Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Pandemic Hair

At the start of our shelter-at-home adventure, my husband stopped shaving. I think it began with an extended lazy weekend kind of vibe that just continued. Eventually he had an actual beard. He had never tried to grow a beard before, but this one just happened while we were sitting around the house.

Beards need attention, just like the rest of our hair, or they just look bushy. Which is fine, if that's the look you're going for. My husband did not want that look, so he went online to look at beard trimmers. Apparently millions of American men grew pandemic beards, because there are no beard trimmers to be had. Beard trimmers have joined toilet paper, kleenex, and paper towels as a scarce commodity. Fortunately, scissors also work! The beard looks good.

For myself, I last had a real hair appointment in December. My son got married in February and I went for a styling for the wedding. No cut and no color since December. Even though the salons are open again and are taking precautions, it's still not a good choice for me. And, I made the decision to stop coloring my hair. It's growing in, looks like silver mostly at this point. I'm lucky because my colored hair is light already, so there's no dramatic line dividing the dyed from the natural.

When people ask why, well, there's the expense and the time sitting around with awful smelling goop on your head. I didn't feel it was a healthy choice to keep coloring. And I have decided that it's okay to look my age.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Thoughts on Mothers' Lives

Yesterday my husband and I attended the funeral of the mother of a friend. She was 94 and had lived a good life and was beloved by her extended family. As several of her children and grandchildren spoke at the service it was clear this was a brilliant woman. Our friend told us afterwards that his mother had been awarded a scholarship to college, but her parents wouldn't let her go, saying no one would want to marry her if she was college educated. Instead, her poured her energies into her four children. She typed their papers, but would rip up papers she didn't think were good enough and make the child redo the whole thing. She also encouraged each to develop his or her talents. All of her children went to college and are successful adults.

I have been to a number of funerals of women of this same era, those born in the 1920s, and oftentimes the clergyman ends of speaking about what a fine housekeeper and mother the deceased was, because none of them worked outside their home or had pursued advanced education. It just wasn't expected at that time. And it is sad.

Yesterday listening to my friend talk about his mother's life, I also realized how fortunate my mother was in comparison. My mother was raised by her widowed mother, her father having died when she was 2 years old, and her expended family. Her mother, my grandmother, had gone to high school and later to tailoring school, and she insisted that her daughter was going to college. I don't know what made her so determined, whether it was her own need to support herself and her child after unexpectedly losing her husband, or whether she saw the potential in her daughter. And my mother did go to college, graduated with a degree in math, and became a teacher. She was the first in her family to go to college, but her younger cousins followed suit.

My mother did quit working when she married, as nearly every woman did in the 1950s. She encouraged her children to follow their interests, which my brother, sister, and I all did.

I don't have a conclusion to draw from this, just these observations of how things have changed, for the better.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Summer Reading for Fun and Learning

We all know that summer is a great time to catch up on reading. My TBR pile/list is a little out of control and summer cold be a time to make a dent, right?

At the beginning of the summer my short list was Welcome to Writing Workshop by Stacey Shubitz and Lynne Dorfman, Teaching AI by Michelle Zimmerman, A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, plus rereading Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson. I also belong to a book club that reads a book each month, and I'm reading The People and the Books by Adam Kirsch for a class. I am required to read Teaching AI for school as we are piloting an Artificial Intelligence curriculum for 1st through 8th grades.

I have made headway with all of the professional development books. I have kept up so far with my book club -- we read The Trouble with Goats and Sheep this month, which I recommend, and next month is Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. I love NYC so I'm looking forward to her walk through that city.

However, A Discovery of Witches completely took over my reading life. I decided to read it after reading an interview with the author, who is a historian. The novel is filled with academia and history! I was captivated. And then discovered it was a trilogy! Of three long books. I am now in the midst of the third book.

This is a fantasy novel infused with the author's knowledge of academia and history. It is a vampire novel, though witches are equally important. I don't read vampire novels. I read the first Twilight book and hated it. I tried Anne Rice and couldn't get into it. Deborah Harkness said in an interview that she has not read any other vampire novel, so her vampire world and characteristics are entirely her own. The witch characteristics are also her own, with some historical facts included.

I still have about 4 more weeks to catch up on my professional reading. But what is summer for if not for trying new things, relaxing, and reading for pleasure?

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Anniversary Trip with Complications

Yesterday was our 40th wedding anniversary. We wanted to do something a little out of the ordinary for us, so we decided to go into Chicago (we live in a northwest suburb), take an architecture boat tour, visit the art museum, and have a nice dinner. My husband, who is very detail-oriented, planned the itinerary to fit everything in. We would take the train into Chicago, take a taxi to the boat, another taxi to the Art Institute, and then have dinner.

Our first complication was the train. We take the train into Chicago all the time - to go to the symphony, the opera, the museums, etc. It's a wonderful perk of the area we live in. However, on this particular day, the train was delayed. The first announcement said the signals were out at a station a couple of stops northwest of us, no estimate on how long the delay would be. We sat around the station for 10 or 15 minutes until the next announcement came. The train was still in Harvard (Illinois), its starting point. A truck was stuck on the tracks in Harvard. Plus, the signals were still out at the other station AND a car was stuck on the tracks at that station. Since it takes the train about an hour to get from Harvard to our station, taking the train was no longer an option.

We hopped in the car. Fortunately rush hour was over, so the trip went smoothly. Finding the entrance to the parking garage was another story. Because GoogleMaps was telling us to turn on invisible streets, we ended up making a big loop to switch from driving south to north where the entrance to the underground garage was.

The river boat trip was amazing! It was a beautiful sunny day to be on the water. Our docent-tour guide was so knowledgeable and entertaining, and we saw how much the Chicago River area had changed in the last few years. I highly recommend the Chicago Architecture Center's tours if you are visiting Chicago!

After the tour and quick lunch, we decided to stay at the Architecture Center museum instead of traveling to the Art Institute. Then we crossed the street and checked out the transparent Apple Store. My daughter tells me they're all like this now, but in the suburbs we just see the ones in the mall.
Apple Store, with view of the Chicago River

By the time we finished at the Apple Store, it was time for our dinner reservation. We then had an outstanding dinner at Catch35, where they even gave us candles in our desserts! After dinner, feeling very full, we went down to the Riverwalk and sat and people-watched until rush hour was over before driving back home.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

A 1960s Recipe in 2019

One of my distant cousins, who is very invested in genealogy, is putting together a family cookbook and asked relatives for recipes from our parents and grandparents. I was happy to help and sent in my grandmother's sugar cookie recipe, which lists the ingredients followed by the direction "Roll thin and bake." I also sent my mother's recipe for Norwegian meatballs (yes, it is different than Swedish!) and my aunt's gingerbread boys.

My cousin politely asked if we had any more, particularly from my mother, so I enlisted my brother and sister to help. We came up with a jello mold, a meatloaf, Special K bars, and what we always called "pudding cake," among others. I recently heard from my cousin again, as he is putting the book together. He didn't understand the directions for the pudding cake, and when I looked at it again, I could see why. Here is the recipe (Don't try this at home!):

Chocolate Pudding Cake
· 1/2 cup brown sugar
· 1/4 cup cocoa
· 1 cup warm water
· 1 cup miniature marshmallows
· 1/2 devil's food cake mix
· Mix sugar and cocoa in square cake pan
· Stir in warm water.
· Scatter marshmallows over batter.
· Make cake according to package directions and spoon over mixture in pan.
· Bake 350 degrees for 35 minutes or more

My cousin had several questions about the cake mix, including what is the measurement? One-half box? One-half something else? Once we determined it is 1/2 of the boxed cake mix, he asked if that meant you needed to add 1/2 of the ingredients that the cake mix called for -- the water, oil and egg?

Since I had never actually made this, I referred it back to my sister, who decided to make the recipe and find out. She had made the recipe in the past, but had not made it in quite a long time. She used precisely 1/2 of the cake mix and half of all the ingredients listed on the cake box. This is her review:

"Okay, it's out of the oven and mostly cool. This is not the favorite dessert I remember from our childhood. Not sure what happened, but it's disappointing. 

I made the cake with exactly half of the mix (weighed it to be sure), and half of all the things the mix asked for: a half cup of water, 1/6 cup of oil, and 1 1/2 eggs. I used exactly the ingredients the recipe asked for, but generic brands in some cases. I bought a Duncan Hines Devil's Food mix, used generic marshmallows, cocoa, brown sugar.

Result: the cake came out like cake, but the pudding part is runny. Nothing tastes really chocolatey-rich the way I remembered. It tastes like cocoa. The marshmallows come through. I waited until it cooled to almost room temp before trying. It's quite drippy. I can't imagine how runny it would be if I had cut it when it was quite warm-- which is the way you're supposed to be able to serve it! I don't think I can blame the cake mix, though cake mixes today are different from the cake mixes of the sixties."

The following day she described the cake as "a soggy mess." She also researched a bit and found that cake mixes have changed since the 1960, becoming several ounces lighter. Here is the article if you are now fascinated: https://www.nola.com/entertainment_life/eat-drink/article_10fda124-58d8-5238-88b3-a4cd3e925d81.html. And here is a history of cake mixes: https://www.bonappetit.com/entertaining-style/pop-culture/article/cake-mix-history

It is striking how many of my mother's recipes rely on packaged mixes. The Norwegian meatballs, which I always loved, include dry soup mix. I'm sure the Norwegians of the past did not use a soup mix. Jello molds, which are now mocked, were a big part of my childhood. (We never had the bizarre jello molds with mayonnaise and vegetables, though!) My grandmothers' recipes were generally natural ingredients, and I cook with whole foods now. 

So I am asking my cousin to drop that recipe from the family cookbook. My siblings and I remember the original fondly, and maybe that's for the best.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

When Every Birthday Counts

My mom turned 97 on Saturday. My brother and sister and our families always try to travel to Minnesota for her birthday. It's a mini-family reunion as well as a celebration of our mother's life.

My mother has always been a worrier. As she has gotten older she worries more, and about things that don't matter at all. She also gets tired easily, of course. She's 97! So in planning this trip, we aimed at keeping things low-key, so as not to overwhelm her. That was our aim. Then things just happened.

Our group was smaller this year because my brother wasn't able to come this particular week. But my husband, both of our adult children, my sister and her husband, and I were all able to come. So My sister and I planned on a little celebration for Saturday afternoon at 2:00 -- bundtinis from Nothing Bundt Cake, birthday cards, and time together. (Bundtinis are an awesome invention! Bundt cakes the size of cupcakes in delicious flavors. I highly recommend!)

Then I emailed an older cousin to say we were coming up and did they want to get together sometime? Yes, she and her husband did and in fact, they's like to come over on Saturday for the birthday. Great!

Next, my niece texted me to ask if she could come over on Saturday afternoon for whatever birthday celebration we were having. Yes! I said, and bring your boyfriend.

We drove up on Thursday and went to visit Mom in her independent living establishment. She said, "Dennis and Louis (more cousins) are driving down (from western Minnesota) to see me on my birthday!"

So now our low-key birthday was up to 12 people, which is really too many for Mom's little apartment. And we need actual refreshments. Fortunately, my mother is popular with the staff at her complex and they were happy to find us a bigger room to use. Five of us went out shopping Saturday morning for lots of bundtinis, candles, plates, drinks, cups, and napkins. We met up for lunch and were having such a good time, that we didn't make it back to the complex until 2:10. Fortunately, all the guests except for two were also late!

Our one remaining obstacle was four ladies playing cards in the room we had reserved, but the concierge gently moved them elsewhere.

In the end, the party was lovely. Everyone ate cake, drank iced tea, and chatted.

The following day, the activities director told me Mom had been fussing and stressing about this "low-key" party for days. If she can imagine something going wrong, she will. Our main concern was not tiring her out, but, though she was certainly tired, she also seemed to be energized by all the people and activity.

When your parent is 97, you just have to celebrate!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Summer Reading

School is out for me, at least mostly out. There's still moving into a new classroom later this summer, meeting with my new teaching partner to talk curriculum and books, and a few other loose ends. But it is time to plunge into summer reading!

I'm off to Barnes & Noble later to use my gift card (end-of-year gift!). The books I will buy today are totally for fun -- A Discovery of Witches and Good Omens. A Discovery of Witches was described by one reviewer as Twilight for adults. I despised Twilight, but I checked it out of the library before reading that review (which was a positive review) and got almost halfway through before I had to return it to the library (waiting list, no renewals). It is a sexy vampire novel, but it takes place mostly at the Bodleian Library at Oxford, giving it an intellectual aura. I think it will be a great summer read. Good Omens is by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is one of my two favorite authors, the other being Jane Austen, and the description looks fun. Another perfect summer read, I hope. Both of these books have been made into television shows, but I would rather read the book.

Professionally, I'm reading a book on teaching AI. My school will begin adding AI to the curriculum in the fall, and this book is required reading. I recently finished No More Math Fact Frenzy, an argument for eliminating Mad Minutes in favor of teaching that promotes a deeper understanding of math. I've also got Welcome to Writing Workshop in my pile, along with books by Jeff Anderson and Ralph Fletcher.

I hope by August I will refreshed and renewed with great ideas!