinnitus manifests as a low, whooshing sound, like listening to a seashell or having someone blow in your ear. Mine’s not like that. Mine is in both ears and annoyingly high-pitched. In lucky moments, it’s a ringing. In unlucky moments, it’s a squealing. In really, really bad moments, it’s a piercing, persistent shriek, not unlike what a dog hears when someone blows a dog whistle.

The worst days are the days when, after several days of the shrieking variety, I develop vertigo. Vertigo blows. It can range from mild suckage (dizziness, a sensation of spinning, clumsiness) to stinking bad suckage (dizziness, spinning, clumsiness, nausea and vomiting). When you have vertigo, you really shouldn’t drive. It’s unsafe, and something about the motion of being in a car triggers vomiting. But sometimes I can’t avoid driving. I have barf bags stowed in every nook and cranny in the car but still: do you know how hard it is to drive and efficiently vomit into a bag?

I’m sad to say that I’m getting the hang of it. Although there was one unfortunate incident this spring while I was pulling out of the pickup lane at the high school. That time, I just might not have been able to grab my barf bag fast enough. I just might have hurled all over the steering wheel and my lap. At the high school. In the carpool pickup lane. With my teenage daughter in the passenger seat.

As awful as those times are, I will say that the Vertigo of the Vomiting Variety only occurs about 3-4 times a year. I have told myself that this isn’t so bad. I have, for the first time ever in my life, done math to make me feel better about things. If Dana has 4 cycles of vomiting vertigo a year, and each cycle lasts 2-3 days, how many days out of the year is she a retching wreck of a human?

Now granted, I have the less severe kinds of vertigo more often, but hey, feeling like a drunken sorority pledge isn’t entirely without its charms, right? Unless, of course, you have to operate anything that moves.

***

When the tinnitus first began, I called my mother, looking for wisdom or comfort or sympathy. Mothers are very good in that department.

“You have what?” she said.

“Tinnitus. Ringing in the ears,” I said. “It just started, out of the blue. It’s really annoying. Have you heard of it?”

“Yeah. I’ve heard of it.”

“What the Hell’s the deal?” I snarled. “Do you think menopause caused it? Just another of mid-life’s little bag of goodies; wouldn’t that be perfect. Dang. Is it the concussions? Do you think those finally came up to bite me?”

She was strangely quiet on the other end.

“Mom? Are you even listening? Are you trying to talk on the phone when you’re ironing again?”

“No, I’m here. It’s just that I’ve only known one person who had tinnitus. She was the wife of the richest man in Grand Forks.”

“What did she do?”

“Nothing.  I mean, nothing could help her. Maybe it’s different now. Your see that doctor, because I’m sure they’ve come a long way since then. She told me it drove her nuts.”

I bark out a laugh. “Well, I can see that. For sure.”

“She got really depressed. Sometimes she wouldn’t leave her room for days, her husband said. Can you imagine that,” my mother sighed. “All that money. Richer than thieves, and it didn’t mean a thing.”

***

I’m beginning to realize that there’s truth to what Mama said. If something is so insistently yelling at you in your brain, can you think of anything else?

What the fuck else matters?

What else can you think about, even if you really would give anything to think about anything else?

It also seems like a perverse irony to me. There’s a quiet, noise-hating girl who escapes to live in her head.

What does she do, then, when her head is the noisiest place of all?

***

So I have a raucous, impossible head.

Noisier than ever, because I’ve had the worst month ever. Forget that math equation I worked out, trying to soothe my mind with numbers. The numbers are changing. And I’m going to be honest. I’m scared.

In the last month, I’ve had two episodes of crushing, vomiting, debilitating, vertigo-laden episodes of tinnitus. I have spent days throwing up into bags, buckets. The last one was so bad that it wasn’t just the car that made me sick. For the first time ever, I threw up when    a) I was in a sitting position and   b) when I was in a standing position.

Every time. For days.

Wanna do the math on that one? When do you need to sit? When do you need to stand?

I don’t want to spend my life lying prone, or looking for relief in cars, or waiting for the next ugly incident, and I sure as hell don’t want to live with infernal ringing in my ears.

Then again, I’ve always been the girl with the busy head. Maybe it’s the way things just have to be.

 

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I was beyond excited this week when I spied, with my little eyes, the first batch of Palisade peaches in my local grocery store. I wasn’t expecting to see them for a couple more weeks. Usually those luscious suckers appear right as the Minxes are headed off to school in mid-August, so this is a bonus! Get your hands on them while you can, folks, because the season is short–usually only about a month long. It seems grossly unfair that something so profoundly delicious has such a short season, but maybe that’s what makes them so good. Perhaps we appreciate those peaches more for their fleeting-ness (if that’s a word).

I, for one, plan to make the most of the next few weeks. I’m going to be plopping peaches into everything. Sweet, savory, tart, creamy…you name it. Even downright weird, which was originally what crossed my mind when I saw this recipe.

You guys know I can’t resist trying something that borders on weird, right?

I’d have never thought to combine peaches with a woodsy herb like thyme, but I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to try, and I’m glad I did. The combination really works, here. The addition of white balsamic vinegar seemed odd, too, but lots of people pair strawberries with balsamic vinegar, so I figured, why not? I actually liked the bright hit of acidity that the vinegar brought to the table–it actually made the peaches taste more peach-y. Peach-y is a good thing.

I used the peaches as a topper for a batch of overnight oatmeal, which made me feel quite virtuous, but I’m going to be honest: the next thing I’m doing with these thyme-marinated peaches is scattering them on top of a big bowl of vanilla or salted caramel ice cream. I know they’d be genius with ice cream.

We have less than two weeks until the girls sulk off to school, so I think extra-big bowls of ice cream are going to be called for in the coming days. Miss M. will be starting middle school, and to be truthful, I’m worried. Middle school ate her big sister, and I really, really am hoping for a better outcome for M.

My husband and I refer to Miss D.’s middle school experience as “the lost years,” and we’re not being overly dramatic. If you all could cross your fingers, send good juju, offer up prayers—whatever it is that you do to send blessings, please do so. I almost can’t bear to think of it.

Perhaps I’ll get to work on a recipe for a soothing peach cocktail? I have a feeling I’m going to need several.

 

 

 

Brown Sugar and Thyme Marinated Peaches

makes 3 cups

adapted slightly from Cook Fresh

 

3 medium ripe peaches, pitted and cut into large dice (you can peel them if the skin bothers you)

2-3 tablespoons packed brown sugar

3 tablespoons sweet white wine, such as Gewurztraminer (or you can use apple juice)

pinch of kosher salt

1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

 

Gently combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and marinate at room temperature for at least 20 minutes and up to 24 hours. To serve, drain off marinade.

 

 

Overnight Oatmeal

serves 4

from Cook Fresh

 

2 tablespoons whole milk

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup steel cut oats, preferable McCann’s or Bob’s Red Mill

 

to serve:

chopped nuts

marinated peaches

heavy cream or half and half (don’t skip this!)

honey

 

Combine the milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, salt and 4 cups water in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil. Stir in the oats, simmer for 1 minute, then remove from the heat. Cool at room temperature until barely warm, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

Bring the oatmeal to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring, until thick and the oats are tender/chewy, about 10 minutes.

Divide oatmeal into bowls and top with chopped nuts, marinated peaches, and a generous drizzle of both heavy cream and honey.

 

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A Few Days: Ireland

June 22, 2017