Seventh Grader Community Service 

One day last spring I happened to be walking through the campus of the middle school. Jon Meridith, the director, looked at me with wonder, since I have not had a child on that campus for four years and said, “Amazing, you are on my list to call today.”  
We talked about his plan about changing the seventh grade’s community service focus to hunger issues. I gave him some ideas and he asked if I could come and talk to the seventh grade for just less than an hour when school got back in session. Knowing I would have gotten Carter off to college by then I said yes.
Talking to seventh graders is not everyone’s idea of a fun time. They can be hard to engage and entertain. My role was to bring the hunger issue down to the Durham level. Hunger is a complicated issue, it mostly starts with poverty. I had to devise a talk that got the kids involved. I planned to invite at least a dozen kids up on stage with me and do it game show style.
My allotted time was today at 1:30 after lunch and recess, not the most energetic time of day. I started out by telling the kids the story of the man who used to eat from my garbage can in Washington, then moved into the game of them learning about the cost of living in Durham and how much money someone who earns a living age needed for food, housing, childcare, transportation, medical, taxes and other.  
When I asked questions many hands went up. When I needed volunteers to come up on the stage, more hands. The kids were polite, involved, insightful, and very engaged. After learning about how much it cost to live we talked about what happens if someone is sick, or looses a job, where in those buckets of money that were budgeted for housing and transportation and the like would the saving come? This is how we discussed that the food budget is one of the elastic buckets.
Once they saw how much it cost to live we played a second game to show them what the average wage in Durham was for different jobs. I saw the light go off in their eyes when they knew that it took a single parent of two children to earn over $59,000, but the average wage of a hair dresser was around $31,000 or someone in protective services was $32,000.
We talked about how hard it was to concentrate in school when they were hungry. They now understood that 65% kids in the school just down the street were on free or reduced price lunches.
They began to grasp the importance of the Food Bank so I spent a few minutes explaining exactly how it worked. They asked great questions. When I finished something happened that I never expected, they gave me a standing ovation.  
If you have a seventh grader at DA you should be proud. They could not have been a better audience. I hope they will have a good day tomorrow going to work at the Food Bank and then to the grocery store to try and buy food on a budget. I think they will go with a much better understanding of a very complicated issue.

Return of Dana’s Dinners

I took the summer off from “cooking for friends” because I was busy and people were away. Now that Carter is happily settled in Berlin, loving her people there and having to cook for herself I think it is time I get back to cooking for others.  
Russ and I have been eating whatever meals I can make up with the food in the house.  

The fridge is finally getting empty and that means I have room to make giant amounts of food for all you people who have kids at home, who you have to drive to sports, and watch their games and take them to piano and have no time to cook. Also for all my friends who have no one at home and just can’t bear the idea of cooking or even going to the grocery.
The other day I was at a meeting and some of my r gulag food friends asked me when I was going to start supplying them again. That was when other friends overheard and wanted to be added to the list. If you are local to me I am happy to add your name to the email list. 
Since it is a holiday weekend I won’t cook before that, but I will be making Green peppercorn chicken and zucchini rice casseroles available for Tuesday pick up. Those are two separate things, not all one casserole. All the details will go out in the regular email blast. Let me know if you want to be included if I know you. Sorry this is an offer only for friends.

The Purging at The Empty Nest

Yesterday, once I had a FaceTime conversation with Carter and saw her smiling face and new cool room in Berlin I began my purge to tidy up my life here. No, I did not go in her room and start cleaning, although it is on the long list of things for me to do. Instead I started canceling things I should have gotten rid of long ago.
I started by resigning from a club Russ and I have belonged to for multiple decades. I have been very dissatisfied with it for some time now and just decided I should stop giving them my money. Then I called the phone company and canceled two of our three land lines. Why we still had any land lines you might ask, but given our very poor cell reception in our neighborhood I thought we should keep one. We certainly do not need a dedicated fax line or Russ’ business line. He stopped working from home at least sixteen years ago.
With those lines I also called a very old long distance provider and canceled them. Do kids nowadays even know what long distance is? Yes, this was something I should have done many years go, but with direct debit as my pay source I just never looked at that bill.
Today I cut my housekeeper back to half the time. When Carter was at camp I had her skip some weeks and discovered that Russ and I are very clean by ourselves. I am fairly good at cleaning things up myself. She said that cleaning Carter’s space took most of her time and with her gone there was not as much to do.
Now I am looking at other things I can cancel, cut or do away with. I love the simplicity of less to care for, carry or pay. I mostly am looking forward to not being mad that my requests for healthy food options constantly get excuses from management. I am moving Mah Jongg to my house where I will be the chef. If I am unhappy with my lunch I only have myself to blame.
I can’t wait to see what bills come in this month to see if I can cancel them.

She’s There

At 1:27 AM Carter texted us that she had landed in Berlin. Russ woke up to the text and I joined him in texting a few minutes later. It was great relief and happiness that she had gotten there safely with her new classmates. After I knew that Carter was off to go to her new home on the University provided bus I went back to sleep.
I slept through the next text stream Carter sent me at 5:00 AM, and boy am I glad. I awoke at 6:30 and this is what I read. (Read AWARK as AWAKE)

The idea of Carter arriving anywhere without a bra was the scariest moment ever, but thankfully it was a short lived panic. She had insisted on packing herself did not actually get around to it until the night before she left.  
The funniest thing is on the way to the airport she was laughing about some kid on her program asking fellow students if they were bringing a tooth brush. Carter got a big laugh about that, but then discovered at the airport when she went to brush her teeth with her beloved electric tooth brush that she had her charger, but had left the tooth brush on her bathroom sink. I wonder what else she will discover missing. All I can say is thank god it is not her bras!  It may sound like a first world problem, but she is not in the third world right now, so a bra is needed.

The Great 18 Year Experiment

A child is born without instructions. You learn to recognize the difference between the “I’m hungry,” cry and the “I’m exhausted, and just can’t figure out how to sleep,” cry. You stay up nights rocking her. You don’t get mad when she throws up on her rug. You cry when that little hand grips your finger for the first time. You have no idea if you are doing anything right, but she wakes up every morning so you are thankful.
The hours between naps seem endless. You take her on a trip and realize hotels don’t have baby food. You just make due mashing up banana. Eventually she walks and your life changes. You spend your days making sure she does not fall down the stairs. You cry when she does.
You teach her to look people in the eye when she speaks to them. She can’t say “f’s” and instead says, “Mommy, you are so sunny.” You send her to nursery school and revel in her being better at cutting with scissors than anyone her age. You know it is because of the hours of arts and crafts you have done together, not some highly developed cutting gene.  
You watch her make friends and not need you as her best companion. Your life changes and you are relieved. You get some of your days back as she spends time at school. She learns to ride a two wheeler all by herself and you see the joyous look of what freedom looks like her eyes. You cry, because you know it is the beginning of her leaving you. She is only six.
You try and instill in her a curiosity, and love of learning. She discovers the bigger world through travel and begs you take her to many different places. You do. When she is thirteen and you have been together too much you tell her to go out and explore a city on her own. She does. She loves it.
She discovers her own passion and places that belong only to her, like camp and basketball. You let her decide how to spend her time. It is less and less with you. You are relieved that she survives adolescence and thankful for her ability to set her own direction.
You take her to look at colleges and watch as she works to go to the place she has her heart set on. The years of work pay off. You have no idea if all the things you have done to get this person from baby, to child to woman were the right things. You had no manual to tell you exactly what to do.
You take her to the airport to put her on a plane to go off and leave you for her first semester of college as far away as she can be. You cry because she is really leaving you. She walks through security and does not look back. As your heart is breaking you know this is the moment you spent the last 18 years working towards. You sob anyway.

Last Day

I have raised an independent daughter. So it is no surprise that I was not needed to help get her ready to leave in the morning. Is she packed? Not yet, but she will be. So I was blessed today with a visit from my boarding school friend Sally Peck who is North Carolina dropping her last son off for his Freshman year at Elon.
Sally and I have not seen each other for almost 20 years, we think. Of course we are both too old to remember when we saw each other last, but it had to have been at one Walker’s reunion. It makes no difference at all because we picked right up where we left off starting at high school graduation. 
There are no friends like those you live with at school, be it boarding school or college. As Sally and I reminisced about friends from our class we agreed that people don’t change. That can be a good or bad thing. The one thing you discover is that no one can be something they are not when you live together for at least a year.
Sally was and still is one of the sweetest people I ever knew. She always had a kind word for you and never said anything ugly about anyone. That is a rare quality, especially among adolescent girls. If I could have a do over it is a quality I would like to have developed.
I hope that Carter makes those kind of friends in college. She can’t help but get to know people well when there are only 60 of them living and learning in the same place for a semester. She certainly has had plenty of practice living with new people working at camp for the last few years.

After Sally left to go back to Elon, Russ Carter and I went downtown to Pizza Toro for our final goodbye dinner. She is ready to go, even if she isn’t packed. Russ and I joked that we were going to go over to the RV show after we drop her off at the airport. She said she would not be surprised if when she got home from Germany she found a note on our front door that said, “Good luck, we are out.” Russ followed it up with, “What door? We will have sold the house.”  We have to joke or I will cry.

With Her Blessing

This is not news, but I am a planner. Years ago when a Russ and I first bought this house and were childless we built an addition on to our house in the anticipation of having at least two kids. We added two bedrooms with a Jack and Jill bathroom under a big playroom. Before Carter Russ used those rooms as his “lair.” One was his office and he would sleep in the other bedroom when he had jet lag from coming or going to London or China.
My plans don’t always work out. We only got the one sweet Carter. From the time she was born until she was about 12 she slept in a room across the hall from our bedroom. Then one day it dawned on us that we would all be happier if she moved to the “lair” and Russ moved his office up to her bunny bedroom. This meant that Carter had a suite of two rooms and a bath. I told her that it was a nicer setup than anything she would ever have in college.
As the hour for her departure is practically upon us I have been thinking about all that space she is leaving. Now, I know she is not going forever, but those two weeks at Christmas and that one month in May when she might be here are not enough to warrant not using that space.
Yesterday I broached the subject with Carter. I want to use her office room as a sewing room. Amazingly she was very fine with this idea. “I think that is great,” she told me. Wow, that was easier than I thought. I promised not to touch her bedroom, but I did want to clean out her office room. She hardly ever used it and I don’t think she was really that attached to it.
I am not exactly looking forward to her leaving Sunday, but now I do have a fun big project to work on in reorganizing that room and making it a good place to quilt. This will also work out for Russ because he has a pile of clothes he has wanted me to fix and the likelihood of that happening is much greater if I have my sewing machine set up. I am not sure how far I can go as far as getting a thread rack or a hanging a quilt wall, time will only tell. 
At least I have Carter’s blessing so it won’t be some shock when she comes home at Christmas. I am not turning her suite a Mah Jongg parlor and tea house, which is still an idea. I draw the line at making it an AirBnB, but who knows, it does have its own entrance. If Russ did not have such a big office downtown he might have wanted it back, but he probably would prefer to have the sewing noise as far from our bedroom as possible.