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Dazed and Confused: Wait… A What? Thursday, February 21, 2008

Posted by Grace in la famiglia.
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A new term has entered my lexicon, thanks to the boys. I’m wondering if they’ve created it, or if anyone else out there in the sphere has heard of it?

Pseudogirlfriend – that female friend that males spend a lot of time with, who at times behaves ‘girlfriendly.’ For example: making them chicken soup if they’re sick, offering massages for sore backs, etc. Further, it’s that friend who the real girlfriend tends to mistake as moving in on things, when in actuality, they’re just being a friend like they always have been.

Apparently, as I’ve been enlightened to it, I am one.

It’s true that my closest friends are ‘the boys.’ And I have been regaled with the story, sadly more than once, that Recently Ex-Girlfriend had mentioned something along the lines of “Well, if you like Grace so much, why don’t you just date her?”

I really don’t think that I get in the way of their relationships. I’m not the female friend who makes moves to cut out the girlfriend from the picture, I tend to befriend them as well. I’m not the female friend who points out new girl’s faults, or gets angry when one of the boys starts seeing someone. I just happen to be that girl that their boyfriend is really good friends with.

So I’m told, it’s not that I get in the way, it’s just that my position is rarely understood. From my insider’s point of view, the boys are my closest friends. I do things for them that I do for anyone I’m close to: if you’re sick you’re going to get some home made chicken noodle, if you’ve got a sore back you’re going to get a massage (it’s one of my talents, why wouldn’t I use it?), if you have something you need to get off your chest I’m going to be there to listen. It is like that with any friend, male or no. As a circle of friends, we have been through a lot together, and so are rather tight knit and pretty fiercely protective of each other.

I’ve been asked to try to understand things from an outsider’s point of view, though. And from an outsider’s point of view, I can understand that seeing a group of young men, plus me is maybe a little bit strange. With the common point of view that girls and boys can’t be just friends, added to how protective they are of me, and the things I will do to make them happy, I can kind of understand. I’m that friend who the actual girlfriends never really understand how her man’s and my friendship works.

But, I’d like to add another term here for the boys, because the reverse is also so true.

What is a pseudoboyfriend? It’s that male friend a girl has who she spends a lot of time with, who she can tell things to that she can’t normally tell people. That friend who is very protective of her, and tends to find faults and reasons to dislike men she gets involved with. A pseudoboyfriend is that male friend who the actual boyfriend never really seems to understand the ways in which that friendship works. In short, a pseudoboyfriend is that male friend females have, who sometimes behaves ‘boyfriendly.’

And to the boys, ma famiglia: you are them.

Song of the Day: Dazed and Confused – Led Zeppelin

Aqueous Transmission: Adventures in Ice Fishing Saturday, February 9, 2008

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The thing about fishing is that I normally don’t get invited. Most of the hallmark ‘guys night’ events, I get invited to. I come to poker nights, fights and halo parties, but I do not come to fish.

The boys normally are more summer fishers, the kind where you spend all day on the boat. Normally, I don’t go along because it’s a matter of fitting people into boats, and I don’t want to take up space at an event I’m not particularly good at. When it comes to ice fishing, fitting people into boats isn’t so much of an issue, and I’m welcome to come, but it’s cold. Being the big suck that I am, I try to avoid spending all day out in the cold. Especially super windy days like today. But, by the generosity of one of J’s cousins, the boys came into possession of a fishing shack for the weekend, and that was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

Using the auger to get the hole through the ice took a good deal of muscle and time. Apparently they come electrically powered too, but the one we had was manual.

I was a little confused at first when the actual fishing got started. Normally the boys are a rather rowdy and loud crew, but everyone settled at their fishing holes with their beer and their poles, and things got strangely quiet. Not wanting to disturb the peace I followed suit and watched for a tug on the line.

It’s amazing the time that passes waiting on fish, how still and silent everything is. Letting your mind wander and flit between ideas, but being so intensely focused on that hole in the ice. And then conversely, the flurry of sound and motion when someone gets a bite. Bouts of meditation interrupted by chaotic action.

We did really well, caught a nice big jack and some pickerel. The only thing I caught was a wee little fish. When M finally got it off of the hook for me (I was scared I would hurt it), we let it go, it was just a baby.

My toes froze, but the beer was cold. Fish just tastes so much better when it was alive just a short time ago, still close to the water it was living in, cooked up simply with butter, lemon pepper, garlic, and a little bit of salt.

Song of the Day: Aqueous Transmission – Incubus

Electrical Storm Sunday, February 3, 2008

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It was a little boy.

Lily, Placid’s wife, suffered a grade three abruption, at 26 weeks gestation, and when they got to the hospital they had already lost their son. A hemorrhage during the Cesarean section almost lost them their future chances at having children, followed by disseminated intravascular coagulation and other bleeding issues that had her in bad condition and accounted for trips back to the operating table. Thankfully, a dedicated team of doctors, surgeons, and nurses have her on the mend, at least physically.

You just can’t say anything to a person when they have been faced with that kind of loss. No words are enough, there is no explanation. Placid and his wife are facing just that, an unexplainable loss so profound that there will not be any comfort until grief has healed things over a little. Attempting to cheer them up or rationalize what happened does not help. What does help, though, is being there so they aren’t alone, and getting done all of those little things that creep up that need to be done, but that they can’t or aren’t ready to do yet.

When Lily’s parent’s flight landed Friday night, Placid would have had to leave his wife, while she was still at a very touch-and-go state, to pick them up. First, he couldn’t just leave the hospital, he had just lost a baby and had been informed that he might soon lose his wife; he needed to be there. Second, driving in that state would have been wreckless at best. We were there so that someone could go and get Lily’s parents from the airport, and so he still wouldn’t be left alone when 10 0z did.

Placid’s only concern was for Lily. He worried about her well-being and how she would handle things ahead of the loss they had just had. We were there to remind him that he still needed to eat once in a while, that making himself sick was not going to make anything easier. We were there to help fill out forms when his hands shook too much to hold onto the pen. We were there to listen to him rant about not being allowed to see his wife, about vague messages periodically conveyed by the staff for the long hours spent wide awake with worry.

At the base of it all, we were there to sit in those halls and waiting rooms with him, in the quiet he needed, so that he wouldn’t be alone. Not to ask questions or get coffees, but to be a hand to hold or a shoulder to lean on because it was all too much. To let him talk if he could, but to just be there if he couldn’t.

Saturday evening I realized that he had been wearing the same clothes since Thursday night when it happened, that there was the rust stain of dried blood on the sleeve of his shirt. I went with The Resident Italian to their house to get him a set of clothes to change into, so that Placid wouldn’t have to make the trip himself, as Lily was finally at a state and location that he could be with her, and she needed him more than he needed the clothes.

Upon entering the house, I new there was work to be done. After picking out some comfortable looking articles I bagged a set of Placid’s clothes and gave the bag to The Resident Italian, who was waiting in the car, and asked him if he would come back for me in a little while. Tired as he was, he asked no questions, and pulled onto the roadway and drove back towards the hospital.

It was like scenes from horror films in certain rooms, because in the rush to the hospital, there was obviously no time to clean up. I spent a good few hours laundering and washing before going back. So much had happened, they did not need to come home to that.

Lily was still under sedation when I got back to the hospital, but Placid was right there at the bed with her, holding her hand, and it seemed that he’d finally succumbed to sleep. We still stayed, waited in the rooms designed for just that purpose. Not making demands with the plethora of still yet to be answered questions, not disturbing them trying to lighten the situation; just being there. He knew exactly where we would be if he needed us.

Song of the Day: Electrical Storm – U2

Blown Wide Open Friday, February 1, 2008

Posted by Grace in la famiglia.
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My good friend Placid and his wife lost their baby last night, at 26 weeks gestation. There have been additional complications, and it is a little up in the air if she is going to pull through alright. We’re all just playing that waiting game. If anyone out there has room for them in their thoughts, it would be appreciated.

I probably will be absent for a day or two until their family has the chance to fly in.

Song of the Day: Blown Wide Open – Big Wreck

Stuck in the Middle with You Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Posted by Grace in la famiglia, strange days.
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One of the few downsides of having mostly male friends is getting stuck in the dreaded middle seat. They do have a point, I am the smallest, and therefore fit most easily into that smallest of seats. The majority of the time, I really don’t mind: the heating from the front gets to you first because it is blowing straight at you. (Can you tell that it is still frigid around these parts?) It’s just that once in a while, like today, I realize certain things about this seat which seems to be almost entirely mine.

The boys and I were headed over to 10 oz’s house after classes, and because the majority of people had bussed to in due to the cold, my vehicle seemed to be the only one available to get there (10 oz said he would have come and picked up people if there were more of us, but he knew that we could squish). Somewhere along the way, Lemon got hold of my keys, and explained that he would let me have a break from driving.

I told him that I would be just fine. Quite competent to drive us there on my own. This elicited some laughter at someone (lets remember, for his pride he isn’t named). Lemon still wouldn’t give back my keys. “Well Grace, if I drive then we’ll all fit into the car better.”

Everyone got quiet as I realized what he was suggesting. I was supposed to let him drive so that none of them got stuck in the middle seat. My car, not any of theirs! I conceded, only because it was cold and I wanted out of the wind. Lemon drove, The Resident Italian sat shotgun, Placid and Coach sat back, and I took my place in the middle.

As many others have noted before, the middle seat has drawbacks: it’s small, it’s a bump, people’s miscellaneous backpacks and binders miraculously find their way to your lap, and sitting between men is not always the most comfortable because they require some air space, therefore stealing your sitting space. Sitting in my tiny little car, though, broad shoulders seem so much broader, elbows dig into your ribs that much more, and their space requirements seem to increase with inverse proportion to the space available to them. Lest to say, it was cramped; it’s a good thing I love them.

Then someone else called, and asked if they could hitch a ride with us, he was on the way anyway. Of course we obliged; it often seems to be the full vehicles that are willing to pick someone else up. This raised an issue, I get stuck in the middle because I am the smallest when there is one person for each seat. Now we had 5 seats for 6 people. Ranking from biggest to smallest, smallest is me.

So even though it was my vehicle, and as a rule I get stuck in the middle, for the last five or so minutes of the drive, I got stuck on someones lap.

Song of the Day: Stuck in the Middle with You – Stealer’s Wheel

Nature Boy Thursday, January 24, 2008

Posted by Grace in la famiglia, strange days.
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Sometimes the dramatic irony of the world makes me wonder. I was riding in a friend’s car, we were driving into the city to go meet some people for dinner. This friend, who for the sake of his pride will remain nameless, lives in the city and does not tend to do a whole lot of rural driving. He just happened to be in the area and very nobly offered to shuttle me to and fro, even though I am quite a bit out of his way.

The highway we were driving had a few factors going against us: it is very hilly, prone to icing over, and wooded. For any readers out there who perhaps don’t drive in the types of winters we have, the first two conditions make stopping a more difficult task (especially when you have to do it quickly), and the third is of concern in this matter, because of course, the woods are where the deer all live.

It was dusk, the hardest time to see the deer, as well as when they like to be about, so I reminded him, “You know that there are going to be deer out, right?”

He scoffed and said something to the order of “Thanks mom,” and proceeded to remind me that he is perfectly capable of driving. I wasn’t debating his capability, I was just making sure he was aware, because living in an urban area, he is not one to often encounter deer.

So we drove along the highway, dark closing in, and I seemed to see the deer before him. I waited a second to let him notice, but it didn’t seem like he was even watching for them. I pointed it out. The fact was duly noted, and he slowed down, by about five clicks.

I didn’t want to keep pushing the subject, but it is a stretch of road known for its high deer density, so I asked if he would mind, for my sake if not his, to slow down just a little more when we were passing these skittish creatures. They will run out into the road even though they see you are there, not the most intelligent creatures of the bush. He pretended to listen. I could tell he was getting tired of me being on the subject. Behoove me to suggest anything about his driving.

As we came down over the ridge of a hill, a deer ran out into the road, maybe 300 meters in front of us, and came to a dead halt in the middle of the lane. He went heavy onto the breaks, not wanting to hit it, but the ice caused us to start spinning out. (Insert my mini heart attack here). Using his not-suggested-against driving skills, he kept rather good control of the vehicle, and it came to a stop in clear view of the deer, which had not moved from its spot, and continued to stare at us with dewy eyes.

He took a second to recollect, I took a second to start breathing again; and just as he turned to me and started to laugh about the close call -THUD- there was a loud thud and the whole car shook. His eyes went wide, as I’m assuming mine did too, and we both proceeded to peer into the darkness out the side of the car, as there are no streetlights in this stretch.

And to our great surprise, there was another deer walking a way. Another deer that had run into our fully stopped vehicle.

When we got to the dinner, we had to explain many times. No, we’re not late because we hit a deer. It hit us. We swear!

I was wrong to doubt his driving skills, though now I doubt his luck.

Song of the Day: Nature Boy – Big Sap and the Sugarshack

Won’t Back Down Sunday, January 13, 2008

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10 oz, one of the boys, had started boxing recently. I was happy for him because he was enjoying it, but also had that concern in the back of my mind, saying “This is boxing, cool, but also injury inducing.” And having had experience with ‘my’ boys boxing with Coach, I knew that the love-hate paradox would only continue. Boxing, kickboxing, and mui thai are all things that they’ve done, and therefore all things that I have been a spectator of. At first I never really wanted to be included in these things; I don’t like to see people hurt in general, but especially so when it comes to people close to my heart. And my boys are like my family. After being dragged along to various fights, though, I did learn to appreciate the rush you get when they win. Being up against another person, taking the hits dished out to you, but in the end taking them out and laying them flat.

I am that girl, cringing and tearing up every time they get hit, leaving nail marks on my palms or someone’s arm, not being able to look, but going nuts and being so proud when they dish it back.

10 oz’s first big fight was a little while ago. Knowing a thing or two about the process because of Coach, it seemed a little early. I was concerned because 10 oz really hadn’t been boxing very long, but Coach told me that he’d picked it up really well and seemed to have some natural talent for it. And anyways, I was told, it’s just his first fight, it won’t be especially rough or serious, it’s a beginning.

Coach has been pretty involved with 10 oz’s training. He used to box, he had to stop because of an injury, but while he could still fight he was pretty well respected. Now that he can’t fight anymore he likes to stay with the sport from the outside of the ring. He drove The Resident Italian and myself to the fight, and we got quite a commentary about 10 oz’s shaping up and what the other fighter was like, bit of a hot head, but he’d been told to keep it cool.

When they both got to the ring, all those fears that had been quelled came right back, this other fighter was big. Even I could see that he had a good 20 pounds on 10 oz and at least an inch or two of reach. Sure, this was supposed to be a not too rough, not too serious fight, but the guy was still just too big. I still got the, “Grace, 10 oz will be fine. Its his first fight, not too much agro, the other guy knows that.”

When they came out of their corners 10 oz was all balls, first fights will do that to a man. He got some good hits in, kept his feet moving, you could see he was still green but, like Coach said, he did have some talent for it, he landed some nice combinations, but he worked the head and ignored the body too much. Being a little over-excited he let his guard down at some points, but the whole first round was just trading punches, us cheering him on.

When the bell rang and they went to their corners is when things started to go wrong. It is normal for opponents to rile each other up, but they definitely took the friendly out of a supposed to be friendly fight. Second round starts and pretty much immediately 10 oz is taking quite a few hits (cue closed eyes for me for the majority of the rest of the fight). This other guy is not so new to the game, so they were pretty good hits too. By this time I am quite concerned and The Resident Italian is holding my hand trying to calm me down.

10 oz’s trying to get a punch in edgewise but is spending all his time protecting himself. He back pedals out of the other guys reach, and just keeps back pedaling, you can see he’s feeling a little in over his head.

The other guy, super-confident because he’s fighting a greenie, lets down his arms and just charges, leaving his face open to wind up for a big hit. 10 oz sees the opening, stops in his tracks and hammers him with a textbook perfect (well, if there is a textbook), beautiful right cross. Time stopped for a split second, you could see the question in the hot head’s eyes, “How did the bugger hit me like that?”

A punch like that doesn’t leave a fighter with many options to follow up with, you don’t hit like that unless you don’t need to follow up, but that’s green 10 oz for you. The guy was affected by the punch, anyone could see that, he was slowed down but he wasn’t out. 10 oz wasn’t back to moving yet, probably not knowing what to do next, so he was open to take hits. And there were a slew of them, mostly landing on the arms, as he started to back off again. They were running out of time, the round was coming closer to an end.

The boys were yelling, I’m near tears, when 10 oz, by some miracle got another chance. The hot head was getting cocky again from the agro and doing most of the fighting; he let his guard down again. He jabbed and followed up with another divine cross, with good power and weight behind it. You could see on the hot head’s face, because 10 oz had his back to us, that he saw the punch coming for him but that he knew he didn’t have time to bring up his gloves and protect himself.

If it were a movie it would have been in slow motion. A light would have gone out in his eyes, he would have arched through the air; but because we had 10 oz in the way and it was not a movie, all we saw was that he hit the canvas.

10 oz won his first fight, the ‘nothing too rough, friendly’ fight, KO, and took quite a few good hits doing it. I’m so proud of him.

Song of the Day: Won’t Back Down – Fuel

Mambo Gelato, also known as: The Many Uses of Salt Monday, January 7, 2008

Posted by Grace in from the kitchen, la famiglia.
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Brr! Is it ever chilly outside! What we were doing making unconventional gelato, outside, in the cold, is beyond me. Though it is a wonderful thing to eat, getting yourself thoroughly chilled and eating frozen food isn’t something I generally do in close succession to each other. Lemon saw a cooking show (I’m apparently not the only one with that addiction) where they made ice cream using this method. Due to a lack of cream, we made a gelato; but only after a lecture on aeration levels from our beloved Resident Italian, who felt the need to correct the misnomer.

First: Ingredients

None of these were explicitly measured (its the most fun unmeasured, I think), but we used: a good handful of hazelnuts (maybe 1/2 cup), around a half cup sugar, 2 heaping teaspoons of cornstarch, a pinch of salt, a little more than two cups of milk, and a couple of ounces of chopped bittersweet chocolate.

Second: Heat

Hazelnuts, sugar, starch, and salt go into the food processor, process until nuts are fine. Transfer mixture into a saucepan and whisk in milk gradually. Continue to whisk over medium heat until the mixture thickens, it took us about 15 minutes, but the milk was really cold, so it could be faster if one prepared ahead. Remove from heat and mix in chopped chocolate, continue stirring until melted.

The salt does not make for a salty gelato, because it is in small concentration it aids in the rounding out of flavors, much like the pinch of salt that goes into cookie dough or cake batter.

Third: The Unconventional Factor

You need two clean empty cans, one of which has to be able to fit into the other. We used large and small coffee cans, as they are just about the right size to do all the gelato in one batch. The not-yet-but-soon-to-be gelato mixture goes into the small can with a marble (clean please!), which acts as a mixing ball. Place on the lid and secure/seal with duct tape. The small can goes into the large can, which you fill the rest of with ice and then some salt. A good seal on the small can is important, because salty gelato is not something we were looking for. Seal the larger can with duct tape. The can apparatus gets wrapped up in some kind of padded insulator, it keeps the cold from escaping the system and lets you play with it without worrying about breaking the cans too much; we used a silver safety blanket… and some more duct tape. What can I say, we grew up watching the Red Green show, that stuff fixes everything!

In this step of our process the salt serves to disrupt equilibrium with the ice, so that it is melting more than it is freezing, aiding in the freezing of the gelato.

Fourth: Games

All thats needed at this point is motion of the gelato making package to mix the gelato while it solidifies. We hung ours from a tree branch and played something vaguely like tether ball, until the rope broke, at which point we just played soccer on the road. Much to our advantage, the road was salted so that it wasn’t ice covered and slippery. Kicking things around and running are so much simpler when not on ice. 🙂

After about 20 minutes (possibly a little fast for comparison times if this is ever to be repeated, it is below freezing out after all) we took it all apart, rinsed the small can off to keep salt water from getting in, and enjoyed our tasty treat.

Whoever thought this method up, on whatever cooking show Lemon was watching, they had a good idea. I think that this could be a lot of fun at a barbecue, potluck, or other outdoor shindig; you get to kick the ‘ball’ around, and later enjoy their dessert. We’ll have to try some other flavor combinations when the weather gets warmer.

Song of the Day: Mambo Gelato – Ray Gelato