I first had this side dish at the house of Anthony's Aunt Anna Rodgers, in Richmond, British Columbia.  She is a terrific cook and I can't wait to steal more recipes from her.

This casserole was a wonderful mix of sweet carrots, savory sauce, and crunchy topping (my favorite part).  I made it for our Thanksgiving.  It was the only dish Anthony requested!  

Carrot Casserole
4 cups carrots (1 inch pieces)
1 tsp salt

2 tbsp flour
1 finely chopped onion (I grated mine because I'm a wimp about pieces of onion)
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp sugar

4 tsp pepper
1 cup light sour cream

2 tbsp melted butter
3/4 cup breadcrumbs (I had to substitute Goldfish cracker crumbs, but next time I'll try panko breadcrumbs.  
1/2 lb grated cheese

Saute the carrots and onion until nearly cooked.  Melt the butter and stir in salt, sugar, flour, pepper and onion (I added a small grating of nutmeg). Add sour cream and mix well. Add to the warm carrots and onions and stir to heat through. Put into a buttered casserole dish.  

Mix the crumbs, cheese and melted butter and sprinkle over mixture. Bake at 400 F for 20 mins until the sauce is bubbly and the top is crispy.  
In my family we talk about highs and lows.  At dinnertime we often go around the table, giving everyone a chance to tell us the best thing that happened to them all day as well as the pits.  It's a roses and thorns sort of thing.  And I love it because all too often we coast through life, sometimes knowing whether we are happy or sad, but often not knowing what events in our lives are shaping our mood.

So in that spirit I have decided to take a look at my personal highs and lows of 2011, the roses and thorns, the peaks and the valleys, in more or less chronologic order.  Hold my hand, dear reader.  This has not been a year for the faint of heart.

On a cold and dark February morning, David and I decided to separate.  Things had become so unbearable in our relationship that options we used to consider unthinkable remained the only cure for a very sick marriage.  Once I had decided that I was really and truly done...I was...done.  I never looked back.

This low was so low it was basso profundo.  Less than a week after realizing that my marriage was over I came home sick from work, temperature high, body aching, lungs burning.  A few days later I was diagnosed with pneumonia.  I missed a week of work and ran out of sick days.  Happy Valentine's Day!

LOW (Trust me, things do get better.  There will be highs shortly.)
Over a few weeks' time I noticed my estranged husband acting...um....especially estrangely (I had to).  We were getting along well, still communicating, taking care of the boys, but his mood and behavior were like nothing I'd ever seen before.  Loud music, facial hair, spending binges.  Mid-life crisis?  Drugs?  All of these thoughts crossed my mind.  A diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder was a blow to us all.  

But this low had a secret silver lining for both of us.  Suddenly, we knew  what was wrong with our marriage.  It wasn't me, it wasn't him, it was a disease.  Knowing this provided such a sweet release of anger for us both.  No more finger pointing and bitterness.  Neither of us could imagine reconciliation, but a weight was lifted from the shoulders of our relationship and we knew that we could move forward as parents and friends.  We have ever since.     

No matter what lies in our future, meeting my sweet Anthony (@cunningpike to my Twitter friends) was the highest high I've had since the birth of my children. For those who are unfamiliar with our story, Ant and I were "introduced" by a mutual friend on Twitter.  We were friends on Twitter for several months, never sharing details of our lives or personal struggles.  But slowly, slowly we opened up, shared the things one dares not speak of on Twitter, and we became close friends and more.  Months of talking on the phone and chatting online led to us finally meeting on neutral ground:  Las Vegas.  Our July trip was amazing.  We've seen each other three times since then and along the way I've met Thing 1 and Thing 2, Ant's Aunt Anna (I love to say that), and Uncle Jim.  Ant, bless him, has met my entire family, including my ex-husband.  This is good old-fashioned meant-to-be-type stuff. *blissful sigh*

I lost two close friends as a result of my divorce.  You know, some people just can not sit by and watch a marriage fail, God bless them.  They have to swoop in, give their two cents worth, and hand over their judgment of the situation by saying things like, "I'm disappointed in you," and "This is not the Gail that I knew."  All I could say to that was, "Good bye."

Across the last week of July and the beginning of August I took my boys on a 10 day camping trip through Michigan's beautiful Upper Peninsula.  We headed out alone in our 30' 1997 Yellowstone motor home.  It.  Was.  Perfect.  For those of you who have never been to the UP...words fail.  Water falls, hiking, Lake Superior, beaches, mines, scenic drives, forts and beautifully maintained state and national parks.  We had the time of our lives, and I know it is a trip that none of us will forget.

I may have lost a few friends due to my divorce, but wouldn't you know I gained some even better ones?  Ian and Jai have become part of our family.  "Guncles" to my sons, they even watched two of them overnight while I was out of town visiting Ant.  The boys love them so much that they are begging, BEGGING them to spend the night at our house Christmas Eve.  *nudge, nudge*

I've become close friends with Kari, a parent/volunteer/aide at our school, mother to three amazing kids, and wife to a political dynamo.  She just happens to be a former student of mine, but let's not get into that.  We knew each other when and we know each other still, and I hope we always will.

Fell down some slippery steps at my dad's house and broke my tailbone.  It stinks to get old.  Still hurts.

I started coming out of the dark this fall.  Over time I felt interested in cooking, knitting, and reading again.  This week I've felt the blog-beast stir in my breast.  I had developed a rhythm in my new life, and though it was still new I realized that I could not go on taking care of everyone else at the expense of my own leisure time (read: mental health).  I'm so glad to be back.

HIGH (If saying it makes it so.)
The holidays. 
I am blessed with four beautiful sons.  With that comes Christmas shopping for said beautiful sons, gifts for their teachers, former in-laws with which to deal (still?), meal planning, and on, and on, and on.  I can not lose sight of what is important this holiday season:  Time with my sweet boys.  Peace in my house.  Healing for us all.  Hope for the new year.  The next few days will be an exercise in letting go, making peace with new traditions, and forgiving those who may not be ready to accept that our family has changed forever, and for the better. Patience.  Patience.  And Ativan.

(As I write this I sit at my dad's kitchen table.  I've stayed here on nights when Dave has the boys at our house.  My childhood home has become my home again.  I am so at ease here. 

His shirt from yesterday hangs on the back of the chair I sit in.  I can smell his cologne.  Dad always smells nice.)

I'd like to introduce you to my dad.  It will give you an idea of why I am the way I am.

My dad is a truck driver.  He hauls gasoline to local gas stations.  He's been doing this job for over 35 years, and if you people drive over his fills one more time or park where you shouldn't he is going to pinch your head off.  Believe it.

My dad is a drinker, a swearer, and a dirty joke teller.

My dad talks.  A lot.

He can fix shit.

He's handsome.  The ladies love him...especially his wife, Jackie.  He's a snazzy dresser.

My dad can cook anything.  He's aged Parmesan cheese, brewed beer, and dehydrated potatoes.  He can cook ON anything, including Dutch ovens, grills, smokers, campfires,  and plain old stoves.  He can debone a chicken in 4 minutes.

My dad is a compulsive reader. 

He is ADD (undiagnosed).  He owns a motorcycle, a moped, a row boat, a sailboat he built, and a 20' Bayliner fishing boat.  He has a pop-up camper to tow behind his Honda Goldwing and a 38' class A motorhome.  Dad has a swimming pool and a hot tub.  He owns three Weber grills and five smokers.  He is a collector.

My dad is polite and thoughtful.  He is generous.  He is stubborn and opinionated.
He is a lover and a fighter.

My sons think their grandpa is a super-hero.  He kinda is.

My dad is a good son and a terrific father.  He's got my back.  I am thankful for him every day.



1 Comment

(A Five Minute Friday post.  Start your timers.)

I live in Marshall, Michigan, the same town where five generations of my family have lived.  It is, and I am not exaggerating, a perfect example of how wonderful small towns can be.

I live in an historic home within walking distance of my dentist, a hospital, the civic theater, my church, and the local bakery.  I send the boys to the barber with cash and to the corner gas station for milk.  We take our wagon on trips to the farmers market.

Marshall isn't perfect, but it sure feels like it some days.

Those of you who read this blog or follow me on Twitter know that I have four sons, the oldest of which is 12.  We are tech lovers, each with an iPhone, an iTouch or an iPad.  My two oldest children have Facebook, email and Instagram accounts.  Some would argue that they are too young (and they might point out that they are in volation of Facebook's policy on young users).  I think it is terrific, and let me tell you why.

Today's young people are going to integrate technology and social media into their lives with or without our blessing.  I would prefer that they do it with me by their side.  I accept any friend on Facebook, and I love that I am friends with my sons' friends, former students and parents.  I don't (usually) post anything on Facebook that I would be uncomfortable sharing with them.  But more important than what I share with them is what they share with me.  Eighth grade poets, self-conscious girls changing their profile pictures daily, and sixth graders updating their relationship status. 

Isn't it better that Facebook be a safe place where we can all get to see a side of each other we may not have known before?  If we expect our children to wait unti their teenage years to begin using Facebook I am afraid that they will already begin putting up their "filters."  My young and sweet boys see social media for what it is;  A means of seeing what the people you care about are up to.  A way of staying connected to far-flung relatives and camp friends.

Of course there will come a time when our children will crave privacy.  They, like me, will have a private Twitter account, or a blog that their closest family and friends don't know about, and I am fine with that.  Part of growing up is separating oneself from one's parents and hometown.  It's the same thing kids have been doing in dorm rooms and summer camps for generations.  At some point everyone deserves the right to a public and private persona.

Until then, I will friend my sons on Facebook.  I will "like" their posts and pictures.  I will tease them in front of their online friends and make them roll their eyes IRL.

There is a certain rhythm of progress one expects in life.  I always anticipated that marriage would bring emotional, professional and financial stability.  I believed that after the first few years of settling in, a predictable and comfortable pattern would emerge in my life.  Work, vacations, sports seasons, holidays...my life would roll along like a pleasant river.

No.  Not so much.  It seems that when I felt emotionally secure our finances were in the crapper and when we finally attained financial security all hell broke lose in  marriage.  My career remained a stabilizing force in my life.

So now I'm moving backward.  I am back to square one.  For all intents and purposes I am back to where I was when I was 25 years old...except now my boobs are less perky....and I have four ankle biters.

Due to budget cuts it is likely that next year I will be earning less than I did this year.  Much less.  A divorce and a serious illness (not mine) have decimated our savings.  The boys and I may have to move out of our home.  And emotionally...oh pulease.  Don't get me started.

Every day I see someone misuse the word everyday.  Every.  Stinking.  Day.

Moving on.

Yesterday Sam posed an interesting question:  If life were like a movie and came with a fast-forward and a rewind button, which would you push?

I didn't have to think about it long.  As a mother of four coming off two years of marital hell, I knew that I didn't want to go back in time.  But even in the midst of a divorce I am an incurable optimist.   I always anticipate that things will be easier/better/calmer when...

...I lose twenty-five pounds.
...we have more money.
...the kids are older.
...my house is clean.  (The rest may actually come to pass.  Alas, this one will not.)

Lately I have learned to make peace with the present.  My house is a mess but it is mine, and I'm no longer waiting for someone else to clean up after themselves or fix things.  I see that the lawn needs mowing and I know that I'll get to it when I have time.  I enjoy every day, the ones with the boys and the rare ones without.

This weekend my soon-to-be ex-husband will be taking the boys camping.  While there he will be introducing them to his girlfriend (haven't come up with a snappy name for her yet....give me time).  I could stew and fret about this, but I have decided that the best thing for me to do is focus on my own terrific weekend, puttering in the garden, spending time with good friends, and wallowing in the knowledge that I am loved and in love, every day.
If you've never made fruit leather you are in for a treat.  I've been playing around with different fruit combinations for over a year now and the results have been consistently good.  My kids devour this stuff.  I always envision myself making enough over the summer so that I can toss it in their lunches during the school year, but I'd have to find a really good hiding spot first.  

I first thought about making fruit leather when I came across a recipe for it in the Ball Blue Book of Preserving.  Ball suggests using the following fruits alone or in combination:  apples, apricots, berries, cherries, nectarines, peaches, pears, pineapple and plums.  I often toss in a banana or a few tablespoons of plain or vanilla yogurt.  (I would love to experiment with cooked rhubarb.)  Fruits that oxidoze and turn brown need to be heated very briefly before spreading.

You will need a blender, two sheet pans, non-stick aluminum foil and a spatula.  Oh, and fruit.

The first fruit leather I make every year is strawberry, so for the purposes of this recipe we will use strawberries.  First, fill your blender with clean, hulled strawberries.  Puree the strawberries.  I have found that about 1 1/2 cups of fruit puree equals two sheet pans of fruit leather.  Taste the strawberry puree to determine if it needs any sweetening.  If you decide that it is a bit tart add 1 tablespoon of honey or corn syrup.  Sugar will not work because it absorbs moisture and will result in a sticky leather.  

Pour the strawberry puree on to a half-sheet pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil.  (Be sure that the non-stick side is up... learned that the hard way.)  Using a spatula spread the puree evenly to 1/8 inch thick.  

I dry my fruit leather above my stove using the warming lights on my hood vent.  If you don't have such a setup, preheat your oven to the lowest temperature and turn it off.  Place the sheet pans in your oven and prop open the door.  You may need to toy with this a bit by turning your oven on here and there and switching the position of your pans.  Usually my fruit leather is done in about a day.
When my fruit leather is no longer sticky I peel it off and flip it over to allow the other side to dry for a few hours.  Then I roll it up in wax paper, cut it into strips and toss it in a canning jar.  

(I fiddle placing the 5 Minute Friday badge on my post, thinking about what to write, how much to share...but dammit, hubs has already moved in with his girlfriend.  Here goes everything and nothing...)

Distance.  Until recently I had never given much thought to the distance across the United States.  Sure, it's big.  Do you realize that 2,378 miles lie between my home in Michigan and Vancouver, British Columbia?  That's 40 hours of solid driving.  I've checked.  My bum gets sore just thinking about it. 

Why does the distance between my home and Vancouver matter?  Because my heart is tied to a man in Vancouver.  We joke that recent earthquake activity keeps pushing us closer together.  I laugh, but it's hollow.  The distance isn't funny.

But the distance is a blessing in some ways.  My divorce is not yet final, and ideally I wouldn't even be looking at men.  (I think I'm still supposed to be dried up and bitter at this point.)  But there HE is. HE is there.  Sigh. 

We tease on Twitter, chat off and on during the day and sometimes share the wee hours of my mornings talking on the phone (The time difference is a bitch.) We plot and plan.

And I wonder, if he lived closer...what? 

I would have seen him. 

I will see him. 

Soon. *shivery shivers*

...an off switch.  That sounds wrong.  Actually, a PAUSE botton would be perfect. As a mother of four sons a pause button would be so incredibly useful.  I would pause those perfect moments, the ones where my sons are giggling, cuddling, loving each other and me.  The times when they are all walking ahead of me, look alike stairsteps, and I think, other people must be jealous!  Look how gorgeous my boys are!

But I would also pause the bad times.  Times when I am exhausted after a night up with a non-stop vomiter (yes, I just made that word up).  I would pause to rest, to take a nap after a long week, catching my breath so that I have the energy for a fun Friday night.  I would pause when asked a difficult question, giving me time to carefully consider my answer.

And lately, I would pause to cool down before my children witness another argument between their parents.  I would pause so that we could all linger a little longer over the rare family dinners we try to have together.  Most of all, I would pause to just slow this whirlwind down for us all.