The (Real) Russo Family Christmas Letter

Dear Friends and Family,

We are all enjoying the holiday season so far, despite being overbooked and overextended and short on time and money. In fact, the picture that accompanies this post is, I believe, from 2012. That is the last time we were all together in the same place and looking nice enough to have our portrait taken. We are not great at posing.

So, what is the latest, you ask? I tried to cook recently because Joe works extra hours at the end of the year, and I nearly severed my index finger (this is an exaggeration, but that’s what Christmas letters are for) so I won’t be cooking around here anytime soon.

The Christmas tree looks great, but only if you stand to its left and tilt your head to the right a little bit. We knew the star was broken last year but waited a full year to replace it and when we brought the new one home, it was also broken. Instead of returning it, we attached it to the top with a clip we use for the tomato plants in the summer garden. This ensures that we will have the same problem next year except we won’t be able to find the tomato plant clip.

blog snowmanAlso, we have about ten fewer snowman ornaments than we used to have. The dogs report that the wooden and cotton snowmen are delicious, but the Styrofoam ones were surprisingly disappointing given their sweet and puffy appearance.


The kids were busy for a while with school and work (Elsie corrects hockey statistics as a fact checker for a publishing company and Nick sorts microscopic water fleas as a lab technician) but now they’re all home and in the way. Elsie uses my favorite coffee mugs for her tea and Nick uses my favorite smoothie tumblers for his own smoothies. It may be important to note here that all the smoothie tumblers were gifts to him last year so that he could have a healthy breakfast on his commute, but I recently discovered that I like fruit smoothies and so I’ve decided all the tumblers should be mine. This happens fairly often. I am a shockingly selfish mother.

Ben isn’t working yet, but he’s still very involved in sports. Since he doesn’t have his license, this means I drive all over the state of Rhode Island looking for well-hidden baseball diamonds and sitting on bleachers that are sadistically designed to cripple and maim. People sometimes ask me what the score is or what inning we’re in, and I never have any idea.

Joe’s strange propensity to attract the world’s worst drivers continues unabated. I’ve never really seen anything like it. Slow-moving texters find him and drive in front of him, tailgaters drive behind him, and directional-challenged lane-changers weave in and out alongside him. Just recently, a 100-year-old driver (again with the exaggerating) in front of Joe cut off an enormously scary truck and proceeded to drive ten miles per hour down the road. Joe averted the near-accident unfolding in front of him with his usual aplomb. He found himself behind that same driver a few days later and saw the guy almost get broadsided when he drove through a stop sign at a busy intersection. Joe spends most of his time in the car shaking and scratching his head at the wonder of it all.

I no longer get the workout that I used to get at work, carrying books and papers around up and down staircases as I changed classrooms every time the bell rang. Now, I take an elevator from my office to my air conditioned and heated classroom. I spend a lot of time sitting and resting. As a result, I really need to spend more time on the treadmill, but I really don’t see that happening anytime soon. Isn’t it enough that I have healthy fruit smoothies for breakfast?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Russo family!

Me loving my present but wishing that I could have Ben's present, too.
Me loving my present but wishing that I could have Ben’s present, too.


I Will Never Be Like Laura Ingalls

When I was growing up, I wanted to be Annie, Laura Ingalls as played by Melissa Gilbert, and Anne of Green Gables, though not all at the same time, of course, and not necessarily in that order, depending on the mood I was in.

I could never be Annie because, well, that hair, and I didn’t feel smart or well-read enough in my preteen years to make a good Anne of Green Gables, so that left Laura Ingalls. Poor little Half-pint was so hapless and flawed and confused about life that I felt (as Anne Shirley would say) that she was a “kindred spirit.”

In many ways, I still want to be Laura Ingalls. The problem is, I cannot cook. You may think these things are unrelated, but you are wrong. Let me explain.

Joe is working late a lot during the holiday season, which is troublesome since we all rely on him to feed us. Takeout won’t see us through these tough times, so I decided to at least try to cook something, anything, for my starving family. Naturally, this resolution brought me to the bookstore, as nearly everything does.

My plan was to buy a cooking magazine and a cranberry-orange scone (What? I need sustenance, you know.) and to sit and flip through the magazine until I found a recipe that I thought I could make. Then, I would take the magazine to the grocery store, buy all the ingredients I needed, and go home and make supper.

To ensure my success, I bought two magazines. I flipped through the first but immediately felt daunted. How am I supposed to work with all these grams and kilograms? Where are all the teaspoon measurements? And what, in God’s name, is pois? I checked the magazine cover and found it was printed in the United Kingdom and I would have to do all sorts of measurement conversions in order to cook these recipes. Okay, nobody said anything about math. I put that magazine aside and opened the other.

This one was for actual, real-life, foodie-type, gourmet cooks, so, not for me. Although I could certainly read the recipes and follow instructions, I didn’t have the appliances or utensils required. I have a food processor; I know because I bought one for Joe a few Christmases ago, but it’s not the industrial-sized kind capable of pureeing an entire bag of potatoes at once. Also, what do you mean use a #30 scoop? All my scoops are either teaspoon or tablespoon sized because they’re all, well, spoons.

With my scone nearly gone, I knew I would have to do something drastic. I would have to buy an actual cookbook. So, I headed to the sale table and was immediately drawn to one written by a woman who calls herself Kris Jenner but whom we all know is a Kardashian. I have been trying to keep up with the Kardashians for ages, and now here was my chance. I perused with hope, but ultimately decided that the tacos and nachos and spicy seafood dishes weren’t for me, and if this is what these people eat, maybe I should give up trying to keep up with them once and for all.

Then, I saw it. An old-fashioned cover featuring a darling picture of Laura Ingalls, I mean Melissa Gilbert. It was called My Prairie Cookbook: Memories and Frontier Food from My Little House to Yours. I DO have a little house! I LOVE prairie food (whatever that is)! This book was for me!

I bought the book and headed to Stop & Shop for my prairie ingredients, which is just what Mrs. Ingalls would have done.

I flipped through the book as I meandered the aisles (yes, I was THAT annoying, slow-moving, clueless person). I thought I might try for a shepherds’ pie, but the guy in the lab coat behind the meat counter said they had all sorts of lamb body parts, but no lamb shoulder, which is what the recipe called for. At this stage of my cooking career, I am clearly not ready to substitute ingredients, so I had to move on.

I decided to go with a recipe for steak, potato, and leek pie. I propped the book open in the spot where a toddler is meant to sit and made my way systematically through the aisles on a search for the right items. (Now, the annoying, slow-moving, clueless people were in my way.)

I went back to the meat counter to ask the lab coat guy where the tenderloin steak was. He pointed vaguely to the beef section. I stood there long enough for him to realize that I was really asking him WHAT tenderloin steak was, and he came around, plucked a package out of the stack, and handed it to me.

Then, I asked the produce section lab coat guy if he could tell me where the leeks were. He gestured vaguely toward the vegetables, and again, I had to stand there until he understood that I was really asking WHAT leeks were, and he came and grabbed the weird looking plant that was right in front of my nose (but not labeled, mind you) and handed it to me.

As for the potatoes, well, no problems there.

I went through the checkout, chatted with the cashier who had been a high school student of mine and who reported having done very well in her first college English class (Yay!), and made my way to the parking lot. I transferred the bags to the car, dutifully returned my cart to the cart drop-off place (Don’t you just hate it when there is a lonely, rudderless cart languishing away in the middle of the PERFECT PARKING SPOT?), and went home determined to teach myself to cook prairie food so that I could be like my childhood idol, Laura Ingalls as played by Melissa Gilbert.

By the time I got to the kitchen, unloaded the groceries, and was ready to begin my big cooking project, I was crying, with both laughter and frustration. Remember when I dutifully returned my cart to the cart drop-off place? Well, um, I returned the cookbook with it, still propped open to the steak, potato, and leek pie page in the spot where a toddler is meant to sit.

My kids weren’t as astounded at my cluelessness as I would have liked for them to be, but they were pretty unhappy about our prospects for supper, which at this point were none. I called Joe and he agreed to stop at the Stop & Shop on his way home from work to ask for my cookbook back, and he was able to retrieve it from the Lost and Found. (He’s my hero!) He also brought home food. Phew! Little House on the Prairie crisis averted.

I still have all the ingredients for the steak, potato, and leek pie. And now, I also have the book. But I’m having so much fun reading it (there are lots of pictures and anecdotes about Gilbert’s experiences on the set) that I may not have time to cook today. Or ever. Maybe I should just get takeout. Maybe I should have done that in the first place.

EPILOGUE: Made the steak, potato and leek pies tonight. They were FABULOUS!






If I Ruled the World

Things would be so much better for everyone, I am certain, if I ruled the world. Here are just a few of the sweeping changes I would make:

  • Gourmet meals could be made quickly and easily just by adding water. And by gourmet, I mean fresh food tailored to my exact tastes at the moment (even if I change my mind within five minutes of the meal), with no additives or preservatives, and no difficult packaging to get in my way. The water could be either hot or cold because my scant culinary skills do actually include turning on a faucet and heating up a kettle.
  • Men would not be made to look moronic in TV commercials. I am not a man, so I don’t know why this is such a big pet peeve of mine. I am raising sons. Maybe that’s why.
  • People would just sort of automatically know that by texting while driving they are, at best, causing inconvenience, and, at worst, are causing harm, and then they would not ignore this knowledge by thinking to themselves, “Not me, I can text and drive without causing inconvenience or harm, because I’m different. I am so very special.”
  • No one would ever take their time and have a nice long chat with the cashier, who is sweating and fidgeting uncomfortably as she watches her line grow ever longer, just because they were there first and they can.
  • Receptionists at doctors’ offices would know that it’s possible and really quite probable that you don’t feel very well, but even if you are perfectly healthy and just there for a checkup, you are possibly and really quite probably about to take your clothes off, and maybe even get a shot, and you don’t really want to, and so they would be extra polite and wouldn’t give you a hard time about anything for any reason.
  • People moving slowly would get out of the way of people moving quickly, with the understanding that the fast-moving people are probably stressed out and have somewhere important to be, like an important business meeting or a dance recital or a labor and delivery room.
  • Gourmet coffee could made quickly and easily just by adding water. Oh, wait…

What would the world be like if you were in charge?