31 May 2012

Some things are pure and some things are right

Tonight, my firstborn graduated high school.

I read those words again, and it doesn't even seem possible. At the same time, I think it was all said and done in our heads when his first-choice college accepted him.

I was not anxious to attend the ceremony. There are years of history in this blog to account for that.  But it was both amusing and gratifying to see that somehow the school got movie critic and author Leonard Maltin as a speaker, and his message was letter perfect: follow your heart and your passions.

He told the story of how his passion for movies led to his first publishing contract at the age of 17, how doing what he loved kept him on the path that provided gainful and enjoyable employment, a fulfilling life.

His words sounded really familiar.

I keep telling myself that I've done what I can. I say aloud that my work is done here. The words sound right when I hear them.

It's up to the son now.

Go listen to some good music: "Month of May" from the album The Suburbs by Arcade Fire.

24 May 2012

How far we've come


The son is finished with high school, for all intents and purposes, with the exception of a final project that he and a group are trying to complete. Prom is on Saturday. The son has been nominated for Prom King, and so we indulged his flair for the theatrical and rented him tails and bought him a top hat. He'll be a sight, no doubt about it.

Graduation follows next week.

Of course, everyone feels the burden of the seniors leaving. Most of them have been a fixture on the campus for the last four years, visible in different ways: academically, athletically, artistically.

For the last three years, the son has been heavily involved in the creation of the school's monthly news video. It's a half hour of school news, important dates, profiles of teachers and alumni, and comedy bits created by the multimedia class. The first year he was in the class, the son was tagged for the job as the video's featured personality, and in subsequent years, as part of the video's schtick, had to fend off pretenders to his crown.

This year, the new teacher really gave the kids their head, and over the course of the year, they created a pretty coherent show, the episodes of which wove together to form a series. Naturally, the final show was the farewell to the seniors, several of whom, like the son, had been heavily involved for years.

(We'll skip the part where I actually did get choked up watching my kid say farewell to something that's been a part of him for all this time, and seeing him grow magically from 15 to 18 in the course of a few seconds.)

As we watched the finale and the senior tribute last night, I suddenly had a brainstorm. His participation actually needed to be retired in the way a great ballplayer's number gets retired. I discussed the idea with the son who laughed out loud, and agreed it was a great idea.

The son's school requires that students wear a uniform. The boys have a choice of polo shirt to wear with their black Dickies, and the son has always favored the green shirt. I've been fairly fortunate in that his uniform shirts have fit him all four years, and I've only needed to replace one because a girl got makeup all over it last year. But as you can imagine, the shirts are looking pretty decrepit after four years, and I've been looking forward to throwing them away.

Today, I bought a large shadow box and tonight, the son and I took one of his old green polo shirts and mounted it in the box along with his name and the dates he'd been the video's featured personality as well as a screen capture of him wearing the green shirt from one of the videos. Tomorrow, he will present his retired polo to the teacher who I suspect will be hip to the joke.

How far my boy has come. And after years of rage against the machine that is his school, I am glad that I am creating the last laugh, one that those who count will surely appreciate even while it mystifies those who have never understood anyway.

Go listen to some good music: "How Far We've Come" from the album Exile on Mainstream by Matchbox Twenty.

22 May 2012

We travel on the road to adventure

My first thought this morning: I don't have to be afraid of anything.

And for some reason, immediately thought of this day, four years ago. Thought about the most selfish thing I've ever done, which was also the most perfect thing: a gift to myself. And I could say that it was only a gift to myself, but I know that wasn't true.

Again, I felt the cool wind off the river, which made the tiny blossoms and fluffs of Minnesota spring dance in the air. Walking across bridges and anywhere; an almost unbearable sense of life. Concert upon concert, a musical heartbeat replacing my own.

Almost as quickly, my brain skipped backward to the dry and scorching days of late May in Arizona. My first camera, blossoming cactus, dark skies and star-filled nights standing on the roof of the house, hearing music from other rooms, other worlds, a life that I hadn't yet discovered. And joining in, I danced in the dark, kicking up the dry grass with my bare feet, a child whirling, airborne, willing herself into the universe.

It was awesome.

It is, still, awesome.

Go listen to some good music: "Dreamline" from the album Roll the Bones by Rush.

21 May 2012

I am...I said

A tale of two cards:

"There is no one alive who is you-er than you."


"Dreams that are dared, a passion for living...
And a smile that says 'You aint' seen nothin' yet.'"

These were given to me by women who have known me for decades, who have tried to reinvent me into something more comfortable for decades. 

And they have failed in their quest for decades because decades ago I made a decision. That decision was that I would be as good as I could, I would be as kind as I could, I would keep to the moral high ground as best I could, but I wasn't going to change for anyone.

In a sense, I read them as rueful capitulation. With amusement. 

Oh, I take advice and constructive criticism, absorbing what is just and what is right. I am not static, and while bull-headed perhaps, I am not (usually) unreasonable. 

But this, this is what I am.


This morning I had to place a call to Paris. I didn't want to. But it was necessary. A very unexpected necessity.

I am fluent in a couple of  languages. French is not one of them. My spoken French is cringe-inducing, though I read it reasonably well.

Through long experience and much travel, I've learned that it is generally appreciated if one at least attempts a respectful query in the local language before requesting assistance in English. And so, I know the basics in a number of languages, and will use them without shame. And while I know the basics in French, I don't ever want to actually speak French if I don't have to.

This morning I listened to the phone ring out thousands of miles away and prepared to embarrass myself. I hoped that I might reach an automated line which would give me the option for an English speaker up front while I ran through the phrases I'd need if I didn't.

A woman answered the phone. She spoke rapid-fire French in a light and lilting tone, her very voice bringing with it the elegance of the language and a sense of youth and beauty and Paris in the spring.

In my head, I loudly pronounced an Anglo-Saxonism, took a deep breath, and very clearly made a request. In French. And she responded. In French.

Flinging myself into the breach, I said,  "Je m'appelle..."

Because that is who I am.

Go listen to some good music: "I Am...I Said" from the album Hot August Night by Neil Diamond. Prior to deploying to southeast Asia near the end of the Vietnam War, my much-older cousin gave me a bunch of his cassette tapes. Hot August Night was one of them, and it was the first time I heard Neil Diamond. This song spoke volumes to me with its sense of being caught between worlds and I first heard it at a difficult time in my life --the joys of elementary school--when I had teachers trying to figure out what to do with me and my contemporaries torturing me for being different. It was a relief to come to the conclusion that I was who I was and if others didn't like me for that, they didn't have to.

01 May 2012

In the month of May

And so, we begin again.

When it comes to food, this family is the embodiment of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Me: Is it healthy? The spouse: Do I want it? The son: I want it to have meat. The daughter: Just make pasta.

To add to the fun, I don't have a lot of time to cook elaborate meals on weeknights, so I'm always up for something delicious and easy. I found a great idea to cook tri-tip in barbecue sauce in the crockpot. Brilliance, I thought. I'll try it! I thought. But I needed to find a recipe for a tangy and spicy sauce. Preferably one without ketchup (sorry! I wasn't kidding about the picky). Ketchup frequently contains all sorts of weird stuff. It's also often cloyingly sweet, and sweet was precisely what I was trying to avoid.

Like most sauces, I think of barbecue sauce as something highly personal. Because there's really sweet stuff and sort of smoky stuff and very spicy stuff. I don't like the sweet stuff and I sure haven't found a bottled type that I like, even if they didn't all seem to have some sort of suspect ingredient (or 12). The son likes it sweeter, the spouse doesn't want indigestion, the daughter wants it hot.

So, off I went hunting for a homemade barbecue sauce. And every single one included ketchup.

I'm not for a minute going to pretend that I know anything in particular about barbecue. I know there's KC and Texas and whatever, mops and dry rubs and sauces, but their varied and appropriate use? No. Do I mind that I don't know? Not really. I do make pretty good ribs (that recipe is around here somewhere), even though I don't really like them. It's one of those things that I do for everyone else in the family. And yeah, if we go to a barbecue place, I'll probably be eating a salad (it might have smoked meat on it, I admit). But I do know what I want a sauce to taste like.

So, after reading recipes for a couple of hours, I hit on a combination of things that I thought would be pretty good and would generally appeal to the family. This morning, I made the sauce, and the spouse and daughter loved it (the son clings to his bottled sauce, and that's fine). The spouse said it reminded him of the sauce that we got at a barbecue restaurant in Studio City that has long since closed (I can't remember the name; we always called it The Pig Joint because the owner had it decked out with pig paraphernalia).

Tomorrow, I make tri-tip in the crockpot with my own barbecue sauce.

Homemade No Ketchup Barbecue Sauce

1 Tbl olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c. brown sugar
2 Tbs. molasses
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1/8 c white wine vinegar
2 tsp liquid smoke
2 Tbl Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbl spice mix (recipe follows)
1/8 tsp cayenne
1/4-1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
1 28 oz can organic chopped tomatoes
1 6 oz can organic tomato paste

Heat olive oil in a 3-qt saucepan. Saute onion on medium-low heat until soft, 7-10 minutes. Add garlic and saute an additional 2-3 minutes. Whisk together brown sugar, molasses, vinegars, liquid smoke, Worcestershire sauce, spice mix, cayenne and Tabasco sauce and add to the pan, stirring to incorporate. Stir in chopped tomatoes and tomato paste, mixing well. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered over low heat for up to 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the sauce cooks down to the desired consistency. Test for seasoning. Let cool and put in blender. Blend until smooth. Makes approximately 4 cups of sauce.

Spice Mix

1 Tbl seasoned salt
1 Tbl Hungarian paprika
1 Tbl smoked paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1-1/2 tsp chili powder
3/4 tsp rubbed sage
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground chipotle chili
Pinch ground made
Pinch of ground cloves

Whisk together. This will make a little more than you need for the sauce, so there is extra if you want to add extra kick to the sauce.

Where credit is due:

The Spohrs are Multiplying for the crockpot tri-tip idea.

Cooking for Engineers for method and thoughts on sauce ingredients and proportions.

The Yummy Life for ingredient ideas and basic proportions for the spice mix. I also referred to her variations on barbecue sauces.

Go forth and experiment.

Go listen to some good music: "Month of May" from the album The Suburbs by Arcade Fire. And another thing: Sometimes I hear from people who believe that because I don't like something--and say so!--I am somehow casting aspersion on their choices. This couldn't be further from the truth. If you like ketchup in your sauce, please use it! Like I said, this is all about personal preferences.