Five Paragraphs: Unloved and Unnecessary

Mine may be the only dinner table in America where family members engage in heated discussions about both Monty Python and the five paragraph essay on a regular basis. Monty Python? Lots of people have something to say about that. But the essay? Yeah, that’s my family.

Even my sixth grade son, who has only written a single five paragraph essay, back in fifth grade, has an opinion on the matter, having heard his high school siblings (and me) rail against it for years.

What’s my problem? Let me lay it out for you.

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Ziggy in the Living Room

Most celebrity deaths don’t affect me. Somehow this one punched me in the gut. My husband came downstairs for breakfast and asked if I’d heard: David Bowie died of cancer. He’d been sick for 18 months, and managed to keep it out of the news.ziggy lyrics.png

For a kid leading a pretty average life, I loved Bowie. I’ve had Ziggy Stardust running through my head all day. Really? Of all the lyrics, these are the ones I’m stuck with? Ah, well, we can’t always choose our memories.

Here’s a better one: I’ve been out running errands. Who knows what or where. Groceries? Target? As I enter the door from the driveway, a wall of sound greets me: Bowie blasting in the living room, and my children going about their business, at least one singing along.

So glad we introduced them way back when.

It’s the soundtrack of my youth: odd, confusing and a little bit crazy (the soundtrack, that is; not the youth. I was nothing if not well-behaved.)

Thanks, David Bowie. Much appreciated.

Friday Poem: January 1

January 1

I would post this
with a photo of a kitten
in a party hat: Happy New Year

to my friends who celebrate
My version of Happy                                     
Joyful                           Merry                            

to my friends who celebrate, and to those
who don’t, ignore this post, ignore
this message, this meme. My children

are schooling me in memes
over dinner, and I’m sort of getting it –
like existentialism or containment

high school terms I grasped well enough
to pass the tests, but which I couldn’t define
even then


Here are things I know –
repeatable, shorthand:
Your hand on my back at 2 am

when I cannot sleep…
The Purple Fiddle coffee mug
drying on the sill…

Half a pot of steel cut oats…
Snow, light as feathers
beyond the bow window

Chef Josh

Yesterday Josh asked for a mini fridge of his own so he can age meats in the basement. This is what you get when you give your sixth grader Kenji Lopez-Alt’s The Food Lab for Chanukah.


So far my boy has made mac and cheese (gluey), a French omelet (delicious, but requires some work on technique) and buttermilk pancakes (heavenly.) He flips through the giant book over breakfast, recites tidbits while I make dinner, and has explained in great detail the best way to boil an egg. He is also intent on scoring some copper pots as soon as he can afford them (bar mitzvah money, perhaps?)

I love to cook, and thanks to Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, have learned to make most of my favorites without a recipe. I remember reading from my mom’s vast cookbook collection over bowls of cereal and grilled cheese sandwiches at the kitchen table all through middle school and high school – The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, Maida Heater’s Chocolate Desserts, and Still Fiddling in the Kitchen, a fundraiser for the National Council of Jewish Women. I once spent months copying every recipe from her collection of recipe cards and mimeograph sheets onto pastel 3 x 5’s, then filing them by category. It made a great, labor-intensive birthday gift.

FullSizeRenderMy mom handed me a paper bag of mini jello molds yesterday – a little something for Josh to play around with. She found them in the basement with some old suitcases and other useless things. We are going to fill them with water and make fancy ice shapes for a punch bowl tomorrow night.

Right now, Josh is in the kitchen with my sister making banana pancakes. The house smells like butter.




Jeannette: Mushroom Barley

I can hardly
keep my eyes open
the day she brings soup
in a jar — recycled; no obligation.
The baby is crying. I nurse her
over that first bowl.

Wendy: Butternut Squash

The house
is fragrant with onions
and cinnamon. I scoop
roasted flesh
from its shell, puree it
with vegetable stock. This
is the soup I will bring
when your new baby arrives.

Sandra: Matzo Ball

Thigh bones disintegrate
between my fingers
like you taught me —
pressure cooked to a pulp,
chicken concentrate
steaming up the windows. Strain it
then heat again Friday afternoon.
Add carrot slices,
matzo balls, bits of chicken.

Ellen: Split Pea

All I want
is soup for my freezer.
A gift
from my sister.


Friday Poem – Accident, Maryland

Yes, we really did spend a week in Accident, down the road from Deep Creek Lake. Until recently, I didn’t realize that a slice of Maryland was sandwiched between Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Maryland Map

See if you can spot Accident in the top left corner of this map. I can’t help wondering why there’s such a narrow bit surrounded by other states. Whatever the reason, someone also thought it would be a good idea to bring Highland cows to Accident. We learned a lot about them… and which were the best ice cream flavors at Lakeside Creamery, and how to play our own version of Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. We had a whole week with our dear friends – 4 adults and 7 children in a rambling house in a beautiful part of the country. I even started this poem while we were there.

Family Vacation
Accident, Maryland

I did not expect cows
beyond the driveway fence
content to take pancakes
and stale baguette
from our hands after breakfast

I did not expect our boy
to navigate waterfalls
so casually, the current
dragging him down
so he could climb again

I did not expect guitar music
and whiskey in the dark
or your hand
slipping into mine
whenever I walked by

Packing for Camp

I haven’t opened the duffel bag. Eighteen hours till we leave for the bus, and I haven’t even peeked. I am itching to unzip that big black bag, even a little crack, but so far I have resisted.

My 11 year-old son packed himself for camp. I asked if he wanted me to double check, and he said no. When I asked myself why I wanted to, I realized that I had no good reason, save a mom’s anxiety that her darling might not have enough bathing suits or pj’s.

The packing checklist is marked up, the box from the Ziplocs he likes to stuff underwear and t-shirts into is empty. The duffel bags are full. If I encourage independence and then follow him to the corner, does that make me a liar? A worrier? A normal mom?

I don’t follow him to the corner. Last Tuesday I sent him off to Royal Oak with a buddy, even let them cross Woodward Ave., and I didn’t watch. Three hours later they returned, smiling, satisfied, thrilled that the server at the tea shop treated them like real customers, annoyed that the clerk at the movie theater did not (though she did sell them tickets to see Minions anyway.)

If I say I trust him, but I’m double-checking, he’ll know. KidFeatured images have a sixth sense like that. They listen. They watch. And so I am not checking.

Wednesday afternoon I let him push the cart at the grocery store. Every time he careened around a corner I warned him to slow down. I took over in the produce aisle because there were so many people. He told me he could handle it, and I didn’t let him try.

He will leave for overnight camp tomorrow morning, and I will assume that the pens he packed have ink. I will trust that the swim goggles are properly labeled. Tomorrow he leaves on the bus. I will send postcards and silly socks. He will not think of me much. And that is as it should be.