The Things that Stay

Every year, around this time of year, the newspaper my dad took, the now defunct Primeiro de Janeiro, printed a supplement called “O calendario dos….”  And now I’m at a loss as to the “the” what.  I vaguely remember something like does Matutinhos, but the google search only brings up matosinhos which is a town by the sea, and at any rate, I have no clue what Matutinhos means except it might have some connection to Matitudinal, ie. of the morning or awake.  (Yep, that’s right, I was woke before it was trendy, only we had real grammar.)

Actually it meant the “Calendar of the children” basically.  Every year, shortly after new years, dad and I would take a couple of days, cut out thin cardboard, paste the pages on it, then assemble it, so I had a wall calendar.

The calendar itself was of those things that are the most wholesome and educational, filled with rhymes that taught you stuff about months that came in like a lion and went out like a lamb, good months to plant this and that, and how many days and what holidays the day had.

I’m fairly sure in most households, even households with children, the thing just went into the trash (or to the outhouse) unread.  But for us it was a precious thing, which allowed me hours spent with dad, his telling me stories about each month and things that had happened in that month. (You know, of the “twenty years ago, it snowed in May” variety, only it didn’t snow in Portugal — in our area — between the day I was born and the day I turned 19.  Yep, I’m that hot.  (rolls eyes.))

As such things do, it persisted, so that I think I still had one of those hanging in my room when I got married.

I’m sure dad didn’t give it that much importance.  I’m sure he didn’t give that much importance to our Saturdays when we went to feed the anthills, (I figured out years later, he took me out of the house so mom could clean in peace.)  Or to the day before Christmas when he’d take me to Porto to see the men put up the lights and we stayed over to see the lights lit at night.

It’s different from the adult point of view.  For a year, after I picked the kids up, we stopped at a bakery to have tea before I took them home.  We did this because I’d just sold, and the time they were at school was a mad sprint to write books on time, which means that I usually had forgotten to have lunch.  To this day they remember those teas, and think that’s what adults should do when they pick the kids from school.

You can’t control the things that stay, or even the ones that will have a great influence over your kids (or kids you mentor.)

There were books I received at just the right time to get me interested in this or that.  There is the fact that brother took engineering and had a classmate reading science fiction (and who owned a large library.)  Those books, and more importantly the fact that my brother told me on no account to read the books he’d borrowed (well, it was the seventies.  Some were…. weird.) meant that I fell to science fiction in my early teens and never looked back.  I’d almost certainly be writing anyway, but I might only have written historical novels or heaven knows what without that chain of fortuitous circumstances.  (Weirdly, while I was in Portugal, my brother had me sign a book for this friend.  Sigh.  I wish he’d told me, as I think the friend would like Darkship Thieves.  Instead he got Gentleman Takes a Chance.  Ah, well.)

You can’t control everything your kids see or do.  I later met a family like that.  Their 14 yo homeschooled boy had no idea MURDER existed.  He didn’t know people could kill other people.  It was thought too upsetting for him.  I kept wondering (still do) what would happen to that kid when he entered college which his parents definitely aimed for.  Or even found something NOT a children’s Bible and read the panoply of bad human behavior.

Sure, we’re not the left, so we shouldn’t wallow in mud and claim everyone is a bad person, because only we are good (and should therefore control others) but there are limits how much you can raise children in a sheltered little world.  In the end, they’ll experience human foibles, failings and, yes, sins.  If they don’t know these exist, they’re going to make the perfect the enemy of the good, because they believe it can be perfect.

At the same time there are all the career parents wishing to give their kid quality time while farming him/her out to perfect strangers most of the day.  In daycare they can’t establish the same priorities.  Most daycares are run on the principle of the squeaky wheel. Which means, you know, that we’re prepping future snowflakes, ready to scream and get attention at ANYTHING.

We couldn’t do the quality time thing.  We were with them a lot, or at least I was, though in the first ten years of their lives Dan worked really long hours.  But I was with them all the time, so we settled for quantity time.  Most of it was them coming to us from the room next to the office only when there was a problem.  If I finished a book and decided to play with them for a day, it scared them a little.

But there was enough time for the little wild graces, like taking them to Walmart for back to school shopping, finding cap pistols, buying one for each of us, and then spending the rest of the day in wild shoot outs up and down stairs.  Going to restaurants, getting little swords in our drinks, and having sword duels across the table.  Taking them to zoos and museums, because WE needed a day off, and ending up having deep conversations about animals or art trends.

These things just happened, but I understand that the kids feel they were the best thing ever, now they’re grownup.

I realize many parents have to work, both of them, outside the house.  But take as much QUANTITY time as you can.  Even if all you’re doing is sitting on the same sofa, each reading something (some of my best times with my dad, now I think about it.)  Include them in your shopping trips, your coffee shop trips.  They’re a lot less obtrusive than you think, particularly if they are being included in adult activities.  It makes them feel special.

I’m not a parenting expert.  All I did is raise two of them.

But it’s the wild unexpected graces that stay.  It’s the days you dropped by the coffee shop and got them a hot chocolate while you had coffee, and you talked of nothing much.  They’ll remember that forever.  And then, when they’re adults and have pocket money, sometimes they’ll take you to the zoo, or introduce you to the restaurant they just found, or even take you to the coffee shop.  And you enjoy it, even though you talk of nothing much.

I don’t know of course, I’m still not sure I’ll amount to anything, or that I’ve done or written anything worth being remembered, but I think even should I become a well known writer and influential, there’s a good chance my real influence in the future will come through those bakery visits after elementary school pick up, and the rambling talks we had over tea.

And if I do amount to something, eventually, how much was it those hours spent with dad, cutting out the stupid little calendars?

Love grows.  The influence you have on the future might not be what you expect.  Make time to love and be loved, and to experience the small wild mercies.  (And yes, dad is AFAIK fine, but I do miss him.)

Don’t fret that every minute with your kids or someone’s kids you love isn’t highly educational.  Don’t worry that you didn’t send the kids the Most Educational Toy Ever.  Just make time.  Just time.  And let love grow.

135 responses to “The Things that Stay

  1. I’m currently sitting in a chair with a kid next to me and a kid on top of me. I think I’ve got this “quantity time” down.

    (Side note: when we use the term “quality time” in our family, it has to do with an extended bathroom break. It sort of evolved that way from mocking the overuse of the term “quality time” as the Good to be pursued above all.)

  2. Hmmm … assuredly I’ve no knowledge of Portuguese and little enough familiarity with Englisch, but that seems like an idiomatic phrase and thus the precise translation would likely make no sense.

  3. It seems appropriate to quote Stalin on this, even if the sourcing is apocryphal: “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

    This is especially true for children, who need quantity in order to accept quality. They need to know you are available if needed.

  4. *mind boggles* Even children’s Bibles include murder… oh, gads, they must’ve had those *REALLY* bad ones, like the “children’s mythology” where the various deicides were “was very mean.” (They included Egyptian mythology. I kinda stopped in horror before they could try Aztecs.) And how can you cover history… even the horribly mangled pro-Indian booklets I was going over had to admit that various tribes raided their neighbors, although they skimmed over the whole enslavement thing by saying the purpose wasn’t to kill anybody. (It was also portrayed as horrible that the settlers would actually shoot and kill the raiding parties. No, I didn’t buy it!)

    • Enslave only? Talk about a total glossing over of history. I think they even briefly covered the torture and cannibalism in public school history. Or at least the martyrs Brebeuf and Lallemant. (local history where I grew up).

      • They’ve shifted the damn meaning of the phrase “last Indian massacre in the US” away from meaning the men who were slaughtered by a tribe-based bandit group (they were out looking for missing animals– thought a bear or something had gotten them, so there were…four? Five?) over to shooting the homicidal bastards that tried to slaughter the party looking for the murderers.

        I am a *little* testy about it. Part of why I like the El Paso archaeology museum is that they don’t honey-coat how various tribes treated each other.

    • Right? It must have been TOTALLY expurgated.

    • One of the many things I’ve been thankful for is that my parents believed that I needed to hear about the entire Bible.
      So the kid’s Bibles I got included things like the conquest of Canaan.

    • by saying the purpose wasn’t to kill anybody.

      Well, duh. Raiding between small tribes almost always means lads showing off and petty robbery (cattle rustling, if there’s any cattle), with more warning shots than attempts to kill or maim someone.
      One, nobody really wants to wind up dead or in a personal vendetta.
      Two, if things escalate, neither side has enough resources to afford a prolonged war, even a half-assed one. Which is why variants of weregild used to be common.

      • Which I’m sure made the kids hauled off for a life of slavery feel much better, or the guy who got killed because one guy vs six punks, the one guy loses.

        Nevermind the freakish similarity between it being somehow horrible that the settlers actually fought back when someone showed up for a bit of theft, assault and rape, and the justifications for the “knockout game” and such.

    • *rubs head* I’ve got a set of fairly cute Bible-story picture books that we’re going to have to move on from or make quiet selective retirements soon — most of them are not bad on an introductory level, but one gives the peculiar impression that Jesus’s ministry was entirely inspired by the death of John the Baptist, and the flood story depicts the people who behave badly doing things like… grown men chasing each other with a little bitty snake. (OK, it could be venomous. Or, er, metaphorical. But I’m not sure the hostile-atheist-written version with a foreword on how to talk to your children if they get scared that God will kill them isn’t actually preferable to giving the impression that God sent a flood as punishment for… uh… mean childish teasing.)

      • *blink*

        Wow…. I can’t remember a time that I was so oblivious that I didn’t realize that there were really, really, REALLY bad people out there.

        The idea that there were only a tiny few not entirely horrible people never gave me much of a problem, even when I was old enough to figure out they were not exactly perfect themselves.

        • Well, she’s just turned two and probably doesn’t know there are Really Bad People yet, and I’m sure there are things they’d rather not illustrate, but still…..

          • I just checked our pasteboard Bible story book– it skips the whole other people thing entirely, and just says God told him to build the arc, and that they were saved because he’d listened.

  5. Thanks. I think I needed to hear this. As I read and reply to this, my little son is playing on the floor throwing his magnetic letters he got for Christmas around. Earlier he was playing with his wooden train and tracks. I only helped him set up difficult parts (as in keeping the track out of the apartment entryway). There are times I feel that I am not doing enough, and it worries and bothers me. I guess just being here all the time to wipe his nose and clean his bottom will be enough to start. Thank you again.

  6. Incidentally, related to “quantity time,” the Baron is sitting next to me building airplanes on one of our tablets.

    Hasn’t said anything in an hour or two, other than an occasional “look at this!”

    • And that is quality time, as long as you’re honestly showing interest when he says “Look at this!” 🙂

      • Sometimes it takes reminding him that I can’t actually see the screen he’s waving over his head with the back towards me. 😀

  7. I think that the value of time spent with children is that it shows them that you do value them. That you like them and want to be with them, that they are loved. It doesn’t have to be some great big educational experience (and in fact those may sometimes be counter-productive, as the child may begin to feel like he or she is an educational project), just time spent with them showing you enjoy their company.

    • Some kids rarely see their parents. Governesses and tutors. Then boarding school.

    • This, exactly – I worked, and was a single parent from the moment I came home from the hospital with my baby daughter. Not what I wanted or would have chosen, but that was the hand that I was dealt. I had to consign her to the care of sitters, and later to the child care center – but she was always mine, and cherished.
      And came out of it all pretty well adjusted, I think. Was National Honor Society in high school, and enlisted in the Marines…

  8. My mom dropped me at the library after school pick up on her way to grocery shop. Father took me to an ice cream cone after school. I was slender as a child. Since he was a Rabbi his working hours were quite different from everybody else’s.

  9. Ah, the odd memories… the night Pa tried showing me the stars when we were still town and all the fiddling with a planisphere… the kitchen converted, late night, to a dark room when photography was chemical or… chemical. All the odd little talks of this and that in the kitchen as dishes were done or something was baked. (I was honestly shocked that $HOUSEMATE had spent so little time in the kitchen – the center of of the house, really, I’d thought – that he hadn’t picked up on the ‘toothpick test’ for cakes. But then, the first time I did dishes, sans dishwasher, I was observed as if I was performing a rain dance or such.) And [THIS SECTION OMITTED FOR LEGAL REASONS – NOBODY WAS HARMED, BUT SOME POLITICIANS AND THEIR LACKEYS ARE QUITE SILLY INDEED]. And I’ve mentioned before that one ‘comfort food’ meal was I later found out was prepared when there wasn’t much else – probably a good thing I never tired of it back when.

    • Macaroni and cheese, with a can of tuna fish, and a can of cream of mushroom soup. Mixed and baked. With either cheese, or crumbled crackers on top. Cheapest casserole we could make, and always reminds me of my mother.

      • SheSellsSeashells

        Tomato goulash for us. Cheese, tomatoes (usually from the garden) and bread, smashed together and baked.

      • simple elbow macaroni with tomato juice and salt and pepper to taste
        I have cans of juice and mac in the pantry right now though it has been a while since I made some.

    • Tuna-cheese-n-peas-n-rice casserole. I still miss it. And beans-n-bacon on toast with cheese. Miss that, too. Frozen pot pies I do not miss.

      • Pot pies are usually better if you heat them, rather than eat them frozen. 😛

        • I remember pot pies and I am pretty sure they are better frozen.

          Although, if you’re writing that from one of the states such as California and Colorado where pot pies may include real pot, I am willing to accept there is room to disagree.

          • I was astonished to learn that there are modern chicken pot pies, no doubt servicing the nostalgia market of the boomer wave, which contain both a sauce that tastes like it’s not just milk that was once waved near a chicken, and chicken that tastes other than cubes-made-of-some-variant-of-a-rubber-plant. And carrot that’s not in 1/4 inch cubes.

            If one shops around one can find quite nice pot pies.

            • We did pot pies, way back in the dark ages of apes and men. Pie crust (sometimes with a bit of corn meal), chicken broth even when we couldn’t do chicken, potatoes, carrots, peas. Plenty of salt and seasonings with whatever the herb garden left us. Usually a lot of parsley and basil. Sweet basil grew best under the kitchen window.

              We had these itty bitty cast iron skillets to cook them in, just the right size for eating. No leftovers, not that I could remember, and I was a decidedly picky eater most times, despite it all. Eat them right out of the skillet, burned my tongue more often than not. Might be why I like spicy food so much, burned off my taste buds from back then.

              Cold mornings feeding the stove at grandma’s we’d eat pot pies for breakfast. Good, filling stuff. That kind of heat stayed with you for a while when you went out in the snow, nice warm feeling in your gut.

              Old memories. It’s part of why I’ve took to restoring old hand tools these days. New hafts. Clean off the rust, get the steel nice and clean the slow way, without ruining the temper with a wire wheel or a grinder. The softwood ax I’m working on now still has the dings and scratches I put in it. The old haft is dry and eaten up with rot, but it still feels the same.

              Steel and oil. Sawdust and sweat. Woodsmoke. Winter mornings, so bright, cold and so clear you could see all the way into the next state. Hay hauling, bean snapping, snow forts and big icicles. The smell of good clean dirt in the basement pantry. Picking burrs out of everything. My first truck, and swearing at it from underneath while tightening that last bolt for the last time that day before starting it up and driving it home. Steel and oil. Sawdust and sweat. Woodsmoke on cold, clear mornings.

              Takes me back.

              • Dan, that was a lovely essay.
                As for comfort foods made favorites by necessity, my mom specialized in ham gravy: the leftover bits of the ham smothered in white sauce with some cheese melted into it, spread over toasted white bread.
                My brother sent me a picture of some he made for Christmas supper, and I got very nostalgic.

                • That sounded.good so I tried it for lunch yesterday
                  Worked great! Pondering what would happen if I stuck it under the broiler for a bit to brown

            • I enjoy Marie Callender pot pies.

        • They’re not as good as I remember them, for sure, but it’s a nice solution to the “leftover soup” issues.

      • beans and weiners, fried egg and rice, baking muffins, fresh from the garden tomato sandwiches. Yeah, the meals of youth.

        • SheSellsSeashells

          Mostly. I have yet to forgive my mother for sausage and cabbage.

          (As family budgeter, I can understand the appeal. As someone with functioning taste buds…never again.)

          • Cabbage can be quite nice, but sausage goes better with sauerkraut or kim chi. Corned beef goes with cooked cabbage.

            And if sauerkraut is too sour for you, cook it with brown sugar. Yum!

            • Another solution for sour sauerkraut – start by slowly saute onions in butter until just short of browning, add sauerkraut and heat through.

              • I will have to try both of these methods to try to make sauerkraut palatable to my family. Thank you.

              • My English gran used to do the most perfect cooked cabbage in the world – and yes, England is the home of green veg like cabbage boiled to death, by ancient custom. But Granny Dodie served it up, steamed until just barely cooked, still crispy, drenched with melted butter, and tossed with black pepper and little crispy bits of bacon. Bliss as a side dish.

                • Had someone point out that their tradition had a very sound foundation:
                  small fields that had been farmed for a very long time, usually the same stuff year after year. Think about what fertilizers were available….boil it to death, or die.

                • Drenched with melted butter and tossed with little crispy bits of bacon sounds like a fantastic improvement on many things. I’ll have to give this a shot.

            • SheSellsSeashells

              I like cabbage finely shredded and crispy. I think Mom just chopped it up and sauteed it all together (smoked sausage, head of cabbage, large onion), and to this day I cannot choke down large bits of cabbage. Spices were unknown in the dim, dark recesses of 1980s rural Georgia. 🙂

            • COOK sauerkraut?!?
              Oh dear me, no. You really should learn to ferment it. With sour apples, juniper berries and cloves. The way it was meant to be done. MUCH better solution than *ack* cooking it.

              Yes, it will obviously take longer (I recommend 2 weeks), but you can make it in large batches. It will keep splendidly. And, it has the advantage of being probiotic.

              • Erm, the sauerkraut gets cooked after the fermenting, as one is preparing the meal. One of my mother’s standard dishes was to put pork chops in a pan, then cover them with sauerkraut and cook them in the oven. It wasn’t one of my favorites (the liquid on the sauerkraut did weird things to the texture of the pork chops), but it was ok.

                • Ah, whew. (Though there are versions of sauerkraut that are cooked – like a lot of those in the jars in the store.)

                  The key to cooking with it is pressing it well before putting it in the pan. And not putting it in for a long time – mostly cook the chops, *then* put the kraut in for a while.

                  • I am surprised at the failure thus far to describe the one perfect method for serving kraut: pressed/drained, on corned beef between two slices of good rye bread, with spicy brown mustard (do not allow barbarians to persuade you Russian Dressing or >shudder< Thousand Island is edible) lightly warmed on a hot grill before serving.

                    • Count me among the barbarians, then. I like Thousand Island on my Reubens.

                    • Well if you are going to go to all the trouble of draining the sauerkraut you might as well put it in a pot, carefully nestle some knockwurst in it, pour in some beer, pouring the rest of the bottle into the cook.  Simmer gently until heated completely through and serve with spicy brown mustard and, of course

                      MORE BEER!

                    • Ohhh, yes – we have a favorite recipe (from a cooking-for-one-cookbook that I had from when I lived in the barracks) which is essentially this: to knockwursts nestled in drained sauerkraut, with a bit of brown sugar, and two small cut-up red potatoes, and a little bit of beer or broth. Simmer until the wursts and potatoes are cooked through. One pot-meal for two.
                      I posted the recipe here –

          • What kind of sausage?

            I tried fried cabbage with kielbasa just recently– I devoured it, the kids enjoyed it, my husband finished the pan.

            Just tried imagining it with, oh, breakfast sausage, though….. *turns green*

            • Sauteed onions and cabbage is a good combination.

              For a dinner cut the cabbage into 1-inch squares, add some chicken breast and curry powder, maybe some julienned carrot and shredded green onion stem for color. Red bell pepper, julienned, and Chinese dried hot pepper to taste.

              It can also be done with shrimp (instead or in addition) as well as sliced ham, maybe an egg, scrambled and folded in, even some ramen or rice noodles if you want to stretch it further.

              • Are we talking Singapore Street Noodles? That is what it sounds like to me. In which case you can even add shrimp, roast pork and shredded chicken all at once.

                Variation: Stir fry in large wok with neutral oil — Start with shredded ginger, minced garlic and dried hot peppers to taste. Add shredded Napa cabbage, sliced halved onion, frenched green beans. Season with light soy sauce and a Chinese or Thai Yellow curry powder. Mix in cooked chinese egg noodles and shredded egg pancake. Garnish with sliced scallion. Enjoy.

            • Oddly, I think that the way it’s cut may make a difference in the palatability of breakfast sausage and cabbage. Coarse chopped, as I did when i also recently did kielbasa and cabbage, doesn’t sound at all appetizing when thinking of using breakfast sausage, but shredded, like cole slaw or sauerkraut, with crumbled breakfast sausage sounds ok.

            • SheSellsSeashells

              No, it was smoked sausage. But still.

              I go about once a month to a nearby discount grocery store and see what I come home with, because the challenge of “plan your menu around $GOOD DEAL” really entertains me for some reason. Last night was breakfast sausage baked with homegrown tomatoes, Manchego cheese, and polenta, and it was tasty indeed. And just as cheap as *shudder* sausage and cabbage was back in the day.

          • I know there are those who like or can deal with cooked cabbage. I am not one of them. I look at cabbage as a sort of opposite treatment of potatoes:
            Potatoes should be cooked and served hot (yes, potato salad).
            Cabbage should be never be cooked or hot. It’s for cole slaw.

            • So obviously I should remember. should the occasion to feed you arise. no Bubble and Squeak for you.

            • Cold potato salad here, served with a dusting of black pepper. The joke south of the Gnat Line is, well, you know.

              There was a kelp based food supplement that came as a powder and was perfect on potato salad. Alas, I haven’t seen that for sale in nearly forty years.

            • There aren’t many preparations of potato that I dislike (though execution quality varies), and I like most cabbage ones, though the hot varieties I’m kind of touchy on, quality-wise.

              Then again, I’m known as one of those people who will eat nearly anything that doesn’t try to bite back or run away.

            • I bet you would like fermented sauerkraut, Orvan.
              There are resources on the web, though some of them go a little far into it – either 5-gallon buckets of the stuff, or fancy-pants silliness. It’s very easy, with a minimal investment in jars. (I went deeper in and got a gallon jar for it a couple of Christmases ago; I’ve done salsa with it, too, though not brave enough yet to try kimchi.)

              • That might depend on ‘aroma’ (or odor…) I’ve long maintained that sauerkraut was a (just barely) failed attempt at chemical weaponry.

                • Fermented sauerkraut has a pretty mild smell, imo. Despite the other two folks in my house turning their nose up at eating it (never thought I would find people pickier than I used to be about food), they haven’t complained about any smell.

                  Now, kimchi, otoh, has a strong odor. But that’s from the horseradish and such, not the cabbage.

    • We did not eat like anyone else I knew.  Momma was a very good cook, but I did not know it at the time.  I found out later just how spoiled I was by this. 

      Momma set her mind to work through Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Now we didn’t have the budget to do this, but once she had set her mind on such a project her mind was set.  In this pursuit that we ate, among things, hamburgers, which Momma Sauce Bearnaise.  At the time, being a kid I did not exactly appreciate it.  Punctuated between such efforts were various Southern vegetable suppers.  One of my favorites being dinners of fried eggplant.  I wasn’t so taken by tomato rice as a primary dish.

      I did like her Macaroni and cheese, one of the very few ‘kid’ foods she ever made.  Even that was not like anyone else’s.  Never let anyone think that a ‘blue box’ or anything that might resemble it ever arrived at our table.  No, Momma made it ‘from scratch’ and used extra sharp cheddar cheese.

      • Compared to my mother’s mac & cheese, the stuff that comes in boxes is quite appropriately nicknamed “yellow death”.

        • Rather. Momma referred to the box stuff as ersatz. Momma embraced convenience, but she insisted that you should never give up on food to get it.

          I will remain partial to the recipe that I eventually found that is closest to Momma’s. (She never shared her recipes with me.) I have learned since that there are any number of ‘from scratch’ mac & cheeses out there, some of which are very good and a few downright awful.

          • Since I grew up on the cheap Mac ‘n Cheese, I like that just fine (I also am just fine with instant mashed potatoes). I find that I cannot get a good smooth cheese sauce, and I really don’t particularly like the ones that are baked to melt the cheese on.

            • With the new mashed potatoes, even really good cooks have trouble beating them.
              If you’ve got a special twist you do and add it to the plain bagged stuff– folks really can’t tell. (you can tell this because they are at or below random on figuring out which was the instant)

              Came to mind because when Kraft decided to roll over for some idiot food witch and change their recipe, I didn’t know.
              All I knew was that all of a sudden the “treat” of Kraft mac’n’cheese was now treated as if it was florescent green and trying to take a bite out of the eaters.
              Walmart brand was acceptable, though.

            • I’ve never done the boxed stuff, but I like macaroni with a sauce of melted Velveeta with enough milk to make it a creamy liquid, and ideally enough of both that it’s verging on a cheese and noodle soup.

              I keep running across “real” mac&cheese that gets praised to the skies and it’ll be simultaneously dry and sticky, or in the most recent case, the sauce seemed to have separated into oil and some kind of goop.

              I’m sure it’s possible to do one I’d like with Real Cheese, perhaps starting with a roux?

              • Our home ec– I mean, “Life Skills” teacher– taught all of us how to do it. (along with how to do laundry, balance a checkbook and set a table for formal dinner)

                You’re quite right– white sauce, then melt in cheese. You can get a better cheddar or sour cream flavor by adding a bit of cream cheese. Don’t let it cool before you put it with the noodles, and stir until they’re well coated.

              • I’ve tried it with the roux, and it’s always grainy. Not lumpy, but grainy, where the starch (I’ve tried flour and corn starch) source grains don’t break down enough to smooth it out.

                • Wondra flour is your friend. Mix it with the whole milk thoroughly first.

                  My Mac and cheese uses those chicken sausages chopped up and browned in the pot, then the milk, flour and spices (onion powder, garlic salt) added and brought to a boil. Heat tuned down to low and neuftachel cream cheese and shredded Sharp cheddar stirred in. Toss with hot pasta.

                  • Mix it with milk first, instead of mixing it with the grease? Hmm…

                    • Wondra(tm) Quick-mixing Flour is a funky thing but works magic. Comes in a blue cardboard can with one of those pivoting tops that allows you to pour from one side then seal it back up

                      Personally I mix it with the fat/grease to form a rouxe for extra protection.

              • Yes, a real roux – or bechemel sauce, made with milk, a little bit of mustard and paprika stirred in, and then enough milk to make a thin sauce. Stir in grated sharp cheddar as it simmers, stirring so that it doesn’t clump. Then pour over cooked macaroni, top with bread crumbs, and grated parmesan, and bake until top is golden-brown and bubbling. My mother always said she had the best results with a thin cheese sauce and slightly undercooked pasta. I have good results with melting a brick of cream cheese in about a cup and a half of broth, and adding the spices and grated cheddar. This makes a very rich, creamy mac-n-cheese, though.

                • Ah. Yessss, I can definitely see cream cheese and extra-sharp cheddar doing the trick.

                  *looks at turkey carcass in the freezer* What do you know, a source of broth….

                • Your mother’s sounds quite similar to my Momma’s.

          • “(She never shared her recipes with me.)”
            One of my best memories is an afternoon spent with Grandma being taught the secrets of my 3 most favorite dishes.

    • My mom still likes oatmeal, despite it being the “end of the month” food. For my family, we had an awful lot of spaghetti, which my family doesn’t—but that’s probably because the “jar of sauce plus some meat” isn’t enough for us food snobs. 😉 The easy & cheap default meal we have is pasta and parm—and parmesan is actually cheaper if you grate from fresh, because you need a lot less for flavor than you do if it’s the dried stuff, and hard cheeses last for months in the fridge. It used to be pasta, parm, and a veggie blend, but ever since they stopped making “fiesta blend” in the frozen section, we haven’t been able to find a set that has the right kind of combos.

  10. Time is our most finite resource. It’s why I resent wasting it in lines, in traffic, and in waiting rooms. I’d rather be spending it with my kids, my wife, my cousins and their children, and with my friends. And it’s a nearly universal regret that we never seem to spend enough time with our parents, grand parents, aunts and uncles before they are gone.

    • I’m starting to get a *really* bad attitude about the “waiting room” thing, as least with regard to doctors’ offices.

      Make an appointment for 10 o’clock. Get told “wait your turn” each time I ask what the delay is. At 1 PM I’m told “doctor will be back from lunch shortly.”

      Oh, really? If you’d told me he’d left the building when I asked an hour ago, I could have gone to lunch too.

      I once got jerked around in a similar fashion at a job interview. In retailiation, I sent them a review of their hiring process and a bill for my entirely reasonable consulting fee.

      Next time a doctor does that to me, I’m going to do the same.

      And these same people have the ‘nads to insist on a $50 penalty if *I* don’t shot up at their office on time…

  11. Aimee Morgan

    I am fortunate that my Dragonette is so much like me. She enjoys spending time over the summer in Baba Yaga’s Shed, sewing while I work. She usually comes with me when I leave the house, and can often be found sitting on the floor in front of my chair. She is just fine with lots of “in the same space as” with only occasionally “doing something cool with”.

    I am also fortunate that the daycare she attended for 7 years was not large, and thus she had individual attention. I credit her two teachers there for a lot of the kind-hearted generosity that the Dragonette demonstrates in her daily life.

    • This is why I’m glad we found the ‘sitter we did. There are days my boy and his sister are the only ones there. (All the other kids she watches are from within her own family. Doing ‘gramma watches the kids’ for nieces and nephews’ kids.) And come spring we’re going to get get a garden in even if it’s only onions and potatoes. He’s been excited about that, though I wonder how much is the garden and how much is spending time with mommy and daddy.

  12. These things just happened, but I understand that the kids feel they were the best thing ever, now they’re grownup.
    At least in part, you’re talking about a “teachable moment”. Just taking life as it comes, and spending the effort on the opportunities it presents. Not all “teachable moments” mean they have to get something concrete out of it, but it’s a chance to be.

    I think your legacy will be just fine in this world, Miss Sarah. Just fine, indeed.

  13. My fondest moments with my father came when I was young enough to follow him around. This included riding on the tractor with him (feel free to cringe); going to the livestock sales; eating a lunch of pork and beans out of the can, and, in short, just being> with him one on one. Later, when I became old enough to help on the farm, much of this ceased to be fun, but we were together, and occasionally get into various minor adventures, and the latter still brings a smile to both of us.

    Did we do other things? Sure. But this is what stands out.

    Those days are past with my own. But I remember a drawing one did of their favorite thing, and it involved some minor activity I had never given second thought. But it was one on one time, and it meant a great deal.

    There’s something to be said for quantity. What stands out to us and what we think would be a great time for the kids might not be taken that way. Spend time with them. They are only little once, and for such a short while.

    • I rode on the hood of the tractor while my dad was driving it. Now, it’s not as unsafe as it sounds – the tractor had mounting braces on each side for a loader bucket, so I sat on the hood with the brace on the right keeping me from just sliding off. However, I apparently originally sat on the brace itself, but that stopped when I fell off (fortunately not being run over by the back tire).

  14. Applying Sturgeon’s Law, if 90% of time together is ‘crud’ (not so much bad, as just…. meh…perhaps?) but that 10% is so very worthwhile… Then the bigger the 100% is, the bigger (overall, not by ratio) that 10% is. If the 100% is really small, that 10% might really exist. Thus.. maximize the possible.[1]

    [1] But avoid going to such excess that you become a ‘helicopter’ – unless of course you really are such.

  15. Sib and I had full-time babysitters/governesses/allomothers because Mom and Dad both worked. They cared for us like their own. And Mom and Dad were 100% with us when they could be. We grew up pretty well, and yes, it was things like playing in the veggie garden, or going to museums, or to Arbor Lodge for cider and caramel apples, or walking in the woods, that I remember the best.

  16. Saturday mornings, my dad would take one of us kids with him to a the Pancake Alley, a diner, for breakfast before going to the shop for the half day it was opened weekends. He’d rotate through us each week.

    • Feather Blade

      Ours used to take us out for an hour to the mall. We’d play games in the video arcade and get a treat and talk.

      Then later that evening when we complained about him and Mom going out, we’d be told “You had your date with Dad earlier, now it’s Mom’s turn.”

  17. Going to the Maple Sugar Festival and then buying enough ‘grade B’ syrup for the year (grade A had almost no maple flavor). Poking around Kay’s Bookstore in Cleveland while my mother sought out old bound survey maps, which helped her place building lots in time. Wandering the various ‘junkyards’ of The Flats, where my father found and bought a bunch of golden oak church pews to turn into bookcases. Watching my mother photograph a Colored Gentleman’s Club that had once been a mansion (the ‘Colored Gentlemen’ were delighted that somebody was interested).

    • I was raised on Log Cabin “syrup” but discovered the wonders of Grade B on my own in college. My wife thinks B is to assertive but agrees real maple syrup is vastly preferred to any colored corn syrup. So we stock both A and B. My mom still has the log cabin…
      Now I want to make waffles! I did manage to make off with the cast iron electric waffle maker when I got married, my folks only had that because it came with a house they bought and were to frugal to by a modern nonstick one when that one worked. It make Superior Thin Waffles. I do a nonstick Belgian for doing such non standard things as waffling leftover hash browns, or canned cinnamon rolls, or leftover pizza. Haven’t gotten the waffles Mac cheese to work yet…

      • There’s nothing like maple syrup that you’ve tapped and boiled to make yourself.

      • Note: They’ve changed the grading system, so there is no longer “Grade B.” (Because it sounds like a quality thing.) However, they’ve added descriptors to the grades, so you’ll have things like “light flavor” and “dark, robust flavor.”

  18. Being parent is crazy making, constantly second guessing self, are you doing it right or am I guaranteeing years of psychiatry when they grow up?

    My sister and I had old school childhood where we expected to be outside and entertaining ourselves because my single mom did not want us under foot on weekends. That kind of childhood not possible anymore but I think best parents are the ones who land somewhere between helicopter parents and English toffs who sent their seven year olds off to boarding schools and barely saw offspring from one year to next.

  19. A wise man once said “Don’t prepare the road for your children. Instead, prepare your children for the road.”

    • Very wise indeed.

    • I tried to source that excellent maxim, and found it quoted in several essays that were good in and of themselves, but only one attribution here:

      “In her book Blessing of a Skinned Knee, Dr Wendy Mogel suggests that children insulated from unpleasant situations or challenges become less capable to deal with adversity ….To quote Dr Mogel one final time, it is our job to prepare our children for the road, not prepare the road for our children.”

      These are two bloggers with good advice on the subject:

      “C. S. Lewis defines courage as “the form of every virtue at its testing point.” Many parents today believe it is their mission to remove “testing points” for their children. Not wanting to see their kids struggle, they behave like power blowers and knock down challenges. Or they find ways around the challenges either by taking care of the child’s responsibility for them or by finding excuses. Sadly, their kids grow up believing they need a power blower to pave the way. They learn to draft off others who block the wind but when they enter the world on their own, they readily give up when the winds begin to blow directly on them.”
      “Because it’s not trophies that build a child’s self-esteem, but rather the stories behind those trophies. When a child leaves home at age 18, their trophies stay in their bedroom. The stories of how those trophies were earned, however, travel in their suitcase.”

  20. Sometimes love is spelled time.

  21. When small kids, we spent a lot of quality time with my Grandpa Tony. Mom’s step dad. He had an old Rambler station wagon, and we’d go with him to the city dump. Yes, I cherish rides to the dump.
    He’d drop their garbage, sometimes ours, then go to the fresh dugout areas and fill 5 gallon pails with sand. Often, we’d stop at a small store and get a treat, or we’d get to spend a few hours down at their house. Grandma’s house was (well, still is) sorta in a swamp, so nice soft “sugar” sand was not to be found there, and they used it for a play area for the grand kids (and well, my youngest uncle is only 4 years older than I am so it was for him some as well) so the Tonka trucks and grader were best used, and much saved for the winter for traction in the driveway, and a bit would be used to break up the soil some on flower beds and garden area.
    We also went camping with them a lot, in the summer, and when I was a teen, we helped he and Grandma paint Father Matt’s camp cabin. Fr. Matt was my home town Catholic Church’s priest, then he semi-retired by moving to a smaller congregation, but Grandma did his house keeping for years. Grandma painting, singing, and dancing, to the song Take A Chance On Me by ABBA.

  22. When I was a kid A&W Root Beer wasn’t available in stores. You could only get it home by going to an A&W drive-in, where they would fill plastic half-gallon or gallon jugs. So on a hot summer afternoon when the family wanted a root beer float Dad had to drive a few miles to get the One True Root Beer. He took me along so that I could hold the jugs, usually one on the floor between my feet and one in my lap. But before we got the jugs we ordered root beer floats for ourselves in the trademarked A&W frosty mug and consumed them at the drive in. That the root beer float we made at home was our second of the day was our secret. 🙂

    • Mmm. I’ve been down to the “original” A&W in Lodi a few times (it’s a few blocks down from the since-demolished original location.) Frosty mugs are the best.

  23. Hi Sarah,
    Thinking of synonyms of crianças (children) that could sound something like matutinos (early risers, morning newspapers, something to do with the morning) I can think of meninos, pequeninos, pequenitos, pequenos.
    Rui Jorge

    • No. I think it was a made up word for the “child fans” of the newspaper. I just can’t for the life of me remember. Of all the things I lost, I miss my mind the most.

  24. It would appear that the things that stay with us the most are comfort foods…and everyone finds different things comfortable!
    This thread was as good as a home-town cookbook.

  25. Hi, Sarah; I bet you’re talking about the “Calendário do Matulinho”:

  26. Pingback: Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » Worthwhile Reading

  27. my dad making potato soup during winter

    unfortunately my older sister ‘lost the recipe’ because it ‘wasn’t healthy’

    she also ‘lost the recipe’ for my mom’s pumpkin bread, the recipe she got from my great-grandmother and my great-grandmother describer *her* grandmother fixing for the holidays.

  28. I came late to read this evocative post, but thank you, Sarah, for sharing your memories and reminding us that it is often those quiet events and time spent doing things together that remain with us the longest. I have not looked back at the more positive memories in a very long time, but reading the comments I found myself recalling similar fond moments from my childhood. They made me smile. Thanks.