I talked to my dear friend Jessica last week, barefoot from my big Arizona armchair, while she sat cuddled up in a warm sweater and blanket on her cozy Minnesota couch. FaceTime is a beautiful invention. It's so nice for connecting in a deeper way, to see all the familiar hand gestures and facial expressions, and to bridge the gap between Minnesota and Arizona while sitting in each other's living rooms. We caught up and talked about kids; her two I haven't even met yet, and my two I haven't met yet either. We talked about careers and our extended families, and had the inevitable weather conversations between a Midwesterner and a Southwesterner.
I've known her since we were both about 13. We met in middle school. She knew me before braces, before high school, before Mr. Ladd even, which is rare. We laughed until we cried on countless summer afternoons, sleepovers, and church youth group winter retreats. We both got our drivers' licenses and first serious boyfriends the same year. We argued and debated, and challenged each other to be better as we figured out love, life, faith. We drove to prom together, looked at colleges together, and were in each other's weddings. We've been there for some of the lowest and highest moments of each others' lives. Now we exchange texts and Facebook messages, but there is an irreplaceable connection with someone who's known all versions of you, who you feel you can be your truest self with.
Adult friendships can be tricky. As we get older and settle into careers and families, I find this time after college and into our 30's the toughest time to maintain old friendships or make new ones. It's a big switch from the high school and college years of built-in social networks with you all day at school, and then on the phone all night. It's much more complicated when plans aren't just a few feet away, down the dorm hallway with an open door. Now we actually have to pull out calendars, check schedules, even hire sitters sometimes, for a chance to hang out. Even a simple conversation sometimes just needs to be scheduled, so she and I have been making conversation dates. I've found it to be one small way to keep in touch with those long distance friendships. Sometimes a week or two in advance one of us will send a text saying, "We need to catch up. Phone/FaceTime date next week? What works for you?" and we put it on our calendar. It's better to just schedule a time when you know you have an hour or two to sit and truly catch up, because a quick phone call when you haven't talked in a while just never seems to cut it.
There are certain little things that never fail to remind me of Jessica. Honeysuckle or cherry almond scented lotion always bring back memories. Movies like Newsies and The Sandlot always recall memories of quoting our way through them more times than I can count. To this day, I can't eat macaroni without thinking of Jessica. In high school we used to drive her hand me down Toyota back to her house for lunch a couple times a week. Sometimes it was boiling hot tomato soup, but frequently on the menu was her "homemade" mac and cheese. It was elbow macaroni with loads of melted butter and shredded cheese in the microwave, and it was so good.
I came across a mac and cheese recipe a while back that immediately reminded me of Jessica. It's a sophisticated, decadent, version with gruyere cheese and sauce made from scratch. I've made it my own, and dubbed it Grown-Up Mac & Cheese. It reminds me of my friendship with Jessica, and keeping in touch with old friends in general. Much like those friendships, it might be more sophisticated, and take a little more work than the Mac and Cheese of old, but it's good for the soul in the same familiar way.
Grown-Up Mac & Cheese
- 12 oz ziti pasta
- 4 oz bacon
- 2 T flour
- 2 C milk
- 6 oz shredded gruyere cheese
- 6 oz shredded fontina cheese
- 3 oz shredded parmesan cheese
- chopped chives
- Cook pasta and drain pasta.
- Fry bacon meanwhile over medium heat until brown and crisp. Drain on paper towels.
- Pour off all but 1 T bacon grease from pan.
- Add flour to pan and whisk over medium heat.
- Pour milk 1/4 C at a time, whisking after each addition until incorporated and smooth.
- Add cheeses in 3 batches, whisking continually and making sure each batch is mostly melted before addng the next.
- Stir pasta into cheese sauce. It will thicken upon standing.
- Divide pasta among individual bowls or ramekins and top with bacon and chives.
How do you stay connected with old friends? How do you set aside time to make and keep friends with busy careers and families?