When we were living in Denver with our three young children, I once sent Hannah into our terraced back yard to see what her little brother might be up to. After a few moments, she came back in and reported that he was "happy as a gorilla." Well, it didn't take long for that hilarious phrase to make into our family lexicon. Whenever someone was pleased and content with what they were doing, they were described as being "happy as a gorilla."
That little saying actually describes me these days. I've just started a big freelance assignment for my former employer, the Nemours Children's Health System. I get to do many of the things I liked best about my job and not have to deal with with office drama, frequent meetings or labor-intensive special events. I can come to work in my PJs if I want and work when it's convenient for me. Nemours is based on the East Coast and I am in Texas, but it matters not. I can communicate through phone calls, email and PDFs to get the job done. In fact, in my nine years at Nemours, I worked with a talented designer in Jacksonville, FL to publish a bi-annual, 16-page magazine, as well as many other publications. We always made it work despite the distance and enjoyed our working relationship.
So it was with pleasure that I dived right into the task of evaluating the patient stories currently running on their web site. Many are outdated, with the patients now college-age. In fact, a large proportion were written by yours truly! I sorted through nearly 80 stories and decided which ones should be discarded. Then I pulled stories from back issues of Together magazine and other sources. Existing stories will need to be edited and updated. I will be interviewing patient families to glean new accounts of patient care. I always enjoyed the interview process, learning about families, their child's condition and their medical treatment. Editing web content to make it more readable and concise will also be part of my work, as most people are reading content on their phone, rather than their laptop or desktop computer.
In some ways, I guess I've flunked retirement. I like to stay busy, whether its caring for my three grandchildren, doing a sewing project like making keepsake pillows out of my mom's wedding gown or writing this blog. Like the old saying goes: "if you rest, you rust." I have no intention of rusting and hope to keep writing as long as I can, happy as a gorilla.
It's the time of year when summer activities wind down, school begins and plans are put in place for the next few months. It's still very hot here in North Texas, with temps often nearing the century mark. The kids are still swimming in our pool when they can and will probably continue into late September or even early October. School started last week, with new routines for everyone. Booker, now a fifth grader, walks to our house after school and may begin riding his bike. Lena takes an early school bus to Kimberlin Academy for Academic Excellence and Noah gets dropped off at our house around 7:15, still in his PJs, to have breakfast, get dressed in his Primrose uniform and have a little playtime before he is delivered to school at 8:15.
On Saturday, Hannah is treating me to a quick trip to Salt Lake City and Park City, Utah. Neither of us have been there before and we look forward to enjoying cooler temperatures, sightseeing and mountain air. A highlight of our trip will be seeing the cast of Nashville in one their farewell tour concerts. Then its back home early Monday so that she can spend some time with the kids before the work week begins.
Lena has resumed Tae Kwon Do sessions after school and is starting a hip hop dance class on Saturday. Booker is taking a tap class at Dallas Ballet and will be playing Little League Baseball. Noah is playing "Blastball", an introduction to baseball for four-year-olds. Andy and I begin the 10-week Rowlett Citizens Police Academy on Thursday. Life is busy for all of us.
Before we know it, it will be time for Hannah and Reagan's annual Friendsgiving gathering, which brings together about 80 friends, neighbors and work colleagues for a pre-holiday celebration. Then the holidays are upon us, with a special surprise in the offing I can't talk about yet!
As one of my favorite songs goes, we're living A Life That's Good.
Among the many memories my siblings and I have of our mother, one of the best is her famous potato salad. When we were growing up, it made an appearance at almost every family get-together, especially in the summer. Because my dad disliked onions, she would put some in a bowl for him and then add onions in the rest of it. Most of us were guilty of sneaking a big spoonful out of the fridge well before the meal for which it was intended! It is rather labor-intensive, a fact I didn't entirely appreciate until I started making it myself. Mom insisted that to best retain all the flavor of the potato, the chunks should be cooked with the skin on, and the dressing added while the potatoes were still warm. She cooked the potatoes in a pressure cooker, but I just do mine on top of the stove. Fairly late in her life, Mom shared with me that once she was out of mayonnaise, so Marzetti's Slaw Dressing was substituted and used from that point forward. So here you go - enjoy!
Barbara's Potato Salad
5 lbs. russet potatoes
6 stalks of celery, diced
1 large sweet onion, diced small
8 hard-cooked eggs, chopped fine
1 jar of Marzetti's Slaw Dressing (look for it with the salad dressings or in the refrigerated case in produce)
1/4 cup of yellow mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash the potatoes and cut each one into six equal pieces. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the potatoes. When the water has come back to a boil, cook for an additional 10 minutes or until the potatoes are fork-tender. Drain in a colander and let cool for 10 minutes. The peels should have partially separated from the potato. Use a small knife to finish removing them and cut the potatoes into 1/2 inch dice. Add the celery, onion, eggs and top with the slaw dressing and mustard, as well as salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. I recommend tasting it again and adding more salt and pepper as needed. Makes a very large bowl of potato salad - enough to feed 8-10.
P.S. Sometimes I add diced red pepper, diced pickles or chopped parsley to dress it up a bit.
Yesterday, our middle kid turned 43. I remember my father warning me that it would go by really fast and indeed it has. Hannah Christine Barabasz was born just 19 months after her sister. I paced the halls of St. Joseph's Hospital in Denver, Colorado the night before she was born (in those days they let you check in the day before), wondering what tomorrow would bring, since the baby's sex was unknown. Hannah's sister Alison had decided to enter the world one foot first (a single footling breech), requiring an emergency C-section, so I would deliver that way again.
My wonderful obstetrician, Lloyd Shield, MD, had audiotaped the baby's heartbeat during my pregnancy and also taped the delivery, since I had been given a general anesthetic. I played that tape over and over again, trying to capture the moment she was born. The nurse can be heard saying, "This baby has red hair, doctor", announcing the Apgar score and her weight (8 lb. 3 oz.) Soon, I woke up and Hannah was placed in my arms. My mom had come from Toledo to care for Alison while I was in the hospital for an entire week and for a few days after.
Life was pretty hectic after that. Andy traveled a lot with his job, so I was often flying solo caring for these two little girls. Between baths, feedings, diapers and playtime, it was exhausting. The only thing that kept me from going insane was my volunteer work with the Junior League, when I could dress up a bit and talk to adults. We had also formed a gourmet group with neighbors that focused on a different cuisine each month, which was a lot of fun. There were so many kids on our block, we laughingly called it "Rabbit Row".
Time passed swiftly. We moved to a larger home on the Ken-Caryl Ranch southwest of Denver. Peter was born when Hannah was just over two years old, completing our family of five. Two years later, we moved to Berwyn, PA, where we would reside for the next 16 years. It was a great place to raise a family, with the kids staying in the same school district for grades K-12. We loved Philadelphia and were within a few hours drive from New York and DC.
I'll confess that those first few years with three kids under the age of four are a bit of a blur. Our family photos remind me of holidays, birthdays, family visits and trips to Clear Lake in the summer. As crazy as life was, I wouldn't have traded it for anything. Happy birthday, Hannah!
I may not be famous, but I can claim minor celebrity among my friends, family and former co-workers for one thing - my scones. It started with a Sunset Bread Cookbook given to me 50 years ago at a bridal shower. On the last page was a recipe for cream scones. One day I didn't have the heavy cream called for, so I substituted yogurt. Voila! The resulting product was light and delicious, a distinct improvement. I began making them frequently, often taking a batch into the office to the delight of my colleagues. The basic recipe is wonderful all on its own with jam, but I often add ingredients such as dried cranberries, dried apricots or pears, and/or chocolate chips.
When I announced my retirement from the Nemours Fund for Children's Health, I honestly thought my office mates were going to cry because there would be no more scones. Houseguests have come to expect them. When my daughter Hannah hosts a brunch, I bring a double batch. Recently, I had my daughters, their friends and little girls over for a breakfast while we watched the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Scones were one of the featured menu items, of course, since it was a British event. In fact, years ago, when Prince Charles and Diana wed, I invited my next door neighbor to join me and the girls for tea and scones. So here's the recipe, easy to make and ready to slide into the oven in about the same time it takes for it to preheat.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, cut in chunks (do not substitute margarine)
2 eggs (separate one and reserve the white) beaten
1/3 cup plain, lemon, or vanilla yogurt
Sugar for topping
Place all dry ingredients in bowl of food processor. Add butter and pulse for a minute. Then add egg and egg yolk, yogurt and pulse until dough just begins to come together in clumps. Do not overmix. Turn out onto floured surface and gently knead in ½ cup or more of raisins or other dried fruit. Nuts or chocolate chips can also be added. You may want to add ½ t. of vanilla, almond, or lemon extract, as well as cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg or other flavorings, such as lemon or orange zest. Take the ball of dough and divide in half. Flatten each half into a disk. Cut each disk into four pieces (or eight for mini-scones). Beat the remaining egg white with a fork and brush onto the top of each scone. Put some sugar on a plate and lightly press the scone wet side down into the sugar. Place on an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. These are best eaten immediately. Freeze leftovers and enjoy another day.
Note: if you do not have a food processor, use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter is in very small pieces (less than the size of a pea). Then proceed with the rest of the recipe.
Keeping three grandchildren occupied (with something other than iPads) during the summer is a challenge for working parents and grandparents. Noah is the easiest - he has continued in his preschool class at The Primrose School, which he loves. Every other week, they have splash day, where they get to come to school in the bathing suits and frolic in the small water park in the school yard. He's already working on writing the alphabet and does all kinds of art projects. Lena and Booker attended a drama camp for a month and participated in six performances of The Wizard of Oz. Booker went to the police camp sponsored by the local police department with several of his friends. Lena attended the school district's day camp for two weeks, one centered on the American Girl doll and the other on cooking. They went to a local pizza place and learned how to make a pie, which they consumed, of course. With camp experiences over, they spend some days with us and some with Alison on her days off from work. They swim in our pool, play board games and watch movies, since it's been way too hot to spend much time outside. Lena and I baked blueberry muffins this morning, with her doing most of the measuring and mixing.
School begins in just a few weeks. Noah moves up to a Pre-K class, where they wear uniforms and dispense with naps.
Lena will begin third grade at the Kimberlin Academy for Excellence (a school for gifted students), which means she'll ride the school bus for the first time. Booker will finish elementary school in fifth grade at Keeley Elementary. But first, we'll spend a few days together at Horseshoe Bay, near Austin, where Hannah has rented a cottage on the lake. It will still be in the upper nineties, but I'm sure we'll have a cool breeze to look forward to, as well as swimming, boating, fishing and just hanging out. When school begins, we'll settle into a more familiar routine, with us getting Lena and Noah off to school each morning. Andy and I have enrolled in the Rowlett Citizens Police Academy, a ten-week course that begins at the end of this month, where we'll learn all about law enforcement, ride with an officer, drive a patrol car on an obstacle course and go to the shooting range. More about that later!
I'm Chris Barabasz, retired from a 35-year career managing communications for health care development (that's fundraising for you civilians). I'm a wife, mother, grandmother and freelance writer. My husband Andy and I moved from Delaware to Texas to be closer to our daughters and three adorable grandchildren.