Category Archives: Finding 50

FINDING 50: Like It’s 1999!

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Upstate New York  I  Tuesday, 7 October 2020

PRINCE: 1999 (official music video)

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This post was originally published on 31 December 2016, New Year’s Eve. (Much Chinese food was also eaten that night.)
The dates have not been updated. Minor edits have been made.]

In April of this year, when Prince died, I played his music like crazy. His album, Purple Rain, was new when I was a senior in high school and it was pretty much the anthem of our Friday nights, cruising around the boat docks, trying to find people to hang out with. Guys from G-town, guys from C-town, we met them all to the strains of Purple Rain.

But in 1982, two years before Purple Rain, Prince came out with an album called 1999. It seemed so far away, the year 1999, we couldn’t even imagine it. Would robots be doing all our housework? Would humans be living on Mars? It would be the cusp of a new century!

I remember how we all fantasized about where we would be on New Year’s Eve 1999. We were SURE it would be someplace fabulous.

And then, I remember being on a plane once in the mid 90s, reading an article about it in the flight magazine, and wondering what I myself would be doing as we ushered in a new century.

Would I be hosting a fabulous dinner party at my sparkling center hall colonial, with my adoring husband and four perfect children?

Would I be living it up at some trendy restaurant or rocking concert in New York City?

Would I be someplace exotic with my husband, maybe an amazingly luxurious hotel in a gorgeous location, while our kids were being babysat at home by dutiful grandparents?

None of these things happened.

To tell the truth, I can’t even remember now what I was doing on New Year’s Eve of 1999. I’m sure it was much like all my other New Year’s Eves when I was married. I probably made some Chinese food for everyone to nibble on (egg rolls would have been a sure thing) and watched the ball drop in Times Square on TV, me on one end of the couch and my husband on the other end, struggling to stay awake, with Thing 1 already fast asleep. Not very exciting, huh?

I remember the Y2K scramble, when everyone was sure computers would crash, our water systems would become defunct, and it would be the end of the world.

We had a bunch of boxes of bottled Dasani water in our storage closet (my husband worked for their distributor, Coca-Cola, and we got a deal) in case all the doomsday predictions came true, but that was the extent of our preparations for disaster.

Everything worked out fine. Just fine. At least with Y2K, but not with my husband.

And now, 1999 was 17 years ago. 1999 is smack dab in the middle of it all, equidistant from 1982 and 2016:

1982+17=1999
1999+17=2016
See what I mean?

So, how was my holiday this year like my holiday of 1999?

I did not work retail this year, compliments of my generous patron saints. When, you ask, was the last time I had a Christmas season when I wasn’t working in a store through the holidays? 1999, in fact. I began working in a bookstore April of 2000.

So, what did I do with myself? All the things I love!

I took umpteen photos of trees. Trees with golden leaves, trees stark and bare. Trees dusted with snow. Trees draped with colored lights and sparkling, colored ornaments. Trees, trees, trees.

Grandma Sweetie, our ancient maple tree, covered in gold, then blanketed in white.
Same vantage point, different seasons.

Barren trees look so beautiful against a winter sky. The first photo is B’s Hill, above the pond I used to ice skate on with neighbor kids. The second photo is taken across the street from our Christmas tree farm.

These trees are on Main Street. The first photo is a daytime tree, decked out with colorful ornaments. The second photo is three of the five perfect pines next to the town’s memorial for veterans.

And finally, Grandpa Blackberry, our ancient oak tree, in the white of winter, then under an azure sky of summer.

I also took photos of houses, many of which you may have seen in prior blogs. My favorite ones on our road, my favorite ones in an architecturally picturesque town we pass through to go shopping. I drove by some houses so many times, trying to get perfect lighting for just the right shot, I’m sure my license plate has been duly recorded in case the furniture comes up missing.

I also made cookies and candies and cakes. I baked Buttermilk Chocolate Sheet Cake twice. I made Chewy Chocolate-Gingerbread Cookies at least four times. I braved Jo McCall’s Toffee three times (it turned out great the second and third times) and white-chocolate pretzels twice. I made Celestial Chocolate Chippers many times.

And then, we made cookie plates and delivered them to neighbors.

Making Buttermilk Chocolate Sheet Cake. C’mon, you know you want to lick that bowl…
Also, please admire my Red Linen Formica counter, and yellow Pyrex mixer (404).
Thank you, I knew you’d like them.

My third batch of Jo McCall’s Toffee, which I made by myself, against my better judgment. It’s much easier when you have a helper to scrape the hot toffee from the pan.

Batter for Celestial Chocolate Chippers, my boys’ all-time favorite cookies. This recipe card is the second draft of my quest for chocolate chip cookie perfection. The oven mitt was purchased at Sur la Table, to look period-appropriate in my red vintage kitchen.

A cookie plate, all ready to go to a family we love from church.

I helped host Thanksgiving dinner at my new place.
I attended a Winter Walk and my paper-cutting artist friend Pamela’s open house.
I went to the church Christmas party.
I attended Christmas concerts at Thing 2’s school and at my church.
I went to a volleyball game one of my young friends was playing in, and attended a basketball game at Thing 2’s school.
I went to dinner the day after Christmas at my friends’ house.

I was relaxed and happy.

And I’ll tell you what I didn’t do.

I did not get sick. I remember Christmas 2011, when I collapsed in an exhausted heap downstairs at my parents’ house, and slept for three hours, sick with a sore throat from contact with so many customers and their dirty money, sick from the stress of driving through a dark, slippery canyon on Christmas Eve, fighting with my husband the entire way.

The Carpenters’ Christmas Portrait sent me off to slumberland, and I woke up feeling so much better. Was it the rest or the music? You decide for yourself. I know my answer, and it was both.

I did not work at unreasonable hours while everyone else was out shopping or home relaxing with their families. On Black Friday, I shopped at one place, and one place only, the Christmas tree farm. I did not go to Wal-Mart (or any other store) in search of a really great deal. I did not have to be to work at 6 am the day after Christmas, to set up holiday clearance and make the rest of the store look like Christmas never happened.

I did not sit there in a fog on Christmas Eve and wonder what happened to all those days between Halloween and Christmas. I enjoyed those days and spent time with my own family. This year I did not help everyone in tarnation find just the right book/Lego set/stuffed animal for the people on their list. They were on their own.

I was in the dollar store a few days before Christmas, where one of the sales ladies was consolidating all the holiday items and lamenting to me, “My boss wants me to have all this stuff gone the day after Christmas.”

And I understood. Because I had lived her pain for 16 years.

So, what will I be doing New Year’s Eve this year, 17 years after 1999? That’s easy. I will be celebrating with my family, at home here in upstate New York, while nibbling on homemade Chinese food.

I’ll probably be falling asleep early on the couch, too, with a satisfied smile on my face, knowing this year I enjoyed the holiday season even more than in 1999.

PRINCE: Baby I’m a Star (official video)

Three Soups, Zeppelin, and Curry

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Columbia County, New York  I  Friday, 16 February 2018

The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.
-Rabindranath Tagore

Yesterday afternoon, after I’d been to court, to face the woman who was responsible for my mother’s death, I was done for.

Emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted.

Headache and heartache.

Starving and feeling all alone in the world.

I had decided in advance, the night before, that after I went to court, I would comfort myself with my three favorite soups. I would have a progressive lunch, taking the afternoon to eat three soups, from three different places.

I ate French Onion Soup and Coconut Soup at two different restaurants, savoring the heat of these delicious soups, and soaking up their lovely interiors, along with the smiles of their warmly engaging waitstaffs.

The French Onion Soup was from Wunderbar Bistro, on upper Warren Street, in Hudson, NY. It was served in a small, dark-brown McCoy-like bowl, rich with beef broth and sherry, topped with bread and the requisite thick slab of Swiss cheese, then garnished with green.

One of my favorite songs was playing as I began to eat, Bobby Darin’s Beyond the Sea, and I felt secure and sheltered by the Bistro’s dark wood interior, with amber pendant lighting, varnished butcher block tables, and pretty, black-clad servers, sporting buns or long straight hair, dark lipstick, and large gold hoop earrings.

In the back lounge, there were art nouveau posters, a brown leather couch by the fireplace, and a peaceful, romantic, ski lodge-kinda vibe.

The Indian restaurant is where I ate (or should I say drank?) the Coconut Soup, along with a piece of nan, and a small bowl of rice pudding. It was served by a young man wearing a mango-colored shirt, with a wide and dark, pleasant face, and the friendliest of smiles.

The Wonton Soup came from Spring Garden, a Greenport staple, and was sold to me by the ancient Asian bartender/takeout guy, with the wicked underbite and witty sayings.

I took a double portion home, to be eaten later, since it warms up nicely.

After I ate the two soups and soothed my soul, I drove along Fairview Avenue, blasting Led Zeppelin, and stopped at an independent bookstore to buy a book I’ve been wanting to read for a very long time.

Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert.

My new mantra of healing and self-discovery.

 

[MORE INFORMATION]
To read about Radindranath Tagore (1861-1941), a Bengali poet:
https://www.biography.com/people/rabindranath-tagore-9501212

Yes, that’s Steph Curry, pictured in the third photo. He and his lovely wife, Ayesha Curry, were featured in the November issue of Food & Wine magazine, and I bought it just for their article.

Steph is a basketball player for the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. Ayesha has been on several cooking shows, and has a cookbook called The Seasoned Life. They have two daughters, Riley and Ryan, and are expecting a third baby.

 

 

EMMA CHRISTINA: The Things I Carried

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Ghent, NY  I  Thursday, 19 October 2017

The oval, cut-glass bowl on the top left came from Goodwill in Greenport, NY. The gorgeous cut-glass dish on the top right belonged to my father’s mother, my Grandma Emma Christina. She gave it to my mother, Carol, and now, finally, it’s been passed down to me!

The two pretty dishes on the bottom came from Deseret Industries, a thrift store in Utah. The rectangle tray, on the left, is pressed glass. The oval fanlight or sunburst on the right is cut glass.

When you’re traveling cross country by airplane, like I did earlier this month, you have to decide what to put in your carry-on luggage, and what to check.

Because, as we all know, sometimes the airlines lose your checked luggage. Sometimes it turns up hours or days later. But sometimes, it’s never found again. In December of 1995, my garment bag, containing all my favorite dresses, it disappeared into thin air and was never seen again. Thank goodness I learned this lesson early in life, and only with clothes!

So, when I was flying on this trip, I carried with me my white Herschel backpack, the one I got on a fantastic sale at Urban Outfitters, which used to be by my work in downtown Salt Lake City. I paid $20 for a bag which was $75 normally.

Can we talk about pockets? “Because you know how a bear feels about pockets!”

One of the things I loved about my new backpack was all the pockets, right down to a fleece-lined pouch in the very top, perfect for sunglasses and reading glasses, a fleece-lined laptop slot, and all kinds of other little zippered and tabbed pockets, plus a key clip. It’s lined with red-and-white stripes, a signature of the Herschel brand.

Anyhoo, on this trip, in my backpack, I carried:
-some old family photos
-my mother’s little dark-blue suede high school diploma
-two pieces of her wedding silverware. (The dinner knife was confiscated by TSA and I had to mail it to myself from the airport.)
-Black Beauty, my treasured Fujifilm X30 camera
-a bunch of camera cards
-a composition book (I use them to plan events.)
-my keys
-my wallet
-my journal
-an assortment of pencils, pens, and Sharpies
-some snacks
-October issues of Martha Stewart Living and Southern Living. I love me some fall magazines, I do!
-my Chromebook, which fell out of my carry-on tote and into an overhead bin, getting left behind. It had to be retrieved by a ramp attendant, panic!

But in a separate black Barnes & Noble book quote tote bag, I carried some other pieces I treasure too much to leave behind, and far too much to put in checked baggage. Three dishes: one of them pressed glass, two of them cut glass. I have a large collection of pretty, clear-glass dishes, picked up at thrift stores for 50 cents here, $1 there. (It’s all Cami’s fault! Her mother got me started on this hobby. But that’s an entirely separate blog.)

But these three are my absolute favorites, and I simply must have them on my table at Thanksgiving this year. My pickles and olives demand the best!

Last October, as I was moving to New York, I was determined to take two of these favorite, fancy-glass dishes, and placed them on the table for last-minute packing in a carry-on bag. But, after a rough all-nighter of closing out my apartment into storage and suitcases, then turning the place over to Thing 1 and his best friend, I was just too tired, too rushed, and too stressed to pack them.

They got left behind on the table, and I’ve missed them so.

This past trip west, earlier this month, I went to Thing 1’s apartment in Salt Lake City to drop off a bag of BLT fixins from our favorite sandwich shop in New York. (That’s a story for another day. Or another blog, as well. Or whatever.) I ransacked his cupboards until I found the two dishes.

They were coming with me this time.

Up at my parents’ house in northern Utah, two of The Rockets helped me pack at the end of my stay, before driving me, my father, and Thing 2 to my friend Tina’s house, to spend the night before flying back to New York. What good friends I have, truly. Anita took the task of wrapping the three dishes carefully in newspaper and plastic grocery bags.

Pretty sure she wanted the chance to admire them up close, since she likes antiques as much as I do!

I can’t wait to see them on the table this Thanksgiving, holding Cranberry-Orange Relish, dill pickles, sweet pickles, and black olives…

Welcome to Emma Christina @ My Copper Kitchen! New features will be available on an intermittent basis, whenever I inherit a cool dish owned by my paternal grandmother, Emma Christina. I will also feature newly acquired dishes from her era which I think she would have liked.

She, a lovely Swedish lady who died before I was born, she loved cooking and gathering her many children around her Craftsman table, with its four leaves.

I’m told that sometimes, when Emma Christina felt bad and life was wearing her down, she would head to the Implement and put a nickel down on a dish. Kinda like me, her youngest granddaughter, heading to a thrift store and picking up something inexpensive to buoy my spirits, something special and beautiful, all for 50 cents…

[REFERENCES]
“You know how a bear feels about pockets” is a line taken from the wonderful children’s book, A Pocket for Corduroy, written and illustrated by Don Freeman. I highly recommend it, and its predecessor, Corduroy, for all the children in your life.

The first book, Corduroy, was groundbreaking in that the main character, a little girl named Lisa, she and her mother are obviously not white, probably African American or Hispanic. They live in an apartment in the city, several flights up.

Considering the white-picket-fence, blond-haired, blue-eyed Dick and Jane books (used to teach children to read in the 1930s through 1970s), Corduroy is welcomingly inclusive of ethnic children who live in large cities.

Plus, Don Freeman’s artwork, scratchy black-and-white outlines, filled in with color, is truly delightful.

[VALERIE RECOMMENDS]
I love Herschel backpacks!
https://herschel.com/shop/backpacks/pop-quiz-backpack?v=10011-00001-OS

[RELATED MCK POSTS]
Read Finding 50: The Things I Carried, at:
https://mycopperkitchencom.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/finding-50-the-things-i-carried/

Read more about Grandma Emma Christina at:
A Word About Windows
https://mycopperkitchencom.wordpress.com/2016/04/05/anatevka-girl-on-architecture-and-design-a-word-about-windows/

Learn how to make Cranberry-Orange Relish for Thanksgiving at:
https://mycopperkitchencom.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/my-favorite-thanksgiving-side-dish/

[AUTHOR’S NOTE]
The subtitle of this blog is a derivation of the book title, a modern-day classic, The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien.
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/things-they-carried-tim-obrien/1100228685?ean=9780618706419

FINDING 50: Heart-Shaped Cakes

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Ghent, NY  I  Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Last month, on Valentine’s Day, I turned 50! My sister, Cheri, she made me these pretty little heart-shaped cakes. Aren’t they beautiful? I think she must have stayed up late making them, because when I went to bed, there was no sign of them, but in the morning, there they were! What a treat, a labor of love.

Funny, 50 feels about the same as 49…

FINDING 50: The Things I Carried

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Claverack, NY  I  Tuesday, 17 January 2017

This tote contains my journals from age eight through my early marriage. The little red notebook was my first diary, and the navy blue corrugated notebook (placed spine down on the left) was my journal until 2002.

When you’re moving cross country by airplane, like I did last October, you have to decide what’s really important to take with you. For me, it was a pretty simple decision, because it had already been made years ago.

What do I mean? Well, I’m sure you’ve stopped and thought about what you would grab first if the house was on fire or if you were suddenly forced to evacuate, right? (This is, of course, after the people and pets were safe!)

What things would be irreplaceable? What things would you sorely miss?

I’ve thought about it a lot over the years, and the things I would be devastated to lose have been packed away into totes for quite some time.

Years ago, I discovered Sterilite totes, and I love them. The lids come off easily if I want to view the stuff inside, and then they snap back on again, securely, if I want to carry the totes. If my place was to flood, my valuables in the totes would be somewhat more protected than if they were in cardboard boxes. And, bonus! The totes line up neatly and stack nicely, as well.

Anyways, there were three of us flying last October, moving Thing 2 and me from Utah to New York. I knew, according to Southwest Airlines’ rules, we could travel with a total of nine pieces of luggage for free: two checked pieces and one carry-on each. In a notebook I mapped it out, what to put in each of the small, medium and large suitcases.

I decided we would carry on the three plastic totes containing my most valuable things, packed in the small, carry-on suitcases. These are the things I would be heartbroken to lose, the things I couldn’t leave behind in a storage unit, the things I couldn’t even trust to pack into my checked bags.

Because, as we all know, sometimes the airlines lose your checked luggage. Sometimes it turns up hours or days later. But sometimes, it’s never found again. In December of 1995, my garment bag, containing all of my favorite dresses, it disappeared into thin air and was never seen again. Thank goodness I learned this lesson early in life, and only with clothes!

Along the same vein, once I had a backpack stolen while riding a bus, and it contained two of my journals. They contained four years worth of writing and I’m still upset about it. I was going through a really rough patch at the end of my marriage, and I agonized about it on paper, but I also wrote about my kids and other details of my life, too…

I’ve tried to console myself, thinking maybe the journals were meant to get lost. Maybe my posterity wasn’t meant to read these details of my life? Maybe they’re in the hands of someone who was meant to read them? Maybe they could help someone? But most likely they ended up in a trash can, and my loss still stings.

So, after all this, I decided there are certain things I will never trust to storage units or moving men or airline baggage handlers. I will carry certain things myself and not let them out of my sight.

So, I packed my clothes and beauty products and a few of my indispensable kitchen implements in the medium and large suitcases we would check, and my most treasured and important things, the ones from the plastic totes, they went into the three small suitcases we would carry on.

I also carried the boys’ yearly Christmas ornaments on the plane with me, in a tote bag at my feet. I’d been saving little bubble wrap pouches from work as I unboxed gift items for display, and they work great. I like them a lot because I can see through them to tell which ornament is inside. They work much better than the previous ornament-wrapped-in-a-paper-napkin-in-a-fold-over Baggie method. Ha!

It was a struggle to lug all this stuff onto the plane, since each suitcase contained a heavy tote and was difficult to hoist into an overhead bin. We left a wake of glaring passengers and disgruntled flight attendants, to be sure. But I didn’t care.

These are the things I carried.

This tote neatly stores all the boys’ formal photos: their first baby pictures from the hospital, photos from Kiddie Kandids, and all their school pictures. It also contains our birth certificates, immunization cards, and Social Security cards.

 

This tote contains journals from later in my marriage, the medium-sized ones lined up on the left. Also, the green notebook is from sixth grade, the red journal from ninth grade, and the navy blue binder took me from college through the mid-90s. Also, I started journals for both of my boys at the time I found out I was pregnant, and they’re the three thin ones near the navy binder. The canvas pouch contains various candid photos.

 

I probably need a fourth tote for the boys’ Christmas ornaments. As I unboxed gift items at my work, I saved small bubble wrap packages and used them to package each of the boys’ Christmas Santas and snowmen.

 

Wow, this was quite a move. Thank goodness for luggage carts!

 

[MORE INFORMATION]
http://www.sterilite.com/SelectProduct.html?id=645&ProductCategory=0&section=0

[AUTHOR’S NOTE]
The title of this blog is a derivation of the book title, a modern-day classic, The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien.
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/things-they-carried-tim-obrien/1100228685?ean=9780618706419

 

FINDING 50: Like It’s 1999!

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Ghent, NY  I  Saturday, 31 December 2016

In April of this year, when Prince died, I played his music like crazy. His album, Purple Rain, was new when I was a senior in high school and it was pretty much the anthem of our Friday nights, cruising around the Hudson boat docks, trying to find people to hang out with. Guys from Germantown, guys from Chatham, we met them all to the strains of Purple Rain.

But in 1982, two years before Purple Rain, Prince came out with an album called 1999. It seemed so far away, the year 1999, we couldn’t even imagine it. Would robots be doing all our housework? Would humans be living on Mars? It would be the cusp of a new century!

I remember how we all fantasized about where we would be on New Year’s Eve 1999. We were sure it would be someplace fabulous. And then, I remember being on a plane once in the mid 90s and reading an article about it in the flight magazine, and wondering what I myself would be doing as we ushered in a new century.

Would I be hosting a fabulous dinner party at my sparkling center hall colonial, with my adoring husband and perfect children? Would I be living it up at some trendy restaurant or rocking concert in New York City? Would I be someplace exotic with my husband, maybe an amazingly luxurious hotel in a gorgeous location, while our kids were being babysat at home by dutiful grandparents?

To tell the truth, I can’t even remember now what I was doing on New Year’s Eve of 1999. I’m sure it was much like all my other New Year’s Eves when I was married. I probably made some Chinese food for everyone to nibble on and watched the ball drop in Times Square on TV, me on one end of the couch and my husband on the other end, struggling to stay awake, with Thing 1 already fast asleep. Not very exciting, huh?

I remember the Y2K scramble, when everyone was sure computers would crash, our water systems would become defunct, and it would be the end of the world. We had a bunch of boxes of bottled Dasani water in our storage closet, in case all the doomsday predictions came true, but that was the extent of our preparations for disaster.

And now, 1999 was 17 years ago. 1999 is smack dab in the middle of it all, equidistant from 1982 and 2016. 1982/1999/2016. See what I mean?

So, how was my holiday this year like my holiday of 1999?

I did not work retail this year, compliments of my generous patron saints. When, you ask, was the last time I had a Christmas season when I wasn’t working in a store through the holidays? 1999, in fact. I began working in a bookstore April of 2000.

So, what did I do with myself? All the things I love!

I took umpteen photos of trees. Trees with golden leaves, trees stark and bare. Trees dusted with snow. Trees draped with colored lights and sparkling, colored ornaments. Trees, trees, trees.

Grandma Sweetie, our ancient maple tree, covered in gold, then blanketed in white.

 

Barren trees look so beautiful against a winter sky. The first photo is Burfeind’s hill in Ghent, above the pond I used to ice skate on with neighbor kids. The second photo is taken across the street from Collier’s Cold Spring Tree Farm, on the outskirts of Hudson.

 

These trees are on Main Street in Philmont. The first photo is of a daytime tree, decked out with colorful ornaments. The second photo is three of the five perfect pines next to the town’s memorial for veterans.

 

And finally, Grandpa Blackberry, our ancient oak tree, in the snow and under an azure sky.

I also took photos of houses, many of which you may have seen in prior blogs. My favorite ones on our road, my favorite ones in Claverack, an architecturally picturesque town we pass through to go shopping in Greenport. I drove by some houses so many times, trying to get perfect lighting for just the right shot, I’m sure my license plate has been duly recorded in case the furniture comes up missing.

I also made cookies and candies and cakes. I baked Buttermilk Chocolate Sheet Cake twice. I made Chewy Chocolate-Gingerbread Cookies at least four times. I braved Jo McCall’s Toffee three times (it turned out great the second and third times) and white-chocolate pretzels twice. I made Celestial Chocolate Chippers many times.

And then, we made cookie plates and delivered them to neighbors.

Making Buttermilk Chocolate Sheet Cake. C’mon, you know you want to lick that bowl…

 

My third batch of Jo McCall’s Toffee, which I made by myself, against my better judgment. It’s much easier when you have a helper to scrape the hot toffee from the pan.

 

Batter for Celestial Chocolate Chippers, my boys’ all-time favorite cookies.

 

A cookie plate, all ready to go to a family we love from church.

I helped host Thanksgiving dinner at my new place. I attended the Hudson Winter Walk and my artist friend Pamela’s open house. I went to the church Christmas party. I attended Christmas concerts at Thing 2’s school and at my church. I went to a volleyball game one of my young friends was playing in, and attended a basketball game at Thing 2’s school. I went to dinner the day after Christmas at my friends’ house. I was relaxed and happy.

And I’ll tell you what I didn’t do.

I did not get sick. I remember Christmas 2011, when I collapsed in an exhausted heap downstairs at my parents’ house, and slept for three hours, sick with a sore throat from contact with so many customers and their dirty money, sick from the stress of driving through a dark, slippery canyon on Christmas Eve, fighting with my husband the entire way.

I did not work at unreasonable hours while everyone else was out shopping or home relaxing with their families. On Black Friday, I shopped at one place, and one place only, Collier’s Cold Spring Tree Farm. I did not go to Wal-Mart or any other store in search of a really great deal. I did not have to be to work at 6 am the day after Christmas, to set up holiday clearance and make the rest of the store look like Christmas never happened.

I did not sit there in a fog on Christmas Eve and wonder what happened to all those days between Halloween and Christmas. I enjoyed those days and spent time with my own family. This year I did not help everyone in tarnation find just the right book/Lego set/stuffed animal for the people on their list. They were on their own.

I was in the dollar store a few days before Christmas, where one of the sales ladies was consolidating all the holiday items and lamenting to me, “My boss wants me to have all this stuff gone the day after Christmas.” And I understood.

So, what will I be doing New Year’s Eve this year, 17 years after 1999? That’s easy. I will be celebrating with my family at home here in upstate New York, while nibbling on homemade Chinese food. I’ll probably be falling asleep early on the couch, too, with a satisfied smile on my face, knowing this year I enjoyed the holiday season even more than in 1999.

 

FINDING 50: Leaving

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Philmont, NY  I  Friday, 21 October 2016

dscf5167FIVE MONTHS ALONG/FIVE POUNDS OF SUGAR/5167BB

Life sometimes separates people so that they can realize how much they mean to each other.
-Paulo Coelho, The Winner Stands Alone

Last Wednesday I caught a last glimpse of my son, Seth, through a closing elevator door at the Salt Lake International Airport.

Earlier that morning I left behind my old apartment, deserted most of my possessions in a storage unit, and said goodbye to the walkable neighborhood I loved so much for 18 years.

I took a final look at my place, so forlorn and mostly empty now, seemingly lifeless. I shut and locked the door, and pulled myself up the half flight of stairs. I turned around and looked down the stairs to catch a last glimpse of my entryway, the one with all the autumn decorations still on the door, the entrance I had taken so much care to cheerfully and tastefully decorate and keep clean the past three years.

It always made me so happy to come home after a long day and see my bright little corner of the landing, to unlock the door, and land in my cozy nest with my two little waiting birds.

I walked slowly to my waiting Uber, a huge truck, the bed embarrassingly full of luggage. In the backseat, crammed in close to Thing 1 and Thing 2, I cried so hard it scared me. Seth put his arm around behind his brother to touch me reassuringly on my shoulder. As we got closer to the airport, he and his brother snuggled into each other, solemn faced, the entire rest of the ride.

I felt my heart positively splitting open at the thought of moving so far away with only Thing 2 and leaving Thing 1, who is now almost 19. He and his best friend decided to strike out on their own and take over our place, the one with the two-butt kitchen, the original home of My Copper Kitchen.

dscf5179THING 2 AND THING 1/5179BB

Of course I had invited him to come with us to New York, but he said no. I had to let him choose on his own. And he decided to stay. After all, he’s an adult now, right?

I’ve been buying souvenirs for him wherever I go, though: a bag of candy raspberries, the kind he loves, at a shop in Delaware, Ohio, a container of pumpkin pie spice (which he loves to put in drinks in the fall) and some gummy pumpkins at Amish shops in Jackson. We spent almost a week in Ohio visiting with my sister, her husband, and their variety of animals, including the stray dog who came to stay, Hobie.

Anyways, I miss my child so much. His tall, lanky body on his Cruiser skateboard, the way he rides it with such ease and grace. His smile, so much like his father’s sister when she was a teenager, way before we married. The smattering of freckles across his face. His black and red and grey wardrobe. The way he snuggles down under his popcorn-eating vampire quilt. The sound of him typing furiously on his clicketty-clacketty computer keyboard.

I remember when I was pregnant with him. I would sit on the floor of my living room at the Clark Apartment, sit on the floor with my legs out to the side, in a position which is far too awkward for me now, and listen to Elton John singing this song on my stereo, over and over and over, singing along and dreaming of the child growing inside me.

Truly, truly I have been blessed be his mother. And I will continue to be, even though the miles now separate us.

B L E S S E D

Hey you, you’re a child in my head
You haven’t walked yet
Your first words have yet to be said
But I swear you’ll be blessed

I know you’re still just a dream
your eyes might be green
Or the bluest that I’ve ever seen
Anyway you’ll be blessed

And you, you’ll be blessed
You’ll have the best
I promise you that
I’ll pick a star from the sky

Pull your name from a hat
I promise you that, promise you that, promise you that
You’ll be blessed

Performed by Elton John
Songwriters: Maurice White, Jerry Eugene Peters

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THE VERY SAME WAGON/5176BB

 

FINDING 50: Our Happy Family

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BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  West Valley City, Utah  I  Friday, 16 September 2016

On Labor Day I planned a little picnic. Nothing much, just throwing the red plaid quilt on the green grass out by the patio, and a big ole bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken with side dishes, along with a cold container of red Kool-Aid to drink.

Sometimes I can be very Martha Stewart-ish, whipping up feasts of burgers with caramelized onions, Cashew Cauliflower Salad, and Brazilian Lemonade. And sometimes, not so much, taking the easy fast-food route, especially if I’m running late.

The kids don’t really seem to care much if our picnic food is homemade or drive-thru, as long as there are plenty of mashed potatoes for Thing 1 and plenty of drumsticks for Thing 2. (I call my kids Meat and Potatoes.)

Anyhoo, Thing 1, in typical teenage fashion, was trying to bail on us and get together with a friend. This cute lil pixie-like girl, I know she doesn’t have much family support. Her father died recently and she had to travel four hours south to make all the funeral arrangements because her mother was unable to do so. Imagine.

So here she is now, fending for herself, at the ripe ole age of 18, making her way in Salt Lake City. I asked Thing 1, “Hey, would A like to come over and eat some KFC with us?” And he answered, unexpectedly, “No, I don’t wanna rub our happy family in her face.”

I stopped dead in my tracks, I really did, pushing back the tears. My cynical, realist, teenage son thought we had a happy family?

But wait, that couldn’t be right! For years and years now, I’ve been checking off in my head all the reasons we don’t have a happy family, tick, tick, tick.

For a very long time we lived a life on eggshells, with addiction and abuse we were forced to tiptoe around. I finally had to leave my husband, and it wasn’t a quiet departure, it was ugly and dramatic and scary.

Their father doesn’t come by and see them, or send a support check. Sometimes I wonder if he’s even still alive. I had to cut off almost all of his family because of their negativity and drama.

We scrape by, paycheck to paycheck. Sometimes we’ve had to go without. Once, when Thing 1 was much younger, I had to spend my statehood quarter collection to buy essentials, like milk and bread. (Note to self, collect only postage stamps in the future.)

We live in a tiny, rented apartment. It really isn’t big enough for our needs. Sometimes I feel like we’re dancing around on top of each other, especially when it comes to bathroom sharing.

I haven’t been able to give my kids many of the things I would like to, like braces and piano lessons and summer camps.

So what? It Does. Not. Matter. There are so many things we do right:

We say “I love you” and we hug. Before they leave for school or work or head outside to hang with friends, we say it and we mean it. Sometimes I say it to them when they’re sleeping and can’t even hear me.

They know they can talk to me about anything. I know more about Thing 1’s peers than their own parents: who’s smoking weed, who’s dealing it, who’s doing what with his girlfriend, who’s snaking a pack of gum from the grocery store without paying, who’s getting straight-As, who broke up with his girlfriend and why, and who’s undocumented. I don’t freak out about any of this, I just file it away in my “Hmmm, isn’t that innnnteresting?” file.

They’ve learned to be grateful for little things. Thing 1 always says thank you for dinner, even when it’s something as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich and cup of tomato soup.

We have Sunday dinner together. Sometimes it’s kind of quiet and I can’t get the kids to open up about anything, but usually, after we’re done eating we linger at the table and Thing 1 starts to talk about what’s going on in his life.

My children know it’s okay to leave an unhappy situation. If, God forbid, they get into a relationship or marriage where they’re being emotionally or physically abused, they can leave. They know this, because I’ve showed them it’s possible, I’ve shown them how. And I won’t be quietly standing by, I will jump in and encourage it. I will be driving a U-Haul to wherever I need to, to collect them and their possessions.

Yeah, so. We aren’t like other families, families I envy. Things haven’t turned out like I expected, like I deserve, like I dreamed about while sitting in that recliner in front of the woodstove when I was 15.

Guess what? It doesn’t matter. Thing 1 thinks we have a happy family. And you know what? He’s right.

dscf3523

FINDING 50: White Snow and Green River and Red Rocks

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Salt Lake City, UT  I  Thursday, 18 August 2016

Once upon a time, on Christmas night, many years ago, we went to visit my husband’s family, an hour’s drive to the south, in a small town called Springville. His sister’s house was by a river, at the bottom of a little hill.

While we were there, it started to snow heavily, so much that after leaving we barely made it up the hill by his sister’s house, even though we were in our trusty and ancient Jeep. His brother and family, in a Mustang, they were having a hard time too, getting up that hill.

We drove slowly until we got on the freeway, and pointed north towards Salt Lake and home, and everything seemed okay as long as we were cautious. Until we hit Point of the Mountain, that is, a place where the mountain juts out towards the freeway, notorious for wind and poor winter-driving conditions.

Whiteout. It was snowing so hard right before the Point we couldn’t see the road or anything other than one car in front of us. I told my husband to follow the taillights of the car in front of us, and if they didn’t go off the road, we wouldn’t.

But I was absolutely terrified, and so was Thing 1. I turned around toward the backseat to look at him, reassure him, and his face was white with fear. Thing 2, thankfully, had fallen asleep. How do you reassure a child everything will be okay when you’re not sure of it yourself, as a parent? But we pressed on, ever so slowly.

But then, then, we reached a point where I-15 was closed and we were forced to exit. There were men, wearing coveralls, standing in the wicked, whirling snow at the exit, telling us the freeway was shut down. My brother-in-law, just a few minutes ahead of us, had miraculously made it through before they closed down.

We weren’t sure of an alternate route on the east side of the freeway to get home, since we were at the Point and it was mountainous. On the west side of the freeway, Redwood Road, that comforting road we’ve lived by now for 18 years, it would have gotten us there. If it wasn’t snowing so hard you couldn’t see to drive, that is.

So we creeped our way to a convenience store just off the freeway, parked, and looked at each other in fear. Thing 1 was so scared. And so was I. But my job as a mother, at this point, was to face my fear and tell him it would be okay, that there was food and water and a bathroom at the Maverik and we could stay there all night in the parking lot, if necessary, until the storm let up.

In a bit, we stumbled into the store, that haven of light and cheerful warmth against the storm. We tried calling a freeway hotline to find out how long it might be shut down, but couldn’t find out much. (We had cell phones, but this was the day before smartphones with weather apps.)

We got some drinks and snacks, and explained the situation to the store worker, and he told us there was a hotel close by, the Thanksgiving Point Marriott. So we crawled the Jeep slowly over there and checked in for the night, frustrated at being a half-hour from home but being stranded in the snow and having to pay for an expensive hotel.

We had no pajamas or change of clothes or toiletries, of course, but were so relieved to be in out of the storm, safe and sound. I bought some mini toiletries at the front desk, feeling like a tousled and tangled refugee, and we crashed into bed in our clothes, exhausted.

To add to my worry, I knew the next day I was scheduled to work at 6 am, retail-slave style. (You had Christmas Day off with your family, now get back to WORK and put out that clearance so we can lure in more shoppers and make the almighty dollar!) But we were still exhausted and there was no way I could make it, so I woke up early and called in.

Dawn came, bright and blindingly white and blessedly clear and calm. And then Thing 1, now rested and relieved and excited about our new adventure, was up and about. He and I ate and ate and ate from the Continental breakfast buffet, happy to be safe and to unexpectedly have the day after Christmas off, together.

But then I found out something at the hotel, something I hadn’t ever realized before.

My children had never stayed at a hotel or motel.

But wait, of course they had. But no, Thing 1 insisted, he never had. And I thought, how is this POSSIBLE? Are our lives really so small and cramped that our children have reached this point and never stayed at a hotel?

And I thought and thought and thought, and realized he was right, they hadn’t. I was determined to make a change for my children, that we just had to start going on family vacations, whether or not we thought we could afford it.

The next spring, a wedding invitation arrived, for my husband’s son who lived near Grand Junction, Colorado. And I decided that even though as a boy he had been adopted into another family, when his mother married, we needed to go.

So I plotted and planned, planned and plotted, and decided we would combine the the wedding with a trip to the Delicate Arch, a place I had seen in photos, but had never seen in person, even though it was in the same state.

I wasn’t very good at internet searches at this point, but I found a place called the Robbers Roost in Green River, Utah, a little 50s style motel, exactly the kind of place I like. It was affordable, so I booked two nights there.

July came and I packed our clothes and a cooler full of food and off we went in the rusty Jeep. (I meant to type TRUSTY Jeep just now, but the typo of RUSTY is especially fitting, so I think I’ll leave it, ha!)

We headed south and then east, past Price, to Green River, to the Robbers Roost, with its spectacular neon sign and multicolored shag carpet in shades of emerald green and dark purple and turquoise. Yes, all of those colors existed at once in the same delightfully dreadful carpet.

Give me a funky retro motel over a boring beige and grey hotel any day.

We rested a bit and then went over to the Melon Vine grocery store and bought a few things, and I noticed on the community board there would be a Pioneer Day picnic in the park that night. So we went. There were people coming and going on foot or car or four-wheelers, the kids were playing well-organized games, everyone was so small-town friendly, and the food was absolutely delicious.

I’ve had plenty of potato salad in my time, but I’ve never tasted anything like Green River potato salad, with huge chunks of dill pickle. And the brownies! Each little square was frosted and had a walnut half on top. I wish to this day I had these recipes.

I felt like I’d fallen back in time, back to the 50s. In a good and glorious Green River way.

The town had no movie theatre. But wait, yes it did! Off the main drag, down a little street full of vacant and ancient and crumbling buildings, there was a gravelly, empty field full of old church pews, some red and some turquoise, with a white sheet hanging on the side of a cement-block building. They were showing a Western, right by the side of a railroad track, yes, they surely were.

The next morning, back at the Roost, I woke up early to go exploring. I discovered there were two sections of town, one with old motels, vacant and blighted, parking lots full of weeds and doors gaping open, some with chairs still outside. Then there was another area with new and boring chain hotels.

The old ones were fascinating, ghost town. The stories they could tell…

Later that day we went to the Delicate Arch. It was super hot and I had no hiking shoes and we didn’t have time to make it up close to the Arch before we had to leave, but it was okay. We saw it. The kids saw it with their own eyes and not just on a postcard or in a book of scenic Utah.

(When travelling, I always figure my first trip is a trial run, to figure out what I’d like to see again and how to do it better next time. Right? Don’tcha think?)

Later, we went back to the Robbers Roost and got changed into our nice clothes and drove to Colorado for the wedding. It was spectacular, in a green and peaceful back yard with panoramic views of hay bales and horse barns and flat-topped, reddish-brown mountains.

The bride wore a white dress trimmed with Tiffany blue and was blondely beautiful, with my husband’s son standing adoringly by. And their baby daughter, I held her and never wanted to let her go…

 

[MORE INFORMATION]
Green River, Utah:
http://greenriverutah.com/

Robbers Roost Motel:
http://www.rrmotel.com/

Pioneer Day:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pioneer_Day_(Utah)

The Delicate Arch:
https://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/delicate-arch.htm

[REFERENCED POSTS]
I first mentioned Green River, Utah in this post of 24 May 2015:
http://mycopperkitchen.com/loris-cashew-cauliflower-pasta-salad/

I first mentioned the Christmas whiteout and subsequent trip to Colorado and the Delicate Arch in this post of 4 July 2015:
http://mycopperkitchen.com/patriot-cake/

 

FINDING 50: Just Be

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Salt Lake City, Utah  I  Thursday, 23 June 2016

I am afraid someday I will wake up and look at the trees and realize I never saw the glorious blaze of autumnal leaves, the lush green of summer, or the budding promise of springtime.

I wrote this in a letter to a dear friend on 18 October 2011.

In 1997, when I was home on maternity leave, my mom came to stay with me. One day, she was looking out the window above the kitchen sink, while washing dishes. “How long has that bird been coming to the bush?” she asked.

“What bird?” I questioned. I really had no idea what she was talking about. I had never noticed any bird in any bush. Truth was, I maybe never even noticed the bush, either. I was rarely home during daylight, except to get ready for work in the morning. And then, I would swoop into the kitchen for a bowl of cereal and dash out to my car, off to work.

It was then, exactly then, at that precise moment in time, when it hit me. I was living, but not seeing, existing, but not experiencing.

I realized my life was a frenzied roller coaster of work and play, with far too little time for just being. And I wanted to consciously choose to live differently. It took maternity leave to help me realize this…

That was more than 18 years ago. I was rarely home to see daylight: sleeping in too late, rushing to my job and working late, only to do the same thing the next day. Weekends were a flurry of errands, shopping, searching for fun and friends, but never really finding the things I longed for.

After that epiphany, I tried to see things differently. To open my eyes to life. To notice the different trees and bushes around where I live, and how they changed with the seasons. To pay attention to when the landscapers put in new flowers: pansies in the winter, daffodils in the spring, poppies in the summer. To look at the sky and the mountains, really seeing them, and notice how often they changed with the time of day and the seasons.

To keep the living room blinds open enough to notice when the sunset was particularly gorgeous, and then to stop whatever task I was doing and go out on the patio and just look. Just be.

Just listen to nothing but the lull of traffic on nearby 1-215. To listen to the airplanes overhead. To notice the vibrant streaks of peach and pink and yellow as the sun went down and the silvery shadow of planes in front of it all.

To do absolutely nothing, and to enjoy it.

Sunrises and sunsets are like children. If you don’t take time to see them right when they’re happening, before you know it, they’re gone. In the amount of time it takes to wash that one last dish or pay that one more bill, the glory is over, the light is gone, and the sky is dull and grey and boring.

I swear, I swear, it was just yesterday I brought home Thing 1, my five-pound bag of sugar, a sweet lil fluffy headed baby who weighed a mere four pounds, fifteen ounces. I swear it was yesterday I sent the mischievous child off to kindergarten, wearing a red polo shirt and red-and-blue Jimmy Neutron watch. It was yesterday, it was, when I watched him graduate sixth grade, and gave him a new pair of black Shaq sneakers.

I know it was yesterday, tearing through the KMart parking lot in our Maxima with the killer stereo, blasting Savant’s Break Down, kitty-corner to save time and avoid the light at the intersection, and then dropping him off at junior high before I headed to work, eight minutes late again.

And then, it was yesterday that very same tall, slim, dashing young man donned a royal blue cap and gown and walked confidently across the stage of a massive events center to receive his high school diploma.

Oh, wait, that was a month ago…

Stop. Just stop what you’re doing when you see an unexpected moment of God’s beauty. Take time to do nothing but be alive. Notice that bird in the bush outside your kitchen window, and open your window a bit to hear its song.

Notice your child each and every day and open your ears to hear his song, too. Before you know it, his voice will have changed and deepened and the song will never sound so sweetly innocent again…

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.
-Joan Walsh Anglund

[SUGGESTED READING]
Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry, by Katrina Kennison. Warner Books, Inc., 2000.

[SUGGESTED LISTENING]
The song Sunrise, Sunset from the musical Fiddler on the Roof.
The song Seven, by Lukas Graham.

[NOTES]
Maya Angelou or Joan Walsh Anglund? https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/lonnae-oneal-a-possible-misquote-that-may-last-forever/2015/04/04/41f937a4-da3c-11e4-b3f2-607bd612aeac_story.html