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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Powerful Tools

We have many powerful tools in the world.  There are chain saws, machine guns, grenades, nuclear bombs, and hatred, to name just a few.  While I agree these are all powerful, very powerful, I think we should not underestimate the power of a simple smile and kind words.

Just think of the possibilities.  As world leaders argue around discussion tables, what might happen if they started with a smile? I don’t mean a sarcastic, ‘I-am-going-to-screw-you-over smile’, but a real genuine smile, one that says, ‘I will listen, I will hear you’.  By nature, smiles are contagious.  What if the smile was followed by saying something nice to begin?  That could set the stage for different moods and a different tone to the meeting.

After waiting on a long line, when you finally get to the cashier, I bet she is not smiling, but rather feeling rushed and stressed, like everyone expects her to somehow work faster yet still be accurate.  What would happen if you started your transaction with a pause, a smile, and some gentle words?  Chances are she would stop for a second and smile back.  Maybe that is all she would need to de-stress for a moment and to help change the direction of her day.

What about the nervous person in the waiting room of a doctor’s office?  Might a smile and a few funny words provide comic relief and take his mind off his worries, even if for a few seconds?  Smiles can help a person stay positive too.  Sometimes the change in focus provides a needed respite. 

What about those funny videos that get circulated time and again that make us smile? We may have seen one before but liked it so much we watch it again.  Why?  Whether it is the babies babbling to each other or the pets doing something ridiculously cute, we want to smile.  Often people comment, 'Thanks, I needed that smile to start my day.'  How might the world be different if we could all start our day with a smile?  Smiles can change attitudes. 

As a teacher, I often look across the room at my students taking a test or even just struggling through a class assignment.  They have such serious looks on their faces.  My simple smile elicits a smile back every single time, followed by their head dipping back down to concentration.  It is as though that smile just gave them the answer to what they were searching for.  At times they just need that little look and smile, reassuring them that ‘everything is ok’.

When possible, I try to start conversations with a few kind words, a compliment, a question about how they are, or with a smile.  That sets the tone for what is to follow.   It also keeps me focused on the fact that we are all doing the best we can and no one is perfect.  We are all human beings and we all have feelings and opinions.  No person’s worth is better than another’s. 

There are other advantages to smiling too.  It has been said that smiles lower blood pressure, boost your immune system, release endorphins which are natural pain killers, and make you look younger.  This makes sense when you think about it, except the looking younger part.  But hey!  I'll take it.

Smiles and kind words do not cost a cent and are accessible to every human being.  They are unlimited in quantity and easy to execute.  The can change your mood and help you to stay positive.  If you don’t already do this, how about giving it a try at least once a day.  I know it has made a difference in my life, both on the giving and receiving end.


PS – I am off on a European adventure to five new countries.  I hope to have some great entries when I return in a few weeks. Until then…




  

Friday, June 21, 2013

Size Does Matter


Among other things like flying and music, my husband is interested in astronomy.  Nine years ago he told me he was going to buy a telescope.  I’m sure I mumbled something about price and whatnot because that seemed to be my job, but he assured me he was not getting a really expensive one and that he had been saving up for it.  I’ll never forget the day it arrived.

It was a warm summer day and I am sure the birds were chirping happily, unaware of what was to come.  As my husband left for work, he reminded me that the telescope was going to be delivered that day and could I have them put it in his side of the garage until he got home.  Being home during the summer, none of this was a problem; I was happy to oblige.

Later on, I heard a truck in front of the house and walked out to greet the deliverymen.  I was sort of expecting a UPS truck, but instead saw a freight truck in the road.  Whatever.  It didn’t dawn on me then that this was a good example of foreshadowing.  I opened the garage door and showed the guys where to put the box.

As they wheeled the large brown carton up our driveway, I was a bit taken back by its size.  I closed my eyes and recalled the conversation, ‘not getting a really expensive one…’.   They placed the box inside the garage and started to walk back to the truck.  “Wait…don’t you need me to sign for it or something??”  I asked.

“Not yet ma’am, there’s another box to unload.”

Another box?  Well, imagine my surprise when the second box surpassed the first one in size...by a lot.  After quizzing the poor delivery guy several times whether he was sure this was also for us, I couldn’t sign the receipt quickly enough to get upstairs to the phone.  I’ll spare you the details, but was reassured that the telescope was not as big as the box (packing material...yada yada…).  

When all was said and done and assembled, the only home it fit in was on my side of the garage in front of my car.  It fills the entire width of my garage. 

After some time though, I did get over it.  My husband has had fun with his toy and so have many visitors to our house. If you are interested in astronomy too, the scope is a ‘simple’ Newtonian/Dobsonian with a 17-½ inch mirror.  He built a concoction that includes wheel barrow handles which allows him wheel it around the yard.  He also has several pieces of apparatus that allow him to transfer the telescope into the van to drive it to very dark places.  Amateur astronomers refer to these places as Dark Sky sites.  (Sadly for him however, I got rid of my van two years ago when I no longer had to cart kids around.  He wanted me to get another one so that he could cart the telescope around, but that didn’t happen.)

So the lesson I learned was not to assume that a low(er) price item necessarily means a small(er) item. Moral of the story?  Size does matter.
This is what I was expecting...
This is what we got... Shown here is the set up for a Dark Sky night in the Adirondacks.  When you point the scope up, you use the ladder to reach the eyepiece.  Also shown is the van, which no longer resides with us.  


Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Five-Second Rule


You look forward to biting in to one of the chocolate truffles sitting on the silver platter.  You wait patiently through the last speaker of the evening. Coffee is being served.  Finally the platter with the truffles comes along.  You select your favorite one.  The server leaves.  As you lift the truffle toward your mouth, it falls to the ground.  No one saw.  Do you pick it up?  Does the five-second rule apply?

Over the years, I have dropped my share of food.  Sometimes there is an abundance of the food dropped, so I think nothing of tossing it in the trash and taking a new one.  But what if the fallen food was not available in abundance?  Does it depend on how clean the ground is?  Does the type of food factor in? 

People often joke about the five-second rule.  I know very well that it is not a ‘rule’ but rather an excuse to feel okay about eating something that has touched the ground’s surface.  I thought it would be interesting to ask a variety of people what they thought about the five-second rule.  Here’s what they had to say:

Cancer Survivor:  I believe in the ten-second rule. We need a little dirt in order to build our immune system.

Middle School Student:  It depends. If it’s at home five-second rule applies but anywhere else it's gross.

Science/Health Educator:  I say false.  Not safe to pick up.

Doctor:  In regards to five-second rule false and can be gross depending on what it falls on!

English Teacher:  I spent time growing up in Africa, so I don’t worry about some dirt here and there.  Depending on the food, if I can brush off a little dirt, it doesn’t bother me. 

Senior Citizen: I do not follow the five-second rule. Five seconds does not seem like a long time, but how LONG do you think it takes?   What if you have a dog or cat?   What if they carried something on their paws? What if you stepped on something outside, like a bug, or anything.    Would you really like to still put something in your mouth "five seconds" later?  Not me.

Musician: The only validity to this I think is that five seconds doesn’t allow enough time:
-to get grossed out  
-for other people to see you transfer it from floor to plate
-for the dog, cat or whatever to interfere

The decision to pick it up probably depends a lot on a person’s perception of how dirty the surface is. I’m sure the food picks up germs; it’s just a question of how many and what type.

Twenty-Something: Depends on the food!   And the condition of the floor.  An Oreo on the living room carpet?  Sixty-second rule, no problem.  Cupcake face down on the sidewalk?  Not even one second.

New Mother: Well, at the beginning, I thought gross, incomprehensible, but now...I have seen too much at daycare to pitch a fit every time. I try to intervene, but if I am not in time, I don't sweat it much. Of course, each time I try to logically explain that it is not sanitary, but the meaning is loss on an 18 month old. It also depends where we are when it happens...

I guess I fall in the middle.  I have brushed off food that fell on what I considered a ‘clean’ floor and ingested it.  Nothing happened to me.  Then again, if it falls outside, I don’t consider eating it at all, ever.  And, as the twenty-something person said, cupcakes…never!

So what are your thoughts on the five-second rule? 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

How Important are Photos?


I love photography.  Not only do I consider myself an amateur photographer, but I am also the one that can usually be found at parties and events snapping away.  I love to share the photos with others.  I also print them and put them in albums that we enjoy looking through from time to time.  But there does exist the dilemma of finding the right balance between documenting memories and not missing the fun of the moment because you are so preoccupied with getting the shot.

When we have taken family vacations with our boys in the past, we seemed to find a decent balance between taking photos of the scenery and including us in some of the photos.  Looking back in albums, we can reminisce about where we were and what we did.  For about a decade when we shot slide film, we would enjoy fun family nights looking at slides of our adventures.  Sometimes we use the photos to help answer questions like, “How old were the boys when we went to Montana?”  If we can’t remember, we just look at the picture and figure it out.  I couldn’t imagine taking a vacation without a camera.  For me, that is part of the fun of the vacation.

We have photos of all the holidays and important milestones too, including birthdays and graduations. It is at our most recent (and last) college graduation this past weekend that this topic came up.  It was very important to me to ‘document’ the milestone of our younger son in his cap and gown with family and if possible with some of his friends too.  The graduation venue was large, the ceremony long (the largest graduating class in the history of the school), and the weather drizzly when we exited the building.  What was on many minds was getting away from the throng and scoring something to eat.  In the end, everyone was a pretty good sport about indulging me with my photos, but I wish I could have taken more and with better backgrounds.  

To throw me off even more than the rushed photo session was the fact that there was no cap to go with the gown.  Why?  Well, if you have been to a graduation ceremony before, the last thing many students do after moving the tassel from one side of their cap to the other is to toss them in the air.  Yup, ours was somewhere back on the arena floor and it got scooped up right away.   So the few photos I did get had gown but no cap.

I must say that those few photos did capture the essence of the moment, albeit sans cap and with random strangers in the background.  But in that moment I was struggling to be in the moment without ‘worrying’ about the missing cap and getting the event documented.  I know that I wanted to be able to look back at the event as my memory fades years from now, but I also wanted our son to be able to have these photos at a time in the future when he might be looking for them.  Perhaps that future time and situation was a bit too abstract for him right now though.       

Looking back at my milestones, even coming from a family where photography is in our genes, I don’t have photos of every event.  I don’t know why exactly.   Did I not always cooperate with my parents about taking my photo with my friends when I got older?  I really don’t remember.  What I do know is that I wish I had more photos of some events, including my graduations.  I don’t know if that is why I was so intent on getting this past weekend's graduation day documented.  

I don’t know how to explain it, but having photos is part of the event for me, part of the memory.  I just have to remember that photos don’t necessarily hold the same importance for everyone else though. 
Wouldn't you want to remember Annie Lenox, Willie Nelson, and Carole King at your graduation and shaking their hands?
One, two, three!  There goes the cap! 
Who needs photos or a cap?  C'mon, we're hungry!
 
Well, to my delight, we borrowed a stranger's cap for this photo and probably won't remember this fact in 25 years, but it sure made me happy.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

What's Negotiable?


Three years ago, I was in the parking lot at school, wiping snow off my windshield.  An announcement came over the loudspeaker that my son was on the phone.  With one son in Montreal and the other in Boston, I figured it must be an emergency if either was asking to page me after school hours.

I also remember there was snow on the ground and it was still falling hard and fast.  Several of us arranged to follow each other to the highway to go the ‘long way’ home to avoid a very steep hill on our end of town known as ‘Pope’s Corner’.  I asked them to wait and not start the caravan without me.  I dashed inside to see what was up.

It was our younger son who had apparently began looking for his first college apartment.  With six months left until sophomore year began, I didn’t realize he had started looking.  I’ll cut to the chase and say that the conversation was something like, ‘Mom we found a great apartment and we need $20,000 but my portion is only $5,000 because there are four of us.  This apartment will be gone if we don’t commit.’

Of course scam went through my mind right away.  $20,000?  Right away?  The apartment would go fast?  He went on to explain that he and three friends found a four bed, two-bath apartment, which was big, perfect, safe, and walking distance to school.   He explained that they each had to put up $5,000 to cover first month, last month, security, and fee. Doing the math you can figure out that this perfect apartment was running $5,000 per month.  For students!  Can you say Back Bay, Boston?

My mind went back to the present and the snow falling outside.  I explained that I would have to call him back when I made it home, which would not be my usual seven-minute drive, but to count on 45.  When I did finally walk in the house, there were three messages on the answering machine, each sounding more desperate than the other to please call him back when I got in.

I found out that the rush was that they were still in the apartment with the broker waiting for me to give a ‘go’ signal.  I explained that we had not budgeted that much for rent … it was very expensive … couldn’t they keep looking … they still had six months.  I was also not aware of any fees associated with rentals.  Granted my only experiences with renting was in New York, California, and in Montreal for our other son.  I made it clear that I was not going to pay a fee when they could find an apartment on their own.  I asked to speak to the broker, as I was a little annoyed with the pressure tactic being used on these 19-year olds. 

Poor guy.  I grilled him and asked him if charging fees was even legal.  He assured me ‘mam’ that it was how things were done in Boston and was perfectly legal.  I assured him back that my son was not going to be renting an apartment that involved fees.  I then asked him to put my son back on the phone.

What transpired next broke my heart, and it was truly sincere.  ‘Of course you are right mom…I’m sorry…this is too much…you and dad have already done so much for me…I’ll figure something out…’ 

Well, now I started to feel bad.  I wasn’t concerned about the loss of this particular apartment but didn’t want to jeopardize the roommate situation.  Apparently money was not issue to them.  

After hanging up, I called a few other rental agencies around Boston and found out that indeed ‘…many rentals are handled by agencies that sometimes pass the fee on to the renter.’  When pressed to explain what sometimes means, I was told that for September rentals, the fee is passed on to the renter but the landlord generally pays it for leases beginning in the other months.  So, reading between the lines, that means that many landlords are adding an additional burden to college students, the ones who start leases in September.  Well, this just made me madder.  If landlords could afford to absorb the fees the rest of the year, they could certainly absorb it for September rentals too.  Like college isn’t expensive enough!

We talked more that night and I offered a compromise.  “Tell you what,” I began.  “If you can get rid of the fee, somehow dad and I will figure out a way to pay that rental amount.”

He didn’t see how he could make $5,000 go away.  I broke it down that his portion of the $5,000 was $1,250 and that a $3,750 finders fee was a nice day’s work for the broker.  Basically he would have to have the broker, who knew I was not going to pay a fee, agree to a reduced fee.  Our son said the fee was non-negotiable; I told him everything was negotiable.  I reminded him how we learned to haggle at markets in Europe.  He pointed out that going from 20 euros to 15 euros was easier than making $1,250 go away.  I agreed, but that was my offer.  If he really wanted that apartment, he was going to have to work for it and make it work.

The next day we got a phone call that the broker agreed to the reduced fee and that they were going over to sign the contract.  I asked if his other friends were okay with the ‘fee deal’.  He said they were a little annoyed but okay with it.  (I thought that they might be annoyed that they hadn’t thought of it.)

A good lesson learned; everything is negotiable. 
P.S. – I have since learned and understand all about brokers’ fees.  I don’t mean to put down the way they make their living.  This is just one story of our introduction to fees and our subsequent philosophy of searching for apartments on your own.  

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Misconception


We just got back from spending Spring Break in Arizona.  Here is how many conversations went when we returned:

     "How was your trip?"
     "Wonderful!"
     "Have you been to Arizona before?"
     "Oh yes, this was our 11th time."
     "Eleven times?"  (confused pause)  "Does your family live there?"
     "No, we just love it there.  We hope to retire in Sedona."
     "I could never live in Arizona.  It is too hot for me."

Without a doubt, while there are hot desert areas in Arizona, it is also an extremely diverse state in terms of temperature and geography.  Allow me to clear up some misconceptions.

Having traveled to Arizona so many times, I have literally been to three of the four corners of the state and to many places in-between.  Undeniably there are hot desert sections in Arizona.  The southern parts of the state, from the Phoenix area south, have hot, dry desert environments.  It is during the summer months that they can be extreme and boast highs of 115.  But having been there in February and April, both Phoenix and Tucson not only have pleasant climates, but beautiful blooming cacti to enjoy as well.   Southern Arizona is home to the famous saguaro cactus.  These amazing creatures can grow to be 70 feet high and take up to 75 years to develop a side arm.  In addition, on the southern end of Arizona bordering Mexico sits Organ Pipe National Monument. This is the only place in our country where organ pipe cacti grow.  So while deserts are hot during the summer months, they can be pleasant and beautiful other times during the year.

This should give you a good indication of weather in April:  jeans and long sleeve shirt while hiking among the tall saguaro cacti in the Cave Creek area.
Once you travel about an hour north of Phoenix, you rise in elevation, leaving many cactus species and the extreme hot temperatures behind.  Entering my favorite Sedona region, you are blessed with the splendor of the red rock formations.  While Sedona may have high 90s during the summer, since the air is dry it can feel 10 degrees less.  Did you know it also snows in the winter in Sedona?  Any white covering that hits the ground however, is generally gone by noon because the daytime temperatures rise enough to melt the white away.  
Sedona sunset...UNTOUCHED by PhotoShop
When you go a little further north to Flagstaff, the elevation increases to 7,000 feet.   With Ponderosa Pines and four seasons, you can also enjoy skiing in the Flagstaff area during the winter months. 
This is in Flagstaff with a view of snow-capped Humphrey's Peak.  Does this look like a desert to you?
Heading north of Flagstaff on Route 89, you enter another one of my favorite parts of the state.  To the east you pass the Painted Desert, continue north to the Navajo and Hopi Reservations, and finally reach Monument Valley on the Utah border. The Painted Desert has a magic hold on me.  When I view it, I become totally mesmerized; I can sit there for exorbitant amounts of time inhaling its beauty.  I immediately feel stress melt from my core.  I can’t explain its hold on me, but it is a feeling I want to experience more of in my life.  I have been fortunate and have visited the Navajo and Hopi Reservations numerous times.  The land is beautiful and the ruins are amazing.  There are some areas you can view on your own, but for an in-depth look a the beauty, you travel with a native guide to see the back of Monument Valley’s spectacular formations, the depths and ruins in Canyon de Chelley, and the amazing slot canyons.  You can read more about my day spent in a Navajo/Hopi school by revisiting a previous blog.    

To the west on Route 89, you pass the Grand Canyon. Depending on whether you are at the top of the rim or bottom of the canyon by the Colorado River, the temperatures can vary quite a bit.  Summer highs can be more than 100 while lows in the winter can fall below zero.  The North Rim sits at 8,500 feet in elevation and the roads are generally open from mid-May to mid-October.  The roads to the South Rim, at 7,200 feet, are open year-round, weather permitting.  The Kaibib National Forest boasts pines, fir, spruce, aspen, and oak trees.
The Grand Canyon from the South Rim, looking at Bright Angel Trail on the bottom right.
OK, so maybe this one photo was not from our most recent trip...
Arizona is a rich, diverse state with so much to offer.  Hopefully when people mention Arizona to you in the future, you can inform them that it has more than just hot desert land.  There are so many future posts that can be written about the towns, wildlife, outdoor activities, culture, and history of Arizona.  Each topic is fascinating in its own way.  Much can be said about the diversity of other states like California and New York too, which are both states where I have lived.  But for now, Arizona is my area of fascination and hopefully will be my resting state.  Might you join us?

Along the 22 mile dirt road portion of The Apache Trail
Lots of blooming cacti








Friday, April 12, 2013

What a Walking Stick Revealed


Last year when our son came home from college for the summer, his car was filled to the brim with bags of clothes, musical equipment, and miscellaneous items.  Although this scene was nothing new, there was one new item he did unpack; a fairly large, nice walking stick.  When I asked him where he got it, he responded that a homeless man gave it to him to thank him for dinner.  I thought perhaps he bought him a meal at a nearby Subway or McDonalds, but that’s not how it went down.   

Boston has its share of homeless people, like any large city.  Many of the residents there take the same route to school or work each day, often passing the same homeless people.  But this one man who was in his late 40s was only seen four times by our son.  ‘Michael’ was handing out double sided typed printouts that he made with bulleted suggestions on ways society could reform education.  It cited facts and social reform ideas by others. He was trying to get people on the ‘educate our kids differently’ train.  Our son, who loves deep conversations, agreed with some of his ideas and thought he was a fairly intelligent man.  He did add though that ‘the word clean did not belong anywhere near him.’ 

Learning that Michael was a vegetarian, our son brought him to his nearby apartment and made dinner for him.  He sautéed some veggies and then added pasta which made up their meal.  This happened not once but four times, accounting for the four times they had contact.  After their last supper, our son gave Michael $10 bus fare so he could go back to the outskirts of town by the river that he called home.  Michael thanked him by giving him his walking stick. 

They never saw each other again.  That was over a year and a half ago. 

So, there were two ways I could have responded to this. 

1) Why the heck did you have to take him back to your apartment to give him dinner?  Couldn’t you have bought him a meal somewhere?  That was not smart bringing a stranger into your apartment.

2) Wow, that was really great that you conversed with this person who had something to say and brought him into your home to enjoy a home-cooked meal while sitting on your comfy couch.  

If you know me, or have grown to know me from reading my blog, you can probably guess how I responded.  I wish I could have been the mom who had the second reply, but at least I can say that I reared a son who responded in an altruistic manner.   To me, the walking stick is symbolic of him seeing the good in others.  
Not the actual walking stick, which currently resides in Boston.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Box of Trouble


About four years ago, on a summer student trip to Europe, one of our students had an interesting encounter with the law in Spain.  Where to begin…

I suppose I can start with a visit to the sword factory in Toledo, outside Madrid.  When we entered the factory with our eight high school boys, it was like setting six year olds free in a candy store.  They didn’t know what to touch or play with first.  Amongst the oohs and aahs was play fighting in the aisles, trying on the armour, and admiring the goods.  Some of them had been waiting for this stop as the place where they would buy their souvenirs, as opposed to places where the girls shopped for clothing and jewelry. 

Eventually everyone was on line at the cash register.  Trying to save money on shipping their purchases home, they opted to combine their items and carry their new belongings with them in one long sealed cardboard box.  They knew full well that they would have to carry it with them for the rest of the day since the return to our hotel was not until well after dinner.  They rationalized that they would take turns and it would not be a problem.

Our next stop was at the Museo del Prado, the main Spanish national art museum in the center of Madrid.  Sadly for me, no photos were allowed inside.  A few of the more well known artists who had works there were Diego Velazquez, Francisco Goya, El Greco, Titian, Raphael, Botticelli, Caravaggio, and Rembrandt.  As anticipated, the weapons box had to be checked at the front of the museum.  This was not a problem at all.  The boys were actually relieved to be able to put it down for an hour or so.
As was generally the plan, we had set up a time and place to meet outside the museum.  It was a very hot afternoon, close to 100 degrees F, and those who exited the museum first could be found trying to find a sliver of shade to hide in while waiting for our departure to dinner.  After counting our group, an obsessive practice I have as a group leader, I knew which students we were waiting for.  I finally saw the last straggler exit the museum with his box and spring down the long flight of stone steps.  As he did so, two Spanish police officers quickly approached him.
The Prado entrance
The others in our group were a little anxious that their friend might need help.  Of course I would have gone to his aid if he needed me, but he was a senior in high school and had taken four years of Spanish, so I allowed him the opportunity to have this experience alone.  After lots of hand gestures, the box was opened and two swords and a replica of a pistol were pulled out.  After a little more gesturing and pointing, the officers seemed satisfied and left.
When our student came over to our shady retreat, the other teens thronged around him to hear the details.  He was laughing as he recounted trying to tell the officers in his broken Spanish … "sword factory… part of a student tour…  the receipt…gun is not real…box was checked…American student..."  He admitted he was a little nervous, but it was an experience I know he will never forget. 
After dinner, we passed up the bus ride to the hotel and opted for additional free time in Puerta del Sol, which is a busy area in the center of Madrid with much to do.  At the end of a very long and hot day, we finally found the metro and made our way back to our hotel.  Box and all, the boys were great about taking turns being its keeper. 
The next day when boarding the bus for Seville, we decided the best new home for the boxed weapons for the duration of the trip would be in the upper rack over the bus seats.  It seemed to be a better idea than bringing them into and out of hotel rooms…
I wish I could say that was the end of our weapon woes, but alas it was not.  When we checked in at the airport in Lisbon for our flight home, we had to go through all sorts of forms, questions, and labeling of the box.  Supposedly it was labeled and cleared all the way to JFK now, to assure that our stopover in London would not present any additional flags. 
But it was not.  Some worker in Lisbon forgot to label the box as previously checked out so the student was detained and questioned extensively.  This time we did go directly to his aid and tried to answer all the questions swiftly and satisfactorily so as not to miss our connecting flight.
So what advice do I give to travelers wishing to buy swords and weapons as souvenirs?  Pay the money and ship them home.  That is certainly something I will insist upon on in future trips to sword factories.
PS – I didn’t even mention the switchblades that some of the boys purchased…luckily they were tucked away in their checked baggage.
Yes, one of these nice boys was the one who dealt with the Spanish officers.  Which one do you think it was?

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Chocolate Blast From the Past


My husbands' birthday is on February 29th so of course he gets teased on the years his birthday is not technically on the calendar.  Nonetheless, I asked him what kind of cake he wanted for his celebration this year.  He thought maybe a German chocolate cake.  For some strange reason, my mind swirled back to a memory of a chocolate cake I used to make when I was younger.  Although not a German chocolate cake, I was already set on the plan for his birthday confection. 

When I say younger, I mean much younger.  Before kids…before marriage…before college…before high school.  At the ripe old age of 10, I used to enjoy playing with my friend LuAnne, who was two years older than me.  We used to take turns going to each other’s house.  One of the activities we enjoyed was baking.  We started this tradition at her house using Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cookbook.  We had so much fun picking out what we wanted to make, and under her mother’s supervision, we learned to bake from scratch.
We learned to measure and pour, beat and stir, blend and frost.  We would double the recipe so we each got to bring home whatever we made.  My mother told me that when I came home from my first ‘baking play date’, she asked me what mix I used.  I responded by asking her what a mix was.  She said, ‘You know, what box did you pour the ingredients from?’  When I told her we didn’t use a box but used flour, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and some other stuff, she was shocked.  She said her 10-year old shamed her into starting to bake from scratch again.  And might I add that in hindsight I am so glad that happened because my mother is one of the best bakers I know.

When I pulled out my old cookbook a few weeks ago, the cover was held together with scotch tape and the pages were falling out.  I hadn’t used it or even thought about it for years.  I really don’t know what made me think of resurrecting it now, but it was one of my favorites back in the day.  

As I carefully turned the pages, little brown splatters dotted page 97, while a few greasy smudges stated their presence at the top of the page.  These were signs of a well-liked recipe.  I had fun reminiscing through the book of other favorites we used to make.  By the sign of the pages, I would have to say that we liked the chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, and brownies quite a bit. 
Cocoa Fudge Cake recipe (on the right)
I followed the recipe to a tee.  As it was cooking in the oven, I suddenly had a horrible thought.  Although I liked this cake when I was 10 years old, I hadn’t made it in decades.  What if what I remembered as delicious at the age of 10 was not so delicious now?  A kid’s taste buds and an adult’s are very different.  To make matters worse, I invited a few couples over after we went out to dinner to celebrate Chris’ birthday with the cake.

I announced my disclaimer before slicing up the cake that night.  Everyone enjoyed looking at the tattered book as I explained the story.  Thankfully the cake was a hit.  I guess Betty Crocker withstood the ages. 
Some fun cakes we used to dream about replicating.