For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
This is dedicated to my Mother and Father who taught me what had real meaning in life. May their example live on through this blog and be shared with everyone who reads it. To those of you with less than perfect childhoods, my parents had many surrogate children (sister’s and brother’s from another mother if you know what I mean! J). They were always welcome at our dinner table and I hope you know that you are welcome and loved here. The door is always open…
Mom, I have always aspired to be the mother you were and exhibit your grace. (Not so sure I have accomplished this yet as they are some pretty big shoes to fill, although I must say, by the looks of my costume jewelry collection I think I’m running a close second in the style department J)
To my children, granddaughter, fiancée, family and friends who collectively are my“True North”. You are the oil that keeps my motor running. Jackie, you are my soul mate and best girlfriend. Ian, I cannot imagine living my lifewithout you. Your talents, humor and kind heart thrill and amaze me. Haley, you are the energy in my day, your beautiful smile sustains me….from the minute you wake up talking.
“You are all the greatest pieces of artwork I have ever created!”
Jason, I could never have handpicked a better son-in-law for my best friend/daughter or father for my grandchild. Charlotte (my Charly Girl!) you are absolutely, without a doubt, the “Apple of MomMom’s eye”. You are the beginning of the best part of my life…our lives. As Grandma Alice so perfectly stated, “you are instant therapy, you bring our blood pressure down 20 points just by holding and hugging you!”
Joe… what more can I say about a man who moved 400 miles from his family andchildhood home to be with me and help me raise my children. I have inherited more people to love not to mention adding a wonderfully funny, smart and loving stepson to the mix.
To my whole family, from where an endless supply of love, happiness and funny stories come. (…and trust me there are quite a few, I am the last of eight! Just sayin’… ) I love you all.
And lastly, to all my friends who love me, make me laugh and support me at every step, I am grateful for your presence and influence in my life. Thank you!
The Way Home
I grew up in Philadelphia PA, specifically Northeast Philadelphia. Like many of our neighbors, we had a large family. I am the last of my parents’ eight children, we were (and still are) “The Great Eight”. Several of us moved away from the place where we grew up and several of my siblings stayed.
Philadelphia, like so many other places around the country had neighborhoods that were, for all intents and purposes, “mini cultures”. Each neighborhood had their own traditions from food to festivities and the people from each were proud to maintain them.
Attending beef & beer fundraiser’s to mini Crabfest’s on a summer weekend were among the favorites. The neighborhood men would get up early and drive to Maryland a few hours away to purchase bushels of blue crabs while the women spent the afternoon preparing for their return by dragging out folding tables and chairs and covering them with newspaper.
There were also block parties with games, music and pot luck tables of food. Many times we just sat on the front steps with our parents and neighbors while they watched us play games until the street lights came on.
Who from our neighborhood could forget church on Sunday mornings and Christmas bazaars with white elephant sales that sold gently used items? Many a Christmas gift was found there in our family. Speaking of Sunday morning services, once my older siblings learned to drive we started attending the ‘Church of McDonald’s” on Street Road. We would pass by the church our family attended on the way home to snatch a bulletin as proof of our attendance that morning! J Recently I told that story to my friend Karen who told me she and her siblings did the same thing and got caught. Her father and mother gave them the guilt trip all day by saying “you’re only hurting yourselves!” Tee Hee, Funny stuff for sure!
I remember the feeling of disappointment in elementary school because our class was the last to visit the Mother’s Day flower sale in the lunchroom. All that was left were the plants with no blooms. Mom always made a big deal on Mother’s day morning about the fact that most people didn’t know the plants with no flowers were in fact “healthier” and would have a longer blooming season, not to mention what a great surprise it would be to see what color flower she got… Dad insured that Mom’s words became truth. He spent the spring nurturing those petunia plants from the moment he dug the hole in the front lawn until their first bloom.
My fondest memory though, was the big deal he made when that first flower arrived, calling my mother out to the front lawn with an urgent tone in his voice. “Just wait ‘til you see this!” He covered her eyes to heighten the effect of the surprise waiting for her, the glorious new gem that crowned our small garden. He did this while insuring I saw and heard the commotion…
I am forever grateful for my parents. These recollections are ingrained in my mind and heart forever. They are the same experiences I want my children to have. But alas, many of these memories that could be created are missed with the advent of the electronic age. My own children will text each other from opposite ends of the couch while playing on their computers and watching a DVD. (…and we thought a tinfoil ball on the end of a coat hanger used as the T.V. antennae was high tech!) The one thing they are never allowed to do is come into the kitchen, the heart of our home, with an electronic device in hand or they’d lose it…the device, not the hand! ;0)
I moved away many years ago and although I know I will never move back to the area, my soul is filled with gratitude for having trotted along this path in my life. I am proud of the parents I had who gave what they could and made the most of everything else. When we had limited ingredients in the cabinet for baking Christmas cookies we still made butter cookies that were inexpensive and fun to make. The idea was to not miss the opportunity to allow tradition to take over, it was just that important.
As an adult, I long to feel the social belonging that engulfed each and every one of us growing up in those neighborhoods. There is really some truth in the old adage “it takes a village to raise a child”.
We played together, went to school together, socialized together, supported each other like one big family in good and bad times, and in all of those scenarios we found reason to break bread together.
Well, we all grew up and some stayed in the old neighborhood but for one reason or another there were many of us that moved away. We raised the bar so high in the search of a better life for ourselves and our children that somewhere along the line we became too busy to remember what truly made us happy. Unknowingly between longer hours on the job and soccer practice we created a void.
Suddenly we appeared at a crossroads in our lives urgently scouring our souls for the key to inner peace and contentment. Where did it go? Most importantly, how do we get it back?
In some places around the world it is unheard of to move away from the tribe. It took experiencing a whole life for me to understand why the tribe was necessary to begin with.
You see, those people…our friends, neighbors, teachers, store owners, barbers, hairdresser’s and yes, even local bar owners that we knew by name, were are our tribe. They were the people we counted on day to day, sometimes simply by seeing their faces. They were the ones who came out of the woodwork when a crisis struck in our lives. They picked us up, brushed us off and reminded us that we were not alone.(I presently have rub burns from all the brushing!) Many times they offered food for our bodies as a means of comfort and/or celebration, but they were the food for our souls.
This blog which I have aptly named “My Friday Night Family” is for all of the lost warriors like me who suddenly realize that we can never turn back on the same path where we left off. More specifically it’s for those who yearn to start creating a “new” tribe, with somewhat old traditions in order to once again feel the sense of belonging and interconnectedness to something much bigger. “To give our children what we had”even if at times it was less than perfect.
All of the people we built these memories around were and still are, “our family”. We always have the opportunity to build a new tribe and extended family where ever we’re planted and growing at the time. I encourage every reader of this blog to block out some time once a week (or month if you can’t do it weekly) to take a step back and enjoy your family and the people around you. No circumstance or person is “by accident”. We weren’t put on this earth to do it alone.
Just look around you. The neighbor who leaves at 6 a.m. for work and comes home at 8:00 p.m. every night, the older woman in apartment 2-B who’s daily routine can be read like clockwork making evident her loneliness, the people you work with everyday that talk about the same issues of running in “the rat race” and not enough time in the day to rest their weary minds, the list goes on and on…
I would be willing to bet you’ll come away from an evening shared with any one of these folks with some pretty amazing wisdom and new memories, not to mention a few good laughs. These were the kind of things that grounded us as children and will ground us again as adults.
Sharing a meal at the table is one of the most intimate things we can do as a family, more specifically as a human being. We all eat. Therein lie’s the commonality of sharing a meal. Whether we’re on a date, gathering with friends or consoling a neighbor who has lost a love one, food is the knot that ties us all together. The time spent with someone says “I care about you”.
Starting your own tradition of building a “Friday Night Family” is fairly simple, even if you don’t cook. It’s more about feeding the heart and soul than feeding the body. A few hours of togetherness filled with laughter and good conversation will cure just about anything that ails you. It’s a known fact that laughter heals.
I maintain, there is nothing like familiarity to make a person feel comfortable in their surroundings. When my friends and family get together I have various appetizer dishes I switch out. I do this with the change of a season or an upcoming holiday. The crazy “Wingnut” that I am, I also swap out the décor in the whole kitchen just as frequently! To my amazement, someone always comments about this. In some small way it’s something that’s special, yet familiar. They can’t wait to see what’s laid out before them. Now I’m not saying to break the bank on dinnerware but if you see appetizer size dishes on sale or better yet clearance, don’t hesitate to snatch them up! I buy most of mine at HomeGoods. The other item I have an affinity for is glassware. I even let the younger crew drink soda from my wine glasses. They have always loved this because they feel they are a part of something. They will hold this in their memories forever.
P.S. Don’t forget to include the kids if you have them! They are people first, children second. Talk to them openly and treat them gingerly and respectfully like a petal on one of the flowers in your garden. You will be rewarded and surprised with the kind, generous, smart and funny people you have raised. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve bruised a few petals along the way but I speak from experience when I say “my adult daughter is my very best girlfriend”.
My next entry will have recipes and suggestions for your first “Friday Night Family”
Below I have listed a few recommendations for your “Friday Night Family” gathering.
1) Don’t plan on making a huge meal, you won’t have time to actually enjoy yourself and the amount of dishes afterward will be overwhelming, making it a drag to get together on a regular basis.
2) Using appetizer size plates makes it feel like the time was meant to be special.
3) You don’t have to cook everything yourself! There are many appetizers that you can buy and heat. Or better yet, buy and serve. Try items like shrimp or crab legs, bread with dipping oils, jarred tapenades or crackers and cheese with fruit. Make one or two that are quick and easy and add one or two from scratch, then enjoy yourself for the rest of the night! If you’re one of my Philly readers, order a pretzel tray and dip some in cheese(Whiz) and Gulden’s mustard for me!
4) If you think the kids won’t like what you’re making for the adults, buy a pizza and cut it into smaller pieces so it feels special. Chicken nuggets and dipping sauce work too! Besides you want them off and playing with the other kids so you can enjoy the time…”Hey kid, if you’re gonna’ bring whine bring some cheese too and we’ll make it a party!”
(NOTE: Let the kids help with items like setting out eating utensils and plates to assembling food on a platter).
5) Freeze leftovers immediately during the week if they can be used at your gathering. One leftover chicken breast may not seem like its worth saving but if you chop it up and combine with other ingredients it can make quite a few appetizers. Whenever I caramelize onions for dinner I save a small amount in the freezer to make my Friday night appetizers. Are you shredding some cheese for Tuesday’s dinner? Shred some extra and freeze or refrigerate for later. Most things taste better topped with cheese! You get the idea, save some time by doing small things ahead. Especially those you are doing already.
6) Invite new people from time to time that you would like to get to know better. The person in work that you don’t see all the time but has made you laugh or think deeply about a topic that is dear to you, is the perfect candidate. Consider taking turns at each others homes if that works for your crew.
7) Visit the gourmet section and buy some different sauces for the pantry, sometimes when I can’t think of what I want to make I look at what I already have and come up with something. …remember that saved chicken breast???
8) Keep staples like sour cream, butter and crackers etc. on hand for impromptu gatherings. It may well be that some of you prefer to have a “Wednesday Night Family” gathering! There are no rules, and in the words of Nike “just do it!”
9) Let the younger kids make napkin holders or table decorations out of construction paper or the fall leaves from the front yard. Shoot! Give ’em a rake and tell them to search for the prettiest leaves to decorate the table or platters on the counter. That should get ’em out of your hair for a while and half your yard work. Tee Hee
10) Disposable plates and napkins are perfectly fine, just try to do something special to display them. Place napkins in a basket or put the plastic forks in a fancy cup or wine glass. The idea is to make it simple and special so you’ll want to do it over and over again. Many retailers like HomeGoods carry napkins with hilarious sayings on them. One of my all time fav’s…”If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knee’s”.
I will make further suggestions in the recipes I will post later. Feel free to send me your ideas for posting as well. Maybe you’ll meet some folks in your neighbor on here!
I think after you have done this several times, everyone will look forward to it and find comfort in knowing that they too have a “Friday Night Family”.
I hope you’ll come back regularly as I update with recipes and stories. Thanks for stopping by!