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.

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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

Vibrant Hues

For this week’s “Vibrant” photo challenge, I went searching for color. After last weekend’s snowfall and then this week’s warm temperatures, we were pretty much surrounded in gray. So the colors in this week’s photo don’t come from Mother Nature, but from a little bit of artificial coloring in some soda bottles at our local World Market store.

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I do have another photo in mind for a different interpretation of “vibrant” that I hope to get to later this week. No promises, but I will do my best to capture what I have in mind. Stay tuned.

Fredericksburg, My Muse

When I look through the hundreds, probably thousands, of photographs that I’ve taken over the last ten years or so, it’s pretty obvious that there is one subject that keeps drawing me back — the beautiful downtown area of Fredericksburg, Virginia:

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

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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.

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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