Weeks 43 - 47: Beef Stew

When I was young and just out of college, living the crazy life of a restaurant manager in San Antonio, Texas, I met a girl who had no sense of smell. She was born without it, and lacking the sense didn't really seem to have that big of an impact on her everyday life - she had friends pick out her perfume, she was never subjected to the unpleasant aromas that can assault us from time to time, and she had never eaten food with her sense of smell intact, so she couldn't possibly understand the unavoidable alteration to her sense of taste.

But what about all of the scent-based memories she missed? For me, there are certain smells in this world that are inextricably tied to specific events, times, and people in my life; and when I encounter these smells, they consistently evoke the memories to which they are tied, and often the very strong emotions associated with them.

Chanel No. 5 takes me back to Oklahoma City and the house in which I grew up; to a tiny, tiny bathroom, a space way too small for four people to amicably share, decked out with black-and-white checkerboard floor tiles and an infuriatingly transparent shower curtain littered with penguins; to a vision of my mother, and her daily application of her signature scent, in front of the mirror precariously perched over a stained white sink in that minuscule bathroom, as she readied herself for the day.

The unique and powerful odor of tuna fish sandwiches - made with Miracle Whip mind you, not mayonnaise, and mixed together with chopped gherkins and celery - always makes me think about my lovely grandmother, and the countless afternoons we lunched together at her kitchen table in Wichita, Kansas. I don't know how many times I have suddenly started crying while preparing those darn sandwiches.

And beef stew. I cannot smell its delicious aroma without thinking of the night before my children were born; and I cannot think about the night before my children were born without smelling its delicious aroma. So here I am, more than nine thousand miles away from the scene of the stew, on the day before my children's sixth birthday, and I am consumed with two thoughts.

One of which is beef stew.

I am not merely thinking about this hearty dish, I am craving it. And I don't mean the canned variety. I mean a huge pot of made-from-scratch, full of love and fat and vegetables, thick, chunky, steaming beef stew. The kind my step-mom Karen makes. The kind she thoughtfully brought to my hospital room on the eve of our parenthood so Greg and I wouldn't have to dine on cafeteria food yet again. Greg tells me it is the best meal he has ever had. I find I can't agree, because I didn't get to eat it. Not even a bite. The doctors had decided earlier in the afternoon that, barring an unexpected change in the boys' precarious gestational state, the following day would be their birthday. So I was put on "NPO" status, which is Latin for "no one cares how hungry you are; you're not eating anything." I should mention that, earlier in the day, Karen and I headed straight from a routine obstetrical visit to the hospital, as instructed by my doctor, so we missed lunch. Lapses in regular food consumption made me cranky during pregnancy (okay, they still do), so when I caught a whiff of the home-made stew as Karen brought it into the room, I put up a bit of a fight - as much of a fight as a bloated woman practically chained to the bed can offer, anyway. Following a barrage of whiny complaints and generally irritating behavior from me, the doctor on call (Torquemada in a lab coat, I tell you) finally relented and allowed me to eat half of a bread and butter sandwich: a cute little side dish intended to accompany the stew. But no more. Greg had three helpings of the forbidden fare, the bastard. And yes, I am still mad about it.

The second, and foremost, thought consuming me this evening is not, as you might suspect, my irrational fear of and obsession with black spitting cobras. It is, instead, the inevitable passage of time. I can remember every detail about that labor and delivery room - the names and personalities of the nurses, the color of the plastic water pitcher, and even the taste of that lone bread and butter sandwich - all as if it happened only yesterday. Yet six years have passed. I look at pictures of my children taken right after they were born, when they were so small and helpless, and connected to so many tubes and wires that they couldn't take a breath, or hold one, without a machine recording it. Then I look at the little men who govern my heart and try my patience, and I wonder how in the world the time has passed so quickly. And I worry that I will wake up in the morning and they will be packing for college.

But there is nothing I can do to slow it all down. Every day they say and do things that shock me - sometimes because of the graphic nature of their comments (boys say some pretty disgusting things), other times because of the surprising maturity that their carefully chosen words demonstrate.

A few nights ago I asked my messy, messy boys to clean up their much loved and much abused art room before we sat down to dinner. Cameron, seemingly ignoring my request (I'd like to say that would be unusual, but who am I kidding), began racing down the stairs toward his meal. When he saw the questioning look on my face, he assured me that Alec was taking care of the clean-up, then said, "Mommy, can I be nice and tell you the truth? I am lazy." Wow. And he is sometimes, when chores are involved, and we have told him as much. But his totally honest admission of this less than desirable trait had me torn: between laughing at the very serious look on his face and crying over how my babies have been replaced by walking, talking people.

Of course, later on that night, Alec fell down while running outside, so I got to comfort one of my babies again. As much as I hate to see them hurt, when the inevitable minor injuries happen, there is a part of me that loves being the one they turn to for comfort; that loves holding them, and kissing away their tears, and promising them that that big ol' scratch will not, in fact, hurt forever. Parenthood seems to be fraught with these emotionally ambivalent moments. As I look in on their peacefully sleeping forms tonight, thinking back over the past six years, not a moment of which I would trade for a lifetime of restful sleep, I find myself struggling again. I am torn, as I seem to be so frequently these days, between pride and panic at how fast they are growing and changing. And I think - I know - what would really make me feel better right now, what would soothe my soul and fill my stomach, is a helping of that beef stew

Take care,
Shannon et al.


October 10, 2000 October 10, 2006


Cameron - 3 pounds, 10 ounces




Alec - 4 pounds



Alec & Cameron


Cameron - 42 pounds, one ounce

Alec (& friend) - 43 pounds, eight ounces

Alec & Cameron

 What a difference six years makes...

Cameron & classmates - he's not too happy about being the center of attention...


Cameron, 2006 Class Picture


Alec, 2006 Class Picture



Alec & classmates - he's quite happy as the center of attention...


Cameron, leading his class in the song he refused to sing that morning at his assembly.

Karen's Beef Stew Recipe

  • 1 - 1.5 lbs of sirloin, cubed
  • 3 cans of beef stock
  • 1/2 onion
  • Several carrots, sliced
  • Several potatoes, cubed
  • Bag of frozen corn kernels
  • Handful of green beans
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • 4-6 ounces of cold water
  • 2-3 tbs. of flour
  • Garlic Salt
  • Combine meat and onions in a large stock pot. Sautee the meat in its own juices until brown.
  • Add in a few pinches of salt and pepper and a few shakes of Worcestershire. Add beef stock and vegetables to mixture.
  • Simmer stew for about an hour, or until vegetables and meat are tender.
  • Mix cold water and flour until creamy. Bring stew back to a boil, then slowly add flour and water mixture.
  • Reduce heat. Add more salt, pepper, and/or garlic salt to taste.
  • Serve hot with little bread and butter sandwiches.