Now they’re gone.

We took them to the airport early yesterday morning, each on a flight to the East Coast but leaving within twenty minutes of the other one.  He’s going back for sophomore year, and she’s doing a freshman backpacking trip before orientation starts next weekend.  The shopping’s done, the bags are packed.  What Sarah didn’t take, my husband and I will carry when we go out help her check into her dorm.

We got back home at 6:30 a.m.  Our favorite breakfast café wasn’t open yet, so we went to Peet’s and drank coffee for half an hour before going to eat scrambled eggs.  Did you ever wonder why, when you arrive with friends at 8:30 or 9:00, all the bigger tables are taken by sole occupants?  Now I know it’s because people set up camp between 7:00 and 7:30, and then they stay all morning.  One woman brought in a briefcase and some shopping bags in a stroller (no baby in sight, however).  She then proceeded to move a table to make give herself and her stroller more room.  After ordering, she sat down and then got up, sat down, got up, circling the restaurant several times until she had collected extra napkins and arranged everything in her area just-so.  Another regular customer came in and, since all the large tables were taken, he had to settle for a two-top.   He drank his coffee while rocking and humming to the tunes in his portable CD player, sheet music spread out in front of him.  I began to wonder if we were really in the suburbs after all.
But that was a momentary distraction.  When I came back to the house, there was only my youngest child, his dad and me.  And the dog, of course, who wanted his morning kibble.  But this is it, the “new normal,” a household of three.  Seems empty, quiet.

I wasn’t sure I felt like making dinner that evening.  [Read more…]

Packing (aka shopping) for college

“Mom, when are we going to start packing for college?”  Not that my daughter hasn’t already started.  In some ways I think she began five years ago, but she started in earnest about the time she turned in her matriculation forms.  She has assembled a packing list so impressive she probably could publish it in one of those “off to college” guides.  But, because you’re my friends, I’m offering it to you for free: Sarah’s College Packing List.

Since the items are shaded to indicate what she needs to buy now versus what she can or needs to buy once arriving at college, the project is well-delineated.  The two of us can break it into manageable pieces and more important, we can have fun doing it together — I’m looking forward to spending time with my daughter before she leaves home, helping her get ready to launch this next phase of her life.

It’s so different from when my son left for college last year.  He didn’t care about the lists I offered him.  Wasn’t interested for me to help him prepare by purchasing sheets, towels and other basics for his dorm room.  He mainly seemed concerned about backing up the (hopefully legal) files on his various hard drives and determining how to transport his electronics cross-country.  Since he was going to college in an urban area, he figured he could buy everything he needed after arrival — all that was required was access to Mom and Dad’s credit card.

Different approaches, both of them valid.  I eventually insisted that my son allow me to purchase at least some sheets and towels, as I needed to do it for my own process of letting him go.  He understood and relented.  He also let his father and me accompany him to the East Coast, but I saw his dorm room only that weekend and no more the entire year.  This was hard for me, but it was what he wanted.  I’ve seen him a lot this summer, and that’s been a real treat.

But with my girl, I get to go shopping!  We start next week, I think.  She’s in control of the list.  Thanks to Facebook, video chat and goodness knows what other wonders of modern technology, she already has more information about her room, its layout, her roommate (of course), and all kinds of stuff my generation could only have guessed at prior to arriving on campus.  All I know is that her energy level for college in general, and for shopping in particular, is high — I just hope I can keep up.

My grandmother’s bread pail

Every so often I pull out this bread pail that was my grandmother’s.  She mixed bread in it for her family of six children, plus two of her husband’s younger siblings who lived with them during the Depression.  I think at one time she owned several of these, but this one is the only one I know about that’s still left in the family.  I continue to use it, but obviously I don’t make as much bread as she did.

The bread pail’s official name is the Number 4 Universal Bread Maker by Landers, Frary & Clark of New Britain, Connecticut.  It won a gold medal in the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair.  Winning a gold medal at the World’s Fair was a big deal — Landers, Frary actually put it on the front of the bread pail itself.  This particular World’s Fair celebrated the centennial anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase (1803), one year late.  You can read lots more about it here if you’re interested.

Anyway, the bread “machine” was one of many products that came out around the turn of the twentieth century, all of which were designed to make women’s home-making jobs easier.  According to the National Housewares Manufacturers Association (see this reprint), the company who manufactured my bread pail produced goods under the trademark “Universal” from the 1890s until GE’s Housewares division acquired it in 1965.  In addition to the Universal bread maker, they produced a new type of food chopper that chopped vegetables as well as ground meat, and even more significant for us caffeine lovers, they designed the “Universal” coffee percolator.  Remember, electricity was just becoming available to the masses at that time: the first percolators were designed for the stove, and they made coffee that tasted better than people had ever made at home before.  [Read more…]