Wedding in Scotland

Why am I getting married in Scotland?

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The farm

I fell in love with an American man whose heritage takes him back to Scotland on both sides of his family. Three generations ago, in the mid-1800s, his mom’s grandfather immigrated from the Orkney Islands to Canada. His dad’s Scottish heritage is a bit murky. All we know is that they came to the U.S. through Ireland before the revolutionary war and ended up in Kentucky.

In 2013, we planned a trip to Scotland to search for the family farm on the Orkney Island of Rousey. Through sideways rain we explored ruins ranging from 5,000 to 100 years old. And, with the help of a local, we found the family farm. The place where generations of his family lived. The trip was blessed by the discovery of a third cousin, whom we bumped into at a local artist coop.

When my love proposed to me atop the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, I had no clue where we would get married. Not in Seattle, where we both live, it doesn’t feel like home. Not in Chicago, where I was born, my roots never did go very deep there. And not in Southern California where he was from, let’s just say there are better places for my wedding.

Since leaving Scotland after our brief visit in 2013, I have always wanted to go back. Tears well in my eyes as I recall how touched my love was when viewing his family’s farm. He walked the green slopes overlooking the North Sea in silence, as if communing with his ancestors, thanking them for their sacrifices and gifts. I witnessed a man reconnecting with a heritage he barely knew. A connection that was lost over 100 years ago. I bore witness to a person awakening to the history of his people within his self. It was a very intimate moment.

5.56
Skara Brae

I fell in love with the mystique of the Orkney Islands. This land where Picts, Norse and other people came in search of a new life. To survive despite the harsh climate and rocky shores, they plowed the shallow dirt and somehow fed for generations. Of course some left under unsure circumstances and others left to find a new life in another new world that offered more opportunity and freedoms. I’m sure those who left, did so with heavy hearts because the Orkney Islands beckon you to stay, like the song of the sirens, with her beauty and her secrets.

I am not discounting my heritage with the decision to wed in Scotland. My heritage is skin deep. Both my parents immigrated to the U.S. and I have visited both countries of their birth. Although I continue to explore how I am influenced by my heritage, it is different than discovering it for the first time. My heritage has never been forgotten. Although I love both countries of my heritage, Germany and Cuba, neither of those places have mesmerized me, captured me and beckoned me back like Scotland.

Ok, well one country does, Cuba, but it would actually be a lot more difficult to get married there. Perhaps the honeymoon?

5.52

 

Instead, my spirit desires to be wed in a land of fairy tales, castles and 4,000+ year old historic sites.

I hope to share my journey as I figure out how to plan a wedding from 4,300 miles away.

Road Trip with Dad and Blue Bullet

Dad and I packing my possessions into blue bullet.
Dad and I packing my possessions into blue bullet.

Blue Bullet chugged as she ascended the last few hundred feet to the summit of the Colorado Rockies. The 1985 Toyota passenger van was weighed down with my post-college graduation possessions, like books, a futon and my hot pink Vespa scooter. My dad and I were moving me from my childhood home of Chicago to my new home, 2,000 miles away in San Francisco. Blue bullet was our trusted family car for the last seven years, and dad drove her with confidence and determination, towards the summit. He knew his little engine could make it up that mountain and onwards towards San Francisco.

This side trip to the Rockies was dad’s idea. I’m pretty sure Blue Bullet didn’t want to climb these steep mountain sides with all of this extra weight, and a battery that wasn’t working quite right (more on that later). And I knew I wasn’t completely gung-ho about the extra time the side trip would add. I wanted to get to San Francisco quickly and I was afraid of unplanned adventures.

Dad and I weren’t close.

My dad, master violin maker!
My dad, master violin maker!

I know it sounds cliché to say my dad wasn’t around much when I was a kid, but it is true. He emigrated from Germany when he was 26 years old and brought with him an old world craft and old world work ethic. His six-day a week, twelve plus hours a day work schedule as a master craftsman making violins, violas or cellos left little time for the family.

On Sunday’s, his only day off, he would split his day between two families. In the morning he would go to his church, Kingdom Hall, to be with his Jehovah’s Witness brothers and sisters, a religion neither my mother, brother or I subscribed to. In the afternoon he would gather his biological family, us, to go on an outing. A typical outing, I would later label Germantime, consisted of traveling to a museum or zoo in dad’s car while listening to the oompah of German polka music, visit said zoo or museum for an hour or two, and end with a visit to his favorite German café for coffee and pastries. Germantime was the only time I felt we were a happy, loving family.

Through my adolescence the Jehovah’s Witness family got more and more of dad’s free time. I was left feeling he wanted to be with them more than with us. When dad was home it wasn’t pleasant. My mom would vent her frustrations with having to work, take care of the kids and do all the chores, while he was with his JW family, always leading to arguments. If that wasn’t bad enough, dad would nag me – telling me to wear more dresses like a “good German girl,” and to stop wearing those “awful American blue jeans” or to remove purple nail polish from my freshly polished, sophomore in high school, nails. I didn’t think an absent father had the authority to tell his child what to do.

My heart grew hard towards him. The sadness of a little girl wanting to be hugged and kissed by her dad, evolved into resentment and anger of a teenager not wanting him around. Now as a college graduate, I still had my issues with dad, but I couldn’t be too disagreeable since he offered to help me move away from home and towards a new life. Renting a moving van was economically out of the question and I had too much stuff to neatly put in a box and send by mail. I just hoped we could get to California peacefully.

Dad unplugging blue bullet, he was charging her batteries...
Dad unplugging blue bullet, he was charging her batteries…

My other biggest fear was blue bullet would break down, stranding us in the middle of the desert. On the day we were set to leave, my fears were validated when I saw dad’s latest experiment in the back of the car.

“Dad, Why are there two batteries behind the drivers seat with wires leading under the seat?”

“Just as a precaution.” He assured me, his balding head dripping with perspiration from packing the car while wearing thick corduroy pants and a wool sweater on a late summer day. His old world aesthetic discouraging him from ever wearing shorts and a t-shirt. “The car battery sometimes doesn’t recharge and I want to make sure we don’t get stuck.”

“Is the alternator going out?” I asked, just having learned what an alternator does from a friend whose car battery wouldn’t keep a charge.

“I don’t think so.” He said with a tone of certainty, accentuated by his deep German accent. “I brought the car to the mechanic and they said the alternator was fine.”

Blue Bullet and a road trip with dad was my only option. I had to trust that together we would get to California, safely, without too many unplanned adventures and without arguing.

Off we go!
Wish us luck!

Note: This is an excerpt of a personal essay I have been working off and on since 2012- to hopefully be submitted to an online publication. I told dad about the story before he passed away in 2013, he mentioned how much he loved that trip and the time we had together. I hope to share the whole story of this trip one day! Happy Father’s Day! 🙂

Cocina Criolla cookbook

Cooking Cuban – Arroz con Pollo

I sat at the table watching my grandmother uncover the large pot sitting on the stove. As steam billowed from under the cover, the fragrance of oregano, garlic, onion, tomato, chicken and a hint of white wine, tickled my nose and made my stomach growl. I eagerly awaited my plate of arroz con pollo piled high chicken with rice dotted with green peas, bell peppers and red pimentos. Before I dove into my dinner of this dish, that I consider my childhood favorite, my grandmother placed a paper towel lined plate piled high with tostones, twice fried green plantains, sprinkled with the right amount of salt. The tostones would serve as part food item, part utensil, helping push the rice and chicken onto my fork before I took each mouth-watering bite.

This is the vision I have of Sunday dinner at my grandmother’s house. She lived in a townhouse, three blocks away from the apartment I shared in Chicago with my mom, dad and older brother. It was a  different world from my multicultural German, Cuban household. In her house Cuba was the root of everything, or so I thought in my child’s mind. Her cooking, the music she played and her language, was all Cuban. Thanks to her, I learned to cook tostones and arroz con pollo. And whenever I want to get in touch with my Cuban roots, energizing my Cuban DNA, and remember my grandmother I cook these two things.

Cocina Criolla cookbook
Some ingredients and Cocina Criolla by Nitza Villapol.

This time I needed some help to remember the ingredients. Thanks to inspiration from My Big Fat Cuban Family blog and the cookbook my grandmother left me, Cocina Criolla by Nitza Villapol, I began my journey towards feeling Cuban in Seattle.

Not only did I want to reignite my internal Cubana, I wanted to use up some food I had in the house. Nitza’s recipe calls for two whole chickens. I had two boneless, skinless breasts in the fridge, this was a problem. I recalled my grandmother loved cooking with chicken thighs, for flavor and for economic reasons, so I headed to the store to buy four chicken thighs plus strained tomatoes, plantain, an onion, dry white wine and bell pepper (red and green). The rest were in the pantry or cupboard.

chicken marinading
Marinade chicken in sour orange juice (made with orange juice with a splash of lime, since I can’t get bitter/sour oranges in Seattle).

The first step is to marinade the chicken in a cup or two of sour orange juice and several cloves of garlic (minced) for at least an hour. Since I live far from where bitter oranges grow, and have never looked to see if it is sold bottled anywhere in Seattle, my trick is to use orange juice and a splash of lime.

Charred pepper on grill.
Charring the red bell pepper.

While the chicken was marinading, I began prepping the rest of the ingredients. My grandmother never liked cooking with canned or bottled vegetables, but most recipes for arroz con pollo call for canned peas, asparagus and bottled pimentos. Since I grew up with a mother who cooked from a can, box and frozen meals, (she was a woman caught in the age of “easy food”), I too stay away from those things. So I made my own pimiento with red bell pepper (yes I know pimiento is different from red bell pepper), used frozen green peas (petite peas would be better) and fresh asparagus (which I just so happened to have in the fridge).

Peeled and sliced - reserving some for garnish.
Peeled and sliced – reserving some for garnish.

To make my version of bottled pimiento, I fire-roasted the red bell pepper to char the skin, about 10-15 minutes, turning every few minutes, to get an even char. Then I place the roasted bell pepper into a paper bag to continue steaming the pepper, about 5 minutes. Now the pepper was ready for pealing, the skin should come off fairly easily with your fingers. What I love about this method, is you get a nice smokey flavor on the bell pepper and the consistency is just like the bottled pimiento.

Making sofrito
Making sofrito.

I browned the chicken in some olive oil using a large, deep skillet. Once browned, take the chicken out of the pan and deglaze pan with white wine, getting all the flavor-filled tidbits off the bottom of the pan. The pan is now ready for making the sofrito. Add the green bell pepper and onion, stir until they are soft. The smell of the sofrito will transport you to my grandmother’s kitchen. Find an album by Paquito D’Rivera (I was playing Havana-Rio Connection album playing in the background) and you may get a nostalgic vision of Cuba B.C. (before Castro)

Rice bathed in sofrito
Adding rice.

The sofrito continues to cook by adding the tomato sauce (about 1.5 cups), white wine (1.5-2 cups), cumin (1 tsp), and oregano (hefty tsp).  Once combined, the pan is ready to add the rice (3 cups), chicken stock (2 cups), two bay leaves, and annato for color (1 tsp).

Ok, here is another place where I deviate from Nitza’s and other recipes. Many recipes ask you to add Accent or some spice pack from Goya. I don’t add these because their main, if not only, ingredient is MSG (you know the stuff you don’t want to eat at Chinese restaurants, monosodium glutamate). Instead, I add a little more salt than the recipe calls for, and then put it on the table.

beer
Adding beer!

Since I used a deep skillet, I was able to place all the chicken in the pan without having to use a dutch oven. Cover and let cook until the rice is done – about 20 – 30 minutes. To finish I added some beer I had in the fridge. I then placed the garnish of fresh asparagus, thawed peas and fire-roasted red pepper. And voila dinner is served.

finished product.
Final result.
The author and her grandmother 1998

What era are you in?

Have you ever thought about what era your life is in or was in?

I was asked to consider this in a memoir writing class I am taking this quarter. The instructor promised this would lead us to a story or two even…  There was one caveat, the era had to be linked with an obsession.

View from Dolores park, a half mile from my grandmother’s house.

Beginning when I was about 13 years old, I was obsessed with moving to California from my hometown of Chicago. I wanted to go to high school there, I wanted to go to college then graduate school there, I wanted to live there more than anywhere else in the world. Why?

Was it the salty ocean air while walking along Ocean beach? The fog rolling over Twin Peaks bringing cool ocean air inland, on a hot summer afternoon? Was it the sour dough bread? Or was it the cable cars? The natural and man-made beauty that makes San Francisco so special makes everyone fall in love with her, but there was more.

I was attached to my grandmother. She moved to San Francisco, from Chicago, when I was 8 or 9. She was the woman I aspired to be. Beautiful, confident, fiercely independent and unassumingly intelligent.

The author and her grandmother 1998
My grandmother and me outside of her apartment in 1998.

She was also an amazing cook. On one visit, she taught me how to shop for ingredients at different stores in her neighborhood of the Mission district. We would walk to the produce market on the corner of Mission and 24th, selecting not too soft avocados and fresh green cilantro for her famous guacamole. We would stop at the butcher that was within a mall off of Mission between 21st and 22nd, to buy a quartered chicken for her famous arroz con pollo. And on special occasions she would buy freshly made ravioli from the Italian market, on 22nd and Valencia, only a block from her apartment, and cook them up with a sauce she would make from scratch with fresh Roma tomatoes, oregano, rosemary and other fresh herbs.  I had never experienced a culinary world like that in Chicago. Shopping was at a grocery store and dinner was made from ingredients that were from a can or a box.

Life in San Francisco was a rainbow of colors and smells that I had not found in Chicago. My entire being glowed when I was in San Francisco, only to fizzle when I went back to Chicago.

The era of obsessing over moving to California lasted almost 10 years. To an adult 10 years may not sound like a long time. So let me put it into the perspective of a teenager.

It was FOREVER!

I graduated from elementary school, high school and college before I finally moved to San Francisco.

Pause.

And this is where my instructors directions became unclear. I didn’t know what to do with the eras within this larger era or my obsessions within the bigger obsession. Obsessions don’t happen consecutively in my life.

There was the era of obsessing over the older brother of one of my classmates. For two years I suffered with a major infatuation for a tall, olive skinned, guy with black curly hair and eyes that were blue like the Caribbean sea. By the time he noticed me, I was on to my next obsession. I was obsessed with bicycle riding along lake Michigan from the north side of the city, where I lived, south 12 miles to Soldier’s Field or north 6 miles to Baha’i temple in the northern suburb of Wilmette.  I was obsessed with the 1985 Bears! “Da Bears!” I was obsessed with becoming a Marine Biologist, and so on, and so on…

My instructor had us think of a scene at the beginning, middle and end of the era. She said, that is the backbone of a story.

A story?! Easier said than done!

I must have a gazillion stories I can tell. But that is a good thing. And I hope you can find them in yours too.

Keep on sifting!

For now, I have some work to do… I need to sift through all of those obsessions, within those eras, or those eras within those obsessions and tease out focused stories.

This is not going to be a piece of cake.

But it will be fun!

Author and her uncle

Finding Voice

Author and her uncle
The author and uncle Danny summer 1987.

My path to becoming a writer began on a mild Chicago winter day in January 1988. But I didn’t know it. It was the day my uncle Danny died of AIDS related pneumonia.  He was one of those rare authentic adults who was filled with the joy of living. I loved, admired and adored him.

His death inspired my journal writing –  he suggested it a few months prior to his death and his death inspired the content. The sorrow in my soul broke open my heart and inspired me to write without thinking about what was written.

A few months later, my AP English teacher said I had a “gift.” He said my writing sounded like I was speaking. He said there are people who spend their lives trying to do that.

I now know he meant to say my writing had voice, which is something to practice. Instead, I took his observation, his compliment of my creative talent as an accomplishment I didn’t need to strive towards anymore.

I thought, if I had achieved something that others spent their lives trying to achieve, then why go any further? Why pursue this thing that came effortlessly?

Instead, I exercised my analytic mind, I became a scientist.

I went to college, then grad school and studied things that didn’t come easy to me. But they were things associated with another love, the ocean. I longed to play with fish all day. I dreamed of a life swimming around in their watery environment, studying their behaviors, their life history, and their diversity. I didn’t have a job in mind, I just followed my love.

I knew I loved fish, I loved tropical waters and I loved the TV show Magnum P.I. that was filmed in Hawaii.

This girl from Chicago, dreamed of becoming a marine biologist, marrying Tom Selleck and living happily ever after studying Hawaiian fish. But it was hard trying to achieve this dream.  Despite all of this love, I was only a C+/B- student at the illustrious University of Chicago, the school I ended up at because I didn’t apply to the “right” university in San Diego, where I really wanted to go. UofC is a school so anti-social, so anti-anything I had experienced in my previous life as an inner-city kid going to public schools, that my only goal was to graduate so I could continue pursuing my dream of becoming a Marine Biologist some place closer to Hawaii, like California.

For four years, I ignored the better grades I received in those classes that required creative writing and kept working hard at those classes involving solving formulas and equations. I ignored my talent.

My love for the environment and for writing merged on Earth Day 1990. I wrote a comment to a letter someone wrote the editor of the Maroon, the UofC newspaper.  I wrote something about think global and act local, but what I remember most vividly is the feeling I felt when people recognized that I was the one who wrote the comment. I remember where I was – paying for books at the local Cooperative book store and the cashier, another student, recognized my name. The feeling that my words meant something to someone else was powerful. I took it as symbolic of what my future as an influential scientist would be like.  I didn’t think it was something I could have pursued at that moment, change my degree and become a writer.

I wish I kept a copy.

Society didn’t show me a writer role model. No one told me about the importance of sharing one’s writing. My role model was Jacques Cousteau. His colorful, fish filled documentaries I watched on Channel 11, the PBS station in Chicago, were my inspiration. I wanted to do what Jacques did. Although, on some level, I did know that the elusive “Robin” in the Magnum P.I. series, the owner of the luxurious estate Magnum lived on, belonged to a novelist, but I associated that with the romance novels my mother read. Blech! I couldn’t do that, I thought to myself, I’m too smart.

If only I knew.

Note: This musing was written as part of a class on writing memoir – the assignment, called thematic stepping stones, was to look at things in my life that are in conflict and write about it. I chose “creative vs analytic self” and wrote for twenty minutes about the moments in my life this conflict arose. It was an assignment written by Theo Pauline Nester.

Have you tried having a re-birthday?

I turned 44 a few days ago and I had a re-birthday. Perhaps it is a “turning 44 thing?”

Finding a place for reflection equals renewal of spirit.
Finding a place for reflection equals renewal of spirit.

44 is a whimsical number it looks like two chairs standing on their head.

The day before the re-birth – my worldview was rearranged – I was not selected for a job, I was not promoted. This was a job I had waited for, had envisioned and helped develop for the last 5 years. In my pre-44 world the job was meant for me. Sometimes what you envision isn’t meant for you to participate.

44 is a happy number

Turning an unfortunate event, a disappointing event, a wounded heart, into something positive is easier as I age. On my birthday I visited a truly special place to find sanctuary and renew my spirit. I realized that not getting the position – with it’s increased responsibility – has freed me to explore new paths. Paths that reflect my true spirit and my passion.

44 is a good age: it’s even, it’s symmetrical; It’s a “Goldie Locks age” not too young, not too old, it’s just right

If I live to be 88 (which is highly probably given my family history) I am at my life’s halfway point. An auspicious date, straddling the before self and the future self. I shed my skin of naïveté and put on the cloak of wisdom, of strength, of courage to lead my life towards the things that bring light and energy to my soul and not just a paycheck.

44 Is the atomic number of ruthenium a rare transition metal of the platinum group

I will take on a new atomic structure. One that is unresponsive to those who wish to throw their negative energy towards me.  One that deflects that heavy dark energy and surrounds it with positive light energy.

44 is a palindromic number, a tribonacci number, an octahedral number, it is a master number

Whatever the meaning of the number 44 with it’s sacred geometry and special formulas – for me it is the beginning of when I take charge of my life, listen to my intuition and folllow it without fear of no paycheck…

I am reborn.

Thanks to my love, my light for the inspiration of the number 44 facts. xoxo

Challenging Status Quo

On Monday I decided I was going to do something different in my life.

It began when I wanted to add a cover image to my LinkedIn account. I know, nothing big, especially because I’m not sure what the value of my LinkedIn account is, and I’m pretty sure no one in my “network” cares about the cover image on my LinkedIn page, at least, not as much as my FB friends would care if I changed the cover photo on my FB page.

My niece learned of my true identity...  But is she right?
My niece learned of my true identity… But is she right?

It was the process of finding the image that mattered. Into my disorganized iPhoto library I went, to look for one of my favorite photos from a trip I took to Scotland in 2013. I scrolled through hundreds of photos. Some I wondered why I hadn’t deleted. Others, I wondered why I hadn’t printed and framed. Then came the photos of people, of me and my partner, in particular.

“We looked thinner back then.” he said,  while sitting on our sagging couch, a few feet in front of the HDTV, cable box, and Blu-ray player, remotes splayed across the scene, as he looked through the pictures on my laptop with me.

He was right. I saw it too. The milliseconds the images were up on the screen was enough time for our brains to pick up on the fewer inches of pudge that wrapped his mid-section or my back-section “only a year ago.”

The last year was fraught with so many – I need to work out more’s and I need to drink less beer’s – that it sounded like a broken record. Obviously, we were eating, sitting, drinking and wishing, more than we were sweating, walking, standing or doing.

So I went to the gym on Monday morning and sweat. I was sore on Tuesday, but I went to the gym again. I stayed away from those tantalizing carbs. I didn’t stop at Grateful Bread – whose current scone is the best in Seattle. I didn’t “celebrate” my second day at the gym. On Wednesday, I was feeling good, so when I went out to lunch I had a lovely cup of white bean and pesto soup with a think slice of homemade bread  and shared a little pizza with my partner at Element in the UVillage. Simple, small, healthy but loaded with carbs. The rest of the day I felt bloated . “Damn I think I do have gluten intolerance,” I thought after feeling massive in a pair of jeans I squeezed into the next day. Those jeans that were a little big “only a year ago.”

Was it all the traveling I did? My dad’s death? The “too hot” summer in Seattle? The amazing IPAs of the Pacific NW that I just can’t seem to stop drinking, especially during the “too hot” summer in Seattle?

Why did I gain weight?

I got lazy. My mind was not aware of my growing girth. My mind was too preoccupied with the stress of life. I failed at balancing recreation and work. I failed at balancing being active with being sedentary.

When my mind finally recognized that the girth of my ass had grown, I played a game with myself. Telling myself – “It’s not that bad.” or “I can work that off in no time.” Was I buying me some time? Or killing me softly, slowly?

My niece somehow knows of my challenges with the evil - Status Quo.
My niece somehow knows of my challenges with the evil – Status Quo.

I am going to the gym, I am starting to be conscious of what I am eating and drinking. I have a birthday coming up and I will not be “one year younger.” I’m challenging the status quo – I’m challenging the way things are or have been. I’m challenging the sloth within.

What are your challenges with status quo? What are your plans of action to defeat it? No plans? That’s okay, sometimes we just have to “do it,” to “act differently than usual,” to create the change we all so desperately want to achieve.

Challenging Status Quo – make it your mantra too.