Friday, May 25, 2012

Life in My World - Life in Aftonland

I've said before that I naively thought when the kids started leaving home that the best time in my life was over.  I didn't quite wail, but I certainly mourned.

Afton and me about 12:30 am

I was so wrong. Ever so wrong. I should have trusted that there is a season for everything and that each phase of life can be considered the best because there is so much best in it.

We came back to be with Ty, Michelle, and Afton this week. They live in Maryland, not far from downtown D.C. They have created a wonderful home and family. One of the best things about this time of Calvin's and my life is enjoying the talents and personalities of the kids while they are creating homes and leading their own families. And, as a bonus, each set of our kids (Ray/Cali, Abe/Grace, Ty/Michelle, Joe/Ande) are incredible cooks. They are all better cooks than we are (Calvin will say, “Speak for yourself, Jane” because he has lots of confidence in his abilities. But since I’m the other half of his team I can safely say it, for while I’m a good cook, I’m not a great cook.)

We started Wednesday morning with these Lemon Ricotta Pancakes.  Ty and Michelle tried them at a bed & breakfast and came home and experimented until they recreated them.  They are bed & breakfast worthy.

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs separated
2 Tbsp grated lemon peel
1/3 cup ricotta cheese

     Mix flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.  In another bowl mix buttermilk, egg yolks, and lemon peel.  Stir liquids into flour mixture until moistened.  Add ricotta cheese.  In separate bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form.  Fold egg whites into batter until incorporated.  Pour batter onto greased griddle and cook until pancakes are browned.

Ty served these pancakes with blackberry syrup and buttermilk syrup.  Both were good choices.

I think she loves me.

After breakfast we went to the national cemetery at Arlington. If I lived here I would be a volunteer there; it’s such a beautiful place. Arlington was owned by George Washington and then through time and marriages passed on to Robert E. Lee. When the Civil War ended, neither Grant nor Lincoln wanted to make the South grovel or pay remunerations. Except for the land where Arlington sits. Some felt it was the least that Lee could donate to the cause. Besides, it would be a perfect place to bury the dead from both the North and South – the South had owned it, but it was just across the river from the North’s capital – and could help the healing process to begin.

There were pools of schools there. Eighth graders. While it is a humbling and reflective experience to go to Arlington and walk on the wooded hills when it is quiet, I very much appreciated the controlled chatter of the kids this time because it signaled history passing on to the next generation.

While we were at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier the thunder and lightening turned to rain, then it turned into a downpour.  It dumped.  Afton's eyes stared wide at Michelle as she cried and we rushed for shelter.  While we could see her mouth move and tears drip down her face, we couldn't hear her for the storm.  Michelle said it was the most painful part of mothering to date.

See that hair sticking up at the back of Afton's head?  It is so uncontrollably cute.  Her hair is dark and long in the back
and that fan of hair at the crown is so funny.  It would make any bird of a feather jealous.

We waited in the car while Michelle fed Afton and by then the rain had become a drizzle so we went to the Lincoln Memorial.  

I was a freshman in high school during the bicentennial year – 1976.  Our government and civics teacher took a half dozen of us students on an early American history tour seeing sights in Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and New York that year. The Lincoln Memorial was one of my favorite stops and I quietly resolved that day that some day when I had a family I was going to bring them to see it.

Ty, Michelle, Afton
Ty worried that putting Afton in the picture would give me a whole new goal of making
sure all of the grandkids make it to see Lincoln as well.
He's got me thinking . . . 

I’m two kids closer to that goal.

After touring the memorial, we came home and Ty and Calvin made supper.  The recipe said soooooo easy and SO GOOD! on it.  It was right.)

Queso Dip

2 10 oz. can Rotel tomatoes
1 7 oz. can diced green chilies
1 can chili with beans
1 can refried beans
1/2 jar of salsa (small)
1 large package Velveeta cheese

Blend all in pot except cheese and once warm, dice cheese, and melt in mixture.  Serve with tortilla chips.  (We had regular, hint of lime, and hint of jack tortilla chips.)

We visited until well after midnight.  (I like Eastern time.  I can stay up with the big boys because it's only 9:00 my time.)

After having one son go to the Military Academy at West Point and another go to the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, it was only right that we go and see the Naval Academy at Annapolis.  So, on Thursday morning that is where we went.

Army - Air Force - Navy are all in the picture

Calvin says the Navy cadets have a swagger bigger than the Air Force cadets.  He said that swagger just may be their secret to whipping Army every year in football.  Calvin briefly considered getting a Navy hat, but it wasn't worth disappointing Abe.

Where was Afton all this time?  Attracting everyone:

She attracts all ages - middle school boys in the cemetery to grandmas on the street. If I am holding her, people tell me all about their grandchildren, if Michelle is holding her they give loads of unsolicited advice, nobody says a word if Calvin is holding her, and if Ty is holding her the women cluck.

Michelle stroking Afton's face

Afton is so sweet and such a pretty little baby.  She's alert and attentive and tiny.  I have to keep reminding myself she's only six weeks old.  Not only do I love holding  and watching her, I love watching Ty and Michelle take care of her.  They are wonderful parents and take their role seriously and confidently.   A baby is a miracle.  A family is a miracle.  It's hard not to stare at miracles.

We ate crab cakes at the Middleton Tavern in Annapolis, just a short walk from the Academy.  Built in 1750, the tavern's plank floors creaked and the stairs were worn.  It was easy to imagine it in colonial times.  The ambiance was second only to the fish on the menu.  Calvin had smoked blue fish, Ty had rock fish, I had haddock, Michelle had a hamburger, and we all shared crab cakes - rich, thick ones.  Each thing was so very, very good and the portions were plentiful.  It is a restaurant that I'm sure we'll reference in the future: "Remember that time we ate those crab cakes at that tavern?"

We came home and took a nap.  I like Afton's schedule.

That night while Calvin and Ty were out mowing and trimming the lawn, Michelle made Parmesan Chicken and served it with spaghetti sauce and fettuccine noodles.  It was really good.  I thought I was still full from the tavern until we started to eat, but after one bite I suddenly had lots of room.

Parmesan Chicken (from

1 clove garlic, minced
1 stick unsalted butter (1/2 cup or 1/4 pound), melted
1 cup dried bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or 2/3 cup if you are using a Microplane zester)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
A large pinch of Italian seasoning (herb mix)
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 lbs of skinless, boneless, chicken meat, cut into pieces no larger than 2x2 inches

1 Preheat oven to 450°F. Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels.
2 In a bowl, combine the minced garlic with the melted butter. In another bowl mix together the bread crumbs, Parmesan, parsley, salt, garlic salt, Italian seasoning, and pepper. Dip chicken pieces into garlic butter, then into crumb mixture to coat.
3 Place coated chicken pieces on to a 9x13 baking dish. Try to leave a little room between each piece. Drizzle with remaining garlic butter and bake uncovered 15 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and juices run clear. Note that the chicken will get much more browned on the bottom side than on the top.
Yield: Serves 4-6.

And then, just in case we hadn't eaten enough for the day, we went to Rita's Ice Custard Happiness.  Oh man.  The name says it all.  I even looked up the cost of a franchise when we got home.

Later, Michelle and I just watched (and wondered how they kept from throwing up) and Afton rocked in the swing as Calvin and Ty wrestled

Some things never change.

Once again I am reminded of my ignorance as to think the best is behind me.


Jill said...

It is really comforting to know that each phase is the best phase of life! You seem to do all of them so well, I'm happy to get to experience them through you.

I'm excited about those recipes thanks.

michelle said...

You don't know how happy I am to hear this! I dread my children leaving, so the thought of it not being the end of the best times is hugely comforting.

That parmesan chicken recipe is one that my family has been making for ages! It's a staple.

I'm so jealous that you got to go to Rita's! Marc and I wanted to start a franchise here, but they weren't going West. I think it would go over big here, personally.

Deidra said...

What a sweet post. With recipes to boot!

You made me miss DC. And the rainstorms. I've never been in rainstorms like DC's (though too bad for Afton). I'm sure Ty and Michelle were glad to have you. I love having my parents see our lives and love on my baby. Parents turned grandparents are the best!

Becky said...

What glorious pictures! I love babies; each one is so sweet and cuddle-able.

This post reminded me of my trip a year ago to D.C. and got me even more excited for our upcoming trip. In a week and a half we're taking the kids (first plane ride for them!) to Delaware and Pennsylvania...we toyed with the idea of going to Annapolis and/or D.C. but we don't have enough time this trip. I promise to take lots of great pictures of Philadelphia for you :)

Anonymous said...

Beautiful little baby! Isn't grandmothering grand!
Sending congratulations and best wishes, Loye

Ande said...

I love those pictures of Afton. Especially the one of her eyes really wide and scared. What a funny girl.