Revisiting The Red Sweater

Two years ago I participated in one of WordPress’s Blogging University courses as I tried to hone my writing and blogging skills. One of my favorite assignments at the time was the challenge to write a story based on the given prompt, but from three points of view. I was pretty proud of the original post; happy with the way it turned out. Reading it now I see little mistakes here and there and flaws in the logic and setting. So I’m re-blogging my own post tonight, making just a few little changes, hoping that you like what you read.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll go back to finding, or even better, shooting,  a picture for the weekly photo challenge.

We sat in the car staring out the window. I had driven us home from what had turned out to be a big mistake. I thought a dinner out among people who (at least by all appearances ) did not have a care in the world would do us good. Instead we each sat lost in our own thoughts, barely touching our meal. And so now here we are at the park. This could be another mistake, but maybe what we need isn’t to be surrounded by carefree people, but to envelop ourselves in the quiet of the park. To reflect, and remember, and hold each other.

I open my car door and walk around the car to open hers.  I know she doesn’t want to be here. Too many memories.

“Please? You can do this.” I can see she’s on the verge. For me, it’s been easy — the tears just seem to come out of nowhere sometimes. I can’t hold them back. But she can’t let herself go. She’s being strong when she doesn’t need to.

She steps out and takes my hand without a word. I close the door and start leading her to the park, my eyes already moist with tears.

********************

He took my hand in his as he led me to the park. His grip was tight but comforting and without it I surely would have fallen to my knees in absolute surrender to the sadness already welling up in my heart.

“Come on,” he encouraged me. “We’re almost there.”

We walked hand in hand through the mostly deserted park. It was almost dusk and so the playground was now empty, the regular crowd of laughing children and watchful mothers already long gone, home for dinner, I suppose.

“Why are you taking us this way? I don’t think I can bear it here right now.” I stalled.

“Trust me. We need to be here,” he answered.

He led me to “our bench” and as we sat down he wrapped his arm around my shoulders. We sat in silence for a long while. I stared at the scene in front of me, not really seeing it but instead remembering days not so long ago when we brought him here, pushing our stroller through the park and daydreaming about the days we thought were ahead of us.

I felt him gently nudge my shoulder, bringing me back to the present.

“Look, over there past the swings.”

I turned my head to see what he was pointing to. Just beyond the swings, on the path we had walked on just minutes earlier, sat an old woman. At first glance I thought she was asleep, she was sitting so still. But then I noticed her hands were moving quickly, knitting hooks in hand, and a ball of red yarn on the bench beside her. She was knitting what looked like a child’s sweater. No, this was too small for a child. This sweater was for a baby.

I could no longer contain my tears. I took his hand in both of mine and brought it to my lips.

“Thank you,” I said. “You were right. This is just what I needed.”

We watched for just a few minutes more as she continued with her knitting, unaware of the emotions she had awakened. I stood up and held out my hand. His eyes still glistening, he smiled as he reached for my hand and stood. We walked out of the park, past the old woman, both taking a look over our shoulders to take one last look at the person who unknowingly helped us finally to find a way to shed the tears we’d been holding back since we’d heard the news.

********************

I watch them walk past me finally. “About time they left,” I mutter to myself. They think I didn’t notice them. They’ve stared at me from their bench on the other side of the playground for what feels like hours. I should know better than to come to a playground for some privacy, but I figured there would be no one here at this time of day. I don’t like people watching me work. It breaks my concentration and I have to keep re-doing my work. At this rate I’ll never get this sweater finished for my sweet Fiona. Oh, that reminds me. I need to pick up more kitty litter on my way home, and those treats she likes so much. All right, back to work. Knit one, purl one.

 A work of fiction for Writing 101, Day Nine

You make me feel like dancing…

I read a post the other day titled “When I hear music…” and as I said to its author, it immediately drew me in.  The author of this post uses music in treating her patients and has found it particularly useful with teens. She will ask them what song best expresses how they are feeling and then read its lyrics and discuss with them. I have a teenage son and I plan on trying this with him, but as the author suggested, giving him a little time to select his song.

Just this evening I was cooking dinner (by the way, it feels great to cook after not having a working stove or oven for almost two weeks!) and my son played some songs for me that he knows I dance to in my Zumba class. Still a little moist from tonight’s class (or let’s just call it sweaty) I started moving in time to the music as I boiled pasta and seared the pork chops.

Music has the power to change your perspective, soothe your soul, or just make you get up and dance. I was tired from class, but hearing the songs, and having them played for me by my son, just gave me another boost of energy that carried me through the rest of the evening.

I still plan to check in with him and find out what song best describes his life right now, but for now, I’m just happy that he likes being part of the music that moves me.

Meeting the Neighbors

Today’s Blogging 101 assignment is to check out the blogging neighborhood and find new blogs and topics to follow. I already have quite a long list of blogs I read regularly but I found a few new ones today by using WordPress’s Explore tool in my reader. I entered tags I am interested in reading about and found so many great blogs to read.

I decided to follow these topics:

  1. Panama. It’s where I’m from and where lots of people seem to be moving to these days.
  2. Blogging 101. It’s what I’m doing right now.
  3. Photography. Something I love to do. All the time.
  4. Charleston. It’s where I might want to live one day.
  5. Fredericksburg. It’s where I live right now.

I also picked some new blogs to follow, for various reasons. Some of these fall within the topics listed above, but not all:

  1. Adventures of an Expat Returned
  2. Charleston Daily
  3. The Weight of a Single Page
  4. Apparently Anna has some Explaining to Do
  5. Mara Eastern’s Personal Blog

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I have some reading to do!

So, tell us a little bit about yourself

As summer winds down and the sweaters start making their way into the wardrobe rotation (it’s not just me, is it?) it’s a good time to dust off the old blogs and give them a good once-over to see how I can improve and update them. With that in mind, I’ve signed up for a round of Blogging 101 and my first task is to introduce myself to you, my readers.

I first started blogging near the end of 2011 with my Winning Shots blog and it was a mix of photography blog posts with some random posts about parenting, youth sports and more personal entries. I intended it be a place for me to send my sports photography clients but I soon found that I had a lot to say, but not necessarily about youth sports. And so the Front Porches blog was born two years ago this month.

You can read a little more about me on the (appropriately titled) About Me page, but to save you a click I can tell you what you can expect to find on this blog. It’s become a forum for personal observations on parenting, marriage, and relationships. It’s a creative outlet where I can flex my writing muscles. It’s my way of sharing a little bit about my life and what’s on my mind.

I hope you follow me wherever this creative journey ends up taking us. Now that you know a little more about me and this blog, I would love to hear more about you and what brought you here. Thanks for reading.

 

Need a fix? Let me introduce you to my endorphin connections.

I wrote this earlier this summer about a wonderful, local, family-owned small business, that I can’t imagine what I would do without. Friendships made, confidence gained, and pounds lost. I learned today that they have to close the studio and they are currently looking for a new venue for their Zumba classes. I’m re-posting this to try to spread the word in case anyone knows of a place that might be able to rent out space for Zumba classes. Please share and help save Wow! Dance Fit!

 

I’m sure there are other groups like this one everywhere. At first glance, they may seem like just another group of women at an exercise class (Zumba!). But I happen to think this particular group of students and instructors is pretty interesting.

There’s the group of ladies who try to get to class early enough so they can stake out positions in the back corner of the room where the mirror doesn’t reach them. There are quite of few (myself included) who prefer not to see ourselves sweat while moving in the opposite direction from the rest of class so the members of this group will vary from class to class depending on who gets there first.

There’s Kim, who will choose her dancing spot depending on where the fan happens to be located. Rebecca needs extra space around her; she’s got long legs and takes big steps so you need to make sure you’re paying attention and moving in the right direction or you could get run over.

One of the students often comes to class with ankle weights and still manages to move quicker and smoother than I do. There’s the seemingly unlikely hip-hop fans who “woot woot” whenever Usher’s “Scream” gets thrown into the rotation. And when the belly dancing songs come on, most of us are happy to don our hip-shaking beads and shake our hips, emulating Shakira to the best of our abilities.

There’s a few who struggle to make sure they are following the instructor precisely. When I’m one of them, it’s hard to smile when she looks around to see if we’re having fun. Others know that it’s best to just follow the studio’s only two rules: Just keep moving and have a good time. When you don’t worry too much about whether you’re doing something right, or how you look while doing it, it is a lot more fun.

As you can imagine, the students are mostly women. There is one brave gentleman, however, who comes to class quite often and probably has more fun than anyone. His favorite class song is “Mambo No. Five” and somehow that’s just perfect for “Zumbalito” as he has been nicknamed by one of the owners.

This brings me to the instructors and owners. Each time I attend one of Christine’s classes I am in awe of this young woman. Last fall, shortly after I started taking her class, Christine had a minor stroke. Not one to let something like a pesky stroke hold her back, she began therapy as quickly as she could after being cleared to do so. We began seeing her in class early this year when she participated once in a while, just a little here and there, slowly easing into the workouts. Now, she’s back as strong as ever and you would never know she’d ever been anything but.

The studio is owned and operated by a couple who are as committed to their community as they are to the studio. They have dedicated several of their regular events to worthwhile causes such as relief efforts for victims of last fall’s deadly typhoon in The Philippines and just last month a Zumba-thon for the American Heart Association. ‘The Husband’, as he usually refers to himself on the studio’s Facebook page, often travels overseas to do mission work so he is not always present in the studio. His enthusiasm when he is there though, is contagious and he makes you feel at home when he greets you by name as soon as you walk in the door. Kyong is everything a Zumba instructor, or any exercise instructor for that matter, should be: encouraging, bounding with seemingly endless energy, doing whatever she can to make the class as fun as possible.

So these are the people I try to see as often as possible. Yes, I do have egotistical reasons for doing so: working out with them has helped me lose weight. Losing weight has improved my confidence and helped me feel better about myself and the way I look. Dancing has always made me feel good. Doing Zumba with these great people makes me feel great; exhausted, but happy. Must be all those endorphins.

The Paella Manifesto

I’m not expecting a Throwdown challenge any time soon, but better safe than sorry, right? Hey Bobby Flay could show up and try to make my signature dish better than me. The biggest challenge, for the both of us, would be trying to figure out just what is my signature dish. I thought about this as I was watching The Food Network a couple of weeks ago. I enjoy cooking and have the basics down. I’m even known at work for my fresh salsa (not the dance, despite my attempts in Zumba class). But that’s not exactly a whole dish.

I’ve dabbled in ethnic cuisine, mostly trying to stick to my heritage. A few Chinese recipes, various Latin specialities, including ceviche, sancocho, and arroz con pollo. I’ve already lamented here about my inability to make an arroz con pollo that can even be compared to my Tia Aleyda’s.

Rather than try to imitate the perfection of her signature dish, I want to come up with my own. Something challenging and dinner party worthy. After scouring through my dozen or so cookbooks, hundreds of pins on Pinterest, and thousands of FN shows, I’ve come up with a dish that I think is worthy: paella.

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saffron steeping in hot water

If you’re not familiar with paella, it is a Spanish rice-based one-pan dish loaded with seafood and other meats, with a very distinctive fiery yellow color acquired with the (judicious) use of what might be the world’s most expensive spice, saffron. I consider many rice dishes a challenge because I don’t think rice is a very easy food to cook. It can turn out gummy if you have too much water, or it can dry out before it’s had a chance to cook all the way through (who likes al dente rice?). And when you think you have the ratios and timing perfected, you try to throw in extra ingredients, and you have to go back to square one. At least that’s how it feels to me.

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All my ingredients ready to go

There are many components in a paella dish that you can mix and match, but I think two of the key components are the paella pan, saffron, and the rice. I bought a paella pan and splurged on a little bit of saffron (if you don’t want to shell out the $15 for a gram, you can substitute with annatto instead). I don’t remember what kind of rice I used the first time, but it was one of the short-grain varieties recommended in my Spanish cooking book. For the last recipe I used arborio rice.

So far I’ve made three different paella dishes, with varying degrees of success.

Paella a la Marinera (Seafood Paella), The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen

paella1

Paella a la marinera

I have to say, this was delicious! A little labor intensive, but worth every minute spent hovering over the stove.

This recipe included fish, squid, clams, and shrimp, and was served with allioli and lemon wedges.

paella2

Toasted Pasta Paella

Toasted Pasta Paella with Shrimp, The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen

While not a traditional paella, using noodles instead of rice, this was also very good. I did not get a chance to take a picture of it until my family had almost finished devouring it. This one only had shrimp in it, but I was afraid to try to repeat the paella recipe I made the first time with my family coming over. Guess I wasn’t feeling too confident yet despite the success of the first attempt, and this one was not as labor intensive.

Paella, Healthy Latin Cooking, by Steven Raichlen

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Paella – Healthy Latin Cooking style

 

Maybe it’s because this recipe attempted to cut down on the calories and cholesterol, but I didn’t think it was as good as the first attempt. This recipe called for chicken breasts, serrano ham (I used prosciutto) clams, mussels, shrimp, and squid. The technique was a little different and it didn’t seem to take as long, but the result was not as delicious this time around. It was still good, and there were no complaints from my husband and son (or leftovers) but I was a little disappointed.

For my next attempt, I think I will try to make the paella on the grill. I have picked out my recipe and pinned it on my Paella Manifesto board. Unless my grill gives me problems, I have a good feeling about this one. I’ll let you know how it works out. And the next time I invite you over for dinner, you may have the honor of sampling my latest attempt at perfecting my new signature dish (but don’t bring Bobby with you – don’t think I’m ready yet!).

Weekly Writing Challenge: Manifesto

 

Wonder if the Pope takes rain checks

The Vatican will have to wait. At this point it will take a small miracle, or a change of luck, so there’s really no use looking through our bags for a fourth time. They simply aren’t there. I know we didn’t both lose them. Someone stole our travelers’ checks. Instead of lining up to admire La Pieta I will follow my friends, Pam and Nona, and queue up with other tired and frustrated tourists at the local American Express office.

Photo from vatican.com

Maybe I’m just tired, but it really is starting to feel like maybe we’re just not meant to be here. In the past week we’ve hopped on and off trains from (West) Germany through France and Spain to Portugal and from Portugal back through France to our current location: Rome, Italy.  Most of the trains are not very comfortable, and at times we haven’t had the luxury of a seat to sit on. Oh the luxurious world of Eurailing!

But sitting here on the floor of the train station’s lobby, that was first-class travel compared to our current situation. It’s a hot Saturday morning and we have just arrived in Rome from Nice, where we were forced to spend a day wandering through the city as we awaited our next connection. Yes, I said forced. I’m sure Nice is lovely, but when you don’t have enough time to unwind and enjoy the scenery, and you haven’t had a good night’s sleep, it’s almost a drudgery to walk around and take in the sights. We did walk past a public, and nude, beach. Not much to see on the beach but the water did look very inviting. Maybe if we’d had a few more hours…

While the train station in Nice was quiet and without any memorable qualities, the train station here in Rome is humming with noise and activity. It seems like the Romans are doing their best to give us a bad impression of their ancient city. Most of the people around me are either yelling, drunk, or deranged (or all three). Station employees are yelling at fellow workers. Drunks are sprawled over the chairs in the lobby, and others are talking to invisible people. Just a few minutes ago the police arrested somebody in a phone booth, while a strange lady walked around hitting people on the head.

My friends decided we should avoid being the next head-smacking victims so we left the lobby looking for a safer place to rest our weary bones. We still don’t have a place to sleep tonight so we are waiting for the train station’s tourist office to open. We found a good wall with almost no traffic, dumped our heavy backpacks on the floor, and sat down on the floor, backs against the wall, and resumed our wait. Nona fell asleep almost right away but Pam and I watched our stuff and the people walking by.

The people we could see from our new location must not have been as interesting to watch because Pam soon became bored enough to clean out her purse instead. This seemed to take a really long time, or she was so bored she was doing it again, so I asked her what she was doing. She answered that her traveler’s checks were missing. Not believing her, I helped her look in her backpack, sure that they were in there somewhere. When they still didn’t turn up Pam started getting frantic but I wasn’t worried. At least I had my checks. Or did I? Just to make sure I checked by purse carefully. Once, twice, three times. I was wrong. I could find everything but the checks. They were gone. Now it was my turn to panic. Many thoughts raced through my head:

“Why is this happening to me?” “What are my parents going to say?” “What am I going to do?”

Photo credit: venere.com

While I am berate myself for joining my friends on this trip in the first place, they decide our next, and actually obvious, steps. We need to report the theft and see about getting replacement checks. That means a trip to the American Express office for Pam’s checks and then to the local Citibank branch for mine (because of course it’s not going to be a one-stop solution). We still don’t have a place to stay so we wait a little while longer for the tourist office to open and see what’s available for starving students like us with little or no money to spend. Having identified a good candidate and writing down the address, we head outside for the first time to find transportation into the heart of the city. We get into what appears, to us at least, to be a taxi, but soon find out that our day of bad luck is still far from over.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Memoir Madness / Writing 201 Workshop