Sunday, December 16, 2007

Home for the Holidays

Ah, home.

I had my flight schedule wrong in my head and so I ended up a) not having as much time to go out Friday night as anticipated, and b) having to get to the airport earlier than expected on Saturday since they wouldn't through-check my luggage, but I'm now safely in MSP. No guys immature guys with their asses in my face when they reached into the overhead, no recliner guys or scofflaws throwing air security rules to the wind, and a 21-year old kid on his way back from Chile mistook me for 25. Bless him. The lighting was poor.

The only tragedy of the trip was that I mistakenly bought a toilet book at Heathrow. I got suckered into one of those 2 for 20 deals at the Borders right as they called my flight, and I grabbed what I thought was a non-fiction history book with a sense of humour, but which ended up being written in one to two-page vignettes, obviously meant for crap-taking. Even though I am sure that the air of the toilet has never befouled its pages, just knowing it was a toilet book made it disgusting, therefore I left it with Bethany to dispose of.

First game of scrabble in, and thus far I am a loser. My brother did, however, do an emu impression in an attempt to show my mother an important play that would make him the winner, which made it all worth it.

Am happy to be here.

We be back online Tuesday for more christmas memories, and possibly some photologs of my hometown.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas memories, vol 19

My mom is not much of a cookie baker. There are many things she does well, but her cookies are so-so. Actually, I'm not sure it's so much that her cookies aren't great as when we were kids she didn't bake them that much. My Grandma B did.

Grandma B was a precision sort, so baking worked well for her. She wanted to do something to help my mom out at Christmas time, and somehow it evolved to a process whereby we would request cookies and she would bake them...when we went to her house to pick her up, there would be treats galore as well as luggage and Grandma. It was excellent.

Christmas cookies weren't necessarily Christmas-specific ones. For example, one of my personal favourites was the scotheroo - these are known by many names, but they are basically that rice krispie/peanut butter/karo syrup base with milk chocolate top thing - which is actually an acceptable treat year round. However, since we weren't really a cookie family, any occasion where cookies were present was a special one, therefore any cookie we liked could become a holiday option.

There were always date pinwheels, a favourite of my mothers (which I wouldn't touch with a bargepole, but never mind,) the aforementioned scotheroos and a variety of chocolate chip cookies. Grandma used the tollhouse cookie recipe on the Nestle bag, and originally made them with and without nuts to give us options. Sadly, she sometimes used hickory nuts, which suck, so the ones with nuts didn't always go down so well, particularly since my brother is four-square against nuts in any bar or cookie. (In fact, I Bob would be happiest if walnuts and pecans are banished from existence, but I digress.)

The next variation to evolve was the raisin chocolate chip, which seemed sensible since we liked raisins in oatmeal cookies. They were successful, and quickly outsold the nuts variety at any cookie time. And then one year, genius struck. Grandma was baking in the middle of the night and realised she had no nuts in the house, and she could not fathom not making a variety with a bit of crunch. Ever the resourceful one, she cast her eye around the kitchen and there was the box of leftover rice krispies from the scotheroos. So she added these to the batter, developing a cookie that somehow managed to be chewy and crispy and crunchy at the same time. They were awesome, and quickly became my preferred chocolate chip.

Grandma would also branch out to more holiday focused items. She'd make those peanut butter star cookies that had that star-like milk chocolate pressed in the center (far superior to the hershey kiss). There were gingersnaps. Sugar cookies ready for creative frosting by her grandchildren. White mice, peanut clusters and anything else we requested. She made an AMAZING one that was a chewy cookie with cut up spice drops mixed in. The variety was endless, and each was delicious (except those damn date pinwheels. Yuck.)

But perhaps the best thing of all was that Grandma was sensitive to dietary limitations and didn't want to make things too sinful. She was a Baptist, after all. So she made all of her cookies in could have three cookies at our house and eat roughly the same as you would with one somewhere else. Grab a handful and it wouldn't was still about a cookie and a half if you added it all up. This made it feel like cookie feasting, not just a Christmas treat. Sheer decadence, a child's fantasy come to life.

My grandmother died the year my brother started dating his wife. This left a huge hole in our hearts, and there are times I still miss her a lot. But within a few years, the cookie void was filled - my sister-in-law is a cookie-baker extraordinaire, and she makes some of the finest toffee going, as well. I love checking out the options each year when I arrive at their house for the holidays. There's always a new one from a magazine or a friend to try, and you can tell which ones are hers and which ones are from the cookie exchange because the outsiders just don't have the same prefection of taste and texture.

Now if only I could get her to add some rice krispies, life would be grand.

Oh. And snickerdoodles suck, in case you weren't aware of that.

CORRECTION - Christmas memories, vol 17

Actually, our dog, Pretzel, got the first present...usually a bit of hamburger in a snoopy dog dish.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Obsessive compulsive disorder

We made a little ExecMBA compilation CD, and my friend Mark submitted this song. I can't stop listening to it, and now I have a huge crush on the Rev. What a fox.

Christmas memories, vol 18

I grew up in a small, small town. It is a picturesque little place...if you have never been to a place that looks like small town storybook America come to life, then Decorah would be an excellent place to start. It has a downtown of cute turn of the century (19th-20th toc) architecture, with independently owned shops in every storefront. It looks exactly like a quaint little town should. But it was in the middle of nowhere and catered to a local audience, and when I was a kid they simply didn't have the wide selection available in the larger cities.

We would therefore make shopping trips to malls in the tri-state area to get access to more choice. There were back to school shopping trips, and trips in the spring for lighter-weight wardrobe items, but the best ones were at Christmas time.

My dad's family lives in Cedar Rapids, so we'd head there to visit and take in some shopping at the same time. The first day was always about Armstrongs in downtown. It was one of those classic old department stores...a city block big, with levels of clothing and housewares and toys and electronics - everything you could want in one place. When we were little, we'd go off with one of our parents while the other did the sneaky stuff, and then we'd meet for lunch and there'd be a swap and we'd head off with the other. When we were older, we were given a larger Christmas allowance for shopping and we were allowed to venture out on our own, which was sometimes about buying gifts, and sometimes about following Mom and Dad to see where they were going and what they were buying. Armstrongs had those cool anamatronic window displays, so at some point we'd have to go outside to marvel at the magical little vignettes inside. (Armstrongs also gave out some of the strongest cardboard gift boxes known to man, and though the store has been out of business for 20 years it is still possible that you'll receive a gift in an Armstrongs box at our house...we recycle, my friends.) It was a full day, and we were exhausted by the end of it.

On day two, we'd go to Lyndale Mall. It was not a fancy indoors kind of mall, but it did have a Younkers and a lot of other cool shops, so it was good enough for us. And when Westdale opened, we added that, too. And then you'd think we'd be done, right?


A few weeks later, we'd go to Tripoli to pick up my Grandma B for the holidays and continue the extra half hour to Waterloo and Cedar Falls for MORE shopping. Mom had a system (or perhaps Dad dictated this...who's to know? Mom seemed to run the shopping activities, so I've always assumed.) These were day trips, and you had to be efficient. There were two malls to choose from, but we'd start at the mall in Cedar Falls because it was: a) closer and b) had a Bishop's buffet.

Bishop's was the highlight of any shopping trip. It was a classic cafeteria style restaurant, kind of an Old Country Buffet before OCB was cool. Let me tell you, Bishops was pure heaven to a kid. You could have macaroni and cheese, ham, hot dogs, french fries, mashed potatoes and gravy, jello, fruit cocktail - you name it, they had it, and you got to point and order and then the nice server would hand it to you and you could put it on a tray and carry it to the table all by yourself. The power was dizzying. While my parents were generally of the eat-your-vegetables variety, exceptions were possible, especially with the siren song of fried chicken and roast beef beckoning from the strange orange warming lights. (I still feel a little thrill when I see a slab of something basking preternaturally amber in their glow.) Every meal at Bishops ended with their french silk pie, a sickeningly sweet combination of rich milk chocolate and whipped cream, with a graham cracker crust and chocolate curls on top. Mmmm MMMMMM. I have no idea how we didn't bounce straight out of the car with the sugar rush. Even we understood it was evil, which made it all the more fun.

My Grandma B came with us, but she did not enjoy shopping in the slightest. When we'd get to the mall, we'd find her a bench and she'd sit there for hours watching people and eavesdropping. (Two of my favourite hobbies...I think I learned them from her.) This was also quite handy when you didn't feel like carrying your packages anymore, as we could drop them with her and she'd watch them until you were ready to go.

And then you'd think we'd be done, right? Nope.

When we were older and more malls had opened, we'd go to LaCrosse for a quick stop at Shopko and Daytons. Or maybe Rochester for Daytons and Carsons. Or maybe Burnsville for Daytons and Target. The possibilities were endless. And therefore, so was the shopping.

Christmas gave us the perfect excuse to get out of town, to explore the world - something you just won't understand if you grew up in a larger metropolitan area. I loved these excursions as much as Christmas itself. They gave me a chance to breathe the "city" air and to imagine a life where I didn't have to buy things at the dingy JC Penney's on Water Street that smelled like musty rubber gripper steps and old linoleum.

The possibilities were endless.

Great moments in my history

Our heroine dishes out some tough love to keep the family on task..."Focus, Grandma, FOCUS! These presents aren't going to open themselves!"

I TOLD you I was a taskmaster with the present opening.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Warm spot

When we were in the salad days of college, my friends and I were a bit...oh, let's say rowdy. I was in a rebellious stage, and I found me a circle of friends who were equally ready to push boundaries and question authority and find adventure at every turn.

This is particularly true of my girlfriends from Luther, who were quite the band of misfit toys. We were all pretty, smart women with wicked senses of humour, but that's pretty much where the similarity ended. But each of us had a level of eccentricity that set us apart from the crowd, and we found soul mates in each other...someone who wouldn't judge, who would laugh at our jokes, and who would help you sort out a mess in your life without asking how it happened in the first place.

My friend M was one of the wackiest. She looked perfectly normal, even acted pretty normal, but then all of a sudden she'd hit you with a humdinger of a question about sex or love or body functions or a general gross-out topic, and watch for your reaction. As she got to know you, she'd occasionally get quiet in the middle of a conversation, she'd look at you with this gleeful, knowing look and her eyes would melt and she would grasp her heart and say, "WARM SPOT!" This was Mary's way of saying she was overcome with affection...and whatever was happening had to stop immediately to capture the moment and acknowledge her fondness of you.

It was a little unnerving at first. I mean, I come from affectionate people and all, but ours was appropriately timed and placed, not randomly savaging conversations and sessions of tequila shots or general buffoonery. But as I got used to these bouts of overflowing love coming my way, I began to look forward to them. My friends were the same way, and soon we were all stopping conversations midway to say, "WARM SPOT!" More than the champagne showers before heading out for the night, or the long sessions talking smart in the hall, or the endless discussions of how hot Tim Park was (which, by the way, was VERY), or the egging of the ISO house to defend a friend's honor, these declarations of affection became part of our culture and built a bond that has transcended years and distance. People live all over, do all sorts of things, have taken on boyfriends and husbands and same-sex partners (one even married a prominent Republican whose politics vex us to no end), but we still find a heart-lifting joy in each other - regardless of how long it's been since we last spoke.

Maybe it's the time of year...Christmas obviously makes me sentimental...or maybe it's the end of the MBA and figuring out how to continue all of the intense friendships that have developed over the last two years, or maybe it's just that I'm standing still for the first time in awhile and finally getting back into my own head. But I've been overwhelmed by warm spots for my friends and loved ones in the last few days. So I'm stopping the conversation to say:


I can't wait to see you, and I hope you don't mind if I insist on holding your hand a bit longer or lay my hand on your arm or knee when we're chatting. I miss you gobs, and I need to breathe you in for a bit.

You know who you are.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Christmas memories, vol 17

Obviously an action shot due to the slight blur from movement, nothing says "thanks for the present!"
like a tackle kiss given to a reluctant brother afraid of girl germs.

Christmas eve was always a bit of a bustle at my house. To this day, I believe that it is the longest day of the year. Endless. The morning would start with kolache baking, but while the bread baking lasted the whole day that was pretty much my dad's thing so we were not allowed to assist. If we hovered in the kitchen mom would sternly reprimand us for spoiling our appetites, so we'd be expected to go entertain ourselves in the afternoon. A cruel, cruel expectation, I tell you. Likely I read a book or played Barbies, but still...not enough to to take a kid's mind off of the impending present orgy.

My mom hates wrapping gifts, but she likes shopping. And, especially since we were wrapping cans of stew for my Grandma B, there was a lot of wrapping to do. As a hated chore it got put off until the very last second. Somewhere in the late afternoon, Dad would move all the gifts to M&D's bedroom and then one of them would shut themselves in with a card table and reams of wrapping paper and tape and they'd wrap each little thing one by one. My dad's engineering skills made him quite the precision folder, and you could always tell his packages because the box ends were perfect...not one little gap or pucker. They spent hours in there wrapping gifts, and periodically would set them outside the door. I was more than willing to run them to the tree, especially since it gave me the chance to try to figure out what was in each box.

Mom would come out early to start making dinner. It was always a simple meal...clam chowder and oyster stew, crackers, kolaches, houska and rye bread. There would be a relish tray (as there always is on special occasions) with carrots and homemade dill pickles and both green and black olives...Bob preferred the Spanish pimento kind, I preferred the dyed black ones in a can. There would be cheeses, likely a cheddar or Kojak block and a little pot of Swiss almond or sharp cheddar spread from Hickory Farms. It was quite the smorgasbord, I tell you.

Dishes were set aside, and we'd gather by the tree. Either my brother or I would read the Christmas story from Luke aloud and then we'd start with the presents. I got the first one since I was the youngest, but I think this was just a ploy to butter me up...I also had to hand out gifts to the rest of the family, and they figured they'd get me all frothed up with excitement and then I'd run to and from the tree like a little energizer bunny. (I believe this is the curse of youngest children everywhere. We are gift slaves to our families.) It was okay, though, because I set the pace. And believe you me, I insisted on a good clip. We are orderly present openers; you wait until the person before you has opened, admired and said thank you for their gift before even cracking the seal on the next package. Not easy to do when you're 8. Heck, it's not that easy now. But restraint is the hallmark of the well-brought-up, right?

We'd get through half of the gifts, and then Mom would signal that everything was over by telling me to hand each person their last box for the night. Everything else had to wait until morning. Although every year I hoped for some fantastic surprise finale gift that would fulfill my every wish, inevitably it was a pair of pajamas or a nightgown. I'd love them, too...I can't remember hating a Christmas gift...and would make sure I wore them to bed that night.

We now have Christmas at my brother and sister-in-law's. The day still looks the same, with kolache baking and kids full of nervous energy (though I don't play Barbies anymore to kill the time.) There is always oyster stew, but my brother varies the other soup each year. Often he makes vegetable beef using my mom's recipe, and adds another recipe with varying degrees of success. The cheeses have improved...I often stop at Lunds or Surdyks for a triple creme brie and maybe a Stilton and an Irish Cheddar. And my sister-in-law makes the best cookies ever, and her toffee is to die for so we eat our weight in sweets, as well.

And there is still copious present opening, even though the adults don't officially exchange gifts beyond Christmas morning stocking stuffers. But occasionally mom surprises me and the night still ends with a pair of pajamas. This year, I think mine will come from Lands End. (I like the flannel ones, Mom.)

Great moments in my history

My t-shirt had a silk screen of the revolutionary war on the front.
It was the bi-centennial, and boy howdy did I think I was hip.
Oh. And that is not a little brother. It's an Olejniczak.
And another thing. My 12 year old nephew looks exactly like my brother in this picture,
and Bob is probably 11 here. Spooky.

Great moments in christmas memories

It had an elevator. Or lift, as we call them in Britain. Of course I was ecstatic.
In fact wide-eyed with enthusiasm, as you will see if you enlarge the photo.

This one's for my brother. Poor guy has been plagued his whole life by a geek freak sister, bless him. But at least I'm funny. And have exceptionally good taste in clothes.

My post-MBA life

Today is Sunday of weekend one of my post-MBA life. Two whole days with no obligations to a case study or reading or research for a paper. Ah, bliss.

While last weekend was also post-classes, we still had a paper outstanding so I did have a little bit of pressure to work on things. I had one day of fun, though - I was hosted by the South African Tourism Board at Twickenham for South Africa vs. the Barbarians. It was a blast. I had an epic train journey from MK, as I had to connect in London to trains on limited service due to construction. I left at about 930 and got stuck on a Virgin train full of drunks from Birmingham. I never cease to be amazed by a) the utter horribleness of the Birmingham accent, and b) the ability of the British male to get completely blathered by 10AM. Any time you take a Virgin train on a weekend morning you are guaranteed to be sitting by loud-talking drunks who are at least four lagers in. It's ridiculous. This particular group had the sounds of stag-do...lots of misogynist banter and blatant discussing of the tits and asses of the women on the train. (Though too fat for their liking, apparently I do have a nice rack.) The only thing that could shut them up was Wembley...the train had to stop to wait for a local on the tracks ahead, and we were pretty close to the stadium. They all slammed their faces against the window and murmured in awe, as though they were watching the hand of God dropping straight from the sky.

I'd befriended a South African couple along the way, and since we were all on the way to the match we travelled together the rest of the way. They went into the stands, I went into a box to be wined and dined for a few hours. We ate well and the group was a lot of fun, and we had excellent views of the pitch. Rugby rocks, by the way. It's like the fabulous game of extreme Hot Potato. And there is some seriously brutal behaviour out makes American football look like a low-contact sport. I love it. All in all, it was an excellent way to spend the day. But Sunday I had to read through our first draft and make some edits and set up a plan for the last few hours of work on the thing, so it was still not a totally free weekend.

On Friday, however, I turned in our last assignment and now all of my assessed work has been submitted. While the actual marks may not be predictable, I know that I've passed everything, so I have completed my MBA. In April they do the final review and send me my notification, and in June I walk across the platform to receive the actual degree. I am ecstatic.

So to celebrate, my friends Nadine, Talisha and Yvonne met in London on Friday night. The invite had gone to a larger audience, but wives and girlfriends and friends of our male colleagues were not keen for yet another a big night out with MBA types, so it ended up being the single women meeting for dinner and adventure.

We'd made reservations at a place in Soho, but it had been remodeled and wasn't the cozy, elegant venue we'd been planning on anymore. So we wandered a bit and settled on an Italian restaurant instead. We had a lovely, leisurely meal with much wine, and gossiped excessively. It was outstanding. We spent two years with a load of men who are completely decent guys so most of what we said was of the "isn't-he-great" variety, though a few of our usual targets got a pasting. And now we've met all their wives, too, so we did a little analysis of which ones will let them keep talking to us over the next few years. (Wives can be funny about their husbands having friendships with other women, and now that there's no MBA to use as an excuse there is bound to be some fallout.) We dished on the academic experience, things we'll miss about our MBA weekends, relationships, ideals, you name it.

We even sent a few cheeky text messages to one of our former lecturers who has developed a friendship with my friends Talisha and Yvonne. He fancies himself quite the philosopher and student of the human condition, and over much drink at the ball a few weeks ago made quite a few observations about our cohort. They made the mistake of telling me that I have him flummoxed...seems I am warm and able to get to know everyone on a personal level but have "distance issues" about letting people into my life. You can imagine how much this annoyed me...coupled with the ten or so times at the ball when he told me how I needed to find "the love of a good man," this was NOT the story to relay to convince me he's a sensitive soul. Don't get me wrong...he seems like a perfectly nice guy, but he's got an angle. He and I both know that his "analysis" of me may well be accurate but it is also true of virtually every smart single woman over 35, so it isn't insightful so much as a safe bet. I've warned them to proceed with a healthy cynicism but they disagree. So I fueled the scenario by encouraging the texting of tidbits to encourage speculation. I mean, if he's going to prove me right, I may as well help him along. And it will make for good dishing the next time around.

We ended up at a bar in the Soho Hotel, where we made friends with some people who let us share their table. They were good fun and we ended up sitting chatting until about 6 in the morning over many bottles of champagne. Talisha had not one but two strapping young metrosexuals vying for a snog, there was a pithy gay man who chased one of the handsome boys around the table in a desire to convert him, and we had all sorts of interesting conversations about an array of things. It made for one of the most random silly evenings with strangers I've had in awhile.

Have spent Saturday and the most part of Sunday reading, catching up online, playing the ukulele, watching movies, and snacking on bad food. It's been relaxing and refreshing. I'm now going to start my laundry and finish unpacking the remaining boxes from my move. I leave for the states on Friday for three weeks.

Life is good.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Culture Gap

Sir Cliff Richard was knighted in 1995. Before Paul McCartney or Elton John.

Huh. I suppose it was for Devil Woman?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christmas memories, vol. 16

I like to sing. I always like to sing. I'm not great at it, but I get immeasurable amounts of joy from it. And there is nothing better to sing at the top of your lungs than a Christmas carol, unless maybe it's Nanci Griffith after a few glasses of wine.

I have no shame. Once December rolls around, I sing Christmas songs whenever I hear them, on the radio, on the sound system of a store, or even just in my head. Full voice. Doesn't matter where I am. Doesn't matter who is near me. It's Christmas, damn it, and it's time for singing. I always loved attending the midnight carol service at church, partly because you got to hold a candle in the dark, but mostly because you could sing really loud and harmonise any way you wanted and no one cared. It was delightful.

If you've ever done a holiday season in a mall store, you know that sometime in November they send you a tape that has about four hours of music in a loop. This means that in an eight to ten hour shift, you will hear each song a minimum of twice. Most of the year this sucks but you deal with it, because you have a library of three or four tapes to choose from and you can rotate them a bit. But from Thanksgiving to Christmas eve you are stuck with one tape, one rotation of songs, over and over and over ad nauseum. It drives the employees mad. People would be bitching by the Saturday of Thanksgiving, and by the first week of December they'd turn the music off the second we closed and straighten the store in silence, just to avoid the dulcet tones of more Andy Williams.

But not me. I would learn the tape end to end. By December 1st I could start singing the songs before the tape started playing them. I knew every word of every song, and would sing for eight hours straight (except when I was forced to hold a conversation). I'd walk through the store working on floorplans singing. I'd stand in the dressing rooms letting people into fitting rooms singing. I'd ring people up at the till singing. I was notorious.

By my third or fourth season, I had a following. Minneapolis has many malls, and I'd moved between three of them. Two were in relative proximity, and when word got out that the singing manager was stationed at Northtown, people drove a bit further to shop in my store because it was more fun. And by then, the whole staff had the bug, and so it was like the set of White Christmas in my store, so many people were bursting into song.

I wonder how they'll respond at Harvey Nicks on Saturday when I start singing in the perfume department?


Don't you love it when you're minding your own business and they suddenly play Mexican Radio on whatever station you have tuned in? (Tonight I believe it's Virgin on the DAB.)

And you know what other song I really like right now? That Bruce Springsteen one about the girls in their summer clothes. They play it on the radio a lot, and so far I'm not sick of it.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Christmas memories, vol. 15

My father was a civil engineer for Winneshiek County, and as such he was responsible for all road and bridge construction and maintenance of the county's road system. He had many miles of roads and bridges under his control, and he used numerous contractors to do the work required.

My dad was an honest guy. As straight an arrow as they come, really. He would run a closed bid process, and he didn't engage in cronyism. And this isn't just the biased opinion of a of the most common things I heard about my father at his visitation and funeral (from many of these construction contractors, in fact) was that he had impeccable integrity and people trusted him to be fair.

But if you've worked with contractors, you know that they like to send their thank you gifts at Christmas time...even if they know that it will have no effect on whether or not you will give them business in the future. And BOY do road construction contractors give gifts. Dad would turn down the big ones. He didn't feel right accepting really valuable things, and I'm sure there was a policy about what an official could receive. Nevertheless, what he did accept was still mighty impressive to a kid.

Things started showing up at Thanksgiving. There'd be turkeys. Hams. Crates of oranges. Boxes of nuts. The crates of grapefruit were a bummer, but there were chocolates and other candies to provide counterpoint. I used to believe Turtles were the most amazing candy delicacy...I mean, if they were a GIFT they had to be good! One year there was a carving set and some steak knives. We received not one but TWO complete sundae making kits - one had tulip glasses and the other had little metal cups, but both had scoops and syrups and sprinkles. Obviously, someone knew he had kids - and let me tell you they scored big points with us, because thirty-five years later I can still remember my oohs and ah's at the magnificent splendour before me when we opened those boxes.

My favourite gift was a simple one. Back before you could buy them at Target and every other all-purpose store on the planet, my family had one of those giant metal tins of three kinds of popcorn delivered to our front door every single year. NO ONE had seen anything like it. My brother and I LOVED this. Carmel corn. Cheese Corn. And regular...which was always the last to go, but was still cool because it filled one of the sections. But still...THREE KINDS OF POPCORN! NO WAY!

It was Dad's gift, not ours though, so he was in control. My dad was a master at drawing things out for an eternity to drive his antsy children wild. He would get a wicked twinkle in his eye, and even start moving slowly just to piss us off. The popcorn tub usually sat for a few days, taunting us with its deliciousness, hermetically sealed so that we couldn't sneak a bit before Dad authorised it. By Saturday night, we'd have given up hope that the popcorn would EVER be opened. We were sure it would be Easter, and that tin would be sitting there untouched. And then sometime after bath time when we were mesmerized by Mary Tyler Moore or Carol Burnett, Dad would surreptitiously get the tub and let it sit there until we noticed it. HOORAY! POPCORN TIME! We would definitely squeal and whoop while Dad ceremoniously opened the bin, and he would dip us each a sampler in one of the orange or yellow margarine bowls my mom had designated for popcorn. Dad, of course, would just eat straight out of the was his, after all....and if you were really lucky he'd let you sit with him and grab your own handfuls.

Even after he retired, one of these popcorn tubs was always around somewhere at Christmas. I've watched my brother taunt his kids with similar torture over his own tub given to him by my mom and dad as a stocking present on Christmas morning. This year my dad isn't there to munch popcorn with us, which makes me profoundly sad on so many levels.

But life goes on whether we want it to or not, and the trifecta of popcorn deliciousness will be...and if the lid sticks, well, I know it's Dad just making us savour the moment.

Soup Swap

Hi all.

National Soup Swap is coming up....January 23rd is the official day! The organiser is a former housemate of mine and obviously a genius. (They've even made national press!) Get some friends together, start sifting through your cookbooks and get the soup a cookin', baby! It's a brilliant idea. Perhaps some of you blogger folks can even use this for more meetups! Here's a quick summary of how it works:

1) You and 6 - 14 other chefs decide to swap soup.
2) Everyone makes six quarts of soup and packages it in freezable disposable containers. Freezing it in advance is preferred.
3) On Swap night, you assemble at the host's home....nibbles, maybe a glass of wine, your call...but the event is about soup. Soups are placed on display for all soupers to survey.
4) Each souper draws a lot.
5) The crowd listens with baited breath as the other soupers tell the stories of their soups, giving others a chance to strategise.
6) Starting with lot 1 and proceeding in rotations, each souper then selects one quart of soup until all have six new kinds of soup to take home.
7) You leave with six quarts of deliciousness (or not, depending upon the culinary skills of the soupers,) ready to warm you on a cold winter's night.

Full rules and suggestions for happy swapping can be found at the various links on this post. UK readers....the MK swap is on 3 February, as I have plans on the weekends surrounding the official day, plus our holidays are always a few weeks off of US ones anyway. If you'd like to attend, drop me a line.

Get swapping, kids! (And Lu, it's not cheating if you have your chefs make soups for you.)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Christmas memories, vol. 14

I do not send Christmas cards. It is not because I don't love you, or because I don't wish you a happy is solely because I am too lazy to dedicate the hours to it, and too disorganised to have a complete list of your updated addresses ready to make it an easy task.

My parents were religious senders of the Christmas card. They were of the modest note and picture of the kids variety. Sometime in November, Bob and I would be asked to dress in the year's themed clothing and we would spend an afternoon or an evening posing in various places to capture the perfect image to send out to the world. We HATED this. It seemed to take FOREVER. We would put on pained, plastic smiles...which would prolong our agony...and we could never get comfortable in any position because as soon as we did we would have to change the pose for a different shot. Here above is an example of why it took so long.

When I go home, one of the highlights of my first few days is the review of the cards my parents have received. They're in touch with all sorts of people that I only vaguely remember from childhood, and it's always fun to read about what the bratty kid I used to have to play with on bridge night is doing, or read the personal notes from my folks' friends - not unlike the notes I get from my own friends, which somehow makes them seem less like parents and more like people, which is fun.

The highlight of this highlight, though, is the R********* letter, sent from friends of theirs from back in the early 70's. Though my mom has seen this family only 10 times in 20 years, we know them intimately through their Christmas letter, and let me tell you....they are legendary. My mom, my brother and I all dive for it as soon as it or we arrive.

Their letter is a classic in bragging/self-congratulatory hogwash. They have children roughly my age and slightly younger, and if the Christmas letter is to be believed they are Einsteins in Eddie Bauer, leading the world to a perfect market driven economy, curing cancer, solving world hunger and drumming up a little world peace as a hobby. I was a good student, so my parents said, "Mindy continues to do well in school, though she never does any homework so sometimes we wonder why." Their children were on the A honor roll, achieving the top marks on the final exam in senioradvancedplacementgiftedandtalent astrophysics. We went on a family vacation to Colorado, and it was noted that we had a lot of fun and Bob and I didn't fight too much in the car. The R********** went whitewater kayaking on the Snake River, camping on the banks and enjoying a nightly feast of gourmet camping cuisine inspired by Moroccan Berbers. My dad was proud of a bridge he and his team had just completed, and my mom was enjoying her antique store. The R********** had just made their third million as real estate moguls, purchased a Porsche 911 - a little toy that they know they didn't need (but it's so fun to have ;) and are planning to take a cruise around the world, likely uncovering a lost tomb in Egypt along the way.

The poor R********** have suffered endless catty backlash at the hands of my family. It's part of the family tradition. My brother and I started the whole thing, and though my mom told us we weren't being nice she joined right in pretty quickly because it annoyed her just as much as it did us. My sister-in-law even knows what to expect, though she's had more exposure to the dark comedy of Tom's annual missive. The only one to stay above the fray was my dad, who was never one to be petty. Even he would admit he had a snicker in the corner, though, listening to me do interpretive readings of this fine fine letter.

As I've gotten older, I've learned to read between the lines. They're actually new money with tacky taste and messed up priorities. That whitewater camping trip was probably a package holiday that any SOB who can fit his fat ass into a canoe could take with no prior experience. Their boy geniuses are a family physician and a manager at a well known bank's mortgage division in Minneapolis - I think I sold his employer their President's Club trip that was so raved about in a letter a few years ago, and I can tell you exactly where the corners were cut to make it affordable. Which makes the letter even more fun every the game is to translate it into plain English. I promise I will do so here in a few weeks when I get home.

Classic writing like this deserves a wider audience.