Where You Lead, I Will Follow

Back in the mid-2000s, I was commuting to a job about an hour’s drive away from our home. On my way home, on the first exit that I could take to get off the interstate highway and still get home, there was a branch of our regional public library. It was quiet, and rarely busy. I would often stop there on my way home, especially on a Friday evening, as a treat for myself to stock up on books and audiobooks (for the drive). One evening, I was looking through the DVDs to see if there was anything I’d want to watch over the weekend, and I came across Season 1 of the Gilmore Girls. This was almost ten years ago, and even then, I knew I was a good fifteen years older than their target audience, but what the heck, it was free watching, and I needed some mindless, innocent entertainment to get me through the laundry folding.

I brought it home, and I was hooked. I sometimes wish I could travel back in time to that first viewing, just so I could experience Stars Hollow and its lovely characters for the first time all over again. I shamelessly plowed through all of the seasons that the library had on DVD, and Rory and Lorelei became my companions through insomnia, on the treadmill, and any time I could sneak in a guilty pleasure episode. At the time, I wasn’t in love with my job, and I really wanted a baby more than anything. The Gilmore Girls were kind of an innocent balm to get me through that time of waiting and hoping and abject boredom. (If only I had thought of this blog back then…)

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The waiting and hoping became something different when we moved to Minnesota in 2007, when I found myself looking for a different job, and waiting for our first son, who would be born almost exactly nine months after we moved in. When we moved, we decided against cable or satellite television – it was one more expense, and one more customer service experience, and we figured we’d be fine without it. (For the record, we were, and we still are.) But back then, we didn’t even have streaming services through netflix or hulu, and I don’t think amazon prime streaming had even been invented yet. So, for laundry folding, or distracting myself from the miserable all-day sickness and worry that consumed the first four months of my pregnancy with Rowan, I watched whatever DVDs we had on hand. I bought myself the entire Gilmore Girls boxed set for my 29th birthday, and watched them all. I have since found dozens of women who are my age and older who adore the show as much as I do. The writing is sharp and witty, and the actors are amazingly talented. (Look for an appearance by “Ron Swanson” as Jackson’s brother.) The story is sweet, but smart. I adore it. And in case you think that none of this has anything to do with the main focus of this blog, never fear – the Gilmore Girls mention Ina Garten at least once (WWBCD? What would the Barefoot Contessa do?), and food has a central role in every episode, from the burgers at Luke’s Diner, to the grocery store where Rory had her first kiss, to the gourmet feasts prepared by Sookie.

Gratefully, blissfully, joyfully, after months of waiting and hoping, we brought Rowan home from the hospital in January, 2008. He was the child who took his sweet time to nurse. (He still, incidentally, takes his time at the dinner table.) I was glued to the couch for 8+ hours a day. This might sound like heaven, and in a way, it really was. This was before any of us had ipads or smartphones, and even though I love, love, loved looking into my newborn’s face as he nursed (all day long), I needed something else. Remember that it was winter in Minnesota. Enter again: my beloved Gilmore Girls. (NB if you’re expecting your second child – you won’t get the luxury of choosing your nursing-time entertainment the second time around. Ben was nursed to the strains of “They’re two, they’re four, they’re six, they’re eight, shunting trucks and hauling freight….”)

The opening song to the Gilmore Girls is by Carole King, who also makes a cameo appearance in some of the later seasons. It’s simple and lovely, and it brings me back to those times of wishing and hoping, and needing distractions. “Where you lead, I will follow…”

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The song has been going through my head as I’ve been beginning to pack up the house this week. (We will have professional movers to do the bulk of the work this time, but we’re “staging” the house for sale, which means moving a few things around, and of course that means packing some things up. During Holy Week, naturally. I am owed a pedicure and some uninterrupted Gilmore Girls watching time at the end of all this … again.) The reason I’m thinking about the song so much is that I told Neil before we were married, and before I had heard of the Gilmore Girls, that I would go wherever he wanted to go, with a few notable exceptions. I didn’t want to do all of my grocery shopping at a 7-11 (which, let’s face it, could be in an urban food dessert or a very rural scene), and I didn’t want to live in Alaska (which always, always, always makes the Alaskans take umbrage, but hey, it’s not for everyone). I didn’t imagine that we’d be moving twice in one year, and the sound of the packing tape being stretched tightly across each box is giving me little shudders of PTSD from our last move … but if you want to live in Houston, Texas, baby you know I will (yes I will, yes I will…). “You never know how it’s all going to turn out, but that’s OK, just as long as we’re together…”

The thing that I love the most about this song is that it’s not just about romantic love. For the show, it’s clearly about the love between a mother and daughter. If you want to get all Biblical about it, the song is not unlike the words of Ruth to her mother-in-law in the first chapter of Ruth: “But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” I’m really lucky that Neil’s people have all turned out to be really good people. Wherever we go, that’s our church family. I get to hear him preach wherever we go, and I feel kind of spoiled by that. We get to bring our awesome kids with us, and our goofy, sweet dog. And so, the packing doesn’t seem too bad, especially if I crank up Carole King.

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Happy Birthday, Ben!!

Ben turned three this past Friday. I adore three-year-olds. I am probably guilty of saying that about every age, though – I just enjoy the heck out of all of my kids’ stages. I will admit that three seems awfully big for the “baby” of the family, which made me just ever-so-slightly wistful and sappy about this birthday.

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But I’m so excited about what’s coming next for Ben that it’s hard to get too sad about saying goodbye to babyhood. Besides, both of my kids have promised that they’ll be my babies forever – “even when we’re as big as Daddy!” – and I’m pretty sure a puppy would fix me up right quick if I get too sad.

And poor Ben, with his April birthday, always seems to get his celebration shifted around for Easter, or a church anniversary celebration, or an impending move. At least he’s never really known the difference. Last year, he had a Shaun the Sheep birthday party (look at how much he’s grown!).

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And the year before that, I went a little nuts with a “B” theme.

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Ben had an awesome third birthday this year. We went out for doughnuts for breakfast, and then waited for big brother Rowan to get home for cake and presents.

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By the way, if you’re a three-year-old boy, I’m not sure there’s anything better than a six-year-old brother who will get just as excited as you are about your birthday, and will even assemble all of your gifts for you, and put the decals on in exactly the right position.

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And speaking of Rowan, do you see the patchwork elephant in the foreground of that last photo? That’s Rowan’s kindergarten class mascot, Elmer the Elephant. Elmer is a beloved class “pet” who travels home with different students every weekend, and then the students chronicle his adventures with them. This was Rowan’s first time with Elmer, and he came FLYING off the bus on Friday, gleeful that he GOT ELMER FOR THE WEEKEND. Alert the press. I’ve never seen the child so excited about … anything, really. And I have to say, Elmer picked a fine weekend to come home with Rowan. Ben’s birthday, a play at the children’s theater, lunch at Noodles & Company – I’m pretty sure a stuffed elephant never had it so good.

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But back to the birthday boy! Do you see what else is in that photo, to the right of Elmer? Play money. It’s a Melissa & Doug set that I picked up at TJ Maxx for something like eight dollars. The child is obsessed with money. He has known the symbol for our bank for at least a year, and whenever we see it around town, he yells, “DAT DA MONEY!” It’s only slightly disturbing. Anyway, I love giving gifts, especially when I know the recipient is really going to love it. I knew that Ben would love this, and I was just giddy to give it to him, especially because I kind of feel like as the second boy in the family, he kind of gets cheated when it comes to presents, because his brother got all of the good stuff first. Also, Ben is the most generous child I have ever known – “What you want for your birfday, Mommy?” So, it’s nice to give back to someone who is so giving with his affection and sweetness. The “money” was a big hit, and the kids spent Saturday morning showering each other in fake cash. My little capitalists.

This was last summer at the public library's "farmers' market" play area. Ben has all da money.

This was last summer at the public library’s “farmers’ market” play area. Ben has all da money.

Speaking of knowing what Ben likes, he had one request for his birthday cake. It had to have Ripslinger on it. Ripslinger (or Wipswinger, if you’re newly three) is the villain in the movie Planes, which was produced by the same people who made the Disney Cars movie. We’re a little bit obsessed with Planes here. Ripslinger isn’t the main, lovable character. In fact, Ripslinger is kind of mean. But, in the survivalist wisdom of a second child, Ben has taken a shine to Ripslinger, because Rowan almost never wants to play the villain. Therefore, there’s no argument over who gets to “be” or have Ripslinger. I can barely draw Ripslinger with a pencil and paper, much less ice him onto a cake. Let’s face it. I don’t do pretty.

And so, I called the good people at Wuollet Bakery to outsource the project. They did a great job! Due to copyright laws (I think?), they couldn’t reproduce Ripslinger’s image on the cake, so they just nestled him into a cloudy sky.

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We quickly cleaned up the presents and cake so that we could scoot out for our next activity. My parents offered to give Ben an “experience” gift for his birthday, which was just right, especially this year, when we’re gearing up to pack up all of our belongings to move (again). There’s a great Children’s Theater near here that premiered its production of “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” on Ben’s birthday. My parents bought our tickets, and we all loved it. Even Elmer. And especially baby Ben.

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Updates and Introductions!

If you’re new here, welcome!

If you’re not new here, welcome back!

As you’ve probably figured out, this is a blog where I write about making Ina Garten’s recipes. She’s also known as the Barefoot Contessa. You can read more about why I chose to do this, and how the blog got its name here. I started this project back in 2009, and long-time readers know that even though I’ve completed over 500 recipes so far, I take long, long breaks sometimes, like when I had our son Ben in 2011, or when we moved last year. Actually, the Ben break was a really long sabbatical – I was sick for my pregnancy with him, and then he had colic. So, I really don’t remember a lot from about July 2010 through sometime in August 2011. Isn’t that awful? He was so worth it, though, and now he’s actually quite a delightful little person.

I don’t have a baby to blame this time – that factory has closed, and the workers have been laid off. But with our upcoming move and listing our house, I can’t imagine I’m going to be dirtying up the kitchen with anything but peanut butter sandwiches and cereal for the next couple of weeks. Yikes.

Long-time readers have also figured out that sometimes my posts have very little (or nothing) to do with food. If you’re interested in that type of thing, check these out:

A reflection I wrote for Lent at St. Stephen’s

Something I wrote about living in a clergy family

Apologies and excuses for taking a long break, with a bonus mushy list for our 10th wedding anniversary

Family photos

On grazing during major holidays

On kids in church

On friendship

A Holy Crepe! Party

On Rowan’s sixth birthday (look for Ben’s 3rd birthday in a few days!)

On tooling around town with Ben

Family sledding … in April

Check back in the next couple of weeks as we celebrate Ben’s birthday, Easter, Mother’s Day, and tons of Minnesota fun in the weeks that we have left here.

Enjoy!

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From the North Star State to the Lone Star State…

We are moving!

Again.

This time, to Texas.

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We’re trading in our snow boots for cowboy boots.

I have started to write this post in my head dozens of times over the past couple of weeks, and there’s just no succinct way to talk about how our family made this decision. So, bear with me.

As many of you know, last fall, we moved to a new house in the suburbs of Minneapolis. Our purchase of this house symbolized our recommitment to Minnesota. We’d been here for 6.5 years at that point, and as a part of our decision to stay in Minnesota, we wanted a larger yard and a smaller mortgage. (We got both.) We enrolled our oldest son in kindergarten in a wonderful Episcopal school. We felt settled.

Shortly after we moved in, my husband, Neil, received a phone call from a church in Houston called Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church. They were interested in interviewing him to be their new rector (head pastor). Neil explained to the search committee that we had just moved to a new house in Minnesota, and that he wasn’t actively looking for a new job. We had lots of reasons to stay here. The committee persisted, and visited us in Minnesota a few times this winter. Neil and I talked about this decision many times before they visited, and throughout the winter. As with every other big decision in our lives, we took each step together, prayerfully considering what might come next for our family. At the time, our youngest son was still calling our home “the new house” instead of home. On the day that Neil received his first phone call from Palmer, I had just stocked up on fleece pajamas and new winter boots for the family. My jaw clenched when Neil told me about that first call, even before he said who had called, because I knew it was one of those Big Moments that we’d remember forever. “And then… I got a phone call … and we need to talk.” This wasn’t going to be a conversation about, “oops, I missed my dental cleaning,” or “the dog’s medicine is ready to be picked up at the vet’s.” This was big, and I knew it. My heart sank and leapt at the same time. To say that this was a big decision, from a practical perspective and also from our whole idea of what our family life was going to be, is putting it lightly.

Over a short period of time, we went from reservedly interested to really excited. We listened to what the committee members had to say about the church, and talked with other people who live in Houston. It became clear to us that this was a real calling, and a real opportunity. After Neil had a long conversation with the Bishop of Texas, I could see the excitement written on his face. I admitted to myself that we couldn’t let the packing and unpacking of some boxes stand between us and a wonderful new opportunity for our family. (I may need to be reminded of this during the packing and unpacking process…)

As the temperatures got colder (and colder, and colder!) in Minnesota, our hearts warmed to the opportunities waiting in Texas. We visited Houston in February, and then again in March. Neil was called to be their new rector, and he joyfully accepted.

This has been a time of discernment for our whole family. I suppose we should always be discerning what our call is in life, but there’s something about a big move like this that really calls for a big inventory of what’s going right, and what could be improved. We are so excited and grateful to be making these big steps together. Neil is thrilled about the opportunities at Palmer, which is a church that is situated between Houston’s Medical Center and Rice University. This beautiful church is a place where people come together to serve God in multitudes of different ways, and we are so looking forward to being a part of that community. Our family is excited about the opportunities to explore a new city, meet new friends, and learn to become Texans.

Like any move, though, it doesn’t come without some sadness about what we’re leaving behind. Our oldest son calls this “happy-sad,” which I think is a great word. f-p for my fellow musicians. Minnesota, and St. Stephen’s in particular, watched us become parents and grow as a family. Winter sometimes seemed like an exercise in survival, but there was a great sense of adventure about it, too. Our church family embraced us when Neil’s dad died in 2008, when we welcomed two new babies into our family, and when we adapted to life as a family of four. St. Stephen’s is also a place where people come together to serve God in multitudes of different ways, and we will miss being a regular part of that community. I’m going to miss my piano students and their families immensely, as well as our bishop and his missioners, who have warmly accepted me as a member of their team through volunteer and employment opportunities. We will miss our children’s teachers, school friends and their families. The friendships we have formed through all of those connections have meant more to us than we ever could have imagined. We will miss our friends here, and will carry you all in our hearts as we move on to our next adventure.

To the people of Palmer Memorial, we cannot wait to meet you and learn more about you. Sometime in the next few weeks, look for a survey here as a way to share your favorite local recommendations – I’m sure we will need some help finding our way around and navigating all of the choices that your city has to offer. Your search committee has treated us so kindly and represented you well. They have considered our entire family at every step in the process, and we are so grateful for that. Their kindness, professionalism, and hospitality are a huge part of why we are excited to join you. We are grateful for them, and we are grateful for their families, who gave up time with them as they worked together.

Minnesota is where this blog was born, and it’s been a great creative outlet for me during the past several years. I hope to continue blogging in Houston. I’ve been saving some seafood recipes for our new location, and legend has it that the grocery stores cannot be beat there. (On one of our visits, I insisted on visiting an H.E.B. store and Central Market. I figure there’s plenty of time to explore museums and parks – I needed to see where I’d be spending most of my time! I’m taking it as a good sign that the committee didn’t think I was too weird for that request, or at least they didn’t let on if they did.) You can expect reviews of those grocery stores, as well as the local farmers’ market scene and maybe even some restaurants here and there.

We will be living in the church’s rectory in the West University neighborhood in Houston. It is ridiculously close to the church, and everything else that we would need. Stay tuned to hear more about the kitchen, and what comes out of it.

We are thrilled, overwhelmed, excited, hopeful, and of course all of that comes with sadness at leaving our community here. We are grateful, both for our time in Minnesota, and for the opportunities waiting for us in Texas.

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Roasted Shrimp Cocktail

I love shrimp. When I was growing up, it definitely signaled “special occasion.” There would be shrimp cocktail, and stilton, and maybe oysters on the half shell if we had a guest who would eat them with my dad. They still felt like a luxury when I moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, even though they seem to be a lot more commonplace there. So, when my law firm in Williamsburg bought us tickets to the Kiwanis’ Shrimp Feast, I accepted them gleefully. Shrimp! All you can eat! What could be better?

We were invited to an engagement party that night, and I think it started at 8 pm. It didn’t say anything about dinner or the menu on the invitation, and we didn’t know the hosts at all – we were there for the guests of honor. Imagine our surprise, as our shrimp-filled selves waddled up to the party, as we were greeted with shrimp appetizers, shrimp in the salad, and shrimp in the main course.

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As much as I loved shrimp, it was a bit much, even for me.

It’s been a while since the Shrimp Binge of 2002, though, so we’ve recovered our senses a bit. I’ve never really loved cocktail sauce, though, preferring my shrimp plain. I wanted to try Ina’s (from Back to Basics), though, for the sake of experimentation, and I was really pleasantly surprised. I really liked it! Maybe I really am turning into my dad, because the horseradish in it was especially tasty.

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In order to avoiding another shrimp gorge, we dipped just a few in cocktail sauce, and then I made the rest into a shrimp and orzo salad for dinner (and lunch for the next couple of days).

Completed/Remaining: 510/176

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Cheese Puffs

These appetizers, from Barefoot in Paris, are the savory version of cream puffs or profiteroles. Just like the profiteroles, I made them too big. Unlike the profiteroles, I’m not sure I’d go through the trouble of making them again. They were better than cheese straws, but for that much trouble, I think I’d rather make a dessert out of pate a choux. And really, if I’m going to serve a starter, I’d just as soon make a really nice cheese platter with some fruit. If I were making a whole cocktail party’s worth of appetizers, I’d probably choose something simpler to make. As a starchy side, I’d rather make popovers.

For all of my criticism, though, these didn’t turn out badly. They were just kind of a lot of work for a little bit of goodness.

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Completed/Remaining: 509/177

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Winter, April Edition

April (snow) showers are not that unusual in Minnesota. Last winter, while not as cold as this past winter, was excruciatingly long. We had more than one measurable snowfall in May. The winter that our second baby was born (2010-11) had record snowfalls, and when he was born in April, I remember bringing him home from the hospital to more snow. The difference between this past winter and those winters has been the severity of the cold temperatures. Even though we had snow on the ground for the past several months, it was rarely warm enough to go outside to play in it. So, when we had a big snowstorm this week, I practically dragged the kids outside to go sledding. The hill in our back yard is perfect for a 6-year-old and an almost-3-year-old. Not too steep to climb hundreds of times in a row, but steep enough to get some good speed going. Tippet the dog had so much fun chasing us and running around like a fool.

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Before you call Child Protective Services, we tried to put gloves or mittens on the little guy, but he won’t have it. It was (relatively) warm outside, so he was fine. I imagine this must be what winter feels like in Colorado. You get a big snowfall, and then the sun comes out and melts it all. Nice! Even nicer, the daylight saving time hours gave us time to play after dinner.

I even went down the hill a few times, and once, I went down backwards, hanging on to our 6-year-old’s sled trailing behind me, so we were facing each other. I may forget a lot of things about these years, but I hope I never, ever forget the look of pure joy on his face as we rode down together. I love, love, love our little family.

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