Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The return of the Turkey Cake......

     My mother, God rest her soul, was a person of legendary frugality.  The kind of frugality that would not occur to people now, so this story will likely never be re-played in the future, but it is a part of each and every one of my sibling's past.  

     For many years on Thanksgiving my family would rent the local firehouse and host our holiday there.  It was a large space with a commercial kitchen and enough tables and seats to host the 40 plus of us that would be in attendance.  I've blogged about this before in one I titled "What I did on my Thanksgiving Vacation" so feel free to look it up if you want a little background on this story.  I'll pass along a little tidbit if you ever want to quickly search for a previous blog I've done.  Go to Google and type "Ongion" along with a phrase or topic that you remember from that blog.  It will automatically re-direct you to "Onion" but click below where it gives you the option to really search for "Ongion" and the blogs with that phrase will come right up.  Back to the story now, we had some great Thanksgivings at that firehouse, but one was slightly more memorable than the others, the year that the Turkey Cake made it's first appearance.

     The dessert table was always full at this event, chock full of pies, cookies, cupcakes, jello, and assorted pastries.  One year, however, a sheet cake was set amongst the other items and frosted into the top of it was a picture of a turkey.  It's a matter of debate now as to who even brought the turkey cake, some
siblings say it was my brother Aquaman, but what isn't debatable was that it sat untouched for the duration of the dinner.  No one wanted to take the first piece and the pies are so much more traditional for that holiday, so the party ended with it intact, and when Mom saw it, she graciously offered to take it with her to feed her guests over the coming days.  I was actually one of those guests a few days later when I visited her house in Bristol and sure enough, on the counter, sat the Turkey Cake.  I wasn't really sure about the frosting on the cake and whether it was meant to sit out at room temperature for half a week, but considering I was in a house where the occupant would cut around the spots of mold on bread and serve it, I politely declined (While I do whine about this, it's likely why I have such a great immune system, thanks Mom).  No one else took her up on her offer either and a week later when I visited, the Turkey Cake was gone, I assumed that it was disposed of, but I could not have been more wrong.

     Fast forward to the 2nd week in August, that following year and we were once again at my Mom's celebrating our pre-reunion annual corn roast.  It's pretty informal, so we just set the food outside on the
What heat does to frosted cake....
tables and people find places to eat.  I walked down the line to get my food, and it ran pretty close to normal, corn, hamburgers and hot dogs, salad, buns, but then on the end sat a sheet cake with it's frosting slowly melting off but still clearly distinguishable as a picture of a turkey.  "Mom", I inquired "Is this the same cake from last Thanksgiving?"   "It is" she replied "I couldn't see it going to waste, so I froze it for the next time we had a party."  Needless to say, I skipped the Turkey Cake once again.  I shouldn't have been surprised that she had done that.  Countless times, I'd go and get a beer out of her refrigerator downstairs and find it was skunky.  After parties, Mom would simply unplug the fridge that held the beer until a day or two before the next party and then plug it in again.  The cold beer you tried to drink had actually been in a warm fridge for months prior and most times, tasted like it. The same folks that had not eaten the Turkey Cake 240 days earlier, chose not to eat it again and the party ended with the cake still intact.

     The last sighting of the Turkey Cake is up for debate too, my sister, She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named thinks that she was offered a piece of it at Mom's house the following day and others of us think it made it to
A simple optical illusion
the family reunion.  What is consistent in both stories, however, is that the Turkey Cake no longer had a turkey on the top of it.  When Mom realized that people were hesitant to eat something that was leftover by that amount of time from Thanksgiving, she took a knife and removed the frosting and tried to present it as a plain sheet cake.  She almost got us, but we figured it out prior to cutting into it. It could be like one of those optical illusions that you see on the internet, we had seen that same cake with a Turkey on top if it so much that we only had to glance away and back quickly again to get a quick glimpse of the missing turkey.   The cake was unceremoniously disposed of, after that, and I'm sure my mother shook her head the entire time she did it, thinking what a waste of food it was.  I started this blog saying that this feat will never likely be attempted, but it pays to be vigilant.  Next time you are at a party, before you eat the sheet cake, make sure the design is appropriate for the holiday that you are celebrating, cuz you just never know. 


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The "I'm Sorry, but" Jar.

     This last Sunday I sat at my in-law's Thanksgiving celebration with absolutely no idea for a blog.  My kids were all present, and I was reminded that, if you have a bad memory like me, it pays to have your kids repeat back your stories to you.  This blog idea came from my daughter Molly and I had forgotten about it completely until she reminded me.  

     I think we used an old pickle jar.  You see, when our daughter Molly was 11 or 12, she had developed a bad habit of "apologizing" for bad behaviors, but always conditionally.  She followed every single "I'm Sorry" with the word "but".  She couldn't just admit that her actions were wrong without conditionally trying to blame the bad behavior on something or someone else. Now admitting we were wrong was something that both my wife and I have struggled with, at one time or another, ourselves, so we recognized that it was a bad behavior that was best nipped in the bud, so we came up with the idea of the "I'm sorry jar".  It was a brilliant stroke of parenting, or so we thought, until we presented the idea to the aforementioned offender.

    That's the problem with 11 or 12 year-olds, they have no appreciation for great parenting, they don't have the perspective yet.  We presented the idea one day after school.  We had decided to wait until she actually said the phrase and then tell her our plan to help cure this bad habit.  It was simple and based off the "Swear Jar" concept, which I had used myself a few years earlier to help me to curb a bad habit of mine.  Each time we heard her use the phrase, she would have to put money into the jar.  I don't recall if it was a quarter or a dollar, but each and every time, that money was due. The first payment came instantaneously.  In trying to explain why she was using the phrase she immediately went to her old stand-by, in order to blame this behavior on someone other than herself.  "I'm sorry but", she started. "I only say that because......"  It proved our point immediately. Ka-ching!  She wasn't on board with the plan, but in this house, parenting isn't negotiated.  At the point that my kids have more years experience of being a parent, then I do, then I'll ask their opinion, until then, this system seems to work.  The jar took it's place on top of the fridge in the kitchen, where it could be seen and accessed pretty quickly.

Not as relevant, but what can I say, I like Batman.
     The first week using the jar, was filled with tears, raw emotion, and foot stomping.  Molly didn't do too well that week either.  The jar started at a pace that would surely allow enough money for the family to take a vacation.... in Paris..... at the Ritz......flying first class......(you get the picture).  Every time we heard the phrase uttered, we'd stop her in her tracks and make her pay the fee.  Immediately.  That's one thing I have learned about parenting and that is to put the punishment as close to the crime as possible, so that your kids better connect the dots that something they did was egregious and that it had consequences.  Another parent coined the phrase to "Never spank your kid while you are Angry".  That sounds really good in theory, but in practice?  I'm supposed to wait until I'm no longer upset or mad that they were bad and then spank them?  I'm no psychologist, but tell me how the relationship with your kids gets better when they are always watching for you to jump out and spank them at random times?  AHA ! "Remember last week when you did that thing...."  That doesn't really work.  But I digress, the jar was filling up fast ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching. 
Molly and her friend Danielle
     Week two we went from the denial to the negotiation phase.   Molly actually stopped herself from saying "but" and started using "however" instead.  A quick trip to the Thesaurus looking up synonyms for "but" stopped this trend.  We took the liberty of eliminating "nevertheless", "although" and "yet" while we were there.  What it proved to us was, she was indeed capable of stopping herself, it was just going to take a little more time...and money (hers, not ours).  It probably took less than a month total to be able to declare Molly "cured" of this habit.  The spacing between slip ups became longer and longer and the pickle jar went into early retirement.  I'm pretty sure we refunded the money to her as a reward for curbing the bad behavior, that sounds like us anyway, we are carrot and stick type parents.  The fact that Molly remembered this so clearly and we did not, probably adds a little credence to this method, and I wonder if, even today, she can say the word "but" after the words "I'm sorry", without glancing over her shoulder.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, you don't have to invent how to be a parent, it's already been done correctly many times before, and help comes from the most unlikely places sometimes, even from old pickle jars. 



Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I have a stranger on my Facebook......

    I am a fan of Facebook.  When I signed up, years ago, I thought it was a great way to stay connected and to share the happenings of my life and family with those that I care about.  Inevitably though, if you have been on Facebook long enough, you will get friend requests from people you don't know and some dubious types at that.  This is my story of being that guy.

     I was still new to Facebook at the time.  I had a kick-ass farm on Farmville that was raking in the virtual dollars every day, and I was still building my circle of acquaintances and friends.  I came back to my hotel late one night and rushed over to check my crops and I noticed a witty comment from a friend of my daughter's who had gone away to college in a Southeastern State.  After commenting, I noticed that his sister had commented as well and we weren't Facebook friends yet, so I friend requested her.  As I sat there a little longer, my eyes adjusted to the room and the lighting and I looked again at the comment, and realized that it wasn't his sister that made the comment, it was a girl with the same first name and a last name that started with the same letter, but it wasn't his sister, it was just a random student that attended his college, and I had just friend requested her, Ooops.  I had never made this mistake before, so I looked for the "Retract" button, but didn't find one, the "Cancel" button, Nope, the "I Really Didn't Mean It, I'm Old and Need Glasses" button, still no dice.  That young college girl was going to get the friend request, from a 40 guy sitting in his hotel room 6 States away, whether I wanted her to or not.  I suddenly flashed on every episode of "To Catch a Predator" on Dateline NBC with Chris Hansen, and I wondered how long it would be before they knocked on my hotel door.  I could see my answers to the interview questions and I imagined it going as well as every other interview I'd seen on there......

"I didn't realize she was only 18 when I friend requested her"
"I thought she was another person I knew, What? Oh the other girl is 19"
"I was drinking and planting corn when I friend requested her"

It all kept sounding worse and worse to me, but I consoled myself that night by saying, "she probably won't accept the request anyway"  That worked, until the next morning, when she did.  Hooray, I have a friend, with no connection to me, that I never intended to have.  What to do?

     Any normal person would have just deleted or Unfriended her immediately, I realize.  If you were under the impression that I am anything close to being a normal person, then you haven't read enough of these blogs.  I knew from her profile that she was new at college and she was a New Englander, so I decided to try and do it after a bit of time had passed.  I didn't know her frame of mind when she accepted the request, but I do know how hard it is to go away to school and try and fit in, so I wasn't going to upset that delicate balance by dumping her like that.  I think everyone has to wonder why they got Unfriended on FB when it happens, I don't care how cavalier you say you are about it, but when someone that wanted you to be part of their circle, suddenly doesn't anymore, any emotional person would wonder what they might have done to deserve that.  I wasn't going to do that to this freshman girl in her new college trying to fit in.  I resolved myself to finding the "right time" to remove her from my list.

      I'd check her statuses randomly, but there never seemed to be a good time to do it.  She was homesick one time, she had bombed a test another, her High School boyfriend Tucker and her broke up shortly thereafter, but I kept trying.  At some point, I did get sucked into this complete stranger's life and imagined I knew what she was going through.  She suddenly changed schools and ended up transferring to a college in her home State.  That wasn't a good time to do it.  More time passed and I caught a status of hers that she was back from a semester abroad, Darn it, that would have been the perfect time, but I missed my window.  Soon she was out of school and looking for work, not a good time, probably living at home again.  She recently became certified to teach Kripalu Yoga, but isn't doing it yet (I don't know what that is, but it sounds painful).  I caught a comment this week that she is heading to Asia shortly, so I'll have my opportunity to finally do it.  Truthfully though, I'm not sure I've got the stones to separate us.  She still makes the occasional comment on my page or likes my status, and I've gotten interested in her story.  Small town girl goes off to school, comes back home, travels abroad, finds enlightenment, and then travels some more. I kind of want to know the end of the story now.  Will Tucker come back?  Will she move to a marijuana friendly State (she's kind of a granola head liberal)? Get married? Have kids?  There is a whole blank page in front of her, and now I am interested.  We started as strangers, and we've never met, but through Facebook we know a lot about each other now.  You'll have to decide whether this makes me a 47 year old Facebook Creeper, or just a nice guy who got caught up in another human being's life and loves, and you'll have to take the appropriate action.  If you decide to Unfriend me though, can you wait until next week? 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I live with the Cheeriest of the Cheerful

     Motivational speaker and salesman Zig Ziglar, is quoted as saying "Your Attitude, not your Aptitude, will determine your Altitude".  Even if I didn't know that Zig was a salesman/author who was born 10th in a family of 12, he'd have had my full agreement on this.  My children will quote another salesman/blog author who was born 10th in a family of 12, that frequently told them to "Love the job you find, not find the job you Love".  We have preached, and tried to live this, so when I saw a shining example of this in action, was there any doubt that it would make it into a blog?  Of course not.

     We are Scouters in this family.  That's is not to say that we agree with every national policy in Boy Scouting but it is to say, we appreciate that this organization has done more to foster and create good character development in youth, than any other, bar none, so our kids have all participated.  Our youngest Nolan, has been a Scout since Tiger Cubs and 2 years ago was nominated by his Troop to become a member of the elite Honor Society of Scouting, called the Order of the Arrow.  This is not a secret society of Scouting, but it is an additional part of Scouting that is shrouded in mystery. It's also referred to as the "Brotherhood of Cheerful Service".  The OA calls Scouts to be even better, more involved in good works, and most importantly to do so with a cheerful attitude.  We were proud when Nolan was nominated, but even more proud when he came back from a Conclave gathering with an award for being the "Most Cheerful Arrowman", but when you hear the rest of the story, it gets even better.

      The Conclave is a gathering of many Order of the Arrow lodges and the first one that Nolan was invited to attend, his lodge also hosted.  It meant a lot of work and pressure, especially for a newly inducted
member like Nolan, but he was looking forward to the challenge, but also glad that another Scout in our Troop was planning on attending with him.  Parents traditionally don't attend these, unless they are members of the OA lodge themselves, and we had decided that Nolan would benefit from this activity without our input.  As we are both leaders in the Troop, we have plenty of interaction with him.  The Conclave was to be around 150 participants, and Nolan only really knew the one Scout from our Troop that was to join him, which made the call we received that morning all the more difficult.

     "My son decided not to attend the Conclave" said the mother on the other end of the phone.  We didn't pry as to the reason, we fully understand that life gets in the way of Scouting sometimes, and we've made that call before ourselves, but as we hung up the phone we realized that it left Nolan going camping with 149 virtual strangers for the weekend.  We were due to pick him up directly from school and take him to the campout, so there would be no advance warning for him. Nolan has a naturally gregarious nature, but even this would be a stretch for him.  My wife actually picked him up and headed out for the event.  He seemed a little lost in thought, but finally realized that they were headed out of
Nolan working on signs for a fundraiser
town.  "Are we not picking up the other Scout" he inquired?  ""No" Mom replied.  The realization dawned on him even as he asked if the Scout was meeting him there.  "He bailed, didn't he?" Nolan said.  Mom confirmed it and the rest of the ride was spent in contemplative silence.  I know my wife enough to know her thoughts during that ride and her instinct would have been to smother and cover and to protect Nolan from this possible hardship, but she mustered through and pulled into the camp.  Nolan slowly gathered his pack and bedroll and as he went to close the van door, after saying goodbye, he said " You know, I'm going to have a good weekend".   I suspect that he was saying this as much to himself as to his mother, but say it, he did and then trotted off to find his bunk.  Char drove home wondering if he would make it through the weekend, we've seen those calls come a few times in our Scouting career.

     No call came.  We spent the weekend involved with friends and doing some things together, but our
Nolan cooking at an informal campout in the garage
thoughts were never far from Nolan. Sunday morning came, and it was time for Mom to head back to camp to pick him up.  He broke off from a group and headed to the van and started to put his stuff in.  He was wearing something that he didn't have when he got out of the van, a smile.  He was also carrying a sheet of paper and when he got home, he showed us both what he had received.  He went off to camp, virtually alone, and as the youngest member of the lodge, and came home with the Award for the Cheeriest Arrowman of the 150 Scouts there.  We could not have been more proud, or so we thought.  The blog could end here, and it would be a great story, would it not?  There was more, however, that would come to light a few weeks later.

     We installed a hot tub in our back deck a half a dozen years ago, and I have never regretted that decision.  I like it for the pain relief I get soaking my old bones in it, but also for the time we get to spend
with the kids in it.  The timer goes for 15 minutes and you'd be surprised at the number of deep conversations that have been had in it, with us sometimes re-setting the timer to let the kids share.  A few weeks after the campout, Nolan and I were soaking and we had such a moment.  It dawned on me that I hadn't heard his phone buzzing as much lately, he keeps it on vibrate and had a girlfriend for a few months who liked to text him.  Most mornings he'd have messages waiting for him when he woke up, and I hear it buzzing as I turned it some nights too.  I inquired about the lack of calls and he casually said "Yeah, she broke up with me a few Fridays ago at school". I expressed my sympathy but as I did was doing the mental math as to when it happened.  "Wait" I said "Wouldn't that have been the day you went off to the Conclave?"
He affirmed that it was.  So our son, the weekend that his girlfriend broke up with him, the weekend that his buddy bailed on him and the weekend he camped with 149 virtual strangers, came away with the award for being the most Cheerful Scout, and he earned it at a gathering of 5 lodges full of the region's Cheeriest !  That boy got Zig's advice and took it to heart.  I've posted 2 pictures of Nolan at OA events, and his OA brothers spontaneously hoist him onto their shoulders, I wonder if that's because they recognize his potential altitude?