Sunday, May 3, 2020

A Decade of Lasagna

Good morning.

I haven't been hanging around the blog lately (last blog is ---> here), but I have been writing. I should say I've been writing elsewhere and giving this blog a makeover, because when you're sitting up watching The Office at three in the morning you sometimes multitask. I hope you like the new look.

So. I have no idea to what extent you may be familiar with Erick Erickson. He's a media guy, but don't hold that against him. He's a Christian, and there's a faith-based lean to his work I admire. He used to work for CNN I believe, and now he has a radio show and occasionally will turn up on FoxNews. He runs a website called The Resurgent. It's basically a blog. Daily Erick usually links to his radio show and whatever else he may write that day, and there's a pool of writers who contribute pieces . . . and I am now one of them. Every weekday morning an email goes out with possible topics, and if you see something that interests you, you grab it, write it up, and post. There's a lot of freedom I really enjoy. There's no obligation to write daily or constantly, but I can if I choose to do so. I've averaged a couple of pieces per week thus far.

At the top of this blog there's now a permanent link to my page at The Resurgent where you can find everything I've written for them (or you can click here). It's focused writing, which is good for me. It's like blogging, except there's only one topic, no pictures of my kids, and I can't throw in a random Outlander gif if the mood strikes.

Speaking of pictures of my kids, here's a little of what we've been up to lately.

I am preaching to the choir when I say that it's hard to watch my kids miss their teachers and their friends. Here's Henry with a note his teacher sent him in the mail:

And on his very first Zoom call with his class:

And rollerblading outside:

A Reagan/Maggie-the-dog selfie:

Reagan's been taking a lot of pictures of Maggie. As you might can tell Maggie is snuggled up on the heating pad below; she loves the heating pad. She is a very spoiled dog. 

Reagan and Henry's teachers have kept them busy. I've genuinely been impressed with the variety of ways they've kept the kids learning and engaged. This is a telescope Reagan built from cardboard:

In addition to writing and homeschooling my children and raging about the government via social media I have also been reading some. I admit I haven't read as much as I thought I would during this time. Quarantined or not, I just don't read much when the sun is up. There is something in me that associates heavy, power-reading with darkness . . . and admittedly also silence, which doesn't happen in my house until after the sun goes down and the kids are in bed.

Some nights I read for several hours, but some nights I watch The Office on Netflix for several hours. Admittedly I've also rewatched most of the first season of Outlander over the course of quarantine, and I've reread a couple of books that are just good rereads like Sally Thorne's The Hating Game and Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games series. It is rare that the second book in a series is the best book, but I do think that is the case with Catching Fire.

So, the reading progress on new books has been somewhat thwarted by me revisiting some things I love, but you know this is my first global pandemic, and often I get in the bed at night and decide I am going to read or watch whatever in the world I want to read or watch.

The book club's March and April books are both good books. In March we read (and discussed via Zoom!) Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. This historical fiction is the story of a Lithuanian girl whose family is sent to forced labor camps by Stalin. It is a short, rather grim but well written book.

The April book club book is The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. I opted out of the group Zoom meeting because I didn't want any spoilers about the book which I've yet to finish because structure, planning, and deadlines are not my strong suits during quarantine. I highly recommend this book with the caveat that I've yet to finish it. I saw that my sister, a discerning reader, gave it five stars on Goodreads, so I'm guessing the ending doesn't ruin the whole thing. The main character in this book is, well, a book. The novel opens in 1996 with a young lady named Hanna narrating. She's a rare-book expert who's been tasked with examining the Sarajevo Haggadah. She travels to war-torn Sarajevo to begin her work, and things take off from there as the reader time-hops through the centuries to uncover the secrets of the ancient text.

I am of course still reading Drums of Autumn, the fourth book in the Outlander series. Actually I am on a break from that book right now. I read until *spoiler* Jamie meets his daughter, Brianna, and then I took a break. My break is almost over, though. I am going to finish The People of the Book and then plow through to the end of Drums of Autumn . . . and then I will get my hands on Season four of Outlander and watch all of it in an amazing binge.

So, lasagna. When I sat to write I had one thing on my mind, and yet here we are several paragraphs in and I am just now getting to it. You see why I say it is good for me to write for The Resurgent. When you have a deadline and a focused topic and you know it won't just be your mom reading your writing, well, you buckle down. Anyway . . .

The day my maternal grandmother died I made a lasagna. It was nearly a decade ago to the day: May 4, 2010. I was newly pregnant with Reagan. I remember assembling that lasagna for a variety of reasons. First, I was nauseated. I was trying to prove something to myself. Making lasagna has always been about proving something for me because I have struggled my entire life to make a decent lasagna, but that day I was determined to cook something, anything, without vomiting due to the smells or the feel of the slimy noodles in my hands. My early nausea was bad, and I was so newly pregnant on this day that no one other than Trey knew. I'm not even sure if I'd been to the doctor yet.

Second, I remember standing in the kitchen in our old house and wiping sauce off my hands in order to reach for my phone and read my mom's text letting me know her mother had died. The news was not unexpected. I know a text may sound odd, but it was news I knew was coming.

I finished assembling the lasagna and put it in the oven. I probably tried to eat some of it, but I don't remember for sure. I can guarantee it wasn't that great even though I am sure Trey ate some of it and told me it was good. I mean, I was pregnant, and my grandmother had just died, so what else was he going to say about my lasagna, right?

Friends, I am thrilled and proud to announce that on Easter Sunday of this year I made, at long last, a legitimately delicious lasagna. Over the last ten years I've attempted lasagna a few times, but the results were never more than just decent. Were we not in the middle of a global pandemic that resulted in our family of four spending Easter alone at our house I'd likely have never made a lasagna. I just kind of gave up on lasagna over the years given that it is tricky to assemble, I usually don't love my lasagna, and the kids are picky eaters.

I'd decided to cook something fancy for Easter Sunday even if we were all in our pajamas, and I stumbled on some promising lasagna noodles one day in the grocery store. My trips to the grocery store have of course become the highlight of my life during these weird and troubling times of home confinement. I noticed these on one of my trips down the pasta aisle:

You don't precook these noodles at all. This, I think, is a major factor in the success or failure of a lasagna. Like life, lasagna needs structure. These noodles cook while the lasagna bakes, but they are truly magical in that they're delicious and continue to provide the whole lasagna with structure. The other secret to great lasagna, of course, is a lot of ricotta cheese. 

Without further ado, here she is:

I of course thought of my grandmother as I made the lasagna; I was elated when it turned out so well. It was a victory ten years in the making. I thought of my own mother with whom we did not spend Easter. I did take my parents some of the leftovers later that day for two reasons: first, because I was proud of my lasagna and of course wanted my mama to see what I'd managed, and second, because as Easter Sunday dragged on I sunk into a little bit of a depression since we weren't worshipping and eating lunch and hunting eggs with family, and I just wanted to see my parents' faces. It was a weird day of a lasagna victory, pondering a global pandemic, and sitting down and realizing that my grandmother has been gone for a decade.

I've been thinking about all of my grandparents a lot lately for a variety of reasons. I've had a lot of time to think, for one. There is considerable chatter in the news about the elderly and their susceptibility to this virus. As I always do with regard to almost everything in the news I wonder what my paternal grandfather who died in 2007 would have to say about all this. He had a lot of opinions he freely shared with anyone in earshot and everyone who read editorials in the local paper. Crazy, right? I mean, I cannot imagine.

My one living grandparent, my grandfather, is ninety-three and living in an assisted living home where he is now confined along with the other residents. He told my mother recently that I ought to write something about this situation in which we find ourselves. I don't even know what to make of that. I am no spring chicken, but he is ninety-three. I actually discussed my inability to put this situation into words in my last blog which was written a little over a month ago. What can I say for my grandfather considering the images in his mind, images of the Great Depression, of Pearl Harbor, of war, of births, of graves over which he's stood?

His mind is still sharp. The tenth anniversary of his wife's death approaches; their wedding anniversary was April 20. As he nears ninety-four he has added "global pandemic" to the long list of things he has experienced. There is truly nothing else, no world event or personal triumph or tragedy, that I can think of that could be added to his list of life experiences. Note his suspenders in the photo below; he has now witnessed every one of LSU's national football titles including their most recent 15-0 season in which they beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa and won a national title on the arm of their Heisman Trophy winner.

He decided a year or so ago he was ready to leave the home he shared with my grandmother, and it was a good decision. He is someone who, like me, is in his head a lot, if you know what I mean. He thinks; he remembers and rehashes and burrows inside himself at times, and nearly a decade of living alone was enough for him.

Someone took these of him and shared them with us:

I suppose what I would say to him and about this whole situation is that it took ten years of trying, a global pandemic, and a surreal Easter Sunday, but I made a delicious lasagna I think Mamaw would have approved . . . and she did not freely or generously dole out praise for cooking. I will, the Lord willing, make another one soon since Reagan, whom I carried when we buried my grandmother, absolutely loved it. I will never make a lasagna without thinking of my grandmother. 

Time keeps marching; it gives and it takes away. It brings the completely unexpected. My Papaw knows this well. He probably doesn't think of himself as a strong person, but he is. He's had many reasons to fall apart, but he's still here, wading through his first global pandemic, literally, as you can see above, smelling the roses. I love him.

I pray I return to you with exciting news about all the places the children and I visit over the summer once our Governor frees us from quarantine. We need haircuts, we need our teeth cleaned, we'd like to attend church services, and I need to sit in a restaurant and drink hot, restaurant coffee. 


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