more fabulous brunches

Seems I’m off on a tangent recently, posting about food non-stop. Blame it on the holidays. I’ve many more interests to address, but for now “’tis the season to be jolly”…and plumpy?

My daughter reminded me of a few other fabulous brunches. I’m hoping to entice you to try them some time. They require traveling, whether by plane or car, unless you’re lucky enough to have them in your own “back yard.”

The Halekulani Hotel on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu is my choice for buffet brunch, when I’m home visiting relatives. Offered only on Sundays, reservations are mandatory. Islanders and tourists alike line up for the gastronomical feast, so no amount of waiting for the tropical skies to align, will get you in without calling ahead for seating.

The setting alone will captivate your senses, ocean breezes wafting through the restaurant, gently touching your cheeks. Fragrant orchids and plumerias grace table settings and serving stations. Aromas from the bounteous variety of foods invite you to partake, quickly, before they all disappear, or so you think. At least that’s what I think.

While the usual, but not necessarily the exact, breakfast fare awaits you, like banana pancakes, portuguese sausage, roasted pig, bacon, rice, scalloped potatoes with cheese, sweet bread French toast, there’s also the “locals” favorites. There’s “poke”-raw tuna chunks in a seaweed, sea salt, vinaigrette; there’s “lomi-salmon” -salted salmon chunks mixed with diced tomatoes, sliced green onions, and chopped onions; there’s potato salad and macaroni salad prepared the island way; there’s a sushi spread; and an assortment of salads. Desserts will include another islander favorite, “haupia” cake, which is made with coconut milk. You will most definitely leave this island buffet sporting a full “opu,” the Hawaiian word for “belly.” As with most buffets, there’s no pressure to hurry. I make it a habit to sit back and dine leisurely, while staring out at the blue, Pacific waters. The view alone is worth the price; the amazingly yummy food is a bonus. Trust me, it’s all good!

The buffet brunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, had been our family’s Christmas Day tradition for several years. After attending Mass, we’d eagerly make our way to the elegant hotel and their, just as elegant, spread. The grand staircase leading from the spacious front lobby, brought us to the second floor balcony where our eyes rested upon, what seemed like, an endless row of tables covered with platters of delectable foods.

As soon as the waiter took our beverage orders, we made our way around the u-shaped balcony, deciding our plan of attack. Of course I always began with a plateful of shrimp and cocktail sauce. You’ve probably surmised that I’m not very adventurous when it comes to food. You’re right! I pretty much stick with the “tried and true.” I hate to be disappointed. As I’ve told my husband and daughter, “I don’t waste my calories on food I don’t enjoy.” It’d be another story if I was skinny.

While there wasn’t anything particularly extraordinary about the Four Season’s buffet brunch, we enjoyed it enough to make it part of our tradition each Christmas. One specific incident which won my loyalty was when we returned one year, and found that caviar was not offered as it had previously been. Our daughter’s favorite, she was disappointed, but managed just fine without. Knowing how she had looked forward to the delicacy, I asked our waiter about the omission. He apologized, disappeared into the kitchen, returning moments later, with the treasured caviar, and accompaniments. His surprise garnered huge smiles from all three of us, but most especially our daughter. Now that’s what I call excellent customer service!

On our first and only visit to Las Vegas, my husband, daughter and me felt like family sitting down to a meal with relatives at the Paris Hotel’s buffet brunch. I remember that the food was very good, although the ambiance was a little too cozy. While the spacious restaurant was like the village scene from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” tables, and bodies, were a little too close for comfort. But hey! This was Las Vegas, after all. “When in Paris…”

I think I’ve gotten food out of my system, for a short while, anyway. Would love to learn of any buffet brunches you might recommend, wherever they may be. We don’t travel like we did in the “good old days,” but we still manage to get around, now and then. As I like to say, “Getting old, doesn’t mean we’re dead.” Getting there, but not quite yet. What’s that cliche? “Mountains to climb, and something, something, before I sleep.” I can never get those sayings right.

had a green salad, a scoop of chicken salad, and grapes for dinner. all that talk of food made me full…hugmamma. now for some exercise…island style.

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buffet brunches, worth the money?

Our family has been to its share of buffet brunches, usually on special occasions, like Mother’s Day or someone’s birthday. If you’ve ever been to one, you’ll probably agree that leaving with “doggy bags” would be a great idea. And I don’t mean taking home your leftovers, I mean carting off platefuls of new servings of items you couldn’t get enough of at one sitting. But, of course, restaurant management might not be keen on people loading up on doggy bags for the next few days meals…at home.

Now there are buffets, and then there are BUFFETS! When my husband and I still lived in Honolulu, “many moons” ago, we frequented the Flamingo Restaurant’s “All you can eat” buffet. I’m sure it’s no longer around, the restaurant that is. I’m sure it was great, especially for local food, which I do miss though it’s been 30+ years since we’ve moved to the mainland. We use to remark that the ones who really got their money’s worth were football teams who ate at Flamingo’s after their games. Pity the restaurant owners who probably “lost” money those nights.

When we moved to Garden City, Long Island in New York, my husband and I found another eatery which served a great buffet. Just around the corner from our apartment, we’d walk there, mouths watering at the thought of eating as much shrimp as we could. I can still picture peeling off the pinkish-red shells, dunking them into spicy cocktail sauce, and shoving those tasty little critters into my mouth, whole. That and the prime rib, kept us going back time and again. 

Our favorite brunch here in the Seattle area is at Salty’s on Alki Bay. Walk, fly, or swim there. You won’t be disappointed. But make sure you bring along a healthy appetite. Remember, it’s “all you can eat,” there!  A long line of cars usually awaits, and then another line of people waiting to be called to their tables. How long, depends upon the day of the week, if it’s a holiday, if the weather’s good, and so on. Reservations are necessary. Getting in without one might be possible, if all the stars are aligned perfectly in the skies above.

The spread at Salty’s brunch buffet is heavenly, ranging from the usual breakfast fare, pancakes, french toast, scrambled eggs, sausages, ham, fruits, pastries, muffins, breads and hash browns. Then there’s the usual buffet offerings like carved roast beef, eggs benedict, and desserts. Other buffets might also offer pasta stations, which Salty’s does as well. What is the “piece de resistance,”  as far as I’m concerned, is their seafood table. There’s oysters-on-the-half shell, mussels, clams, CRABS LEGS, and all the shrimp you can eat! Now if I could only shovel loads full of these into doggy bags, I’d have died and gone to Heaven.

While Salty’s is incomparable here in the Pacific Northwest, my all-time favorite buffet brunch is at the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff, Canada. The hotel itself is a destination, a castle with turrets, winding staircases, banquet halls, even an armored knight on permanent display. While much of the hotel seems like the real thing with naturally dark, but well-lit corridors, one dining/lounging area boasts a panoramic view of the Canadian Rockies. When we’ve stayed at the Banff Springs, we made sure to take afternoon tea in that space, gazing out at God’s handiwork. 

While meals in any of the hotel’s eateries were scrumptious, none were as eye-catching or pleasing to the palate as its buffet brunch. Elegantly laid stations offered international food from Japan, China, Mexico, the UK, Italy and France. From soups, salads, appetizers to desserts and every imaginable type of entrée in-between, The Banff Springs Hotel aimed to please. Although attired in white jackets and black slacks or skirts, the waiters and waitresses were helpful and pleasant. As with Salty’s, reservations for this buffet brunch are recommended, unless you’re again fortunate to have the universe line up just right in the overhead, Canadian skies.

perhaps you’ll agree, buffet brunches are definitely worth lots of hugs, if not lots of money…hugmamma.

blogging, still mind-boggling

With our recent spate of inclement weather, blogging has not been smooth. My Comcast connection has been operating in “fits and starts.” Is that the right cliché? I can never nail those. One minute I’m typing away, churning out the words, then “poof,” I get kicked off the internet.

Lately I’ve been running between my laptop upstairs, and the household computer down here in the “bowels of the earth.” You’d think the exercise up and down stairs would’ve lost me a few pounds. But no luck, with the holidays comfortably ensconced upon me, there’s no let up in shoveling tasty morsels into my eager mouth throughout the day. Frustration only increases the number of times, and the portion sizes.

I’m writing to forewarn you about the regularity with which my posts may appear. I’m still here, but most of the time I seem to be blogging in isolation, that is until Comcast gets me back out into cyberspace. I do plan to call them today, and ask if there might be a problem. I wonder how many buttons I’ll have to press to get through their programmed customer service menu, to actually ask my question? I just wish the darned computer would work without any hitches. At times like this is when I feel like flinging it through the nearest window.

The other item I wanted to mention is the modification in my blog’s title. For regular readers who know that my site was known as “Hugmamma’s Attention to Detail,” you might have wondered “Whaaas up?” My lovely daughter and I put our pretty, little heads together is “whaaa happened.”

Maintaining a blog is an ongoing challenge, especially if I want to continue attracting readers. All bloggers face this dilemma. While remaining true to its core message, I must tweak my site every now and then, until it finally evolves into a product with which I’m fully satisfied.  I’m not there yet. Much of it is to do with my limited computer skills, like uploading photos and videos. Yes, I can learn; but no, I haven’t the patience. I simply want to write. So as soon as I established the basic platform from which to launch my passion, I stopped wanting to learn. And so it’s my fault that all the “neat stuff” still eludes me.

While I do congratulate myself for coming this far in 4 short months, I’m itching to go farther. Long story short, I felt that the previous title of my blog was not helping to get my “voice” further out into the internet community. The title needed words which were more likely to be “clicked on.” But I didn’t think too hard upon the subject, only mentioning it to my daughter in passing.

As if waving a magic wand, my daughter immediately proclaimed that the title of my blog should be “Hugmamma’s Mind, Body and Soul.” She explained, very eloquently, that my posts already fell under these 3 categories. Pet topics like Alzheimer’s and bananagrams involve the mind; food, and all its subcategories, as well as alternative health practices involve the body; and my travel commentaries and philosophical ramblings are “food” for the soul.

Like me, “Hugmamma’s Mind, Body and Soul,” continues to evolve. I hope you’ll stay with me as I continue sharing my thoughts and feelings about the minutiae of every day life, mine…and hopefully, yours. 

huge hugs as we head toward 2011, when we’ll all bloom…hugmamma.  

 

holiday cookies, father-daughter tradition

Ever since she was little, my daughter and husband have baked holiday cookies. I think it had been a tradition between he and his mom. She told me that as a child he loved to bake. So it was my husband’s idea to carry on the tradition with our daughter. He even chose the recipe.  While not difficult, the process is tedious. I’m very happy to leave this holiday chore entirely in their capable hands.

We have always shared the cookies with family and close friends. That’s how special they are. In elementary school, our daughter’s classmates looked forward to platters of the homemade treats not only at Christmastime, but also at Easter, Halloween and Thanksgiving. They were disappointed on the rare occasion when there were no cookies, because of our busy schedule. Even now, our daughter’s friends are delighted when they are treated to a platter of cookies during Nutcracker rehearsals.

Shortly after Christmas, a year or so ago a nephew deployed to the Middle East on the aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln. My husband baked a special batch of these signature cookies as a parting gift. Our nephew would have enough to share with crew mates, and still have a hidden stash for himself. I wrapped each of the 50 cookies in bubble wrap so that there would be no breakage, or at least it would be kept to a minimum. Needless to say they were enjoyed, right down to the last morsel.

If memory serves me, the idea for these cookies may have come from me. The first Christmas my husband managed the Garden City, Long Island American Express Travel office, I made them for his staff. I used cookie cutters in the characters of the “Peanuts” comic strip, Charley Brown, Lucy, Linus, and Snoopy. They were as charming as they were delicious. But they were also a lot of work. I’m sure that’s why I kept my distance, and let my husband and daughter do their thing.

Some who have tasted these sweet morsels have remarked that my husband should start a business. Not one for entrepeneurial endeavors, my husband has declined the challenge, preferring to remain at his corporate day job. Thank you very much. I agree he’d never be able to charge enough for the labor that’s involved. And there are already competitors who do a very good job. Laboring for loved ones is reward enough for my husband, and even more, he relishes the time  he spends with his daughter.

So from our family to yours, here’s a gift to share at Christmas, or any time you and loved ones gather.

I LOVE SHORTBREAD

About 16 cookies

Ingredients: butter, sugar, flour, salt, confectioner’s sugar

Utensils: medium bowl, dry measuring cups, long-handled spoon, rolling pin, cookie cutters, cookie sheet, potholders, spatula, wire cooling rack

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together in medium bowl, 3/4 cups butter, softened, and 1/4 cup sugar. Stir in 1  3/4 cups all-purpose flour and a dash of salt. Mixture will be dry and crumbly. Pinch mixture together with clean hands until it all sticks together. Shape dough into a ball. Sprinkle a clean surface (such as a kitchen counter or breadboard) with flour. Place dough on surface. Roll or pat out dough 1/4 inch thick. Cut dough with cookie cutter. Place cutouts about 1/2 inch apart on cookie sheet. Bake about 10 to 15 minutes or until very light golden brown on the edges. Take the cookies off the cookie sheet right away with spatula. Cool shortbread on wire rack.

Mix powdered sugar with water, or milk, to paste consistency. Frost cookies as desired.

from our home to yours, hugs…hugmamma.

“easy overnight turkey,” the hard way

Decided to try a different turkey recipe than the one I’ve used for the past several years. The following recipe enticed me away from my tried and true. Choosing recipes entails using my vivid imagination and attention for details. As I peruse the ingredients, I can imagine the look and taste of the finished product. Hope I never lose this ability. It’s always served me well, for I’m inclined to try new recipes on guests. Talk about being fearless!

Looking through the brief instructions for the recipe I used, I could taste its magnificence, glazed to perfection, and succulent. I couldn’t resist replacing my usual way of cooking turkey, for this seemingly, old-fashioned, grandma-tested version. I’ve reprinted it below. See what you think.

EASY OVERNIGHT TURKEY  (Easy for who? Zombies? I sure felt like one on Thanksgiving Day.)

1  20-pound hen turkey (Costco only had “toms,” so I went with that. Wasn’t about to drive around on icy roads, trying to chase down a “hen.”)

1/2 stick butter

1  large clove garlic, slivered

1  large peeled onion, quartered

l large unpeeled apple, quartered

Rinse turkey and wipe dry. Rub inside and out with half the butter. Place remaining butter inside cavity. Place garlic, onion and apple in cavity. Do not salt or pepper the bird. Place breast-side down on rack in roaster. Bake for 1 hour at 325 degrees. Turn bird on back and reduce heat to 200 degrees. Bake, uncovered, without opening oven, for 10 to 12 hours. Serves 12.

(Stopped to give my fat cat, Juneau, a bear hug, so he’d stop nudging my hand as my fingers flew over the keys.)

I guess chefs follow recipes to the letter, at least the first time they try a new recipe. I’ m not a professional, just a basic cook. After 40 years of preparing meals, 3 times a day, 365 days a year, I tend to “wing it.” Unlike the early years of wedded bliss, when I cooked an entire meal before guests arrived, and reheated everything in the oven before serving them up. Talk about dried out food. Yikes!

Since I was prepping all the side dishes for overnight refrigeration, to be cooked after the turkey exited the oven the following day, I left “Tom” turkey to my husband. He attacked that bird with gusto! He even lay on the living room couch  through the night, babysitting it as it baked. Funny thing, unlike me, my husband didn’t look like a zombie Thanksgiving Day.

The recipe indicated that the turkey should cook from 10-12 hours. Not having baked a 20-pounder before, we opted for the maximum amount of time. Not having a traditional roasting pan, the large oval ones specifically manufactured for the occasion, my husband made do with the pan that is usually part of a stove purchase. You know, it’s a combo square catch pan with a top that has slits in it. Food’s broiled on top, and the drippings seep through to the pan beneath. Anyway, the turkey fit in the catch pan, so we were good to go.

As we peered through the glass oven door, we beheld a glorious sight, a beautifully, browning turkey. We oohed and ahhed many times over the course of 12 hours. At some point, I wondered if we might recommit to a different cook time, maybe 10 1/2 or 11 or 11 1/2 hours. As the bird continued to deepen in color, I thought it might also be drying out. But, of course, not knowing what the pros know, we stayed our course.

About half-an-hour before dinner, my husband brought out the amazing cooked specimen, setting it atop the counter to “rest.” Then, while I finished baking the remaining dishes, he carved the turkey. It was more like a massacre. Poor, golden, sacrificial bird, it was chopped into smithereens. There were square chunks, rectangular slabs, strips of flesh, everything but nice, thin slices of meat. I was moved enough to vow that I’d carve next Thanksgiving. I hope my brain retains the slaughtered image until then.

So how did it taste? As dry as all those reheated meals I use to serve up in my 20’s. I cautioned our dinner guests to drown the meat in Costco’s delicious gravy. For those who didn’t, I’m not sure how they managed to swallow.

Next time we tackle this recipe, and believe me there’ll be a next time, I’ll try to find a hen turkey, bake it less than 12 hours, and carve it up myself. Oh, and we’ll buy a proper roasting pan, so we don’t wind up cleaning the oven again, because of overflowing juices. I’ll still let my husband help, prep the bird and babysit the thing overnight. We’ll do it just like the pros next time.

I’m open to suggestions, especially if you try this recipe and the results are scrumptious.

Bon appetite!!!…hugmamma.

coconut cream cake

My family raved about the dessert I made for Thanksgiving dinner, so I thought I’d pass it along to you. Neither my husband nor my daughter are as crazy about coconut based recipes as I am, so it’s saying something when both have second helpings, the day after. Rolling her eyes and grinning from ear to ear, my daughter lauded the moistness and moderate sweetness of the Coconut Cream Cake. My husband chimed in with an approving nod. So I knew I needed to get your opinion, once you bake it, that is. Sorry I can’t do that for you.

Hope you have a reason to whip up this delicacy, or maybe you just want to treat yourself. Either way, bon appetite!!!

COCONUT CREAM CAKE 

1 18 ½ oz package regular white cake mix (not pudding type)

1  3 ½ oz can flaked coconut

1 ½ cups water

2 egg whites

1 8 ½  oz can cream of coconut

1  12 oz carton frozen whipped topping, thawed

Combine cake mix, 1 cup coconut, water and egg whites. Beat for 2 minutes at highest speed of electric mixer. Reduce speed to low, beat for 1 minute. Pour batter into a greased 12x9x2 inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until pick comes from center clean. Cook cake for 10 minutes.

Punch holes in the top of cake with toothpick. Pour cream of coconut over cake while still warm. Spread whipped topping over cake. Sprinkle with remaining coconut. Cover and chill at least 4 hours. Cut into squares to serve. Serves 15-16.

BEING an amateur cook, as I think most of you are, I had a moment’s hesitation in the preparation process. Unable to find an 8 ½ oz can cream of coconut, I bought a 15 oz can intending to use little more than half of it. Upon opening the can, I was surprised to see a dense, white, glistening mass. Spooning a couple of big chunks into a bowl, I soon hit oily liquid which I poured into the bowl. Scooping the remaining white gunk into the bowl, I mixed the contents until they formed a liquid. To my amazement, the resulting combination only amounted to 8 ounces of liquid. I’m sure a smarter person than I could explain how ingredients listed on the can label as 15 ounces, turned out to really be only 8 ounces.

I was concerned as I slowly poured the entire bowl of liquid over the cake. I kept wondering if I should stop, as the coconut cream crept up the sides of the pan. I wondered if the resulting cake would be too rich, too sweet. But when the last dregs of liquid streamed from the bowl, I knew I’d have to wait and see. And the rest is history…yummy, yummy in my tum, tum, tummy!  

for all things coconut, and my mom from whom i inherited my love of the fruit, huge hugs…hugmamma

“stuffed” full of food, memories, and feeling old

Had a fantastic Thanksgiving celebration! Hope you did as well. Am sure we had a lot in common, turkey and all the fixings, family and friends gathered around the table, laughter, small talk, and oh-so- full bellies. What we may, or may not, have shared in experience was feeling, for the very first time, like senior citizens.

Original plans were that my husband and I would have been the middle-aged folk since friends, a couple in their early and mid-70’s, were set to join us for our holiday meal. Of course our daughter was always to be the young chickadee, at 24 years. A call from our nephew who lives and works in Seattle, altered the dynamics. Because of the snowstorm that blew our way, his plan to spend Thanksgiving with his mom’s relatives were canceled due to icy roads. We expected that Kanoa and his girlfriend Erica would dine with us, but were pleasantly surprised to learn that his brother, Sam, would be in town as well. We’d not seen this nephew since he was 11 or so. Now he’s an aerospace engineer, with a degree in aeronautics. Another welcome addition to our cozy home was Kanoa’s roommate, Darnelle. As it turned out, our first guests, Sylvia and Jim, cancelled because of icy weather conditions between their town and ours. So my husband and I quickly moved up, or down, depending on your viewpoint, the age ladder.

My gourmet feast was a hit! Conversation was lively! After some expected “hiccups,” that is. I mean, 30+ years difference in age does require some fancy footwork. I love dancing, and talking, but even my brain was working overtime trying to “connect the dots” in our conversation. I did miss a couple, “dots” that is, like the time Sam told a joke about an antelope in rut who ran into a stopped SUV. The animal was chasing potential mates, who’d smartly sidestepped the vehicle. I got that part because it’s a known fact that females are smarter. Ahem. What I didn’t get, is that the story was a joke. I thought the anecdote was a true story about a friend whose car was hit by a stupid animal. So what began as laughter at the joke, evolved into hysteria when I asked in disbelief, “Was that a joke?” Thank God they thought I was a cute, little, old aunty. Hey, I don’t deny it. I embrace it, especially when I ponder the alternative.

Decades old memories with a Long Island friend and her family, is one that remains with me. Even many years after having lost touch, I can still picture sitting around the dinner table with as many as 10 guests. The food was the best Italian fare I’ve ever tasted, all homemade and exquisitely delicious. The manicotti with delicately, thin pasta shells and the large, flavorful meatballs topping handmade spaghetti drenched in Carmella’s mom’s marinara sauce, were two of my favorite dishes. Even more memorable was to be enveloped into the loving warmth of an Italian family. So like Hawaiians who embrace one and all. I loved them dearly, Carmella, Vito and mom and pop Adamo. Still do, though the parents have long since gone to Heaven, and we’ve lost touch with sister and brother who moved to other states. Even Christmas cards have stopped arriving. But no matter, I will always remember them with fondness and love.

As I sat listening to our young dinner guests last night, I was reminded of pop Adamo. When we first met, he was virile, engaging, witty, and “in command.” Though small in stature, pop was the “man of the house,” though his daughter and son hovered above him like giants, and even his wife stood a half-a-head taller. It’s true, Italian men rule the roost. They might be small, like pop, but his “presence” was large. Vito was taller than 6 feet, but “shrank” when pop barked. When they wanted to convince pop of something, son, daughter and wife would have to cajole him, sometimes for days or weeks. It usually endured for some amount of time, so I can’t remember if they succeeded more times, than not. I do know that I always tried to remain on pop’s good side. He did have a small, soft spot in his heart for this island girl.

I’m not certain when I first noticed that pop was no longer “himself.” Was it before, or after Carmela told us he had Alzheimer’s? Or was it when his voice no longer reverberated through the house, or when he sat in silence after we said our first hellos. But the image foremost in my mind is of pop sitting in his usual chair at the head of the dining table, looking “lost.” It saddened me that he was unable to participate in conversations, where before his witticisms were part of the social gatherings. While his body sat, his spirit seemed elsewhere, perhaps floating overhead, disengaged. In time, pop became permanently wedded to the dreaded disease.

Alzheimer’s assumed a stranglehold on the Adamos, and their home was never the same again. Somehow the family evolved, as we all do, moving forward to become newer, updated versions of their former selves. Carmela married a wonderful man, Steve, and they were blest with an only child, daughter Christine. Last we heard Vito had moved to Las Vegas where he enjoyed the many pleasures of “sin city.” I’m sure pop rolled over in his grave. Mom grew more frail as the years passed, finally succumbing to eternal peace. I’ll always remember her charitableness, especially for those who sat at her bountiful table. We celebrated Thanksgiving every time we sat down to dinner with this loving family.

Last night I caught a glimpse of my own “evolution.” Aging is inevitable, as is change. Resisting either, or both, is probably unwise, and unhealthy. Granted, I am who I am because of 61 years of accumulated experiences, memories, and “self-diagnosis.” There’ve certainly been “detours” along the way, which meant tweaking my life, here and there. But true happiness, I think, is the “thread” that courses through our lives as we evolve, from birth to death. Standing still, inflexible and unchanging, would probably cut, or at least thin, the flow of happiness. Though I may be goofy at times, acting “abynormal,” as my daughter and I label my zany behavior, I am normal in wanting, like others, to know happiness in my daily life.

So I owe much to the young folk who sat around our dinner table on Thanksgiving Day. They “stretched” my brain cells with their chatter about X-Box games, reasons for disliking Windows 7, multi-tasking on 3 computers simultaneously, all while checking their cellphones intermittently. I did hold my own, however, when relating stories about life experiences. They seemed to enjoy my fear of bear anecdotes, and my general “c’est la vie” attitude.

Thanks Kanoa, Sam, Erica and Darlene! You added to the cozy evening, with your youthful gaiety, “geeky” conversation, and contribution of  “ono” food, the lomi salmon, poki tako, kalua pig and pumpkin cheesecake. More than anything, you added to our family’s Thanksgiving memories, about which we’ll be reminiscing for a long time.

are you as “stuffed?’…hugmamma..

an ambassador for human rights

Ellen de Generes spotlighted a truly brave young man today, Graeme Taylor. Not many adults would venture to do what he did in defense of human rights, not only for gays, but in this instance, a straight teacher, Jay McDowell, who stood his ground in the classroom.

When McDowell asked a student to remove the belt she wore because it sported a buckle with a confederate flag, another student opposed the directive. He didn’t agree with the ability for gays to fly their signature “rainbow” flag, and the female student’s inability to wear the confederate flag on her person. In his argument, the student evidently made homophobic remarks so that he was dismissed by the teacher, and sent to the principal’s office. That action got McDowell suspended.

Upon hearing of the situation Graeme and others, traveled to the hearing held before the school board. Fourteen-year-old Graeme, a professed gay, spoke eloquently on behalf of the teacher who refused to allow hateful diatribes against gays, in his classroom. McDowell took action, however small in the great scheme of things, to keep prejudices learned outside his classroom from seeping into it and perhaps, gaining ground with other students. I too commend him, along with Graeme. Unfortunately, the school board upheld the suspension.

Graeme spoke with Ellen of his own “coming out” at age 13. Without hesitation, and with an adult’s sense of humor, he readily admitted to literally walking out of a closet and exclaiming to a couple of close “straight” friends, “I’m coming out of the closet. I’m gay!” As in his speech before the school board, Graeme engaged in confident, comfortable conversation with the talk show hostess, who was obviously impressed with her young guest’s bravado. I was also impressed with his father, a teacher, who applauded his son from a seat in the audience.  

Ellen provided Graeme Taylor, and teacher Jay McDowell, a tremendous public platform for their actions on behalf of  human rights. Three individuals can make a difference. Ellen congratulated her young guest, saying the world needs more people like him. I say we need more people like all 3 who take a stand for human rights, regardless of the repercussions. I hope I continue to learn from them, and speak out on behalf of those who have silently endured too much pain, for too long.

huge hugs for ellen, graeme, and jay mcdowell, who followed his conscience, and his heart…hugmamma.   

“mirroring life,” ballet

Since my daughter’s been home on leave, she’s continued with an exercise regimen that includes ballet class 2-3 times a week at Pacific Northwest Ballet’s suburban campus, and Seattle studios. To our pleasant surprise, a couple of the instructors are former teachers from the conservatory high school my daughter had attended. Elaine Bauer and Marissa Albee are two of the best instructors I’ve seen, in all the years I’ve traveled with my daughter. 

Ever since she was a youngster, I’ve enjoyed watching my daughter’s dance classes.  It’s common practice at most dance schools to allow parents into the studios for viewing, 2 or 3 times a year. Otherwise, it’s looking through windows, unless the curtains are drawn. Oftentimes, there are no windows to look through.

Probably because of my own longstanding passion for dance, I find it very gratifying to observe my daughter as she trains. I have seen her evolve into the beautiful dancer she is today. The path has been long and arduous. From age 11 when she began seriously training here in the Seattle area, until she made member in a ballet company at age 23, my daughter has had to work hard to make each step near perfect, if not perfect. Where she, like most dancers, may not feel she’s  achieved perfection, to my lay person’s eyes, she’s sheer perfection. Yes, I’m her mom, but I’m also a dance aficionado which means I’m extremely attentive to the details. (This blog’s title must’ve given you some inkling.)

I was delighted when Marissa invited me to sit in on the open adult class she teaches. While my daughter stands apart as a professional, I’m very impressed with the women who participate in the intermediate/advance level class. The number of students probably hovers around 10, give or take a few on any given day. Their ages range from early 20’s to 50’s; their body shapes vary, but tend toward the slender. What amazes me is their ability to keep up with the group, since all the steps are given in French: tendu, releve, esemble, pirouette, grande battemente, and so forth. The ladies take instruction seriously, viewing themselves in the wall of mirrors without flinching. They are neither shy, nor embarrassed. Though they may be amateurs, looking for a great workout, or exorcising their frustrations at never having danced professionally, the women commit themselves fully during the hour-and-a-half class.

My daughter has sought to convince me to join the class, or at least enroll in a beginner’s class. I must admit to laughing in her face. While I admit that ballet is an excellent form of exercise, I prefer to bound across the floor during my community center “Every Way Fitness” classes, with Kristina at the helm. “Be-bopping” is more my speed, ballet, not so much. Furthermore, I don’t fancy staring at myself in the mirror during ballet class. I like imagining what I look like while I’m dancing to pop music. I would find it impossible to stop laughing if I were to view the real thing, my mirrored reflection. So I was speechless when Marissa also voiced my daughter’s opinion that I join the class. In reply, I mumbled  that while I had great admiration for her students, I couldn’t possibly do what they were doing. With a twinkle in her eye, Marissa turned back toward the group who were smiling. She indicated that she’d tried to get me to join them. “Oh,oh,” I thought, “my days of sitting in her class might be numbered. Marissa  might not let up on nudging me to join the others.” Hmmm, I’d better play deaf and dumb.

Just returned from Seattle where my daughter took a dance class taught by former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal, Julie Tobiason. The adult students probably numbered around 20, of which 4 were men. Three of them were familiar faces from previous times, when my daughter’s dropped into these open classes . None of the women were immediately recognizable, although I’m sure my daughter’s seen a couple of them before as well. 

Again I was amazed as I watched the Saturday morning class, at how readily the 25 or so adults executed the ballet steps. They seemed better able to do the combinations at barre, while dancing in center without support was a little shakier. But hey! There’s no way I’m going to find fault with any of them. I could only hope to muddle through the hour-and-a-half class without totally embarrassing myself. So as far as I’m concerned, they all got A’s.

Watching these classes, it struck me that there was a life lesson to be learned from ballet dancers. They are passionate about their art form, for which they’ll sacrifice much, including financial security. Many work second jobs; some work three. Their work ethic is beyond belief, enduring hours of physical and mental exercise. They rarely, if ever, take sick leave, preferring to sit on the side-lines during rehearsal, continuing to learn their roles.  There are frustrations, for sure, with themselves, with the roles they dance, with company “politics.” But their love of dance motivates these dancers to seek answers, rather than quit. They never quit! They’ll take alternate paths, “detours” if you will, whether it’s dancing elsewhere, or transitioning into another career, or getting a college degree. And because they have disciplined themselves to work unwaveringly towards a goal, they succeed at whatever else they decide to do with their lives.

The adults who take ballet classes for “fun,” involve themselves just as wholeheartedly as the professionals I’ve seen. Giving up isn’t an option; they persevere, even asking questions, wanting to get the steps right. The rest of their lives as moms, businessmen, teachers, seems to “fall away,” in class. But I’m sure they take what they’ve learned, applying it to their daily routines, whether consciously or unconsciously.

It’s for sure I’ve learned much from my ballerina daughter; applying all of it can still be a struggle. But I continue to try. Most importantly, she’s taught me not to quit… life. Happiness, after all, is found in the small things we accomplish every day. The big things are only the “icing, on an already delicious cake.” Make mine Red Velvet, please!!!

Oprah’s last “giveaway” show was today, “Oprah’s Favorite Things.” All the goodies the audience members received represented her gift for hope. Hope that, yes, miracles do happen when you least expect them. 

Ballet dancers live their lives, always full of hope.

hugs for emulating artists, motivated by their passion…hugmamma.     

     

   

“north pole” interference

Just wanted to let you know I’ve not fallen off the face of the earth. Am under a blanket of snow, yard, gardens, and decks are probably ankle deep in the white stuff. Had to cancel appointments. Not venturing out, preferring to enjoy the scenery from this side of the wall-to-wall picture windows. Mocha’s impatiently pacing, hoping to get out and play. Thankfully, my daughter’s up for some frolicking. Didn’t do it when she was a toddler and I was in my 40’s, am not about to start now when she’s in her 20’s and I’m in my 60’s. Nuh, uh. I don’t think so. Those are specifically daughter-father bonding moments. I’m fine helping them out of wet coats, hats and gloves, and serving up mugs of hot chocolate. I’ll also get down on my knees to towel off my dog’s soaking wet, grimy, matted fur. Being Hawaiian through to the bone, I am perfectly happy inside where the temp hovers around 70.

Am making this a short post because previous efforts have run into intereference from cable connection. Have a nunber of posts in the draft stage, awaiting completion, and publication. So I’m hoping it’s dry and warm where you are, and you’ll check back for updates regularly. There might be a barage of posts when next you look. 

Thanks for your patience, and hope your Thanksgiving is a cornucopia of blessings for you and your loved ones!!!

huge hugs for all…hugmamma.  

“juxtaposition,” the holiday and the preparation

As we prepare for the holiday season, we were reminded in Mass yesterday that we are embarking upon the journey towards Christ’s birth, Christmas. As is Father Bryan’s custom, he related a personal anecdote that brought the message home.

As a seminarian, Father and others, were given the task of removing the stump of a huge, old tree that had been cut down because it was diseased. An all day job, they labored mightily to extricate every bit of remnant that remained. That included the use of crowbars, and burning the core of the stump, attempting to soften it. As he said, their voices reached skyward in prayer, as they undertook the painstaking chore. Was that his subtle way of saying that if they could swear, they might have? I’m positive most men, and women, would’ve mumbled a few choice words, and not necessarily “under their breath.” Ahhh..but Father Bryan’s on the path to sainthood, so he must mind his p’s and q’s.

The following morning, Father wandered through a garden on the property, sipping his tea, and enjoying the beautifully maintained haven. When his gaze fell upon the hole where the stump once was, and the surrounding unkempt area, he reflected upon the juxtaposition of what was lovely, and what was ugly.

During the weeks before and during Advent, we must rout out all that remains of “the ugly stump,” so that we can fully enjoy the beautiful “garden,” Christ’s birth. Father’s metaphor is probably one of the most vivid I’ve ever encountered, so that it’s imagery will probably remain with me as I prepare myself for the holidays.

Another part of the homily which was an “aha” moment, was Father Bryan’s affirmation of something to which I already subscribe. The minutiae of our daily lives is who we are, and upon them we should focus our efforts and energies. We may not always enjoy what we’re doing, but we should do them nonetheless.  I’m sure he was referring to having to remove the tree stump. 

What we do, day in and day out, as a matter of course, is the source of our happiness. Singular events come and go. They may give us a temporary boost, helping us to soar momentarily. But we always return to the mundane, the every day, the minutiae. It’s best if those things are uplifting, and positive, so that they help us move forward, living our best lives. Disapproval and negativity encourages fretful, less fulfilling lives.

preparing for the holiday season, hugs…hugmamma.

“thanks,” readers

I hadn’t intentionally set out to write numerous posts on giving thanks. But they seem appropriate, since Thanksgiving is almost upon us. While my previous post of thanks for your faithful readership was celebratory, this one is more low-key.

Many in our society are suffering, unable to look forward to the holiday season with joy, and traditional good will toward all. I’d like to think I contribute some small measure of hope, in an overwhelmingly negative environment. The 5,003 viewings my blog has received to date, leads me to think that I’m able to touch some with my words.

Sincere thanks for continuing to read what I write. With the immense inventory of material from which to make your selections, I’m grateful you’ve chosen to make mine one of them. While other blogs may number their readers in the hundreds of thousands, even millions, I consider myself lucky to have the faithful following I do.

wishing you a thanksgiving spent with those you hold dearest…hugmamma.

“thanks,” northwest harvest

Arriving in the mail today, was a newsletter from Northwest Harvest. I thought it a perfect time to share its contents, as I’m sure it reflects what’s occurring in most of the country these days. What better time to give thanks to an organization dedicated to helping the less fortunate survive, than during the month of Thanksgiving. Entitled “Where We Stand,” it’s written by Executive Director, Shelley Rotondo.

Northwest Harvest has seen Washington suffer more than one economic crisis during our 43-year fight against hunger. Many more people are now hungry and in need, pushed over the edge by the recent recession. If any good has come from these troubled times, it is that every community has gained a heightened awareness of hunger. Sadly, for far too many people, this new understanding is informed by firsthand experience.

News that the recession ended months ago makes little difference to those who still face the daily stress of struggling to provide for their families. Many of our clients and their families are newcomers to food banks, or former donors now turning to us for food. Across the state, people have lost their jobs or had their hours or benefits reduced. And we see so many young people unable to compete for work in a state where unemployment currently hovers around 9 percent.

Statewide, Northwest Harvest and the partners of our network are now providing over 634,000 services every month–a 35 percent increase since the start of the recession. A recent U.S. Census Report showed that 43.6 million Americans were living in poverty in 2009. This number, which includes over 800,000 Washingtonians, is the largest in the 51 years that estimates have been published.

More than half of those served by Northwest Harvest and our partners are children and the elderly. They are the most susceptible to health problems related to hunger and malnutrition, and have the least control over their circumstances. Children make up only 25 percent of the U.S. population, but 36 percent of those living in poverty. More than 224,000 of Washington’s children live below the federal poverty level, and roughly half of Washington infants are recipients of WIC (Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children).

Nearly all state basic service agencies have faced severe budget cuts and expect their resources to dwindle further in the coming year. With more than 1 in 7 Washingtonians relying on food stamps–a 21 percent increase from just one year ago–we know that deeper service reductions could have a devastating impact our clients. As the only Washington-based food bank distributor operating statewide, we are being called on more than ever before and in all corners of the state.

For all of these reasons, Northwest Harvest has grown rapidly, securing more than 24 million pounds of food for both of the last two years, a 33 percent increase over years before the recession. We can feed a family of three a nutritious meal for 67 cents, and as the state’s first food bank distributor to focus on nutrition, we have decades of experience promoting health while fighting hunger. Additionally, 93 cents of every dollar donated to Northwest Harvest goes directly to help those we serve.

But we need your help more than ever. In the first three months of our fiscal year, we did not meet budget goals for food or fund-raising. Meanwhile, many of the underlying causes of hunger are getting worse, bringing more and more people to their community hunger programs.

Northwest Harvest was founded because of those who would not stand idly by while their neighbors suffered. We have been able to continue expanding our services in response to the growing need because of the support of communities all across the state.

We are grateful to all who support us with gifts of any size. Whether you can give money, food or volunteer time, you are strengthening the safety net so many of our neighbors now need.

Thank you.

Among the many who donate their time, Holland America Lines provides its employees bus transportation to Northwest Harvest’s  warehouse,  to volunteer a few hours during their workday. It’s an annual event, occurring over 4 or 5 days. Family members are invited to join in the donation of time and effort.

for humanitarian efforts, huge hugs…hugmamma. 

giving thanks to our vets

It’s a good thing we’re annually reminded to pay homage to those who serve our country. It’s like Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. If we were left to our own preoccupied lives, we would probably procrastinate, or forget completely. Of course we don’t mean to disrespect soldiers, moms or dads, it’s just that life happens, or so we say.

I’m a mom; I like all the accolades that come my way on one pre-designated day. I’m sure I’m not the only one. And hey, I can take the day off if I like. But that never happens, unless I’m sick in bed. Otherwise, I’m FIXING the bed, feeding and walking pets, preparing a meal or two, with the accompanying prep work and cleanup. Then there’s the never-ending-picking-up-after.

Nonetheless, I get to be remembered for all that I do, on ONE particular day. I think that makes the remaining 364 days bearable, almost. After 40 years of marriage, I have to give it some thought. The secret is, I’ve learned to “cut corners,” lots of them. But I digress.

So while the 22 million veterans in our country would love to be thought of more often than once a year, I’m certain they’re happy to take a “collective bow” on Veteran’s Day. Several stories came to my attention, which told of individuals, or communities, who found ways to thank vets. They reminded me of the time I flew to visit my daughter.

On the flight were several soldiers. One in particular caught my attention. He was without a leg, and he was traveling with his wife. They looked to be my daughter’s age, early 20’s. Not knowing their story, I could only imagine what lay ahead of them. I don’t think they were ever far from my thoughts, throughout the entire flight. 

How do you thank these stoic men and women? They never look directly into your eyes, keeping to themselves as they are surely in the habit of doing, unless with their comrades in arms. More than humble, soldiers seem to be “invisible,” unless performing their duty. If they speak, their words are barely audible. They rarely seem to smile. Their minds appear to be elsewhere. But where? Are they imagining themselves at home with loved ones, or in a remote area of Afghanistan, bullets flying all around them? How do you pierce that impenetrable veneer to offer thanks? I tried.

As the couple ambled along in front of me, enroute to baggage claim, I rummaged through my wallet. Pulling out $60, I ran ahead to catch up with the young soldier and his wife. Stopping, they turned toward me, their faces, question marks. Smiling, I expressed my gratitude for his service, while my hand reached out offering the money, inviting them to have a meal at my expense. Without hesitation, he, and his wife, in their soft-spoken, Southern drawls, refused my gift. I think he mumbled something like, “It’s my job, ma’am.” The memory of that moment, even now, fills my eyes with tears. Although the young soldier looked vulnerable in his wheelchair,  his resolute manner spoke volumes about his pride in his uniform, and in his duty to his country, my country, our country. They thanked me, and quietly moved along, to pick up the pieces of their lives.

I received an email telling of a similar circumstance, where a passenger was on a flight with a group of soldiers. As the flight attendant walked through coach class taking meal orders, the man overheard one soldier ask another if he was buying the sandwich offered. Both decided, while they were hungry, they couldn’t afford the expense. Looking around at the others in the group, the passenger noticed none of the other soldiers were buying meals. The man went in search of the flight attendant, offering her $50 for the soldiers’ meals. She thanked him profusely. Other travelers who noticed what the man had done, offered him cash as their contribution. When the flight landed he gave the $75 he’d received, to the soldiers, to buy more sandwiches as they awaited their connection.

On the evening news was a story of vets helping vets in Milwaukee. “Guitars for Vets” teaches guitar lessons for free. Upon completion of 6 lessons, a student receives a donated guitar, or can purchase one at a discounted price. Eight hundred guitars have been distributed thus far. Begun by a vet, turned teacher, the program has literally been the “sound of healing,” for its participants. “A new band of brothers,” these former soldiers are finding therapeutic help in their interactions with one another.

On the local news, the incredulous story was told of a soldier who returned from service in Afghanistan, to find that his home had burned to the ground, his relatives having died in the fire. Amazing support from his community brought forth volunteers who rebuilt the home, with $40,000 donated in materials and labor.

Also on the news, two young boys were shown speaking to their military father via “Skype.” They were totally surprised when he appeared behind them, in the classroom. Crawling all over their dad, as he crouched down to embrace them in a bear hug, it was apparent that the youngsters had made as enormous a sacrifice as their soldier dad.

Vets, and their families, teach us to sacrifice, gracefully, in service to others. And so I’d like to take this opportunity to honor my own relatives, a brother who served in the Korean War, and another who fought in Vietnam, a nephew who served several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who now teaches at West Point, and another nephew who serves in the navy on the aircraft carrier, The USS Abraham Lincoln.

for all who serve unselfishly, and their loved ones, huge hugs…hugmamma.

“thanks giving,” or “giving thanks”

Time with our daughter while she’s home on sabbatical for a few months, is precious beyond words. She started her journey towards a professional career when she was 11. When she wasn’t doing schoolwork, she was dancing. Serious hopefuls know they must train all the time, like any other athlete, from gymnasts to basketball players. 

At the performing arts conservatory where our daughter was enrolled as a high school student, academics began at 7:30 a.m. and ended at 12:30 p.m. each day. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, she was in dance classes, ballet, jazz, modern, character and Spanish. If a performance loomed large, rehearsals extended a long day, into an even longer one. Where our daughter may have normally finished at 6:30 p.m., rehearsing easily saw her at the studio until 9 or 9:30 p.m. And then, of course, there was homework to be done, which regularly kept the midnight oil burning.

Summers saw our daughter dancing in programs around the country, even Canada. Her first year away from home, ever, I traveled with her by plane, then bus to Banff, Canada. I settled her in safely for the 5 week dance workshop, where she was the only American chosen to participate. At the time she was 15.  She did so well, they awarded her a scholarship to return the following summer. She opted, instead, to dance in NYC with American Ballet Theatre. She’s since thought better of her decision, wishing she’d returned to Banff, where the training was more individualized. “Water under the bridge,” as the saying goes. And while the dancing wasn’t as great as she thought, our daughter wasn’t disappointed with The Big Apple. She would return there to dance, again and again, in the future.

As she grew older, our daughter’s summer forays increased in number. The summer before moving to train with Atlanta Ballet, she danced in Mississippi, Atlanta and NYC. The programs differed, affording  her varied experiences. The first was a competition that occurs every 4 years in Jackson; the second was with Atlanta Ballet; and the third was with Paul Taylor’s Company, for contemporary dance.

At 16 years of age, and a senior in high school, our daughter moved to Atlanta. I accompanied her, remaining until she turned 19.  While training with the city’s ballet company, she finished her academic studies online, with a teacher from the conservatory. She graduated in June, having returned home to participate in the ceremonies. Because the state recognized the school’s dance credits, our daughter received a 4.25 grade point average on her final report card.

Our daughter has felt it important for her to continue training in the Company’s off-season, which usually coincides with the summer months. Our daughter has done so, traveling to NYC,  Chautauqua/New York, Martha’s Vineyard/Massachusetts, Portland/Oregon, and more recently, Irvine/California. While continuing to hone her craft, and keeping physically fit, she has also benefitted by growing her network of instructors, choreographers, artistic directors, and fellow dancers. As with other careers, “who you know” does help. 

My husband and I have supported our daughter in her quest to become a professional dancer. She has the talent, the discipline, the work ethic, and the drive to forge ahead in her career. Fortunately for her, and the Company with whom she now dances, theirs is a mutual “love affair.” They look forward to her return in the New Year, as does she.

Meanwhile, my husband and I feel very fortunate to have our grown daughter home with us for the holidays. Not since before dance became the focal point of her life, have we had the luxury of time, to just enjoy one another. She’s my “BFF,” best friend forever, girlfriend, that is. My husband’s my male “BFF.” Having our daughter share the minutiae of our daily lives is the best gift we could receive this season. So when we celebrate Thanksgiving later this month, it will be with hearts full of loving gratitude for our daughter, and for parenthood.

counting our blessings…hugmamma.