Dear Muslims who are terrified of being collateral damage because of yesterday and white men who are terrified of being collateral damage because of all the shootings and massacres.
I do not think all of you are terrorists.
PS I still think all the legislators who are worshipping at the feet of Wayne LaPierre are spineless, wormy cowards.
Dear Impending Grandson:
While I am looking forward to meeting you, I’m wondering if you might want to reconsider your upcoming entrance to a world in which anyone seems to be able to get an assault weapon. While this is scary, what is really scary is that when a white man uses an assault weapon to mow down a bunch of people, he gets carted off to jail and is even, sometimes, treated to a hamburger while in custody.
This does not seem to be the case with black and/or brown people, who too often are shot first, and turn out to have had no weapons (or to have merely been playing with toy weapons) later. This is why, black, white or brown, you and your future cousins will never get a toy gun – at least not from me.
As is the case with every other grandmother I have ever known, I am going to do everything possible to ensure that you are never in a position where some zealot with a gun (in uniform, in jeans, in underwear, in a wetsuit, in whatever) decides to shoot you first and ask questions later.
We have made a mess, and I am deeply sorry. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan have a little girl who is going to be a couple of weeks older than you are. Her parents have pledged to throw a lot of money at making the world a better place for her, and, I hope, for the rest of her peers.
Still, Grandson, you and I are going to do some great stuff together. Until you gain a little weight and grow a few teeth, you’ll be a captive audience. I plan to talk, read and sing to you (sometimes with and sometimes without guitar and/or ukulele accompaniment). I will play you many instruments and tell you stories. Some will be made up just for you. Some will be stories I told your mother and aunts when they were small. Some will be new.
When you are bigger, we will read together and I will teach you how to play the ukulele and the guitar and the cello and the piano. We will bake bread and make French Toast. I will help you become a monarch butterfly rancher and maybe even a beekeeper. We will go in-line skating at the Lakefront.
You will teach me things, too, because you are going to be brilliant and interesting.
Anyway, I’m sorry about the mess of a world in which you’re about to make an entrance. I’m going to do everything I can to make life easier for your mom, and for you.
Three hours after my friend Grace called last week with a spare ticket to a recent Wine and Dine Expo, I was walking into the Exhibit Hall at the Wisconsin Center.
Exhibit halls. They make airplane hangars look intimate. The Wine & Dine airplane hangar was a sea of tables, counters and demo stations. The tables and counters were laden with bottles, chafing dishes, disposable plates and cutlery, cocktail napkins in every color of the rainbow and all the shades in-between. And we won’t even talk about the business cards and information sheets, which, if collected and given to a family with a fireplace, would probably have been enough to heat their house for winter.
My admission ticket got me a wine glass and bag to carry my share of those cards and information sheets, and I spent $3 on a plastic tray with a cutout for the wine glass. Which turned out to be a smart move. Between the cheese-tasting station and various restaurants handing out samples of their signature dishes, it was easy to pile up more than was possible for a two-handed person to manage.
The event was aptly named – I’d estimate that “Wine” (which, for purposes of this event also included beer and hard liquor) outnumbered “Dine” by at least 2:1. I’ve always preferred to eat my calories than drink them. So the exhibitors who took “Best in Show,” a category for which I served as judge and jury, were food purveyors. “Most Original” was, well, most original.
Here are the award winners:
American Skillet Co., “Most Original”
These cast-iron pans are the ideal blend of fabulous and insane. Because they’re in the shape of states. I now have a fantasy about buying a set of 50 and throwing a brunch party in which I serve a US map made entirely of pancakes.
Mr. Dye’s Pies, “Best in Show”
The company’s slogan is “What are Grandma’s Gonna Do Now?” His sweet potato pie was a slice of heaven. Every tiny plastic spoonful was another chance to savor its satiny texture and the perfect blend of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and other flavors. He also had a key lime, which was equally good.
Wausome Foods, “Best in Show”
They make crackers out of cheese. Five flavors, the best of which is their Colby/Swiss. there are also Cheddar, Jalapeno Pepper Jack, Bleu. These things are crispy, tasty and crunchable. That study that claimed cheese as addictive as crack? These crackers will do nothing to dispel that. The good news is that you can get them in portion-controlled serving sizes. Also, they’re from Wausau and they’re awesome.
Things that got away from me last week – including blog posting – got a bit recaptured over the weekend, which consisted of phone call time with all my daughters and an afternoon hanging out with Mom. It also consisted of me not being my best self when I got home from Mom’s expecting to start building beehives and Sweetheart informed me that we didn’t have any of the right nails to put the boxes together.
I will skip over the part where I expressed my feelings about this discovery.
Enter Sweetheart Senior, my father-in-law.
SS and his wife invited us all to lunch today, to celebrate a couple of birthdays – our nephew B, who turned 9, and Sweetheart’s mother, P. Senior and P haven’t been married since Sweetheart and his siblings were kids. But Christmas and birthdays are communal affairs, with all the drama one would expect at an event where lovely people congregate. Or, to put it another way, none.
Sweetheart called his dad last night to ask if he had the right kind of nails and whether we could build the hives at their place before or after the party. He did, so this morning, while Sweetheart gathered up hive parts, I walked over to their house with the birdbath we’d gotten for P, and a bag with pignoli, caramelized beets with chèvre and serving pieces for both of them.
After the party, I figured SS would set us up and Sweetheart and I would put the box and frames together. But then, Sweetheart and Senior got into it and were having a great time. So I did a little bit, but mostly hung out and took photos.
And speaking of photos, this past Thursday, the Large Midwestern Technical College where I work held its annual Five Star Event. The Five Star is the biggest scholarship fundraiser for the culinary, hospitality and baking programs.
People start lining up an hour before the 5:30 start time. The $45 ($55 at the door) gets you all the amazing food you can eat – in multiple areas at multiple stations – and a chance to buy raffle tickets, bid on silent auction items and participate in a “wine pull” – I don’t remember if it was three chances for $10 or something different, but you get the idea. Once you’ve bought in, you pick a cork from a barrel of them, and if there’s a number on the bottom, you get the bottle of wine to which the number corresponds.
Mostly, it’s a great night for people watching and a great night to watch our students and their instructors strut their culinary stuff. There was a room filled with cakes that were too pretty to eat. They were baked and decorated by baking and pastry arts students, and auctioned off. I’m going to give their pictures the last word.
Friday is the first night of Passover, one of the bigger holidays on the Jewish calendar. I’ve been hosting since before Mom moved to Milwaukee, but since she’s been here there’s no way I’d ever be able to think of not hosting.
This will be the first Seder in years I haven’t had at least one of my daughters here. But that doesn’t mean I won’t have a full table. There’ll be 11 of us, including three relatives (parent types) and friends who are part of a Seder community I’ve gathered over the years. There’ll be some new faces at the table, too.
I’ve got most of the menu planned, and will spend the next several nights cooking – chicken soup, pignolis and roasting a beet (to sub in for the shank bone on the Seder plate) and a hard-boiled egg. Thursday night I’ll do a bunch of heavy-duty other prep – thecharoset (I make Ashkenazic, because I like it!) and whatever else I can get done.
I’ve also gathered up the Haggadadot (the books we need to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt) and my box of plagues, which I’ve been adding to from year to year. A big box of plastic spiders I found on a post-Halloween sale rack will be making their Seder debut this year.
There have been a lot of memorable Seders in my life, but one stands out. I call it “The Ultimate Millennial Mashup Blended Family Seder.”
My children’s dad and I split when the girls were 2, 4 and 7. Not surprisingly, his family wasn’t overly thrilled with me after that. Two years later, Ex remarried Dee, a widow with three children. She was also not thrilled with me. We all had that in common, at least. I wasn’t thrilled with me either, though for very different reasons.
That was more or less how things stayed, until Ex died in October of 2006. Along with having to deal with being widowed a second time, Dee was dealing with her father’s final illness. So I took to calling my former father-in-law Sidney every week to let him know how his grandchildren were doing, and also to check on how he was doing. That detente led to a genuine friendship, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened in late winter of 2009.
“What are you doing for Seder?” he said.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “I guess I’m having one.”
I thought I’d misheard.
“Sidney, would you and Mrs. Sidney like to come to my house for Seder?” I said.
“We’d love to.”
I’d started the conversation in one universe and ended it in a parallel one, a universe in which my children’s grandfather and his wife of 30-plus years were driving 75 miles and making a hotel reservation to spend the holiday with the woman who’d divorced his son more than 20 years prior.
A few years later, the requests got even more surreal. By the time they stopped, my Seder table was 21 people strong and included my husband, my mother, my children, three of my cousins, Sidney and Mrs. Sidney, Ex’s sister and brother-in-law from Texas, my wife-in-law (if you have a better term for the woman who marries your ex-husband and makes him happier than you did, I’m all ears) and two of her three children, including one who flew in from Israel. There were also the three or four orphans my youngest brought home, along with a friend from synagogue who I was sure would never come back but has every year since.
The Passover Seder is a celebration of freedom. Once we were slaves in Egypt, and now we are free. The Mashup Seder celebrated deliverance from a different kind of slavery. At that seder, we moved from a past chained to feelings that had separated and diminished us into one where, together, we celebrated a shared present and a hopeful future.
So, the Academy Awards were this weekend. We watched a bit of them, which sparked a thought about the day before.
Sweetheart was at work and I was performing my weekly “take a lame-ass stab at bringing some order to the Landfill I Call Home” exercise in futility when the phone rang.
It was R, calling to see if Tuki & I wanted to meet her and Bailey at a nearby park for a walk. The day was perfect for a walk. Sunny. Warm (temperature above 20F (-6C) for the first time all week). So I leashed up my girl and we headed out.
Bailey is an eight-year-old Samoyed/Golden Retriever (we think) mix. He was jumping and pulling with excitement even before I parked and we got out of the car. Except for Tuki falling out of the back seat getting out, we had a great time. (I was corralling the leash and my purse and didn’t get to her fast enough as she tumbled onto the street. She bounced back up right away, but it was an awful moment. We were on the driver’s side and R & Bailey were on the sidewalk, so they didn’t see.)
Sweetheart brought R into our lives. They’re both arborists who speak fluent Tree. Walking with the two of them, I’ve learned about different types of trimming, picked up some Latin (R refers to trees by their Latin names) and a bit about urban logging. She works for a city (Sweetheart is a utility arborist). The extreme cold has cracked the trunks of some of her city’s streetside trees, so they have to be removed before spring. If they aren’t, they could fall and do some major damage. Some residents are upset about losing their trees. Rut R said this is actually a good time to do removals, because then she can get new street trees planted in spring.
After our walk, I went to my local food co-op. I’ve been a member since the mid 1980s, when there was only one location. Now there are four, including one relatively close to home.
Sometimes the checkout lines get pretty long. Like most people, I look for the shortest one. Before Middle Kid grew up and left home, we had a system. She’d hit one line and I’d hit another and whoever got closest fastest would signal the other to move over.
Those rules don’t apply at Local Co-op if Z is working a checkout line. The smile alone is worth the wait, but there’s more to Z than a cheerful smile. She’s one of those people who radiates well-being, and I do not mean that in a sanctimonious “crunchy granola” way. It’s more like a happiness bubble with a doorway. You step inside and trade in whatever might be bothering you for a few minutes of joy while she’s ringing up your butter and milk and lettuce and toothpaste and eggs and you chat about nothing.
At this point, Z and I know enough about each other to ask about work and school (she’s back in school where I work, and while I have no idea if my endless pestering had anything to do with getting her to go back, I’m thrilled). We also, as it turns out, are connected through my neighbor Linda, because Z and Linda’s son were high school classmates and friends.
There’s no Academy of Cashiering Arts and Sciences. But if there were (and why shouldn’t there be?), Z would be right up there with Meryl Streep, nominated annually and winning more often than not.
Today is all about taste – good and bad. First, the bad.
That would be Brian Williams. It wasn’t enough for Brian to be a tall, handsome, white, rich and hugely successful anchorman at NBC News. He had to lie about being in a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq so he could also appear to be … I don’t know. I got nothing. Well, that’s not completely true.
As a former reporter, I am disgusted. I never made it to the big leagues. It’s not that I wasn’t good enough (I might not have been, but that’s not the why of this discussion). It’s that I started late. I was in my 30s when I got my first full-time job at a small-town daily newspaper. The pay was terrible. As a single mother of three young daughters, I qualified for $126 a month in food stamps. I worked my butt off. I hated the pay, but oh, I loved the work.
A year or so in, my editor sent me and another reporter to a local school to talk to students about what we did as part of a career day event. A third-grader asked me if I’d ever lied in a story.
“I’m too lazy,” I told him. “It’s a lot of work. You have to remember who you told what to and when. Also, I have to look at myself in the mirror in the morning.”
Then I got serious and talked about how important it was to report whatever it is you’re covering in a way that lets a reader draw his or her own conclusions, to describe whatever it is you’re describing while also staying out of the reader’s way. Telling the truth, I told him, is the most important thing a reporter does.
So, shame on Brian Williams, who has made it harder for all the hardworking journalists out there who practice their craft with ruthless integrity. All the money in the world will not buy his reputation back, and his stink taints the rest of us.
Okay, enough about that man. Because I wanted to have a standard of living and because I started late, I no longer commit acts of journalism on a regular basis. Which brings us to things good and tasteful, or at least tasty.
One of the perks of my current job at a large Midwestern technical college is proximity to the best-tasting homework in the universe. Our associate degree, technical diploma and certificate programs include culinary arts and baking and pastry arts degrees. That means we have a student-run bakery and café, pop-up restaurant and a student-run section of the main food court. There is also a fine-dining restaurant called Cuisine.
The front and back of the house are separate classrooms, and the students are responsible for all the functions that occur there. So the maître d’, servers, buspeople, hosts and managers are all culinary students. Every week they switch off different roles. At mid-semester, the course ends and they switch with the students who worked in the back of the house. There, they rotate through all the roles one would find in the kitchen of a fine-dining restaurant while the former kitchen staff becomes the dining room crew. Chefs need to know what goes on in a dining room. And potential chef-owners get a sense of what they’re thinking about signing up for in a low-stakes setting.
I’ll be honest. The service is kind of slow. Which is not a surprise. After all, the students are not training to be servers, they’re training to be chefs. The food makes up for it, and then some. Also, the service is extremely friendly and the prices are ridiculously cheap for what you get.
This past Tuesday, my friend (and colleague) Rick and I and lucked into lunch on the house. If we’d paid, the meal would have cost us $17 each before tax and tip. The restaurant moved into a brand-new space two years ago. It’s spacious, decorated in warm neutral tones. Walk in and you don’t feel like you’re at work anymore. Two large monitors are mounted on the walls. No matter where you’re seated, you can watch the kitchen action. Great food and reality TV. I have had worse days at work!
Rick ordered this: “Jeff Leen Chicken, pan-seared breast and boneless leg with tomato-basil mousseline forcemeat, cauliflower risotto, baby broccoli with red onion, and yellow pepper and romesco sauce.”
I ordered this: “Grilled Hanger Steak, pommes frites, baby broccoli with red onion and yellow pepper and truffle Madeira sauce.”
We had salads, too. I had this one: “Mixed Greens, apples, dried cranberries, almonds and goat cheese with a basil-chive vinaigrette.”
Rick ordered this: “Spinach Salad, mango, red peppers, scallions and toasted sesame seeds with a curry emulsion dressing.”
We didn’t order wine, because we were going back to work. But we could have, because the restaurant has a license to serve a single glass to any customer who is of proper age and orders one. The school applied for the liquor license because students need to know about food and wine pairings. We also didn’t order dessert, which looked great. But time was running short and we both like to make sure we are giving the taxpayers of Wisconsin their money’s worth.
Saturday night, Sweetheart and I got ready to settle down on the couch for a night of hard-core TV watching. We’d done the grocery shopping, mom-visiting and dog-walking earlier in the day, because a snowstorm was in the weather forecast.
Mushroom pie was in the oven, kale salad and a berry pie were in the fridge. I’d put on a warm sweatshirt, but I was still cold. As I was wrapping a blanket around myself, I had an “aha!” moment.
“Are you cold?”
“No,” Sweetheart said. “Why?”
“Because I am. It’s freezing in here!”
“Sweetheart got up and looked at the thermostat. It was 58. (That would be about 14 for you Celsius types.)
The realization he hadn’t heard the fan for awhile was followed by an inspection of the living room heat register. It was cold. Next up? He took a trip to the basement. Sure enough, the furnace was off. I called down the stairs and offered to come and help. (I wasn’t sure with what.) No need, he said.
Back upstairs, he went for his phone, checked his contact list and called Bob.
We haven’t talked to Bob in seven years, when the furnace in my former house died between our move and the house sale and the pipes froze. Bob had installed our current house’s furnace back when Sweetheart was married to Ex. After they were done being married and I was working on rehabbing my Abused Victorian, Sweetheart hooked me up with him – in a strictly business sense. Bob replaced the two 1959 dinosaur furnaces with the brand-new high-efficiency model that broke while under warranty. (It had nothing to do with him – it was a faulty part inside the furnace. Bob also redid the ductwork and installed central air conditioning in my former house. He is all kinds of wonderful.)
Gene went back downstairs, this time with Bob on the other end of the phone. He walked outside. He went back downstairs. When he came back up, he was off the phone.
“Bob thinks it’s the igniter and he’s got one on his truck. He’ll be here tomorrow, mid-morning.”
We threw an extra blanket on the bed. Once the dog was settled for the night, I covered her with a blanket. She lifted her head and gave me one of those “Why are you punishing me?” looks, but she didn’t try to kick it off. (At 14+ years and after two ACL surgeries, her legs don’t work as well as they used to.)
The cat curled up on the bed with us. We slept. By morning, the temperature was down to 51F (10C). Outside, the snow was falling thick and fast and a strong north wind was blowing. Sweetheart’s strategy for warming the house was to set the oven on a clean cycle and build a fire – in the fireplace.
I made waffles and we huddled in the parlor, reading the Sunday papers in front of the fire. By the time Bob arrived at about 2 – the snow had slowed everyone down – we’d shoveled the driveway out so he’d be able to park easily. (It seemed the least we could do.) Twenty minutes later, he handed me the dead igniter.
The new one was already doing its work. We had a lovely chat about life, children, grandchildren (his) and furnace life spans. We did not talk about the Superbowl, because (with the exception of Green Bay in my case) Sweetheart and I are not football people.
By nightfall, the drive and walkways were snowed over again, but we were warm. And I was grateful for our good fortune, which included the broken igniter. I had a broken igniter because I have a furnace, and I have a furnace because I have a house, and that makes me lucky and blessed.
That was especially brought home by an e-mail my sister sent this morning to me and our cousin Cindy.
“I thought you might like to see this,” Debby wrote. “It’s a letter….written by our paternal great-grandfather, Moses-Mordechai Edelstein, in 1920, and was used by our grandfather as evidence for why he needed a passport. This preceded his and his siblings’ trip back to the Old Country in the early or mid-1920s, to bring the rest of the siblings back.”
I’m posting it here. It’s hard to read, but it was written after my great-grandparents and my Great-Aunt Miriam were run out of their village in Lithuania after a 1920 pogrom.
The original letter is written in Yiddish. The translator typed the English version. I’d never seen it before today. I knew one thing about Moses Mordechai before the letter, which is that he was he was one smart and crafty fellow.
I say this because in my great-grandfather’s day, Jewish boys as young as eight were conscripted into the Czar’s army for decades of compulsory service. Those with physical deformities were exempted, so a lot of parents sacrificed a boy’s fingers or toes in order to preserve the rest of the boy.
Not so Moses Mordechai. He managed to keep each of his eight sons from being drafted without having to sacrifice a single body part. Only sons were not drafted. Which is why he and his wife gave their eight sons not just original first names, but last ones, too.
George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).