Pre-Owned and Pre-Loved

When I know I’m going to have an extra trying day, I like to wear my Nana’s wedding necklace. A simple crystal ball with a band of diamond chips, there’s nothing flashy or extraordinary about it. But, being able to reach up and touch it and feel its simple weight against my skin is so comforting. There’s a story behind it, it has a history all its own.

I love objects that have a history. Some of most prized possessions are ones that were given to me or ones that I found. Sure, I love shiny, new things and I love picking something of my very own, catering to no tastes but mine. But, there’s something special about things that have been passed down. There’s something magical about buying a cookbook at a yard sale or antique fair (I collect old cookbooks) and finding notes and annotations written in some unknown hand. It’s like you get to share a tiny part of someone else’s life, like you get a window into their world.

It’s irresistible.

I’m an only child, so I don’t have anything that was passed down from brothers or sisters, but I have quite a few things that were owned before I got them. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Nana’s wedding necklace: I used to play with it at her house all of the time and, finally, she just told me to keep it.
  • Travelling Elephant
  • My Dad’s copy of The Lord of the Rings: My dad bought them, but my mom used them, too (they have known each other since she was 16). Both of them wrote notes in the margins, sometimes to each other. When they were going through their divorce, I used to sneak down and read the notes. It was comforting to see that, somewhere, they still saw eye-to-eye.
  • The Boston Cooking School Cookbook: One of the people who had this book took serious issue with some of the recipes. Her notes are hilarious. I think we would have been great friends.
  • Shoes from my Aunt Mary: The woman has a serious love of shoes and, when she was younger, her feet were almost as tiny as mine. Though I can mostly fit in her boots (since I can wear socks), she’s given me some great pairs.

And, a hand-me-down that I really want? The jewelry box that my Pappy made for my Grandma when they were in high school. It’s covered with tiny wooden hearts and engraved with her name. The best part? He misspelled her name! Ha. I love it.

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Mangia!

I could never understand (non-allergy related) picky eaters. There are so many varieties and tastes and textures and combinations that it always seemed crazy to limit yourself to a few choice items. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? It tastes gross and you spit it out? That it leaves you with a weird taste in your mouth that you get rid of by brushing your teeth and/or eating copious amounts of something you love?

Maybe I’m just spoiled. I was raised by a family that always encouraged me to try new things without pressure to continue eating (or doing) something that I hated. I grew up eating pigeon soup and scrapple and any vegetable that my pappy could grow in his garden. When we went out to dinner, I was able to order from the regular menu instead of sticking to the chicken fingers and hot dog heavy children’s version. My favorite dinner as a kid? Strip steak with sauteed mushrooms (and tons of garlic!), roasted or mashed potatoes, and broccoli.

Today, I’ll eat almost anything anyone puts in front of me. Fish eyes? Check. Foie gras soup? Double-check. I especially love going to a restaurant that offers a chef’s or tasting menu. Not knowing what’s going to be given to me is part of the fun!

I like also trying and playing around with unexpected (some might say unusual) flavor combinations, both at home and when I’m out. This past weekend, The Dude and I went to Princeton, NJ and got ice cream at The Bent Spoon. I loved the sweet basil and lavender mascarpone ice creams, and can’t wait to go back and try the sweet corn w/ old bay or the ricotta. I love when something as familiar as ice cream can turn into something new and exciting.

One of my favorite unexpected flavor moments happened at Christmas dinner a few years ago. Since The Dude’s gluten free, we brought some almond cookies from a local bakery for his dessert (and to share with the rest of my family). Thinking the cookies were a bit too sweet, my uncle decided to eat them with a bite of blue cheese. I remember him chuckling after the first bite, his eyes lighting up. Skeptical, I tried it, too.  It was wonderful: sweet, tangy, and perfectly balanced. We still talk about it.

That’s another thing I love about food and eating: the connection between food and memory. Not only are there so many varieties and combinations of tastes, but my strongest, most vivid memories are associated with food. And, for me, meals with an unexpected element are always much more memorable than the ordinary ones. So, take a deep breath, order something new, and mangia.

Have Elephant, Will Travel

When I was six, I found a small, gray elephant.

No, not a real one. It’s a wooden elephant, dove gray with white eyes and white lines to outline his ears and legs and tusks. I found him in a hotel room when I was at the beach with my parents, aunt, uncle, and cousin. Though I had been on trips before (to Disney, to Cherrystone, Virginia), this is my first memory of staying in a hotel room and not with family or in my grandparents’ trailer.  I thought it was all very glamorous. Glamorous, and a little overwhelming.

See, my mom is a bit of a neat freak. So, before we got to the hotel, she warned me dozens of times to not touch anything without asking her first. Always an obedient child (seriously obedient; I was never even close to grounded.), I readily agreed, nervous that there were germs and other icky things  just waiting to jump out at me. At first, I was good and didn’t touch anything. Scratch that, I was afraid to touch anything.

But, then, while she was unpacking and I was exploring, I found that little elephant. He was just sitting there, tucked between the bed and nightstand. It was like he was waiting for me. I picked him up, giggled, and put him in the pants of my favorite doll (clearly, the world’s best hiding spot).

And, I never said a word to my mom.

Elephant

Traveling Elephant in Tintagel, England

Since that day, I’ve always known where he is, my little wooden friend. He’s been with me to Mexico and London and everywhere in between, slept with me when my parent’s got divorced, and made me feel safe during my first solo trips. He’s become a talisman of sorts, a traveler that goes where I go, that helps me get where I need to be.

He’s not something that I look at every day, or even every month. Sometimes, I forget he’s there. But, as soon as I plan a trip, or need a bit of direction, he pops into my head and I find him on The Dude’s nightstand or in an inside pocket of my purse and I reassure myself that he’s there, waiting to travel with me again.

Oh, his name? Predictably, unimaginatively: Traveling Elephant.

Things I Miss in Disney: Pappy

When I was 6 or 7 my grandparents took two of my cousins and me (and, our moms) to Disney World. For part of the trip, I was sick – not sick enough to not be in the parks, just sick enough to have no energy. My youngest cousin refused to let me ride in her stroller when I got tired, so my Pappy carried me everywhere. I don’t remember very  much about that trip, but I do remember him holding me.

I also remember sitting next to him in the Tiki Room and hearing him sing along. He’s never had a good voice.

One of my most vivid childhood memories is being in Disney World with him and going on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. I’ve always been small for my age, so this was my first “big girl” roller coaster. I remember standing in line and watching the train speed around the tracks and hearing those tracks rattle as it moved around. I remember clutching his hand and thinking that I didn’t think anything could go as fast as that train.

I was terrified.

I was terrified, but determined to do it. Pappy had been talking about this ride and promised that I would love it. He would never lie to me, I knew (and, still know). My Pappy, the strongest man in the world, would make sure I was safe.

I remember getting into the train car next to him. I remember him putting his arm around me and scooting me closer. I remember his telling me to hold on tight.

And, I remember him smiling from ear to ear.

We took off into the darkness of the mine. I remember getting splashed by water and screaming and we started to pick up speed. I remember looking over at him as we emerged from the mine and seeing his face filled with joy. I remember that, suddenly, I wasn’t afraid anymore.

And, I remember him looking at me and laughing. I remember that I started laughing, too.

It could have been yesterday: my Pappy and I, him in his brown polo shirt and with his arm around me, racing around a Disney-made mountain and smiling and laughing like we didn’t know how to stop.

Now, my Disney memories are made with The Dude, something I love and would never change.  Still, a part of me will always miss being there with my grandfather; I miss seeing that wonder in his eyes as he sees a new show or rides a new ride. Even now, when I go on Soarin’ or see Enchanted Tales with Belle, I think about how much he would have loved it.

My Pappy is still very much alive, but our days of Disney travelling are, I think, done. But, that memory of laughter and safety and joy never will be. Whenever I go on Thunder Mountain or hum the Tiki Room song, I’ll remember all over again.

And, I’ll smile like I don’t know how to stop.

Books from Childhood

“When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” – Kathleen Kelly (played by Meg Ryan),You’ve Got Mail

Today would have been Nora Ephron’s 73rd birthday. I can’t think about Nora Ephron without thinking about You’ve Got Mail (one of my favorite girly movies!) and I can’t think about You’ve Got Mail without thinking about the above quote.

I really couldn’t agree more with Kathleen Kelly. I read a lot now, but very few things stick with me the way books from my childhood have. Here are five books/series that I remember most. In all cases, I have re-read the books more times than I can count:

  1. Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Patricia C. Wrede
    This is my absolute favorite series. It’s the one I pick up if I’ve had a really hard week and just need to lose myself for a little while. It’s the one that I turn to when I’m sad or lonely or just plain cranky. I love that Cimorene hates being a princess because it’s boring and that she’d rather cook and learn Latin and be a dragon’s princess. I love the hints of other fairy tales and the witch that gets in trouble for having too many cats and not having a warty nose. I love that the King of Dragons is a job title and that gender doesn’t matter. Being curled up on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, drinking a cup of tea, and reading any of the books in this series (though, Calling on Dragons is my favorite!) makes for a pretty perfect day.
  2. A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett
    I really wanted to be friends with Sara Crewe. In the blink of an eye, she went from having everything to having nothing, and still remained kind, imaginative, and full of joy. She gave me a new meaning of princess, one that didn’t have to have fancy dresses or jewels to be beautiful and special.
  3. Grimm’s Fairy Tales
    I have always loved fairy tales and folkore, and I especially loved reading the original stories that inspired Disney movies, no matter how gruesome they could be. Later in life (when wearing my anthropologist hat), I was particularly interested in what the myths, legends, and lore of a group could tell you about their culture. My favorite stories? Jorinda and Joringel and The Twelve Dancing Princesses.
  4. Nancy Drew Mysteries, Carolyn Keene
    In elementary school, we had a library period at least twice a week. Each period, I would borrow at least one Nancy Drew book until I had read them all more than once. I wanted to be Nancy when I grew up; she was poised and feminine and respected and whip-smart. Plus, she was a detective which I still think sounds like an awesome job. I loved everything about her (even if her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, was kind of a lunk). The thing I remember most about the books? Hearing my mom read them to me; she loves them as much as I do.
  5. Harry Potter Series, J.K. Rowling
    Even though I didn’t start reading Harry Potter until I was in junior high/high school, I simply can’t leave them off of any list of favorite books. I still read the entire series every year and I still miss the hype and fervor that surrounded any new book release. There’s truly something in the books for everyone. They show you that sometimes evil is pink and fluffy, that the most unlikely hero can save the day, and that anyone can be capable of encompassing, enduring love.