Saturday, April 29, 2017

Preserving Family Recipes . . . and Turning 30

Front: Pictures of my Sicilian Grandmother, my mother, me and my daughter,
four generations.

My older daughter has been interested in preserving all the told family photos, oral history, documents and genealogy of our family for quite some time now. Although she has taken a break from it to plan her wedding and work extra hours to save up for a home, I know it's never far from her mind. But I really didn't know how much it really meant to her until I asked her in the beginning the new year what she wanted for her 30th birthday. Traditionally we would either go out to eat at a nice restaurant or I would cook a favorite meal at home. Since this was her 30th birthday, a milestone, I wanted to know if she wanted to do anything special and told her to think about it.  About a week later, while we were talking the phone, she announced, "I know what I want for my birthday.  I want to cook grandma's recipes."

Top: Map of Italy where our maternal recipes originated

At first I was stunned. Speechless. I wasn't expecting that at all. Selfishly speaking, I wanted a nice day out where I wouldn't have to cook, and here she wanted to do nothing but cook. After getting over the initial shock, I said to her, "We can't do all that cooking in one day. You'll have to decide what you want to make and we'll do that." All the while my mind is swimming with all the meals my mother cooked over the years and how I hated some of them so I never paid any attention to how she made them, like lentils and pasta.  But, my daughter made her request clear and she was serious about it, I could hear it in the tone of her voice. It's my job to make her wish come true and suddenly I regretted not asking my mother to write down all her recipes for me.

Sides: The top one is her paternal grandmother who came here from Malta
The bottom picture is her paternal great-grandmother who came from Austria

So, without telling her anything, I compiled a list of all the things I remembered my mother making. Then I got the brainstorm to get a recipe box to decoupage with the faces and places where her recipes would come from. I got my materials together and watched youtube videos on how to decoupage on wood. I ordered recipes cards and dividers and even a binder with pages, so I could have two complete sets of recipes for her. I planned to write them all out and present her with the whole two sets of recipes on her birthday. I hoped this would put her mind at ease that the recipes would be well preserved for future generations. I even had some recipes hand written by my mother and mother in law that I slipped into plastic sleeves to preserve for her with her family tree notes and charts.

The inside: is me and my daughter on her wedding day.
Behind us is a copy of my mother's "fig cookie recipe" which we made together.

The question remains, "Which recipe do we make for her birthday?" As I thought about it, there was only one clear answer, one choice above all the others, and that was my mother's tradition Sunday sauce.  Sunday sauce is the most important recipe we will ever make. It's the meal we grew up on, the meal that means home and family and love. It's handed down from generation to generation. You can find recipes for all the other meals in books or online, but you can never find one for your family's Sunday sauce.

The back is my son in law's mother and maternal grandmother from the Philippines;
and his paternal grandmother from England.

Now, I had shown her how to make the sauce about 15 years ago when I was going through a medical crisis and I wanted to be sure both my girls knew how to make it. It's not written down anywhere, it's in my mind's eye from watching my mother make it every Sunday throughout my life. Back in the day, when kids only had 6 channels on tv (no computers, no smart phones, no HBO, no Netflix, no cable, no nothing), we had nothing better to do than watch our moms cook. That was our reality TV.  And as we watched them we would talk and they would explain what they were doing and we would learn. Not today. Most kids only go into a kitchen when they need a snack, and even then, they probably have their eyes glued to the phone. However, after 15 years I'm sure she has forgotten everything I taught her about making Sunday sauce. So, I am fairly sure this will be the recipe we will start with.

The bottom 

Sunday sauce is a basic meat sauce that includes lots of meatballs (a little job in themselves), Italian pork sausage, and pork meat in chunks. However, there is more to it than that. For example, if you want to make a lasagna (another big job) you have to make the Sunday sauce first and add loose chop meat to the pot so the sauce that layers the lasagna is full of meat. This is true for baked ziti too. Then there is another Italian delicacy called braciole, which is thin slices of beef stuffed with salami, hard boiled egg, raisins and sliced onion, rolled up and sealed with toothpicks. This is something usually reserved for holidays and special occasions. Suffice to say that Sunday sauce and everything that goes with it, is the most traditional and most important family recipe we have.

I remembered some of the other recipes and for others I drew blanks. There were things my mother made that I never ate, so I had just a flimsy idea of how she cooked them. I went online and looked for recipes that would jog my memory and fill in the gaps so I could complete the recipes for the collection. I would compare two or three recipes to try to get as close as I could to my mother's cooking. I spent a couple of weeks writing them out in a notebook and going over each recipe until I was satisfied that I had captured the essence of what my mother did in her kitchen. Now, I just had to recopy them all on cards for the box and pages for the binder and get them ready for her birthday.

Now to fill up these cards!

Writing all the recipes two times, in neat handwriting, wasn't easy. I'd write a couple a day wanting them to be perfect, but of course I made mistakes. Thank God for white out!  I could have typed them all, but it wouldn't have been nearly as personal as I wanted this gift to be.  Slowly, but surely, I finished all the recopying and now I just have to wrap all the items and place them in a box.  I picked up a small rolling pin that holds recipe cards so you can stand them up when using them. I think she will a kick out of that.  

And now all that remains is for her to open her gifts and capture her reaction.

The BIG day arrives and we begin by cooking the sauce.  We set up the pot, stuff the braciole, fry up the meats (sausage, pork meat and braciole) and add everything to the pot.  Then we make the meatballs, fry them and add them to the pot.

And there's more to come!

A small bangle bracelet with cooking charms.

And then came the gifts. What Baby wants, Baby gets.

Gold Hoop earrings

Recipe box filled with old family recipes

Binder filled with old family recipes

The Cake!

Happy 30th Birthday to my Baby!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Our Kind of Family . . .

I grew up in a family where anyone would do anything for you if you needed help. At the same time we grew up to be independent and handle our own business. Asking for help from anyone was a last resort and, because we all knew that, help was usually offered without ever having to ask.

My brother and I grew up knowing we were going to college. There was never any talk about who would pay for it or where the money would come from. Without any thought about the expense, we applied, got accepted and we each paid for our own education, including books, fees, tuition and transportation. When I graduated, I paid back my student loans in full within a year. We found jobs, saved our own money, and contributed to the family household. The money my parents collected from us would eventually come back to us in the form of birthday and Christmas gifts, but we learned a valuable lesson about standing on our own two feet. That's the kind of family I was raised in.

When my husband and I got engaged, we planned and paid for our own formal wedding. We never thought about asking our parents to contribute towards the expenses. We paid for the venue, the limousines, the flowers, the rings, the photographer, invitations and favors. We had enough money left over for a two week honeymoon in Hawaii. No one offered to help us out, we did it on our own. But, knowing we had so many expenses right before we were married, my mother offered to buy us our first living room furniture as a wedding gift and my brother got us a complete, queen size bedroom set so we could furnish our home. That's the kind of thing my family does.

Before I had my first baby, my husband and I couldn't afford to buy a home. The houses were priced high and the interest rate was 14%.  I wanted to be a stay at home mom, so we could not count on my income to pay expenses. My mother offered to finish her basement for my cousin to live in so that we could have the apartment on the first floor of her house, at a modest rent, and continue saving money towards our own home. When our first daughter was 18 months, we began looking at houses again. The rates had come down to 10% and that was still high. We found a home we thought was reasonable, but we worried we didn't have enough of a downpayment to keep the monthly payment affordable on one salary. My parents and my husband's parents both kicked in an equal and substantial amount of money, as a gift, to help purchase our home and ease our minds about the payments. That's the kind of help you don't dare ask for, but gets offered with no strings attached.

The outside of our house needed painting because it was faded from the years of sun rays hitting it. I mentioned to my mother that we were looking for a painter and getting estimates. The lowest one we got was for $900. After our conversation ended, not ten minutes had past, and the phone was ringing. It was my mother. She said she had spoken to my father and they wanted to pay for the paint job on the house. They wouldn't take no for an answer. And, that's how our new house got painted. It was never mentioned again. That's the kind of parents I had.

When my second daughter was three years old she needed private speech therapy. We learned it would cost $90 a session for 45 minutes every week. We weren't sure we could afford an extra $360 a month at that time and we didn't know how many months this would last. While we were considering our options, we got two phone calls. One was from my brother and the other from my mother in law, each of them offering to pay for half of the therapy sessions so we wouldn't have to worry or fall behind on our bills. No mention of a loan. Just something they wanted to do for us and our daughter. That's the kind of thing our family does.

Our parents lived for their children. They gave us life. They gave us unconditional love. They gave us strong family values. They gave us their complete support. They made sacrifices every day of their lives to make sure we always got what we needed. All of this went unspoken, but it was understood. It was ingrained in who we grew up to be because we lived it every day. We were blessed beyond measure to have had them and to have grown up in such a loving family. And, I can say without a doubt, that their legacy of love has been continued with my own girls, who have been raised with the same values. I know it's how they will raise their children because they don't know any other way. And I hope one day, when they look back on their lives, they will feel the same way about my husband and I.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Dreaded Doctor's Appointment

Doctor's visits are nothing new to me. In fact, since 2004 I have seen more doctors than I can count and had CT scans, MRIs, a few sonograms and biopsies and even a PET scan. I've had so much radiation that I should be glowing in the dark by now (and that's not even counting routine mammograms and dental x-rays). And in a couple of weeks I'll be going for another MRI and follow-up visit for a growth found in my neck the summer of 2015.  You might call it "The Birdhouse Summer" because in order to cope with all the tests and waiting I took up painting and giving away birdhouses. My poor husband might call it "Our Summer Vacation at Michael's." We got through it.

Last winter when I saw this doctor, I was too preoccupied with my daughter's wedding to get worked up over my MRI. I didn't have time for any distractions. I didn't ask any questions, especially since the doctor was happy and said there had been no change. Why look for trouble? Everything was under control. And as he asked to see me in one year, I asked if we could make it a couple of months earlier or later because January weather is very unpredictable. He agreed to see me two months later, in March. Well it's March. Here we are. And, I'm dreading it. 

Anyone who has a medical cloud over their head probably knows the feeling. As your appointment approaches you are afraid to make any plans in case there's a change and you have to cancel them. You sit in limbo, keeping your fears to yourself so as not to upset anyone else unnecessarily. Often you get paranoia, getting suspicious over every ache and twinge and sometimes thinking the worst. At least I'm not doing any online research and driving myself crazy over it. Instead, I've gone back to crocheting and crafting whatever comes into my mind. I'm being productive . . . sort of. I don't feel the need to do an extra cleaning around the house, so I'm not that productive. I'm just sitting here with fleeting thoughts of anxiety between projects. Wondering. Should I ask any questions? Do I want to know the answers? Should I just let sleeping dogs lie?  I get the impression the doctor doesn't want to worry about something that might not happen. That "something" being surgery. 

So I guess I'll pass the next few days as creatively as I can. I have three projects to distract me and the sun has been shining. Spring is around the corner. I wonder what Michael's has on sale?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Ear Piercing . . .

In many Italian families, when baby girls are born, they usually get their ears pierced as infants.  However, my mother elected not to that that with me and I decided to get mine pierced when I was a tween. She took me to the family doctor, who took out a curved piercing implement, did each ear separately and inserted some surgical black thread so the hole wouldn't close while it healed. It was painful. Not so sure if I had a "do over" I would have done it again, but no regrets.

When I had my own daughters, instead of following the old tradition, I did what my mother did and left their ears alone. I figured if they really wanted to get their ears pierced one day they could make that decision for themselves. However,  I didn't foresee that my older daughter would want to make that decision at 5 years old. She came home from kindergarten one day asking if she could get her ears pierced because "so-and-so" had their ears pierced.  I might have taken her to get it done, but I wanted to be sure she really wanted her ears pierced for the right reasons and not just because someone else had them. I told her ear piercings are permanent and she couldn't change her mind after the fact. I agreed that she could get her ears pierced if she still wanted to do it when she was seven. That way she would have plenty of time to think about it and, if she still wanted it done, we would do it a month before her birthday and then we would get her earrings for her birthday presents. She agreed.

Two years is a very long time to wait when you are 5 years old, but she did. As her seventh birthday drew near she reminded me of our agreement and said she still wanted to get her ears pierced.  My stomach did a flip flop because I knew she had no idea of the pain involved no matter how I tried to prepare her. I found a jewelry store that pierced both ears simultaneously, because knowing my daughter, if they did them one at a time she wasn't going to stay for the second ear.  This time they used some sort of "gun" which injected little earrings right into the lobe and both ears were done! It was relatively simple. She was a little trooper. Of course, as it often is with younger sisters, my younger daughter also wanted hers pierced, but I made the same deal with her.

For my daughter's birthday she got three new pairs of earrings: gold balls, pearls, and diamonds (her birthstone).  You would think that chapter was now closed. Nope.

Three or four years later "so-and-so"got a second piercing above the first one so she could wear two pairs of earrings in each ear.  A new fad that was probably started just to drive parents crazy. My daughter came home wanting to get a second piercing in each ear.  Now I am a reasonable person and I live to make my children happy, but I wasn't going along with a fad and add two extra holes to my daughters head. So I told her no, that wasn't happening.  I explained that sooner or later this great new "look" was not going to be popular and she would be stuck with these extra holes in her ears forever. Besides that, and as a compromise, I told her if she wanted that "look," they have earrings that are designed to make it look like you have two piercings without going through another ordeal. That seemed to satisfy her.

To this day she still only has the one piercing in each ear. I think I made the right call.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Teacher's Gift . . .

Picture it. Third grade in an elementary school in 1995. It's nearing Christmas and the parents of my daughter's third grade class decided to take up a collection for one really good gift from all the children, instead of a lots of little gifts.  The parents agree, and a nice little sum of money was accumulated.  One of the mothers, who was also a teacher, suggested getting Mrs. Glazer, the teacher, a set of beautiful art books for the classroom. Everyone agreed this would be a perfect gift that would not only benefit our children, but many future students who would be in her class.  I wasn't present when the gift was delivered and opened, but I heard about the aftermath for days, weeks and months after in the schoolyard while waiting to pick up my daughter.

It seems the old expression "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth." did not apply here.  Nor was the gift graciously received. Rather, the teacher was offended and told the parents, in so many words, that this gift was not for her at all, but for their children. There was nothing personal about it the gift.  Naturally, as you would expect, the parents were now also offended as they put thought into the gift and probably had to add to the sum of money collected in order to purchase it.

Fast forward to the end of the school year. June was fast approaching and there was little matter of the end of the year gift for the teacher. Normally I wouldn't be involved in these matters, I would just be contributing whatever amount was agreed on for each parent.  However, no one wanted to be responsible for purchasing the year end gift from the class. So they all got the bright idea to ask me to do it. I wasn't involved in the Christmas fiasco so I had no hard feelings one way of the other. And, when they approached me to buy the gift for the teacher and something additional for her aide, I said yes.  I wasn't afraid of taking on this project and suffering the consequences.

I decided to keep my daughter home from school for a mother-daughter day. I planned to go to the mall with her to do some shopping, pick out both gifts and allow her to have some input.  Afterwards we would go to lunch at a nice restaurant.  Off we went to Macy's!  My first and only thought is that the teacher wanted something personal and what woman doesn't like jewelry?  We went directly to the jewelry counter and looked around. We saw a nice pair of dangling earrings that seemed elegant to me (but what do I know) and my daughter approved. With the few dollars we had left we were able to get another pair of earrings for the aide.  Mission accomplished! I asked for gift receipts just in case Mrs. Glazer didn't like the earrings (you never know.)

My daughter and I went to lunch at a restaurant near our house, that I drove past twice a day for three years, taking my younger daughter to her school. Of course we were going there from the mall instead of my house, and having directional dyslexia, I got us lost somehow.  So, I simply drove home and started out again and this time we made it to the restaurant and had a nice lunch. (I wonder if my daughter even remembers all this?)

The day of the gifting finally arrives. The gifts were to be presented to the teacher and aide in the classroom during a special viewing for the parents of the Family Tree projects that the children were supposed to be working all year. ( I say supposed to be because some looked like they were prepared the day before.) The albums and pictures were on display and all the children had a little something to say about their families and ancestry.  I was standing there with the gift receipts in my bag just waiting for the reaction to the gift.  Mrs. Glazer could not be happier with her earrings and came over to thank me. I told her if she would prefer a different style I had the gift receipt, but she refused, saying she loved them.  The aide also came over to thank me for her lovely gift.  All's well that ends well.

P.S. Valentine's Day is around the corner. If any men are reading this blog just remember to go get your lady jewelry. Forget the roses, they die. Forget the chocolate, that lasts less time than roses. Jewelry lasts forever and I have yet to meet a woman who doesn't like jewelry.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Family Tree in Cross Stitch . . .

My older daughter was married in July, 2016.  I wanted to make her and her husband something special for Christmas. I knew she was very interested in researching her family tree, as well as her new family's genealogy.  I've written a couple of blogs about each of our experiences.  This blog will be a continuation of sorts.

I like to make unique things. When I thought about it making a family tree I got excited because I knew my daughter and son in-law would appreciate it and it could even become a family heirloom. I started looking for cross stitch patterns, but much to my dismay, most family trees begin with one person and record their maternal and paternal sides. I wanted a tree that would be a record of both sides of their families and have room for their children.  I came upon a picture online of a large tree with the silhouette of couple under it.

I thought about how I might be able to turn this into what I wanted to make. First I would need to make it larger and turn it into a graph pattern.  Thank goodness for online sites that will take any picture and turn it into a graph for cross stitch or crochet. Here's what I got:

The next thing I wanted to do is take my daughter's favorite engagement picture and try to substitute it for the couple in the picture. I edited the picture down to the couple, changed the color to black and white, changed the size to match the size of the couple in the picture and use that as my new silhouette. I outlined both my daughter and her husband so I could use two different colors, a light and dark gray, to distinguish between the two bodies. Here is the graph and the cross stitch equivalent.

With the silhouette of the couple in place, I went ahead and finished the tree and all it's branches.  It was easy enough to place the couple's names and wedding date in the center of the heart made by the branches.  It was a little more difficult trying to add the names of their parents and grandparents and not disturb the flow of the branches. Using a light and dark green floss for the names, I counted and slightly eliminated a few stitches to allow the names to fit in.  The dark green floss was used to highlight the "family" surname on both sides. Once it was done and framed I couldn't wait to give it to them for Christmas.  I can add a title to it "Our Family Tree," and children's names if they want down the road.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Pussy Cat Hat . . .

In September 2015 I went back to crocheting. I thought I'd make a couple of blankets for Christmas and call it a day. Instead I have been crocheting almost non-stop ever since.  I've used many, many pounds of yarn and made dozens of things. After not crocheting for about 25 years or so, I found that, like Stella, I got my groove back. I started thinking that while I can crochet, maybe I should plan for the future, in addition to making gifts for the present. I've made quite a few little baby things even though there are no babies in the near future. And I asked my newly married daughter if she would like me to make her anything. She kept telling me she didn't need anything right now. I was thinking maybe some heirloom quality items she could save for the future like a table runner, but her mindset is in the present.

And that brings me to her one request . . . a pussy cat hat in pink. She plans to attend a women's march in a couple of weeks and wants to wear the hat.  She is making a statement for women's rights. I am doing my part by getting the yarn and crocheting. The hat only took a couple of hours or so to make. What baby wants, baby gets.  Here I am modeling it. I hope you get a good look because I have a feeling I will remove the picture shortly . . . and I was right, not a great look on me.

P.S. My daughter liked the hat so my mission was accomplished!

And here is the crochet pattern for anyone who is interested in making one of their own: Pussy Cat Hat Pattern in Crochet

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

People Come, People Go . . .

I haven't blogged much lately. Last year I only posted seven blogs. It was a busy year and there are only so many wedding blogs one can write. Then there was the election. Politics is a touchy subject. People will read something and agree with it or not. The number of stories on a daily basis was, and still is, overwhelming. I read and heard enough about all of it not to want to write anything. And who cares about my opinion anyway? And this is a small, personal blog. I can't always blog things I would like to blog because the people I would be referencing have the link and could read it. The last thing I would want to do is offend or hurt anyone's feelings, so I censor myself. But I find that even when you don't intend to hurt or offend anyone, it still happens.

Today I have an experience I would like to write about, but I won't. Instead I will say relationships can be complicated, even when they don't seem so. I thought I understood people, especially those I know personally, but I don't. I have had people close to me who are willing to discuss issues that come up between us for the sake the relationship and others who will just cut me off without a word of warning, without any regard for the numbers of years we have known each other and all that has transpired in that time. It leaves me to wonder if they ever valued me or the relationship in the first place?

I'm sure many, if not most, people have gone through similar experiences one way or another. You can't make sense of it, you just have to deal with it. If it happens enough times, with different people, you can think about it, maybe grieve the loss and eventually move on. You can't control what the other person chooses to do or how they react. They have to do what they feel is best for them. And I get that, even though it's not what I would do. I wish them well in their lives and in all they do. "For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven."

Depending on the depth of feelings and the involvement in each other's lives, some people can and do leave a void in your life that needs to be filled. How each one of us handles that varies. I have found that keeping busy and distracted allows for time to help the healing process. And, the way I look at it is that it gives me the opportunity and time to spend with family and others who are close to me. Life goes on.