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Dear Kristin,

I’ve never been a foodie, but sometimes I taste something that makes me so happy I want to change my life. Take the Caesar dressing I just made. It was the simplest recipe in the world, from The Weekday Vegetarians by Jenny Rosenstrach, made with mayo instead of eggs, and perfectly balanced in its flavors. In fact, it was so delicious I immediately dedicated myself to growing nothing but lettuce from November through April, just to give this dressing a proper and ever-ready vehicle to ride into my mouth.

While I was making the dressing, I watched the oddest little PBS show on my iPad. It’s not so much a show as it is a video blog, and each episode lasts around three minutes. One of the shows was about a woman who works a farm with her husband and sister. She’d recently discovered grilled romaine and was now dedicated to growing an entire garden of romaine so she could grill it all winter long. In the video, she’s shown out in a field of lettuce, and then in a field of chickens, and in both scenes, as well as in the kitchen where she was separating the romaine leaves to be grilled, a young child was with her, gazing upon her work with interest. It was almost like watching a dream–or a scene from a life I once imagined for myself. 

Have you ever grilled romaine lettuce? I’d like to give it a try. Clifton and I are talking about doing a winter garden this year, because there’s nothing better than homegrown lettuce (except for homegrown tomatoes, of course). I have to admit, it seems premature to talk about winter gardens, but then I look at the calendar and realize it’s September. September!  Christmas is just around the corner. 

The older I get, the faster the time flies. I’m going to wake up tomorrow and realize I’m 80.

Okay, to bring this back to earth … Labor Day is looking at us right in the face, and that means it’s back to school time. Sending kids back to college isn’t remotely the same as waking them up for the first day of third grade. Do you miss the excitement of the start of the school year? What was it like when  you homeschooled? Was there a clear demarcation between summer and back to school? Were you frolicking in the fields one day and then sitting at the kitchen table doing fractions the next? Did your kids get new clothes for the new school year?

I always looked forward to this time of year when I was a kid, and I definitely counted down the days when I was a mom with kids at home who I was ready to take a break from. But like that dream scene of happy fields of romaine and chickens, going back to school was always different in reality than the way I imagined it would be, both as a kid and as a mom. It was always hotter than the autumnal scenes I envisioned, and it was always much more exhausting. Ah, but those new notebooks and pencils … school supplies never disappoint! 

Final question: What kind of lunchbox did you have as a kid? I need to text my older brother and ask him if he had the Road Runner lunchbox and I had the Peanuts (Good Ol’ Charlie Brown!), or if it the other way around. Both of us had milk in our thermoses. I never drank mine, though I’d get a chocolate milk on Fridays when I was allowed to buy lunch at school. Pizza day! I looked forward to it all week.


Dear Frances,

Oh how I love September! It somehow feels more like the new year than… New Years! When I was kid, we always started school the day after Labor Day and I was so ready for that fresh box of crayons (this was going to be the year that none of them broke!) and brand-new corduroy skirt. School around here now starts in mid-August and decidedly does not feel like fall at all! But September still feels like a fresh start to me. This year is bereft of back-to-school activities since Ben is already back at school. That is a little hard to get used to. Time marches on.

For the few years we homeschooled, I always made it a point that on the first day of public school in our town, we would go on a fun field trip. We visited places like the California Science Center or the KidSpace museum. I always wanted their first day to be fun and special.

I think that for most of my elementary school life, I brought lunch in a plain old brown bag, but I do remember a special Bugaloos lunch box in third grade. And most memorably, how a boy tripped me on the first day of school and the thermos broke. I don’t even think I made it to lunchtime. I can still hear those broken pieces rattling around in the bottom of that thermos. Devastating. His mom did make him come over to apologize and pay for it that night. But alas, the thermos was never replaced and I was back in line for 7-cent milk every day. I always envied kids with thermoses. (By the way, I had a very brief romance with that boy in eighth grade. And he eventually went on to play major league baseball.)

It’s interesting that you’re thinking about a winter garden. I was having similar thoughts. Because I thought we were going to do a major backyard renovation this summer, we didn’t plant a summer garden. Just some tomatoes in pots that were an absolute bust. But we’ve had some success with cool weather gardens filled with nothing but greens in the past. Now you’ve got me thinking about heading out to the garden center to buy a couple packets of lettuce mix. I love those cut-and-come-again varieties. And no, I’ve never had grilled romaine and as a matter of fact, I think I’ll leave that to you!

We just finished the show The Bear and while it does not make me want to work in a restaurant, it does make me want to be a better cook. I dream about whipping up my own salad dressing and making fresh pasta. As a matter of fact, Gary and I have a running list of things to do/places to go on a whiteboard in the kitchen and I recently added “make fresh pasta” to it. In my 20’s I was obsessed with a Food TV show called Biba’s Kitchen. She made fresh pasta on almost every show and it looked so simple! After all, every Italian housewife of a certain generation whipped it up on a nightly basis! So of course, I got myself a pasta roller and really got into it for a while. But, it was bound to fall by the wayside eventually. Somehow that pasta roller has survived many rounds of decluttering and I’m going to dust off my Northern Italian Cooking by Biba Caggiano cookbook and give it a spin. I’ll let you know how it goes.


  • Patty

    Dear Kristin, you can not just toss in a line about a brief 8th grade romance with thermos breaking heart-throb who went onto become a MLB player without sharing more……….

  • Susan from Ohio

    I hearily endorse grilled romaine. It sounds like such an odd thing, but it’s absolutlely delicious with homemade Caesar dressing. SInce you already have the perfect recipe for the dressing, do try the grilled romaine.

    While I loved school and back to school supplies, fall makes me melancholy. I hate leaving warm summer days and clear blue skies behind for another trip around the sun. I never wanted the relaxed, nothing-to-do-but-hang-out-with-the kids-days of summer to end. I scrambled to pack so much fun into my summers with kids home that it made it hard to return to the drudgery of the routine of school days and all the inherent busyness of the school year. My kids loved school, but I always wanted summer to stretch a few more weeks. It might be that Ohio winters are such a long drag of craptastic weather day after day. For me, I’m always wishing to capture just a bit more summer joy. Endless summer, please!

  • Vicki Holloway

    I have made my fall New Year plans to get back to my routines and re establish fly lady , taking bette care of myself and this old house

    I had lunch Backes until middle school. My first lunch box was a meta red plaid that looked like a tartan. The the beloved Holly Hobby. The thermoses never made it a week until the made them all plastic and by mid year they leaked.

    Pizza Friday and chocolate milk was the only hot lunch I would eat and for many years I walked home for lunch.

    I do remember the cooking show that would inspire me but after the great home made tortilla disaster of 2005 I learned I have limitations in the kitchen. My fav cooking show now are octogenarian sharing their old recipes and meal planning from their growing up years.

    • Colleen

      Vicki, I had the red plaid lunchbox too! And many broken thermoses. Oh that sad sound of the glass swishing round – knowing you would not get your drink that day. In the winter, we would sometimes get soup in the thermos.

  • Tracie

    I love the fresh start September brings! I bought Sherri McConnell’s quilt planner so I could feel the joy of a new calendar, reflection, and planning. Since I homeschooled for 15 years, I remember filling out my lesson plans in my planner, first-day photos, and field trips. One year we moved in September, so our field trip was a walk around town to familiarize my kids with the location of the library, post office, grocery stores, and the Cocoa Bean, which was a delightful candy shop with everything from penny candy to delicious fudge.

    Frances, I am going to try making dressing and grilled romaine. I’m not a foodie but I’m very curious! The idea of a winter garden is mind-bending if you’re living in Minnesota. We’re already anticipating frost in a few weeks. The earth will rest under a blanket of snow, and we won’t have to think about gardening and mowing until next May. That’s why I’m planning all my quilt projects!

    Enjoy the long Labor Day weekend!

  • Robin Leftwich

    I wasn’t even aware it was Labor Day. Being retired you miss those holidays!
    I’ve always loved September. When I was in school, my mom would always take us downtown to see a movie and go school shopping. I always got new plaid dresses and saddle shoes and yes, lunch boxes, although my thermos always broke, too!
    I still love September, because I hate hot summers and love the promise of cool weather! I feel like I can cook again, since the kitchen is cool enough to bear.
    And it’s not too hot to hand quilt!

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