Oh The Shark Has Pretty Teeth, Dear

See that face? That’s the face of a woman after a long, intense visit to the dentist, still a little loopy from the local anesthetic, and a lot exhausted. Dental anxiety is real, and this time, it was quite justified, too. ‘Nuff said! It’s not the first time I’ve wished our teeth could grow back like a shark’s

Since I’m a little too sideways to proofread my manuscript still, I thought I’d pop over here and say hi. Last post was all brainy and emotional (thank you for the kind comments, by the way, they were really appreciated. It wasn’t an easy piece to write!), so this one will be lighter fare, about food, too, as I wait for the Vietnamese takeout delivery. I’m in desperate need of a bowl of Pho, not because I can’t chew, because I too can chew, but because it’s just the next best thing to home-made chicken soup.

Few memorable things have happened in my kitchen over the last few weeks, because work. Truth be told, I mostly made quick and easy fixes. Pasta and vegetables, stir-frys, chicken and rice, that sort of thing. Mashed potatoes, fried eggs, salads, all stuff I did with no great creativity or fanfare involved. I’m almost done with the Wok cookbook, which is nice, and next week I’ll be tackling a project in InDesign, albeit with some trepidation. The publishing house insists, and I’m willing to accommodate them. It’s a thing they expect from translators now, so I’ve promised to do my best.

One recipe I’ve made does stand out – remember when I talked about acacia fritters, last summer maybe? Last but last? I swear, all this Corona period is a blur in my memory. Anywhoo, last time I made them, I dipped the entire umbels (is that what you call them?) in batter and fried them. This time, I plucked the blossoms off of the stems, like so:

Then, I made a batter of spelt and buckwheat flour, 4 eggs, pinch of salt, pinch of sugar, milk and water – a Crêpe batter, essentially, to which I added: grated peel of 1 lemon, vanilla and baking powder. And the acacia blooms.

I fried them up like pancakes, in a pan with a little oil. They honestly didn’t look all that spectacular. But they were really, really tasty with a bit of lemon juice and a drop or two of – wait for it – acacia honey. Yum, serious yum.

Here in the city, acacia trees are in full bloom now, as are the elderbushes, the flowers of which can actually be eaten in a similar manner, as fritters with a dusting of powdered sugar. Maybe I’ll try that, too, if I can afford to take a break from my InDesign project.

Crafts, actually, did happen also. Last weekend, we had a crafternoon at our little Waldorf school, in preparation of the Summer Bazaar that will happen in June. We offered a number of different projects to participate in, and to my delight, I got to teach how to crochet Waffle stitch potholders to two interested crafters.

While we sat and worked at the school for the first time in two years, we felt the spirit of our little Waldorf community wake up from a long sleep, stretch out and dance among the yarns, the fabric, the clay, the felt and the paper crafts. It was uplifting, and there were smiles all around!

In Germany, it’s Father’s Day tomorrow. I love that not only moms are honored with a special day. I am fortunate enough to know many dads who deserve praise, my husband not least, and the kids intend to spoil him tomorrow (and I also might do a little bit of that, in my own love language which is always food ;-)). I could not have asked for a better person to be the father of my children, and I’m so happy we decided to become parents, when our very happy accident happened in 2001. Being a mom has been the greatest adventure of my life, and as I salute all the great dads tomorrow, I want to say a heartfelt thank you to my kids‘ father, my husband, friend and compadre of over 20 years – I love you very much.

Mothering Sunday

This was my mother. She passed years before I had even met my husband, let alone become a mom myself. I was a young adult with a career, and to say we had a complicated relationship would be an understatement.

So, it occurs to me that while I’ve written about my dad many times, I haven’t mentioned her much. This post is an attempt to rectify that, and to reflect on her as a person, as well as a mom. As you can see, she was a good-looking lady. As a young woman, she was strikingly beautiful in a Frida Kahlo kind of way, tall, skinny, raven-haired and all cheekbones and eyebrows! When she was in a good mood, she was charismatic enough to light up an entire room.

Having been born as a happy accident to middle-aged parents and four grown-up brothers who all adored her, she grew up to be a headstrong, opinionated young woman, who was first sent to business school so she could support herself (go her parents! Unusual, for that generation!), which she aced, in order to finally be allowed to follow her interest to study German literature and linguistics. While at university, she met my dad, who was 17(!) years her senior, a twice divorced father of a young son. She chose to marry him despite what might have sent others running to the hills – which probably tells you something about how much he had going for him in the charms department.

Professionally, she went into a most academic linguistic field: she became a lexicographer who studied the almost extinct dialects spoken in the German-heritage community of Transsylvania, Romania. Her life’s work as co-author of the ‚Siebenbuergische Woerterbuch‘ is held in high esteem among her fellow scholars.

To me, she was my mom. She had me when she had all but given up on ever having a child of her own, but thanks to modern medicine and a strict regime of lying the fuck down for the last few months of the pregnancy, I got to be born. My dad, then 54 years old and she, 37, had fun raising me, and for a few years we were a happy small family, mom, dad, gran, dachshund, and I. She liked playing board games, she enjoyed reading to me, and she loved my long, blonde hair. My memories of those days are that I loved her very much, and that my dad would make all of us laugh.

It went downhill from there. My dad developed Rheumatoid Arthritis, an intensely painful auto-immune condition. The continuous harassment by the secret service (because my parents weren’t party members) sent my mom into an episode spoken of as ’nervous breakdown‘, and she spent time in an institution to get better. She never said much about it, so I don’t know what exactly happened.

My dad was sent into early retirement because of the crippling arthritis pain, my mom must have recovered enough to go back to work, and we got a dog. Our family was finally allowed emigration and we came to Germany (dog included). My dad was in and out of specialists‘ offices for months, my mom started looking for work, and I went to school in this strange new world.

The move must have been an immense effort for middle-aged people like my parents, and a lot of pressure for my mom who was now the breadwinner. But she found a job in her field, we moved to Southern Germany, and adjusted to small town life as immigrants – not a cute look, I assure you, in those days. We coped, though, even my dad, who now mostly lived in a world that revolved around terrible chronic pain, the next dosage of his meds, insomnia and, for his mental health, classical music that he blasted on his headphones. For a few years, my mom’s life mostly consisted of work, walking the dog and playing Scrabble or cards with my dad at night. She was about the same age I am now, and whenever we play, that memory makes me smile.

And then, only 5 years later, my dad’s strength gave out, and he passed away a few weeks before Christmas. Life screeched to a halt. My mom was out of it for a long time, crying a lot and barely hanging in there. She was a 52 year old widow, bereft after 27 years of marriage. And I was a 15 year old teenager, who felt she had lost both her parents in one fell swoop, because all that was left of my mom was this shaking, needy ball of grief.

Grief is a lonely business, and everybody has a different process for it. My mom’s was to be clingy, overwhelmed and bitchy. She was ill equipped for being without my dad as her personal support system. My own strategy was to withdraw into my own head, read a lot, and try to pretend that I was fine. We were both in a bad place, and neither of us was what the other needed. Expectations, I learned then, are the ruin of any healthy relationship.

My mom was a fiercely intelligent, well read intellectual. In her old life, she had been part of a group of like-minded people who were artists, writers, musicians and the like. Now, she had trouble finding friends in the small town we lived in. She had no driver’s license to get around. I remember she was on the phone a lot at night, talking to old friends. I was holed up in my room, trying to study, listening to music and actively dreaming myself away from my depressing life. We were two lonely people, each with their own shit sandwich, who couldn’t help each other.

Things became easier once I moved out. She got rid of the apartment that held all the memories of my dad (probably healthy!), found a cute little house in the even smaller town where her work was, and made new friends again. For a few years, we saw each other every week, and it wasn’t so bad.

Then she developed liver cirrhosis (not because she was drinking too much, but as a long-term effect of having contacted hepatitis when she was young). She refused an organ transplant, and spent her last few years of retirement in and out of hospitals, cure and health resorts, increasingly tired and frustrated. When she passed away, she was a shadow of her former interesting, hyper, bright self. The liver condition transformed her personality, and not in a good way. There was no way to please her, nothing anyone did was enough, she argued with all her friends, and she was deeply disappointed in everything and everybody, and vocal about it, too. She wasn’t pleasant to be around.

After the final gruesome years (final stage cirrhosis is awful!), I remember feeling simultaneous sadness and profound relief when she passed away. She was in a coma the last day I sat with her at the hospital, IV drip attached to her arm. Paradoxically, I felt like with every drop of the fluid that went into her vein, a little life was dripping out of her. But over the long hours, her grim facial expression became more relaxed, and in the end was quite serene. It was no hardship to sit with her during those final hours. Instead of unease, I felt a sense of peace I had not felt in her presence for years.

When I became a mom myself a few years later, in many ways, I tried so hard not to be like her. At the time, all I could remember were the negative things: the pressure of being an only child of a self-centered parent, the perpetual discontent, the never being able to be or give or do enough. I swore to myself I was never going to be like that. Whether I succeeded, time will tell!

Now, at almost 55 myself, I do have a bit more understanding for her as a person. I can appreciate the struggle of migration. I get that cooking and household chores bored her. And also, after having been married for over 20 years myself, I can see how it might be really hard to get along without your significant other at first. I can cut her a bit of slack, more so than when I was younger. Rather than remembering the bitter experiences from the last years, I am deeply grateful for the solid basis of love my parents gave me when I was little, which is a lifelong source of strength.

These are my own children as babies, who since those pics were taken have become such amazing young people whom I love with all my heart.

Yesterday, we spent Mother’s Day together, and I got awesome hand-made gifts:

I know not everybody wants children, many people struggle with either conceiving them or carrying to term. It’s a touchy subject, and I’m not judging anybody or comparing my own journey to any of theirs. It’s nobody’s business to do that, God knows. This post is simply about me and my mom, and a bit about my children.

For many years, I wasn’t sure I should be a mom at all. Eventually I became brave enough to do it, and I feel so lucky to have been given the chance to do what all moms do: my best. From my point of view today, I can say with conviction that my mother probably did the same.

Thank you for following me into this rabbit hole about a person most of you don’t even know – and thank you for taking enough of an interest to read all that was on my mind about it!

Leaving here today with a picture of my fur babies, who are just as dear to my heart, even though I’m not their biological parent.

A Wok Down Memory Lane

My first job in advertising was as a trainee at a bit obscure below the line agency in the Frankfurt area; strangely, the same building was also home to the consulate of two Caribbean islands (as well as the consul and his wife, in the penthouse), who owned both building, agency and a few other enterprises that had offices in the building. Bentley in the garage, modern art on the office walls, and the whole show was run by a distinguished office manager who was lovely, intimidating and motherly all at the same time. Imagine exposed aggregate concrete, glass walls, electric blinds and hideous mustard-colored carpeted floors. The building sat in a hillside residential neighborhood, surrounded by big family homes and expensive cars. Me and my other trainee colleagues had a nice time there, learning how to be young adults, studying for evening classes, and getting a buttload of work done all the while.

So one of the consul’s numerous enterprises was a TV home shopping company. (Gen Z readers: Before the Internet, when dinosaurs roamed and we had answering machines instead of cell phones, there were special TV channels that broadcasted 24/7 of bizarre infomercials that offered a wide variety of retail products, ranging from household goods to electronic devices (such as they were, at the time) to jewelry, furniture and snake-oil miracle medicines, also freaky fitness machines – all presented by garishly lit overzealous hosts. The actual purchases were made by phoning your order in. It was a huge, huge market then, and I’m sure this must have been what paid for the Bentley.)

One of the star products of that company was an authentic Chinese wok – expensive for me at the time, but I simply had to have one.

As you can see, it looks like it’s been around! It certainly amortized since 1992. As it happens, I was inspired to use it this week by my latest translation project, a book by British celebrity chef Jeremy Pang. He’s really something, and I’m enjoying the work tremendously.

I made a stir-fry of veggies, ginger and garlic flavored tofu and prawns – a crowd-pleasing, quickly thrown together meal that even my most difficult young customer finds things in she likes to eat. (If you’re guessing she goes for the proteins, you’d be correct.) Having cooked with this venerable utensil for decades, I’m pleased to say it still works just fine. But only now do I really understand the science behind the yumminess, and isn’t that just the coolest! I love my job :-).

Last weekend, I spent some time (and two more balls of yarn) on the Waffle Blanket. Here’s where I am now; there is some progress to be seen! Three more balls of orange, then I’ll decide whether to keep going with the light turquoise where it is now, or whether to rip it back up and put in on the other side of the orange, as initially planned.

Speaking of orange, I must tell you about a cake I made last weekend for the first time:

Boiled Orange Cake. Isn’t is such an intriguing idea to boil oranges for 2 hours until all squishy, then puree them and use them as base for cake batter? You’ll need a stick blender, sugar, flour, 6 eggs, vanilla and either almond flour or regular flour plus baking powder. My Greek friend F who dropped by for a quick visit suggested I try semolina, and I ended up mixing semolina and flour, both spelt, and also added a bit of yogurt for extra moisture. Remarkably, it contains no butter or any fat at all! The next time I make this (and I will make it again, everybody loved it!) I will add some lemon zest, and maybe juice. Here, isn’t it pretty?

Lastly, not to bore you with repetition, but I just need to mention the memorable 3 year anniversary that happened this week. I can’t believe it’s been three years already. Knowing the happiness of being a dog mom, loving this small dude with the big dog personality. To have and to hold, hopefully for a long time.

Have a great rest of week, everybody, and thank you for joining me for story time.