Pasta · summer

Sunset Hills, Golden Days, & Picnic Pasta

Nestled at the base of a neighborhood hill, backed up against an open field that lead to a city park on one side and a golf course on the other, sat Sunset Hills Elementary. Built in 1956, it was this low, flat, building hiding from the rest of the world at the back of an established suburb now incorporated into the middle of the city. In that building, I went from Kindergarten to Sixth Grade with the same 24 kids (give or take a couple of moves along the way). I will hold each and every one of them in a special place in my heart all my life.

I loved that place and I loved that time in my life. It provided a certain and specific type of magic – something I try to provide for my own kids. And, a lot has changed since I was a kid. Massive technological advances have changed the way our children learn at a rapid speed. They did something to math I still don’t understand. And, there’s so much good in this forward momentum. But, sometimes I wonder what it must be like to be a kid now. Instead of floppy disks and bubble fonts and dot matrix printers, they’ve got little computers in their pockets and their pick up line feels like a hostage exchange.

I know they probably still feel that childhood feeling. Of course they do. And I’m no sour apple about technology and what it has the ability to do for this world and our kids. But I wonder if they feel rushed sometimes. I wonder how often their exposed to things it would have taken SO much more intentional effort for me to exposed to, just because they let their YouTube videos autoplay innocently.

I’ve been thinking about all of this recently because I surprise found out they tore down my elementary school recently. And replaced it with a state of the art facility that I’m sure is incredible. But, I won’t lie, I cried when I drove by on one of our Family Pandemic Sunday Drives and the building was gone.

Just. Gone.

This giant symbol of my youth.

Disappeared.

And yeah, we should innovate.

But Omaha, you love of my life, you’ve got a problem with tearing your history down.

That’s what it is. They’re tearing my history down, man.

See, I’m at that age – headed towards the end of “young” adulthood. Seeing the far edge of my 30s at the end of the tunnel. Still young. I know. I know. I’m still so young. But, I’m growing up. Truly now.

And I think in growing up, you’re forced to say a lot of goodbyes. Little ones. Private ones. Surprising ones.

To people. To ideals. To plans. To habits.

To buildings.

There goes my elementary school.

There goes Crossroads Mall.

And sometimes I have to wonder with our rush to replace, are we losing huge opportunities for uniqueness or tenderness and preservation that could provide so much more?

I’m looking at you Jobber’s Canyon. (And sternly shaking my head at you, ConAgra Foods.)

But then I think about myself. And the things I’ve let go of. Intentional and not.

You don’t only shed the bad things. Sometimes you shed good things. Sometimes you’re forced to by circumstance.

Does that mean I’d be a “better person” if I hadn’t lost some of those good things along the way?

I don’t think so.

But, then again, I’m not a city.

I don’t know what I’m trying to say.

I guess I’m just watching my twelve year old turn into a teenager in two days and like wishing that time away so much. And I remember wishing away time when I was little and rushing to the newness of my future.

And now I’d give anything to go back, not to relive it, just to work harder to hold on to it.

At least they left the Sunset sign.

The sign I took a picture with my friends in front of in 1996 at the end of our Sunset journey and then again in 2004 at the end of our high school career.

I remember standing there, seventeen, wondering what it would be like to gather with the group of people who knew each other so well six years ago. Many of us had grown apart. Some of us had remained. Some of us had moved, changed schools, one of us even moved to England.

And somehow we all made it back for this picture. This promise to each other.

We gathered around the brick and metal sign depicting two hills with an orange sun nestled in the middle.

We wondered where David Jackson was, only to have him squeal up, late, in a beat up tan car, flick a cigarette out the window, and shout “Let’s do this!”

We dropped the ridiculous pretence that lives in the heart of every teenager and spent, oh, I don’t know, maybe 30 minutes together? Without worrying about who was who. The awkwardness I’d always felt sort of vanishing for a moment. We hugged each other. My best friend from back then wrapped his arm around my shoulders. We smiled. The camera clicked.

I don’t know.

There was something about it. Something that made me feel less alone? Something that made me feel like maybe I wasn’t the only one that got so nostalgic about those halls and that playground and that Tire Tower.

I guess I think the ideal for a person, for a city, for an elementary school, lies somewhere in between. I think that’s mostly true most of the time. Or perhaps better said, innovation doesn’t have to mean demolishment. Advancement doesn’t have to erase history. In fact, if it does it’s job right, it shouldn’t.

We shouldn’t erase our history.

It’s just too important.

It’s even more important to me now that I’m working to build up the magic of childhood for my kids. I’m trying to gently tether Brau to the imagination and innocence and wonder and safety he’s jumping to leaving in the dust. I’m trying to provide experiences for Devona that help cultivate her fearlessness and freedom and creativity and curiosity.

Sometimes the days fly by and I’m laying in bed at 11 at night like “What just happened? Who are those giant little people who were sitting at my dinner table? Am I paying enough attention? Am I giving them enough?”

But, last weekend, we did it.

We had one of those days that I hope lives in the yellow halls of their childhood memories forever. We took it easy. My anxiety was at its lowest point since the start of the pandemic. We packed a picnic and went to Two Rivers State Park and sat by the water walked around. We got Dairy Queen on the way home and we all fell asleep on the couch.

At the end of the day Brau leaned on my shoulder.

“Today was a fun day.”

“It was, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

He fell asleep again – as has been his favorite thing to do since puberty kicked in.

I let him sleep.

Remembering my childhood. My elementary school. My friends. And falling asleep on my mom’s shoulder.

We’re doing okay.

No.

We’re doing great.

Picnic Pasta

Serves: 6-8

Ingredients

  • About half a box of Ditalini
  • Half a red onion, small chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • About 1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 honeycrisp apple, small chopped
  • 1 T curry powder (less if you prefer a milder curry flavor)
  • 1/2 C mayo
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste
  • Schploop of olive oil
  • About half a loaf of day old crusty bread, like italian loaf or a baguette, torn into chunks

Instruments

  • Large pot
  • Large mixing bowl, preferably with lid for storage
  • Sautee pan
  • Stirrin’ Spoon
  • Pasta Strainer
  • Chef’s Knife
  • Cutting Board

Instructions

  1. Cook the ditalini according to package directions. Drain and allow to cool.
  2. Chop your red onion, cherry tomatoes, and apple. Toss in a large bowl. Grate the garlic into the bowl. Add salt and pepper and mix it all up.
  3. Heat a schploop of olive oil in a sautee pan over medium high heat. Toss your bread in and shake the pan around to coat the bread pieces. Let me toast in the pan for a while, occasionally tossing or stirring. Listen to me on this: You WANT parts of the bread to get charred. So don’t pull it out early – you’re looking for crispy, mostly golden, with delightful bits of blakckened. When you’ve got that, remove the bread from the heat.
  4. Toss your ditalini into the bowl with the veggie mix and stir. Add curry powder and mayo and mix, vigorously, until incorporated and evenly coated. If needed, you can always add a little more mayo – you don’t want it gloppy but nicely coated.
  5. Toss your bread bits in and fold them in until incorporated.
  6. Salt & Pepper to taste, then cover and toss in the fridge until picnic time.

We brought this, some boursin cheese and crackers, hummus, some sliced bell peppers, and for added fun, a bottle of sparkling grape juice. There was plenty to feed all four of us, plus leftovers for lunch the next day and, surprisingly, the bread held up SO well for the second day lunch.

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