Saturday, April 21, 2012

For all the Farters and Hockey Fans Out There...

A few weeks ago after a mid-week Lent service, we dashed home so my son could perform a Clark Kent-like wardrobe change for hockey practice. We leapt back into the car in record time and raced our way to the rink to the sounds of Fall Out Boy's "I Don't Care" - you know, pump-up music. On the highway, I noticed a truck pulled off the side of road so I maneuvered into the middle lane. Jake softly muttered a single word.


"Wow, Jake. You're really starting to understand the rules of the road. How did you know that I needed to pull into the middle lane with that truck pulled off to the side?" I wondered aloud, so proud of my son's advanced intellectual capability.

"Duh, Mom. It's so you can't say doorknob."

"Say what?"

"You know. Doorknob."

"No. I don't know. I have no idea whatsoever what you are talking about," thinking that maybe he isn't so bright after all.

"Never mind," he sighed, clearly exasperated with my denseness.

This happens often when I hang out with the kids. My first reaction is to retreat into the grey cozy matter of my nearly 40 year-old skull and ignore the silly ramblings of the future generation of our world. I am comfortable in my skin. I understand and accept that there are things my children know and experience that I will never fully comprehend. And sometimes, I just disengage. But then there are times that I realize I may be missing out on a true bonding moment with my child, and it may spark further dialogue so the patient, kind, would-rather-be-noplace-else-on-earth-than-driving-to-hockey-at-9:00p.m.-on-a-weeknight mom took over. 

"What exactly are you talking about? Please. Tell me."

"It's when you fart. If you call safety before your friend smells it, you're legit. If they call doorknob first, then they can punch you until you touch one."

Say WHAT????

I was totally baffled. How did I get so off topic? From avoiding roadway vulnerability to protecting oneself from a pummeling based on gaseous exertion? What in the HECK was he talking about? Doorknobs and punching and safety? What??? Rage against the Machine blared "Testify." Never mind we were singing praises to God twenty minutes earlier.  I never felt so disconnected from teenage reality in my entire life. I suddenly became 15 again and had an incomprehensible need to understand so I wasn't the smart goody-two-shoes geek who didn't get the dirty joke while everyone else laughed and pointed at me.

"So let me get this straight. I fart. You smell it. You call 'doorknob' and punch your poor Mama for no other reason than I didn't utter the word 'safety'?"

"Yes, that's right."

"And if I just say that word first, then I'm le-GIT?"

"Mom you can't say that word!"


"Because you don't say it right."

"Why? I say it just like you!" In a dark closet in my mind, it occurred to me that I was whining to a 12 year old about fitting in. I mentally reminded myself to look into counseling the next day.

"No, mom. You say 'le-GIT'. It's not pronounced like that."

"So if I don't stress the second syllable, I'm cool?"


"Can I blog about this?"


I offered him my fist. For a punch. Er, I mean, fist pump. After knocking knuckles, my hand exploded, jazz style. Oops - I forgot. They haven't done that in, like 6 years. Duh. I'm so outta touch.

After practice, I asked Mr. Musky if he'd ever heard something about doorknobs and farts. I needed to link arms with another intelligent, responsible, tax-paying adult who will someday join me as we shake our heads in disbelief in the nursing home cafeteria about the offspring we procreated to rule the earth as they run to touch the nearest doorknob.

"Oh -  you mean safety? Yeah. Me and Colin played that all the time growing up."

Good grief.  Maybe my son is not just an immature, flatulence producing pre-teenager who happens to be blessed with great skin. Maybe he's just a bit more worldly and mature than I give him credit for. Like when we recently attempted an overnight snowmobiling trip but our plans were dashed by beautiful, sunny 50 degree weather in February.

I thought about lemons a lot that weekend. And how mother nature donated a whole bushel of them to us, ruining our plans. And how I hate the phrase, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." It makes it sound like we should just accept the ordinary in life and move on. I prefer my wise little son's comment:

"You know Mom, substitution is key."

He said this while doing something I would have thought unthinkable for him or any other testosterone-filled hockey player. He said it when he skated... figure skates!

In his defense, we were not out snowmobiling as we had planned; instead, we went hiking and happened upon an outdoor rink. Disappointment clouded his face when he saw the opportunity to shoot a puck around but didn't bring his hockey skates. We went into the warming hut and found skates for the general public to use, but the only ones that remotely fit him were the white ladies' figure skates. Determination overruled fashion and he insisted on skating.

Figure skates' toe picks proved to be a challenge for him (hockey skates have no such creatures), but he overcame.

And ultimately enjoyed himself, substituting yet again - a broom for a stick.

But he prefers hockey skates.


So this got me wondering. Did he react as most would? Would other young boys have done the same thing? What about the grown-up hockey players that I know? So I conducted a little survey of sorts. Here was the scenario I posed to several of my friends:

Imagine yourself alone on a winter hike through the woods. The day is brilliant - it's about 25 degrees absent of all wind, and big, puffy flakes drop from the sky creating a serene winter wonderland. You unexpectedly approach a clearing along the path and find an isolated, outdoor skating rink with an unbelievably smooth surface complete with goals at each end and a hockey stick and puck lying on the ground. You look around and don't see another soul anywhere nearby. Unfortunately, your hockey skates are not among the various survival items in your hiking backpack. You spy a warming hut nearby and wander in - and inside on the shelves are rows and rows of sharpened skates in every size from toddler to adult with a sign that says: "Free for all to use, courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources."

The catch? 

Every pair of skates is white. They are all brand new figure skates.
What do you do?

And their responses:

From a young hockey player: "Hmmm...I would go on the ice in my boots and shoot pucks. You never know if there are any secret cameras around!" 

And another young hockey player: "I'd change the blade to a hockey blade and skate."

From a 35+ year-old hockey player: "I'd pick my size and skate."

And another: "10-20 years ago, this would have been a tough call. However, I am now *gasp* 40 years old. Not only would I wear the white figure skates, but I would wear pink figure skates that read "I'm Gay" on the sides." 

And another: "The barbarian in me says -- I start a fire. While it is burning, grind the toe picks down on rocks. I use the soot to make the skates black if that don't work I put some dirt on em. In reality, who cares? Ice is ice and hockey is hockey - lace em up and shoot the puck. Good things always happen when you put the puck on the net." 

From a 50+ year old hockey player: "You sure none of my teammates are around? Because I don't know if I'd ever live it down. You ought to hear em in the locker room when a new hockey player tries to come into our league. They're brutal. I'd scour the place to make sure they aren't there, and I'd skate."

And another, former player: "Find a rock and grind off the front end of a pair of figure skates as much as possible because I will for sure keep tripping over the front part. Find some duct tape to add support to the ankles if possible. Then grab the stick and start messing around. And since I played hockey there would have to somehow be some cold Canadian beers laying around in the snow bank. Trust me - they would be there."

Well Amen to that.

In Chicago tonight, we're pulling out all the rally monkey stops. Even our canines are channeling their inner cheerleader for a win.

Go Blackhawks, and remember - call "Safety!" if you fart tonight.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Different Kind of Easter

Like clockwork, Mr. Musky's friend Mike the Greek, also known as Mr. Moby, annually tortures us with pictures of pure decadence twisting around a spit in his driveway in the Spring. Mike celebrates Greek Easter every year with his family gathered around a whole roasted lamb accompanied by all the other culinary and cultural delights celebrated by Greeks around the world on their highest holiday.

Motivated by purely selfish reasons (I want that lamb) I sidled up to Mike's German wife Angie, also known as Jackie-O, and invited myself when she was good and soused last fall at our annual Girls Weekend trip at the Cabin.

I'm good like that. I provide massive quantities of alcohol to my friends and then ask them for a favor.

She immediately affirmed that yes, we could join her non-Greek ranks in an effort to even the numbers this spring at their lovely home in Hampshire, IL.
Jackie-O and Tammy, another non-Greek, wife of cousin Mike. Yes - they tend to use the same names over and over. Just like in My Big Fat Greek Wedding - Kahley's favorite.

It seemed rather quiet out front when we arrived. Upon entering the garage, we encountered a relatively undercooked lamb on the spit in the early afternoon. It looked...well, it looked extremely...

...prehistoric and bestial and primordial. If I'm brutally honest, the skull on the rotisserie had me a bit unnerved. My family nervously glanced at one another under hooded eyelids. We're gonna eat that thing? I may have even glimpsed a shudder from my beloved out of the corner of my eye.

However, my apprehension tempered upon spying the 20 bottles of wine on the makeshift bar set up in the garage.

And the 20 bottles of wine strategically placed near the kitchen on the wet bar.
And the 20 bottles of wine posing on the bar in the newly finished basement.
And the 20 bottles of wine accompanying the family's Patriarch out back, who was grilling fresh crab cakes.

Yes. Crab cakes. Delectable appetizers to tide us over until the main event.

The beauty? Mike's cousin Tom is in the restaurant business, and he has connections. And I don't mean the Waste Management kind of connections Mr. Musky's always accused of maintaining. I'm talking a bonafide farmer in Wisconsin who sold over 300 lambs for Greek Easter, only ten of which were milk fed their entire (albeit brief) life.

Um hmmm. I dined on a milk fed baby lamb who met its demise at a mere 14 months. And I am indisputably unashamed.

I might just be in love with Tom, watching as he seasoned the baby ewe with salt and pepper.

We soaked in the surroundings for several minutes, made the rounds and proper introductions to all the family members, then parked it in the garage to become mesmerized by the rotating mammal. Obsessed. Kahley and I (Jake couldn't make it - good thing - he hated the live lobsters and this sight would have scarred him for life) whispered like schoolgirls in the corner as I sipped my wine. We had a lot of questions about the four legged meal that awaited us. Important facts that we had to clear up. Mr. Moby and his brother Jason were happy to indulge us.

When did it die?

Where did you keep it before today?
In the kids' bathtub on ice.
"But I cleaned and sanitized that bathtub - just so you know!" screeched Jackie-O from the other room.
Poor, beautiful Sophia. Tortured by sharing her bathtub with the little lambkin.

How did you get it on the spit?
Carefully. With guidance from my dad. And others.

How did it get sewn up?
With a needle and twine.

Did it come hairless?

Did it come cleaned out?
Yes. Kind of. For the most part. We cooked the organs before you arrived. They are over there. Do you want to try them?
No way. I positively do not eat organs of any kind. But Kahley - she actually seriously considered it. But chickened out.
Is it a boy or a girl?
Chuckles, particularly from the older contingent. A girl.

What's her name?
More chuckles. Zima
(I think. I may have this name incorrect, but that's what my ears heard from the heavily Greek accent of Mike's father).

Can I have more wine?
Of course. But drink the Greek kind.

Which - by the way - I will be purchasing on my next Binny's run. Pure nectar.

Then the party picked up. I loved sitting back, observing the family dynamic that ensued around that rotating animal as it evolved into a mouthwatering ambrosia. There were discussions in English about who had the worst knees. There were discussions in Greek about who had the better home for bad knees. Then there was dancing to prove the bum knee theories out.
Watchful uncles provided unsolicited advice.
More dancing...
...more advice. 
Kahley basted. We were slowly warming up to Zima. She had serious potential.

How much longer do you think? 

Everyone, and I mean everyone had an opinion and was not afraid to speak up.

"45 more minutes."
"5 more minutes."
"An hour and a half."
"20 minutes."
Finally Tom sliced a piece off and and Mike's father declared: "Eeets done. Yah. Eeets done."
We gathered around the butcher table, fascinated.
We drooled as six or more Greeks descended on Zima, slicing and dicing her for all to enjoy.

The minute Tom nibbled on a piece of meat, we all channeled our inner vulture and picked like mad. Oh my goodness. That meat. Honestly like nothing I've ever tasted before in my life. Melt in your mouth good. Crispy, flavorful, savory skin. Perfectly textured and seasoned meat that cut right off the bone after marinating in its own juices for three hours. Tender and luscious with slight hints of crisp rosemary and bright lemon. Mike, Tom and Mr. Mallidis hilariously enjoyed feeding us. They competitively worked to provide the best pieces for the newbies. And we graciously obliged by gobbling it as fast as they fed us.

Sip of red Greek wine.

Nibble of perfectly roasted meat.

Sip of red Greek wine.


And if you are an unabashed carnivore, pick up the bone and gnaw. Share.
Watch your foodie-bred child expand her culinary repertoire even further.

Then came the egg tradition. I knew there was something about bread with a red egg baked in the center, and sure enough, there it was on the table. Along with spanikopita, kalamata olives, feta cheese and a zillion other delectable Greek dishes that I wish I could go back and dine on again today. And tomorrow. And Friday.

At one point, standing shoulder-to-shoulder taking in all the activity around us - Greeks fighting over how to play bags, the unmistakable Greek music playing in the background, Aunts and Uncles continuing to argue over their health ailments, the wine flowing for all, red egg smashing contests accompanied with sounds of "Christos Anesti!" and responses of "Alithos Anesti!"- my wise-beyond-years daughter commented: "You know Mom, they're really not much different from our family."

Right on, sister. Except they have the meat thing won, hands-down.

By the end of the day, we made peace with the cadaverous face that greeted us as we entered the Mallidis home that afternoon.

I kissed a lamb. And I liked it.

I'm telling you all. Find yourself a Greek, truly befriend that person for life (for they are fiercely loyal) then work on an invitation to join them to celebrate their beloved holiday. And if the invitation doesn't come, get their German wife boozed up, invite yourself and bring an edible Greek dish to share for the culinary experience of a lifetime. You'll be forever grateful, and will fall in love with their culture and people.

I guarantee you will have dreams about that food.

Thank you, lovely Mallidis Family, for welcoming us so heartily into your culture's celebrated day and allowing us a glimpse into your wonderful, quirky, delightful family. You are all kind beyond words.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Random Ramblings

Since I am way behind on posts here, how about a little Random Ramblings for your Monday afternoon?

Some of my loved ones have been experiencing some significant health issues. It all started in January, when my mother had back surgery. She and my dad stayed with us for a few weeks. She's doing much better now.

She can cook a mean turkey.
And she loves her family.

Then my dad had knee surgery.

He's doing better every day. But he isn't the most desirable person to be around when he's in pain. He becomes rather cantankerous. Kind of like when his grandsons take over his personal refuge. Direct quote from Dad, in a voice that uncannily resembled Marlon Brando in the Godfather when lamenting the death of his firstborn:  "Look what them boys did to my basement!"


My Baby has to have ear surgery. Again. Which is going to delay our summer fun at the lake.



We recently strolled around the University of Wisconsin at Madison on the way to the cabin.
Let's just say that it's a good thing I didn't visit this campus when I was 17. Can you imagine this view in the fall or springtime as you walk to classes on the quad? Winter's not half bad either - we watched ice fisherman and snowmobilers dally about on the frozen playground as we enjoyed an unseasonably warm February day.
Had I attended this school, and pledged the same sorority, I would have lived on the beautiful 9700 acre Lake Mendota. Hello fellow Pi Phis - what if this were our home? Having our own dock would have brought a whole new meaning to the term "Sun Deck."
And look! Guess who would have lived next door?
Mr. Musky, if only he too had attended this school. And joined the same fraternity. I just love the "What if?" game.

A few little fun factoids about the University of Wisconsin and Madison, WI:

  • It is the 42nd best school according to the 2012 US News and World Report annual college ranking list.  It ranks ahead of my beloved Alma Mater by a mere three slots and behind only Northwestern and University of Michigan in terms of Big 10 Universities 
  • Madison has been rated as one of five "perfect college towns"
  • The Dane County Farmers' Market has been named best in the nation
  • Madison's been ranked as one of the world's top startup hubs for business
  • It's repeatedly a top ten Green City
  • Devils Lake State Park houses some of the nation's top biking and hiking trails and scenic views
  • #3 Most Secure US City

As one of the top party schools in the nation with a solid academic ranking, I hereby declare the University of Wisconsin acceptable for either of my offspring to attend.
They can fill their brains with fruitful knowledge while I browse the quaint mom-and-pop shops bookended by the campus and the Capitol building.
While being toted around campustown by a Midwest rickshaw.


My inlaws are staying with us for a few weeks before they head off to retirement joyland in Palm Springs. The day before they arrived, I asked my mother-in-law to name her favorite meal. She replied, "Pierogi," which are little dumplings of unleavened dough filled with sauerkraut, potato or meat filling, boiled (or in our case, steamed) then fried in butter and served with caramelized onions and bacon. About twenty years ago, I tried my first Pierogi at Mr. Musky's family Christmas Eve gathering.

I detested them.

But his sweet grandmother was so welcoming, and immediately made me feel included in her growing family by presenting me with a homemade stocking and a seat at her ping-pong-converted dinner table. So I ate them anyway, year after year. She passed away in December and we have all been memorializing her with various family gatherings.

Here she is on Easter circa 2001 with Grandpa Bill and Kahley.
As I stressed over combining the ingredients to make the dough perfect, I smiled and warmed my heart with thoughts of Grandma and how lovingly she made these little dough balls every year. That woman lived and breathed Christmas 365 days a year. It was an honor for me to make these little creations for her daughter, my mother-in-law.

My father-in-law's twin brother and his wife stopped by to join in the fun and encourage us all to have a cocktail, avoid discussing politics and eat good food.
 I am officially a very good Pierogi maker.
According to those who are Polish.


I'm loving the impromptu plans that warm weather encourages. Like when friends with dogs stop by and my own canine stops drooling for two seconds to pose with them for an awesome picture.

Or when neighborhood girlfriends expand their silliness into my backyard and ask for a mini photo shoot.


My current favorite cocktail du jour. Thatcher's Organic Elderflower Artisan Liqueur with Vodka. It tastes like springtime flowers on the palate. Divine.

Happy Spring.