Archive for June, 2010

For My Dad, on Father’s Day

June 20, 2010

This is a stream of thought Faulkner-esque entries that stems from a few years in seminary, my distain of Hallmark holidays and my complete and utter dislike of how we completely seem to ignore how multiple influences impact the raising of a child.  I’ve long thought fathers have received the short end of the gift stick (I mean, how many grills, ties and dress shirts does one person need?). 

In seminary, we received countless, countless cautions about being careful on Mother’s Day or in general celebrating motherhood for the woman who could not either by choice or biology be a mother and be careful to tend to her needs.  In chaplaincy, we received the same warning about caring for a woman who lost a child either at birth or early in life.  I asked, once, what about the father? “They tend not to want to talk.” Ok? Shouldn’t that be where the road rises to meet them? Laser like glares let me know my questions were not wanted so I returned to my computer game tuning out the “feelings of the woman” conversation.  Having sat with couples who lost a child, there aren’t words but the father’s grief is just as present and sadly often ignored.  As I watched FB posts from friends, I realized how many of my friends have lost parents, many of them fathers.  Maybe it’s because we don’t tell our fathers what they mean to us or the silly things we remember until it’s too late, I found myself thinking about this over the past week. It seems we sadly do not tend to the pain of losing a father and the void it creates in the same way.  In many ways, I feel a sense of guilt for having two parents, still married. I know I am so fortunate.

 Yes, I bought my father a Father’s Day gift! It’s sitting in my car to be mailed (ok, I got the date wrong!)So, with all my love, here are the greatest lessons my father has tried to teach me – sometimes against the better wishes of my mother.  Some are funny, some are serious but they are all my dad.

1)      When I left for college, my mom peppered me with more useless advice about oh, studying (given my GPA, I probably should have listened).  My dad offered up two great tips. Always mix your own drinks and never call home after drinking. Wise advice. I did not fall victim to the Gorilla Fart drink.

2)      Even when you work your hardest, you might fail and that is ok.  I learned this lesson early on.  My dad is 6’5”.  When my sister and I were 5 and 6, we would play basketball against him.  Not H-O-R-S-E. 2 on 1. He blocked our shots! And we’d beg to play again until we figured out how to score.  Usually, it was a back door pass and a lucky shot that would be the game ender of Dad 20 something – Girls 2.  We always swore we would beat him.  My oldest niece and I finally revenged 30 years of frustration when we beat my dad, his twin and my oldest nephew in a game of 21: 21-10.

3)      Grilling is the only way to cook meat.  Never mind its -20 outside with an insane wind chill.  Hamburgers that are not grilled are not food.

4)      If you can answer to the face in the mirror, and be happy with the answer, you are doing well. 

5)      Standing up for what you believe in can leave you alone on a ledge.  Many are surprised when they find out my father is a Vietnam Vet.  He served in country, he turned down open deferments. His reasoning was simple: his not going meant somebody else did.

6)      Make time for your family.  My dad always came home for dinner.  He didn’t bring work home – he would go back to the office.  The family story is that when I was 2 or so my dad had taught me shapes: not circle, triangle, square but rhombus, parallelogram, trapezoid.  My grandmother asked me what shape something was and I told her “and isosceles triangle”.  Now, given my later struggles in Geometry, I think Dad should have kept going!

7)      Cheer for your team even if they are a made up bird. Or a green thing with a long snout.

8)      Color your food. Purple pancakes are fun in the middle of winter. Experiment with ingredients. Culinary disasters are just as much fun as same old same old.

9)      Before you object, protest or boycott, understand the complexity of an issue rarely is something as simple as it seems. 

10)   Vote.  If you didn’t vote, you didn’t participate.

11)   Never mistake horseradish for sour cream.

Love you Dad.

The Naming Controversy

June 19, 2010

Thinking deep thoughtsTo appreciate my affinity for Andrew Jackson, one has to go back to my sophomore year at Hollins College.  I enrolled in a course entitled England to 1688 taught by somebody who we were all pretty sure was a pirate in a former life (and shall remain nameless for reasons of privacy).  During a meandering period of the discussion of the history of tequila, he asked do you know how the saying “to the victor the spoils came about?” and the nine or so of us gave glazed over looks and we were told tales of Andrew Jackson, a wild inauguration party complete with a pig being thrown out onto the lawn of the White House to prevent the party goers from burning the place down and rumors of shots being fired IN the building itself.  Now, who knows how much of this is true or not (mind you, this is the same professor who’s famous first words to his son were “I’m sorry to tell you Ronald Regan is president) but the story of a president who could throw a party stuck with me (now about England to 1688, I remember something about Ethelred the Unready, a classmates purple coat and being off topic most of the semester!).

A decade or so later, The West Wing had their infamous block of cheese episodes which aired during the first two seasons.  Andrew Jackson allegedly had a block of cheese for people to eat while waiting to speak to the President about concerns because it was the “peoples” house. I became fascinated with the guy on the $20 bill.  I knew he was the first president not from one of the original 13.  His family home was outside of Nashville and he gave the state its nickname: the Volunteer State when saying he didn’t need a full army, just a few good volunteers from the state of Tennessee.  He didn’t join the Presbyterian Church until shortly before his death: he struggled with forgiveness in political and personal  attacks.  His writings indicate that he could forgive actions on a battlefield because one follows the lead of command: a valuable lesson perhaps we all should continue to remember.  He was not a saint: the Trail of Tears is a sore reminder.  He was a character – the first maverick to probably hold the office.  He had a biting sense humor: when called a jackass, he used it as his motto.  Seen as the founder of the Democratic Party, the Donkey, in part, remains its symbol in honor to Jackson.

So, when I went to adopt cat number one in Colorado, I wound up with this long, lean orange-ish creature who totally has opinions.  He was a Jackson.  When I moved to Massachusetts, I became peppered with questions: WHO was Jackson named for? Ok, let me be clear: this is a CAT. MEOW. Jackson Pollack? Michael Jackson? Uh, no. Andrew Jackson. It was a whip around you killed Bambi’s mother moment.  He KILLED the Native Americans.  ( Now, in fair disclosure, I did have fish in college named Marx and Lenin) Ok. He’s a cat? He also did some good things? And there is historical context. And, well, it was after a TV show, a biography, a professor.

And I stopped. My mother’s family is CHEROKEE! Andrew Jackson was a prisoner of war! I was engaging lunacy over how I named my cat. Never mind that in the early 19th century, women, non-property holders and a host of others couldn’t vote.  My cat was named for one of the early characters in American history.  And his brother? Well, he was named for his Jimmy Buffet side kick pirate/privateer.  And between them? They re-enact the Battle of New Orleans at 4:30 am most mornings.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cooking with Monster

June 18, 2010

Many, if not most people, have a cooking partner.  Generally speaking, it is a human.  Mine is a mischievous four legged creature named Jean Lafitte, one of two cats to share my living space.  My older cat, Andrew Jackson, isn’t so much interested in cooking as he is inspecting any leftovers.  In the cat hierarchy, Jackson determined that Lafitte, aka Monster, is allowed the kitchen, the living room from 3-7pm Eastern and maybe sometimes part of the bedroom depending on Jackson’s whim.  Complicating this entire complex social pecking order is the fact that Lafitte is a “special needs kitty”.  Lafitte has the equivalent of cerebral palsy in cats.  His litter was dumped (Grrr!) but rescued by a no kill shelter.  I wound up with the first pick and this adorable monster kitten kept leaping up my jeans as I played with the kittens.  Well, as the PT Barnum saying goes, there is a sucker born every moment and Lafitte found his way home in short order.  Aside from an inability to walk a straight line, jump, run or generally have cat like reflexes, he is a pretty normal cat.  Meaning: he is a chatty opinionated creature who fits right in with the rest of the household (and he has been known to try to take down his much larger and older brother!).

Lafitte is the one who will “help” me cook.  And by help, I mean try to climb into the fridge. Try to swipe part of the week’s share from the CSA and is always willing to offer up an opinion of if he thinks a recipe needs garlic or soy.  Maybe he is looking for a scrap of feta or Bok Choi,  but he is my helper in the kitchen.  Now almost 3, he is a riot to have around – I mean, what other cat would beg for food that many humans wouldn’t even try? Mizuna anybody?

Community Supported Agriculture and Surprising Benefits

June 18, 2010

Just another day!

When I asked Santa for a share of in a Community Supported Agriculture farm that offered single person shares, I had no idea what I would experience.  I probably have moderate cooking skills: I like to cook but cooking for one is a challenge.  Many, if not most recipes are for 4-6 servings.  Grocery stores even present a challenge: many items come in such large quantities that it is easy to see why obesity is on the rise, simply purchasing items for a single household and not having to pay a premium is a joke.  I became excited just because of the lack of waste.  Finally, I could get fresh produce for one person for a week.

There have been a few disasters (the notable sweet potato salad – but that due to my inability to reconstruct what I ate in New Orleans.  I’ll try again in the fall!) and a few no way in the world I’m eating that (some scary looking green things) moments.  The benefits? I’ve dropped weight without intentionally trying (thanks to ankle surgery limiting what I can do for the time being).   My migraines have virtually disappeared.  I don’t crave junk. I simply don’t want it anymore.  I kid with my friends that I am going to prove that eating healthy will kill somebody.  I still have my ice cream moments but pineapple tends to be the first thing I want to reach for – or strawberries.  I might die in the winter of lack of local fresh fruit.

Midway through June, it has been a cool(ish) New England spring.  Our pollen counts have been insane.  My allergies, normally a bane of my existence, have been nothing but a passing thought from time to time.  I have had my windows open – and dusted the pollen OFF the silver laptop!  I am not totally reformed: I drink diet coke and even my doctor agrees with me that I’m allowed that one vice. 

I am not preaching the “shop the perimeter of the aisle grocery store” mantra or use Weight Watcher points only.  For me, this was an accidental tourist meets how to be healthy.  Maybe that is the key.  I have never been the person who can be told what to do: I have to find my way in the dark and the misadventures, culinary and all, for something to stick.  But, if you see me on a treadmill? Please intervene.  God knows I’ll probably break a bone if I hang out one of those too long!