Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Sousa and Ice Cream and Fireworks!!

A view of a sign at Penn State University Crea...

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I love the idea of the Fourth of July.  Growing up, we never had big celebrations as a family. Usually we would pick up some fireworks and set them off in our street along with the neighbors. The joy of growing up next to an Indian Reservation, there were some doozies around! We’d usually spend the day playing in our wading pool, have a barbeque for dinner, and then wait until dark. Being north of Seattle, this didn’t usually happen until nearly 10pm.

As I got into high school and moved to PA, the 4th took on a different meaning. Living in a smaller town, we had a more community based celebration. I was somehow involved in the party almost every year I lived there in a variety of different ways.

Just after my high school graduation, our jazz band played a concert at the Central PA 4th Fest. We were getting ready to leave for our European tour the next week and this gave us a great opportunity to practice. It was the first time that I realized what a big celebration this was. It rivaled Penn State Tailgating, which is saying something. It all led up to the big fireworks celebration, rumored to be on of the top ten displays in the country. Each Independence Day, the State College Municipal Band performed “Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Phillip Sousa. This classic patriotic song gets stuck in my head pretty much every year.

A few years later, I volunteered/was volunteered to help scoop ice cream at the 4h Fest as part of a fundraiser for our community theatre. The Penn State Creamery is known for their ice cream (they taught Ben and Jerry how to do it!) and they set up stands for community groups to man. They supplied the ice cream and a supervisor, we supplied the man power. For four hours straight, I scooped out Death by Chocolate, Peachy Paterno, and Keeney Beany Vanilla. We found our groove pretty quickly and worked like a well-oiled machine, dishing it our for the never ending line in 90 degree weather. While this had the potential for becoming a miserable experience, it really was a lot of fun with a great group of people and made a lot of money for our community playhouse.

Starting the night after the ice cream experience and continuing for several years after that, I had fantastic seats to view the huge fireworks display.  I mean great seats – the type where you feel each concussion hit you at the same time as you see the lights.  Most years we had great weather – still warm and dry. However, one year in particular, the weather was decidedly not great. It had been raining off and on all day and we were hoping it would clear up by dusk. No such luck. I remember standing there, looking up at the fireworks with the rain hitting my face. Fortunately it wasn’t too heavy at that point. However, as soon as the fireworks were done, the skies opened up and it poured. My friends and I had opted to walk to the festivities so we didn’t have to deal with parking. It didn’t really matter at this point because we were already soaked. I distinctly remember walking through the rainy traffic, jumping in puddles, being toasted by a party on the front porch of a house, and singing all the way home. We got back to the house, stripped off the wet clothes (changing into something dry, of course) and throwing everything we’d been wearing into the drier so we could wear it home. It wasn’t the ideal 4th celebration, but to this day it is one of my most memorable and one of my favorites.

And now I leave you with a little Stars and Stripes ala Muppets…

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Unexpected Fireworks Spectacular

I don’t remember what year it was. I don’t even remember if I was driving. Heck it might not have even been on Independence Day but it was a great memory and one of my favorite things about the Fourth of July. I was on my way back from somewhere…NJ possibly?  I feel like I might’ve been with my family. Anyway, we were going down the highway we suddenly discovered we had the optimum view for a local fireworks display. We pulled over and decided to take in the whole show. We weren’t the only ones. The show lasted for a few minutes and ended with a great finale. After the show we got back on the highway and continued home.

Ideally I love to be able to hang out with a bunch of friends and settle in for a great fireworks show. There was the great summer where I stayed up at school and walked with a group of friends to see the local fireworks. One of the best 4th of July displays I’ve ever seen to this day. The walk to and from the fireworks with a bunch of friends made the evening all the more enjoyable.

Sometimes you can’t make it to the fireworks show. You have to get home because of work the next day or some other reason. On those occasions, I love if I’m on the road and come around the bend on a highway to see a great display of fireworks right in front of me. Last night was a great example. I’m not sure of the fireworks laws in Connecticut but I’m thinking they aren’t too strict. Every couple miles down the highway there were more fireworks to see. Granted at highway speeds the distraction isn’t always good but it does put a smile on my face that I get to see some fireworks. And hey, if I have the time and the view is particularly good, I’ll pull over and take in the show.

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Cooking for the In-Laws

I have mentioned, or perhaps alluded to, the fact that I am slightly neurotic when it comes to certain things. One of those things is entertaining. Somewhere along the line, I seem to have gotten it in my head that the worst fate that could befall upon me would be to have a lousy party with bad food. The fear is always in the back of my mind when I have friends over, but when I’m cooking for family for a holiday, it warps into a whole new level of insanity. Easter is coming up this Sunday and I’m cooking for the in-laws.

We’ve hosted Easter in years past, but we usually relied heavily upon the Honey Baked Ham Company, and augmented dinner with a few sides. This year, everything will be homemade. Preparations began (in my head) at least 6 weeks ago. I started scouring my bartending book for the perfect pre-dinner cocktail. I began talking though a potential menu with Darren. Though Darren loves to entertain, he doesn’t seem as enthusiastic about Easter as he does with Christmas Eve. I think it might have to do with the fact that Christmas Eve is steeped in tradition, and so he does a lot of the heavy lifting for that holiday. Easter doesn’t have the same traditions in this family as Christmas so I guess it’s less interesting.

A few weeks ago, I had an Easter dinner “trial run.” Since I hadn’t made any of the dishes I was planning on serving, I thought it prudent to try them out first. By in large, it was a success, though the cranberry quinoa pilaf got the ax (might save that for Thanksgiving though!). The drink that made the cut was the Toblerone (coffee flavored liqueur, hazelnut liqueur and Irish Cream, topped with milk…..yum). Dinner will be ham, Tuscan vegetables, roasted red potatoes, asparagus, rolls…..and something else I’m forgetting.

This is my problem. I plan and plan and plan, and invariably I forget something stupid, like buying dressing for a salad or putting out serving spoons or heating up the rolls. Even when making a list I forget to put something on my list, or lose my list, or forget to read one of the items on my list. Of course, I’m the only one bothered by such things. My in-laws are perfectly lovely people who wouldn’t bat an eye at ordering a pizza if I had an absolute catastrophe. But, for as liberated and progressive I like to think myself, there’s still this seemingly innate biological need to be able to host a successful holiday meal; to be a gracious, charming host and to provide my family with a wonderful meal that they’ll go tell other relatives about; to prove to myself and my family that I’m a capable adult that can make hosting a holiday seem effortless, like all the adults in my family always seemed to do. Or maybe it’s just an in-law thing – I have to prove I was a good match for their son. I dunno. It really doesn’t make any sense since I know my inlaws love and accept me. But just the same, it doesn’t seem to help me from getting a bit nervous when a holiday rolls around. I’m sure everything will go perfectly fine, or at least fine enough, and we’ll all have a nice time. But, if things do start to go poorly, I’ll just keep pouring Toblerones.

May all of our readers have a Happy Passover/Easter/Tuesday, where ever your persuasions lie.

Announcement: The week of April 25, Our View From Here will be holding its first virtual book club!  We will all be reading, and commenting on, the book Water for Elephantsby Sara Gruen.  Read along with us!
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My Summer Vacation

No, your calendar isn’t wrong. It’s January.  But, I’ll be conveniently ignoring that for the next few paragraphs because I am in the throes of the winter doldrums, and we’re really only a month into this slog.  We’ve had a fairly large dose of snow every week this month and all the digging, trudging and freezing are wearing thin my patience and pleasant demeanor. 

So, today, I’m planning my summer vacation. 

Last summer was one of the most fun I’ve ever had.  I kicked off the season with a week in Tennessee, on a houseboat.  It was great. There was nothing to do but sunbathe, swim, boat and drink cocktails.  At night we played games and watched fireworks.  We also held the First Annual Blow-it-out-Your-Ass Contest (a thrilling sport, in which contestants use their lungs to expell air through the hole in the center of a floating noodle held underneath the body. The championship is awarded to the contestant whose water goes the highest in the air.  It’s way more fun than it sounds.)

Waterworld

Following the trip to TN, I opened my family’s lake house to my friends for a week and a half.  You never really know how many friends you have until you have a free place by a lake for them to stay.  We boated and cooked and had camp fires and played games.  I stayed at the lake the whole week and half, and friends came up for a few days at their leisure.  The fridge was kept stocked with beer and fresh vegetables. We kayaked to secluded islands to pick wild blueberries, we swam, we floated, we went for long walks.  It was splendid.

This year, we’re doing it all again. 

And, this, my friends, is what’s keeping me going through the snow and the slush and the freezing rain.  Even though, right now, it feels like it will never be warm and sunny again, the memories of what last summer was and the hopes for what this summer will be are keeping me warm in this season of little sun and long cold nights.  

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go dig my car out from under a snowbank.

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I hereby resolve…

I seem to do this post almost every year (2008, 2010). For me, I feel like stating my resolutions publicly helps me stick to them, as if the readers of my post will hold me accountable. Realistically, I know that most people just read them and then forget about them, but I don’t. I think it really does help me. So, here I am, ready to list the resolution I will attempt in 2011.

First, though, I want to look back at what I resolved last year and how I did:

Goal #1:  Improve my health

I think I pretty much failed at this one. Not that I didn’t try.  I did well for awhile – I was working out with a trainer and was increasing my endurance.  However, my trainer was suddenly let go when the gym decided to sell to another gym. I tried with another trainer, but she left soon after.  I did okay on my own for awhile until I got sick at the end of the summer. I don’t get sick often, but when I do, it’s a doozy. I was unable to do much working out for weeks. Then the school year started and I had a hard time making working out a priority.

Goal #2:  Manage my money

It’s not too hard to manage your money when you don’t have much. Coming out of grad school, I definitely had more debt than I had before school. However, I managed to win a scholarship and was able to continue subbing throughout my student teaching, so it could have been worse. As I am about to get my third regular paycheck since starting my new job,  I’m finally getting to a point that I am comfortable. My bills are all paid, including extra to pay down my credit cards. I’ve saved up a deposit for a new apartment. I think I did as well as I could, considering my situation.

Goal #3:  Get a job

Woot! I got this one covered. As most of our regular readers know, I was hired at the end of September as a special education teacher in a north Seattle middle school. It was an unexpected move for me – I wanted a high school in Snohomish county – but it’s really working out well so far and I’m truly happy with my students, my school, and my colleagues.

Okay, now for 2011. I feel this will be a year of many changes. I’m finally in a place to take some steps that I have wanted to take in awhile.

Goal #1:  Move out to my own place

I am eternally grateful to my mother, who let me move in with her when I decided to move back to the Seattle area a little more than three years ago. We get along well, so it worked out nicely. However, neither of us expected on me staying this long. We also didn’t expect the recession, me losing my job, and the crash of the housing market. Staying here turned out to be to both of our advantages over the past 18 months, but I am ready to move on. My stuff has been in storage since I got here and I miss it. I want my own space where I can do things my own way, instead of the same way my mother has been doing them for the last 30 years. I have a deposit saved up, I just need to find a nice little place that takes 20 lb. dogs!

Goal #2: Expand my social circle

When I lived back in PA/NJ/NY, I had a great groups of friends that I could call up and they would come to visit or I would visit them. There were months where I rarely spent a weekend at home because I was off visiting someone else.  Since I moved here, I haven’t had much of a social life. It got a little better this past year when I met some great people at the UW, but we’ve sort of lost touch these last few months – half of us are starting new jobs, the rest are in their student teaching. I hope that in moving down toward Seattle, I will better be able to meet up with friends and make new ones.

Burke-Gilman Trail

Image by nathansnostalgia via Flickr

Goal #3:  Improve my health

I hate making excuses, but I really feel that moving will also help this goal. I will have more control over the food that comes into my house (if someone buys cookies, I will eat cookies!). I will also gain about two hours a day since my commute will be much shorter.

The biggest area for improvement is in exercising. I need to lose a bit of weight, and according to Toby’s last vet appointment, he could lose a pound or two as well. So, he and I need to get out for some nice long walks soon. The area I’m looking at moving to is right near the Burke-Gilman trail, a long bike/running trail along Lake Washington. I bought a bike last spring and haven’t been able to use it much.  It would be convenient to ride on the trail or even to work everyday. Ideally, I would like to run a 5K in the fall. I’m not going to commit to a specific one because I’m not sure when I will be able to get started, but there are plenty of great runs in the fall that I can choose from, including the 5K that is part of the Seattle Marathon weekend (which takes place the Saturday after Thanksgiving). I’ll figure that out when it all gets a little closer.

They aren’t ambitious goals. I know my life is going to change a lot in the first few months of the year, and everything that I’m hoping to accomplish will be greatly affected by that.

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2011

This year I resolve to:

  • Spend more time with my friends.
  • Spend more time outdoors.
  • Eat less; move more.
  • Spend less; save more.
  • Write more, of everything: email, letters, cards, essays.

It’s a typical list, no?  It’s approximately the same one I make every year.  In 2010 I even made significant progress on several of these fronts.  I made myself proud, really.  I didn’t make any changes until mid-year, so I suppose that doesn’t really count as keeping a New Year’s Resolution, but rather, just making a change.

This year, the holidays hit me hard and I hit right back:  I hit the cookies; I hit the booze; I hit the buffet table (multiple times).  So, I’m resolving, right here and now, to attack my New Year’s Resolutions with the same vigor and intensity that I’ve had for food and drink these past few weeks.

Saturday morning, I’m going for a run.  It will be my first since Thanksgiving.  Wish me luck!

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Merry Christmas (Eve)!

Christmas tree

Image via Wikipedia

Due to the holiday, there will be no regular post today. We will be back next week! Thanks for reading!

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Two Little Girls at the Top of the Stairs

Our traditions have changed over the years. We used to go to my grandparents house Christmas day until they passed away. We still open gifts one at a time going in order from youngest to oldest. Stockings are always unloaded first. One unofficial tradition that has gone away with growing up is the morning routine my sister and I used to have.

Like most children I hardly slept Christmas Eve. I even told myself the sooner I go to sleep the sooner it’ll be Christmas morning. It never worked. My sister and would be up no later than 6am. My parents are naturally early risers but 6am Christmas morning was too early even for them. The rule was set that we were not allowed to go wake them up until 7am (or possibly 6:30? You get the idea) Christmas morning. We were not allowed to even venture downstairs to look at our presents until our parents were up.

Early Christmas morning my sister and I started our routine; we’d sit at the top of the stairs and wait until we could wake up our parents. We would ponder what Santa brought us and watch clocks intently until they stuck the appropriate time. We were always polite when we could finally wake up our parents. I don’t remember ever running into the room and bouncing on the bed like you see in commercials. We knew to knock, incessantly, until we’d hear the familiar sound of my dad being wakened out of a sound sleep (think of a drowsy sort of yelp as if someone had jumped out and said “boo!”). We’d then, politely, scream “It’s Christmas! It’s time to wake up!” We always got along on these mornings. It’s one of my fondest memories of Christmas; early Christmas morning sitting with my big sister at the top of the stairs brimming with anticipation to see what Santa brought us.

Once my parents were awake we still couldn’t go downstairs yet. We had to wait until they told us it was ok. My mother needed her. My dad needed to get his camera ready so he could get our Christmas morning reactions. There are dozens of pictures of me and my sister in our pajamas with huge grins on our faces at the bottom of the stairs. Looking back I’m glad he captured those images. They always make me smile. At the time, we didn’t appreciate it. We’d been waiting what seemed ages to open our presents and had to wait just a little bit longer. It was agonizing but so worth it.

Things have changed as we’ve grown up. I’ve discovered the joys of sleeping in on your day off. The concept of being up at 6:30 or 7 on a day when I don’t have to be at work just seems silly. Nowadays days I’m the one woken Christmas morning by my sister pounding on my door going “It’s Christmas! It’s time to wake up!” (At least the dialog is still the same.) I come downstairs and my sister and brother-in-law are already showered and dress. They have to scurry off to her in-laws right after we finish opening presents. I am the one that insists people need to wait until I get my coffee (again some things don’t change they just transfer to another generation). Once we’re all seated we’ll go through our stockings together and open presents one at a time like always. The holiday may have lost some of the whimsy it had when I was a kid but I’ll never forget those mornings sitting with my big sister at the top of the stairs.

Merry Christmas everyone! May you enjoy the traditions you have now and cherish the ones that have gone with the passage of time.

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Our (Changing) Family Traditions

Amanda and I (Samantha) are sharing this post today. We figured this only makes sense since we grew up with the same traditions. Also, there will not be a post on Friday because of Christmas Eve.

Samantha:

The longest running tradition in our family started at my very first Christmas in 1978.  A couple of weeks before Christmas, Mom realized that she wanted to get me a “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament. Those of you who follow Hallmark ornaments know about the hundreds of different ornaments that they come out with every year. However, back in the late 70s, this wasn’t the case. There were only a few ornament that mom could choose from. They were four inch balls with a plastic picture wrapped around it.  While by today’s standards, it was a little lame, I still love it because it was my first one.

The next year, Mom got another ornament for me, and this tradition continued. When Amanda came along, Mom started buying her ornaments as well. At some point in the early 1980s, Hallmark switched over to figurine style ornaments, and then it all went crazy.  Mom was great at picking out ornaments that reflected what was going on in our lives at that time.  I have a small mouse which is using his hat as a parachute. It was called “Hang In There.” This was especially poignant since I was really struggling academically that fall. Hallmark also has series, which are great and horrible at the same time. In 1991, I received an adorable puppy hanging on a candy cane. It was the first in a series of dogs in various Christmas situations.  Fast forward to last week – I just received number 20 in the series. And it’s not done yet. I love them all, but seriously? I feel obligated to get them so I can have them all.

Anyway, this tradition ended this year with Amanda’s 30th Christmas (Amanda’s interjection: holy crap! My 30th Christmas?!?!?). Our tree over the years has been full of very personal ornaments that bring back great memories. I’ll miss the ornaments, but unless we wanted to invest in a 10 foot tree, I think it’s a good time to end this great tradition.

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together

Image by djwudi via Flickr

Another tradition that started at some point in the early 1980s was the choice of music to which we would the decorate the Christmas tree.  Somewhere a long the line, my parents bought the cassette tape of John Denver and the Muppets – A Christmas Together. Before long, that was the only music we could listen to while decorating the tree.  It even got to the point that Amanda and I would not allow anyone to listen to it until we had decorated the tree.  To this day, if I’m listening to the radio and one of those songs come on, I’ll change the station if we haven’t decorated the tree yet (Amanda: Me too!).

Amanda:

The last Christmas tradition our family observed occurred on Christmas Eve. Every year, we were able to open one present on Christmas Eve, and every year it was a pair of pajamas. As we progressed in age, we went from footie pajamas to satin pajamas. It was great as we were growing up because we always grew out of our pajamas from the previous year. Alas, both Samantha and I stopped growing far sooner than we had hoped (Samantha Interjection: Seriously!), and after that, the pajamas started piling up. We decided to end that tradition a couple of years ago.

Christmas continues to morph for me. A few years before we got married, my husband and I bought a place and moved in together. Our first Christmas together was interesting as we tried to blend our traditions. Fortunately, most of my traditions came from tree decorating to Christmas Eve while his were focused on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Darren comes from a fairly traditional Italian family. He’s the third generation off the boat, and the Italian traditions remain strong in his family. I was a bit taken aback our first Christmas Eve together where we went out for a huge Italian meal. First there was the antipasti, then the main course, and then coffee and dessert back at his parents’ house.  Keep in mind, dessert isn’t just a pie and some cookies. Most years, there’s at least one dessert per person. Growing up, Christmas Eve dinners were usually light, quick and easy. Sometimes we’d make pizza, other times it might be breakfast. The rest of the evening was spent watching Christmas movies.

In the last few years, Darren and I have hosted Christmas Eve dinner at our place. In the Italian tradition, no meat is to be eaten on Christmas Eve. Instead, we celebrate the Feast of the 7 Fishes. I don’t think we’ve quite hit 7 separate fish yet, but we usually average about 5. Back when Darren’s dad was growing up, after midnight, out would come the sausages, chicken, veal and other meats that had been prohibited earlier in the day. For better or for worse, we haven’t gotten to that level yet. I enjoy hosting dinner for my husband’s family. I feel it’s our contribution toward keeping their traditions alive.

I’m sure over the years we’ll continue to navigate blending our traditions, and coming up with new ones once we decide to have kids. At some point, I’ll have to start retiring some of my ornaments from my childhood to make room on the tree for the new ones my kids will get on tree-decorating-day.  I’m sure they’ll like all the good food on Christmas Eve and then getting into their new jammies and crawling into bed to wait for Santa Claus. I just hope they prefer the carols of the Muppets over something from their time, because it’s just not Christmas without the Muppets (Samantha Interjection: Amen!).

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate!

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The finish line…keeps moving

I finished.  I crossed the finish line and walked away breathless with my victory.  In a race I run every year, a race against myself and my generous intentions, I usually emerge victorious. 

This is the race of Christmas knitting. 

Every year in (roughly) August, I make a list (much like another “Nick”) of friends and family upon whom I will inflict bestow knitted items as a holiday gift.  The list is invariably ambitiously long and filled with complex and time-consuming projects.  In my defense, I tend to begin the projects immediately after jotting down the list.  This year, socks, scarves and hats have dropped quickly from my needles.  There were moments recently when the end seemed far away, and then, all of a sudden, I found myself last week, finishing my final Christmas project. 

Two weeks early!  Absolutely unprecedented.  This year is going down in the annals of holiday knitting victories.  When they tell of it to future generations of knitters who will marvel at the tale of one woman’s trials and tribulations, her unflinching dedication in the face of nearly insurmountable obstacles, and her ultimate triumph.  There won’t be a dry eye in the house.

This is not to say that I have tamed this particular beast every year.  There was the year that my father received the meticulously wrapped front of a sweater (no sleeves, no back: for all intents and purposes, an apron), which, in my defense was finished and in his hands by July the following year.  There was also the year that my sister got a ball of yarn, to be turned into a scarf or something.  You see, even though I had failed, I didn’t want my loved ones to feel that I hadn’t thought of them.  In retrospect, the message they probably received was more along the lines of, “I love you, but not enough to set aside an appropriate amount of time in which to complete a gift,”  or, “sorry, I had a party to go to.”

But I stand before you today having accomplished the goals I set for myself this year.  Also, I stand before you with a list of three more projects I might be able to squeeze in before the holiday.

After all, it’s no fun if you aren’t sweating it out just a little.

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