Category Archives: My life

Scratch Cook

The day I gave up cooking stands out in my memory because it started out as a day full of the best intentions. I was going to follow a recipe. I was going to be patient and let the flavors meld properly. I was definitely not going to cook the way I normally do, which is to google the list of food items that I happened to have in the cupboard at 5:30 pm and see if there was anything at all that could be made from them in a half hour or less.

My husband Steve is the real cook in our family. Let me just say that cook is a misnomer for what he actually does, which is craft gourmet-quality meals, using skills honed over a lifetime of working as a chemist. My only beef with Steve is that these exquisite repasts usually take hours to prepare and since he is chronologically challenged, often results in dinner being served anywhere from 7 pm to o-bed-thirty, by which time we are all starving and he could set a heaping bowl of gruel in front of us at that point and we’d gratefully eat it all up and ask for more.

Up to that day, I had always considered myself an okay cook in that I could take five or six ingredients and combine them to make a meal that would be, if not excellent, at least filling, and would probably not kill you. Almost as importantly, it’d be ready by 6. But lately, my offerings felt like they were lacking a certain something. Like taste, texture, toothsomeness. Steve was just so good and I’ve always been super competitive. Blame it on growing up as one of eleven children. I can’t even take a yoga class without hurting myself trying to prove I can bend over backwards a scootch more than that other grandma doing stretches next to me. 

I just wanted to make something without tuna in it for once and that everyone would sigh over and be grateful to eat, oh, and serve it at dinner time, which is when I’m hungry, versus 9 pm, which is when I’m slavering for any remotely food-like substance.

That day I carefully got out the crockpot, paged through the cookbook and selected a recipe. I figured a crockpot recipe was the perfect choice because it satisfied my need to produce something really tasty with only a half hour’s worth of effort. I could slap it together and forget about it until later. Piece of cake. This would also have the added advantage of preventing my usual end of day meltdown which was me realizing I needed to come up with something for dinner and no idea what it was going to be. 

Being the work-at-home parent back when the kids were small and Steve was working out of state, it fell to me to make dinner most of the time. I enlisted their help to make the decision as to what dinner was going to be. By the end of the day I just couldn’t muster up the energy to think of what to feed everyone. This resulted in a lot of “backwards dinners” where I’d serve ice cream or pass out the little yogurts. The kids didn’t complain but I felt a lot of guilt over this. I was the parent, dammit. I was supposed to make them eat vegetables at dinner time. There’s rules and things.

And the kids helped, each taking a couple days a week to choose what was going to be on the menu. We ate a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches (Sam), hamburgers (Nick), and pizza (Alice) back then. It all worked out.

Now, however, I felt like I was competing with Steve to make something more than just edible, hence the stab at crockpot cooking. I remember dutifully reading the ingredients list and layering meat, vegetables and broth into the pot, putting the lid on it and then waiting for the magic to happen.

All day I resisted the urge to peek under the lid to see how it was coming along. I mean, why worry? I was using a recipe! It couldn’t fail. People didn’t just put random instructions in cookbooks without checking to see if they worked first. There were test kitchens. I had heard of them. Probably this recipe had been tweaked at least fifty times before being added to the final edition of this cookbook.

At the crack of 6pm I opened the lid of the crockpot and gazed inside, anticipating juicy pork steaks in tomato sauce, artfully dotted with capers (I was pretty proud of the capers, thinking they lent a certain sophistication to the mix, without actually knowing what, in fact, they were). Instead I saw a crock pot full of dried out slabs of gristle in no sauce whatsoever, just red and green bits stuck to the sides of the pot. It was a disaster.

When Steve came home, I apologetically informed him that dinner was a failure and we would be ordering pizza. He lifted the lid, sniffed the contents, and said, “The capers were because…”, letting the sentence dangle. “They were called for in the recipe,” I said, not at all defensively. Then he tasted it and announced that if I had done three things, which he proceeded to describe in great detail and which I have since completely blocked from my memory, it would have been fine. Edible, in fact.

And that was the moment when I hung up my apron for good. In a hundred million years, I would never have been able to not only diagnose what was wrong with that glop in the crockpot, but to know what it would take to make it delicious. 

I was reminded of a time when I called in a repairman to fix the dryer. I’d already tried to repair it myself and managed to lose a screwdriver down the lint trap in the process. The repairman came over that same day. As I let him in and showed him the partly disassembled appliance skulking in the basement, one kid on my hip and the other toddling along behind, he told me something I’d forgotten until now. He said, “It’s okay that you don’t know how to do everything. You don’t have to be an expert at this. It’s okay for someone else to earn a living, too.”

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Cookie making time

Recently, Steve and I were making gingerbread cookies for Ludington’s Downtown Cookie Walk and I could only find one cookie sheet. Everyone knows you need two cookie sheets in order to make cookies in the most efficient way possible. While one sheet is in the oven, you can load up the second sheet so it’s ready to go in soon as the first one is done.

I knew we had a second cookie sheet somewhere and could picture it in my head. I dimly recalled making something with it (apple slices? nachos?) between the time we’d moved into this house and now. That ruled out the storage unit but left open the possibility it was lurking somewhere in the house or the garage. 

Steve and I were methodical in our search for it. We took turns getting down on our hands and knees to look in the very backs of all the bottom cupboards (nope), and then we tried the tops of all the shelves (nada), the gaps between all the appliances (zilch), and then the cupboard over the fridge, which necessitated first clearing off all the stuff on top of it in order to get the doors open (which also explains why the cupboard turned out to be completely empty—why bother to put anything in there when it’s easier to pile it in front?—whereupon I immediately nominated that space for storing liquor, which still needs to find a designated forever home after the move, but Steve said it’d be a pain in the patootie for any future drunks looking for a quick shot, so it’s still empty, in case you were wondering.)

This is a problem with moving into a new house. The place where you first put things usually ends up being the place where you always put things, no matter how inconvenient it may turn out to be later. Like cookie sheets, for instance.

This morning I found it behind the fridge, and I know it was me who put it there, because I remember thinking it was a good idea at the time. It’s a narrow, vertical space, and cookie sheets definitely fit there, but it’s also much, much closer to dog fur, of which we have a plethora, and which now covered it, front and back.

What was I thinking?

The answer is that I wasn’t thinking at all, or I wasn’t thinking very hard, or possibly I was distracted by the next thing on my list, which in no way involved making a once and for all decision about where it would be best to store flat items that only get used once a month, if ever.

The upshot is that it took longer than it should have to bake a hundred cookies, not least because we spent some of that time in a fruitless search for a cookie sheet.

But we had fun looking, which is the most important thing. And it made a memory, which would never have happened if the cookie sheets had both been in the same place at the same time. Have you ever noticed that it’s the things you’re not expecting that last the longest time in your head? 

As for the cookies, we iced them to look like reindeer skeletons with red noses and then called them “Rudolphs, Deconstructed” for the Cookie Walk. They were both creepy and delicious. A nice balance, I think.

skeleton reindeer gingerbread cookies
Rudolphs, Deconstructed.

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pastel painting of a wave crashing

Bring on the floaties!

I’ve stopped giving the sky the stink eye, finally convinced that no more of that evil white stuff is about to come out of it.

And in true hamster-in-a-wheel fashion, I’ve leapfrogged over spring entirely and sat down and made a list of what I hope to accomplish this summer.

Number 1, swim more. Last year I meant to, but actually only made it to the lake once. I remember the day very well. I was in a panic because the summer had come and gone and I hadn’t yet gotten wet anywhere besides my shower.

“Let’s go swimming,” I told my beloved one gloriously warm day in early September and he said, “Sure!” because that’s what he always does. Steve’s my personal enabler and that’s why I love him so much.

So we put on our bathing suits and headed out the door. We planned to stop at the Walhalla Walmart (Dollar General) and pick up whatever they had left by way of floatation devices. Steve came out with a couple of air mattresses and with that we were well on our way to blissing out on the water somewhere.

Unfortunately, Steve had in mind that this would be Walen Lake, which is out in the middle of nowhere in the Manistee National Forest. I imagined a shoreline crowded with cattails, alive with bloodsuckers, all under a cloud of mosquitos. “Seriously?” “Yeah, let’s just go check it out real quick.” “Fine.”

Fortunately for me, when we got there it was cheek to jowl with trailers, tents and people with dogs. “Nope.” Back we raced to Round Lake and pulled up at the township park by the crack of 4 o’clock. All the running around had given me ample time to finish blowing up the inflatables so we were set.

We hurried down to the water and then walked about a mile out into the lake whereupon we flopped onto our air mattresses and didn’t move again for a straight hour and a half, unless it was to paddle farther out, away from the splishers and splashers closer in to the water’s edge. To be honest, I didn’t even do that much. I just grabbed Steve’s feet and let him tow me.

We dodged the odd pontoon boat and a flotilla of loons, speculated about whether or not the big painted turtle bobbing in the distance was hungry enough to go after our piggy wiggies, and baked in the afternoon sun. It was heaven.

And this year I mean to repeat myself at least twice a week from June through August. I mean it. I’ve already decided to wear a bathing suit to the studio every day just so I’ll be ready to hit the beach at the drop of hat.

I mean, what’s the point of living where all the lakes are if you never swim in them?

So that’s my list for the summer. Do you suppose I’ve forgotten anything?


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Dark Over Light

pastel painting of a landscape, trees, road, lake, sky

Dark Over Light, 6×9″ pastel on sanded paper. ©2018 Marie Marfia

On Saturdays I visit my mother-in-law. We moved her to Ludington not very long ago to have her closer to us. It used to be a 3 hour drive to go see her and now it’s a half hour or less. She’s only been in the memory care unit for a few weeks and she’s still trying to adjust.

Sometimes she’s feeling pretty good about things. But a lot of times she’s depressed. She knows her memory is failing and she doesn’t know anyone in the new place. It’s hard on her. Steve and I come see her 3-4 times a week.

Last Saturday I took her for a drive. We went to the beach and then to the boat landing by the river. Then we went back to the memory care place and worked on a jigsaw puzzle for a while. She got sleepy and decided to take a nap.

I sat on the floor in her room, waiting for her to nod off. She said, “You’ll be gone when I wake up.” I explained that I would be back again soon, that her son would be coming to visit in two days.

“You guys sure take good care of me,” she said.

“That’s because we love you,” I said.

“I love you, too.” she said.

“I know.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because you tell me all the time.”

“How do you know I’m telling the truth?”

“You have an honest face.”

That seemed to satisfy her. She leaned back and closed her eyes. I waited until I knew she was asleep and then left.

This painting is on ebay as of 9pm tonight. Bidding starts at 99¢.

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So very much of me to love

…for the last time

When I was looking for Christmas lights last week in the storage unit, I accidentally found the bathroom scale. It was wrapped in a towel, at the bottom of a box full of linens. I thought, Oh, Steve will be thrilled because he’s been wondering where it was and threatening to buy a new one ever since we moved.

At first, he was happy.

“Yay! You found the scale! Thank you!”

Fast forward three days. Steve says, “I need you to take the scale back.”

“What?”

“It’s not good. I was happier before I knew how much I weighed.”

“Why, how much do you weigh?”

“None of your business.”

“Is it more than (insert number here)?”

“No!”

The discussion then moved on to all the people we know that weigh more than him and after a while he felt better. Crisis averted.

But weight! There’s more!

Frankly, I was of two minds whether to bring it back at all. It’s been nice not knowing how much I weigh for a whole year. Right up until someone told me, which, in this case, happened at the doctor’s office, during my yearly exam. “167,” the nurse said. Later she asked me if I was feeling depressed and I told her, “Hell yes I’m depressed! Did you not see that I now weigh 167 pounds?”

How I used to do it

It was right about then I knew I needed to re-think my weight management tactics. Up until now, I’ve always used two basic methods to keep track of how I’m doing. One is the How Well Do My Jeans Fit (HWDMJF) test and the other is the Pee My Pants (PMP) test.

The HWDMJF test works like this. I buy a single brand and size of jeans, and for me those are Gloria Vanderbilt, size 14. When I can no longer get into them, I know it’s time to cut back on my food intake and up my daily exercise time. Simple.

The PMP test is simple, too. If I accidentally pee my pants while either a. laughing, or b. sneezing, then I know it’s time to drop some poundage.

Except the last two pair of GV jeans that I brought home were really loose on me. So loose, I had to go back and buy a belt to keep the crotch from tripping me while I walk. I know for a fact that I’ve never been larger in my life than I am right now. So this means that some time between the last time I bought blue jeans, probably 2014, and last month, Gloria Vanderbilt made their size 14 jeans bigger. This means that I can no longer rely on Gloria to keep me informed about a weight overage, damn her.

Which leaves only the PMP test, and, of course, the problem with the PMP test is it relies on damp underwear to work.

There’s a new test in town

I know there’s a better way, and likely it will rely heavily on numbers. Facts and figures, along with being told what to do by inanimate objects, like bathroom scales and calorie counting apps, are some of my least favorite things in the world. I’d rather believe in the fantasy that allows for things like bonbons for breakfast and a second beer at dinner and fifteen minute walks with the dogs to keep my weight under control.

But there comes a time in a girl’s life when she has to stop living in a dream world and grow up. For me, that time is discovering that I’m 57 years old and weigh 167 pounds. So I’m hereby putting myself on notice. No more PMP or HWDMJF tests. From now on, it’s the SOTSAFTF (Stand On The Scale And Face The Facts) test or nothing.


Do you like my writing? Why not sign up for my newsletter and get it delivered straight to your inbox? G’wan. You know you want to! The sign up is on the right. Talk to you soon! –Marie

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Black angus bull munching on a haystack that probably has at least one bug in it

Going buggy

It could have been worse. It could have been assassin bugs or spiders. If it had been assassin bugs or spiders, I probably would have made Steve drive back home and never slept in the camper again. But it was stinkbugs. They don’t bite and they’re kind of comical. They toddle rather than creep, half inch long odiferous shields with legs. I thought they smelled like raspberries. Steve thought they smelled like Jolly Rancher green apple candy, but then, he’s a chemist and he’s got a much more discerning sense of smell than me.

Bugging out

We were on our way south to visit our son, some friends, and also to pick up some of my artwork. We took the camper to save some money. On the first night we happened across few stinkbugs sleepily wandering around in it.

“Hey, there’s another one!”

“I found two in the bathroom. Out you go, little stinkbugs.”

They were easy to catch, slow moving and tickley in the palms of our hands. We lobbed five or six of them out the door of the camper and congratulated ourselves on how merciful we were being.

“Go hibernate somewhere else, you little pests! Haha.”

Things get (b)ugly

Two nights later, in a state park in Ohio, I woke up, heart racing, because I’d felt something crawling on my face. Earlier, we’d found about a dozen more stinkbugs hiding in the folds of the curtains that enclosed the bed. Steve was gently snoring next to me. There was a little light coming through the camper window but I couldn’t see anything, couldn’t feel anything. I probably just dreamed it, I thought. I pulled the covers over my head, just in case, and went back to sleep.

The next morning, I stared at the camper mattress and thought, “I wonder how many stinkbugs would fit under there?” I picked it up and looked underneath. Turns out the answer is lots and lots.

We immediately began hurling them outside by the handful.

“Gah!

“Gross!”

There’s a limit

As we got farther south, we found more and more stinkbugs. They flew out of the AC unit in the ceiling, they crowded together in the storage areas under the seats, they were hiding behind the valances over the windows. It looked like a stinkbug rave party. It felt like a plague. Around North Carolina, we started to question the wisdom of letting them live.

“Should we be killing these things? Are stinkbugs an invasive species?”

As usual, when squishing insects is required, I cede all control to Steve, who is the man and supposed to take care of these things.

“Hand me a paper towel, please? I found some more.”

“I hate stinkbugs.”

“Me, too.”

We ended up leaving a trail of stinkbug corpses in every state between here and Orlando. I feel bad about this, but not that bad.

Black angus bull munching on a haystack that probably has at least one bug in it

©2017 Marie Marfia, Dumbo Tucks In, 6×9″ pastel on paper. This is one of our friend Doug’s bulls. He named him Dumbo because of his floppy ears and sweet disposition. This painting is on ebay.

And the point is…

The trip wasn’t completely dominated by stinkbugs, fortunately. I got to have dinner with my favorite group of homeschool moms. Steve and I stayed on his friend’s cattle farm for a few days and I did graphic design work on the deck in 70 degree weather. My favorite part of the trip, though, was seeing our son, Nick. He looked really good, healthy and not starving at all, plus he taught us an obnoxious card game that we can’t wait to inflict on friends and family up here, just as soon as we remember the rules.

My friends, as always, told me in no uncertain terms what I already suspected was true, which in this case was that I had to quit sending my kids job listings via email. My son also imparted an important lesson to me, showing me he was fine and that all the stewing that I do in the middle of the night, whether brought on by actual bugs or merely what’s bugging me at the moment, is all about me and not him. He looked pretty wonderful, and required no help, just love, thankyouverymuch. I’m glad we went to see him. It was worth all the stinkbugs just for that.

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