Friday, March 31, 2006

Two Worlds

This morning, I was in the shower and Miguel came into go to the bathroom. This was our first conversation of the day...word for word...

Me: Good morning.
Miguel: Is the Titanic with all the people that died real?
Me: Yes, that really happened.
Miguel: They shoulda built it out of bricks.
Me: Then it would have sunk because bricks are heavy.
Miguel: Then there shouldn't be winter in that world.
Me: Well...
Miguel: There are really two worlds, ya know...Disney World and the whole big world. Can I flush now? Don't forget to brush your teeth!

And with that, he was gone.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

For the flan of it

My friend Raquel makes flan. She can barely make toast but, somehow, the woman manages to make the most beautiful flans. This week, I decided to make a flan for a little work gathering so I e-mailed Raquel (who is living the high life in Brazil) and asked for her recipe. She sent me the following recipe:

Have ready on your counter: blender, 2 cans of condensed milk, 8 eggs, milk, 1 cup of sugar, the flan pan (right hand lazy susan in our kitchen), large lasagna dish

1) Turn your oven on - 350

2) Make brown runny sticky caramel goo from cooking/burning 1 cup of sugar (I just fill a coffee
mug about 3/4 full) in smallish pot

3) Pour goo onto flan pan. Most of it will sit on the bottom - which is fine - but try to spread some of it up the sides as it is hardening. Leave that and go make the flan mix.

4) Do half recipe at a time in blender. Pour one can of condensed milk in blender, then fill that empty can with milk and pour that in, then add 4 eggs and mix it all up. Pour that into flan pan. Repeat process.

5) Fill lasagna dish with water and place it in oven. Then place flan pan onto the dish, right in the middle of it.

6) Let it cook for about 1 hour, then check it with toothpick. If the toothpick has really runny stuff on it and the flan looks pretty white on top, then let it stay in for another 15 minutes or so. If the flan looks brownish, it should be good. Don't try to take lasagna dish out -just get the flan pan. Wait till oven cools to get the lasagna dish out so you don't accidentally spill hot water on you or yours (I know, I probably don't have to tell you that). Put flan pan in fridge.

When you're ready to serve, flip the flan! I think you've seen me do this several times. I always run a knife along the sides to loosen it up a bit before I flip it.

Questions arose almost immediately. What size cans of condensed milk? How can different sized cans not affect the egg to milk ratio? Won't sugar burned with no liquid combust? How big is the flan pan and how can it possibly fit in a lasagna pan? Once I had obtained the flan pan from her house here in Minneapolis, there were more questions involving the size of the pan, the flatness of the pan and there were concerns about fluted edges and stickiness. Then, there was the tragic moment when I realized that I did not have the correct flan pan. We exchanged 14 e-mails before I ever began making the flan. That's right, 14 - I counted. A certain friend who makes flan and is living in Brazil but shall remain nameless (though she likes to be called "little missy") felt that I was being too precise about it all. Really, people, can you ever be too precise? Do people ask the makers of fine Swiss time pieces to relax their standards? No. Do people ask architects to estimate measurements on large buildings? No. Precision is a beautiful thing.

Finally, I made the flan on the night of 3/28/06. Much to my surprise, it went quite well. Everything seemed to go just as it was described to me. I brought the flan to work and people "oohed" and "ahhed". It tasted pretty darn good if I must say so myself. Sure, there is room for improvement and I have no doubt that it would have turned out better if I had had better instructions...still, it was pretty and edible and what more could you ask for?

Check out the pictures and try the recipe yourself. If you have any questions, I have plenty of time to e-mail you. It only takes 19 total e-mails to get it just right.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Blogging about the Blog

Initially, I started this blog simply so that I could post comments on my friend Kristin's blog. I created an account, came up with a quick name, haphazardly picked a template and threw this thing together. I never expected to spend so much time here, so, I didn't care how it looked. I did not expect that I would get hooked on blogging. I love having a place to express myself and, despite all of my claims to be an introvert, it's nice to know that others are reading my stories. So, I am going to keep blogging because it feeds the creative part of myself that I have ignored for a few years.

So, now, I want a sense of order around here. I really don't like the template I chose and my friends use the other cool ones so I am not sure how to make this blog more aesthetically pleasing. I would really like a super cool, professionally designed blog but that's not going to happen. I figure that I will just learn HTML this weekend...that shouldn't be too hard to fit in around the potluck tonight, the swim lesson tomorrow morning, the birthday party tomorrow afternoon, the dinner with friends tomorrow night and the concert on Sunday. I have a little problem with overreaching at the Incredible Design I came up with for the milk carton boat race that was just a wee bit impossible to implement or the hundreds of dollars I spent on video equipment and editing tools so that I could make a movie about Peeps that remains unfinished to this day. I am a visonary but I can't always carry out the visions. So, I have to be realistic about my skills in web site design or I'll soon be drowning in "How To" books and will be explaining to my girlfriend why we need Adobe CS and a new computer. I say all of this to let people know that I would like to change the look of things and would be open to advice or lots of pro bono design time.

I also think that I need to explain the title of this blog, to provide some context, but that is a little bit harder than learning HTML in a weekend. Up popped a fox is a phrase that I have only heard my mother say. No one else...none of her sisters, not my grandmother...only my mother. When I was young, my mother and I played cards every weekend. She began teaching me rummy as soon as I knew my numbers and could learn the suits. I still remember my tiny hands aching from holding those 13 cards. We played all of the time and I didn't win a single game until I was 10. My mother didn't believe in letting people win, even if the opponent was only 6. Some of my best memories of my mother are from those card games. She was so animated and fun and present when we played. As I write this, I realize that teaching me to play cards was the only time my mother was ever truly patient with me. There was no hurrying, no harsh words, no scolding non-verbals. It was just me and my mother and the deck of cards. During a game, as my mother drew cards, she would occasionally say, "Up popped a fox!" in her southern drawl, her cigarette clenched between her teeth. She would let out a little laugh and proceed to kick my ass. It's hard to explain but this was my mother at her most charismatic. So, the phrase "up popped a fox" means that something has caught you by surprise and changed your outlook completely. Now, if anyone has any ideas as to how to condense that into a soundbite that I could put as a description under the header, that would be great.

Well, it's almost time for me to go to that potluck. It's a GLBT Potluck for parents at my kid's school. There really aren't any G's, B's or T's right now. It's all L's. This also means there will be tofu and maybe quinoa. I'm bringing brownies which can also serve as my entree if need be. Brownies and the obligatory chips and salsa...yeah, dinner is sounding good.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Literate Poultry

Miguel: Why did the chicken cross the road?

Me: Why?

Miguel: (laughing hysterically)To read the Chinese newspaper!

I'm out of touch with today's chickens. They no longer try to get to the other side...they peruse Asian periodicals.

Monday, March 20, 2006


Once upon a time, a young lesbian from the U.S. met a young lesbian from Brazil. The young lesbian from the U.S. was interested in the language of the young lesbian from Brazil but only managed to learn to say a few basic things in Portuguese. The young lesbians lived happily for about two years before going their separate ways. After the parting, the young (and slightly bitter) lesbian from the U.S. thought to herself, “I am so glad that I never learned to speak Portuguese because I would NEVER have any use for that again!” About a year after that parting, the young lesbian from the U.S. met a young lesbian from Portugal. These two lesbians settled down together, bought a house, had two children and will be celebrating their 13th anniversary next month. Two Portuguese speaking lovers? What were the odds?

I have had a relationship to the Portuguese language for the past 16 years but I speak very little. Sure, I can greet people, count to ten and order my own food at restaurants but that’s about it. I always figured that I was an old dog and Portuguese was an awfully big new trick, so, I held out hope for the next generation. Before having children, I could have written pages about our plans to raise our children to be bilingual…why we would do it, how we would do it, how beautiful we would be while doing it, how bright and clever our children would be, how impressive they would be at parties - Funny how having actual children throws a wrench in all those plans you make beforehand. When Miguel was born, Luisa spoke to him in Portuguese and read to him in Portuguese most of the time. We were not living our lives in Portuguese, however. My cute phrases and the fact that I could say “I am cutting an onion” in Portuguese, strangely, added nothing to my son’s experience of the language. Our first trip to Portugal, Miguel was 10 months old and was not yet verbal. Our second trip to Portugal, he was 3 and could understand a significant amount of Portuguese but could speak very little. This summer when we travel to Portugal, he will be 5 and he will understand little and speak even less. Zeca rarely hears Portuguese at home. It is extremely painful for me to write this but our children do not speak or understand Portuguese. I write this knowing that, as painful as it is for me, Luisa’s heart will break when she reads this. Committing these words to paper is like touching a body with no skin…raw and excruciating. We dance around this issue. We make plans to change things, to make Portuguese a priority and then we fall back into our familiar patterns.

It has taken me almost 13 years to feel in my heart what I have always known in my head, that language is not just language. Portuguese is not just Portuguese. It is not just gendered nouns, verb tenses, and nasal sounds. Language is the building block of identity. It is history and culture and personal memory. It is family and comfort. It is the salty sea on a sunny day, the smell of sardines on a hot grill. It is topography and red earth and the way grapes look on the vine. It is about time and place and love and mortality. It is saudade – a word for which there is no English translation, a word that means a type of sadness and longing that I will never truly know, a word that I can understand intellectually but never feel in the depths of my soul. Language is all of those things that cannot be named or measured. Language is not so much the nuts and bolts of communication as it is the means by which we communicate who we are. When we travel to Portugal, at some point during the trip, I cry – not small, tidy tears but huge, gasping, snot-dripping sobs. It is always about language. I cry not because I can’t ask my in-laws to pass me the salt but because I can never be myself, because I don’t have the language to make myself known to them.

Writing this inspires me to learn and to teach my children Portuguese but that feeling is tempered by the fact that I have been inspired before and failed. When Luisa tries to speak to Miguel and he becomes frustrated, he says, “It’s too hard” and I try to explain to him that things that are worthwhile are not always easy, knowing the whole time that I have failed to learn for the exact same reason. It’s too hard to remember things, too hard to make mistakes, too hard to make a fool of yourself and too hard to change. I also know that the easiest thing to do would be to give up completely and I am not ready to do that…not just yet. I will never write the book “10 Easy Steps to Bilingual Children” but I still have hope that, someday, my children will learn to speak Portuguese and, in doing so, will gain a deeper understanding of themselves.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Forgive me...

Forgive me Lefty Radicals, for I have sinned. I know I've sinned the time I went to the co-op and forgot to bring my own cloth grocery bags or the time I bought the chicken that had not led a happy life before being butchered or the time I poisoned the ground water with Roundup because the weeds were trying to eat my children. I've made some mistakes but I have always punished myself for them. Remember the vegan cookies?

This new sin is a big one though: Luisa and I are going to buy a second car and it won't even be a hybrid. I hear the gasps...gasp away. I know about global warming and the war over oil and the problems with consumerism but we are tired, very tired. We have lived the one car life for the past 8 years and we just want things to be simple and easy for awhile.

In my defense, I submit our family's current, one car schedule:

5:00 a.m. Luisa wakes, showers and prepares all of the lunches for the day.

5:30 a.m. Vikki wakes and showers.

5:50 a.m. Luisa leaves home to catch the first of two buses that will take her from south Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul.

6:15 a.m. The children wake and Vikki proceeds to get both dressed, fed and ready for the day.

7:00 a.m. Luisa arrives for work, over one hour after she left the house.

7:35 a.m. Vikki begins to corral both children, assisting them into all of their winter trappings. Vikki then puts them into their car seats and leaves the house.

7:55 a.m. Vikki drops off Miguel at Lake Country School.

8:10 a.m. Vikki drops off Zeca at Child Garden Montessori, leaving the car in the parking lot and catching a bus to downtown Minneapolis.

8:40 a.m. Vikki arrives at work.

3:30 p.m. Luisa leaves work to catch a bus from downtown St. Paul to Child Garden.

4:30 p.m. Luisa arrives at Child Garden Montessori, one hour after she left work, picks up Zeca and the car.

4:50 p.m. Luisa and Zeca arrive at Lake Country to pick up Miguel

5:00 p.m. Vikki leaves work and catches the light rail, going south.

5:20 p.m. Luisa and the children pick up Vikki at the light rail station.

5:30 p.m. Vikki, Luisa and the children arrive back home

This barely works when everything goes as planned. When a child has to be picked up due to illness or school is closed or there are appointments, then I cannot even describe the scheming that is involved. Without Luisa's ability to process every possible schedule, route and transportation option and determine its efficiency, none of this would work at all. I'm the person that once forgot our car downtown and took the bus home because I got confused and forgot that I drove.

We are running ourselves ragged and are ready to give up the advantages of having only one car. I will not enjoy the additional costs of having the second car but what I will hate most is giving up my self-righteousness. I will no longer be able to judge two car families. I will no longer be earning those Karma points for energy conservation. I will no longer be able to shake my head at the Hummers. O.k., I'll still do that but you get the idea.

Oh, how the haughty have fallen.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

I woke up this morning but my voice did not. I sound like a boy going through puberty, like Bobby Brady in that Brady Bunch episode where they are singing in a talent competition. It's funny on the Brady Bunch but not so funny in real life - my voice frightened the children. Zeca looked at me strangely and Miguel asked me not to speak to him at school because he was afraid the other children would laugh at me. He said he didn't want me to get my feelings hurt. I suspect I might be embarrassing.

It was in the 50's here over the weekend and we didn't have to wear coats. This morning, it looks like this:

I took that picture out of my front door at 6 a.m. this morning. It has only gotten worse since then. At 7:30 a.m., I checked school closings and Lake Country was still a go. So, I bundled the children up and headed out to the car. It was snowing and blowing but I saw no bushels of fun. By the time I got both children strapped into their car seats, there was a 1/4 inch of snow inside the car. By the time I got the windows cleared and got back into the car, my head looked like a puffy white dandelion. Miguel mentioned that I should have worn a hat. There was not time to explain vanity. I just kept thinking, "How did they not cancel school?"

I took off towards school but could barely see the road or anything else for that matter. Cars were creeping along, people were walking in the streets. I made it 4 blocks before I decided to pull over and clear the windows again lest I run over something or someone. I also took the time to make a phone call - "Luisa, are you sure they haven't cancelled the schools?" Nope, so, I decided to proceed. I tried to pull back into the snowy ruts in the road but, you guessed it, I was stuck. I considered my options: crying,walking home carrying my 23 pound daughter and dragging the 4 year old behind, cursing, calling for help or burning the remaining tread off of my tires. I opted for the cursing and burning tread. Ten minutes later, I got back in the road and Miguel exclaimed, "Good girl!" I thought he was talking to Zeca because she had finally stopped screaming (she had been raging a protest since leaving home). Turns out, he was talking to me. I did him proud with my fine driving. We made it to school, I dropped Miguel off, got stuck once more in the parking lot but was on my way after another tread burning experience.

I managed to make it the 4 miles to Zeca's day care, parked the car, dropped her off and then went to catch my bus downtown. The bus was so crowded that I had to stand pressed against strangers, some of whom were just plain stinky. I got out of the bus a block before my stop because I couldn't stand it anymore and walked to my office. My socks had come off in my boots and my pants were falling down. I got to my desk and the phone rang. School was cancelled.

I think I'll move to Brazil.

      Wednesday, March 08, 2006

      The Life and Times of Baby Giggles

      We have welcomed someone new into our family...Baby Giggles. My sister bought Baby Giggles (in pink) for Zeca for her birthday.

      I can imagine my sister in Toys 'R Us at the exact moment she laid eyes on this doll. Her eyes brightened, her smile broadened and she realized it met all of her gift giving (check), makes noise (check) and will make lesbo feminist sister's hair stand on end (check). She swooped up Baby Giggles and dropped her in the cart, cackling all the way to the register. No offense to Baby Giggles but she's weird. She's got a flat, oversized face and an oddly puffy body. To make her giggle, you have to crack her chest and perform CPR. It seems that Baby Giggles likes it rough and, well, that's just creepy.

      We are generally into the "natural toys". You know, the ones that are hand carved from wood taken from old growth forests and hand painted by well-paid artisans using only organic paints, plush toys made from organic cotton and sewn using threads hand dyed and woven by fair trade merchants living in a commune in Guatemala - you get the idea. If I was going to pick out a doll for my daughter, and this is a BIG "if" people, it would be one like this:

      Here's the deal, though, Zeca has the lovely German-made Waldorf doll pictured above. She received it from some friends of ours. We tried to get her to bond with it for months and she repeatedly threw it on the floor and stomped on it. While it was a tiny bit disturbing to see our very small child pummel a doll that is a symbol of all that is peaceful, we also kind of liked it. Our daughter didn't like dolls! We imagined the patriarchy crumbling at our feet. Then, Zeca met Baby Giggles. Zeca loves Baby Giggles. She loved her from the moment my sister freed Baby Giggles from the box and wires. Zeca squealed in excitement, took the doll into her arms and rocked her. This was not just novelty...Zeca rocks and cuddles Baby Giggles whenever she sees her. It's not even the fact that Baby Giggles giggles because Zeca can't hit the doll with enough force to activate the description-defying mechanical laughter. She just loves Baby Giggles for who she is...a moon-faced doll with a hard box inside, clothed in material with an unusual sheen.

      I'm afraid of Baby Giggles. I would vote her "Most Likely to be the Next Star of a Horror Movie". Despite this, my heart softens when I see Zeca hugging her with a huge smile on her face. I have had to push all thoughts of putting Baby Giggles in a trash bag in the basement far from my mind because I really think that Zeca would miss her. So, I have come to accept that Baby Giggles is here to stay. She is part of the family now and, well, if you don't hear from us for awhile...come by our house and make sure we are still alive.

      Monday, March 06, 2006

      Bunnies and Flowers

      There are so many things to be happy about, really, there are. Like getting into the car and hearing Luisa tell Miguel, "Yes, honey, I'm sure Spiderman has a penis". Like my daughter turning 1 and dazzling the crowd at her party, even though some guests suggested that perhaps she looked a little Ukrainian peasant-like with her fat legs in tights stuffed into some high top boots. Like the fact that we refinanced our house and are building on rather than selling our house which means we don't have to leave our cool house in our cool neighborhood near all of our cool friends (and the Dairy Queen). Like the fact that we are getting a Rainbow play structure - nothing says "happiness" like a Rainbow play structure! Go to the website and you see nothing but happy, smiling people. Can't I be one of them?

      Here's the problem...I'm not feeling my happiest right now. I was hoping that my thyroid was out of whack which was leading to some mild depression but I just talked to the clinic and it is fine. I hate would be so much easier to take a pill than to have to deal with the actual circumstances in my life that are making me feel sad. But, it turns out that I actually have to cope with the fact that my step-father has leukemia and is going to die...soon. I found out on Friday that he has about two months left if he doesn't do the chemo. The chemo won't cure him but will buy him time and nobody has told us how much time it might buy. I don't want him to do it because I worry that his quality of life will be poor but I also don't want him to die. Of course, it's not my choice and he wants to do the chemo because he said he is not ready to leave the porcupine. Not his exact words, since he doesn't call her the porcupine, but you get the idea. How could I not love the man who has stood by my mother all these years, my mother with all of her quills? This month, they will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. This is their second marriage to each other. I didn't mention that? Yes, they married when I was 8 and then had their marriage annulled. Then, they remarried when I was 12. He had a chance to get out and signed on for more. The man is a saint or a sadist.

      My step-father has really been my father and I should start calling him that because it's the least I could do after all that he has done for me over the years. He is the strong, silent type and he has always shown his love through his actions rather than words. He bought me my first car (a cute little 1979 Fiat Strada), taught me to drive a stick, taught me to water ski, taught me to drive a boat, and taught me to install glass block windows. He was there for every important high school graduation, my college graduation, our commitment ceremony. He came to Minneapolis when Luisa and I first bought our house and stayed a week to work on the house with us. He put in light fixtures, hauled in new appliances, took down a wall (non weight bearing, of course), built a deck, edged the lawn, taught us to glaze windows and, basically, armed us with some basic home maintenance and improvement skills. He got us started and left his fingerprints all over the house...just as he has my life. He has always been there with a bear hug or a kiss on the cheek.

      So, this weekend was filled with the knowlege that he will not be with us much longer. His life is coming to an end just as we celebrate the beginning of my daughter's life, her first birthday. At her party on Sunday, I kept expecting Elton John to pop out of the pantry belting out "The Circle of Life" from the Lion King. No Elton John, though...just Zeca smiling and stomping about in her cowboy boots basking in the love of her people. I guess that's how it goes...we have to sit with profound sadness and joy at the same time, never knowing exactly which of the emotions is bringing us to tears...