Archive | October, 2011

Day 208: Thailand – Land of Smiles

31 Oct

You don’t have to wait long to figure out why Thailand has been labeled the “land of smiles”. From the moment you arrive in Thailand you can expect to be greeted with warm smiles from the locals.  Thailand is a country located in Southeast Asia that has warm tropical weather year round, with the exception of a few months during the “rainy season”

During the past few weeks, while you may have been watching the world series or monitoring news of the latest celebrity divorce, chances are that you missed the fact that Thailand is currently facing a severe crisis. Over the past few months, an excessive amount of rain has fallen on the country. The extraordinary amounts of rain combined with alleged mismanagement of local dams have left parts of Bangkok and surrounding areas of the country submerged; some areas have been flooded with waist deep water for the past two weeks.

It’s hard to imagine any Thailander would be smiling while their country is in such danger, however when my nephew’s wife, Kanyarat,  came over today I was greeted with a traditional Thai smile. You wouldn’t have known that most of her family  (including her mother) are awaiting their fate from these ravaging flood waters.

Today I made a pie as a gesture of hope for the people of Thailand, and presented it to Kanyarat.  I made sure to present it with a traditional Thai smile “Yin” and some words of encouragement “ให้ความศรัทธา” (keep the faith).

Day 207: Counting our Blessings

30 Oct

Yesterday in the Northeastern part of the country there was a storm that broke many of the previous records for snow in the area.   On the 29th of October we experienced a pretty nasty snowstorm.   There was a lot of snow, ice and slush.  Many trees were felled by the weight of the snow on their branches… and thousands upon thousands of people were without power because of downed power lines.

Yet here on my sister’s quiet street on Staten Island, we did not have any downed trees; we did not lose power – we were very lucky.  We read in the news today that many folks are still without power, and may be without power for a few days.   It is at times like these that it is important to count your blessings.  Okay, there was snow in October and you may have felt like singing Christmas carols instead of donning a Halloween costume.  But if your life was pretty much unaffected, you need to take a moment to thank your lucky stars.

It seems that it is natural for us to complain about our minor inconveniences rather than thank God (or the Universe, or whomever you please) for the blessings we have.  Do you  have food to eat?  A place to sleep?  Check out this poster and really take a moment to think about how fortunate you are.

This afternoon I gave an Apple Cranberry Pie to a man who has been an incredibly giving volunteer at a local church in my old neighborhood.  This is a guy who has a demanding full-time job yet still finds time to give many hours to the causes that are important to him.  He is a true blessing to the folks that he serves… and I hope that he knows that his service is very much appreciated.

Day 206: Grace

29 Oct

Eighteen years ago, my sister and I were expecting at the same time. She had her baby in May, a girl that she named Grace, and my son Coco was born in July. It was kind of fun to share pregnancy stories with my sister, though we only shared them on the phone because we were 3,000 miles apart.  For Janice, this was her first child, for me, it was my second – but we had many of the same tests, and probably some of the same fears.

Grace Lynn was born at 12:26 AM on May 29, 1993.  Her parents, Janice and Bo, were both overjoyed to finally meet her and I remember getting many photos of them holding her in the hospital and at home.  It was surreal in a way; they had their baby and I still had two months to wait for mine.

In the fall after Grace was born, she and her parents came to Oregon to visit us.  They came with me to a radio station contest (go figure!) where we had to guess how much a pile of bricks weighed.  We all filled out an entry and the next day as we were driving to visit Mt. St. Helens we heard on the radio that my sister had guessed the right weight of the bricks and had won a limo ride through Portland and dinner for eight.  We were thrilled!  The very next day my family and my sister’s family took a tour of Portland in the back of a limo and had a great night on the town.

I was in New York the following February when Grace was baptized (I helped make some of the food) and that September when we lost my sister.  Both times I brought my son with me and he and Grace got to play together.  It was really lovely to see them enjoying the same things;  I remember that the Johnny Jump Up was a really great treat back then.

In November,  I was back in NY with Coco when we lost Grace’s Dad.  Taken from us way too young it was a shock for all of us.  Grace had only known him for a year and a half – and that seemed very unfair.  But we all know that Life is not fair – even though we wish it were.  None of us had answers to give Grace for why such a thing would happen; we were as lost as she was.

All these years later, I still have no answer.  I can only say that I know that her Dad would be so proud of the person that she has become and, if it were possible, he would be her guardian angel.  I saw how much he loved her and how happy he was to have her in his life.  I want Grace to know that that love is something that does not die.

Grace came home this weekend from attending college at SUNY New Paltz to see me (and her family) for the evening, and I made her an Apple Pie to share with her friends.  Gracie, thanks for doing your best, for making us laugh and for being you.  We are so grateful to be sharing in your life journey.

Day 205: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare

28 Oct

When I was a toddler, my parents had a baby girl. She was born in February of 1958 and she died seven weeks later, in April. At the time my parents were told that she had pneumonia but is likely that my sister had cystic fibrosis which was not an identified condition at the time.

Even though I knew that it was hard for me to imagine what it must have felt like to lose a child… and it wasn’t until I had my own baby that I knew how much they lost. It has to be the worst nightmare for a parent to endure.

Recently I was told of a woman who lost her child to another illness – one that is marred by stigma as much as by the damage it does: bipolar disorder. The child lost was not a toddler, rather she was an accomplished scientist and an avid outdoorswoman. But somehow the diseases darkness overcame the light that she brought with her and she lost her battle with this terrible demon.

In the memorial pamphlet her sister wrote a wonderful tribute to her, highlighting her sister’s accomplishments and the challenges she faced with her illness. She finished the tribute by saying that she knew her sister was now free from pain… and that she hopes “that her death will give voice to an illness that is strongest when the victim is silent.” My wish is that we find a way to fight this evil illness and save those dear to us who are plagued by it.

Day 204: Grandma Frances

27 Oct

Grandma Frances has lived across the street from my family home since we moved there in 1973 – that’s 38 years.  Grandma has three children, 4 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren but she has also been the proxy grandmother to my neices since their grandmother’s were not around.  Grandma has always been available to help whenever she was needed and was more than willing to be a part of our family from the beginning.

Here are a few bits of information about Grandma: she is 91 years old having been born on June 23, 1920, she loves the New York Yankees (and even went to see a game last month!), she worked for many years for the US Postal Service in Manhattan, she loves word search puzzles, and she is still sharp as a tack.  And get this, she still does not wear glasses of any kind – not even for reading!  I’ve still got a few years to go before I’m 91 and I’ve been wearing cheaters for years.

Each year when I go “home” I make sure and plan a visit with Grandma and chat for a while.  Last year when I was going to visit, my sister told me that Grandma was not to eat any sweets and so instead of baking her a treat, I brought her a bouquet of flowers.  When Grandma heard I was coming to visit this week, the first thing she told my sister was, “Don’t let my family tell you that I can’t eat any sweets! I’m 91 years old and I can have a treat if I want one!” And so of course the first pie of my NY trip was for Grandma.

This morning my sister and I bought what seems like a bushel of MacIntosh apples (my favorite) and I baked an apple pie for Grandma.  After dinner, I brought it over to her house and we visited for a while.  She showed me a few pictures that she received for her 90th birthday (a photo of Yankee Stadium circa 1920 and a photo of Babe Ruth with Lou Gehrig).  We talked about our children and our lives and just visited for a while.  It seems that Grandma is content – and I am happy for her.  And tickled to know that tomorrow morning she will be eating apple pie for breakfast.

Day 203: Happy Birthday Anny!

26 Oct

Anny lived in the house next door when we moved back to Ashland in 1995.  She has always been a quiet person and it took a long time for me to get to know her.  What I did learn early on is that Anny has an artistic side and she sees the humor in situations .  And I know for a fact that she is a most beloved daughter.

When she was a youngster, Anny spent time baking with her ouma (grandma) and there is some speculation that that is what sparked her love of baking.  Her great-grandmother was also a marvelous baker.  And, there is a rumor that her neighbor is a pretty good baker as well.  Maybe it’s because of all of those elements that Anny decided to enroll in the  baking program at Seattle Culinary.

Before attending this school, Anny worked at a place called “Nana’s Soup House” where she baked breads and made soups early in the morning.  She really liked, as I do, the quiet of the kitchen in the morning when there wasn’t anyone else around.  It’s a lovely feeling to be on your own, in charge of the kitchen, and creating lovely food.

Since I mentioned that Anny likes humor, I thought I should include a clip of one of her favorite comedians, Brian Reagan.  He is a pretty funny guy – and Anny and both of my kids can recite his routine (almost) verbatim.

I’d be a lot better off if I was to study more growing up. But you know where it all went wrong is the day that they started the spelling bee. Cause up until that day I was an idiot, but nobody else knew, y’know. And the spelling bee day popped up: “OK kids, up against the wall! It’s time for public humiliation.” Spell a word wrong, sit down in front of your friends. Y’know, that’s great for little egos: “Hey, look at me! I’m a moron. I wasn’t even close. I was using numbers and stuff.” That’s where I admired that kid who spelt it wrong on purpose, so he could sit down. He knew he wasn’t going to win so why stand there for three hours. First round: “Cat. K.A.T, I’m out-ta here…” Then as he passed you… “I know there’s two T’s.” I remember my teacher ask me: “Brian, what’s the I before E rule?” Ummm… I before E… Always. “What are you an idiot Brian?” Apparently! So she explains it: “No Brian it’s I before E except after C, and that sounded like A in a neighbouring way and on weekends and holidays and all throughout May and you’ll always be wrong no matter what you say!” That’s a hard rule!

A little birdie told me that tonight for dinner, Anny had a triple decker meat/mashed potato loaf with roasted garlic mashers on the first layer and cheesy mashers between the next two – and that it was the best ‘birthday cake’ ever!  After which she and her family will taste the gluten free Apple Blueberry Cobbler that I made for her.

And at this moment, east coast time, Anny was born 29 years ago today!  Anny, Happy, Happy Birthday – and please keep on baking up a storm and creating wonderful breads, fabulous cookies, and perfect pastries for the world and for you.  I look forward to seeing and tasting the products of your education (and talent) for many years to come.

Day 202: Opus Broadcasting and 102.7 The Drive

26 Oct

As you know, I love to play trivia games on the radio. When I lived in New York, it was nearly impossible to ever get through to a station, but living in a smaller town, every now and then, it happens.

In addition to winning a few sweet prizes over the years, I have met some pretty nice people through this hobby, among them DJ’s, receptionists, and even management. There is something about radio that attracts caring, creative people – and I’ve met a few of them at 102.7 The Drive. It’s got to be a challenge to transmit the right energy day after day, but these guys manage to do it.

These are a few of the people that help brighten the airwaves: R. Charles Snyder, Jim Rose, Cano, Coco del Rio, Dave Hatton, and Scuba Steve. They’re a great group of people who work hard to give people a reason to smile at work, home or play. And sometimes, if they’re lucky, win a prize.

About ten years ago, they held a contest where you had to call in to qualify to win $1,000. About 97 listeners qualified and the drawing was held one evening at a hotel in Medford. Since I qualified, I took my two children to the hotel to sign in for the drawing. The “party” was in the coctail lounge but since I had two kids with me, we were sitting with other folks in the lobby waiting for the drawing. It was a warm night and I bought us lemonade and my son asked, “When can we go home, Mom?” I told him that as soon as they picked the name of the winner we could leave… and then the announcer called out my name.

All I remember is rushing into the lounge to excitedly (and tearfully) claim my prize. Later, my son told me that once my name was announced I pushed him off my lap and ran. I can’t believe I did that but have to take his word (sorry, Coco).

Everytime I win a prize, I bake something to bring to the station… brownies, cookies, or sometimes a cake. It is my way to thank them for the gift – whatever it is. And I know that they appreciate it. A few years ago, I went to their offices on the day that one of the DJ’s was leaving the station and I just happened to bring in some goodies. I don’t recall his name, only that he was a big man with a deep voice. He stopped what he was doing and said, “I’ve been in radio for a long time and you have got to be one of the nicest listeners I’ve ever met.” That made my day.

This morning, before I left town for New York, I dropped off an Apple Berry Pie to the folks at Opus Broadcasting to thank them for all the smiles that they have brought me over the years. Thanks guys, it’s been a blast!

Day 201: Eleanor

24 Oct

Eleanor is four and one half years old. She is the daughter of my friends Jack and Misty. This past September, Eleanor entered a bilingual preschool. She also takes horseback riding lessons and plays soccer and has two very proud parents.

Eleanor is a very bright, independent child. When I have been around her, I have noticed that she is very respectful and considerate of others, especially for one so young. Once I heard her ask her Dad for a snack and he had some fresh peppers and offered her a slice. At first she scrunched up her nose and Jack said, “You like peppers Ellie” to which she said, “Oh” and took the slice and promptly ate it exclaiming, “I like peppers Dad!”

When I saw that exchange and thought of all the times I tried to tell my kids that they liked one vegetable or another, I was surprised that Jack made it look so easy! He really seems to put all of his effort into this child and, these are his words, “she is best thing to ever happen to me.”

Perhaps I feel a kinship to Eleanor because she has the same name that my mother did. When I saw her Dad today, I asked him what kind of pie Ellie might like, and he repied, “Berry.” That is why this afternoon I brought a Mixed Berry Pie to Eleanor for being exactly who she is and for bringing so much happiness to those around her.

I’ll leave you to ponder a quote or two from a very famous Eleanor.

“I have never felt that anything really mattered but knowing that you stood for the things in which you believed and had done the very best you could.”

“Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

Day 200: Reed

23 Oct

Reed is a twenty something young man living in Ashland. Though I have known his mother, Martha, for years, for some reason or another, I have never met Reed. Martha recently saw an article about my pie project and sent me an email in which she told me that Reed and I have pie baking in common.

It seems that when Reed was in the 5th grade he participated in the after school ski program and became enthralled with skiing. Martha knew that this hobby would cost money and she talked to Reed about how he might earn that money.

Since Reed liked baking, it seemed natural to create the “Ski Pass Pie Company.” Prior to the ski season, beginning in October, Reed would pre-sell pies to his friends and neighbors and then deliver them hot from the oven to their doorsteps. In this way, he raised the money for his ski pass and the occasional piece of ski equipment.

Reed ran his pie company for five years and then passed it on to his sister. Through that business experience they both learned lifelong skills. Among them: how to work with people, food preparation and cleanup, and sales techniques. And they had fun and learned to ski as well! Martha said that she told the kids that if they can bake a pie, they can probably do anything. Perhaps that’s true.

Over the past few months, I’ve learned a few things about pies. The first is that pie baking is not easy for everyone. It wasn’t always easy for me either, but after hundreds of pies, I got better at it.

The second thing I’ve learned, is that when people get a pie, they (often) become happier. They know that someone has spent some time and effort on their behalf. And unfortunately, we are all so busy that this practice is not as common as it might be.

This afternoon, I brought a Chocolate Cream Pie to Reed’s house, but he was not at home. His younger sister accepted it for him and said that she knew that Reed would be glad to receive it – seems that she knows that giving a pie is a way of showing a person that you care. And that’s what this mission is all about.

Day 199: Jim Amberg of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

22 Oct

Tonight my daughter and I had tickets to see August: Osage County at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. My daughter, Alexandra, worked as an usher for OSF for a few years and met some really nice people while she was there. This evening we prepared a Mixed Berry Crumb Crust pie for one of those people, Mr. Jim Amberg.

Jim is the Access Coordinator at OSF, and that means his work is to make the experience of attending the theatre open to everyone. Accessibility goes beyond providing ramps and seating for those in wheelchairs. It includes such things as providing sign language interpreters, audio description on demand, or as in the case of tonight’s performance, open captioning. In addition, OSF provides thousands of assistive listening devices for those with moderate hearing loss.

This past summer, Jim and audience services manager, Radawna Wallace, were selected to receive a 2011 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability Award for Emerging Leaders. The two were honored for their work adding services to assist audience members with disabilities. The criteria used to select the award recipients is as follows: Recipients are selected for having sustained accessibility efforts over a significant period of time, demonstrating either an individual or institutional commitment to the inclusion of all people with disabilities.

Alexandra always spoke very highly Jim and tonight I was delighted to bring him a pie to recognize his sincere consideration of others and his unfailing devotion to his work.