Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dear "Ashokan Farewell"


Dear "Ashokan Farewell,"

I have mentioned in the past that there are some pieces of music that just magically conjure up tears in my eyes, quiver my skin with waves of prickles, or make me inhale the slowest yet fullest breathes.  You are one of them.

I first heard "Ashokan Farewell" in the title theme of the 1990 PBS television miniseries, The Civil War.  This haunting tune matched the 'loss and gain' sentiments of the show so beautifully.  It was composed by Jay Ungar in 1982 as a farewell waltz at the Ashokan Dance and Fiddle Camps near the Ashokan Reservoir.  This piece is a waltz in D major, written in the style of a Scottish lament, and played by a violin and accompanied by a guitar (Wikipedia).  The video above is the most breathtaking rendition I found.

The music is eerily nostalgic, with sad overtones and promising undertones.  The best words I can find to describe it is 'hopeful melancholy'. The duo in the video is Doc and the Lady (Mark Allen and Kelly Roper Iverson).  I am in complete awe of Iverson's union with the violin.  The graceful movements of her long and slender arms and fingers juxtaposed with precise control of her instrument is such an exquisite sight to watch.  Allen's subtle accompaniment with his guitar is quiet and understated, until he becomes the lead instrument, and produces staccato sounds ever so elegantly as his partner.  The performers end the piece with resounding and unadulterated tenderness. 

Sometimes I listen to this with my eyes closed.

She walks from the bus stop to where she lives, alone.  But at the tender age of four, being alone is daunting.  In order to deny the loneliness surrounding her as she walks, she imagines that the next house is her destination.  She passes that one, so the next house is her destination.  That continues until she reaches the house, where, once encased inside walls and familiar people, relief enters her tired body and takes away her fear of solitude.

*****

She knew she had to leave her life behind.  Her school, her teacher, her friends, her home.  She will not see them again for a long time.  The last days before her departure were hard.  She tried to take in all that was familiar to her.  She snapped still photos with her eyes and filed them away inside her head.  She was ready to go to a new place to live a new life.  She trusted that she'll be all right.

*****

It was an overcast day at her college graduation.  In the amphitheater sat hundreds of people with flowers and balloons cheering on their loved ones.  She looked at all the families that were present, feeling an emptiness.  But the most important person was there for her.  And she was proud of her walk across the stage.  'I did it!" she said quietly to herself.

*****

It seemed like the more she wanted to be a mom, the more she was seeing baby bumps in public rounding against her own flat belly.  The surgery, and the meds, shots, bruises, blood draws were all sad reminders of what her body was not capable of doing.  She did not want to resign.  She believed that her time will come.  She believed that it will happen.  

*****

There is a vacancy in her heart, as there always had been.  Some things will never change.  But she has made peace with that, and she will envelop herself with the love that she has in her life.  Love that will wrap around the hole, hiding it, disguising, it, and engulfing it.  Quiet harmony is all she asks.  Ordinary serenity is all she wants.  


'Hopeful melancholy'. 

"Ashokan Farewell," you are an amazing piece of music.  There is so much soulful emotions that you convey.  Sad, but loaded with glimmers of optimism.  Perhaps it's the hopefulness that I truly appreciate in you.  Everyone has sad tales to tell, but you are a gentle reminder that sadness has its place in life, as does the hope that surfaces once the sorrow washes away.

Sincerely,
Me

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dear Lattice Multiplication


Dear Lattice Multiplication,

You are by far the coolest thing I've learned of late.  This probably makes me sound like a math geek, and I'm not going to defend that, because to me, finding a completely new way to solve a math problem is, in and of itself, awesome.  So let's see if I'm the only math geek around here.

Let's multiply two numbers using the lattice method.  528 x 34 = ?  (I've color coded these steps so it's easier to follow).  Draw a 3 by 2 grid with diagonals in each box, making a lattice grid.  Write one factor, 528, across the top of the lattice grid, and the other, 34, to the right side of it.  Now multiply the top and side numbers and write the products in their corresponding grids so that the number in the tens place is on top of the diagonal and the number in the ones place is on the bottom of the diagonal.  Then starting on the right side, add all the numbers along each diagonal column, carrying over to the next column the when necessary.  The answer is the all the numbers you get reading from left to right.  Magical?  I'd say so.

This all started when Dear Daughter was having trouble with a multiplication method taught in school.  Now I've only ever learned one multiplication method -- the traditional method.  I came from a country and culture where rote memory was highly valued, and probably why that part of the world scores high on mathematics standardized tests.  By second grade, we had already memorized the entire multiplication table, 1 through 10.  Notice I said 'memorized', not 'learned'.  I don't remember using math manipulatives, counters, numbers sticks, or number beads.  We learned multi-digit multiplication straight from the exact method the teacher modeled for us on the blackboard.  We used our multiplication number facts (that we memorized), and we added the products to find the answer.  I never knew or questioned why we did that.  I just knew that when I follow that method, my answers come out correct and I get a good grade on my test.

Fast forward to graduate school for my degree in education here in the US.  Fourteen years ago, in my Math Education class, I was introduced to Everyday Mathematics, a math curriculum developed by The University of Chicago.  It was a curriculum development that began before 1990, and through years of writing, field-testing, rewriting, and publishing, it became a solid Pre-K through Grade 6 math curriculum.  Everyday Mathematics aims to provide children a strong mathematical foundation through a firm grasp on number sense: really understanding what numbers mean, how they relate to each other in operations, and how they are used for problem solving.  Moving away from only rote calculations or simple memorization of number facts, EM teaches children to learn number concepts in everyday situations, using hands-on activities and manipulatives, and teaches a variety of strategies to solve one single problem.

Those were the ideas that set apart this curriculum from the way I learned math as a child.  I knew I was supposed to carry over the one (as I later learned is called 'regrouping' in English) when a sum is more than 9, but I really saw the reason why when in my grad school Math Ed class, we were given blocks to solve these simple addition problems.  While I probably made that connection before using those blocks, I know I didn't understand it when I learned math from the blackboard.  Seeing it taught this way was quite an light bulb moment for me.  It turned the dimmer light from dim to very bright, just by connecting those blocks to the number operation in front of me.

When Everyday Mathematics first came out, it was controversial in the sense that the grownups at school and at home were not used to teaching and learning math this way.  But many years later, I was happy to find out that DD's school uses EM.

So DD brings home math homework that required solving multiplication by the 'partial-product method'.  What the heck is that?  I only know how to multiply one way, which was the blackboard way.  So I had to visit www.everydaymathonline.com to get my own tutorial for the partial-product multiplication method, which turns out to be just breaking the factors down by place values before multiplying, and then adding up all the products to get the final answer.
(Quick tutorial.  If I want to multiply 528 by 34, I break it apart like so: 500 x 30, 20 x 30, 8 x 30, 500 x 4, 20 x 4, 8 x 4, and add those answers together).
This method helps with understanding place value, and, the numbers' relationship with one another.  It doesn't come logically for some of us who learned it the traditional way, because we never saw the value and function of place values in these operations.  We just did as we were told to do, and we knew those answers would come out correctly.  But to break them down and understand them means true knowledge of how those numbers operate in solving a multiplication problem.

That's how I came across the lattice multiplication method -- from the online tutorial.  And that's when I thought, wow, EM is awesome.  That is not to say that I will do multiplication this way from now on.  I will probably always do it the traditional way (just like I still recite my multiplication table in Chinese, since that's how I memorized it).  But it is a different way to tackle the problem, as is the partial-product method.  Not only do these methods build up to the traditional method, one of these methods is going to make sense for a child.  For some children, the traditional method may not make sense right away.  And that is why I believe a variety of strategies is useful for teaching children how math works.  And what about making kids really confused with all these methods, you ask?  Well, that's why teachers and parents are there to help.  After all, if you go from point A to point C skipping point B, how well can you truly understand point C?

If you think about it, the traditional way is really a 'short cut'.  If you do it carefully, abiding all the rules, you will get the right answer.  But if you understand the partial-product method, you really understand what multiplying those numbers mean.  When a child understands that, then using the short cut, or traditional method, is much more meaningful.  Moreover, the lattice method, when you dissect it, is essentially the traditional method that, put onto a grid, better allocates the numbers in a spatial way as not to confuse columns when adding.  But for the math geek in me, it is absolutely fascinating!

As for myself, I know that there are certain topics in middle and high school math that I am still unsure of (problem solving with ratios and percentages), and that is because I never truly understood the mathematical concepts behind them.  And those physics problems about one train traveling at one speed in one direction and another train at another speed in the opposite direction?  I still cannot solve those problems because I missed some key concept somewhere in math to understand it in physics.

Some grownups do not like Everyday Mathematics because it teaches different methods and roundabout ways to get to the answer.  But I think these grownups have used the traditional way for so long and it's so ingrained in them that the conceptual way doesn't 'ring a bell' because that understanding was never there in the first place.  But while I will continue to use the traditional method to multiply, I am happy that DD has learned the partial-product method so that when she eventually exclusively uses the traditional method, she will know where it came from.  Faster and easier is just doing the math; understanding why it's faster and easier is building a firm foundation in mathematical number sense.

So this is what I believe mathematics learning should be for children:
  • learning a variety of strategies to solve problems makes the connections necessary to fully understand number operations and problem solving.
  • applying math in everyday situations connects numbers to real life problems. 
  • a combination of math facts (from memorization) and math concepts (understanding number sense) is the best way to build a strong mathematical foundation. 

Lattice multiplication, I didn't have the privilege to meet you until thirty-eight years of age, but you and your 'posse' have allowed me to see the beauty in teaching and learning mathematics in a different and better way.  Even though I learned about Everyday Mathematics way back in grad school, this -- meeting you -- is my 'real life situation' where I truly understood the benefits of this curriculum.  And although I won't be using you for solving multiplication problems, you are still magical and fascinating to me.  Your presence has enlightened me in ways only a math geek can understand. 

Sincerely,
Me

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dear Best Toys


Dear Best Toys,

Children love toys, whether young or old,
Since toys of any kind, to them is gold.
They long to visit the Big Toy Store,
With aisles and aisles of novelties galore. 
There's toys for babies, toys for teens,
For boys and girls all ages in between.
Action figures of brave Superheroes,
Stacked next to boxes of City Legos.
Playskool, Leapfrog, Fisher Price fun,
Check out Sodor trains one by one.
Fashion Barbies glittering with color,
My Little Petshop playhouse wonder.
Sometimes faced with all these choices,
Children get inundated with too many voices:
"Pick me, choose me, take me home!"
Thus begins the Indecisive Syndrome.

We leave empty-handed, but that's okay;
Mama has a grand plan for the rest of the day.
In the kitchen she enthusiastically pulls out
All her plastic containers and spreads them about.
Out of her drawers she gets wooden spoons
And rolling pins, and then begins a silly tune:
"You can pat-a-cake, my Lady and Man,
Or make me a feast as best as you can.
Take my order, beginning with a drink,
I want something thick, bubbly, and pink.
For appetizer, I'd like Monster Toes,
Followed by the fabulous entree I chose:
Squiggly noodles stewed with fish balls,
And make it quick, before the night falls.
For dessert, I'd like Ooey-Gooey Volcano Pie,
'Cause it's my favorite, so don't ask me why.
Oh, and don't forget the very best ingredient:
Your Love Sprinkles, so they'll taste brilliant!"

My Lady and Man begin their work,
On the kitchen floor they show their quirk.
One takes care of the dine-in orders,
While the other, take-outs and tenders. 
They stir and mix and pour and mash,
And make change with pretend coins for cash.
Man cooks stew and adds pepper and salt,
While Lady blends me a creamy strawberry malt.
As they play with awesome free toys,
Mama sits back and thoroughly enjoys.
She watches the kids play with Imagination,
And marvels at the awesome cooking action.
Because all the items on Toy Store's shelves,
Cannot make her children happier selves,
Than on Mama's wooden kitchen floor,
With all her cooking utensils that they utterly adore. 

Sincerely,
Mama

Friday, February 17, 2012

Dear Favorite Picture Books


Dear Favorite Picture Books,

You have been an integral part of my life for over eight years.  We have accrued massive amounts of children's books, from board books to picture books to chapter books.  Books are the one things that we rarely say no to when the kids ask to buy them.  We share that trait as a family: our love for books.

We started reading to Dear Daughter when she was 3-months-old.  She was flipping board book pages at 6 months of age.  By age three, she was reading reciting entire Charlie and Lola books -- her favorites at the time -- from memory.  (It's amazing what little brains can accomplish.)  When Dear Son came along, Daddy took over bedtime stories duty with DD, and continued to feed her the joy of listening to stories.  After she learned how to read, the pair of them would still read together on her bed, each with his and her own book, every single night.

I didn't start reading to Dear Son until he was around 9-months-old.  He just was not that interested in cardboard-like objects with some pictures and scribbles on them before then, since 'getting to places' seemed much more appealing for my ever-moving child.  But since it started, it hasn't stopped.  Every. Single. Night.  I have a love-hate relationship with bedtime stories.  In the hour leading up to the kids' bedtime, there is nothing more I want than for them to BE ASLEEP.  Yet I know that there is no escaping those few books before DS goes to bed.  I have read some books so many times that even I can recite entire books with my eyes closed.  Seriously.  Pinkalicious cannot eat one more pink cupcake, and Pigeon can just stop pestering me about driving that bus.

So I took at glance at all our picture books, and compiled a Top Ten list of my favorites.  Not the kids' favorites, since I have limited affinity towards superhero and Pokemon books.  Each time I read these books, I find great comfort in knowing that those words and pictures not only enlighten children, but also tickle the hearts of the kids in us grownups.

10. Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boyton.  This is one of the first books we read to both kiddos.  They always laughed at the way I said 'ooops', and it was a wonderful journey on my part to observe when the kiddos really understood the humor of the book.  It requires knowledge of colors, names of clothing, differences, and the concept of irony to 'get it'.  And this book was a great way to teach all of those things.  The turkey is different and unique, but we love him all the same.  #sillyturkey

9. The Hidden Alphabet and Lemons Are Not Red by Laura Viccaro Seeger.  These are not your ordinary 2-D books.  These flip-books are visually stunning.  Seeger's ingenious die-cut illustrations make learning the alphabet and colors fun and exciting.  Best of all, the grownup reading it will not bore easily.  I just looked at her newest book, One Boy, and that one looks like a winner, too!  #forvisuallearners

8. Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore! by David M. McPhail.  We got this book for DD when she was in her 'pig' phase.  Hilarious story and illustrations with amusing rhymes make this book a perfect bedtime story.  Unless you dream about hungry, messy, and plentiful pigs in your house!  #idreamofbacon

7. Olivia by Ian Falconer.  Another pig book for DD, although she probably cannot appreciate it as much as I do.  You see, DD's favorite color as a toddler was red.  I had to 'move the cat' on a daily basis (back when ours was alive and fat).  And the bedtime storybook bargaining conversation is so spot-on I cannot help but sigh with resignation each time I read it.  And by God, my children WEAR ME OUT.  #reallyforgrownups

6. Duck and Goose by Tad Hills.  I love the simple and endearing illustrations of Duck and Goose in this book; some of their expressions are priceles!  The juvenile bickering sounds a little too familiar to what parents get to hear on a daily basis, so reading it to children almost seems like poetic justice.  This story of how two poultry friends learn to get along is tender and heartwarming.  #backpeddlingcontest

5. Mouse Mess by Linnea Asplind Riley.  This book features awesome rhymes and great storytelling by a little mouse who rummages through a kitchen at night.  The action is so vivid that you can almost hear the crackling sound of corn flakes and feel the warm water soaking between your own toes.  #iwanttobethatmouse

4. I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed by Lauren Child.  This one from the Charlie and Lola series is one of my favorite.  I love reading this book with my not-quite-perfect British accent as I imitate its cartoon characters, complete with Charlie's ever-so-patient pleading and Lola's ever-so-clever whining.  #siblingloverocks

3. My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza.  The ultimate book of irony, this book keeps me laughing each and every time I read it.  A pig tricks a fox into feeding him, bathing him, and massaging him, and he gets to take dessert home.  I love this book as much as I love watching my kiddos act out the scenes between the piglet and Mr. Fox, complete with finger massaging action and belly-giggles.  #outsmartingthebully

2. A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker.  The persistent and clever way a mouse wins his way into stubborn Bear's heart is melodramatic yet brilliant.  I read Bear's dramatic exclamations, "Begone!" "Vamoose!" and "Impossible, insufferable, and intolerable" as theatrical and expressive as possible, which means I'm always holding back from giggling myself.  The three subsequent books about Bear and Mouse by Becker are just as wonderful.  #iliketwolumpsofsugartoo

1. Someday by Alison McGhee.  Truthfully, I don't think this is a book for children, but rather, a book for moms with little girls.  The words and pictures of the book can literally make eyes well up with tears on cue.  My Dear Husband gave this book to me (to read to DD) a few years ago.  After welling up on cue, the note DH wrote at the end of the book to me turned me into a slobbery mess.  #wheresthekleenx

Each night, when we bargain decide on how many books to read, I keep reminding myself how important this is.  I know that reading and repetition are vital to early skills in literacy.  They are vital to future skills in literacy.  I have no doubt that all that reading we did is part of why DD's reading level is where it is.  Thus is why I schlep along every night and try to cure Hiccupotamus, make sure Kitten finds her bowl of milk in the light of the full moon, and sing in syncopated rhythm about my fingers and thumbs.

So, Favorite Picture Books, on nights that take every ounce of will and energy I can muster to verbalize a few books, you are what keeps me going.  Thank you for keeping our bedtime stories alive and well with wit, humor, rhymes, excitement, drama, theatrics, and most of all, the beginning to a lifelong love of reading.

Sincerely,
Me

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dear Met


Dear Met,

On this day of hearts and roses, I pay tribute to one of my favorite screenplays about you with one of my own.


*****

     FADE IN

1    DOCUMENTARY FOOTAGE

of a COUPLE, a MAN and a WOMAN, sitting in a loveseat.  They’re looking straight at the camera.

MAN
We met in college.  We lived in the same dorm our freshman year. 

WOMAN
I lived on the fourth floor.  He lived on the sixth floor.  We never spoke to each other the entire first semester.

MAN
We’d see each other in the cafeteria, hallways, or on campus.  Little did she know, she was my “girl on the roof.” 

WOMAN
You see, he and his friends played Truth or Dare once, and he was asked which girl he’d like to take up on the roof.

MAN
She finally spoke to me second semester.

WOMAN
I needed help with my Physics problem sets, so I went up to the sixth floor and to ask him for help.  Only to find out that he was seeing someone on his floor. 

MAN
That did not last long, and I never thought I stood a chance with her anyway.  She was the epitome of a sorority chick, and was always going to frat parties and such. 

WOMAN
I’ve no idea why that’s how I came across, except for I did date a frat dude at one time.  To set the record straight, I was never in a sorority, and I went to exactly three frat parties. 

MAN
My next chance was in OChem class first semester of sophomore year.  I’d sit a row or two behind her in a 500-seat lecture hall.  When I finally worked up the courage to sit next to her, I found out she was dating someone else.

WOMAN
Well, that didn’t last long, either.  But it was pretty obvious the spark we had between us.  He would bring me snacks I liked to eat in class, and I would offer to walk him to his next class.  So I waited, and waited, and waited for him to ask me out, after I made it clear that I was VERY SINGLE. 

MAN
We studied for our finals at the library every single day for 2 weeks. 

WOMAN
I had never looked forward to “studying at the library” as much as I did those few weeks.  'Cause really, there wasn’t that much studying going on.

MAN
(To Woman)
Hey, speak for yourself!

WOMAN
Well, at least I passed OChem that semester!

MAN
Point taken.  I was more involved in what snacks to bring for her at the library than memorizing SN-1 and SN-2 reactions.

WOMAN
It took him three entire semesters to ask me out... on the day before we both left to go home for winter break.  
          (Beat)
Talk about timing!

MAN
I’m a little slow.  Men are a little slow. 
(To Woman)
You’re supposed to wait for me, remember?

WOMAN
(To Man)
Yes, I remember.  
(Back to camera)
Three years later, he took me up on the roof of my apartment, and got down on one knee.

MAN
It was a gravel-lined roof.  I still remember how much my poor knee hurt. 

WOMAN
That’s because he gave me quite a speech about how slow he is and how he’d been thankful that I waited for him, and how I’ll need to wait for him for the rest of our lives. 

MAN
I’m glad she waited.

WOMAN
And I did finally become “his girl on the roof.”

FADE OUT

TO BE CONTINUED…


*****


Incidentally, WOMAN is also high-maintenance, although she knows it and is proud of it.  She also takes all her condiments on the side.  MAN's all-time favorite band is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and thus the following song became MAN and WOMAN's song: Should I Fall Behind.




In case you were wondering, WOMAN still has to wait for MAN all the time


*****


So, Met, am I glad that you bring couples together so that they have a story to tell!  And for the rest of you screenplay geeks, I found what seems to be the original copy hereOne of my all-tme faves.

Happy Valentine's Day, says WOMAN to her MAN!

Sincerely,
Me

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dear Oven Broiler


Dear Oven Broiler,

As you are a fast way to cook tender meats, you are an alternative to outdoor grilling.  Although I don't use you as a substitute for outdoor grilling (since I don't like to fill my house with food-permeated smoke), I do rely on your for one specific dish that I make: miso-glazed salmon.  Keyword: glazed.

I don't actually remember how this recipe came about, since I just mix all the marinade ingredients by eye.  In fact, I had to go estimate amounts of ingredients just to write this post (thus I do take credit for this recipe).  But I'm pretty sure it's inspired from The Cheesecake Factory's Miso Salmon dish, although my recipe has a heavier, stronger soy flavor.  I always pair this dish with steamed broccoli and rice on our dinner table, and it's always a winner.  It's quick, easy, nutritious, and best of all, very yummy. 

Ingredients:
  • salmon fillet sections, cut into widths of your choice (I usually do 5 pieces, 1.5 to 2 inches wide)
  • 1/3 cup of soy sauce
  • 1 rounded tbsp of miso paste (fermented soybean paste found in Asian stores)
  • 3 tbsp of sugar
  • large zipper bag
  • steam broccoli (or any vegetable of choice)
  • rice
  • Love Sprinkles
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place oven rack in the middle position.
  2. To make marinade, mix soy sauce, miso paste, and sugar in a small bowl.
  3. Place salmon fillets in a large zipper bag and pour in marinade.  Marinade for at least one hour.  Flip the bag a few times to ensure even "marinading."
  4. Line a baking sheet with tin foil. Place marinaded fish fillet on baking sheet over foil.  Drizzle some leftover marinade on fish.  Discard the rest of the marinade.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.  Check for doneness.
  5. Remove baking sheet from oven.  Change oven rack to highest position and turn oven to "broil" (which is 500 degrees with heat from top of the oven).
  6. (Do NOT skip this step).  Replace the tin foil with a new sheet under the fish filets.  (Or else the sauce WILL burn and you will smell smoke for days in the house).  
  7. Place fish under the boiler for 1.5 to 2 minutes.  DO NOT walk away.  If you must walk away, set a timer (and do NOT ignore the timer when it goes off).  Broil until there is a shiny, bubbly, and crispy glaze on the salmon filets.  This is what makes the dish.
  8. (Before and during baking, cook rice and steam broccoli.  Season broccoli with garlic salt or salt to taste.  Don't forget to toss in your Love Sprinkles while you're cooking.)
The oven broiler's high heat caramelizes the sugar in the marinade, which alters the surface texture, creating a nice contrasting crunch to the tender fish underneath.  So you will have some yummy-smelling miso-glazed salmon in the air for the night.  Since the glazing time is so short, I don't mind so much since it all dissipates by the next day.  I don't grill this particular dish because I want the filets to look perfect, and fish is too delicate to grill on the outdoor grill.  Plus, the glaze needs to be beautiful on top of the fish, not underneath.

My Dear Daughter will eat the entire plate of food as shown in the picture (that is her placemat, by the way).  That's how much she loves it.  My Dear Son likes his broccoli diced and salmon chopped and mixed in with his rice, and all he has to do is scoop with a spoon to eat all the food.  He'll eat a salad bowl-sized amount, which, compared to his normal food intake amount, is more than enough to make a very happy Mommy.

(By the way, if you like mayonnaise, and would like to try a variation of this miso salmon, substitute the soy sauce with mayonnaise, and spoon a thin layer of the mixture on top of the fish before baking and broiling.  The few times I've made this was on the outdoor grill -- not my preferred way -- atop tin foil.  This recipe offers a different miso flavor, as well as a nice change from the salty soy marinade.)

So, oven broiler, you have a very special bond with my miso-glazed salmon dish.  Other meat recipes that call for you unfortunately get the outdoor treatment.  Only the exquisite, orange-fleshed beauties have the privilege of transforming into a fine dinner with your help.  And only your superior heating ability and stable environment is perfect for rendering a nutritious meal high in proteins and omega-3 oils.  You two are a perfect pairing.

Bon appetit!

Sincerely,
Me

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dear Lost, and Found


Dear Lost, and Found,

Eliciting two completely different feelings, you are the epitome of an opposite that toys with one's heart.  Like the time I realized I had lost a silicone baking cup, or recently when I noticed I had lost a lid for the most-used size of a Pyrex food container, or when I remembered that a gift card worth $18 was in an envelope that disappeared when I had my handbag mishap.  None of these had a happy ending.  Lost.  Gone.  Forever.  But here's a related story that actually has a happy ending.  Well, sort of.

*****

It was their fifth wedding anniversary.  He presented her with a little beautifully wrapped box from Expensive Jewelry Store.  It was her first pair of diamond stud earrings, in platinum, with screw-on earring backs.  Squealing with giddy delight, she put them on, never intending to take them off.  After all, those screw-on earring backs are supposed to ensure that they stay securely attached to her earlobes, right?

She wore her earrings proudly for about a year.  Then, while on vacation in The Sin City, she noticed, on the morning of their flight back home, that one earring back was missing.  Luckily, the earring itself stayed in the earlobe, just ever so threatening to fall out.  Panicked, she started looking around the hotel room.  Miraculously, she spotted the the shiny metallic earring back on the cheap hotel carpet by one leg of the night stand on her side of the bed.  She retrieved it, kissed it, put it back on, and marveled at how they had just a few minutes to spare before leaving for the airport.  Seriously, what were the odds of finding that tiny piece of metal that could have fallen out anywhere, anytime, anyhow?

Thus started her downward spiral into an obsessive and compulsive check of her earring backs regularly, and sometimes, daily.  A few times she actually caught the earring backs just before they were going to fall off from having somehow unscrewed themselves.

Fast forward nine more years.  Just after having worn the earrings for ten years, she lost one earring back, for good.  She had just stepped out of the shower, and realized that one earring back was gone.  Although very upset about the earring back, she was extremely grateful that the earring stayed in her earlobe during the shower, since the drain openings were quite large.  She searched high and low in her house, under beds, furniture, on every square inch of their tile and wood floors, and meticulously vacuumed all carpeting, waiting to hear that hopeful "clink."  But there was no clink.  There was only ever hair, dust, and garbage in the vacuum cleaner.   She concluded that the earring back went down the shower drain. 

And so, she gave up.  She first lamented over having worn that small piece of metal for a decade.  Then she called Expensive Jewelry Store for a replacement.  They would be happy to send her a replacement, of course, for a payment of Exorbitant Amount (because it has Expensive Jewelry Store logo engraved on its platinum self).  She begrudgingly forked over Exorbitant Amount because it would still cost less than buying a new pair of earrings (well, and for sentimental reasons).  The replacement earring back came in the mail in a little beautifully wrapped box just like the original one.  Life is back to normal; the world is good again.  Except the earring back check escalated into hourly.

One month later, she had come into her warm home from the icy cold outdoors, unwrapped her scarf from her neck, and then heard a little "clink."  She gasped when she saw the same, replaced earring back on the wood floor.  Since the time between 'lost' and 'found' was so short, however, she didn't dwell on it.  Except her fingers then began touch the back of her earlobes all the time

Another two weeks passed.  One day, after having worn a turtleneck sweater all day, she undressed to shower, and in the mirror, one of her earrings looked as if it was about to fall out.  And sure enough, that godforsaken earring back was GONE.  The one she paid Exorbitant Amount for.  Expletives exploded in her head, followed by pangs of anger and frustration.  She reenacted taking off that sweater again.  She got on her hands and knees and searched, full well knowing that it was probably gone, again, forever.  If it rubbed on the turtleneck sweater all day long, it could have fallen out anytime, anywhere, anyhow.  She took out the earring, put it away sadly, and wondered if she should send the pair of earrings off on vacation since they were causing her too much uninvited stress, and she certainly was not going to pay another Exorbitant Amount for yet another replacement earring back. 

After showering, she decided to give it one last shot.  She took a flashlight and walked downstairs with a heavy heart.  In less than thirty seconds, she let out a shocking scream.  There, embedded in her cream colored, uneven Berber carpet at the edge of the living room floor, a dark spot caught her eyes.  She shone the light onto it, and there laid that tiny piece of precious metal.  Really, what are the chances?

Vowing to never have to be on her hands and knees again searching for lost earring backs, she searched for an answer.  And apparently there exists such things as plastic safety earring backs for keeping fish hook earrings from falling out.  If she places one of those behind the slippery screw-ons, she may have just found a perfect solution. 

*****

See?  Sort of a happy ending.  I know, this was not an extraordinary or profound story involving the loss and recovery of one's sanity or happiness, nor is it a dramatic or gut-wrenching loss and found anecdote of a loved one.  This loss is almost inconsequential.  But sometimes the little things in life makes it possible for us to accomplish grander things in life.  LIKE FINDING A SOLUTION TO MAKE SURE SCREW-ON EARRING BACKS NEVER UNSCREW THEMSELVES EVER AGAIN.

So, Lost, and Found, together you make us realize how important our prized possessions are to us.  Losing stuff means parting with things unexpectedly, and finding them again means getting a second chance at keeping them.  Second chances don't always come by easily.  And when I'm given third and fourth chances, I know that -- in the words of Maria (soon to be) Von Trappe-- I must have done something good.

Sincerely,
Me

P.S. UPDATE: Here is a picture of the earring safety back.  She may be able to rest easy now, since they work really well!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Dear Passive Fundraisers


Dear Passive Fundraisers,

For Dear Son's preschool PTO this year, I am in charge of you, also known as 'those labels you cut to send to school'.  These include Box Top Labels, Labels for Education, Coke Rewards, and Tyson's A+ (as well as empty ink cartridges for recycling).  This is a way for these corporations to give back to our schools, and also a way for their products to shout, "Buy Me!"  Here are my Top Ten Passive Fundraiser Insanity Highlights:

10. No matter how many times I tell Dear Husband which boxes NOT to throw away before I cut the $#@% labels, he never remembers. #maritalstress

9. I have a stack of recycled ink cartridges as tall as I sitting in my garage because I have been too lazy to find out what I'm supposed to do with them to get some cash for our school. #whensthelastdayofschool

8. Coke Rewards makes you type in a 14 digit/letter code from box packagings or bottle caps on its website to earn points for redeeming catalog items. #iwenttocollegeforthis

7. I must touch those sticky bottle caps that may have been recapped after someone drank from the bottle. #germalicious

6. Getting bags and bags of labels from preschool parents is like I'm going to preschool all over again. #endlesssortingactivity

5. I re-cut most labels because they look like canines/felines cut them out. #myocdatwork

4. Meeting a point-redemption deadline with hundreds of labels to glue onto gridded sheets is so much fun. #wannajoinme

3. I now have a love-hate relationship with products that have a 'label' on them. #tobuyornottobuy

2. The undeniable realization of how much work it requires to get how little back. #iamnotalone

1. To earn that extra 50 points on the Bonus Collection sheet, I will drive out to the store and buy the one missing product just to clip the label for it. #becauseimaSUCKA

And I'm sure that's when these corporations are smiling smugly at me, thinking: Yep!  That's the point!  But we still schlep along and do this, because who benefits?  Our schools and our children.  I guess that's when we parents turn a blind eye to this insanity and call it a symbiotic -- or mutually beneficial -- relationship with these corporations.

Is this what we are supposed to do, Passive Fundraisers, or am I just kidding myself?

Sincerely,
Me