Wednesday, August 31, 2011

barnacle/ 139

Three years ago, I was taking a beginning knitting class that was being offered through our local township office. My teacher was Jan- a feisty woman who knew her way around the needles and had enough experience to teach some wobbly and uncertain fingers how to get around their needles, too.  What most impressed me about Jan, was that she was wearing socks.  Not your ordinary, store bought socks, mind you.  No, these beauties were lovingly made by her very own hands.

Instantly, I was intrigued.  I've always had cold feet in the winter and have learned over the years that if  I can keep my feet warm, then the rest of me stays warm, too.  Most sock yarn is made from wool- a miraculous fiber from the gods and the sheep that has been known for over a millennia to contain the ever essential component of warmness.  If I could teach myself how to knit these babies, my days of cold feet- cold body, would be over.

In earnest, I went to the library and checked out the book, Knitting for Dummies, and proceeded to teach myself how to knit in the round- an initially formidable skill that is usually used for knitting up anything that calls for a tube-like garment.  Unfortunately, learning from a book isn't always the best way to learn a manual skill like knitting, so this is where Jan came in, when I found myself stuck in the pattern because I was knitting on the inside of the round instead of the outside. It only took a matter of minutes for her to see where I was making my mistake. And it was only a matter of days following her instruction, that my first sock was finished.

Of course, once you make one, you have to make the other.  Encouraged and enthused by my newly acquired skill, I began taking orders from anyone who'd like a pair.  All of the boys would need some, my parents, sisters, friends, Mr. Hero. The list began to take on a life of it's own, and it didn't take long before I discovered that with the speed I was knitting them, I'd be a grandmother before everyone had been warmed by my work.   Worse yet, someone could certainly fall off the list, by mistake, and get their feelings hurt in the process.

Mr. Hero, lamentably, happened to be the one.  Not that he knew it (until now). But I did.  And so, on one cool day last March, when I was putting my folded pairs of hand-knit socks back into my sock drawer, I realized that Mr. Hero still needed his pair.

Resolute to please my man with the exquisite luxury of warm feet richness I had already begun to take for granted, I set about looking for an American sourced and spun yarn company that could provide the perfect yarn for my project.  Quince & Co fit the bill.  In no time at all, my tern yarn, in the color of barnacle/139, had arrived.  The pattern, Elementary Watson Socks, by Sherry Menton, was a real find. Sherry gives instructions for a cable sans cable needle, which works like a charm and speeds up the cable rounds fantastically.  It is also interesting (which helps offset the second sock syndrome), easy to memorize, and most importantly, makes up a wicked pair of socks.

Unfortunately, Mr. Hero would still have to wait another six months before he'd get to feel the sensation of his wife's handiwork... but that's only because the weather had warmed up by the time the yarn had arrived, and by then I was ready to get my hands into the dirt, instead of on the needles.

the flying geese stitch with cables-which repeat every 12 rounds

Well, you know how the old saying goes... good things come to those who wait.
Luckily, Mr. Hero didn't seem to mind.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

first days

I've heard that when mothers send their kindergardeners off to school for the first time, the potential for tears increases exponentially- for the mom that is.  This is an experience that had eluded me.  Not because I was glad to see the kids off to school after five years of having them in the nest 24/7 - but rather, I was determined to keep them home as long as I could.  Until today.

Ten years later.

Mr. Tailor, in his junior year of high school, will be attending the local community college as part of their early admissions program.    Ever since his first day of homeschooling, when he was five, I'd had my eyes set on this program.  Last spring when he was accepted into the college, we were thrilled to say the least.  For him, it was all about being able to further pursue his interests in art and photography. For me, it was like getting this huge booster shot of confidence that I'd been missing during all those years of homeschooling.  Half of me was convinced that I was doing right by my kids -that homeschooling was providing a different experience that would foster their independence, individuality, and curiosity.   Yet, the other half of me was scared that maybe we were spending too much time together.  That somehow, I might be ruining their education by not being able to fill in all the gaps that clearly the public school, with all of it's resources, would be able to provide-that I might be ruining their future.

Books written by John Holt usually cured me of the last thought- for a little while, anyway.  Holt, also considered the father of the whole homeschooling movement, was a teacher for more than thirty years in the public school system.   After seeing it's weaknesses back in the 70's and 80's, he wrote a series of books advocating child-led learning. His theories about honoring the "whole" child were appealing to me and gave me the courage to plug away, year after year with the homeschooling. And although I haven't been able to let the boys completely lead the way with their education ( they probably wouldn't have ever cracked open a math book if left to their own devices), I'm happy about the time they have had to discover who they are- and to be true to that.
Mr. Tailor on left (age 5) with
Mr. Reporter

So today was the big day.  Mr. Tailor woke up at a quarter to six this morning and made sure that he had everything set so that he could be at the bus stop by 8 a.m. His class was to begin at 9:30 a.m.- if everything ran as scheduled, he'd have forty minutes to spare.  With excitement lighting up his face, he hugged me goodbye and at ten to eight, he walked to the bus stop (which is only two minutes from our home) and proceeded to wait.

Meanwhile, I'm sitting at home, thinking about how much I want to cry because I have this knot in my heart.  I really shouldn't be experiencing this- Mr. Tailor is sixteen after all- and this is quite a different situation than sending him off to school when he is five.  Nonetheless, you know what they say about should-ing all over yourself... and the feeling was there whether I liked it or not.

Suddenly I get a call from Mr. Tailor.  Apparently, his first bus was late by fifteen minutes, which caused him to miss his second bus, and would I be able to pick him up so he could get to class?  I can hear the anxiety in his voice.  Not a good way to start off the school year.  

I pick up the six-foot kid from the bus station, downtown.  He's nervous but is handling the stress alright.  I do what any good mom would do and offer him up a bunch of encouragement and advise.  Stuff like:

-It's ok if you're late.  You won't be the only one.
-Breath deeply.
-Take the first seat you come to.  No, you won't have to sit there for the rest of the semester.
-Tell your professor after class what happened.  She'll understand.
-Exhale.  Are you breathing?

He just stares at me and doesn't say a word.
Yeah, I know I'm failing miserably at the cool and collected parent attitude- which isn't anything new to Mr. Tailor- however, after I drop him off, I notice the knot in my heart feeling I was struggling with earlier is gone.


Of course, now it's been replaced with the worry of not knowing how things will work out for him feeling.  But hey, at least I'm used to that one.

Such is life, isn't it?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

let's do Greek- part 2

Stories and recipes.

Every family has them and every family needs them.  They are the key ingredients that bind a family together- the yolk- so to speak.  Without them, the family crumbles -just ask any baker that forgets to put the eggs in her muffins or marriage counselor who can't get her clients to communicate.

Mr. Hero's family has a Greek heritage that they are very proud of and the way that they celebrate their "Greekness" is through food.  So even though Grandpa T. and I had spent numerous hours in the kitchen the night before preparing our Mexican cuisine, we still knew that Greek night was going to happen the next day- tired feet or not.  Except this time, I suddenly remembered that Mr. Hero really needed some bonding time with his Dad- so I delegated him to kitchen duty so they could get just that.

Greek food isn't as time consuming as Mexican, so only a few hours or so were needed.  The spastitia was prepared, as was the pita bread, tzatziki, green beans, 2 legs of lamb (one greek and one french), olives, and green salad.  Craft Queen, Mr. Brewski, and the pixies came over again for another night of Grandpa T.'s amazing dishes.  We ate until we hit the "full" gage on our internal food-o-meters and did what we do best- tell stories (for good food and stories bind friendships together, too).

Here is one that was not shared that night but is a fun story, nonetheless.  For you see, it is the notorious pink elephant story- and everyone should have at least one pink elephant story in their pocket.  Grandpa T. did and this is what he had to share:

"There really weren't any pink elephants."
"Really?" I  said, positive my father-in-law, Grandpa T., could detect the disappointment in my voice.
Sure, there had been a lot of drug usage during the Vietnam war, but how cool would it have been if the pink elephant euphemism turned out not to be a euphemism after all... but a real possibility.  Before I had the chance to slap on a mental post-it note to monitor my b.s. radar, Grandpa T. began to elaborate:

During the Vietnam War, Grandpa T. worked as a helicopter mechanic and was given the opportunity to fly as a door gunner- an opportunity he took in order to escape the boredom and bombings of the base.
the Rockpile courtesy of Tan Hiep
One day, he was flying on a resupply mission to the Rockpile ( a massive mountain of granite that the Marines used for their helicopter landings) when suddenly the pilot asked the nineteen-year-old Grandpa T. a series of questions that went something like this:

"Do you see anything down there?"
"No, sir."
"You don't see the elephants?" persisted the pilot.
Sure enough when Grandpa T. looked again, he saw the elephants.
"Yes, sir."
Then the pilot asked, "Well, what color are they?"
Without thinking about it or doing a double check, Grandpa T. respectfully responded that they were gray.
"No. They're pink," commanded the pilot.  Leaving no room for the cognitive dissonance to take root in this young corporal's head.  And by golly, as their helicopter descended closer to those blasted elephants, it became even more obvious that they were PINK.

The explanation is quite logical, actually.  In order to keep themselves cool and pest resistant, elephants love a good mud bath- and on this particular day, they really took a liking to the red iron oxide rich clay- which of course dried pink on the elephants' backs in the hot Vietnamese sun.

The young Grandpa T. w/ his helicopter
So that was the pink elephant story.
And here is the cherished "spastitia" recipe that has been enjoyed by the family for generations.  It is uniquely Grandpa T.'s- with a creamier sauce and additional layers.

His gift... to you.


2 lbs ground beef
3 large onions, chopped
olive oil-as needed
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 Tbsp oregano
1/2 can tomato paste
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup water
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

salt and pepper
1 lb  Greek macaroni (these noodles are larger than the American macaroni typically found in stores)

Bechamel sauce:
1 quart warm milk
3 tbsp flour
1/4 cup butter
a bit of parmesan for sharpness
salt and white pepper
3 eggs
In olive oil, saute the the onions then add 2 lbs of ground beef- allowing for the fat to cook into the onions for flavor.  Mix and pack.  Add garlic and parsley (crumbling the meat with a fork) until golden brown.  Add spices, tomato paste, wine and water.  Stirring constantly, cook for 45 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Meanwhile boil the greek macaroni in salted water according to the directions on the package; when cooked, rinse and drain the macaroni; place it in a bowl.
Make up bechamel sauce- in another pan, melt butter, add flour, and stir until smooth.  Lower heat, and gradually add the warm milk and eggs, stirring constantly until it thickens.  Season with salt, pepper and parmesan.
Using a 4 inch buttered lasagna pan (we used the disposable for faster clean-up), make up layers of meat, noodle, sauce; meat, noodle, sauce.
Bake in a 350 degree oven until top is golden brown (about an hour).
Cool and cut into 3 inch squares.
Photo taken by Craft Queen


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

let's do Mexican- part 1

"Did I ever tell you my pink elephant story?" my father-in-law, Grandpa T., asked me.
"Nope.  I don't believe I recall that one," was my reply- we'll maybe not my exact response- but I have it on good authority that this is the precise phrase you should use when asked a question you don't know- but want to save face.

the Washington Monument outside our balcony window
little meerkat standing guard

It had been a good four years since our family had had a good long visit with Grandpa T.  Arizona is a long way from PA- even on an airplane.  So when we received the call that confirmed that he'd be in Washington D.C. for a convention with his significant other, Grandma A., we were thrilled- to say the least.  His trip would involve a two day stay at the downtown Marriott, a trip to the National Zoo, and then he promised to head up our way and spend the rest of the week with us.  And while viewing the monuments and meerkats commanded their own certain amount of awe, I'd have to say- hands down- that the best part of this visit was having Grandpa T. stay with us for 5 belly laughing, ear bending, cheek burning days.

We heard story after story- and I even learned a thing or two about serving dinner guests. Let me illustrate, for you see, there is an explicit method to serving dinner guests that I had not previously been aware of until the night we served Mexican.

For 6 hours, Grandpa T. and I had been working away in the kitchen in order to put our Mexican menu together for our 5:30 pm dinner appointment.  Most of the dishes came from Jeff Smedstad's  Elote Cafe cookbook Grandpa T. had sent us back in April- which was mentioned in this post.   Not only was he generous enough to send us all the fixings necessary to prepare several of Jeff's dishes, but he decided to come out and cook them for us, as well.
Now that's love, baby.

Here's what was  planned for the menu:

  arroz de elote (spanish rice-pg. 154)
 quesadillas de costilla (chuck roast in red sauce- although we would have used short ribs if we could
have found them- pg. 70)
 pollo verde (chicken in green sauce)
  chips and guacamole w/o tomatoes, pico de gallo (salsa- pg. 50), mucho queso ( cotija and oaxaca cheese ),  tortillas, Cholula hot sauce
 palomitos (popcorn with the Elote seasoning mix- pg. 77)
 chocolate diablo bread pudding with dulce de leche and chocolate sauce over ice cream for dessert.

We'd been promising our friends Craft Queen, Mr. Brewski, and their two little pixies for over a year that when Dad came into town, we'd be sure to have them over to "bask in the richness of his cuisine".  They brought the beer and arrived right on time, with only a few minor touches needing to be prepared in the kitchen.  I'd previously set out the appetizers of popcorn, chips and guac, and the pico de gallo onto the table so they could snack while we were finishing up.  Once I saw that the meat was finished, I was all set to get started with serving up the meal that we had so painstakingly prepared (thank god we only do this every 4 years) when to my surprise, Grandpa T. stopped me and told me that we weren't eating yet.

Run that by me again?

No.  We were to sit, visit, and eat the appetizers first and TAKE OUR TIME  (which is so un-American by the way).

The Craft Queen watched as the obviously perplexed daughter-in-law tried to digest the sage wisdom of the obviously experienced gourmet cook- and then had a good chuckle when she watched me follow his orders.

Sous chef, indeed.

The meal was (finally) served, we ate to what Ben Franklin would have considered dullness,  visited to the extent Grandpa T. would have considered appropriate ( the pink elephant story wasn't told that night), hugged our friends goodbye, and finally collapsed into bed around midnight.

Ah... The very definition of Content.

Monday, August 8, 2011

maturity is as maturity does...

water drop  by Mr. Tailor

Recently, I had a little discussion with Mr. Cook.  It went something like this:

"Mom, am I mature?"
"Not even a little drop?" he asked with shoulders and face sagging at my response- pleadingly holding up his index finger and thumb to show me that his "drop" was the equivalent of an inch.
"No. Ok, maybe a little drop," was my reply.
Then with a tremendous smile that completely brightened his face he said,
"Great! I'm mature!" and happily left the room.

I've been thinking about maturity lately- and how elusive it can be- even to grown-ups.  I know I'll eventually need to convey to my son that maturity isn't something that automatically happens when one turns twenty-one.  Maturity can take a lifetime- and since we are really an evolving project in progress, I guess the effort towards maturity is really worth it.

So what does maturity look like?

Here are a few gems of wisdom I've stumbled upon and still find myself struggling with- usually more often than I care to admit.

  • Recognize that everyone is entitled to their own opinions and that they might differ from mine- which is perfectly alright.  People's life experience paints their perspective.  Therefore, opinions and feelings aren't fact- however, they should be listened to. 
  • Take responsibility.  My problems are my own and I need to fully deal with the consequences of my actions.  Playing the "blame or victim" game never helped anyone in the long run.   Last week I finished reading Flaubert's Madame Bovary and was surprised to discover that the heroine of the story took her own life when the consequences of her actions overwhelmed her (hope this doesn't ruin the ending for any of you).  Had she been a more mature individual, she might have decided to seek out other less damaging options- such as debt consolidation services, perhaps?
  • There are choices.  I'd say that most situations have at least two... sometimes three or more.  Giving myself the time to choose the choice that brings me the most peace is usually a sure bet.  Allowing myself the freedom to recognize that sometimes I've made a bad decision and then change my mind about it, is a choice as well.
  • Admit when I am wrong and make amends.  Some of the choices I make hurt others.  When they do, I need to say I'm sorry and try to repair the damage when doing so would be helpful to the individual involved.
  • Forgive myself and others.   We are all human and make mistakes.  Isn't that what life's about anyway?  Fumbling around in the dark- making mistakes, until we get things right?  
  • Accept love from others- even when doing so is difficult.  Ok- this one can be really tough- especially when I'm feeling a little empty on the self- love meter.   However, sometimes when I allow myself to ponder the love others have for me, their love can give me more courage to love and accept myself.  Mark Twain once said that he could live for two months on a compliment.  Boy, can I relate with him on that one.
  • See life as a blessing.  Each day finding at least one thing to be grateful for can mean the difference between a smile or a frown.
  •  Life takes courage- so live it one day at a time.  It is so easy to become overwhelmed with the responsibilities and demands of life.   I've noticed that if I focus instead on what can be done in one particular day, after a week of doing that, the "must-do" mountain shrinks considerably. Amazing.
I'm sure this list isn't exhaustive- which could explain why so many of us are still struggling with the whole maturity thing.  Maybe, Mr. Cook had the right idea all along- take one little drop of maturity and be really happy with it.

Well, why not?