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Posts Tagged ‘family’

Today is Bastille Day.

Photo by Joe deSousa on Unsplash

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Today is also a family member’s birthday, yay!

Photo by Robert Anderson on Unsplash

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And on this day, years ago, I visited a floating market in Thailand.

At 6:45 this morning I hopped a bus for a two-hour ride to the floating market at Damnoen Saduak. I’m sure the pictures will tell the tale well, as long as the viewer can also imagine the sticky heat of the morning sun rising over a town whose streets are made entirely of water. It was totally touristy and, admittedly, lots of fun.

On the way there the bus stopped at a coconut oil factory, made obvious from the road by the mounds of coconuts piled everywhere. A woman stood by a huge stove and swirled coconut oil or juice around and around in the largest wok I’ve ever seen. She actually had three of these monstrosities cooking at once, each in various stages of reduction. Every so often she’d reach over and grab another handful of coconut husk to stoke the fire. I couldn’t resist a bag of coconut candy; it’s probably 99 percent fat and terrible for me, but it tasted like richly-flavored brown sugar. Delicious.

The first boat driver was a little throttle happy, so we got the speed demon tour of the town’s waterways. He’d race full ahead toward a wall, then turn at the last minute. The front of the boat would turn sharply, the back swing around, and we’d race off to the next corner to do it all again. Along the way I realized how little difference there is between streets of gravel and water. All along the banks there were walkways leading up to people’s houses, small yards where they kept everything from pets to fishing traps, and little garages off to the side where they parked their boats at night. One difference: on the canals’ sides I noticed an odd creature, a fluffy pink worm-like animal that looked a little like a small sea cucumber. It was easy to spot because it was hot hot pink. 

The first thing we were encouraged to do after stepping out of the boat was to get right back in another. For a few dollars a sightseeing boat of sorts would shuttle tourists around the main market canal. In a few seconds we were off with the rest of the boats, making our way along the canal crowded with boats carrying food, trinkets, and other tourists. The only thing they told us was to watch our fingers, as the boat’s metal-rimmed edges collided frequently. Good to know. 

Almost all of the boats selling things were occupied by women. They talked amongst themselves while making fried rice cakes or chopping open coconuts for us to drink. It seemed like a crowded market anywhere, just on the water.

A woman with a Bunsen burner and stack of bowls in her boat made noodle soup. As my boat mate sat back to slurp up his lunch, a man came over and asked me a question.

He wanted to know why I wasn’t eating too, and wanted to assure me that the food was both good and safe. By pointing at a passing boat and a billboard adorned with smiling faces and happy stomachs, he managed to let me know that the market had been established as a “Safe Eating Zone” which was enforced by police. I could eat without fear. I thanked him and let him know by pointing at my stomach that I just wasn’t hungry. I tasted some of the soup soup and declared it delicious. We concluded the conversation with smiles and thanks. 

Pretty good, considering neither knew a word of the other’s language.

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J.R. Johnson

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I may have understated things a little yesterday, when I said that my bug bites were just “extremely itchy.” They were driving me crazy, especially the freakishly large spider(?) bite that made my wrist look like a poorly-maintained baseball bat. I had some anti-itch stuff and it worked, but for short periods only, and the wrist had a puffy red circle that was three inches wide and still growing.

Not cool.

Cue dramatic rescue! My sister-in-law saved the day. Her recommendation? Vicks VapoRub. The full course of action was peroxide to clean the area, then apply a mix of Vicks and salt.

Being a science-minded sort in possession of a bumper crop of bug bites, I decided to conduct a little experiment.

Super official test protocol: Some spots got Vicks only, some got the full treatment. I won’t lie, the salt scared me a little. It seemed a bit too much like scratching an itch with your nails, deeply satisfying until the blood starts to run, the area resembles a monster-movie prosthetic, and you regret your life choices.

Ahem.

Results: I wasn’t 100% wrong about the salt. Scrubbing the swollen area rode a fine line between satisfaction and pain, and I could almost see the little grains scraping an already sore spot. (It was also a bit awkward to apply to and remove from non-wrist areas.) But! Once I stopped rubbing it in, I was able to leave it at that. No obsessive need to keep scratching even as the voice in my head said, “For the love of all that’s holy, please stop scratching!” Was it nerve overload, increased Vicks penetration, or…? I don’t know, but I liked it.

And then the swelling went down, the redness receded, and the itch went away. There’s still a little redness, a tiny bump where the demon venom spider fangs went in, and no real urge to scratch. The Vicks-only bumps are similar, so my guess is that the menthol etc. in the mix does most of the work. I’ll probably use that straight next time.

My verdict? Best sister-in-law ever:)

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Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

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* Note from the future: After more experimentation (thanks, backyard bugs!) I’m shifting my position a little. Salt helps, and the peroxide (or other cleanser) seems sensible if you’re going to use sharp crystals against your skin. 

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This is an entry from my book of beginnings. It’s fiction, but inspired by my grandmother (yes, the whippersnapper).

She was loving and kind and sweet. She also lived through an alcoholic father, abandonment, and the Great Depression, and was a lot tougher than she looked. She and my grandfather were enthusiastic travelers. The family story was that she kept a series of journals about their trips, starting with their honeymoon. In Cuba.

If I’d ever found those journals, it would not have surprised me if she was also a spy.

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Cuba 1937

I was 24 when my grandmother died, the same age she’d been when she got married. My father called to give me the sad news. She’d been sick, but she lived a full life. She was the neighborhood bridge and poker champion in her neighborhood circle for most of the half-century she lived there and she led the women’s golf game every year. The next day I went to the house, to help my father sort through her things.

She was my favorite grandmother, and not just because she was a fantastic baker. My brother and I would sit at her kitchen table, eating pound cake and cookies while she told us stories. That’s what I liked best, the stories. She and Grandpa were travelers, starting when they got married and only stopping months before their deaths. That’s what they lived for, and listening to Grandma talk about souks, the Amazon rainforest, the glaciers of Alaska and the mountains of Italy, I thought I knew why.

“She left you something.”

My father had opened the door in a T-shirt, dressed for what was sure to be a messy task. Sorting through the remnants of eight decades would take us a while. I followed him into the kitchen and poured myself a cup of tea. I stood at the table waiting for the hot liquid to cool, and wondered what minor treasure I might receive.

“You’re lucky. The box they were in was sealed up nice and tight.”

The bundle was solid, and heavy. I set it on the table and unwrapped the musty fabric covering.

“I didn’t know anyone used oilcloth anymore.”

“These go back a long time.”

Inside the oilcloth envelope was a stack of books. They were different sizes and shapes, starting with a school notebook and progressing to leather-bound hardcovers. Each one had a short title written on the cover in my grandmother’s elegant script.

Looking over my shoulder, my father smiled.

“She knew how much you enjoyed her stories, so she wanted you to have her travel journals. This should be every trip she took over more than fifty years.”

Treasure indeed. Realizing that the most recent accounts were on top, I re-stacked the journals to uncover the oldest, her first trip. The black and white cardboard cover was grayed with age and blank except for her name. The pages were stiff, and for a moment I was afraid that the paper had completely fused together. A little work at the edges, though, and I was able to gently open it to the first page. Yellow with age, the corners cracked but the ink was still dark and bold.

She’d put the title inside, as if unwilling to announce it on the book’s cover.

“Cuba,” it read, “1937.”

This was where it all began.

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Photo by Dorothea OLDANI on Unsplash

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Yesterday I took a brief break to check on my butterfly weed (blooming happily!) and noticed an interesting beetle by the door.

“Ooh,” I asked myself, “could that be a firefly?”

It could. It was.

Last night, between brightly-colored expressions of Canadian joy (aka celebratory fireworks), we spotted brightly-colored expressions of firefly joy above the cedar hedge. The lone Lampyridae had a hard time competing, but he gave it his best shot.

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I have great memories of family nights outside in the garden when I was a kid, watching hundreds of fireflies looking for love. It was magic.

We don’t have hundreds now, but I’m working to make our yard as firefly-friendly as I can, particularly around mating season (aka now). Here’s how:

Save The Fireflies

Some of the things you can do:

  • turn off outdoor lights (who can get any action when that giant porch light is acting like the worst wingman ever?)
  • leave logs and leaves on the ground (I’ve totally got this covered)
  • add water (we have birdbaths, so check)
  • say no thanks to pesticides (no problemo, that stuff’s nasty)
  • let your lawn grow (skip mowing this weekend? yes please!)
  • add trees (I’ll see what I can do to keep the ones we have happy)

Time to recapture a bit of that summer magic.

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I’m not quite done with my grandmother’s portrait, apparently. One of the things I did over the weekend was to start learning colorization, and now Grandma has a pretty pink dress:)

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Good to Know

Recent chat transcript with my father (note the time stamps):

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Photo by Frank Busch on Unsplash

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To my dad, who taught us to read without genres, cook without recipes, and love without limits.

Happy Father’s Day!

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More history, today. And photography. This is my grandmother on the Swedish-ish side. She was ten or twelve* at the time, and much more agile than when I knew her.

This is also me experimenting with photo restoration techniques.

My Twelve-Year Old Grandma

Grandma Dorothea was sweet, literally and figuratively. She did many things well (gardening, bridge, surviving the Great Depression with her sense of humor intact, making grandchildren happy), but above all, she baked. I can still recall the flash of joy on seeing pound cake in her kitchen. Her chocolate mint squares are decadent, melt-in-your-mouth bites of chocolate cake, creamy mint, and dark chocolate glaze.

She wasn’t much of a cook, but (despite the very cryptic notes left on her 3″x5″ recipe cards) she was one hell of a baker.

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Grandma’s Chocolate Mint Squares

Cake Layer

  • 1 cup sugar                  
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 can chocolate syrup (16 oz)
  • 4 eggs beaten              
  • 1 cup flour                  
  • ½ tsp. salt

1.     Mix and bake in 9”x13” greased and floured pan for 30-35 minutes at 350°F.

Mint Layer

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 Tbs. Crème de Menthe
  • ½ cup melted butter

2.     Mix and spread on the cool cake. Chill briefly to set.

Glaze

  • 6 oz. chocolate chips
  • 6 Tbs. butter

3.     Melt over low heat. Cool a bit and spread over mint layer.

4.     Chill until chocolate sets and cut into small(ish) squares.

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* Inquiring minds want to know: at what age does one stop being a whippersnapper?

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More from the olde thyme archives. You may have seen the recent to-do about My Heritage’s Deep Nostalgia:

‘Deep Nostalgia’ AI gives life to old photos through animation – Big Think

#DeepNostalgia – how animating portraits with AI is both bolstering and undoing historic painted lies

Essentially, they are using AI-based technology to animate a static image. Very cool with a side of potentially creepy, but fascinating.

This is my great great great? uncle Walter “The Big Train” Johnson (1887-1946), one of the first inaugural members of the Baseball Hall of Fame:

Library of Congress, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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I love how people are using this technology to animate ancestors, and also add life to historical figures we know only as two-dimensional figures. Here are just a few examples:

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Some of my food choices have not made the transition to adulthood. Lightbulb fried salami. My Kraft Mac & Cheese and ramen habit.* Fruit Loops when I could get them, which was once a year or less (it was a good rule, parental units, but don’t think I’m over it! 😉

But some have.

Consider the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.** Is it a perfect balance of densities, sweet and savory, carbs, protein and flavor? Crunchy or smooth, with your choice of fruit flavors. Spark it up with homemade bread if you’re into that sort of thing. And so easy to assemble!

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* What? Alternate days, it was all perfectly reasonable.

** Am I posting this because it’s lunchtime, because I enjoy reminders of my often unconventional culinary childhood, or because I want to remind my mother that a PB&J is a terrific option for those days when lunch seems like a lot? Let’s go with all of the above.


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Photo by Freddy G on Unsplash

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