You Can Lean A Lot Over a Spaghetti Dinner


Me: Is everyone finished with their soup?

Hank: I am! I am so excited for the masa (pasta). Did you make the sauce?

Me: Claro (of course).

Pai: (spoon feeding Molly the last of her soup) Your mama’s pasta sauce is the best.

Hank: So are her meatballs.

Me: No, meatballs tonight, I’m afraid. I love that we are cutting down on meat-eating in this house. Saving both money and…

Hank: The planet.

Me: True story.

Hank: Didn’t you eat a lot of masa (pasta) when you were a vegetarian.

Me: Soooooo much pasta, but I was lazy and used canned sauce.

Hank: That is lazy.

Me: When I first moved to Portugal I remember going to the grocery with my dictionary and after searching ever single isle working up the courage to ask where they sold the pasta sauce and, no joke, the woman at the grocery took me to the produce section handed me tomato, onion and garlic and explained rather slowly and with exaggerated gestures that I was to take these vegetables, added salt, olive oil, cook and then blend and I would have sauce.

Hank: Right.

Pai: But that wasn’t what she asked for. (dishing out Molly’s dinner)

Molly: MASSINHA!!! (cute pasta)

Me: I didn’t want a cooking class I wanted my life to be convenient like in America where I just open a jar and BAM dinner.

Pai: Ten years ago you could barely find a frozen pizza let alone jarred sauces and pre-cooked factory foods in Portugal.

Hank: Things are changing, but not at my school. The cozinheiras (cooks) at my new school make the best food. It is all fresh and so good.

Me: One of the main reasons we decided to raise you here. Did I ever tell you about the time I went to my first fancy restaurant spaghetti dinner?

Hank: Um… (taking the opportunity slurp pasta into his mouth)

Pai: This story is a classic.

Me: When we still lived in Illinois my grandmother called and informed my mother that she wanted to treat us all to DeRienzo’s for a spaghetti dinner on our upcoming Ohio visit. Now, you have to remember my Grandma Hof was super fancy. She was the town’s music teacher and the presbyterian choir director so she was fancy annnnnnnd she had a reputation for being fancy, so we wild children simply could not go to DeRienzo’s and slurp our spaghetti, not in public, no way so my mom had to give us spaghetti twirling lessons.

Hank: Oh yah! You had to learn to spin the spaghetti on a spoon.

Me: We did and we all worked very hard because my mom promised us that we could have meatballs which were as big as a softball…

Hank: What is a softball?

Me: (eyes wide in shock)

Pai: Your son is European.

Me: (deep sigh) A softball is like a baseball…

Hank: (still no clue)

Me: Only bigger (gesturing the size so he finally understands the reference).

Hank: Those were some big meatballs.

Me: You only ordered a few for the table and everyone shared and the bread was fresh and pillowy and my grandmother charmed the waitress into giving her a to-go cup full of their poppy seed salad dressing and we kids twirled our spaghetti on our spoons and tried our best to be as fancy as my Gram.

Hank: Can we go there?

Me: Absolutely, next time we’re in America and if you can twirl your spaghetti I will buy you a Shirley Temple from the bar.

Hank: What is a Shirley Temple?

Pai: It’s a mock-tail.

Hank: Ohhhh.

Me: My parents would never let me order a Shirley Temple, but when I used to go to the Golf Club with my friend, Quinn, for dinner her parents would order us both a Shirley Temple from the bar and it was just the greatest.

Pai: Seriously, at a golf club?

Me: Yup, at the Salem Country Club. You had to be a member.

Pai: Like in the movies?

Me: Exactly like in the movies.

Pai: Now, I am excited.

Me: DeRienzo’s had a separate bar from the dinning room and a backlight, clam shell, mid-century modern, Botticelli Birth of goddamn Venus phone booth annnnnnnd wooooood paneling.

Pai: Classy.

Hank: I don’t know what that is, but let’s get on a plane right now!

Me: I will invite Quinn and all your Ohio family, but you’re gonna have to learn how to twirl your spaghetti on your spoon. We Hofmeisters have a reputation to uphold.

Pai: You realize, Hank, that Italians don’t swirl their pasta on spoons before they eat it.

Hank: Then why…

Pai: The only place I ever saw people twirling their pasta on spoons was in Germany and you are ¼ German.

Hank: WHAT? (hand to his chest shocked) I’m German.

Pai: ¼ German, 1/4 British Isles and 1/2 Portuguese.

Me: My parent’s family lineages come from German and the countries that make up the UK and probably Ireland, but I’m not sure and they all settled in the Midwest as immigrants to America, so we are culturally American, but genetically European.

Hank: Riiiiiight, because you aren’t Native American. They’re the only American Americans because they are the people of the first nation.

Pai: Exactly.

Hank: So mom, you ate pasta like Germans in an Italian restaurant in America?

Me: And well, if we’re being culturally specific, DeRienzo’s serves an Americanized version of Italian food; meatballs are strictly an Italian-American thing.

Hank: (mind blown) What?!

Pai: I also never saw a meatball in Italy.

Hank: I don’t know what to do with my life now!

Me: (riots of laughter)

Pai: You’ll get over it.

Molly: (slathered in tomato sauce, oblivious, slurping up pasta strand by strand)



Growing up this painting< Hylas and the Nymphs by J.W. Waterhouse, hung in my dear friend Saralee's house.  This painting made me fall in love with art.  Saralee's mother DeLisa alwasy told me she loved this painting because of Saralee's pre-raphelitian thick red hair.

Growing up this painting, Hylas and the Nymphs by J.W. Waterhouse, hung in my dear friend Saralee’s house. This painting made me fall in love with art. Saralee’s mother DeLisa always told me she loved this painting because of Saralee’s Pre-Raphelitian thick, red hair.


(tucking Hank into bed a bit early so he can read while Pai monitors our splashing Molly in the tub)

Me: What a full weekend. The first REALLY hot day of spring, A birthday party, Dia do Pai (Portugal’s father’s day).

Hank: Yah. The whole weekend I kept wondering what day it was because I lost my Internet privileges so I couldn’t check the calendar or the weather and this weekend went on forever.

Me: We have a calendar in the kitchen and the weather is outside! Go outside then you will know the weather!

Hank: YOU know what I mean.

Me: I’ll think about your problem. What did we learn this weekend? We learned many things.

Hank: We learned when Molly falls down and gets hurt she is such a bruta (brute) that she doesn’t cry and she doesn’t tell us she’s bleeding.

Me: No wonder she loves Hulk.   Double skinned knee and not a peep. She does not stop. That’s my girl. What else?

Hank: Um… I learned I won’t die without the Internet and that it is really annoying when someone else is using the Internet or on their phone and you are not. It is like you don’t exist.

Me: Oh, that is an important lesson. Write that down.

Hank: No, YOU write it down. You’re the writer.

Me: (tousling his hair) Sassafras.

Hank: Just kidding, but don’t worry I won’t forget it. And I learned more about my book and who Count Olaf is pretending to be in this part.

Me: Well, he is a world famous actor.

Hank: He isn’t really, but he thinks he is.

Me: Quite.

Hank: And I learned that things can explode in the kitchen and that is stressful.

Me: GAWD! Today, I had zero luck. Poor papa’s lemon curd father’s day present ruined. I have double boiled 10,000 things in that Pyrex dish over the years. I have baked 1000 loaves of bread in that Pyrex dish and BLAMO! The day I needed it most, KAPOW! 10-gazillion little pieces of glass on the floor and glass shrapnel in my legs. I blame the four hours of sleep I had. We gotta do over father’s day.

Hank: Why did you only have four hours of sleep? Did you drink some caffeine after noon?

Me: No, I was on the phone with Meagen Thompson, my life long chum.

Hank: Were you talking about your friend? The one you told papa about? The one who died?

Me: Yes, I was. Meagen and I were blessed to be introduced by a magical girl when we were teenagers. Her name was Saralee. She had thick, thick red hair, the color of roof tiles, like out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting. All of my most amazing tween and teenage adventures and friends and memories revolve around her or people she introduced me to. She was the brightest, most creative, most beautiful star in our bunch and I loved her and still do, but she was very ill.

Hank: She was sick?

Me: She was.

Hank: What was she sick with?

Me: She was heart sick, soul sick.

Hank: Like she had a broken heart and didn’t heal?

Me: Exactly like that.

Hank: You can’t die of a broken heart.

Me: No, but you can die from the weapons you used against yourself because you are broken hearted, because you are soul sick.

Hank: She died of drugs, didn’t she? I heard you talking with papa.

Me: She died from the disease of addiction that caused her to make some very reckless choices.

Hank: Why do people take drugs?

Me: Whoosh! (deep exhale) So many reasons, but mostly to escape. Escape: sadness, loneliness, pain, a broken heart, fear, for the thrill, for the esteem of the wrong people, to take the edge off, to numb the hurt. Life isn’t easy, Hank, especially with a broken heart.

Hank: I am sad she couldn’t heal her heart. I know it isn’t easy.

Me: It is not.

Hank: But you did and that is why you are my best mom ever.

Me: Thank you. I was very lucky and I am brave. That doesn’t mean I was not wounded or scared or traumatized or hurt, it means even though I once was all of those things I was brave enough to fight through, punch fear in the face and slowly, work very hard to heal.

Hank: Not everyone is brave.

Me: No, they’re not.

Hank: Not everyone is lucky.

Me: No, but the truth is you make your luck. I made some important choices that my dear friend, Saralee, did not and that caused us to take very different paths in life. It was not easy to take my path. It was not easy for her to walk hers. Life isn’t easy, Hank. Life is never easy, but it is always worth it.

Hank: I am never doing drugs.

Me: That is a wise decision, but do not be naive. You will be offered drugs in your life and you will be tempted to take them. Caffeine is a drug, alcohol is a drug, paracetamol is a drug and then there are others. There will be new ones developed by the time you are a teenager. They key is to be smart. Be clever, Hank. Ask questions before you get in over your head. Walk away from a situation that makes you uncomfortable. Never do something because someone ELSE wants you to.  Don’t be a follower. Find a better escape: art, music, reading, running, dance, conversation. Trust that you can get just as high off an intellectually stimulating conversation as you can off any drug.

Hank: Have you done drugs?

Me: No. (getting emotional) Nope. I drank too much when I was young, that I did do, but I never took drugs. I never smoked pot. It wasn’t for me. Plus, because I had Saralee in my life I knew what drugs did to a person. We were 15 when she first tried heroin. I saw what drugs did to her, what they did to our friendship and I knew that was not what I wanted in my life. Addiction robs, it maims, it steals and it destroys.

Hank: And drugs give you an addiction?

Me: Drugs are highly addictive. So are other things, like you can be addicted to shopping or food or gambling or sex or gummy bears.

Hank: Wait what?

Me: I have a confession to make to you, Hank. My son, I am addicted to gummy bears, gummy sharks, gummy fruit, basically all things in the gummy family that are not dipped in that sour stuff. Yuck.

Hank: (giggling) You are.

Me: I am. But seriously, buddy. Thank you for asking some important and caring questions about my friend, but you’re nine. I am always here for you if and when you have questions or want to talk, but for now let me watch you be nine years old and not have the worries and grief of the adult world on your heart. Let’s go back to talking about how you are going to know the weather without looking on an app on your phone.

Hank: How did you know the weather when you were young?

Me: Back in the olden days when we walked to school up hill both ways, in a blizzard with no shoes?

Hank: Mom.

Me: We read the weather report in the newspaper. Best thing you can do for yourself is get into the habit of reading the newspaper everyday. I will give you the money to go down stairs and buy a newspaper from the kiosk every morning before school.

Hank: By myself?

Me: Sure! Or if we wanted to know the exact temperature we looked at a thermometer we had outside, which we can buy and install on our veranda, or we called Time and Temperature.

Hank: Ooooh, wasn’t that the number you used to call when you told me you were calling the police to come and arrest me when I was rude to you when lived in America and I was Molly’s age?

Me: The very one. I made a sign and put it on the fridge that said: Police Station for Misbehaving and Disrespectful Children and the number to Time and Temperature and when you were misbehaving and not listening or respecting me I would make you bring me the phone and we’d sit in front of the fridge while I dialed the number. A recording would come on saying the exact time, and how hot or cold it was outside but I would pretend I was speaking to the police dispatcher.

Hank: I remember this.

Me: It worked every time. You would beg me to not send you to jail and the “police dispatcher” would make me confirm that you had apologized and were ready to take a timeout in order to start again.

Hank: I wonder if we have a Time and Temperature number in Portugal?

Me: You better ask someone because there is no Google in the foreseeable future.

Hank: I will ask papa, tomorrow.

Me: Sounds like a plan. Now, read a bit more before lights out. (getting up to leave)

Hank: Mama, I am sorry about your friend.

Me: (leaning against the door frame) Thanks, Hank. It hurts that she isn’t here anymore, but I will always carry her in my heart. She made my life better and I am forever grateful.

Hank: And your heart is very big and always growing to hold more and more people.

Me: Think so?

Hank: Yup. (escaping into his book) That is how it works.



Last night Molly discovered when she was board that she loved to take things apart! (Teeny Tiny screws everywhere! Simply delightful!)

Last night Molly discovered while she was bored that she loved to take things apart! (Teeny Tiny screws everywhere! Simply delightful!)


(At the café, over cakes and club sodas)

Me: So what is the homework status?

Hank: I have few math problems but not many because Papa and I worked ahead of my class when I was home sick.

Me: Oh.

Hank: My teacher was surprised, too. It’s fine. Math is hard so I am happy I am doing some things twice.

Me: Math is a language. In order to become fluent you need to practice.

Hank: Right, I know. (deep sigh) Mama, tonight is the first night of our revolution.

Me: (taken aback, then realizing) Resolution.

Hank: What did I say?

Me: Revolution.

Hank: Revolução?

Me: Sim (yes).

Hank: No, I mean that thing we decided to change at New Year.

Me: Right, we made a family resolution to cut out technology Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays all together and limit it to two hours on all other days. Papa and I will do no work and we all will surrender our phones.

Hank: Yah, but I am wondering what we will do?

Me: Hang out! Plus you forget, your papa and I are old. We were born before the internet and before 24 hour cartoons. We know how to keep ourselves busy.

Hank: Like, what did you do when you were a kid?

Me: I was a great yo-yo aficionado and I had a few card flourishes nailed.

Hank: What is a card flourish?

Me: Fancy card shuffling.

Hank: Really?

Me: Oh yah. I played basketball. I took long walks and used my imagination endlessly. I used to talk to myself and act out stories or interview myself like as if I were famous.  Oprah was alway my favorite interviewer. I played board games. I read endless books. We went to the library a lot. Like twice a week in our house and stayed a few hours. I doodled. I loved to draw these loopy patterns not necessarily people or animals. We gardened as a family. I snooped in my Grandparents home for treasures and secrets… Especially secrets. I looked at photo albums. OH and I hunted for worms. My mom used to pay me a penny a worm for her garden. She only bought live worms. Dead sidewalk worms got you nothing. I hunted and gathered hundreds of worms before I found better paying side jobs. After a rainstorm was the best time to collect tons of worms because worms flee to the surface of the ground as the ground soaks up water.

Hank: Really, like how many?

Me: Oh, one summer I think I made .50cents at least.

Hank: That isn’t much.

Me: Back then it was! That would be like €2.00! When I was a kid there was such a thing as penny candy! .50cent = 50 pieces of candy or 5 banana popsicles at the corner store.

Hank: Because banana popsicles were .10cents.

Me: That’s right.

Hank: And how big were they?

Me: Same as here. Big enough to cool you off on a hot day!

Hank: What else?

Me: I drew with chalk, blew bubbles, collected wild flower and berries in a basket and felt very romantic about it like I lived inside the book Little House on the Prairie , twirled until I fell over, rolled down hills, looked for four leaf clovers, collected caterpillars and picked the best one to keep in a jar until it cocooned, but they always died first because I was a bad caterpillar tender.

Hank: Awwwww, thats sad.

Me: (nodding) I know, right. I also killed a lot of fish. (sigh) I cloud watched, colored, sung every song ever, put together puzzles, played jacks and marbles, pet my cat…

Hank: You had a cat?

Me: Your Grammy Kate always had a cat, but I always wanted a dog so I would pet our cats and wish they were dogs, which is mean.  It wasn’t their fault. And most importantly I GOT BORED and no one helped me find something to do. I had to entertain myself. I didn’t have the internet to occupy me and THAT is where magic happened.

Hank: When you were bored?

Me: Yup. Big ideas, brilliant schemes and daring plans. My brother and I would get ourselves into trouble and back out of it again. I would climb up and dangle my legs off the side of my Bubb’s (grandpa’s) hayloft and stare at the sleeping barn owl in the rafters, mostly yo-yoing while I did so. I would hang upside down off our sofa until a good idea came into my head and when I was your age I started writing stories and then I would take them to your Tia Kay Kay’s (my aunt) house and read them to her and she loved them and put them into a special file folder in her office with my name at the top.

Hank: That is nice.

Me: Our Tia Kay Kay knows how to make a person feel special.

Hank: She does.

Me: Your papa and I have lost a bit of the magic of boredom. We are sick with busyness. We both have a million things to do all the time. We want to be bored with you and just hang out with no distraction and we also want Amália to see us three not looking at screens or a television.

Hank: Yah, that is a good idea.

Me: So when we get home…

Hank: I will do my homework and then we will find something to do.

Me: Exactly!

Hank: Mama, can you show me that card thing?

Me: A card flourish? Sure, my hands are a bit stickier now but of course and we can play a card game in between shuffles.

Hank: Can we play Blink? I love that game even though I never win. You’re too fast.

Me: I have a feeling you are going to beat me this round.

Hank: I don’t know.

Me: Practice is the only way you get better at something. Wishing can only get you so far. That is what your papa and I had in our childhood that you don’t with all your distractions. We had time to devote to practice stuff and the boredom to motive us to do so!

Hank: (raising his glass) Here’s to boredom! I hope I like it!

Me: (clinking his glass with mine) And I hope you don’t so you always find something better to do!

Epilogue: When we got home we played endless games of Blink until I couldn’t win anymore! Hank was too fast. We laughed loud and often. We talked in silly American accents, mostly Orange County California, at which Hank excels from his excessive YouTube watching. Hank asked me wonderful questions about my childhood and was jealous by how independent we 80’s kids were. Then he built a fort and Molly came home and they played and Hank introduced Molly to her new favorite thing (pictured above).  It was a great night and we plan to get bored again tonight, only this time Hank isn’t at all apprehensive.