Thursday, January 12, 2012

...for I have sinned

The beginning of the year is a good time to examine one’s conscience to see if there are things hiding that need to be brought to light. However, I didn’t need to meditate or rend my clothing or roll in sackcloth or ashes or visit a priest to know that there was some abject selfishness deep in my heart, and deep, deep in my fridge. I only need to look at the little plate next to my cup of tea to be reminded of my sin. Moreover, this is a seasonal sin which begs the question of the sincerity of my annual repentance.

My sister-in-law, Judy Armstrong Murphy is not only an air quality expert with long-time service for the State of Montana, but she is also a renowned cook. When her children were little, she taught a course in baking. This provided much excitement one time at a family dinner when I tried to brag about Judy’s expert status, calling her a Master Baker. When my teenage sons recovered from spewing beverages through their noses, I realized how my declaration had sounded. From that time on, I decided to say, “Judy is really good at baking.”

And every year I look forward to the package that arrives before Christmas from Montana. I open it and carefully removethe tight brown loaf. It’s not shiny or sticky. It’s just a brown lump of bread. But when you slice off the plain end, it’s like opening a geode to find the crystals inside. Swirls of delicate yeast bread caress a filling of finely chopped nuts, a touch of sugar, honey, and cinnamon, which meld together with love and tradition to become Povitica. Our Serbian neighbors pronounced it “po-`vee-tee-zuh.” Around Butte and Anaconda the rest of us say “po-vah-`teet-zuh.”

Anyone who has roots in the Balkans knows this lovely bread. And their friends have probably been the recipient of a tasty Christmas gift. Judy learned to make Povitica when she and my brother John lived in the little town of Anaconda, Montana. That was around the time she decided to send it as a Christmas gift to family members.

This is when my seasonal transgression became fully formed. Since my sister and brother also lived in the Puget Sound area, and since I was the one most likely to be home to receive a package, Judy sent three loaves to my house. Of course I intended to deliver the “packages” to my siblings, but sometimes my brother or sister would be traveling or out of touch. I felt it was my duty to eat said loaves while they was fresh. It might have been a few years before my brother and sister even knew that I had been receiving Povitica with their names on them. For this I am heartily (hardly?) sorry.

Last year, my twenty-something first-born son stopped by one morning, and caught me eating Povitica. I felt obligated to offer some to him. He is the pickiest of picky eaters, especially turning up his nose at nuts. I was a bit disappointed when he said, “sure.” His next words were, “What IS this? Did YOU make it? Can I make it?” I remember watching my Serbian neighbors in Butte, a gaggle of laughing, chatty women, coaxing the dough over a cloth covered table until it was so thin that you could practically read through it. They spread the filling across the dough, then rolled, rolled, rolled it. They cut it into loaves, proofed, baked, and enjoyed with strong coffee. I told him about the process. Neither of us has tried to make it.

I know that Judy has incorporated the Povitica-making party into her family. I’ve seen photos of her daughter and daughter-in-law bent over the table with floury aprons. As other nieces and nephews have grown into the thought of having their own households, and after they have enjoyed Judy’s generous gifts, they have begun to ask her about giving lessons. With the advent of Facebook, there has begun a movement to have Judy teach the rest of us whenever we can carve out some time together. I can imagine a day with cousins and sibs gathered around Judy’s table in her beautiful country home in Montana.

Judy now sends separate boxes to my brother and sister. I confess that I never tell my husband or my children when our Povitica arrives. I wrap it carefully, and hide it behind the eggs in the fridge. Now my secret is out, but the Povitica is gone. I think I should feel some guilt, or at least a little shame about my selfishness.

I should.

I don’t.

Thanks, Judy and your Povitica crew. It was sinfully good!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Words for a busy season

My mother had a career before she was married. She was the head stenographer in the legal department at the newly-constructed Pentagon. She didn’tcare much for living in Washington, so in 1944 she joined the Navy. After WAVE training, they sent her right back to D.C.
Ah, but there was a purpose in all of this. When she returned to Washington, she became reacquainted with my dad. They had been in the same class in elementary school, and knew each other a little bit. They married on a snowy day in December at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
According to Dad, my brother was born nine months and ten minutes after the wedding. Thus Rita Kelley Murphy began her new career as Mother Superior. Bythe time the family was complete, she had lost a few babies and borne five of us to full term. Dad went back to college, receiving a mining degree. They put their roots deep into the mine-shaft riddled hard rock of Butte, Montana,and never left.
Mom wasa very organized and methodical person. Her life moved at a deliberate pace. The normal routine, cooking,laundry, homework, and soul-protecting was peppered with an occasional health crisis or death in the family, grand celebrations, and important rituals and traditions. In other words, it was the typical life of a post-war American family. She managed our household of seven people and occasional strays. She took care of all of her parent’s paperwork, doctor appointments, yard work (which she delegated to her kids and our cousins), and home maintenance. She had three elderly aunts who relied on her for everything, including companionship. Once in a while if she was weary she used to recite her favorite proverb, “Blessed is she who does her best, and leaves the rest, and does not worry. Angels can do no more.”
I mention this because I have a part-time (8 weeks or so each year) job that includes travel. The hours are long, the work is hard, and driving in Seattle’s winter weather is challenging. The hard part is that I still try to manage our household, yard, and gardens, as well as keep The Big Table as a haven for our family and friends. I am in awe of those of you who do this all the time. What I have learned is what my mother knew allalong: selective neglect. I know I CAN do it all. Just not all at once!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Great Bio video for my son John Luzzi

Some things you should know:

It's John, not Jonathan, Luzzi

He's not an Italian Rock god. That would make me the mother of god. I'm just the mother of an Italian Rocker.

His dad was a "good sport" as the musical influence in his life. But guess who took him to lessons Every. Single. Week. For. YEARS. And who do you think made him practice? Well, nobody could make John practice!

It really is different here...

I’m dreaming of a White Thanksgiving…wait a minute. This is not a dream! If you’re just joining us here in the Northwest, you need to know that we often have some crazy weather during the week of Thanksgiving. We’ve been snowed in, with and without electric power, and have had a floating bridge sink to the bottom of Lake Washington. Most of us know how to barbecue a Turkey. And eating by candlelight is not just for ambiance.
I thought maybe we should review some advice about how to survive in this place during the late fall and early winter months. I’ve been corresponding with a friend in Chicago who is on her way to work here in a couple of weeks, and I warned her that she should think about getting a hotel close to the place where she will work, just in case it snows. She was surprised to hear that it snows here. People who are from points east are used to snow, so to them it is a fact of life, not a crisis. I remember when I used to think that way.
“I’m from Montana!” I used to brag. And it’s true that knowing how to drive in a cold climate is a valuable skill. But it’s also true that it’s different here. If you think about it, with all of our rain, we have a nice foundation of ice polishing every street before the snow falls. Apolo Ono was raised here, and he was a speed skater before he ever donned a pair of skates! It matters not where you learned to drive, even if you are an ice road trucker or a Yukon mail carrier, that nice underlayment of ice changes everything.
The problem we have in the beautiful Puget Sound is that drivers are not prepared with proper equipment or tires to scale even the slightest hill. Therefore if you approach a hill and there are two or twenty cars spun-out (and most likely abandoned) on the incline, you can’t pass by them even if you have chains.
Those of us who are natives, or who have become legitimate Eastsiders by virtue of having children born here, know that the best course of action is to have a plan. Know the flattest route to work. Carry chains, sand, a shovel, food, a blanket, and water.
News stations can tend to dramatize the slightest hint of snowfall, but if you hear the words “Arctic air” and “Pineapple Express” in the same sentence, stockpile food and start digging for gloves, hats, and boots. Call in “stuck” from work. Enjoy visiting with your neighbors when you walk to the grocery store, or while watching your kids play in the snow.
And it’s not a bad idea to cook your turkey before the windstorm. It really is different here.

When it's time to hang up the car keys

It was a dark and stormy night. Really! My friend and I had gone to a late afternoon movie, and when we emerged from the multiplex, it was unusually dark and wet. We pulled hoods over our heads and dashed for my car where we decided to go grab a bite to eat. I backed out of the parking stall, and headed toward the freeway.
Although I was in a good mood from watching a very funny movie (“Red”), I began to get a bit grumpy as I tried to navigate through the downpour. Other drivers were not letting me merge, and I was having trouble seeing the lines on the roads. For the first time, I began to doubt my nighttime driving abilities. At just 58 years old, this scared me.
After we left the restaurant, another driver flashed his brights to let me know that I didn’t have my headlights on. Instantly, the lines and reflectors on the road jumped to life, and I could see the path like a hungry crow following Hansel and Gretel. I realized that I had been driving without my lights on a dark and stormy night. That was even more frightening!
We think teens are susceptible to attention lapses, but even experienced drivers can be thrown off our game as well. While kids are probably singing or talking about friends, it’s more than likely that we oldsters are discussing issues of life, liberty, children, grandchildren, death and taxes. It’s easy for us to become lost in the problems of our lives and the world. I was guilty of distracted driving, or more accurately, distracted parking. My car enables me to leave the headlights on all the time, but I must have turned them off when I turned off the windshield wipers. And of course, I was talking to my friend.
I love to drive, and I dread the day I have to stop. I watched as invisible prison bars came down around my dad as macular degeneration affected his eyesight. He then had a small stroke that cost the vision in his better eye. And yet he wanted to keep driving.
Dad had a good friend named George. He was walking across a street when he was hit by a car. He spent months in the hospital, and never fully recovered. When we had one of many conversations with Dad about hanging up his car keys, I reminded him about his buddy. “What if you were the person who hit George? What if you hit a child? You would never forgive yourself!”
If someone is talking to you about hanging up the car keys, please listen, and work out a plan to help you stay involved in life. It’s better than causing an accident because of stubbornness.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

All knowledge and no sense

I have been shocked and captivated recently by the stories of bullied-teen suicides. Since I have been teased but never bullied, I watched for stories and examples of bullying in an effort to understand. One night we watched a show called “Hell’s Kitchen,” and there was a perfect example of a bully complete with name-calling, screaming, belittling, and demeaning. I understand that the premise of the show is working in hell for a demanding boss, but from what I’ve seen of Gordon Ramsay, I doubt that he would condone similar bullying behavior from his children. I would think that bullying never brings about excellence, only mental and physical illness manifested by doubt and fear. Perhaps it’s more important to him find a chef who is as tough as sirloin cooked in a microwave.
I also have been asking friends and acquaintances if they were bullied when they were young. My question was like breaching a dam for one man. It set off on a torrent of tales about the life of a fat kid in the inner city. In middle school, he had been daily extorted for money, kicked, beaten, and pushed around. It was chocked up to “racial tension,” and no one, not his parents, school staff or law enforcement did anything to intervene. As a matter of self-preservation, he learned coping strategies. He thinks that a benevolent school counselor made a way for him to go to a public college-prep high school even though he was not academically qualified, and had not even applied. It only took one person to change his life for the better, forever. And he never found out who it was.
But now bullying and dirty tricks are all dressed up with nifty electronic devices. A crusty old newspaper editor from bygone days could only dream about the kind of immediate influence in the hands of our children! The two students who perpetrated what they thought was just a prank on Tyler Clementi (broadcasting his sexual encounter live over the internet) had lots of knowledge, but no sense. They did not possess the wisdom or the experience to self-edit. They lacked the universal moral code of the Golden Rule that was the common bond among people not so long ago.
A lot of kids in their late teens and early twenties have no concept of the phrase “upon further reflection.” Every thought, every action, every joke, no matter how profound, rude, or damaging can be disseminated instantly. The means to pulling a “prank” or bullying someone to death is available at all times. There is no waiting period, no common sense of the morning to bring light to something destructive.
Tyler’s death was not in vain. We now know that we need to be very, very specific about what is right and wrong, because things that are wrong can be utterly despicable. And deadly.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

If the pants fit...

I ran into a long-time friend recently, and stopped for a chat. This man is in his early 60s, fit and trim. But when he walked away from me, I noticed something: his jeans looked enormous on him. Now, I’m not one who looks at men’s rear ends for my jollies, even when they are poured into spandex uniforms and are waiting for a signal from the quarterback, or when they are hanging on the rail of the dugout with rally caps on, or, well, never mind. My point is that I’ve noticed that many men wear jeans that don’t fit. This is a subject I have broached with my own husband who used to think that any pair of jeans that could be cinched up in the waist with a belt or another button was good enough.
The truth is that I didn’t really notice that my husband was wearing pants that didn’t fit until I followed him up an escalator in a department store. I seized the opportunity, and told him that I would buy him any pair of jeans, full price, for his birthday.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” he chided me. My pants fit just fine. And I only paid two bucks for them at Value Village! It was then I realized that he didn’t look in a mirror IF he tried on a pair of pants. He just checked the length, the general waist size, and it’s all good.
I took my husband to a three way mirror, and told him to look at the seat of his pants. His eyes widened. “Whoa!” he said as he grabbed two fistfuls of fabric. He had to admit I was right, and we proceeded to shop. He found a couple of pairs of jeans that looked great, and I happily paid for his gift.
Lenny’s cousin Alan was here last week for the Italian Festival with his wife and two grown daughters. Alan always looks nice, probably because he lives with so many women who don’t let him out of the house looking dumpy. At one point in the weekend I heard a little exchange between Lenny and Alan.
Lenny: “Hey, those are really nice jeans. What brand are they?”
Alan: “I dunno. I just know they fit, and I like them because they’re kind of sheeny.””
They guys knew they were busted when I came into the room and said, “sheeny?” They laughed, but they rightly guessed they would get extra credit with the wives for caring about how they looked. We were so proud.
Guys! If you find this taped to your mirror or on your pillow, take the hint. It doesn’t matter if you buy jeans at Value Village or Neiman Marcus. What matters is that you try them on, and look in a mirror. Please?