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Mouths of Babes

As my middle child approached his 15th birthday, I peppered him with questions about what he wanted as a gift. Since his request for a $2,000 bike was scoffed at, he lowered the bar and asked for some cologne. Nice cologne. Armani Code, to be exact.

So, as the time for our festivities was upon us, I traveled to the store with my 8-year-old daughter in tow to buy his cologne. I can’t resist some of the men’s cologne on the market. When my brother-in-law visited once, I could barely contain my enthusiasm about how he smelled. I had to ask and then promptly went and bought a bottle for my husband. Because nuzzling my brother-in-law’s neck would have gotten me into trouble. With more than one person.

Anyway, I was remarking to my daughter about how good Armani Code smelled and how nice her brother would smell when wearing it. She agreed, saying “Yes, and now he won’t smell like old socks!” I had to laugh and think that someday she’ll be nuzzling someone’s neck and not think twice about his socks. But for now, I relish her innocence and these little moments of laughter she brings to me.

You’re my best friend

When we are kids, we gravitate toward friends who are like minded,who want to play in the sandbox when we do, who want to have tea parties when we do, who want to play kick the can when we do. As a parent I see how my children validate themselves by the friends they choose.

By virtue of being a military family, we usually live around other military families and find some sort of common ground with our neighbors and become friends. In some very lucky cases, I’ve made friends for life.

I can name them, sometimes I know their parents. They are kindred spirits, sisters in some commonality. I recognize their voices when I get a call and they might say, “hi, it’s me.” These are women who have cheered me on, fed me when I was hungry, offered a shoulder to cry on, and been there through thick and thin. Many of us have crossed paths numerous times. The military really is a small world. 

In 1994, I met a wonderful woman, B. We had children the same age, our husbands worked together, and we both loved to cook. Acutally, our husbands decided we should meet. It was a good call. I am so lucky that we again live in the same community. The wonder of it is that it is if we were never apart. B and I were pregnant with our second children together. Her son, JG and Will were born two weeks apart to the minute. We celebrated teething, crawling, walking and birthdays together. B was there for me when it seemed as if my life was falling apart. Arriving at my doorstep with kleenex and food because she knew I was crying and not eating. She is a sister to me in every except by blood.  

Our children were fast friends. We referred to JG and Will as Frick and Frack. Many times we’d find them in all sorts of mischief. It was so hard to be mad at two little guys so gleeful and proud of their mess. Tears were abundant when they moved away.

When we moved to the Washington DC area in 2003, we moved into a community of people who were not in the military. Yes, many military families lived in the area, but we were spattered about, mingling with families who had lived in the same neighborhood for years. Some even lived in their parents’ old homes. I can very honestly, and lovingly say, there were some tough nuts to crack there. But I am glad I did.

One of the very first people I encountered in Virginia was a little boy, J, and his dad. I was in the takeout line at Chicken Out and saw this sprite of a boy with a shock of red hair, big blue eyes and an elfish look about him, dressed in a Cub Scout Tiger uniform. I went against all I knew he had learned and talked to him. I had a boy the same age and we were looking for a Tiger Den. His dad quickly whisked in to save his son from a stranger. I assured him I was legit, introduced myself and got the details on the Tiger meeting.

As time passed, we became friends with J and his family. J and my son Will became fast friends. J’s dad was the stay at home parent and his mom worked in DC in a pretty high powered job. We became friends and the true confessions started. Us stay at home types intimidated her. REALLY?! I was aghast. Not only was she her own person with a real job, she was also the mom who subscribed to Family Fun Magazine and actually DID the projects with her kid. When we moved away there were tears from ALL and promises of many visits. They loved knowing they had a good excuse to visit Europe!

J’s family stayed in close touch and visited us twice in the Netherlands, even leaving J with us for the summer last year. When we returned to DC each summer, we were welcome long-term guests at J’s house. We had a good thing going…I shopped and cooked in exchange for a place to lay our heads for the summer. I affectionately refer to J as my summer son.

Now that my family is back in DC, J and Will have picked up like they were never apart. And, lucky for us, JG and his family are in the same community too.  What warms my heart is that J, JG, and Will have found friendship as a group. Some will say that a group of three does not work well, but they seem to make it work.

So, what is the purpose of this post? Not much, really, but to share this story of friendship. Lasting friendship. Friendship shared. My heart warms at how embraced we are.

Love

Maryn, our 7-year-old daughter gets about as excited as our 7-year-old Labrador, Libby when we embrace, kiss, or hug around the house. Really…even the dog gets happy feet when we are cuddly. Maybe she thinks she’s next.

I digress. Last night, Chris came home from a three day (yes..3 days) trip away. We were kissing on the couch after dinner and heard Maryn snickering and cooing from the chair in the living room. Believe me there is no malice or ‘ick’ in her snickering. She simply states: “I like it when you hug and kiss because it makes me know you guys are HUGE in love.”

We are.

t

I make a mean, authentic Cuban Black Beans, but they take two days. So, I cheat and end up with dinner that is just as yummy in about 45 minutes. All you need is two cans black beans, green pepper, onion, garlic, olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper, tobasco and red wine vinegar.

First, saute 1/2 chopped green pepper, 1/2 chopped onion and two minced garlic cloves in 1/2 cup olive oil. When translucent, add 1 tsp dried oregano, 2 tsp salt....

...1/2 tsp hot sauce, and 2 TBS red wine vinegar. Cook for 2 minutes.

Dump two cans black beans into medium saucepan and heat. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon. Yes, only a wooden spoon. Ask someone's Abuela who knows the 'chemistry' behind making awesome black beans. I can't tell you....but I do know a metal spoon won't cut it.

Pour onion and green pepper mix into beans.

Stir well, lower heat to low to med-low.

Me admiring how the beans get so creamy once I add the onion & pepper mix. Yummy!

Add more hot sauce if desired....cook on low for approximately 45 minutes. Longer is better, so up to an hour is fine. Serve over white rice and top with diced onion if desired.

Women

I caught my daughter studying me last night. We were eating (read: wolfing down) dinner. Being St. Patrick’s Day, I was wearing a pea green Underarmour tee shirt and a brown sweater. Have you seen me in pea green? It should not be on my color palette. I had been out most of the day running errands, and looked…weathered.  Suddenly, she blurted out, “You look beautiful today, Mommy.” Why is it when I hear that, I want to deny the compliment? Instead, I went against nature and thanked her and told her how much it meant to me that she noticed.

Later, I was thinking about women and how we communicate with each other. I had read a friend’s blog post, which happened to talk about me. I was so touched, I cried. My heart swelled with the knowledge someone really saw and validated me, and that a relationship with me is important to her (ditto, by the way!).  Us women…we do that for each other. 

This same blogger friend and I were talking one day and I started on about Mary…you know, Jesus’ mom. Her. My friend and I had recently been on a retreat together at a Marian center in Germany.  At the time of the retreat, I was a mess and overcome with angst and worry about my son, Sean, who has been in the fight of his life due to a severe post operative spinal infection.  At this retreat, I began to think about Mary and how She suffered because Her Son suffered.  The men who wrote the books of the bible portray Mary as a pillar of strength and faith, standing by silently as Her Son lived God’s will. I had a revelation…maybe a warped, Tracy-ish revelation, but one I think may be spot on. Of course, I will not know this until the end of my days, but I shared this with my friend and we had a good chuckle about it. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Peter and Paul all looked to Mary as an example of faith. They probably saw strength in Her that they were in awe of and held Her high on a pedestal.  What they probably did not witness was Mary in Her most private moments, and Her moments with the women She held most dear. With those women, I am sure She shared Her fears, Her struggles and lapses in faith. It was probably then that one of Her gal pals pulled out the sheep skin filled with wine and passed it around, put an arm around Her and said, “let’s have a drink and talk, friend Mary. We have your back and are here for you, praying with you.”  That is strength, the strength and unity of women….quiet mettle, quiet courage, quiet faith and a real love for one another. It is what we are about, what we mean to each other, how we are made. We notice details, intricacies about each other that are often missed by someone who is just an observer. We love completely, we love enough to say ‘we have your back’ or ‘back off a bit’ without cruelty or an agenda and often, without expecting anything in return.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying I am Mary. But, I do talk to Her. I ask for the strength and faith She exhibited throughout Her Son’s life. I ask for Her patience and grace as a mother, as a wife. I have prayed and asked for the steadfastness of Her faith, for Her utter acceptance that God’s timing is perfect, that HE knows better than anyone what is best for me, my family…my son. I believe my family is being shaped and molded by what we are going through and like many things, we are not perfect, but we are perfectly made.

A Keeper

Many of you know my brother is a stay at home dad. With a three year old, one on the way, and his wife starting up a new dental practice, he keeps his home running with a precision I admire and, yes, envy. One of the joys of my adult life as been the relationship he and I have developed. There was a time when we were kids that I am sure neither of us envisioned being close and having a loving, respectful relationship. He’s an awesome man and caretaker of his family. I know there are unique challenges to a man who chooses to ‘stay at home’ while his wife is the primary bread winner. The way he faces parenthood, marriage and ‘domestication’ is truly grace-filled.

I am four years older than him and our relationship as kids is one I see mirrored in my two oldest…who are also four years apart. Having experienced this with my own brother, I know there is hope for my boys. :-)

The other day my brother and I were IMing about how our day was going, and we started chatting about food…a favorite topic of both of ours. We both strive to make healthy meals that are quick and don’t break the bank. He shared one of his favorites with me. I made it last night and it is definitely another keeper in the Ballard House!

Okay..enough waxing poetic about my awesome brother…here is the recipe. Thank you, Ed!

Spicy Mexican Skillet Chicken

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 1/2 TBS chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 TBS vegetable oil
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups frozen corn
2/3 cup thick and chunky salsa
chopped cilantro

Mix chili powder, salt and pepper. Sprinkle over both sides of the chicken. Heat oil over medium heat, and cook chicken 8-10 minutes, turning once, until juices run clear.

Stir in beans, corn, and salsa. Heat to boiling; reduce heat, cover and simmer for 3-5 minutes until veggies are hot. Sprinkle with cilantro.

Serve with Spanish rice.

Cold

There is something about being cold that a part of my brain has always rationalized….the fact that I can easily warm up. When the kids are cold I tell them to wear their hat, scarf, and gloves. When my Florida raised husband walks around dressed in shorts complaining of 40 degree temps, I suggest he dress appropriately for the weather now that he lives in a northern climate. My solutions seem easy and practical.

I have often said I’d rather be too cold than too hot.

Until now. We have not had heat since Christmas. It has not broken 35 degrees since then either. Have I mentioned that we live in a 100 year old, very drafty and energy inefficient farm house? We thought we were cold before the furnace went on the fritz. Wrong-O! I feel like the tip of my nose may break off; a little, red, icy piece of my face left somewhere in the house. My body is both slow and rapid at the same time…slow to react and rapidly chattering, shivering and shaking as I attempt to do small tasks such as brushing my teeth, buttoning buttons, etc. I have also come to realize, that what a space heater does for one part of your body, it does the extreme for the rest. While dressing dangerously close to the space heater this morning,  my right side was warm and toasty and my left side was numb….almost feeling colder than if there were no heat source to the opposite side.

I have a new appreciation for my childhood literary hero, Laura Ingalls Wilder. How did she bear those cold, Midwest winters? Of course, her house was not 3200 square feet either.  I think our living room is about the size of a typical homesteader’s home.  We have a cast iron, wood burning stove in our living room. It gives a whole new meaning to the name of the room as well.  We are truly all living here, huddled around the stove, willing it to pump out as much heat as it can with the scraps we’ve gathered from the barn. We have Duraflame with breakfast to get things moving along for the day, adding scraps and bits to give the flame ‘oomph’ before dumping on a 2×4 that was a critical part of a stall door (don’t ask).

Today, we are hitching our wagon to the hopes the furnace repair man can order and pick up the critical part our furnace needs to operate. Until then, where’s my long underwear?

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