Change & Lack Thereof

 

When I went home for the holidays, I took a stab at scanning some of the family pictures we had lying around the house in these things called “Photo Albums.”  For all my talk about fear of change, I realized that some things in life don’t really change.

I appreciate that my family are likely the only ones to get as much sentimental value from this as I do. Still, I hope these pictures might inspire some of you others out there to take a look back into the dark, mothball-filled depths of your closet, attic, or basement and see what memories may be lurking there just waiting to be found.

I think this set of pictures is a great starting off point. My grandparents have a little sign at their house that reads “All Because Two People Fell In Love…” and none of the other pictures would exist if it wasn’t for them.

They celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary this month!

My grandmothers’ ability to look almost the same completely baffles me.

 

 

On the right, my cousin Leslie holds me as a toddler, and on the left I hold her youngest daughter, Gia

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Boys, Boys, Boys. In case you’ve been wondering who the Ralf & Erik I occasionally refer to are–here they are. My “little brothers”, Ralf (on the right) is a year and a half younger than me and Erik (the odd looking one in the middle) is two years younger than him. My cousin, P.J. (the studly young gent on the left), is a year and a half older than me. I could have saved the geneology and simply said, we are all fairly close in age.

And while I’ve always been the family outcast for liking things like politics and academia, these guys definitely developed into young men with very heavily aligned interests–sports and their bodies.

Hence:

Don’t worry, ladies–there are more of those to come.

 

Nothing is more reverent for good Catholics than the participation in one of the seven sacraments: Baptism, Confession, Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick. Yes, after 13 years of Catholic school I can absolutely name them off the top of my head. #catholicwin

As you can see in the picture below, my family has always been very invested in upholding the gravitas of such holy occasions.

No offense to the Eucharist, but I think I felt closer to God before this next picture taken just after a meal at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in Las Vegas. I highly recommend the pork tenderloion.

Clearly, the only way to express feeling God’s presence is by looking like a member of Kiss. This I firmly and truly believe. That is why so many babies cry and drool during their Baptism.

I’ve saved the best for last (and the absolute side-splitters for an upcoming post). The picture below was taken during one of our traditional tamale-making extravaganzas. From left to right: Martha Hernandez, Martha (my grandmother), Me, Aunt Debi, Aunt Lynda, my mom, and little Ralf.

Cut to 2011:

From left to right: Ralf, Me, Leslie (Aunt Debi’s daughter), Aunt Debi, Cyndi (Aunt Debi’s daughter), my mom
(Aunt Lynda’s family showed up after this picture was taken)

We even use the same pots, pans, and bowls nearly 15 years later.

What’s the message, then?
It reminds me of my time as a cheerleader. When we’d do our spins, we’d find a static spot on the wall and use it as a mark to keep our balance. For a girl who is over 3000 miles from home and figuring out her life one day at a time, sometimes I feel like my world is spinning faster than I can handle. As I struggle to find my balance, these pictures and the people in them are my spot on the wall–something I can rely on to keep me steady.

A toast, to the knowledge for all the good that change can bring, sometimes it is nice to have something to rely on.

“Promise me you’ll never forget me because if I thought you would I’d never leave.”
~Winnie the Pooh 

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I Don’t Mean to Get Graphic

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about the blossom in technology is the rise in infographics. People have been using clever means of displaying information for all of time. Now, thanks to programmers after my own heart, creating easy-to-digest data displays need only take a matter of minutes.

I may be somewhat of a wonk (click here and see definition 1), but I think what I’ve brought to most of my jobs thus far is the ability to take complex policy information and break it down in ways that anyone can understand. [Thank you, Ralf and Erik, for teaching me to “dumb it down.”] While I refuse to make policy a huge part of what I do on this site, I thought this infographic about the State of the Union was timely and a great way to demonstrate how an infographic works.

 

Some of the interesting take-aways, IMHO, are that the highest volume of tweets occurred during discussion of topics that relate to young people–education and college tuition, Steve Jobs, the “spilled milk” joke. This is obviously not surprising since we are talking about Twitter reactions.

 

What did you think about the State of the Union?

 

A toast, to wonks everywhere–may we learn to sound less condescending.

“Bill Gates‘d be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.”
~Steve Jobs 

Holiday Cheer to my Rear (O Tannenbaum)

Part 2 – O Tannenbaum

My father was born in Germany, but to be quite honest, I know very little about my German heritage. Much of what I do know comes from the holiday dishes that my Oma artfully puts together every year. While duck, potato dumplings, and warm red cabbage make me a very happy girl, the true stars of the holiday season are Oma’s cookies. Every year for as long as I can remember, my grandmother has  baked cookies for Christmas. When I was a little girl, my Oma lived in New Jersey and each year when the package would come in the mail, my dad would gracefully cradle the package, open it up and give my brothers and I each one cookie–then hide the tin. I wish I was kidding. He would either hide it or place it so high up that we couldn’t reach it. Cookies were then used to reinforce positive behavior–like dog treats.

I remember staring up at the cookie tin with my brothers, drooling with desire and intent on finding a way to reach that treasure chest of sweet goodness. After painstaking planning and acute execution only a Weissenberger child could pull off, we’d manage to snag a couple from the tin. I’d take the tiniest bites possible, savoring every morsel, careful not to drop a single crumb. Then I’d wait, tummy full of sugar and guilt, for my dad to come home. He’d sneak into the kitchen, fully aware that being caught with the tin might mean he would have to share. We held our breath as he opened the sacred tin, hoping just this once he wouldn’t have a mental count of the remaining cookies. He always did.

“Who touched my precious….”
(Yes, this is a picture of my dad morphed with Gollum. I really need to work on my Photoshop skills.)

My mom, using skills learned only through year after year of working with small children, would calmly and patiently intervene: “They are just kids/It’s Christmas/Those cookies aren’t just yours/Learn to share.” Every year, it was the same thing until, finally, my mom explained the situation to my Oma. Graciously, she offered to make us each our own bag of cookies for Christmas. None of us are very good about sharing them.


This year when Oma asked me what I wanted  for my birthday, I could think of nothing I wanted more than some Almond Crescents–my absolute favorite of all the Christmas cookies. I cannot express the joy that came when I opened that tin to see the familiar crescents nestled in their neat bed of parchment paper. The crescent shape, according the research I did while writing this blog, is very common in German baking. Legend has it that when the Austrians defeated the Ottomans, they celebrated by making the crescent shape which adorned the Ottoman flag. If war had a referee, I’d call that “excessive celebration” – Unsportsmanlike Conduct. If you can’t spike a ball while staring down a defender, you shouldn’t be able to make such utterly taunting cookies.

 I imagine the flavor of these cookies to be similar to that of angel poop (angel poop would taste delicious since they only eat clouds and love). So if you ever wondered what angel poop tastes like, here is a recipe that I found online for these cookies. Note: This is NOT the recipe used by my Oma. Sorry, but I am my father’s daughter and I just can’t share that.

Ingredients:

1 c butter
3/4 c sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 t almond extract
2 1/2 c flour
1 c almonds; ground
confectioners’ sugar

Instructions:
Beat together butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Blend in extracts. Mix in flour and almonds. Using about 1 T of dough for each, shape into logs and bend into crescents. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees F until light brown. While warm, roll crescents in confectioners’ sugar. Cool on racks and store in a tightly sealed container. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

A toast, to traditions that keep the soul fortified in this tumultuous world.

“Because of our traditions every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”
~Tevye (Fiddler on the Roof) 

Holiday Cheer to my Rear (Feliz Navidad)

New Years’ Resolution: Post more updates on Star Spangled Girl.

The holidays are about two things: food & family.

My family is moderately insane–in the best way possible?–so I’m going to call a majority of the most interesting stories of the holiday season off-limits. What a violation of the spirit of truthful, open blogging, you exclaim! I commiserate. If nothing else, I believe in that one, true blogging philosophy and I truly wish I could post the gut-busting, tear-jerking, utterly scandalous details of my time back in LA. Unfortunately, not everyone feels as comfortable having their private lives publicized for all eternity on the big, bad Internet. While I don’t quite understand it, I respect it. Kinda.

As a result, you will get an overly detailed account of the traditional foods of my Germexitalian holidays. Yes, I know I just wrote a blog about food. Yes, I know this makes me sound like a total fatty. But when my future robot companion (see #3) is reading my blog to me, I want to be able to cherish the memories of being able to stuff my face with insanely high caloric foods. In the four months I was in DC, I gained 5 pounds; In the two weeks I’ve been home, I’ve gained 2.5 pounds. Call it water weight, call it what you will–thats Holiday Cheer to my Rear.

Part 1- Feliz Navidad

A couple videos to get you in the mood. Hint: It’s not a Mexican-American Christmas without the second one!!!


Tamales

(If your life is sad and you don’t know what a tamale is, click here)

Every year in mid-December, my mother’s enormous family [enormous number of people, not enormous people] migrate from all over Los Angeles, San Bernadino and Orange Counties to East Los Angeles (technically Monterey Park, but it’s right next to East LA college so I argue its an accurate description) for a tamale-making extravaganza. Four generations line up at the counter, aprons in tow, ready to spread & stuff 300 tamales for Christmas eve. It’s a mix of assembly line and gossip circle, which normally isn’t much of a problem, but this year my grandpa decided we needed to take steps to preserve the process and wanted to video the entire event. At the corner of the kitchen, in the most cumbersome and awkward place possible, he put up his video camera on its tripod and hits record. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite make it clear enough to us that our every word was being immortalized via DVD. Almost immediately, in true Venti fashion, a rather racy conversation began as people began to trickle through the front door. Suddenly, we were hit with the stark realization that the little red light on the camera was illuminated–judging us, mocking us…knowing all.  Evidence of the questionable exchange needed to be quickly destroyed from existence. Wouldn’t you know it was grandpa’s last DVD? After a quick trip to the supermarket, we were back on track and on film. In the end we got most of the day on tape–and only about 46.27% would be problematic for the Motion Picture Association of America (They do movie ratings).

Our little tamale army make red (pork/beef mixture) and green (chile) tamales. Just like Italians with pasta sauce, most people (of Central or South American descent) believe that their grandma makes the best tamales. When I say that, though, I’ve got some legitimate back up. My family’s tamales are so badass they were even featured in the LA Times food section! In case you are wondering, we do make a couple sweet tamales but I find the idea of them to be absolutely disgusting, so let’s not even go there. Personally, I prefer the red tamales. This tends to work out for me because for some inexplicable reason more and more of my family members are becoming vegetarian and that means more meaty goodness for me.

Cheers, a toast to meaty goodness.

“I’ve got cousins galore. Mexicans just spread all their seeds. And the women just pop them out.”
~Jessica Alba 

Stay Tuned for Chapter 24.2: Holiday Cheer to my Rear (O Tannenbaum).