Tuesday, December 28, 2010

French fries and frozen custard


Upon hearing that my husband and I were going to spend the following day in Ocean City, Maryland, my mother had just one piece of advice: “Hit the boardwalk. Walk all the way to the end. Get a box of Thrasher’s french fries and cover them in vinegar. They’ll be the best fries you’ve ever had.”

Those fries were part of her childhood. Her father’s military career took her family practically everywhere, but Maryland was where she spent the most time, where many of her relatives still lived, where so many of her childhood memories were made. In fact, my own very first fuzzy memories are of Maryland, where my mom took me to meet my extended family when I was three years old. When we planned the road trip, it was never a question of whether or not we’d stop in Maryland. Since it was summer, Ocean City was our logical destination of choice.

The next day, we walked down the boardwalk hand in hand and enjoyed the warm sunshine and cool breeze common for the East Coast in June. It had changed since my mother had been, obviously, and there were now several Thrasher’s booths. But we walked all the way to the end, like she suggested, and we got ourselves a Medium box of fries. I thought they were tasty, but nothing spectacular. My husband couldn’t quite get into the taste of the added vinegar, but I thought it was genius.

Anyway, it wasn’t the taste of the fries that mattered. It was the fact that I was enjoying a staple from my mother’s childhood. How many people could say they’d gotten to do that? As I sat on the boardwalk and munched the fries, I pictured my mom there as a cute young kid on summer vacation. I wondered what I might, one day, tell my kid about my childhood trips…or about this cross country road trip I was on.

We’d barely finished the fries when we spotted another booth in the corner.

“Frozen custard?” I read. “What’s that? Is it like ice cream? Or some kind of pudding?”

“I don’t know,” my husband said. “But we should get some.”

We debated on whether or not to split an order before remembering we’re not the couple who shares desserts. He ordered plain chocolate; I ordered a chocolate and peanut butter twist. I took one bite and almost burst into tears from sheer joy. It was that good. It was like ice cream’s much prettier older sister with the perfect body, shiny hair and the Prom Queen crown. We were instantly obsessed. We devoured it and walked away before we were tempted to order more.

I texted my mom about my findings, wondering why she hadn’t told me of this delicacy.

“Oh, Jessica,” was her reply. “I’d forgotten about it. My Uncle Lee bought me my first frozen custard when I was a little girl.”

Uncle Lee died of lung cancer before I was born. My middle name is Lee. So is hers. I’d unknowingly found another favorite childhood staple.

These days, the food I eat is more often than not consumed for its nutritional value and the energy it gives me, with thought given to calories and fat. But that day it was about eating for the sheer joy of the taste… eating through the eyes of a child who was now over 50 (sorry, Mom, but you are) without worry of what it would do to my waistline. Sometimes I think kids have the right mindset: food is meant to be enjoyed, not a punishment, and no matter what, there’s always room for ice cream (and frozen custard). 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Memory Punch: The Last Party


“Get me a giant punch bowl,” I called out to my husband Mr. W as I rushed off for a last-minute pre-party workout. “No… get me a trough. I’m going to make a punch with every remaining bottle of booze we have in the bar and throw in some lemonade to make it tasty.

I returned from the gym and laughed. There, on the bar, sat a giant freshly-cleaned clear tote practically big enough to hold our 80 pound boxer. I should’ve known Mr. W would take my word literally. I showered and got dressed, thinking of all I had to do to prepare. It was going to be a very small get-together, but I wanted it to be fun and flawless, much like my other parties in the basement bar of the home we’re selling.

It started with our epic housewarming party when we bought the house in 2007. We were so proud of our bar with its red wall lined with autographed band photos and pictures of mermaids in martini glasses, the wooden bar Mr. W had built himself while I spent four days sunning myself on the beaches of Cancun with my best friend Sydney… and of course, the crowning glory, the stripper pole we put up more for bragging rights than anything sexy and that was climbed by more drunk male friends than hot ladies.

That first party was a hilarious disaster I wish I remembered more of. In lieu of a housewarming gift, we had everyone bring a bottle of alcohol to stock our bar. Mr. W promptly drank his weight in beer and passed out by 10 PM, leaving me unsupervised with tons of alcohol and friends who were bad influences. When you ask guests to bring bottles, well…they’ll want to sample those bottles.

“You need to have more control over me,” I said the next day as I vomited purple Gatorade into the toilet, soothed my pounding headache with Advil and screeched in horror at the pictures on my camera and vague memories of bits of revealing conversations I’d had with people I barely knew.

“There’s no controlling you and you know it,” he said. Ah, my soulmate.

Since then, there had been New Years’ Eve parties, birthday parties, slumber parties, “Why the hell not” parties, and pity parties in that bar. That bar was where Mr. W and I had some incredibly tough conversations over the summer about our future as a couple and in general. That bar was where my friend chose to hide from the world after her father was taken from her in a house fire and where I was honored to provide her with hugs and wine. There's some downright awesome stuff that happened in that bar. Out of every room in the house we are leaving, I think the bar is the room I will miss the most.

This party was The Last of the Official Parties. Titled “Thanks for the Memories,” it was to be the wrap up of the housewarming party. Instead of bringing in new alcohol, our job was to get rid of the old. I laughed as I made the “punch” and recalled how we’d acquired each bottle and nearly cried when I saw the bar sitting emptier than it had been in years. My friends trickled in, all but one of them part of the “old crowd.” We had to distance ourselves from most of the old crowd over the years, something that happens when you’re in your twenties and you befriend people that turn out to be less than stellar. But everyone from the group we still talk to showed up. Even though they were busy and even though it was the holidays and there were a million other excuses. They came for Memory Punch.

I snacked and drank punch until the room got fuzzy and the stories got a little more inappropriate. I snuck upstairs to get more ice and stepped into the bathroom to re-apply lip gloss. At our house, you can hear anything that happens in the basement through the vents in the upstairs bathroom and bedrooms. I could hear my friends talking and laughing as I searched for my pink lip gloss.

I stopped for a moment and listened, thinking of how beautiful it was to hear those voices in that bar one last time. I don’t know when, or if, each of them will ever be in the same room again. All of us are making changes in our lives and I realized that my have been the last time I ever heard those particular voices in that particular bar. Instead of being sad about that, I found myself filled with gratitude that they’d made it for this last party. I don’t know what the future holds but each person in the bar that night was a very special part of my twenties and my time in that house and I don’t think they’ll ever know how much it truly means to me that we shared so much together.

“Isn’t it cool,” I said as I returned with the ice and chips, “that no matter where life takes us, how much time goes by or what happens, we all keep returning to each other?” They nodded in agreement as I filled their cups with more Memory Punch.

I believe in living for the present and setting goals for the future. But sometimes, you’ve got to reminisce about the past. 


Friday, December 3, 2010

Don't Fast Forward


If only life had a fast forward button.

I couldn’t agree more at the text I read from a good friend the other day. She, like me, is “on hold” in life. Like me, she can see the light at the end of the tunnel (which is actually just the beginning of a whole lot of newness, but I digress) but can also see everything that has to happen in the meantime. It’s frustrating. It’s, at times, very disheartening. I mean yes, life is a journey and I really am grateful for every day of it. But it’s scary. This whole life overhaul thing is not for the faint of heart.

My friend and I both have moments where we wish we could pick up a life remote and hit the fast forward button… not for long, just until we’re relocated, unpacked, adjusted…stable.  Stability isn’t something either of us has known for quite some time. That’s mostly our decision, as she and I both knew early on in life that the 9 to 5 lifestyle would never be ours. But just to fast forward until we can breathe again would be wonderful.

Last Saturday, my husband and I were having a “date night in” because we’d just returned from Thanksgiving in Yakima and couldn’t really afford a date night out. I don’t mind staying in, but I was still annoyed. Our budget has been crazy since the road trip and I didn’t like not at least have the option to go out for Italian food and a movie or knowing when I could again. This is one area where I crave stability. I longed to reach for that life remote and fast forward to after our move to Seattle to a time when we knew what our rent was, what our bills would be and had a real budget again. Instead of the life remote, I picked up the TV remote.

I believe in coincidence, but I also believe in fate. The movie Click with Adam Sandler was just beginning. I’d seen it before and remembered really enjoying it so I thought I may as well watch it again. And I quickly remembered just why we don’t actually get life remotes. Because when we fast forward through the bad, we miss out on all the good that goes with it. When we focus only on the future, we miss all the beautiful things about our present. And even when we’re in the depths of despair, frustrated or stressed out, there still are beautiful things about the present.

In case you haven’t seen Click, Adam Sandler plays the role of Michael, a busy employee of a large corporation and working so hard for a much-anticipated promotion, he has no time for his (way out of his league, by the way) wife and their kids. He goes to Bed, Bath & Beyond one night and actually does get one of those fancy life remotes. And at first, it’s awesome… he can fast forward through arguments with his wife and anything he finds unpleasant as well as revisit his past. But Michael gets out of control with the remote and accidentally ends up missing his entire life and losing the people who matter most to him.

I actually got tears in my eyes at the part where he grabbed the remote and whispered, “I can’t take it anymore. Fast forward me to when I get promoted.” Michael is so upset in that scene because he wants something so badly and has worked so hard for it, but it seems continuously just out of his reach. He can’t take the long hours, the stress, the disappointment in his families’ eyes anymore. He just wants to fast forward the bad and get to the good. That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling lately. What I wouldn’t give to be able to grab that thing, fast forward, and just relax already.

Except that deep down I don’t want to miss the bad and the scary, even to get to the good. I’d miss too much good mixed in with the bad. Yes, this being on hold things sucks, as does being powerless about a lot of things that simply have to work themselves out. But I also will never forget the way this feels and that will motivate me to work hard to ensure I never feel this way again. I’d miss the last few months living in close proximity to some truly amazing people I won’t get to see enough after we move. I’d miss the last mornings waking up in my blue bedroom I was so proud to decorate that will soon be replaced by white apartment walls I don’t get to paint. I’d miss more chances to drink Oval Office flavored martinis and eat the best sweet potato fries I’ve ever had, anywhere (even, dare I say, better than anywhere in Seattle).

 If I fast forward to my new life, I’ll miss the life I have now… which, at one time, was the exact life I wanted. And even though times are tough, tempers are flaring and there’s a lot of anxiety… it’s still a pretty great life. And I’ll think of that as I’m surrounded by my friends tonight who are coming over for one last epic basement party to help rid our bar of all the alcohol we don’t want to carry with us to our new life.

At the end of Click (sorry to spoil it for you but really, if you haven’t seen it by now, that’s not my fault), Michael is miraculously given another chance at life. I was so relieved the first time I saw the movie because I expected it to really be over for him. After all, real life doesn’t work that way. We’re born, we live, and we die, and how we spend the time in between is up to us. No sooner had I finished the movie than an old song popped into my head. I’ve always liked it, but the message really resonated with me. As bad as you want to fast forward… through the monotony of your daily routine, through suffering and heartache, through life’s downright unpleasant moments… don’t. Live them all. I’m writing this post at a very scary time in my life to remind myself, because no matter what happens, I know it will be worth it in the end.

“Getting There” by Terri Clark

Written by Terri Clark

Well the sun sets in the west 
But as fast as you go, how would you know 
You're a busy boy, I guess 
Who just wants the gold at the end of the road 
Think of all you miss 
Passing through like this 

You want an answer as soon as you say a prayer 
You want to land the moment you're in the air 
Baby the living is all in the getting there 

Don't be the first in every line 
Now and then you can be at the end 
'Cause there's only so much time 
And you can't get back every minute you spend 
You're not even sure 
What you're running for 

You want an answer as soon as you say a prayer 
You want to land the moment you're in the air 
Baby the living is all in the getting there 

Think of all you miss 
Passing through like this 

You want an answer as soon as you say a prayer 
You want to land the moment you're in the air 
Baby the living is all in the getting there 

The living is all in the getting there 
Getting there 




 
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