Sunday, July 31, 2011

America Eats This?!

Food Friday makes a very interesting, very historical return!  On July 4th, a new temporary restaurant opened in Washington, DC – America Eats Tavern.  The restaurant is a partnership between ThinkFoodGroup and the Foundation for the National Archives and was opened in conjunction with the Archives’ new exhibit, What’s Cooking Uncle Sam?
I think the idea for the restaurant is pretty cool.   The menu is inspired by the history of American cooking.  The descriptions of the food are less about what the food is and more about the food’s history; for instance, here’s the description for the cobb salad - 
Robert Cobb, Hollywood, 1936
Cobb was the owner of the renowned Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood. One night he was hungry and supposedly created this salad from the leftovers he discovered in the walk-in refrigerator. He loved the result so much that he added it to the menu.
Pretty cool, right?
A couple of us braved the sweltering heat on Friday night to experience what America eats.  We took a 3-2-1 approach - 3 appetizers, 2 entrees, and 1 dessert.  We split everything so there was more for us to try!  Since I’m using a lot of brain power to write a blog post for work (cough, cough), I thought I’d just post the pictures so you can see what America eats too. 
Grilled Butter Oysters - not a fan. 

On the bottom - Vermicelli Prepared like Pudding
- the grandfather of today's mac and cheese.
On the top - Shrimp Remoulade and Fried Green
Tomatoes - So...I really loved that movie and
that's why I suggested this dish.

Shrimp and Pork Jambalaya -
that's real crawfish in there! 

The jambalaya "plated."  Interesting fact -
the woman responsible for making Thanksgiving
a national holiday is credited with publishing the
first known recipe for jambalaya in 1853. 

BBQ Beef Short Ribs and "Cold Slaw" -
yummy and delicious.  Cold slaw or coleslaw
was brought to America by Dutch settlers.

Vermont Sugar on Snow - so, this is "snow" that is
drizzled with hot maple syrup.  Verry sweet.
The drink in the upper right hand corner is
called the Switchel.  It's a New England field
workers drink that blends molasses, ginger, cider
vinegar, and my favorite, rum. 
|And it's served in a mason jar which is so cute! 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Summing It All Up

Today ends a long week of training classes.  I wasn’t in training though.  Nope, I was one of the trainers.  It’s the first time I’ve been on that side of the equation.  There I was, standing up in front of the class teaching my sessions, only realizing way too late that there was a laser pointer that I could’ve used!  Laser pointers are fun!  I’m totally working it into my spiel for the next time.
I will admit that there was a minor anxiety attack on the first morning but, in the end, I got it done.  I’ll leave it up to the voters trainees to decide how I did.  But there was one tiny little thing.
They didn’t laugh at my jokes.  I had two jokes and they didn’t laugh.  Maybe it was my delivery – I still talk a little too fast when I get excited (I’m really trying to practice those pauses!)  But apparently training class isn’t the place to practice your stand-up comedy routine. 
Lucky for me, I write a blog.  And you read it.  Captive audience.  So, here’s one of my jokes.
I taught the sessions on “Numbers,” which is basically all the different types of numbers that you can enter into the system.  At the end of it, I said – so, that basically sums up “Numbers”!
Come on!  Well, I thought it was funny!
Eating dinner tonight, I realized that the trainees were probably thinking that I was that corny trainer whom we’ve all had and rolled our eyes at. 
And I laughed.  Because, yeah, I totally am.  With or without a laser pointer. 
Exciting news!  Food Friday returns next week.  It’s gonna be a blast from the past!

Saturday, July 16, 2011


I have that screen-saver thing on my phone that when you press it, it ripples out from the center of where you pressed, strong at first then weakening before the screen returns to normal.  As I fiddled around with it today after my nap, I got to thinking about the events in our lives that set off ripples that are felt in the days, months, years that follow.  Strong at first, those ripples weaken over time…but unlike my phone, life doesn’t ever really return to normal.  All you’re left with are tiny ripples and wonderings of what if? 
A lifetime ago - my brother’s, actually - a little over 35 years ago, one of those events happened in my family.  I don’t need to rehash the past so I won’t…but something happened and someone disappeared from the fabric of our family.  But people don’t really ever disappear…their importance, their significance lingers on…even if it’s only a memory, faded though it may be.
I don’t know if it was my passion for history or my constant search to find my place in a family in which I didn’t see myself in anyone else…but I’ve always felt a connection to this person whom I only knew from photographs and old family stories.  This man – whose name I have heard hundreds of times in my life from the mouths of cousins who remember him…who knew him – this good man raised my mother from the age of 11 until he walked her down the aisle.  I was born six years after that but by then…by then, everything was just a ripple. 
Half of my lifetime ago, when I was 16, I used that newfangled Internet technology thingie to find him.  I knew his name after all…even if I couldn’t spell his last name quite right.  Eventually, in my high school computer lab, I found his address on the World Wide Web.  And I wrote him a long, rambling letter.  And then I waited.  [Note – hormonal teenage girls should never try to write heartfelt letters to long-lost relatives.  I can’t remember exactly what I wrote but I’m pretty sure it didn’t make a lot of sense.  Actually, I could’ve been mistaken for a crackpot.]
One day there was an envelope addressed to me in our mailbox.  I opened it to find a note with a single sentence on it.  The past must stay in the past.  I was stunned…and scared.  I tore that note up into a million tiny pieces and threw it away.  And I never told anyone about what I had done.  The past would stay in the past.  But a couple of years later, while my mother and I were in the car and she started talking about trying to find him, my secret, the only secret I have ever kept from my mother, came out in choking sobs.  I had ruined her chance to find him…to connect with him again after so many years.  I told her about the note; she asked if I had saved it.  I told her no.  And she was quiet.  And oh how I wished I hadn’t torn up that note.  I wished I had saved it so I could give it to her.  So, she could have one last piece of him.  The past was in the past but the ripples were still rippling.
Around Christmas, three years ago – by now, I was living in Maryland – I got a phone call from my mother.  Her voice was…different.  Excited, nervous, surprised?  I didn’t know what it was but I knew something was up.  She told me…you got a card from him.  And my heart leapt.  And so we corresponded occasionally.  He has written to me about his childhood in Germany and his dreams of America as a boy and his own love of history.  But we don’t write of the past – that past.  But it’s there…rippling. 
I long to ask him all sorts of questions.  Questions about my mother before she became my mother.  What was she like as a little girl?  Does he remember the trip to the Indian reservation?  What did he really think about her following baseball players across the country?  Does he remember the blue jumpsuit he made for her?  What was he thinking as he walked her down the aisle?  Could he have possibly imagined how strong she would become?  Does he think about her?  Or is she just a lingering memory…a ripple in his own life?
When my inbox pings and I see that I’ve received an email from him, my heart leaps.  It is a little piece of the past that I wonder about and ask myself what if?  But the past is the past and we cannot change all that has happened even as it ripples still.     
But I wish I could tell him - oh, how you are missed.  And loved.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Two posts in one day and each on completely opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.  Lest you think I have a personality disorder (okay, if you ask my brother, he’ll say that I do), I want to assure you that the Oreos are gone, I’m quite fine, and sometimes people just have off nights.  I bet you’ve lain awake in the wee hours of the night worrying about something that bothered you.  It happens.  Lucky for me, I woke up this morning (whew!) and I was feeling much better.
And today wasn’t just any old day.  Nope.  Today was Toastmasters!  Last night, I wrote an “Icebreaker” speech basically about who I am and what I like to do – work, travel, and watch Deadliest Catch.  This morning I emailed the Grand Toastmaster and asked to be put on the agenda as one of the speakers.  Hey, if I’m going to do this thing, I’m not gonna waste my gas just to drive somewhere and listen to other people speak for an hour. 
What’s this? 
It’s where my trophy would be if the previous winner - known as Trophy Hoarder Guy - hadn’t “forgotten” to bring it tonight.  I’m a trophy-less winner.  That’s right.  I won best speaker!  There was only one other speaker but I still won - even without voting for myself!
In my evaluation, Trophy Hoarder Guy gave me high marks for the content of my speech and my enthusiasm for the things that I talked about.  My area to work on is learning how to slow down and take a breath.  I spoke for four minutes and they said I had a good five minutes of material (who needs an extra minute?!) 
Maybe it’s not the speaking part that I need to work on – maybe I need to practice breathing and pausing.  So, just in case we’re engaged in a conversation and I suddenly stop talking, don’t worry, I’m just taking a breath and practicing my pauses.  


I ate Oreos at 10:45, a late bedtime snack.  Now, it’s a little after midnight and I can’t fall asleep. 
I tossed and I turned and I kicked off my comforter and I flopped from my side to my stomach and back again and all the while I was thinking.  Thinking about all the things that I’m able to push away during the day.  Because when it’s light out, things don’t seem so….dark.   
My thoughts are always darkest at night…well, if I’m awake late enough. 
I thought I was doing so well – I was making peace with the way I "look".  Yes, I look different but everyone’s different and that’s okay.  But I told you once that I still thought about it every once in a while.  More surgery.  A cheekbone here, a cheekbone there.  (Well, not just anywhere, of course; they should go where cheekbones generally go.)      
There was a trigger, naturally.  Because there always is when I start thinking like this.  What was it?  Okay, don’t laugh…but it was my race photograph (the official one they posted on the website for everyone to see, if you think I'm going to link to it, you're crazy!)  I look quite horrible…as I’m sure the other 396 runners do.  In addition to my dreadful running sprinting form, my face is all weirdly distorted – maybe it was from the sprinting, maybe it wasn’t.        
So, there I was a lot after midnight, sitting in front of my mirror dissecting my face.  Okay, really, my profile which I hate.  And to the person whom I just told that I was fine with it…well, I guess I’m not as well-adjusted as I thought I was.  I can wear a dress to work but putting my hair up in a clip is still a little too daring scary for me. 
All these thoughts are racing through my head keeping me awake when I should really be asleep because I have to get up in a few hours.
Clearly, I still have a few issues to work through.
And clearly, I need to stop eating Oreos at 10:45 at night. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Tortoise and the Hare

The tortoise and the hare - a story about friendship…and running. 
At the beginning of the year, the tortoise set a goal to run a 5K.  It was a crazy, ridiculous goal for the tortoise and was met by eye-rolls by many in the tortoise’s family.  The tortoise didn’t run.  Aside from climbing a couple flights of stairs every once in a while, the tortoise was content to curl up in her shell, watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (because all tortoises dream of being ninjas), and take lots of naps.  But the tortoise set the goal anyway, figuring, well, if it didn’t happen, oh well - at least she thought about doing it.  That’s half the battle right there. 
January turned to February and February turned to March and the tortoise was still firmly ensconced in her shell.  Then, sometime in March, the tortoise's friend, the hare, hopped over for a visit and told her that she wanted to run a 5K too.  So, they joined a running club together and you kinda know the story:  the hare turned into Steve Prefontaine when she tied up her laces; the tortoise turned into turtle soup.  But they had 12 weeks to train and prepare for their big 5K.
For 12 Thursdays from April to July, there was a bit of a routine between the tortoise and the hare.  Usually, they would send emails to each other in the morning – were they really going to running club that night?  If it looked like rain - at 7:45 in the morning - there were silent prayers (at least by the tortoise) that running club would be canceled.  More often than not though, the tortoise and the hare sucked it up and joined all the other tortoises and hares to train.
Today was the big race.  This isn’t a fairy-tale so I can’t tell you that the tortoise magically turned into a hare, ran the whole 5K, finished first in her age group, and won a $25 gift certificate to the local running store.  No, that didn’t happen.  But, the tortoise did run farther than she’s ever run before.  And, with the help of a very good friend (now known as the Rogue Runner) and the hare – who finished a good ten minutes before her and was on the sidelines cheering her on towards the finish line – the tortoise ran sprinted across the finish line and accomplished one of her goals for 2011

To the hare --
We did it!  Congrats on a great first race and thanks for helping me accomplish Goal #5!  I’ll call you when I’m ready for the 10K!
                                                                                    -- From the tortoise    
In case you're interested in the results (and who isn't?!) - I finished with a time of 39:18.75 - that's several seconds less than 40 minutes!  I was 297th out of 397 runners.  Am I disappointed?  Nope...being the glass half-full gal I'm trying to be these days - I think that's pretty darn good and it means that I was 1st out of the last 100 runners.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.  

Here are some pictures.  The action shots are courtesy of my friend/personal race photographer/the Rogue Runner, Miriam.

#179 - Ready to race!

I'm in the white and black running behind
(not next to) the lady in pink and blue.

The hare is actually way far up in front in the teal.
Can you see her?  Me neither!

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a running tortoise! 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Coming to America

Got a dream to take them there.  They're coming to America. Got a dream they've come to share.  They're coming to America.       --- Neil Diamond
The Fourth of July has always been my favorite holiday…even more than Christmas.  For most of my life, Independence Day was celebrated with a huge family party at my parents’ house.  Aside from the rare funeral and the even rarer wedding, it was about the only time that the whole extended clan – Hendersons, Kaisers, Jones, Zygalas, Pells, and Thompsons saw each other.  I think all of the relatives had fun – I mean, they kept coming year after year…but that was probably because of the free beer. 
Up until a few years ago, it was an annual tradition.  Our family, like millions of others, celebrated our country’s independence and our American-ness.  But where did our American story begin? 
Since my dad’s family isn’t much into talking about family history, I did a little digging on my own – of course, it does help that I work for the National Archives!   
I found out that the Henderson family saga (saga makes it seem so Kennedyesque, don't you think?) began with a 13 year old boy named Michael Henderson who came to America from Ireland in 1869.  On the ship’s manifest, he is at the end of a list of other male laborers, all in their late teens and early twenties.  There were no other Hendersons on the manifest…I can only imagine that he was making to the voyage to America on his own.  I wonder what he hoped to find when he arrived on the shores of this new country.  I wonder what his hopes and dreams were for his future.   
Michael Henderson’s American story began on a farm in Ambler, Pennsylvania where he was a gardener.  Five years after his arrival, he married Bridget Gray.  By 1900, Michael – now a “teamster” and Bridget had five children, one of whom was my great-grandfather, William.  At 19, William was a blacksmith and still living with his parents – that must be hereditary…my dad didn’t move out of his parents’ house until he was 29!  I wonder if my great-great-grandfather Michael was wondering when his son was gonna get his act together and move out on his own.  (Luckily, by 1910, William was married and out of the house!)
142 years ago, Michael Henderson crossed the Atlantic Ocean alone, with no family and probably with no real idea of what he was going to find once he got to America.  Maybe he had big dreams - a new life, a brighter future, and better opportunities in this wonderful country.
I think he did pretty well for himself.  And I think he probably would’ve loved the family Fourth of July parties.
From my family to yours, I hope you had an awesome Fourth of July.  Happy Independence Day! 

Michael's son, William, the horseshoer.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Beach Bum

One of these people was having a grand time at the seashore.
That's my Aunt Anne napping; me showing some
fancy hip-action; and my brother standing very straight.
Sea Isle City, 1983
I just got back from the beach.  By “just,” I mean yesterday afternoon but I was too tired to write last night. 
I kinda fell into a great deal on a beach house so two friends and I jumped at the chance to bum around at the beach for a few days.  I’m actually not a huge fan of the actual beach…the sun is very hot, my skin is prone to burning, and there’s those bathing suits you have to wear.  But beach towns – I love beach towns.  There’s something about beach towns that are relaxing and chill.  Kinda makes you wish you never have to leave to go back to, you know, real life.

Channeling my inner surfer-chick, this vacation was pretty gnarly.  The weather was awesome, the water was phenomenal, and the sun wasn’t too brutal on my skin (50 SPF all the way, baby!)  Best of all, I got to enjoy it all with some of my friends…from eating Oreos for breakfast to critiquing the decidedly 1970s wall art to successfully grilling for the first time (with three Masters degrees and an Iphone, anything is possible!), we had a great time.
But it’s back to reality…well, not for a few more days yet.  Thank goodness for three day weekends!