My squashy Maine adventure

Squash…it sounds kind of like the way I think it tastes. Like mushy mush, lingering on your tongue, trouble swallowing…

Let me put it this way: I didn’t grow up with squash.

None, at all.

At a certain point in my life the what you call ‘Italian summer squash’ or ‘zucchini’ found its way in the Dutch grocery stores and therefore on my plate, used mainly as an ingredient in Italian pasta dishes or French inspired vegetable stews.

And about 20 years ago I did receive a recipe from a co-worker for pumpkin soup. For me, a pumpkin was something you saw in American films around Halloween, cut with scary faces. Not to eat. I was never brave enough to make it.

No it wasn’t until I moved to the USA when I learned about this group of vegetables called ‘squash’.

I was intrigued by their beautiful shapes and colors, reminded me of ‘calabash’ (Gourds) a decorative plant we grew, for exactly that reason: as decoration. I was confused why they were displayed at the produce section in the supermarket, but then again, the cut flowers section was next to it.

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However, I learned it was a menu item: you could actually eat these gourd-like things.

Oh, how often I picked one up, surprised by the heavy weight and wondering how you would eat a thing like this. I sometimes would look up a recipe, but never really felt too appealed to make it. I tried it in restaurants when it was served as a side dish and can’t say I was too impressed. It looked and tasted like baby food to me and I am kind of sensitive to smell and texture, so I decided that maybe squash wasn’t my thing.

The squash table in the produce aisle kept taunting me with their intriguing colors, and wonderful names: Delicata, Butternut, Spaghetti, Acorn. It wasn’t until one day two of my co-workers in the teacher lounge were eating squash for lunch. One had spaghetti squash (which to me looked like orange flubbery spaghetti, not sure if I am ready for that) and one was spooning a delicious smelling soup, made with winter squash. Soup!

I love soup! My family loves soup. We eat soup every Sunday as soon as the days get shorter. I would (finally!) make a soup with squash!

I did my research: I would choose a butternut squash soup as that squash sounded the most delicious to me. The shape was easy to recognize (in case they weren’t clearly labeled in the supermarket) and the rest of the recipe’s ingredients really spoke to me.

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Off to work I went:

Step 1: Cut the squash lengthwise in half.

Hallelujah, that was easier said than done! Even with my huge sharp chef’s knife it was quite a task to cut the thing. But I got it. (Made me wonder how the first Settlers did this.  Did they use axes? And how did they decided to even eat this stuff?)

Not as much seeds and stringy gooey substance as I had expected, but just like with the pumpkins we carve for Halloween, I don’t care for the smell or the texture. Yikes!

I endured it bravely: scooping out the strings and seeds, even separating them in hopes that butternut squash seeds would roast just like pumpkin seeds, because that was a thing l liked.

I noticed that the hole I scooped in one squash looked just like a heart: maybe this was a sign? Maybe I 5751337155_8cd6643ec3_m squash after all!

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I had to generously brush the cut sides with melted butter. That sounds good! And sprinkle with pepper and salt. Put the things in the oven, easy enough and wait about 50 minutes.

It did start to smell quite nice. (but maybe that was just the butter?). About an hour later I used a fork to test the squash. I have to admit: it didn’t look half bad. I decided to give it another 10 minutes. I prepared the seeds by tossing them in olive oil and sprinkled some garlic salt on them, and when I took the squash out, I roasted the seeds.

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In my big Dutch oven (in my case a Real Dutch oven, as in, from the Netherlands) I sautéed my onion, garlic and two granny smith apples. I scooped out the pumpkin flesh, still not convinced this would be good. My husband looked over my shoulder. I dared him: “should we try to taste a bit?” We did. It was okay but I couldn’t help wrinkle my nose. That texture!

I added the broth and water and brought it to a simmer. It really looked good and smelled good too. I did another taste test. It was okay, but still had that stringy, weird texture of squash.

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After an hour on the stove, it needed to be blended. This was the moment! I was hoping the blender would take care of the texture thing. And indeed it did: instead of the choppy texture of food and the stringy texture of the squash I now had a smooth orange soup with the texture of…baby food.  I so wanted this to be a huge hit, but I still didn’t believe in it.

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Slowly I poured some cream in the soup. ‘Come on, Edith’, I hear myself thinking, ‘how bad can it be? It has apple, onion, and cream, all things you love, and, oh yeah, butternut squash.’

I don’t know why, but I had a hard time even trying a spoonful. I did though and it tasted…okay.

Still not a fan of the texture and the flavors on my tongue were vaguely familiar, but at the same time strange. I told myself to ‘woman up’ and get over it and take another bite. It wasn’t disgusting, not at all, but I can’t honestly say that it wowed me.

 

My son set the table and I serve the soup topped with the roasted seeds and some sunflower seeds to make it even prettier. The plates look great on the dark table set with cranberry colored placemats.

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Soup is served

My husband and daughter dug right in. They liked it. One son pushed his spoon from one side to another, fished out the seeds and nibbled them up. The other son, to my surprise, took a bite and his face revealed that he wasn’t a fan. However, he finished his entire plate.

As for me: I gobbled up the soup, with the feeling I am eating warm applesauce or baby food, but I have to admit, it was slowly growing on me. I even took a second serving.

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I did it: I made and ate squash soup! (But I know this recipe will be ‘squashed’ to the bottom of my pile and next week I will make a soup with veggies I know and I like).

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The goal of the soccer moms

My kid plays soccer in the school’s co-ed soccer team. She is in 6th grade and the team consists of 6th through 8 grade students. All fine and dandy, nothing wrong with that.

Except my child likes to be the goal keeper.

Why? That is the million-dollar question, but she looks mighty fine in her big gloves and goalie outfit. I beam: I am so proud of her.

football-2415894_1920The game starts and the Tigers play fierce. Lots of ball activity on the blue side of the field. Good. I glance up at my girl in the goal. She is following the action with her eyes, even although she is far away from it.

The green Tigers try to score, but Blue intercepts the ball. Green gets it back before the mid line. This goes on for a while.

Then Blue sees an opening and a huge girl in blue dribbles the ball past all Green defense.

My girl is alert and ready, her arms in front of her, her legs move her body from left to right.

I feel confident: she got this!

Another huge person in blue comes closer to the goal, Green tries to catch up, but the big kids in blue pass the ball, one kid kicks the ball with enormous force straight towards the goal.

The goal, where my youngest child is.

‘NOOOOOOOOOOOOO’ I want to scream. I want to run out there and protect her. From these big kids, from that ball that is coming at her at a zillion miles an hour. But I am frozen, biting my shirt that I pull halfway over my face.

My eyes are just little slits; I can’t bear to watch.

Only my ears are on high alert, registering every sound. A thunk and loud cheering. Did she miss? No, the cheers come from the Green Tiger supporters. I hear someone yell out: “Nice save!”

I let out a big breath. Didn’t notice I had been holding my breath this long. My daughter places the ball in front of her, walks confidently back a few steps and runs towards it. With a mighty kick she gets the ball almost halfway on the field.

Blue is defending, Green attacking. I am still trying to regulate my breathing. “Please, keep the ball on this side”, I quietly think.

But then I look at the other goalie. A tiny boy in blue. His gloves are big on his hands; his shirt looks huge. He reminds me of a scare crow. Beautiful longish blond hair. He looks nervous, but alert. I am closer to this goal and more aware of the expressions. Tension, concentration.

A hustle is going on between Green offense and Blue defense. The ball rolls in the goal keeper field. He looks so relieved. He grabs the ball and throws it back in.

It doesn’t make it far: Green has possession and aims for the goal. I look beside me.

A mother, chewing her nails, almost closing her eyes. The shot gets intercepted by defense, and the ball rolls gently towards the goal. He grabs it.

I hear her sigh. “Your son?”, I ask, pointing my head towards the goal.

“Yes”, she answers. “It’s hard to watch.”

I nod and look at the other goal, far away from us. “My daughter”, I say. We give each other a look. We understand, no further words are needed.

I walk closer to the middle line, but no further. I don’t want to get too close, in case my motherly instincts do kick in and I will run in front of that ball to protect her. The other goalie’s mom follows me a bit.

“It’s easier over here”, I say, “When you can’t really see their facial expression.”

She nods. Again, we understand each other.

My daughter has a few more awesome saves and one that couldn’t be saved. Green might need to work on defense a bit.

Her son lets in one as well. In the end it is 2-1 for Blue, but the Green Tigers play well. Finally, the long shrill whistle I have been waiting for.

I feel my body relax a bit and before I turn around to go see my child, I feel a hand on my shoulder. “Only 6 more weeks”, the Blue mother says.

I smile a tiny smile. “Only six more weeks”, I repeat quietly.

“Only 6 more weeks.”

Weird in a good way

man-869215_1920Words have meanings, and sometimes one word can have different meanings. When you are learning a new language, those are the kinds of words that are difficult. It was during my time as a substitute teacher that I became aware of a most common word with multiple meanings.

The scheduled activity after lunch was ‘put-up circle’. I had no idea what that meant, but thankfully the kids did.

They came back into the classroom after lunch and recess and immediately stood in a circle with one child in the middle. (This child was picked by the teacher, not by me. It said on the plans for me: ‘Put-up circle with girl xyz).

All kids had to say something nice about this child.

To be honest, I had mixed feelings about this. I knew that some kids would have a hard time with being literally in the center of the attention and I also knew that for some kids it might be hard to come up with something nice to say on the spot. On the other hand, both being able to give and receive compliments are great skills to have.

The chosen child of that day took compliments really well and even coached the more reluctant kids into ‘thinking about it, I’ll come back to you’. The child in the middle was clearly not an introvert and a natural leader.

A few kids would repeat whatever their neighbor said: “I really like your laugh.” -“I also really like the way you laugh.”

And a few kids said: “I like you, because you are weird, but weird in a good way.”

After ‘put-up circle’ I asked those kids what they mean with that: ‘Weird in a good way.’ First explanation: “Well, you know, when you are slightly different than the rest, but it suits you. It makes you a better person.”    “Yes”, added another, “you know, more unique, not so ‘cookie cutter’.”  “Interesting”, I thought, and I think I got what they meant.

But then I asked: “So what does it mean when a person is weird, but not in a good way?”  The kids thought about that and one said: “Well, when someone is weird in a not good way, he is just, well, uh, weird. Like strange.”  “Strange how?”, I asked, not willing to give this up.  “Strange as in creepy, just uh weird!”

One girl took the lead. “When a person is weird in a good way, he makes you laugh and makes you think he is cool. When a person is weird in a bad way, he makes you feel uncomfortable.”

 

It was time to send the class to PE class, but while they were busy exercising their bodies, I kept thinking of the ‘weird’ definition.

‘Uncomfortable weird’ versus ‘weird in a good way’. I think it comes pretty close to the Dutch words of ‘gestoord’ versus ‘prettig gestoord’. (Crazy and happily crazy)

I consulted the dictionary:

weird

wird/

adjective

adjective: weird; comparative adjective: weirder; superlative adjective: weirdest

  1. 1.

suggesting something supernatural; uncanny.

“the weird crying of a seal”

synonyms: uncannyeerieunnaturalsupernaturalunearthlyotherworldlyghostlymysteriousstrangeabnormalunusual; More
antonyms: normal
  • informal

very strange; bizarre.

“a weird coincidence”

synonyms: bizarrequirkyoutlandisheccentricunconventionalunorthodoxidiosyncraticsurrealcrazypeculiaroddstrangequeerfreakishzanymadcapoutré; More
antonyms: conventional

 

Even in the synonyms I saw a lot of contradiction: quirky (A quirky person is quite funny in a sort of unusual way) versus eerie (I think of an eerie person as a person I should be somewhat scared of).

One ‘put-up circle’ and my brain is swimming. These fourth-graders were so good in giving me descriptions of the words they used and all kids totally got the ‘weird in a good way’-thing. That in itself is a really good thing, but with so many words in the English language, isn’t it weird (in a good way) that one word can have such a variety of feelings and meanings?

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The day the sun found my ‘off-switch’.

Well, here I am.

Halfway up a mountain in Maine.

The places I passed are down below and new things to discover are up ahead.

I sit down and take a moment.

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The path twisting and turning, never the same.

Granite steps spaced unevenly by skilled trail builders, granite boulders, smooth where millions of hands touched before me.

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Trees still grow here, finding a way for their thirsty roots to find water and soil between the granite.

 

A large ant crawls up my leg, unaware it is tickling me, sending happy shivers to my brain.

In the distance I hear a few cars, a small airplane in the sky, but other than that, just the rustling of the leaves and singing of the birds.

I take a deep breath in and for the first time in weeks, maybe even months I think I feel truly relaxed.

If trees can grow on granite mountains,

if boulders can give way to human feet,

if an ant, smaller than the nail on my pinky can crawl up my smooth, sweaty leg,

then, by all means I should be able to relax.

 

Slowly my imagination replaces my never ending must-do-lists.

“This tree has a face: it looks like a dragon or dinosaur!”

“This boulder looks just like a giant turtle and this one: Wow! It looks like some ancient tribe carved a sun in it.”

 

Just then the sun places the spotlight on my journal, on my words I just wrote, as if to say: “Yes, you can let go. Yes, you should relax. Yes, you will embrace.”

I look up, blinking to the bright light.

The sun is right and thanks to her I finally found my ‘off-switch’.

I jump up and continue up the mountain. Muscles strained, but mind completely relaxed!

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What to do when you can’t juggle?

One of the people I follow on Social Media had a nice piece of writing in which he used the metaphor of juggling for teaching. The article is in Dutch (too bad, as it is very interesting, even the word by itself: jongleren, in which jong mean young and leren can be translated as learning, how appropriate!), and I would love to tell you all about it, but the purpose of me mentioning this, is the metaphor of juggling. (In case you do want to check it out, click here.)

Last February I went to the Netherlands and participated in a training given by this same guy. Right now I sincerely wished he had also taught me how to juggle in addition to all the other very useful information I learned that week.

Because, here is my confession: I think I am trying to keep too many balls in the air, while I have no clue how to juggle.

‘Me-time’ seems a word of the past since I started working full-time. And as I work at the same school as my children are attending, I am with kids from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed, even on my commute to and from work.

This is not a piece meant as one big pathetic complain, but how do people do it?

Household, three (pre)teenagers with a variety of activities (piano lessons. orchestra, track and field, swimming, just to name a few), healthy home-made meals, clean and folded clothes, after school and weekend transportation from and to friends, house rental business on the side.

I haven’t taken the time to work-out or even to go for a walk. Mail is piling up. You can start seedlings on my kitchen floor. I have so many ideas in my head, but can’t get a word on paper. No poem, blog or piece of writing has been generated for a while.

The signs are there: I have been using a certain kind of medication for over 15 years now and never forgot to take it until recently.  My eczema has been under control for years and suddenly flares up again. I am known as a punctual person, but have been late for appointments recently. And I can’t seem to shake this lingering cold!

I kept thinking of this ‘juggling piece’ and I know I am definitely trying to keep more balls in the air than I can handle.

The question is how can I let go of a few and which ones?

I have worked before while having kids, millions of people combine work and kids, so why am I having trouble?

Uhm, maybe because I am the kind of person that wants to do everything she does perfectly. And being perfect is hard, even if I was a great juggler.

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So instead of learning to juggle, maybe I should learn to accept that slightly crooked folded towels (done by my teenage son) are fine too. That not every meal has to be ‘Martha Stewart-style’ and that sometimes sandwiches for dinner is okay (or a not-so-healthy meal made with love by my 13-year old).  That it is fine to say to my kids that I can only bring them to their friends or pick them up at certain times rather than be available per their request (or even say -no- sometimes). That is it okay for me to read a book while I told my kids to clean the bathroom. And that it doesn’t make me a bad mom if I miss a track and field meet once in a while.

So I dropped all the balls, talked to my family over dinner and together we made a plan. They all would chip in and I would communicate my needs better. I went to bed that night feeling a bit better and didn’t even have any bad dreams about my poor juggling performances.

And guess what? I discovered that the world still goes around with dirty dishes in the sink.

The cutest holiday of the year

Aw, Easter! One of the year’s cutest Holidays due to that cuddly Easter bunny.easter-eggs-2093315_1920

And just like every year, Easter has a way to creep up on me. Once the first Easter eggs and Peeps appear in the stores, I hear myself thinking: “Ah, it must be Easter soon. Let me check it on the calendar.” Of course I still have at least a month till the big day, because stores need to fill their ‘special season’ aisle with something, and there just isn’t a whole lot going on between Valentine’s Day and Easter.

But then I forget, thinking I have an ocean of time to get in the Easter Spirit (whatever that means), until all of a sudden it’s here. Easter.

 

Now I don’t know about you, but we don’t do a whole lot about Easter. Our kids have outgrown the Easter bunny and we never knew of ‘baskets’, Easter gifts or dressing up nice. We’re not religious and there are no Easter traditions like bonfires and ‘walnut bowling’ (by lack of better translation of this typical North East Dutch tradition) happening here.

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So how does Easter look like on our house?

 

Well, one of the kids still likes to hide the plastic colorful Easter eggs, if papa doesn’t want to do it. They also like their Easter brunch: a freshly baked bread, croissants and of course a boiled egg (might be painted, or decorated with stickers, or just colored). We will have an Easter branch: a branch from the yard decorated with little wooden Easter decorations (shipped from the Netherlands, but really a more German tradition) and the kids will expect some Lindt chocolate bunnies.

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This year I went to the Netherlands in March and invested in some Dutch chocolate eggs (no offense, but so much better than the Hersey ones: due to more strict ‘chocolate regulations in the EU, chocolate eggs actually have to contain a certain percent of cocoa in order to be called ‘chocolate eggs’). They will be some surprised tomorrow! (And I am so proud of myself for not eating a single one of them yet!).

And no, we don’t do ‘baskets’ or gifts, other than the chocolate bunnies. We don’t dress up. In fact, we might spent a huge chunk of the day in PJ’s and robes, if we feel like it.

To us, Easter is a regular Sunday, high on chocolate and the most special thing is having brunch together, something that in our busy household with teenagers doesn’t happen that much anymore. And I am glad there is no ‘second Easter day’ here: Monday we can just move on like any other Monday.

 

I take that. I feel grateful to have found a way to combine the best of both countries to my own liking. To me, that is one the biggest advantages of moving to another country.

 

However you celebrate this holiday with your family, in one or two days, with huge baskets or just some chocolate eggs, with Peeps or Hema eggs, in church or at the ‘meubel boulevard‘ I wish you all a very happy Easter!

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How holding hands can be a powerful symbol

How do you show that you care? In the Netherlands this week, men showed that they cared by holding hands, women showed it by sharing the pictures and encouraging this action. Children showed it by holding hands, all together.

Why?

Last week a gay couple on an evening stroll was brutally attacked by a bunch of teenagers.

Attacked because they were holding hands.

That’s all they did. Walking home from a nice evening in town, holding each other’s hands.

This didn’t sit well with many people. The Dutch, still overcoming both the shock that Geert Wilders* almost won the elections and the relief that Geert Wilders didn’t win the elections, are working hard to keep up the image that the Netherlands is a tolerant country. The first country to legalize same sex marriage in April 2001, now 16 years ago.

That tolerant image isn’t quite the same as it used to be, and just like many other countries, the Dutch are dealing with big things like globalization, the European Union crisis and immigration problems to name a few. Fear is the fuel for lack of tolerance and maybe it is therefore that a group of people quickly jumped into action with a simple gesture: holding hands.

The hashtag #allemannenhandinhand (all men holding hands) took off like wild fire and became quickly big on Social Media.

One of the first photos published, with Alexander Pechthold (The leader of liberal democratic party D66) and Wouter Koolmees (Lawmaker for the same party) were all over the news and even made it in many international news resources. The comments on these photos were very ranging from very negative like ‘cheap publicity’, ‘Disgusting’ to very positive like: ‘this shows bravery’, ‘a picture says a thousand words’ and everything in between.

Bottom line is, that a small gesture can become symbolic for what you, as a person or even as a nation stands for.

Holding hands might not change the world, but the symbol ‘I care’ (and in this case: I care about people and do not tolerant violence against gay people) might just do enough to feel compelled to also hold hands and post a picture. It can work as a starting point for further discussion and teach children about tolerance. (I loved seeing photos of entire school communities holding hands in one big circle, from the youngest child to the oldest teacher, boys, girls, teachers, administrators.)

Whether you do or do not want to hold hands or see people holding hands in public, to me this little gesture shows that in desperate times when you sometimes feel like it doesn’t matter what you do or say, it actually does matter. Can I hold your hand?