Hearing God in the Wind and the Waves

A totally different world, that is the best way to describe it. Living in the United States, we have no concept of structures that are 500-1000 years old. But there we were, driving through a city in which you can be in a modern office building and walk across the street to a Gothic Cathedral or an ancient Roman wall that was built before the Spanish Inquisition. Imagine seeing a wall still standing that was built-in the 1300’s or a Cathedral that still holds mass and has been standing for 563 years. That would be our life for almost a year as my husband took a job implementing a software system near Barcelona, Spain.

I will never forget the day we left. Our children were 3-years and 5-years old at the time. It was the Saturday before Easter and we were getting ready for the biggest, most daring adventure that we could imagine. We tried to keep everything a normal as possible for the children. We took them to the annual Easter Egg Hunt in our community and then came home for lunch. Our bags were already packed, two per person and our carry-on bags. It was an overnight flight with hopes that the children would sleep through the majority of the trek overseas. The children got a bubble bath with bubbles overflowing and then put in clothes that were comfortable enough to sleep.

We would need to be at the airport by 5:00 pm for our 6:00 pm flight. Needing to leave home by 4:15 pm, my nerves were starting to show and I felt jittery all over. Would we be able to adapt to living in a foreign country? Would I find any friends? Would the children fit in to their new surroundings? I took French in college, would I be able to learn Spanish and communicate well? These were just a few of many questions I had. But there was no way that I would outwardly show my fear. I needed to be strong…

As we drove through the downtown area of Barcelona, tall buildings towering over us (we made a wrong turn and were lost), we drove past statues celebrating, or in memoriam, of someone or something. We would eventually have the time to learn about all of those statues but that night, we just wanted to get to the flat. We had left home 19 hours earlier and we were dealing with a seven hour time difference. As we drove past the Barcelona Zoo, I remember thinking how appropriate it was that this adventure begins on our 12th anniversary, the other great adventure of my life.

Finally we arrived to our flat. It was beautiful, the 5th floor of a six floor apartment building. We would live across the street from a high school on one side, a garden nursery on another side and the Mediterranean Sea was our balcony view. In fact, we were only 200 meters from the sea. In the evening we could sit out and look at the cruise ship lights in the distance and hear the crash of the waves. (This becomes significant in my story.)

Because we knew that our stay in Spain was temporary, we took as much free time as we could to visit the sights, see all we could see. My husband worked long hours and many times he left before the children were awake and home after they were in bed. As we would arrive in the spring, the children and I would have adventures during the day or go to the beach or pool and many trips to the zoo. They would eventually go to an English/Catalan school but the spring/summer was ours.

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Lessons from the past

Council Bluffs, IA. 1931

Council Bluffs, IA. 1931

“The more things change, the more they stay the same”, I do not know who said that, but the more I delve into the past, the more I realize the truthfulness in those words.

I have been saying for years that it is going to  be hard to take all of the bad that has been happening in the world and make our world a more innocent place. I keep hoping that somehow, someway, future generations will not have to be faced with so much, in-your-face, death, destruction and promiscuity. Sometimes I see the light of hope but for the most part, I think that the future has a lot to be desired. And then….I see something from the past that makes me think, “The more things change…”

Eighty-two years ago this year, my grandmother graduated from high school. The year was 1931 and the United States was in a depression. Thomas Edison died, and Pearl Buck‘s “The Good Earth” was the best-seller of the year. While times were not easy, I often think that things were much simpler and the world didn’t have near the problems of today. Maybe I should say that I thought things were much easier until I started going through my grandmother’s things.

When she died twenty years ago, I was the recipient of all of her cookbooks (probably 500) and when my grandfather died seven years ago, I received all of the photographs to archive and any other papers, books,  and magazines of interest.Scan10066

One of the things that I just recently reviewed was my grandmother’s graduation journal. There wasn’t much in it, a few names, a couple of photos and a couple of newspaper articles. I found out that her class colors were red and gold. The class flower was the American Beauty Rose and the class motto was: “They conquer who believe they can.” There was nothing on the pages for ‘dances and parties’ or ‘clubs and societies’. So that will remain a mystery to me.

One of the articles was about the Baccalaureate ceremony that was held in her town of Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Sunday, May 31. Grandma wrote that Martha Klotz was her partner for walking down the aisle to be seated for the address. The headline of the newspaper article was “COOPER PREACHES TO A.L. SENIORS” Under the headline, the drop-headline read, “DECLARES WORLD IS CALLING FOR PURITY, CONSECRATION, SACRIFICE.” Below that headline there was a third headline “CITES BIBLE EXAMPLES”.

(As a clarification in case you do not know, a baccalaureate address is a church service for the graduating seniors and their families. When I graduated our baccalaureate was for the four high schools in my community. I do know that my community, where I live now, does not offer a baccalaureate address. I do not know if it is held in any communities anymore with all of this political correctness and separating schools and churches.)

“The world is calling for separation, purity, consecration and sacrifice as portrayed by Abraham, Joseph, Saul of Tarsus and Jesus, more loudly than it did in biblical times, Rev. Francis E Cooper, pastor of the First Baptist church told members of the Abraham Lincoln high school graduating class at the baccalaureate services held at the Broadway theater Sunday morning.

‘Our worth in life will be measured not by our personal happiness but by our personal service, he said.'”

Rev. Cooper went on to compare the above mentioned men of the Bible to the character traits also mentioned above: Abraham with separation, Joseph with purity, Saul (Apostle Paul) consecrated to service and Jesus to sacrifice.

The end of the article has Cooper urging students, “You students are going out in the world with your soul in your hands. Remember the law of Christ.”

While I understand that we are not a world of Christians, I think we can all agree that there are lessons that come from a faith/religion that apply to all people’s no matter what their faith. Can we all agree that the premise of the Ten Commandments is good? Do we not want to teach our children not to lie, not to steal, not to kill, etc…? I think if we look passed the fact that the laws came from Moses, who received them from God, we should be able to agree that they are good rules in which to live.

Reverend Cooper did not go into details as to why he felt he needed to deliver the words that he did. I can only imagine that he felt that there was too much promiscuity and too many other things happening that broke the Laws of Moses. I have to think that he felt our world was “going to hell in a hand basket”.

I wish I would have seen this book when my grandmother was alive so I would have had the chance to ask her about it. I wish I would have taken the time to get to know more about her when she was in high school; what was her life like? What challenges did her generation face? Sadly, all of the members of my family from that generation are dead. There is so much that I will never know.

While I still wonder what life is going to be like in the future. While I still worry that we have taken so many steps towards a life without following the Ten Commandments. I can rest assured that Rev. Cooper probably felt the same way that I felt. Because of this, I have hope.

I know that my husband and I are raising our children to follow the Ten Commandments and grow to be great adults, just like my grandparents raised my parents and the way my parents raised me. I pray that my children do the same, so that there is hope in this world, that in the end, goodness wins out.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” There are challenges in every generation to test the character of individuals. And while there are some that fail, it is obvious that over three generations of my family history, goodness has won and we walk in the confidence that we are living our lives with personal service in mind, which gives us great happiness.

While she was not Baptist, I think Rev. Cooper would have been pleased with how Jessie Fogle (maiden name) lived her life and taught service to the future generations of her family.

I am a Foodie/Am I a Foodie?

I am a foodie. Or am I? Food evokes wonderful memories for me. Everything about food fascinates me. I relish in learning how foods are prepared, the background/history of a recipe and the experience of a new taste. I also am a food snob sometimes. I hate it when a person tries to place their recipe or restaurant in a category that just doesn’t fit. But….they think that some are not well-educated and they think they can get away with their deceit (that explanation later).

I am in no way a gourmet but I do appreciate the finer foods of life. When I have people over for dinner, I try to make a meal that will be memorable for them. I do try to stay away from traditional Midwest cooking, the standard rump roast with potatoes and carrots or chicken and noodles over mashed potatoes. While those are foods I will make for my family, I try to be more creative with guests.

This propensity may come from my upbringing. My grandmother and mother were/are great cooks. New recipes were always just a meal away. When my grandmother died, I was chosen to be in charge of all of her cookbooks. I now have hundreds of cookbooks in my home just waiting for me to peruse. I am to look through them to make sure there are no side bar notes in recipes or loose leaf recipes in the pages. My problem is I want to look at every recipe and see which ones I want to keep.

Family dinners were always something to which I looked forward.  In my family, there were certain foods that were only made during certain holidays. We only get creamed pearl onions on Thanksgiving. Same for mashed sweet potatoes with pineapple. A full turkey was only roasted at Thanksgiving and “real” ham (bone in smoked) was only done at Christmas. Pumpkin pie…only at Thanksgiving.

When I became an adult and was married, my husband and I began our own food traditions. Some from my childhood were gone away. Others were created. For instance, we usually purchase more than one turkey at Thanksgiving so we have one in the freezer for a later roast (or smoke), likewise with ham. No one time a year, for us. Same goes for pumpkin pie, we have it when we want. There are just some foods that are too good to have only once a year. If my family like creamed onions, I would make them. As it is, I have made them only once in the eleven years that we have celebrated Thanksgiving in our home. My husband likes sweet potatoes whole with brown sugar and butter only. No fancy, mashed with pineapple, sweet potato for him. That is fine. While I do like what I grew up eating, I am also fine with undoctored sweet potatoes.

When we were first married, we split our fall/winter holidays. If we spent Thanksgiving with one side of family, we spent Christmas with the other. Our small family started celebrating Thanksgiving with just us when we lived in Spain. We liked the time together and found that, after moving home, we missed not having that intimate time to celebrate in our own home. While we have never limited the number of guests in our home at Thanksgiving, we do not go to someone else’s home. There are some years when there are just four of us. Other years may find 8-10 celebrating.

Now I get back to my food snob designation. We lived in Spain just under a year. But in that time, our life was greatly impacted and changed forever. I cannot speak for my other family members, but I found that I am truly a Spaniard at heart. When I am here, I long to live in Spain. When I am in Spain, I do not long to be back here. I often tell my husband that if he dies before me, I will move to Spain.

We immersed ourselves in the Spanish life. Our children went to a local, private school, not an American school. We lived in a Spanish community, learned the language, ate the native food, ate fast food only rarely and learned as much as we could about the history of Spain while we lived there. For all intense purposes, I became Spanish. I actually have a hard time saying Spanish, because we lived in Catalunya where the language is Catalan and it is rather different from most of Spain. (for those of you who do not know, Barcelona is in Catalunya. We lived about 26 km up the coast from Barcelona)

When we moved home, we looked for Spanish wine, Spanish food, anything Spanish and it was not to be found. As the years passed from our life there, Spanish things began to show up in our area. We were so excited when a Spanish restaurant opened in Omaha. We went there one night and found out that the owner had an uncle that owned a restaurant in Catalunya. In fact, my husband would eat there every week on the day they served paella. We had a wonderful time. It was so good that when friends, who lived an hour away from Omaha, came to visit, we made reservations.

We made early reservations so they could get home to their young children at a decent hour. About an hour before we were to arrive at the restaurant, someone calls and says that we had reservations but that we would have to give up our table after an hour! That is unheard of in Spain! Once you are at a table, for the most part, it is yours. In Spain, an evening meal will last up to 4 hours and we had less than an hour to eat (taking into consideration the time to prep the food). I explained to the person that was not the Spanish way and how could they expect us to enjoy a traditional Spanish meal in an hour. They said they didn’t care and we would have to relinquish our table after an hour. I got know where with the manager either, so needless to say, we did not honor that reservation and never went back with that owner. We went back under new ownership and the food was just not that good so now we have never been back.

Years after that fiasco, a lounge opened that touted that they served tapas. My anticipation for a true tapas bar was dashed when I went online and looked at their menu. Now if you say tapas, you should think Spanish, just like when you see an Italian restaurant, you would think pasta. Not the case, this “tapas” bar had french fries, nachos, chicken wings on their tapas menu. Those are not tapas, those are appetizers. As someone who lived in Spain, I can tell you that I never went to a tapas bar that had nachos or chicken wings on their menu. Their menu would have pan con tomate (bread with tomato), aceitunas (olives) almendras (almonds), numerous types of fish/seafood but not nachos! I really was concerned that people in the area would actually think that what they were getting was tapas. Their definition of tapas did not give a proper representation of the true experience. I frankly, was offended.

That is how I knew that I had become a food snob. I believe that if you say that you represent a certain ethnic food, you should be loyal to that country. If you are Mexican, serve Mexican, not Tex-Mex. If you serve Tex-Mex, say so. You can have other items on the menu to appeal to the masses, but don’t say you are one thing and then not have it on the menu.

Maybe that is one reason why I have so many cookbooks because I want to be an informed cook. I would not say that I am a purest because there are many times that I make a modified ethnic food. My daughter says she loves my refrigerator Chinese. That is where I open the refrigerator and see what I have that is fresh and then stir fry it with rice, definitely not authentic Chinese. But I do not represent it as anything other than what it is, using what I have in the frig before it goes bad.

I think I have gotten myself into a food blog mindset so keep checking back for other thoughts on food or foods of thought. I already have streaming in my head thoughts of food from Spain, my “mini’s” theme on a Progressive Dinner in which I had the first course, cookies and oh the list could go on….

Latte’ for the day has no name. I combined some end of the bottle flavorings and ended up with chocolate, white chocolate, toasted marshmallow and coconut. Pretty tasty!

Good coffee on the cheap

I know that there are many of you out there that stop off at your favorite coffee shoppe, either chain or locally owned, and pick up your favorite latte as you head off to work. I have been a stay-at-home mom for years but love a good latte in the morning. Add to that I live in a housing development out-of-town, so it takes quite the effort to drive to town to get the venti, caramel macchiato, or almond joy latte to start my morning.

Through trial and error, I believe that I can make a comparable latte at home. It takes just a couple of things that you may or may not have around the house. If you want to have that coffee-house taste at home, continue reading.

You do not need an expensive espresso maker that has the steamer attached. My coffee is made with a $25.00 stove top espresso maker. I tend to like my coffee so I use a 16 oz. maker and make one BIG latte. The other thing you need is a milk frother. I have a Bodum Brand which costs $20.00. Those are you two major expenses – $45.00 – the cost of  6-8 venti lattes at your chain coffee shop. With those two items, and flavoring extract from your spice cabinet, the skies the limit.

I choose a nice, dark, coffee to brew. I do not purchase espresso. Most of my coffee is purchased through Gevalia so I use both beans and already ground, depending if I want a flavored coffee or a not. For a nice strong coffee use 3 Tbls. for 16 oz. of water. Put the maker on your burner, turn on the flame and wait for it to perk up. Now take you frother and add 8 oz. of skim milk (skim milk froths best). Put it in your microwave and heat it for approximately 2 minutes (you will get a feel for your own likes) I like my milk to have that almost scalded flavor. After it comes out of the microwave, put the lid (frother) on the container and froth away.

I like my lattes skinny so I use two packets of sweet n low to my drink which is the 16 oz. of coffee and the 8 oz. of milk.  (See photo of my cup) I like flavors so I get into my spice cabinet and choose from the numerous flavor extracts I have. My favorite is an Almond Joy. While you can use chocolate syrup, it will leave syrup on the bottom of the cup no matter how well you mix it. I prefer Watkins Chocolate Extract. (Watkins is the only company I can find that makes chocolate extract.) So, chocolate extract, almond extract and coconut extract. I put in the sweetener, the extract, the coffee and then the milk and froth. You can use any flavorings you want and if you want a nice summer drink, add ice.  One of my venti drinks (24 oz) sets my day off with alittlecaffeine, milk for my bones and a sweet way to start my day. 

While I don’t always know how many calories I am getting from the coffee shoppe lattes, I know exactly what goes into my coffee. The calorie count for my drink is less than 100 calories. There are basically no calories in the flavoring, sweetener or coffee. The only calories are in the milk and it tastes fabulous.

Most kitchen stores will have the stove top espresso maker and frother. And to find Watkins dealers in your area, go to watkinsonline.com. It is such an easy solution to saving money and having a great latte at your convenience.