"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Goodbye, Home Sweet Home

After 38 years, my parents have decided to sell their house. The home to which I, and six of my seven brothers and sisters, were brought home from the hospital. The home in which we all learned to walk and read and throw a baseball and ride a bike. The home in which we honed our negotiation skills over bedtimes, desserts, chores, curfews, and access to the car.

This home.

When my parents first moved in, my oldest sister was just six months old. The 1950s split-level had three nicely-sized bedrooms on the top level, a small but adequate kitchen, dining room, and front room on the middle level, and a separate basement apartment, which my dad's brother rented from them. When my parents first moved in, my mom could wrap her arms around the tree that still stands in the middle of the front yard. 

When my parents first moved in, they had no way of knowing that they would spend the next 38 years of their lives in that house...or that they would  knock down the wall separating the basement from the rest of the house when my uncle moved out, before adding seven kids, a garage, two bedrooms, a larger kitchen, and a huge family room to the house.

The family room had to be huge to accommodate this crowd.

(The first Official Family Photo of all eight kids.)

Earlier this summer, some of the siblings gathered at our childhood home for one last staycation before my parents sold the house. We sat around the huge kitchen table...

This huge table: perfect for family dinners, lazy mornings reading the newspaper,
and cutthroat games of Catan and Scrabble.

...playing board games and sharing memories (really just the embarrassing ones...what group of siblings doesn't gather simply to make fun of each other?)... 

...while our kids played with our vintage toy collections in the family room. 

We tucked our kids into sleeping bags on the floors of our childhood bedrooms (which we constantly rotated among as we grew older and the oldest ones left for college, the large en suite in the basement the coveted spot). We sat on the back deck, which my dad built...the third deck the house has had as the footprint of the house grew with additions and more outdoor seating space became a necessity. 

It's amazing to think back on how this house has grown as our family grew. My parents did such a great job of seeing and appreciating our home's potential...helping the house to accommodate our family rather than seeking something bigger, better, newer. My parents were the ultimate Love It over List It types.

The neighborhood helped. With access to some of the best schools in the county (in the country, actually) and some of the best people a young family could want to grow up with, my parents lucked out in the location, location, location department. They had no way of knowing that when they first moved in. At just 25 years old, they weren't thinking of the long-term potential of the house or even of the school district. They assumed they'd move back to New Jersey, where their families both still lived, long before their baby started kindergarten.

When my parents first moved in to this house, there were two spindly apple trees in the backyard, which produced only small, mushy fruit, along with a screen of pine trees against the fence. My mom hated them all. But, with a baby (then two, then three...), a full time job as a nurse, and a police officer husband who was also attending law school, there wasn't much time (or money) for tree removal. Eventually, the apple trees came out (as did the clothesline) but most of the pine trees remain (save for a massive one that a lightning strike took care of a couple of decades ago). 

Despite adding a handful of kids to the mix, my mom eventually found the time for her yard. In fact, I think adding the handful of kids is what led her outside. A little peace and quiet, you know? My mom's yard is her happy place. The gardens surrounding my parents home are like something out of a magazine. My mom is a master gardener and her lush, fragrant spaces are the grandkids' favorite places to play. 

The remaining pine trees just beyond the adorable diapered baby.

My mom's garden is the one thing I think she'll miss when she moves. Luckily for me, I have a huge yard in desperate need of a green thumb, and she'll be moving in right around the corner.

This house. 

I'll remember Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas mornings. 

I'll remember birthday parties and sleepovers.

I'll remember big messes and big fights.

I'll remember big celebrations and big happiness.

I'll remember the split stairs: the lower set I once fell down, resulting in a dozen or so stitches on my chin.

I'll remember the wall-mounted kitchen phone, which a high-school date knocked right off the base, in a nervous attempt at leaving the house with me after meeting my dad.

I'll remember the mantle: which, in addition to holding an ever-increasing number of stockings at Christmas, was the backdrop of many a family picture, prom picture, and random Toddler on Stool picture...

I'll remember the playset, which my dad built. It originally included two swings, a covered porch swing (which we called "The Family Swing"), a sandbox, an elevated fort, and a slide. The fort, the slide, the sandbox, and the porch swing were all eventually disassembled. The swings, though, are a grandkid favorite to this day.

I'll remember the house phone number. Forever.

I'll remember the top shelf of the upstairs linen closet. It was such a good hiding spot for those of us who were monkey enough to reach it, that once, while in the middle of a round of hide-and-seek with the neighbors, my mom opened the door to put away some clean towels and didn't notice me up there. (Or did you? Were you just playing along, Mom?)

I'll remember the built-in shelves and cabinets in the basement bedroom (also built by my dad...I kind of forget how much of himself he has put into this house over the years...). When the room was mine, once my oldest sister left for college, the shelves held my books, my collection of giraffe figurines (you're jealous, I know), and framed photos of my friends. Before that, it held my sister's make-up, which I used without her knowing. (She probably knew.)

I'll remember the shed in the backyard. Full of tools and lawn equipment, it's my boys' favorite hangout at Mom Mom and Pop's house.

I'll remember the roof, which my dad scaled once or twice a year to remove tennis balls from the gutters. I'll also remember the time my mom and I returned home from a shopping trip to see my dad up on the roof with MY 3-YEAR OLD. I had a heart attack that day, but Evan listed it as one of his all-time favorite memories just last spring. He'll never forget it.

I'll remember the front porch, which served as the location for every First Day of School Photo for all thirteen years of each of the eight kids' school careers. 

We have, roughly, a billion photos that look like this one...
just swap out my kids for my mini-brothers and sisters.

I'll remember which floor boards in the hall upstairs are squeaky.

I'll remember the cats and dogs and hamsters and goldfish and even Bob the Bird, who served as our pets over the years. 

I'll remember when my parents added the family room and expanded the kitchen. I was in 4th grade and Baby #6 had just been born. We lived in a kitchen-less construction site for weeks, cooking on a hot plate in the basement and washing dishes in the laundry room sink. I literally don't know how my mom survived.

I'll remember each and every time a new baby joined our family. I'll remember the same bassinet my parents set up next to their bed each time and the rocking chair my mom sat in while she nursed the babes. 

I'll remember the "big kid bedroom shuffle" as rooms were reassigned to accommodate the new tiny brother or sister. For awhile, three of the boys shared one room sleeping in bunk beds with a pull-out trundle. A family story which will live in infamy is the time the kid on the top bunk got sick in the middle of the night. The beds, and children sleeping in them, apparently looked like a crime scene.

I'll remember the fence at the bottom of the hill in the backyard. We hopped it to join the neighbors in a game of backyard baseball....our dog Moose running a trench back and forth on his side of the fence, barking at us to come back and play with him. The neighbors hopped it to hang out at the Keenan House...where we nearly always ended up, the favorite neighborhood hang-out. Once, on a snow day, my sister slid right under that fence in her sled. We don't know how it happened, but she ended up on the other side of the fence, completely unscathed.

I'll remember the shelves in the laundry room that looked like a grocery store. With eight kids, my mom bought in bulk. She stocked up on pantry staples and snacks when they were on sale and kept the extras in the laundry room. My cousin, who is an only child, marveled at the cereal selection when she came to visit. Food never went bad in the Keenan House.

I'll remember late nights hanging out with my brothers and sisters when we were home from college for holidays. Drinking beer, watching stupid TV, playing Clue.

I'll remember sitting with my boyfriend, Sam, on the back deck. I didn't know it at the time, but my mom took a picture of us sitting together, our backs to the camera. He had just told my parents that he was going to ask me to marry him.

I'll remember the bird feeders my dad set up all around the yard once the majority of his own little hatchlings had flown the nest.

I'll remember it all. And when I do, I'll remember it with these guys...

The 1st grade photos of each of the Keenan Kids.

Lesson Learned:
I can't believe I'll never visit 5207 ever again. I believe it when they say, though, that Home is wherever I'm with you.

I can't wait to share this neighborhood, one of my favorite places in the entire world, with two of my favorite people in the entire world.

Welcome to your new home, Mom and Dad.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

In Honor of National Trail Mix Day...

Ten years ago, if you had told me how much of my mental and physical activity would be devoted to thinking about, planning for, shopping for, preparing, serving, cleaning up after, and worrying about food, I wouldn't have believed you. But ten years and three kids later, food is a huge part of my daily life and not because I'm some foodie who is always on the hunt for some fabulous new recipe.

Nope. Not even close. Around here, we eat to live rather than live to eat, and I consider the day a success if I've managed to get a decent amount of nutrients and protein into my kids. I like food, really I do (particularly when it's prepared by someone other than I), but between food allergies, picky-eaters, bottom-of-the-growth-curve-huggers, oral sensory issues, and my 4-year-old's vegetarianism-by-choice, food is stressful.

I do have one secret, though, for taking some of the stress out of mealtimes: Snacks. If I can pack enough healthy goodness into snack time, I can relax a bit if Picky McPickerson doesn't touch his dinner. We have a couple of easy, healthy go-to snack ideas, but I'm always looking for new ideas to shake up our snack rotation.

I was recently invited by Nuts.com to create a trail mix recipe to enter into their contest in honor of National Trail Mix Day (August 31). I was excited to get involved because I like a good challenge, but also, with the start of school right around the corner, I'm thrilled to have a few new lunch-box ideas.

Here are my two entries (one nutty, one nut-free). Try mine or head on over to Nuts.com, browse their amazing selection of nuts, seeds, sweets, and dried fruits, and come up with your own favorite mix.

Goji-Nut High Five

  • goji berries: In addition to being called an anti-aging Superfood, Goji berries are a good source of vegetarian protein. They are rich in Vitamins A and C, a good source of 18 amino acids (including all 8 essential amino acids), and contain selenium, a trace element which has been shown to fight bacterial and viral infections. A little sweet and chewy like a raisin, Goji berries are a perfect addition to trail mixes.
  • pistachios (Roasted, no salt, no shell): Pistachios are an excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamin B6, thiamin, phosphorus, and copper. A good source of protein, these little nuts also have as much potassium as half of a banana!
  • cashews (Roasted, no salt): Cashews are an excellent source of protein and fiber. They also contain copper, zinc, magnesium, and biotin.
  • chocolate covered sunflower seeds (Natural colors from vegetable juices, no synthetic food dyes): Sunflower seeds are rich in protien, calcium, and iron but, let's be honest, these chocolate-covered goodies are to add a little sweetness to this savory blend! 
  • pretzels: for a salty crunch!

I usually don't measure out our trail mix ingredients. I just add a little of this and that until we have a pretty blend of salty, sweet, crunchy, and chewy. Our Goji-Nut High Five fits the bill perfectly. This one will definitely going into Max and Molly's snack rotation.

Most of the trail mixes we make in our home are nut-free, not to exclude our nut-allergic kiddo. For him, we came up with the Rainbow Pop trail mix. Although this mix does not contain any nuts, please be aware that when ordering from Nuts.com, all products are manufactured in a facility that does process nuts.

Rainbow Pop Trail Mix

  • pepitas (When ordering from Nuts.com, please note that roasted pepitas contain peanut oil): Pepitas, or pumpkin seeds, are a powerhouse seed rich in protein, iron, and phosphorus. They are also a great source of healthy fat and dietary fiber.
  • chocolate covered sunflower seeds (Natural colors from vegetable juices, no synthetic food dyes): Sunflower seeds are rich in protien, calcium, and iron
  • dried cherries: a little sweet, a little tart, these dried cherries are the perfect addition to this trail mix. Cherries are rich in potassium and Vitamins C and B. They also contain specific antioxidants thought to aid in the prevention of heart disease and cancer, while also promoting pain relief and healthy sleep.
  • popcorn: We pop ours on the stove in a little bit of coconut oil and add a sprinkle of pink Himalayan salt (chosen by Max, at Costco, for it's color...who could blame him?).

I love a good old, traditional, nutty trail mix. This light, nut-free alternative is an excellent combination of flavors and textures. It's visually appealing to selective eaters and, maybe best of all, it's School Safe!

Lesson Learned:

Thanks, Nuts.com for inviting me to participate! If you have never visited the site, head on over to Nuts.com. Their products are of the highest quality and their customer service is outstanding. The website is pretty incredible, too. Looking for something high in protein? Antioxidant-rich? Something sweet but packed with nutrients? You can find out tons of nutrition information on each product page, not to mention tons of recipes and snack ideas. That has to be my favorite part of Nuts.com.

Well, the recipes and the chocolate covered sunflower seeds. Mmmmmmmm!!