Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Want-to-do List

Last week I was still in school and between the craziness of the holidays, hyped-up kids, and a culminating presentation that included 4th graders cooking, I kept thinking about what I wanted on my list of things to do while on break. I didn't have time or energy to write anything down last week, but I finally did once I was on break. Some of my list items are the boring "catch up with cleaning" and "take the cat to the vet," but others are more fun. Here's a sample:

1. Try to win $10 Hamilton tickets! I have wanted to see the musical Hamilton since it opened in NYC, but the ticket prices combined with living in Chicago pushed that into the future. But now Hamilton has opened in Chicago! Tickets are still hard to get, but they have a daily lottery online -- enter and you might win 2 $10 tickets! The cheapest tickets available for tonight's show are $327 -- compare to $10! A friend of mine won this lottery a couple of weeks ago and his tickets were in the first row!! He got actor saliva on him! I tried today, didn't win, but there are more days in this vacation.

2. Take the Google Level 1 certification test. My school is trying for a "moonshot," to get the whole faculty Google certified. We've had coaching and seminars and I have been studying. On January 6 a group of us is getting together to support each other and take the test. To be followed by a celebration, of course.

3. Investigate Minecraft. This one was a short trip to a roadblock. I wanted to use Minecraft, that enormously popular building game, to create a colonial town as we begin to study 18th century America. I had seen an article on how to do this. However, the first thing I found out when I began looking into Minecraft is that Minecraft and chromebooks are incompatible. Yes, you can use some hacks to get it to work, but these are school chromebooks. Waiting to hear what the tech guys say about any possibilities.

4. Try new recipes. I like to cook, especially when I'm not tired or rushed. So I made four different kinds of cookies, including three new recipes! Today I sent off boxes of cookies to my mother in Minnesota and my daughter in Texas. Delicious! Here's one of my new favorites, Gingerbread Chocolate Chunk Biscotti.

5. Practice. I play French horn in several community groups, so practicing is always important. I have been asked to play in an orchestra that I have not played with before and they're quite a good group. The piece is Beethoven Symphony #9. The part that I am playing is not that difficult, but I want to do a good job, of course. The thing about horn parts in pieces written before about 1850 is that they were written for horns without valves -- valves hadn't been invented. So horn players changed key by putting in different tubing. What this means for modern horn players, who have valves on their horns, is that we have to transpose the parts. My part in Beethoven 9th is written in Bb, Eb, and D, meaning I have transpose the notes on the page down a 5th, down a step, and down a minor 3rd, respectively. Why don't they just publish transposed parts now that we have valves? I could write a whole blog post about that, so for now I'll just say, the reasons are complicated. For now, I need to practice the Bb transposition because I haven't done that one in awhile.

Meanwhile, I'm also playing in a jazz band at my school for our Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. We're playing a challenging piece by Charles Mingus. Talk about a contrast in styles!

6. Eat at my favorite Chinese restaurant, Lao Sze Chuan! Fortunately for us in the northwest suburbs, there are now at least five locations of Lao Sze Chuan, including two that aren't ridiculously far away. Crispy Shrimp with Lemon Sauce, Sole in Black Bean Sauce, Szechuan Green Beans .... mmmm. We're going for dinner tomorrow!!

There's more on my list, things that will give me a feeling of accomplishment, but these are the experiences I have been looking forward to.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Playing in Vacant Lots: Childhood

Drying off after a shower, I noticed that the scar had faded significantly. It had been five inches of bright, angry pink for a long time. I hadn't thought about it in years and now it is barely visible.

I was about 10 years old. It was summer, a hot, sunny day when if you were a kid, you went outside and stayed outside until you got hungry or your mom called you home. I was playing with a friend from school in a vacant lot. Our small town had many empty lots where weeds grew. We could find milkweed plants and caterpillars or play pretend games. My friend and I were running and jumping through the weeds when my leg scraped against a nail sticking out of a piece of wood. There was a long line of blood on my calf.

I don't remember it hurting much, but everyone knew that rusty nails were no good. You usually had to go get a shot at the doctor's office after a rusty nail encounter. I didn't want to get a shot, but I also didn't want to have to show my mom. I knew she would be upset. I'm not sure if she would be upset that I was carelessly playing in a vacant lot or upset about harm to me. But I didn't want to go home with my bleeding leg.

My friend offered to take me to her mother, so that's where we went. Her mom was calm and washed it off while talking to me, put something on it and bandaged it. When I went home with everything cleaned up, my mom was okay with the whole thing. I was relieved.

Thinking back now on the incident, I still remember that my mother would react so strongly to any harm to me, my sister, and my brother. I shied away from her reaction as a kid, tried to avoid it. Since we all grew up, our mother has been telling us more about her childhood and how she felt as a mother. Because of her upbringing -- her father died when she was two, so she was the only child of a high-strung mother -- she never felt confident as a mother. She really did a fine job of raising us, but I now realize why she would get so upset when something like my minor injury happened, and my heart goes out to her.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Holidays, childhood and food

When I was growing up we had many traditions surrounding Christmas and a number of them featured food. My family is mostly of Norwegian descent and so we would have Norwegian meatballs (yes, they are different than Swedish meatballs, it's in the spices.), a sweet soup made with dried fruit, Yulekake and krumkake. We also always had Norwegian lefse.

My parents always ordered the lefse from Minnesota. What is it? Lefse is in the crepe family. It's made from mashed potatoes, flour, and some milk or cream. They are paper-thin pancakes, usually around 12 inches in diameter, off white with brown spots. Many Norwegian-Americans eat them spread with butter and rolled up. (I have heard that modern Norwegians in Norway do not eat lefse.) My family always ate them with butter and sugar, especially brown sugar.

I found a place in Door County, Wisconsin, that makes and ships lefse. I ordered two packages. They have to be shipped quickly because it is perishable. When my package arrived I ran around the house showing it to my husband and adult son. "Look! The lefse came!" My husband is a Chicagoan and does not care for lefse, neither does my son. That's okay, other people do not need to share my enthusiasm for a food from my childhood.

I opened one of the packages and immediately the aroma brought me back to my childhood. I could taste it before I actually ate it. I could hear, faintly, the records that my dad would play at this time of year, and feel the warmth of our house, the fire in the fireplace, my mother cooking in the cheerful, tidy kitchen.

It is indeed as Proust observed, that a single taste can take us back to childhood.

I ate my lefse with butter and brown sugar and it was good.