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After 15 days and 4, 072.7 miles, the Tedster and I finally pulled into our driveway last night, spent but happy for our efforts. We were ready to be home even if home was covered in snow and the car thermometer barely topped 20 degrees F. Tom made sure the cold crap-ola outside was negated by the warmth inside. He had a pot of potato soup steaming on the stove, flowers on the island in the kitchen, the house cleaned, and was standing in the doorway smiling when the garage door went up. Damn, it’s good to be home. Teddy doesn’t even seem to mind the snow covering the grass.

That’s the great thing about Teddy. He never complains about anything…except being left alone (see my post about Midland, TX). No matter where we went or what we did, he was a perfect gentleman, accepting love and attention from everyone we encountered. He never got cranky because a meal wasn’t offered at the normal time, never fussed about being in the car for long stretches of time, never complained about the hotel we stayed in (I repeat, avoid the Guesthouse Suites in El Paso at all cost), never whined because the only place to have a wee was a windswept muddy patch of ground with RVs pulling in and out, never bristled at the comments about his bum leg.

And here I must pause for an aside. Since I’ve never had a handicap (at least a visible handicap–bumfuzzlement is a handicap, isn’t it?), I’ve never fully understood why people with handicaps complain that others see only their wheelchairs, their braces, or their white canes. I mean, I understand the lament on an intellectual level, but haven’t on an emotional one. After traveling with Teddy, I think I now have a little better understanding of how they feel. I was blown away by how many people we encountered who first commented on Teddy’s bum wheel. Forget that he’s as well-behaved as any dog on the planet, that he has an adorable wrinkly face, that he’s wearing a jaunty red neckerchief that makes him look quite dapper, or that he spins his tail in a complete circle when he meets someone new. People first noticed and asked about his leg. I did my best to patiently explain his condition, and Teddy eagerly exchanged howdy-dos with anyone who stopped to chat, but after a while I wanted to scream, “He’s a great little dog! Forget about his leg! HE HAS!” Please understand. I’m talking into the mirror here. This rant is all about me. I’m just letting you know I will be making a concerted effort in the future to look beyond visible handicaps to see people. Thanks to the Ted-meister.

That’s not all I learned on our trip. I learned that Teddy likes Elton John…a lot. He also likes Kenny Chesney and the Eagles, but Elton’s the man. I learned he hates rumble strips and slowing down for the tollbooths on the Austin turnpike…totally unnecessary interruptions to a good nap. I also learned that he’s willing to sit in the car and wait for me to have my own potty stop as long as I park the car where he can watch me go into the building and come back out again. If I want to leave him a Beggin’ Strip to nibble on during my absence, well, that’s just fine, too.

Hey, where'd you go?

He learned a few things about me in the process, as well. For example, he now knows that I have little tolerance (and more than a few bad words) for idiots…um hum, excuse me, drivers…who drive down the left lane of the interstate for miles and miles without passing anyone…often without even GOING THE SPEED LIMIT. Deep breath.

He also now knows that if he uses just the right tone of voice I will get out of my hotel bed at four in the morning to take him outside for a wee even when the spot for weeing is surrounded by idling 18-wheelers and that, if he waits me out, I will resort to hand-feeding him to ensure that we don’t get on the road in the morning with an empty stomach. Little shit.

Together, we discovered that the stretch of Interstate 10 between about 60 miles east of El Paso and about 60 miles west of San Antonio runs through some of the prettiest scenery you’ll see anywhere. Albeit, as desolate as you’ll see anywhere, but gorgeous nonetheless. It’s also a great stretch of wide open road for…well, if you must know…for driving fast. My dad, who worries about me a lot, reads my blog, so I can’t tell you exactly how fast Teddy and I were going, but let’s just say that my little six-speed G35 with just over 300 horsepower was very happy. Very, very happy. ‘Nuf said.

Because I have no idea what this little peak is called--and because I can be very juvenile on occasion--I've dubbed this little outcropping "The Texas Titty." See the wide-open highway? It was like this most of the way.

Mostly, we loved our trip because we got to see (or in Teddy’s case, meet) a bunch of people we know and love in Arizona and Texas. I want to thank them all for adjusting their schedules to accommodate our visit. Spending time with them went a long way toward adjusting my pissy attitude. It certainly didn’t hurt that they fixed us great meals, regaled us with hilarious stories, and–in a couple of instances–put us up for several nights. We had a blast with each and every one of them and miss them all like crazy already. Just know, if I ever get to be Queen of the World, I’m going to make it illegal for family members to live more than 100 miles apart from one another.

Is it just me, or does Dad look rather pleased about our departure?

My only regret is that our fifteen-day-long jaunt was an interstate trip–a trip more about the destination than the journey–and not a two-lane county-road-type trip that encouraged lots of stops and dilly-dallying along the way. If we’d stopped at every interesting little town, scenic overlook, and point-of-interest, we’d still be on our way to Arizona. So much to see. So little time. I’m guessing the road will beckon again soon. Teddy and I will be ready.

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Okay, so the temperatures here in Tucson since my arrival last week have been cooler than normal, and the sunshine has been intermittent at best. Maybe not what I was counting on, but still, I’ve had hours-long stretches of sunshine to bask in on several occasions—which is way more than I was getting at home—and I’ve been able to go entire days without wearing my coat, hat, and scarf. I’ve even gotten to wear sandals a few times; although I’m sure the locals think I’m a bit loony. Fair enough. Maybe I am a bit hasty in throwing aside my winter togs, but bare toes and bare arms have been exactly the thing to jumpstart the attitude adjustment I so desperately needed.

Better yet, I’ve gotten to spend time with nearly all my family and friends in both Tucson and Phoenix. No small feat when you consider they’re busy people and I arrived without much notice. I’m grateful to each of them for adjusting already full schedules at the last minute to accommodate my visit, and I thank Dad’s friends for making room for me at their table at Burger King where they meet every weekday morning. Keep me posted on the glowing circles, guys!

I have to thank my Dad, especially, for being such a terrific host to both Teddy and me. Teddy has been welcomed everywhere we’ve gone, but nowhere more so than at Dad’s, where he was greeted with open arms and given the run of the house…and the run of the backseat of Dad’s beloved yellow Beetle. Dad’s not going to know what to do when we leave and he no longer has to hurdle over a sleeping dog sprawled from wall-to-wall in the hallway.

As for me, I’ve been taken to lunch at all my favorite restaurants here in Tucson, including the Firebird up in the northwest part of town, and to a wonderful local theater called The Gaslight Theatre for an afternoon of really well done (and incredibly goofy) melodrama. (Thanks for babysitting Teddy, Chris!) In every way, I’ve been treated like visiting royalty.

Moreover, the short stretches of time we’ve actually been here at Dad’s have been blissfully quiet and relaxing. I’ve gotten to do some reading, practice the piano (but not enough…I apologize in advance, Lori), write a little, and sleep like the dead every night. I’ve even gotten to do a good bit of cooking.

On Monday, a cold (“cold” being a relative term) and dreary day, Dad and I spent the entire afternoon in the kitchen, chopping, peeling, sautéing, simmering, mixing, and baking. By the time we were done, Dad’s freezer was stuffed with multiple containers of three different kinds of soup and enough BBQ’d meatballs to…to…well, I don’t know to what, but the shelves on his freezer door are groaning from the weight of them. He won’t go hungry for a couple of months. That’s all I’m saying.

We made three of my very favorite soups that I knew—or suspected—Dad would like: my mom’s potato soup (which I’ve modified slightly since she taught me to make it years ago); a yummy roasted carrot soup that makes the house smell incredible for several hours while you’re roasting the carrots, parsnips, onions, and ginger; and a knock-your-socks-off corn chowder that my dear friend Tiffany gave me the recipe for two winters ago. I’m including the recipe for each of them at the end of this post if you’d like to try them for yourselves. Just scroll down. I’m also including the recipe for the meatballs because, not only are they smack-your-grandma delicious, they’re perfect to serve at a Super Bowl party. Enjoy!

The Tedster and I have had a blast in Tucson and are feeling much better about the world in general, but it’s time to move on. Tomorrow morning, we’re back on the road. The weather in KC is still crappy…and keeps getting crappier by the minute…and promises to remain uber crappy until early next week…so we’ve decided to head to the very bottom of Texas to see my niece and her family who live in the McAllen area. On the way north from their place, we’ll be able to stop and see my sister and other niece in Austin. With any luck, the weather will clear in the Midwest while Teddy and I are wandering around in the bowels of Texas, and we’ll be able to drive into KC on Tuesday. (From my lips to the weather gods’ ears.)

Anyway, I hate to admit it, but I suppose I’ve been gone long enough. Tom’s clearly been left at home alone longer than he should have been. Yesterday when he made his lunch, he forgot to remove the waxed paper from the deli cheese he used on his sandwich and ended up eating several bites of it at lunchtime before he figured out why the darn thing tasted so lousy. It’s good to be needed. Sigh.

The recipes:

Mom’s Potato Soup (slightly modified)
6 servings

2 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced into ¼ inch pieces
4 stalks of celery, sliced crosswise
2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon of pepper
3 large russet potatoes, diced into 1 inch pieces (peeling the potatoes is optional)
4 cups of rich chicken broth
4 tablespoons of butter
1 cup of cream

Optional (for serving):
Bacon crumbles
Grated cheese

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a stockpot. Add the onions, celery, salt, and pepper. Sauté the onions and celery until the onions are transparent. About 7 minutes.

Add the potatoes and broth. The broth should cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender. About 20 minutes.

Use a potato masher (for a chunky soup) or an immersion blender (for a creamy soup) to mash/puree the vegetables. Add the butter and cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 5 more minutes.

Serve with crumbled bacon and/or your favorite grated cheese.

Roasted Carrot Soup
Serves 10

Preheat the oven to 350°

1½ lbs. carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 lb. parsnips, peeled and quartered lengthwise
1 large onion, sliced
3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and diced
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
8 cups rich chicken broth (more if necessary)
2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
¼ cup crème fraîche, for garnish
Snipped fresh chives, for garnish

Combine the carrots, parsnips, onion, and ginger in a shallow roasting pan. Dot the vegetables with butter and sprinkle with the brown sugar. Pour 2 cups of the broth over the vegetables.

Cover the roasting pan with foil and bake for 2 hours until the vegetables are very tender.

Transfer the vegetables and broth into a large stockpot and add the remaining 6 cups of broth. Add the salt and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes.

Puree the soup in batches in a blender and return to the stockpot or puree with mixture with an immersion blender. Adjust the seasonings and simmer for 20 minutes more.

Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and a sprinkling of snipped chives.

Cozy Corn Chowder
6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into ¼ inch dice
1 large red bell pepper, cut into ¼ inch dice
1 cup carrots, peeled and cut into ¼ inch dice
3 jalapenos, seeded and sliced (3 makes the soup pretty spicy; adjust accordingly)
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups fresh corn (about 5 ears)
2 medium russet potatoes, cut into ½ inch dice
1 bay leaf
Pinch cayenne
Juice of 1 lime
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon real maple syrup

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a stockpot. Add the onion, bell pepper, carrots, jalapenos, salt, and pepper and sauté in the olive oil until the onions are transparent. About 7 minutes.

Add the rosemary and thyme. Sauté 1 minute more.

Add the broth, corn, potatoes, bay leaf, and cayenne. Cover and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

Uncover and simmer about 10 more minutes to let the liquid reduce a bit.

Remove the bay leaf and puree half the chowder in a blender until smooth. Return the pureed chowder back to the stockpot. Add the lime juice, milk, and maple syrup. Simmer for 5 more minutes. Let the chowder sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Barbeque Meatballs
Makes 4 dozen meatballs

Preheat the oven to 350°

Sauce:
2 cups catsup
2 cups brown sugar
¼ of a large yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon Liquid Smoke
½ teaspoon garlic salt

Mix the sauce ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce while you mix and form the meatballs.

Meatballs:
1 large can of evaporated milk
2 cups oatmeal
¾ of a large onion, diced
2 eggs
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
½ tablespoon black pepper
½ tablespoon garlic powder
3 lbs. lean ground beef

Mix the first 8 ingredients together in a large bowl. Work the ground beef into the mixture. Form the mixture into small meatballs (slightly smaller than ping pong balls). Place the meatballs in a single layer on two cookie sheets.

Cover the meatballs with the sauce and bake for 1 hour.

The UPS man delivered the last box of gifts an hour or so ago. Whew! All the presents are now wrapped and under the tree. Dinner is in the oven. Dessert is cooling on the counter top, and–as the weather wonks predicted–the sleet and ice have begun to fall.

A white Christmas?

We woke up to temperatures in the 50s this morning, but it’s well below freezing now. If the local meteorologists are right, we’ll wake up to a white Christmas tomorrow morning. I’ll believe it when I see it, but they get Brownie points for being right about the sleet. Hey, it’s Christmas. I’m feeling generous. Brownie points for everyone!

The halls--and the tree--are decked...finally

All that’s left to do is fix a nice glass of egg nog with a splash (or a big glug) of rum, take a long, hot shower, and get ready for dinner, but I just had to stop long enough to wish you all a Merry Christmas. I really hope you’re tucked in someplace warm and toasty, surrounded by the people you love–or at least like a lot. May your entire holiday season be filled with family, friends, laughter, good music, and lots of yummy food. And maybe a little rum.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Disclaimer: Names in this posting have been changed to protect the innocent. And the guilty. You know who you are.

Last Saturday promised to be another scorcher, so Tom got up and headed out to run at 7 a.m. instead of his usual 8 a.m. As I’ve mentioned before, Teddy is not a morning dog; in fact, he gets downright grumpy if forced to get up much before 8 (have I mentioned how much I love this dog?). So since I knew he wouldn’t be in need of a wee for a bit longer, I snuggled back down into the sheets for another hour or so of snoozing after Tom left.

A little after 8, I dragged myself out of bed, threw on some capris and a T-shirt, and woke Teddy up. The two of us stumbled out into the backyard; me tugging on Teddy’s leash, slapping the side of my leg, blathering on in a high-pitched plea, “C’mon Teddy. Go potty. C’mon, Fuzz-Butt, do your thing!”; Teddy eyeballing me like I’d completely lost my mind.

When we got about 50 yards away from the back of the house–which took a few minutes because Teddy kept stopping to lay down in every patch of shade we walked through–I heard a low rumbling sound coming from the side of the house and immediately thought, “Oh, crap, I hope the air conditioner isn’t about to blow up.” But it was only 8 a.m. If the air conditioner was thinking about having a nervous breakdown in the god-awful heat, I didn’t want to know about it or deal with it until I’d had a chance to fully wake up. I didn’t even turn around to see if there was smoke. I just kept walking, cajoling Teddy every step of the way to take care of business. Even at that early hour, the heat and humidity were so bad, sweat was trickling down my back and my hair was starting to plaster itself to my head. I just wanted to go back inside.

When Teddy had finally squirted all the trees and bushes in need of a squirt and had determined that all was right in his realm, we turned around to head back to the house. That’s when I saw it. The low rumbling sound was not coming from the air conditioner. It was coming from an ambulance, and I knew immediately why it was there. As we raced up the backyard and around the side of the house, I saw the police cruiser and the firetruck.

The afternoon before, our neighbor, whom I’ll call “Ward,” had started painting his new detached garage. “June,” his wife, had left a day or two earlier to take their boys, “Wally” and “The Beav,” to summer camp and then to go to the lake to hang out with her mom. I knew June was planning to be back in town at some point for a bachelorette party she was hostessing Saturday evening, but as I ran up toward the street, I couldn’t for the life of me remember when she’d said she’d be back.

As I raced toward their house and saw the crowd of firemen, EMTs, and police officers, I had two recurring thoughts: “Good lord, I hope Ward is okay!” and “Thank goodness I put on a bra!”

After Teddy and I navigated our way around the emergency vehicles, I paused momentarily to survey the situation. Two ladders were lying in the side yard as though they’d been tossed out of the way in haste. As I feared, Ward was on the ground toward the back end of the garage, the firemen and EMTs gathered around him. Good grief, the garage is nearly two stories tall at that point, I thought, and I shuddered. I saw that the EMTs were working to get Ward secured onto a board, and I was relieved–at least a little–to know he was in the hands of professionals. I looked around a few seconds more and didn’t see anyone but emergency personnel. No June. No other neighbors. I hesitated, not wanting to be a Gladys Kravitts, asking questions and getting in the way, but wanting to know if June had been notified. A police officer was standing a few feet back from the action, so I approached him and asked if they’d been able to get a hold of Ward’s wife. “She’s right over there,” he said as he nodded toward the crowd around Ward. Phew.

Sure enough, just then June stepped out from behind a tree. When she saw me, she started calmly up the hill. Her demeanor was reassuring. She let me know immediately that Ward was hurt, but he wasn’t going to die. His shoulder was dislocated, his right leg was scraped up, and he was in enough pain that the first words out of his mouth when the EMTs arrived were, “Give me morphine,” but he wasn’t going to die.

As we stood there waiting for Ward to be loaded into the ambulance, June and I commiserated about the fact that he shouldn’t have been up on the ladder in the first place, and she filled me in on the few details she had. Apparently, Ward had gone out early–by himself–to get as much painting done as possible before the heat became unbearable (too late for that, I thought to myself as she talked and I sweated). June had returned home the evening before and, like me, was taking advantage of an opportunity to sleep in Saturday morning. Her reverie was interrupted by the next-door neighbor who came into the house to find her after finding Ward sprawled out in the side yard. That the neighbor found Ward at all is a miracle. Normally she would have left before Tom, who Ward remembers waving at a few minutes before swan-diving off the ladder, but she was running uncharacteristically late that morning. As she opened her garage door, she and her daughter heard his calls for help. Thank goodness. Heaven knows neither June nor I would have heard him. Geez. I didn’t even hear the fire truck coming into the neighborhood with its sirens blaring around 7:30, and it was less than the length of a football field away from my bedroom window when it came to a stop. Unbelievable. And un-nerving. Ward had been lying there waiting for someone to help him for about 20 minutes before the neighbor found him.

Before it was all said and done, Ward ended up having to be fully sedated so his shoulder could be put back into place, but he did come home from the hospital that afternoon. Groggy and heavily medicated, but he came home. I’m happy to report, he’s doing quite well as of today, all things–and all possibilities–considered, but I doubt he’ll be up on a ladder anytime soon. For that matter, I’d be surprised if any of the guys in the neighborhood find themselves up on a ladder in the near future–that is if their wives have anything to say about it. The memory is too fresh.

I don”t know about the rest of the guys, but Tom’s not complaining. He’s never been all that fond of dangling from the top of a ladder. Once he knew Ward was going to be okay, he even joked about the new “toys” the guys in the neighborhood were going to be able to buy or  rent–things like hydraulic lifts–that they’d need if they couldn’t use ladders.

Amazing. I’m fighting the nausea I feel every time I think about Ward lying on the ground, all alone, immobile, and in horrible pain, and Tom’s imagining the circus tricks he and the other guys can do in the forklift…or hydraulic lift…whatever. Truth be told, Ward will probably want to be first in line to operate it. Boys. I give up.

Years ago, shortly after advanced age forced Tom’s grandmother from her beloved farm and into town, the women in the family descended upon Grandma’s three-story brick farmhouse to pack her belongings and deep-clean every inch of the house from baseboard to ceiling. I was assigned to the kitchen, starting with the cabinet under the kitchen sink.

Clearing that particular space was an all-together unremarkable task until I got to the back of the cabinet. There, hidden behind the bottles of Fantastik®, Windex®, and Drano®, obscured by the boxes of mouse traps, mothballs, and Brillo® pads, and wedged behind the water and drain pipes, I found a saw. Not a dinky saw. Not a small hand-held hacksaw one might possibly use to cut through chicken bones, but a three-foot long rusted rip saw with half inch teeth from its nose to its handle. A manly saw for manly tasks like building barns or cutting huge branches out of 100-year-old oak trees. What on earth was it doing in Grandma’s kitchen? I couldn’t imagine. I certainly couldn’t imagine tiny, petite, little Grandma ever using the sinister looking implement. It was nearly as tall as she was. I carefully extracted the brute from behind the pipes and stood with it in my hands, staring at it, my mouth open. Then I heard a snicker.

I looked up to see Tom’s cousin, a farm girl, watching me, a smile curling her lips. She waited. My mind raced. What could you possibly use this huge saw for in the kitchen? I have to admit, several of the possibilities—including the ones involving human limbs and deep wells—that danced through my cranium curled my toes. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer and blurted, “What in the world is this saw doing here?” By then, others in the kitchen were watching events unfold, and my outburst triggered gales of laughter. Unfortunately for me—however, not unusually when it comes to anything having to do with the farm—I was the only clueless one in the crowd. Luckily, Tom’s cousin was happy to educate me. Too bad she couldn’t stop laughing.

Seems it’s not at all unusual for a farm wife to have just such a saw under her sink. Apparently, she might need it to saw through hog and cow bones when she’s fixing dinner. WHAT?! More laughter. Hey, short of having “City Slicker” tattooed on my forehead, every inch of me screams City Girl. I don’t deny it. And where I come from, meat comes on Styrofoam trays wrapped in cellophane. It had never occurred to me that anyone ever got that close to the actual animal. Boy, did I have a lot to learn.

Which brings me to cheese. Last summer for my birthday, a dear friend, who had listened to me rave on and on multiple times about Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and in particular the chapter on cheese-making, very thoughtfully gave me one of the cheese-making kits from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company that Kingsolver talks about in her book. Yes, I freely admit. I did tell this friend (repeatedly) I thought it would be fun to make cheese. Yes, I suppose I did lead her to believe I intended to tackle making a batch of cheese. Was I overstating my intentions? Did I really mean it? Well…

Both Kingsolver and Ricki Carroll, the owner of the Cheesemaking Supply Company, swear making cheese—particularly mozzarella cheese—is child’s play. According to them, you can make up a batch of mozzarella in the afternoon to serve at dinner that night. Uh-huh. I refer you to the paragraph before the last one and the sentence starting, “Where I come from…” only substitute the word “cheese” for “meat” and eliminate the Styrofoam tray. In my world, cheese comes in plastic wrappers. With labels. And nutrition information. Maybe a re-sealable closure. It’s made up in Wisconsin by some fifth-generation Northern European dairy farmer (artisanal) or in a factory (Kraft). In my world, cheese does not come from a pot of hot milk. Jeez. Me and my big mouth. What had I been thinking?

Months passed. Periodically, I’d get the kit out, spread the contents on the counter, read the directions, and then, overwhelmed, shove it all back into the box. From that vantage point, nothing about cheese-making seemed easy. Clearly, Kingsolver and Carroll had been noodling around in the medicine cabinet. I wished I’d kept my mouth shut.

Then one day early this year, I was having lunch with some other friends, and we got to talking about Kingsolver’s book. The subject of cheese-making came up—much to my chagrin—and I sheepishly admitted to having been given the kit but never having the cojones to try making the cheese. Being the good friends they are, and always open to being bribed with wine, they offered to come over and help me. So, a few weeks later on a cold winter night, with a big metal pot, metal spoons, strainer, cheesecloth, rennet tablets, enzymes, milk thermometer, rubber gloves, a gallon of whole milk, full wine glasses, and the directions before us, we began.

I’ll not go into the step-by-step cheese-making process here, but suffice it to say—with help from my friends—making cheese really was easy. Admittedly, we had one point where we debated whether or not to continue because—based on the dubious looking contents of the pot—we were certain we had screwed up royally, but the wine gave us courage and we decided to plow ahead anyway. I’m certainly glad we did because less than 20 minutes later we had a real honest-to-goodness blob of mozzarella cheese to show for our efforts. Really. Real mozzarella cheese. We even ate it.

Brief pause for a free cheese-making tip: curds and whey do NOT look appetizing; do not be put off by what appear to be little white lumps floating around in dirty water; if you don’t have little white lumps floating around in dirty water, you’ve screwed up; if you don’t have little white lumps floating around in dirty water, more wine is required—for you, not the cheese.

I’ve since made five more batches of mozzarella. Two of them by myself. It’s made me cocky. I’ve started telling everyone I want to try making cheddar next. I don’t learn.

And now my aunt in Australia (my culinary muse) tells me that in an effort at one-upmanship, she and a friend have enrolled in a class to learn to make Camembert. Damn. I guess I’m going to have to put up or shut up about the cheddar. Time to restock the wine rack and call my friends.

Just know, I may make my own cheese—at least mozzarella—but you’ll NEVER find a rip saw under my sink.

Brian walks through the campanile and down the hill at the University of Kansas on Sunday afternoon. For those of you who are not familiar with the graduation ceremony at KU, walking through the campanile and down the hill to the football stadium is considered the meat and potatoes of the festivities by most students and alumni. As a result, probably a good third of the graduates peel off at the entrance to the stadium and head to the bars or their own private parties to begin celebrating, leaving the rest–those poor suckers whose mothers and grandmothers have threatened them within an inch of their lives if they skip the pageantry of the “official” ceremony”–to walk into the stadium and endure the formalities. Brian will be walking into the stadium, but I’m not saying at whose insistence.

The Hill and Campanile at KU on Graduation Day

I have to admit, I thought Brian had screwed it all up long before he arrived on campus as a freshman. Legend has it that if you walk through the campanile before you are a bona fide graduate, you jinx yourself right out of ever graduating from the university. Just to make me crazy–I’m sure–Brian walked through the campanile when he was a senior in high school. Thankfully, the gods have a sense of humor and overlooked his youthful indiscretion, so he will be in the throng of blue robes marching down the hill on Sunday. His will not be a dignified march, however.

Tradition dictates that graduates put their own unique stamp on the festivities, and many do so with great verve. For example, when our daughter, Carey, graduated from KU three years ago, she festooned her mortarboard with a huge plastic brain–one of the tamer embellishments that day. It’s not unusual for the kid to carry balloons; throw streamers; tote giant beer mugs; hold stuffed Jayhawks, teddy bears, and flamingos or inflatable bananas. Some of them even carry boom boxes (do they still call them that?) and dance down the hill. It’s a party every step of the way. I’ll not steal Brian’s thunder by revealing his plans, but I promise pictures after it’s all over.

The "Brain"iac

The "Brain"iac

After graduation, we’ll return here to the house to celebrate with family and friends. We took the easy way out and ordered Brian’s favorite barbecue, so I won’t have much to do the night of the party. But that doesn’t mean I totally let myself off the hook. As is true most any time we host a large gathering, I’ve been obsessed with checking things off my long list of home-improvement projects–projects, in all honesty, that I’ve been ignoring since…well, since…last summer when we hosted Carey and Austin’s engagement party. Somehow long-ignored tasks become more urgent with company coming, so I’ve been painting, cleaning, scrubbing, weeding, planting, mulching, and running errands like a mad woman for the last several weeks. It’s silly. I know it’s silly, but it’s usually requires something rather dramatic to snap me out of the idiocy.

Yesterday was the day. Yesterday was mulching, the last straw (or wood chip). The weather wonks were promising torrential rain by late afternoon, so I got up early and began raking, fluffing, and flinging mulch like my rear was on fire, trying to get the stuff put down before the rains came and turned it all into a soggy mess. Then it didn’t rain. Stupid weather wonks. More to the point, stupid me. While soaking my aching muscles in a steaming hot shower afterward, I finally accepted the silliness of trying to cram months worth of tasks into a few short weeks. No one will notice or–if they do notice–care that the wood blinds haven’t been meticulously dusted or that the flower beds have a few bare spots where I’ve failed to get something planted. I know that. I’ve known that all along. I just forget.

Sanity restored, it’s time to put down my rake/paintbrush/dust cloth and pick up a wine glass to toast my son. We have accomplishments to celebrate, friends to catch up with, and food to eat. It should be a great weekend!