Day 51: Where Do We Go from Here?

The Olive Garden year was supposed to provide a sense of stability and sameness for us. Instead it seems to have presided over a year of massive change.

So as we begin to say goodbye to this past year and this nearly-passed pass–I can’t help but wonder where we’ll go next.

The biggest changes this year seemed to surround my work–first my tumultuous old job and now my wild new one. But the real biggest changes in my world resides with James. He’s grown up the most through this year, despite having no pass of his own.

And so I look to this sign in the to-go/pick-up area of our restaurant and wonder at that: where are we to go? When this chapter closes, which story begins? How are we now to live?

The good news is that with change comes direction. One chapter of my life closed so firmly this past year and a new one opened so clearly that I don’t have to linger in the Olive Garden lobby for hours or weeks or years wondering what happens next.

It’s just that, after this year of change, I still can’t help but expect the same. Wherever we seem to be headed now, I have to wonder–is it real? Will it always be?

But like I said, there’s still James. He changed a lot this year, but it only made him more clearly himself. That’s what I’m hoping for: as I embark on this new teaching adventure, as I embrace new colleagues and friends, as I challenge myself in new ways, I have to believe that it will only make me more me. It won’t take me away from the things I love and believe and hope for, but it will bring me closer to them.

Where are we to go?

Gen. 12: 1: Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

I guess that’s always where you go.


Item 1: whole grain linguine, meat sauce, breaded chicken


Breadsticks: 2.5

Weight: 170

Destination: The Promised Land

Day 50: Secret Menu Item 5

If you want to accomplish a couple of tricky maneuvers in one go, here’s how you do it.

Say you find yourself wanting some shrimp. You order shrimp.

They bring you chicken.

That’s fine, because actually you wanted chicken–but you didn’t know it.

By now, the Olive Garden staffers are so familiar with our lives and needs and wants, that they can predict them. So, they know that if I order shrimp simply to keep up appearances, I really mean, “bring me chicken.”

And then they can bring the chicken, and I can make a big show of being quite all right with it, and this allows me to seem magnanimous to the rest of my party. So, I get the chicken I secretly wanted, and I also look like some kind of nice guy for not stirring the pot and insisting that they bring me the chicken of the sea.

So that is most likely you last Secret Menu item ever that I will be giving you, and that’s quite all right.

At this point the blog is about as interesting as watching the walls. They do change, if you stare at them, but so slowly you won’t notice at all.


Item 1: linguine, meat sauce, breaded chicken breast


Breadsticks: 4!

Weight: 169

Weeks to go: <4

Day 49: Signing Day

Big day today: signed a contract to return to my alma mater. Exciting and exhausting. I start tomorrow. Yikes. I think it will be good.

This year has been a blur: like the bicyclist in this photograph. And, like this bicyclist, I feel like we weren’t supposed to be at the center of it all. Like we accidentally happened across the place where others had plans, and instead of their own landscape of conversations and meetings and moments, we’re the tourist hurtling obliviously through the foreground, coming from who knows where and aiming for the same. All these plans are drawn up, and then this person shows up and changes everything.

But, like that rider, I’m trying to zone out the problems and hang on to the possibilities. Don’t go looking for trouble, simply ride on to the next place and see if things make a little more sense there. This is quite literally what I’ll be doing starting tomorrow. And though I won’t be commuting by bike initially, it might not be out of the question entirely, as my car finds new ways to limit its functionality. So far these are mostly aesthetic limitations, but you kind of have to wonder.

Also, they messed up Chrissi’s salad, and then tried to take it back, and I said, “No, no, I’ll certainly eat that one, too.” That is the secret trick to getting two different salads.


Item 1: whole grain linguine + mushroom Alfredo + grilled chicken


Breadsticks: 2

Weight 169

Jobs: 0-2

Day 48: Photographing Legacy

Good news about this year of pasta: James has learned how to eat at restaurants like a professional. He orders his own kids’ pizza with grapes on the side, he calmly asks for water instead of juice because he knows he doesn’t need the sugar hit–and because he’s concerned about the bottom line–and he has his camera with him at all times to capture the most important parts of the meal: the food. Although he seems to be picking up some of my storytelling legacy, he has yet to start his own blog or instagram, so I guess he’s still learning.

This is a photo of the fruity drink I purchased. I don’t remember what it was called but it was one of those made-up corporate labels for drinks that is just so much the hybrid of descriptive words that you can’t even tell if it’s a real name or not anymore. It took me forty-eight trips to my Italian kitchen to order a drink for myself. I’m definitely from the James school of water-preference. It’s not even about the cost, entirely, it’s just that I’d rather eat my calories than drink them. I want credit for chomping them down, rather than to see them mysteriously appear around my middle out of nowhere. This was all right, anyway: sparkling water and strawberry and other juice, I guess? I wasn’t too focused on taste, but mostly on having something to photograph. Part of my legacy is be refusing to order drinks when dining out, and I think that tells you a lot about who I am, what I believe in.

Our final piece of the visual tour is this salt shaker from the table. I’m of the opinion that, chemically-speaking, salt is salt. It’s just that simple. However, the salt shaker out our table proudly heralded its European origins. Presumably, like me, the salt did one of those Ancestry DNA tests, and found out that it’s ancestors were Europeans, maybe some of them from the coasts of the Mediterranean. That’s great, and all, but I don’t think Italian salt–if it’s even from Italy–taste any different than American salt. But then, I suppose that’s the point of those DNA tests, too. If you’re European, you’re not taking a test like that: you know exactly where you come from. We Americans are the ones desperate to figure out who exactly we are, where exactly we come from–especially if we didn’t immigrate very recently. Yet, no matter what the percentages come back as, no matter how “European” your salt is–you’re still just an American looking for a home.


Item 1: linguine with meat sauce and crispy shrimpy


Breadsticks: 3

Weight: 169

Life lessons: threeve

Day 47: Secret Menu Item 4!

Wow, two secrets in like a week. I really spoil you guys.

Okay this secret I didn’t even know about until our server kindly tipped us off.

So for the second time on this crusade I’ve ordered the soup as my side instead of the salad (2/47 is about 4-5% for you mathematicians). It’s a rare thing not just because I’d rather eat soup than salad, but also because Chrissi usually wants soup (minestrone) and so I get salad as to be able to supply the whole family with salad.

But Chrissi didn’t want soup this time, so I was free to order it for myself. I went with the chicken gnocchi because it’s like a bowl of cream and chicken and complicated potato, and all those things sound good.

Yet when my soup came out, it turned out to be a secret menu item!

Instead of creamy chicken gnocchi it was just creamy chicken.

The server apologized and said he would bring me another bowl as soon as the kitchen had gotten the next round going. It seems that this present bowl was at the tail end of the last round of soup, and it was all gnocchied out. I said thank you, not ironically, not because I felt strongly about this one way or the other, but because it gave me something to blog about.

So that’s the secret: if for some very specific reason you’d prefer he chicken gnocchi soup without the gnocchi, all you have to do is arrive at the moment when the last batch of soup is very low and the next one isn’t quite ready yet. (He did bring me a new bowl of soup after that.)

That’s the thing, though: if you force yourself to think over and respond to the events and actions of your day, you see things differently. I, desperate for blogging content, will prefer any possible deviation from the norm to having everything be perfectly standard.

So if you want to see just how much you can become absorbed in pointless details, just commit to blogging every single time you do something. You’ll become an expert in some kind of minutiae, and that seems to be what our time is all about.


Item 1: Cavatappi (mixing it up!), five-cheese marinara (whoa, slow down there, wild man!) and meatballs (oh, okay, that’s normal)


Breadsticks: 3

Weight: 168

Time: right in between two vats of soup