The Table Between Us

Bookshelf VignetteOne of my favorite things about living in such a remarkably old house is the number of built in shelves. I adore these shelves. They allow my favorite books and quirky photos to live among us, and not stashed in a trunk somewhere dusty. Even better, in between the books and the frames I fill these shelves not with objets d’art, but with objets d’histoires. To be eligible for display in my home, an object must have a story…and it better be good:

The ornately cut bottle of whiskey, dated 1932 – pulled out of our bathroom wall during a remodel. I can still see the mess of plaster and tile. My husband can still hear the contractor’s laugh.

The orange Hermés blanket – discovered in a rolled up army tent at the lake house. I can still smell the mildew. My daughters can still hear the clatter of poles.

The copper pitcher with an odd dent – gifted by a shoeless bartender in Provence. I can still see the waiter’s blue scarf. My girlfriend can still taste the mussels and wine.

The large Chinese hatbox – used by a merchant in Thailand to ship home my purchases. I can still see the handwritten label. My husband can still hear the thwack of the twine.

Perhaps it’s the writer in me, but I love feeling as though we are surrounded by stories in our home. And we, in a rather feng shui-esque phenomenon, are storytellers ourselves. Our house is full of one recounting or another – tales from the playground, scenes from the morning train, verbal imitations of ridiculous emails. Whether the vignettes of carefully curated objets is a reflection of us, or we are a reflection of the vignettes, only the universe knows.

But of all the figurative stories filling our space, my absolute favorite is the story of our dining room table, though “table” is perhaps a stretch. It is really a 1) porch post lathe from Springfield, Massachusetts on the bottom and 2) a parquet dance floor from a dance hall in Detroit on the top.

Clearly, the gentleman who was ingenious enough to put these two “objets” together to create one massive surface around which to gather and eat spoke my language. The table seats two as comfortably as it seats 20, it is magazine worthy (and has had its 15 minutes of fame as such), and it begs for stories – about its origins, about our origins, and about our collective destinations.

My youngest daughter and I are particularly good at supposing stories about the table’s history. We have imagined happy-go-lucky kids skating past rows of beautifully turned porch posts along tree lined streets in pick-your-city America, and we have imagined beautifully turned out couples sashaying across a dance floor in Detroit. We take turns in the telling of our made-up tales:

Her scene: a family twirls Christmas lights around their porch railing.

My scene: an elderly couple hold each other on their way up the porch steps.

Her scene: awkward steps on a crowded dance floor, and then the couple discovers the beat.

My scene: awkward dance partners on a streamer-strewn floor, and then the couple discovers each other.

Recently, my daughter asked me whether we could stand on the table: a plea to commune with our imagined suburbia and listen hard for the echoes of dancers’ steps.   I admit; I hesitated. Standing on the table felt – impolite. Unclean. A little scary.   And then I realized in agreeing to stand on my table neé porch-post-lathe-and-dance-floor, I was giving my daughter the very best of stories:

“The dining room table – climbed upon by me and my mother. I can still see the twinkle of lights. My mother can still feel the brush of the tulle.”

Mea Culpa

Calligraphy PenIt has been a very, very long time since I put “pen to paper.” To those of you who used to regularly follow and still occasionally check in, I am sorry. To those of you who have been kind enough to inquire after my three little sprites and my handsome man, yes. They are happy, healthy, and sunny. For that matter, so am I.

Some of the best advice I have ever received is, “Start where you are.”

And so…I write. Starting where I am.

And they Called her Mellow Yellow

As stated…and stated…and stated: I have three girls.  Yes, we have a lot of dresses.  Yes, we have a lot of tears.  Yes, we have very busy social calendars.  Normally, I don’t mind the busy social calendars too much.  I enjoy conversing with all of you cute mommies while doing the Pick-up-from-the-Party Polka, and as my daughters get older, I’ve discovered one of the best ways to learn about what is truly going on at school is to offer to load up thee carpool, and then shut up thee mouth.  Secrets previously untold will fly forth from the backseat, and you will suddenly be in the know and prepared to either initiate appropriate conversations or react thoughtfully to tough tween questions.

What I do not like about the Super Social Shuffle are the goody bags.  I know.  Now you think I’m a party-pooper.  It’s just that most of the time, what finds its way home from the party and into my house is candy the girls don’t need, and little trinkets my girls hoard until we are almost buried alive in superballs, cootie catchers and plastic moustaches.  I try to edit the bags as much as possible, but I confess, I usually get caught (hence the statement above about “lots of tears”).

Yellow GlowsticksRecently, what came home in said goody bag was a yellow glow stick.  Sounds harmless, right?  Maybe even a little helpful when playing an evening game of hide and seek or when trick-or-treating.  Yeah…nope.  This glow stick, much to my daughter’s surprise, broke when she snapped it, and the yellow goo exploded everywhere – including all over her face and into her eyes.

What ensued is enough drama to make a Shakespeare play look “tame” (get it?)…

My now yellow daughter was screaming that she had been rendered blind – the kind of gut-wrenching, blood-curdling, dear-god-maybe-she’s-right kind of screams.  And then my littlest one, never to be outdone in the drama department, pushed the accelerator to the floor.  Running through the house, stopping only to stare at her banana-esque sib, she began screaming even louder than her sis, and the chant went something like this: “You’re yellow!  She’s yellow!  She is always going to be yellow!  Her cheeks are yellow!  Her eyes are yellow!  Her lips are yellow!  Everywhere yellow, yellow, yellow!”  As I’m sure you can imagine, Big Sis didn’t find this reaction particularly reassuring.

Folks, we all have our finer parenting moments, and our not-so-finer parenting moments, and I confess, how I got this situation under control definitely falls into the latter category for me.  The bad news is that I think I stooped so low as to tell my youngest daughter she was beginning to turn purple (from all of the yelling, of course) and I instructed her to go look in the mirror.  The good news is that I am now the possessor of sage medical advice for broken-yellow-glow-stick-syndrome.

The answer…

A warm shower for the skin, warm water in the eyes.

And the moral of this story…

Have boys.*

*Just kidding, angels.  I love you, yellow and all.

Next Stop? The Food Channel!

Child ChefI know a little girl who truly enjoys her time in the kitchen. Not at the table eating, mind you, but at the counter preparing! She loves to slice, stir and sift, and she and her grandmother have signature dishes. Cooking classes are attended with all of the unrestrained enthusiasm only a seven-year-old can muster, and recently, she asked Santa to leave bakeware under the tree. I take enormous pleasure in supplying her with grown-up tools-of-the-trade that have little girl appeal: a pink hand-held blender for Christmas, polka-dot monogrammed cupcake bands for her birthday, and a cupcake “corer” so she can infuse her confections with chocolate, icing, cookie dough and brownie batter (just because).

One online site I frequently use as a go-to for this petite Paula is Sur La Table. I’ve discovered they sell many an appliance, utensil and gadget in appealing colors with easy-grip handles. Case in point: I love the icing spatulas, multi-purpose scrapers and assorted mixing bowls and measuring cups. I also really dig this pretty mortar and pestle set.  It may not be purple or pink, but I firmly believe (and this little Giada gem will back me up) there is much kid pleasure to be derived from grinding herbs into oblivion!

Mini Martha, if you’re reading this (and I know you’re smart enough even at age seven to do just that!), while I do not dig icing inside my cupcakes (though on the outside is just fine!), I do love, love, love zucchini in my pasta. Mi cocina es su cocina. Please approach it with reckless abandon!

To Market To Market

There are so many reasons to switch to reusable grocery bags. Yes, they are better for the environment. But did you know…these grocery bags can carry twice as much as a standard plastic grocery bag? They also feature nice long handles, which can make it easier to carry on your arm or shoulder, leaving your hands free to hold your car keys, or even better, your child’s hand. And most reusable bags are washable, which means if they do double duty and not only hold your groceries but also sports gear and beach paraphernalia, you can toss them in the washer for a quick clean before your next trip to the supermarket.

Lilly-Pulitzer-Market-BagAnd much to my delight, I was presented with a sweet selection of Lilly market totes as a hostess gift yesterday evening.  Preppy and adorable – feeling very confident no one will notice I’m shopping in my jammies with these little numbers on my arm!

Lovin’ Me Some Lemons

LemonMy family loves lemon bread. It’s a go-to snack and sometimes even breakfast at our table, and we like to enjoy it with fresh strawberries and a glass of milk. I have a couple of recipes for lemon bread, but this one is relatively easy to make, and since I have kids who like to assume control of the kitchen (except when what’s taking place in the kitchen is cleaning!), the more simple the recipe, the more likely our success.

What you need:

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon lemon juice (fresh is better!)

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup lowfat lemon yogurt

1/3 cup canola oil

1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

What you do:

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder. In another bowl, combine the egg, yogurt, oil and lemon juice. Stir into the dry ingredients until just moistened. Pour into an 8x4x2 inch loaf pan coated with nonstick cooking spray. Bake at 325 for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack.

Enjoy!  And hey…what’s that?  Leftover lemons?  Guess what you can do with those?

  • Keep them for a day by the sink.  Use them to remove fish, garlic, onion and other strong odors from your hands.
  • Stick them on your elbows while you’re reading to soften your skin (seriously!).
  • Rub lemon rind on chrome faucets to remove mineral deposits.
  • Pour 3-4 teaspoons of lemon juice into your humidifier to deoderize it.
  • Make a paste of lemon flesh and salt to remove stains from marble.

And here you thought I was going to say, “Make lemonade.”  Come on, I can’t always be a foregone conclusion!  😉

Oh! It’s You, Oatmeal!

Now that I’ve surpassed the age of 40 (please don’t tell my girls – they think I’m 29), I’m quickly learning those few extra calories I grab here and there actually stick…and in places about which I’m not too happy. So I’ve vowed to stop performing the old “pick off their plates” routine I’ve lately perfected (letter “P” anyone?). And it starts with breakfast. Those last bites of their waffles add up, and who knew donut holes can have as many as 70 calories? Yikes! According to my new Lose It app, I have to walk almost a mile to burn that off!

shutterstock_97491371So I’m making a commitment to oatmeal. Every day. First thing. My hope is it will keep me full (because sometimes my schedule demands that lunch runs late) and that I’m doing all sorts of good things for my body when I eat it: fiber, protein, antioxidants, lignans – yay! And what I’ve discovered is that if the plain oatmeal routine gets too boring, I can always doctor it up. Here are some delicious takes on this breakfast staple:

Almond Joy Oatmeal

1 cup dry old fashioned oats, water (as directed), 1 tablespoon shredded coconut, 1 scoop (about 1/4 cup) chocolate protein powder, sugar-free Da Vinnici coconut syrup, sugar-free Da Vinnici chocolate syrup

Apple Walnut Oatmeal

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal (not instant), 1 cup low-fat milk, 2 apples – cored and peeled and diced, 1/2 cup crushed walnuts, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Banana Cream Oatmeal

4 cups water, 2 cups quick-cooking oats, 2 bananas cut into thin coins, 1/2 cup non-fat sweetened condensed milk, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Blueberry Almond Oatmeal

1/4 cup steel-cut oats, 1/3 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, 1/4 cup milk, 1 tablespoon slivered almonds, 1 teaspoon ground flaxseed

Cherry Vanilla Oatmeal

1 and 3/4 cups water, 1 cup quick cooking oats, 1/4 cup dried cherries, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 2 tablespoons cherry jam

Now go tackle that drop-off line!

How to Order a Helping of Sanity

My family had a banner moment. Get that trophy ready.

shutterstock_27729742To kick off the long weekend, I made the decision to go out to eat. I skipped lunch on Friday to get my hair cut, and so I walked in the door that evening starving.  Taking the time to prepare a meal felt like food deprivation times ten.  And yet despite my hunger pangs, I was actually annoyed by my decision. The girls were really wound up, and I confess, I cringe at the thought of disruptive children in restaurants. And my cringe turns into a downright scowl when those children just happen to be mine.

But to my surprise – my girls hopped in the car, and I only had to ask once. Then they fastened their own seat belts. We arrived at the restaurant, and they waited quietly before we were seated. Then they sat down. My girls ordered, my oldest remembered to look the waitress in the eye, and all three girls threw in a couple of “pleases” and “thank yous” throughout the course of the meal.

It hit me. We had arrived. We were now a family capable of eating out together, without highchairs and coloring books and diaper bags full of “entertain me” tricks. I looked at a few of the families around me struggling to stave off children’s tears and tantrums while grown ups took one last bite of their entrees, and I remembered how hard it was, and I marveled at how easy it had become. And then, as most mothers do, I couldn’t help but think I would love one more hug post-tantrum, one more set of scribbles on paper that represent a plane or a princess or a portrait of me. For a brief moment, I wanted that time in my life, including those painful trips out to eat, back.

For those of you who are still there, here’s a list of tips for eating out with toddlers, courtesy of

Leave your fears at home. Most people don’t mind children in restaurants as long as they aren’t disruptive. We’re not talking four-star, staid establishments here. There are probably plenty of informal and excellent restaurants at your disposal. Moderately priced ethnic restaurants, trendy university hangouts, casual but elegant dining – these are all good choices. It’s okay to check them out!

Set reasonable expectations. Your child won’t be perfect, quiet, neat, and adventurous at first. Eating out is a skill and as usual, practice makes perfect.

Take the edge off. Feed your child a little something in the car on the way. Alternately, ask the wait staff for bread the moment you arrive.

Bring a little kit of supplies (toys, food, coloring books). Stock your wallet with emergency stickers and bandages for entertainment.

Don’t try to sneak your baby in. Introduce your baby to the host/hostess and say, “Zoe is really looking forward to your wonderful food!”

Sit near the door. If your child cries, take him or her outside immediately. Be firm with your child that he or she cannot reenter the restaurant until calm and quiet.

Take a walk immediately after you order your food. This could be around the restaurant or outside.

Set limits about where your antsy toddler can toddle. Around your table is fine, but the aisle is off-limits, as are other people’s tables.

Drape and cover. You might want to carry a small plastic drop cloth for under baby’s chair, especially if you know your chosen dining destination has nice rugs. Wait to shake until well outside.

When ordering food, don’t forget your child. A side order or two will make your toddler feel special and may actually land her something she likes. Little kids tend to enjoy food that comes in tiny bits (noodles, beans, peas, blueberries, cut-up fruit) and many don’t like their foods to touch each other.

Give your child tastes of your food. If you treat food and eating as an adventure, your child eventually will too.

Offer to clean up under the high chair when you’re done. The restaurant staff will refuse, but they’ll appreciate your offer.

Don’t ever change a baby or toddler at the table.

Leave a big tip.

Try to enjoy and appreciate. It doesn’t last long!

Hazelnuts: a Universal Language

When I was in college, I studied abroad in Luxembourg. I know.  This seems obscure.  And some of you may need to google a map of Europe.  Just be sure to also put on your glasses.  It’s the teeny tiny country squished in between Germany, France and Belgium that while small in square footage, is by no means small in history or charm.

I had the opportunity to live with Marie, a delightful, elderly woman whose sons forced her to board college students so that she would not be on her own. I think, in all honesty, Marie would have been just fine on her own. Marie read. Marie loved watching Oprah. Marie could cut up a chicken with a few simple snips of the kitchen scissors, and once I observed her dismantle and repair the pipes underneath the bathroom sink as if she were a licensed plumber. Marie painted her nails a new shade every night before she went to bed, and when I returned home, I sent her a box of the trendiest colors OPI had to offer. Marie was independent and “old school” self-reliant, and I suspect that somewhere inside her head she pitied her female college boarders who were helpless in the world by comparison.

Despite her many American boarders, Marie spoke no English. I of course was double majoring in Marketing and Spanish – not much help in the “communicate with Marie” department. And yet somehow we got by. She loved to show me the flowers in her garden, where there was always common ground to be had: tulip- tulipe, rose-rose, gardenia-gardenia – a ha! We understand each other!

shutterstock_61418674We also managed to limp through conversations in the kitchen. Yogurt-yaourt, croissant-croissant, chocolate-chocolat – a ha! Now we really understand each other, especially on this last one! Marie always placed a small square of chocolate next to my plate – with tea, with lunch, with dinner…and breakfast of course was nutella spread on croissants, toast and even crackers. I’ve never met a hazlenut I didn’t like since, and though I’m older now and have to eat healthier breakfasts if I want to fit into my jeans, every once in a while I’ll still buy a jar of Nutella out of nostagia.  It’s certainly cheaper than a ticket to Luxembourg, but for the record, it’s also far less enjoyable than a lovely European woman who can paint her nails and snake a drain with equal aplomb.

A Place at the Table

shutterstock_76105909My kitchen table is, in its own right, an accomplished piece of furniture. It is the site where meals, art projects, homework, pumpkin carving, egg dying, cookie decorating and gift wrapping takes place. Backpacks are deposited on top and shoes are kicked off underneath. It can support the goldfish bowl and the cereal bowls with equal finesse. And once I even caught it supporting three young children (who were quickly sent into a timeout for standing on the furniture).

The kitchen table has many a story to tell, most of which can be read on its surface: water rings, glitter glue and paint smears…chips, dents, scuffs and warps….A very long time ago I used to have the table refinished every year, but after child number three, I more or less threw in the towel and embraced the table’s well worn aesthetic. Lest you think I am completely turning a blind eye to the table abuse taking place in my kitchen, I do make a small attempt at preservation and insist on placemats underneath all art projects and meals. No, the mats don’t make much of a difference in terms of surface protection (we’re just that messy) but we have amassed a fun assortment of placemats over the years, and the girls enjoy selecting one from our little collection at mealtimes.

And so today, as a small homage to my bedraggled but faithful kitchen table, I’m telling everyone that One King’s Lane is featuring placemats, runners, cloths and coasters in an assortment of colors and patterns to spice (get it?) up your kitchen decor and conceal those table blemishes.

But now my duty is done.  While there’s no better way to attempt to preserve your table than with a charming set of placemats, you are on your own for attempts at getting the kids to set and clear it!