Food Musings: Memorial Day, New Friendships

Since the beginning of 2016, I’ve been working with my friend Ann, sending her a photo of food every week, so that she can write a poem about it that celebrates peace and send it off to her subscribers. I’ve decided to write a companion piece to the photos I send, musing about the way that food plays into our lives.

Standard party spread. Extraordinary party company.

Standard party spread. Extraordinary party company.

Last week, George and I were invited to a backyard party thrown by one of the regular attendees in a Zumba class I’ve started teaching. I knew that some of the other regulars from the class would be there, so I would have a cushion of people to talk to, but the only person George would know there was…me. Which can be daunting, both for the don’t-know-anyone partygoer and for the invitee. Should he stick by my side the entire time? Will the other kids play nice with him? Could I leave him to his own devices after a few minutes? Since I’m fairly confident that George is a likable kind of guy and that the people at the party weren’t going to hit him with sticks, we took a deep breath and went to a party full of new people.

It was wonderful.

These people, who I only knew in a limited capacity (sweaty, shaking their moneymakers in my Zumba class) until the party, were warm and welcoming and funny. It took George and I thirty seconds–maybe less–to feel settled. And the ritual was the same. There was the greeting, the acclimation to the surroundings, waving hello and party-wide, informal introductions, and the piling high of plates filled with familiar picnic food. We broke bread and got to know each other. We made our way through heaps of beans and macaroni and chips and dips and crudites and fruit salad, all straightforward and comforting, like the people at the party.

And I’ve seen the same layout in New Jersey, in Texas, in Boston. Maybe some of the regional specialties were different, but the overall gist is the same. And it’s good. It’s a way to connect, to build community, to take part in something that is greater than the sum of its parts. For that day, in those few gentle, funny, happy, warm hours, we were all connected in a way that made the world a slightly better place than if we had eaten the same food separately, in our own houses. And that is the point of our being social creatures, isn’t it? To be greater together than we are apart?

Read Ann’s original poem here!

Food Musings: Lunch with a Friend

Since the beginning of 2016, I’ve been working with my friend Ann, sending her a photo of food every week, so that she can write a poem about it that celebrates peace and send it off to her subscribers. I generally tell her what the photo is about and if, for some reason, it holds any sort of significance for me, but it’s still her poem and her thoughts that she expresses, rightly so. I’ve decided to write a companion piece to the photos I send, musing about the way that food plays into our lives.

lunch w stef-002

Recently, I went to lunch with a friend. It was an impulse date; we’re both busy (she’s a mom and owns her own business, I’m juggling four different jobs and trying to write in the middle of it) but I happened to call and ask her if she was free on the weekend I wasn’t visiting family and it was the one weekend in the entire month she had some time. Score!

For the record, we normally have to plan these things weeks in advance.

Our lunch was a funny affair, two hours long and filled with laughter that ranged from saucy giggles to full-on belly laughs. We told stories. We shared concerns. We shared nachos. It was indulgent, both in our menu choices (yes, please, I want the fries, she got a Bloody Mary and HOLY POCKETS I think my beer goblet was crafted from the skull of my enemy) and in our focus. For two hours, we had the privilege of leaving behind our roles as mother and business owner and instructor and writer, and we got to be, simply, friends. Communing over food, telling ridiculous stories, being each other’s sounding board, honest advice-giver, and confidante. It is the best kind of friendship; in the time we spend together, we can drop our pretenses and just BE.

Thank you, friend, for being there that Sunday. And thank you, friends, for being there at all. I’m not sure what I did to deserve the friends I have in my life, but I’m so, so glad you’re in it. Here’s to our lunches, past and present and future!

Visit Ann’s prayer!

Post-Grad Road Trip! Leg Two. Hello, Nebraska!

There we were in Joliet, with full bellies and one blackened eye, ready to get back on the road for day two of our travels out west.  (Missed day one?  Go here.  Catch up.  Get back to me.)  We made it to Ogallala, Nebraska that day.

Two days, roughly 1575 miles. Not. Too. Shabby.

Unforch, again, not too many pictures.  Those will come in the next installment, I promise.  For the first few days of this trip, we were all about business, didn’t stop much, and were focused on getting OUT WEST.  We did much more sight-seeish sorts of things the next two days.  What I remember about this part of the trip?  It was hot.  Like, hot-hot, and sticky.  It was flat.  This was the first time I’d ever experienced the Midwestern, flat-and-straight prairie (the farthest west I’d driven before that was to Chicago) and you really CAN see things coming at you for miles.  We drove through a tornado warning that night, which we–perhaps thankfully–didn’t know about until we got to the hotel.  Really, we should have anticipated a tornado watch.  The clouds were somewhat psycho that day, forming and unforming, going from non-existent to ominous in a matter of a few miles.

Taken from the window of the car. Flat and ominous, indeed.

Here are some notable moments from this part of the trip:

Somewhere in Iowa, I remember seeing a bank of trees that were all, entirely, bent at a 90° angle because the constant wind didn’t permit them to grow straight.

Somewhere in Iowa, I smelled my first pig farm, and finally understood why marrying Pig Finn was such an unappealing prospect in the movie Waking Ned Devine.

We drove through Omaha, Nebraska, after rush hour.  We were still expecting traffic to crawl along since it was a city, after all.  It wasn’t.  We blew through it.  I have no idea if traffic has become more dense since then, but for someone whose first (and most frequent) experience with a city was New York, where there is always traffic, this was an eye-opening experience.

Somewhere in Nebraska, at a gas station, a man walked past, looked at the license plate and said, “Hoo weee!  You girls are a long way from home!”  Which isn’t particularly all that strange, maybe, or memorable for anyone else.  Plus, it was factually correct.  But.  It helped me recognize that I was adrift from all my safety nets.  My parents, my (then) husband, the rest of my family, were all a thousand miles away–literally.  It was the first time I realized that it wouldn’t be so hard to slip off the grid and while that prospect holds some sense of terror, it was also exhilarating.  Freeing.  I almost asked my friends to leave me in Wyoming, but that’s another story for a later blog AND, it’s also not what happened.  But there, in Nebraska, the possibility of a great big world opened up for me.  Lessons exist no matter where you go, so long as you’re open to them.

Remember I said it was sticky-hot?  We’d bought ourselves little spray bottles so we could mist ourselves while driving.  No A/C in the car.  And it was hot.  So.

Meet the inevitable.

There is no way we could have been stuck in a car all day, in the heat, more than a little wired, with full spray bottles of water, and not end up running around the parking lot of the hotel engaged in a massive spray bottle battle.  When women get together it’s not always about lipstick and bitchy competition for the cutest boy.  Remember that, people.

Next up: A bit more Nebraska, a trip through Wyoming, and a glimpse at a Nevada sunrise.

Post-Grad Road Trip! Leg One

The year I graduated from college, I took a road trip with two of my housemates and wonderful friends, Sue and Gail (names changed to protect those who are hardly innocent).  The objective of the road trip was to get Gail to her parents’ house so she could spend the summer in sunny California, visit Jane, another friend who (quite conveniently) lived fairly close to Gail’s folks, and have a great time seeing the country.

Starting point: Edison, NJ, home of the Edison Lighthouse and…a…ummmm…hmmmmm…oh!  Home of Middlesex County College, where I started my college career in the first place. End point: San Jose, CA, home of the aforementioned friend, Original Joe’s Italian restaurant (have the piccata), the San Jose Sharks, and every tech company you could ever imagine.  (Actually, I think Gail’s parents lived in Fremont at the time but I don’t remember for sure and Jane certainly was in San Jose, so I’m sticking with that.)  Time limitations: we had to be there in four days, because Sue had a scheduling conflict and had to fly on day five.  This was why we made the very practical decision to hop on Rt. 80 and ride that all the way to Cali.

Across the entirety of the US.  Four days.  We can do this.

Day one:

From Edison, NJ to Joliet, IL, in one day. Not too shabby!

A few things about Day One:  Yes, we really made it that far.  No, I don’t have a lot of pictures from this day, unfortunately.  We were driving primarily across Pennsylvania during the daylight hours and it’s not that Pennsylvania doesn’t have its charms but they were charms we were all familiar with, and I was not yet a camera junkie.  By the time we got to the (relatively, to us) unfamiliar charms of Ohio it was getting dark and by the time we got to Indiana, it was well into the night.  Things might have been different if we’d left a little earlier in the day BUT, we had to recuperate from my graduation party the night before, where the beer did flow like a mighty river.  From what I remember, it was a good party that was not without its moments of WTFery.  For a variety of reasons.  Moving on.

So we drove and drove and drove.  Through Ohio.  Through Indiana.  We got to the Illinois state line and kept going, but when we rolled into Joliet at two in the morning we stopped.  For gas.  Not for sleeping.  For gas, and coffee.  Gail was wired and ready to go another couple of hours.  I was exhausted.  As for Sue…

…then it happened.

She must have been more tired than she realized, because she bent down to get something out of the car, misjudged her distance and BOOM.  Whacked her face right into the frame of the car.  By the time she stood up–a mere second or two later–her eye was already black and swollen.

Nice shiner.

Note: the above photo is my equivalent of the witness protection program.  I was looking for a pirate eyepatch for Sue’s other eye and had to settle for a googley instead.  C’est la vie.

We took it as a sign that we were becoming a danger to ourselves and others, and checked into the nearest hotel.

The next day, we went to breakfast at Bob Evans.  We walked in a little grungy, a little sleep-deprived, in need of food and coffee.  With a friend with a fantastically blackened eye.  The table of eight or ten church ladies there for a breakfast meeting fell silent.  They shifted uncomfortably in their dusty lavender or country-duck-blue  pantsuits and cream-colored mock turtlenecks, though I don’t think it had as much to do with us as it did that those clothes are fricking uncomfortable.  I mean seriously, the materials don’t breathe so they trap every molecule of body heat one can exude, and they’re scratchy.  I have no real love for petroleum-based clothing products, as much as they had no love for three grungy women, one of them with a black eye, walking in for a late breakfast when we should have been busily doing the Lord’s work.

But the person I remember most from the Bob Evans was our waitress, an adorable little midwestern blonde who thought three women, a black eye, one car, and a California destination were the coolest things she’d ever seen.  I’m not assuming that was her evaluation of us; she said to me, “Omigod, you girls are, like, the coolest people I’ve ever seen.”

Seems we can really bring down the house in Joliet.

I talked to her for a few minutes.  She said, “I would love to do what you’re doing, just get in a car and GO!  And out to California?  Wow.”  I said she should do it and we had a few moments of conversation that went like this:

“Mmm-mm.  Nope.  I can’t.”

“Sure you can.”

“No I can’t.”

“But you can!”


Finally I asked her why not.  She looked right at me–I’ll never forget this–and said, “I don’t have friends.  Not ones like you have, anyway.”


What do you do with that?  Other than appreciate the marvelous creatures who enter your life and agree to spend time with you out of joy and interest rather than duty or to alleviate boredom.  Thank you, friends.

And to that waitress whose name I don’t remember, I’ve been wishing you well since the day I met you.  I hope you make it out to California with a few good friends along for the ride.

As an added bonus, here is the band Edison Lighthouse (ironically, not named for either the inventor Thomas Edison, the town of Edison or the art deco lighthouse found there) with their one and only hit, Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes.  Enjoy!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Friendship

Mary Jo and I have been friends since about…


Kindergarten, Mrs. Keating and Miss Potenza’s split class.  She is the cherubic, well-behaved one in the front with ladylike clasped hands; I am standing behind her, giving a five-year-old stinkeye to someone off camera.  Some things never change.  Please note that that may be the last time in my life I’ve worn yellow.

So let it be written, so let it be done.

Sparing the gory details (perhaps a violation of the rules of blogging but you know…some laundry doesn’t need to be aired), Mary Jo and her husband David were the steady hands that got me through a tremendous crisis, and they didn’t judge, they didn’t snark.  They just supported, dealt with my meltdowns when they came, and got me safely to the next stage of my life.

If that’s not friendship I don’t know what is.  I can only hope to be so graceful to friends in need.

Thanks, guys.  Love you.

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