Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The comforts of cooking with grandma

This article first appeared in the Christian Science Monitor

Let me lick your finger," my Grandma demands as she reaches for my right hand. My fingers are sticky with a mixture of raw meat, eggs, rice, and spices. We are making stuffed peppers.
"Grandma!" I yell, even before I realize what she is about to do. "It's raw meat!" Her tongue touches my index finger and, not being sure of the result, she licks it again. "How else am I going to tell whether it's salty enough?" she scolds. Then, softly clicking her tongue, she adds, "It does need more salt."

I spent several afternoons in the kitchen with Grandma after my wedding last winter in Budapest. She came to my parents' apartment in the afternoons so that dinner would be ready by the time they got home from work.

It was my idea that Grandma should give me cooking lessons while I waited patiently for my green card. I have already mastered the three most important dishes of Hungarian cuisine: gulyas soup, chicken paprika, and the beef stew called pörkölt. I imagined my husband surviving on these three alternating dishes.... I needed help.

It was the first time in a while that I had Grandma all to myself. Sure, I was the first grandchild and Grandma spent hours with me while I giggled in my crib as she pointed to the figures on my favorite blanket. During longer road trips, Grandma would recite a nursery rhyme about a bear that drifts away from his family on a block of ice and finds new friends in the city.

When I was a little older, she indulged my love of figure skating by sewing skating outfits for my Barbie dolls. And she was my most understanding ally when my parents didn't let me go to a rock concert.

When I left for college in the United States, Grandma handed me three embroidered handkerchiefs at the airport. "Sometimes one just has to have a good cry," she said.
My brother stayed at home, and during Grandma's weekly visits he was the one who spent hours in the kitchen while she baked cookies. During my summer and Christmas visits, I could never seem to find the old connection with Grandma.

Now that I was married and in charge of a household, Grandma and I found a whole new connection.

The best part about cooking with Grandma is listening to her stories. She had a difficult life, but her anecdotes are always cheerful.

Her stories always start with "You know, the way it used to be ..." Members of her family weren't very imaginative with names. The men are named Sandor (Alexander) and its variations (Sanyi, Sanyika, etc.). The women are Terez (Theresa) and its variations: Terka, Terike, etc. Thus, Grandma's stories are always confusing. But it doesn't matter. The tales of her small village, her many siblings, and the hot summer days she spent working on the fields are fascinating.

Like the story about how much she loved school and how sad her teacher was when my grandmother dropped out in sixth grade. "I was my teacher's favorite," she says. But after her mother's death she had to stay at home and help with her seven brothers and sisters. "I had the most beautiful handwriting," she goes on, "and the teacher asked me to correct older students' tests." The teacher recognized her 20 years later as she sat on a park bench, her son (my father) in a baby carriage.

She graduated from eighth grade the day I was born in 1976.

Grandma has a large library of knowledge, but not because she went to school or has degrees. She solves at least five crossword puzzles a day and seems to know everything about history, geography, politics, and biology. She knows how to cook, how to bake.

She is also an avid sports fan, even though she doesn't know how to swim or ride a bike. Her favorites are winter sports. She can name the members of the 1986 Swedish giant slalom team. I think she secretly learned English as well, because she seems to understand every word on EuroSport and knows when to tune in to see the women's biathlon.

While we are waiting for the water to boil, we watch television together and root for the Finns, Grandma's favorites.

During commercials we check on the food and Grandma dispenses marriage advice. "You are not going to get mad at me, are you?" she asks before passing to me this secret to marital bliss: "Discuss everything with your husband and make him feel like he is the master of his house, even though quietly you are doing things your own way.

"That is all I am going to tell you," she assures me as she measures salt into her palm.
Later we move on to making desserts. My first attempt at rolling dough fails and Grandma grabs the rolling pin out of my hands.

"The problem," she says, "is that you are trying too hard; you want it to be too good." I wipe away a few tears. I can't even roll dough. What kind of a wife am I going be?

"Don't worry, you will learn when you are a grandma," she encourages, and I feel strangely comforted.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fertility Hilarity

Warning: over sharing happening below. If you are squeamish, turn away now.

Today was Operation "Turkey Basting" as Drew and I lovingly refer to a simple little procedure called intrauterine insemination. The doctor takes Drew's sperm, and when my eggs are all happy and ready, he injects the boys into my uterus. Simple. So today right around noon, I found myself driving down Route 1 between Saco and Scarborough with a small jar of "sample" between my boobs.

The morning started with several dilemmas: What to wear? I had to keep the "sample" warm and stable. I opted for a simple black plunge bra that provides enough lift and separation to accommodate the jar. Perfect. Another thing to ponder: Turnpike or Route 1? I had exactly 30 minutes to make it to my doctor's office, which on most days is enough, except for days when Saco decides to have the traffic of New York City.

I was lucky today and made it in less than 20 minutes. As I was walking from my car to the lab, I was amazed at how sort of nonchalantly I was able to walk around, knowing what was under my clothes. I even made small-talk in the elevator with another woman - who knows what she was hiding in her bra?

So, I went straight to the lab, where nurse Dolores asked me my birthday like, a hundred times. Then Drew's birthday. Then the spelling of my name, followed by the usual "oh, that's so pretty, where are you from?" comments. Come on woman! I've got a jar full of sperm under my shirt and we are discussing nationalities??? She finally got to the important part. "So, do you have the sample?" Well, yes I do. But what is the best way to get it out? There were other people around me and since I am still new at this, I was a little sheepish about handing some other woman my husband's sperm practically in the middle of a waiting room. But there was nothing else to do, but to reach into my sweater and pull out the cup. Whew. Boys safely delivered. Dolores never batted an eye.

By that time Drew was there too and we spent an hour in the waiting room looking at magazines. Note to self: If I ever do get pregnant, I have to stay away from these. It seems like every single cute baby picture is followed by some horrific story about sore nipples and hemorrhoids. Ick.

The rest of the procedure was pretty painless and speckled with inappropriate sperm jokes courtesy of my doctor. He is awesome. I won't know if this worked for a couple of weeks, but I hope that I will be able to find all of this funny even if I do have to do it two or three or four more times.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

January 20, 2009

This is as close as Chris and I got to the Inauguration festivities, but it was fun, anyway:

That's my computer screen at work. Thank you, MSNBC. And the New York Times, when MSNBC froze.

Today was amazing, but I have to say that I think all of my emotional energies were spent on election night, so today I was happy that the Inauguration went smoothly and that now we can get on with fixing everything that's been screwed up in the past eight years.

I usualy forget about the fact that I am an American citizen - but today I remembered. It was awesome.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Oh, crap!

It's been a crappy week. It should have ended right when it began on Monday, but it had to stretch all the way to today. Ah, blissful Friday!

Here is a log of stuff that got me through, in no particular order:

1. Nyquil ($6.99)

2. New haircut ($75.00)

3. Aveda Lip Saver lip balm ($8.50)

4. Book: Homecoming by Bernhard Schlink ($15.00)

5. New lingerie (too much)

6. Mopey songs from iTunes - Duffy, Brooke Waggoner, Iron & Wine ($20.00)

7. Three hours of pounding clay in pottery class ($200 for six weeks)

8. Cosmopolitan - upcoming this evening ($9.00)

9. Filling half of my Moleskin diary ($14.00)

The feeling that everything will be OK eventually: priceless.

P.S. One of the pieces I wrote a while ago for the Christian Science Monitor was quoted in a book - how cool is that? (See bottom of page 254)

Friday, January 9, 2009

Pottery therapy

So I am back in pottery classes. I've done this before and enjoyed it - I don't think I am great at it and the wheel definitely tests my patience, but I love to get my hands dirty, to smell the clay, to watch it mold and change between my hands.

I was a bit nervous about the class - the last couple of times I went with a friend, but this time I didn't know anyone there. I should not have worried. We were only about 15 minutes into class when the topic of conversation turned to men, penis sizes, dating, and whether it's OK to have a crush on someone when you are both married. Hm. And I have to add that I wasn't the one initiating this conversation. There was only four of us in the class, including the instructor. I think the youngest girl there was a bit mortified, but there was no good way to escape from class at that point. Poor thing.

I don't know what it is about women that we feel so comfortable discussing such intimate topics with perfect strangers. Maybe we are all baffled by men, or just need reassurance that we are not alone in needing help when it comes to navigating their weird and woolly world. Maybe we are also all just incredibly insecure, or we are trying to justify crushing on our bosses, or having a little too much fun gazing into someone other than our husband's eyes, or daydreaming about a friendship turning into some torrid affair. So by sharing it with others, suddenly all of these secret desires somehow become OK. I don't know.

I usually try not tot share too many intimate details of my marriage, or my secret desires -- there is a reason they are "secret" -- but I definitely had fun last night listening to the other women and laughing with them about how absurd all of this is. I also found out about this great new diet that apparently messes with your hormones but lets you drop 30 pounds in 5 weeks. Well, not all advice or insight from women is valuable or harmless, right?