Tales of a wandering lesbian

Category — Idaho

Remix

I know I’ve already written about how much I love Rock Band, but every time I play with other people, I love it even more.

I brought home the Beatles version for my sister’s birthday in September.  We spent hours playing.  And, by we, I mean my sister, my mom, my dad, my brother-in-law, and my aunt.  There were nights where we all gathered in front of the tv to play together.  With one guitar and one set of drums, the rest of the players took turns (or sang together) belting into the mic.

My family laughs a lot, but with the wii we laugh even more together.  My family usually humors my requests (which are incessant) to play board games whenever we are together, begrudgingly coming together to play “SORRY!” or “Taboo”.  But with the wii, there are times when I have to convince my father that we should wait to play.  The wii is great, in general.  Whether we’re playing tennis or wii fit, or Rock Band, it brings us together almost magically.  My parents gently encourage each other, my sister helps my aunt, running the drum foot-pedal while my aunt slaps at the electronic drum heads.  My bro-in-law, Matt, and I talk a significant amount of trash while playing tennis, but aside from the one time my sister inadvertently hit him upside the head with the controller, we all keep it super-civil.

Back in Portland, I had an October Rock Band party in the backyard.  We rented a projector, and played Rock Band on the neighbor’s garage wall.

Backyard Rockband

It was a clear but freezing night.  After 6 hours, there were still women sitting in chairs around the little fire pit, trying to keep warm while they played “one more song, one more song…”  When we finally shut it down at midnight, there were hugs and lots of “I love you, man”s exchanged.

This Christmas, when I got to my parent’s house, the wii and Rock Band equipment was already there, brought over from my sister’s house (where it lives) to the larger living room that serves as our communal gathering place.  Lunchtimes were filled with jam sessions, and evenings with competitions.  My dad picked up Rock Band 2 on a shopping trip to Twin Falls (the closest mall 90 minutes away), and we spent that night forming our band (nuthouse) and making our characters (big mama, rikitan, flickster and forno – my pregnant sister’s name is Italian for “oven”).

For the next week, visitors to the house were treated to a turn on the wii.  Perched on the piano bench, one visitor, who used to be a drummer, hammered away, totally enjoying himself.  We turned on the “freestyle mode” and let him go to town.  After a dinner with friends from elementary school, our two families piled into the living room for some fun.  We warmed up with tennis, pairing up mom against mom and brother against brother.  Watching the two dads go at it was perhaps the most entertaining.  We shouted instructions as they waved their arms wildly and swore loudly, battling each other.

And then it was time for singing.  We loaded the Beatles in and assigned instruments.  The nine of us played and sang and laughed.

Rock it!

“I think this might be addictive,” my mom declared with a wary grin.  I wasn’t sure if she was warning me or herself.  But when I suggested that she and my dad get a wii, she waved her hand in a dismissive way, “No no, we have Cathy and Matt’s.”  Then she chuckled and smiled mischievously.

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January 11, 2010   1 Comment

Ravioli

A trip to see my family is a trip regulated by meals.  We’re planning lunch and dinner while eating breakfast.  My trip this Christmas was no exception.

The first meal I had with my parents was on the way back from the airport.  Dad was excited about a barbecue place, and I wasn’t so hungry, so we headed to some ranch-styled chain near the Boise mall.  I was still finding it difficult to figure out what to eat (a problem since my return to the states).  I thought a barbecue joint would probably have exactly one option for a vegetarian, which would make my choice easier, but this place had two – so I ordered both.

When we sat down at the table I laughed out loud.

BBQ roll

Along with several bottles of bbq sauce, Each table was outfitted with its own roll of paper towels – you know, just in case.  I ate about half of the salad and side of mixed veggies I ordered, and packed the leftovers home.

The next morning’s breakfast was much more exciting.  Like Portland, Ketchum has a number of really excellent restaurants.  Eating at restaurants I knew meant ordering from familiar menus.  This morning it was “Huevos Kneadery” at “The Kneadery”, a restaurant that has been around as long as I can remember.  Eggs (over-medium), black beans, cheese, salsa, avocado and sour cream in a tortilla or two occupied me as I remembered how to eat again.

Huevos Kneadery

The fresh cookies on the way out helped, too.

The following days were filled with several pizzas, frequent coffee outings (my dad likes to go every Wednesday and Friday when the local paper comes out), and fantastic home-cooked meals.  The most important of those meals was, and always is, Christmas dinner, when we have my mom’s ravioli.

There is a day sometime in November that is set aside for ravioli-making.  Mom gets out the food processor, the pasta-rolling machine, and her immense Formica cutting-board.  Dad sets aside the better part of the day to assist in the folding, cutting and crimping that will ensue.

Over the years, I’ve watched them assemble the pasta, and on occasion, have been allowed to help as well.  The making of the ravioli is serious business.  Everything from the amount of flour on the cutting board to the type of fork used to crimp the edges makes a difference in the way they turn out.  Mom, who grew up watching her grandmother hand-roll the pasta dough is a master.  Dad, the heir to a distinctly non-Italian, German tradition, has proven himself a capable helper.  I, however, have proven that I can push too hard with the fork, turning a well-crimped edge into pasta fringe.  I can whip up a darn good timbalo or saffron ricotta sauce, but the ravioli is an item I’ve yet to master.  I’m hoping to take on the challenge in the next year or so.

The ravioli come in two kinds on Christmas:  cheese and meat.  The cheese version is ricotta and spinach, and the meat is ground beef and spinach (correct me if I’m off, Mom).  Both are delicious, and until last year, Mom’s ravioli was one of the few exceptions to my vegetarianism.

In addition to the ravioli, Mom makes her sauce from scratch.  She starts with a roast – or two – tomato paste and sauce and other stuff, and lets it cook all day long.  One of the great treats of going home is walking into the house in the afternoon to the smell of the sauce simmering away.  From the time she was tall enough to lift the lid, my sister has been sneaking tastes.  First it was with string-cheese dipped into the deep red sauce.  More often now, it’s with bread – my mom’s excellent rolls if they’re available.

No, the sauce is not strictly vegetarian, but I remove as much of the meat particles as I can see, and remind myself that even the Dali Lama eats meat every other day.  I might eat only the cheese ravs, but I’m not willing to give up the sauce.

About an hour before dinner is served, the grand ravioli count begins.  A complex calculation takes place.  It includes the number of people in the room, their relative hungriness, as well as an evaluation of past performance on the part of the eaters.  Some kind of an algorithm is employed to tell my mom and dad exactly how many dozen meat and cheese ravioli should be brought from the basement freezer where they have been stored, spread in single layers, in plastic bags.

The ravs are big.  The squares measure about 3-4 inches on each side.  Cooking takes a while, and is done with extreme care and delicacy.  If one bursts, the parts are fished out to be tested, or added to the leftover bin.  Not much is ever wasted.  They are too precious.

There was one year my family didn’t spend at my parent’s house.  I had surgery, and my family came to Oregon for Christmas.  Along with presents, they packed ravioli and sauce in a cooler.  And there was a fabled year when mom sent a similar care package cross-country to her sister who was spending the holiday in Massachusetts.  Nothing interrupts the ravioli.

When it is time, the ravioli are brought to the table last, after everyone is seated, and remain in the center of the table, people passing plates to those sitting closest, and calling out orders “2 meat and 3 cheese!”

Ravioli

When the ravioli are made, they are marked.  They are pierced one way with a fork for cheese and another for meat.  Even though they are placed on separate ends of the platter, the markings can help with identification.  And Identification is something of an art at the dinner table.  “That’s a cheese.”  “No, it’s a meat.”  “Give it here and I’ll find out.”  The cheese seem to flatten out while the meat poof up ever so slightly.  It’s more of a parlor game to see who can identify them the best.  Nobody is really disappointed if they end up with the wrong kind on their plate, and I can always find someone to take a stray meat rav off my hands.

In my mind, there are three things that must accompany the ravioli – aside from cheese, I mean that’s just a given: a great crystal bowl of sauce and meat, just in case; my mom’s rolls (they are super-tasty, but super-sticky to make); and olives.  Pitted, extra-large, black olives are always passed around the table for my mom, aunt, sister and me to put on our fingers and wave around briefly before devouring them.  There are always other things on the table for Christmas.  A ham was incorporated into the meal when my brother-in-law was incorporated into the family.  A few slices are eaten, but the main attraction is the ravioli.

We each have our own ways of eating them.  I favor a quadrant approach.  I carefully cut each rav into four, square pieces.  They are perfect bite-sizes (pretty much the size of your average store-bought ravioli).  That way each bite has the same proportion of dough to filling.  It is a tradition of rituals, and the method of eating is a deeply personal one.  (I’d never think of criticizing the way someone eats their ravioli.)  There are others, however, that are distinctly communal.

As the eating begins, so does the counting.  A close accounting is kept, and regular reports made to the table, as though the number of raviolis a person eats secretly determines whether they will get into heaven.  There are great ravioli controversies surrounding the most consumed by one person at my mother’s table.  There is a legend of a guest eating 21 in a sitting.  I was there for the alleged incidentt, as was nearly everyone else in my family, but over the years the number has become so fuzzy that none of us knows  exactly what happened that night.  (It wasn’t Christmas, so I’m pretty sure the accounting wasn’t as critical.)  I know that I, personally, have maxed out at 14 ravioli, and my aunt at 12, because we were competing one year.  (I won.)  But, in a sane year like this one, I stopped at 6 and had room for pumpkin and apple pie.

Every year someone exclaims the ultimate praise, “I think these are the best you’ve ever made!”  Most years, Mom smiles kindly and goes back to eating – the ravs are always good.  But some years, she looks down at the piece on her fork, studies it carefully, and nods her head, “they really are good this year, aren’t they.”  And then one of us will pass a plate calling out “I want that meat one right there – no there.  Thanks!” as another of us waves an olive-laden finger in the air.

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January 6, 2010   1 Comment

Christmas in the mountains

Christmas in Idaho, for me, is magical.  The place where I grew up is one of those mountain locations that looks more like a postcard than anything else.  Many days have some kind of precipitation, whether it’s thunderstorms in the summer or snow flurries in the winter.  Every day, however, is marked by a beautiful clearing of the sky that is eye-watteringly blue.

There are some things that happen every year when I go home.  Christmas eve is marked by a soup-feed at my parents house (usually attended by the priest who will be celebrating evening mass), evening mass at my childhood Catholic church, hanging of stockings, a morning feast, and the crowning event, a Christmas ravioli dinner.

There are other things that are unexpected, variations that make the holidays interesting.  Yes, my sister and I will get in trouble for whispering and giggling in church, but the results vary.  We didn’t do it much as kids, when we were busy serving as altar-girls, but as adults, it seems that we can’t help ourselves.  “I’m sitting next to Kristin!” my little (30-year-old) sister demanded.  I climbed over my grandparents and mother to kneel next to her at the bend in the pew, my knees widely straddling to different kneelers.  We kept it together until my mom turned us in to my grandmother for whispering.  The resulting boxing motions made by my 89-year-old, heathen grandmother sent me into fits of stifled laughter that brought tears rolling down my cheeks.

When the mass got to the “prayers of the faithful,” a time when parishioners pray aloud their hopes for world peace, the healing of friends and family members, and the memories of lost loved ones, my sister gripped my hand tightly.  It wasn’t because she was distraught or devout in her prayers.  It was to keep me from saying anything.  As an adult, I’ve found the prayers of the faithful a nice gesture, a time to fix the positive thoughts of those in the high-ceilinged room on the betterment of all.

During a previous Christmas mass, I opened my mouth to voice a prayer for a family-friend who had suffered an accident and was undergoing a difficult recovery.  I imagined the positive energy floating to the hospital bed, and the warm feeling the family would feel knowing that people were sending love.  I didn’t hear the gasps down the pew when I said the name, but it became clear that I’d let a cat out of the bag as soon as mass was over and groups of people darted in my direction.  Apparently, the accident wasn’t public knowledge and I’d missed that piece of information.  Fortunately, my family clued me into the situation, and I was able to rapidly employ Jedi mind-tricks.  When we got home from church, the message light was already flashing on the phone, the sign of a truly small town.

From that point on, we referred to the incident as “the time Kristin ruined Christmas”.  This year, however, I kept my jaw firmly clenched and my sister and I celebrated when I made it through mass without ruining the Christmas of 2009.  I left it to the frozen, overburdened powerlines to try to do that.

As we drove down the road to my sister’s house after Christmas mass, she noted that the streetlights were out.  I watched as porch lights extinguished at the passing of our truck.  Pulling up to the house, we saw the telltale sign of jerky flashlight bursts against the inside of the window coverings that told us the power was out.  We walked Cathy to the door and told her to come to the parents’ house if it got too cold.  Her parents-in-law were visiting, and the temperature was dipping below zero (that’s Fahrenheit, people).

When we pulled into Ketchum, a 20 minute ride from Cathy’s house, we found the traffic-lights were out.  That meant it was a darn big power outage – on Christmas Eve.  Fortunately, the lights were on at my parent’s place, so I powered up my laptop and climbed into bed, ready for a Christmas ritual of my own.  Woot.com is one of my online loves.  It’s an electronics clearing house that posts a new item every night at midnight central time.  Every so often, they post something called a “Random Bag of Crap” – $3.00 for 3 pieces of random electronics (and other stuff).  Everything from blow-up tiki huts, to Nintendo wiis and insulated beer mugs for $3.00.  Hundreds of thousands of people compete for these coveted items.  Usually the BOCs are posted randomly – but Christmas is one of the few days you can plan ahead to be ready for them.

So I sat in bed with 7 minutes to go, my account loaded and my credit card at the ready.  And then the power went out.  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooo!!!!  The wireless router was no longer available.  I stayed up for the next 7 minutes, hoping that the power would roar back up in time.  At about 10 after, I gave up the ghost, dug around for my headlamp, and tried to get some sleep.  Surely, the power would be on by morning.

When my dad bought a generator for the Y2K meltdown, I laughed at him.  We sat in front of the tv and watched the celebrations in Australia and China as nothing happened.  Fireworks went off and the lights stayed on.  No computers burst into fire and no bank accounts were lost.

The generator stayed in the garage for 10 years, next to the 5 gallon container of gas.  When we woke up this year on Christmas morning, it was 55 degrees in my sister’s house, and you could see your breath in many houses in the valley.  But, at the Flickinger house, it was a different story.  Walking up the stairs to the kitchen, I saw a funny blue light.  Candles were lit and my mom was warming water for hot drinks; the 6 gas burners of the stove were on high.

Buners

Soon there was a roaring fire in the fireplace, and the sound of my dad pull-starting the generator in the garage.

It took a while to get the 10-year-old generator going, but he had it up and humming, and powering the furnace before breakfast.  Breakfast, however was on the barbecue.  For the past 5 or 6 years (maybe longer), we’ve had the same thing for Christmas breakfast.  It’s a breakfast strada.  A what?  A breakfast strada.  Here’s how it works:  You take a box of Eggo waffles, cheese, ham (if you like), and layer them in a 13×9 baking dish.  After 2 layers of each, you pour a scrambled egg mixture (including milk and cayenne pepper) over the top.  Bake and devour.  Just for the record, you can bake it on a barbecue, though it might result in a slightly burned bottom.

By noon, we’d eaten, opened our presents, played monopoly (another Christmas ritual for my bro-in-law and me), and started setting the table for Christmas dinner.  Mom had already calculated what parts of the ravioli dinner could be cooked on the gas stove, and practically giggled when she told us we could do everything without the power.

But the Christmas gods are just, and they like ravioli as much as the rest of us.  They didn’t want to take chances.  Right on time, the power clicked on.  17,000 people had been without power for 15 hours on a really cold day.  But all was well now.  Furnaces roared to life as Mom dropped the first raviolis into the boiling water.  Nothing could ruin Christmas now.

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January 4, 2010   No Comments

Rocky Raccoon

I spent Christmas in Idaho.  It’s where I spend every Christmas.  My parents, sister and brother-in-law, grandparents and aunt – my entire family – live there.  Going home is always a deeply good thing.  This Christmas was especially good.  The valley where I grew up is a special place.  Nestled between the high desert of southern Idaho, and the unbridled beauty of the Sawtooth Mountains, it provides a dramatic stage for the day-to-day sagas of those who live there.  This Christmas, it provided a sense of stability in my changing world.

I had a fantastic flight from Portland to Boise over the volcanoes of the Northwest.  Hood, St. Helens, Jefferson, they all stretched out before uson a beautifully clear day.

Volcano

I read my Italian version of Harry Potter, clinging to the little bit of Italian that I had managed to learn in two months.  I’d been back in the US less than a week when I headed home to Idaho.  My parents made the 2 and a half hour drive to Boise to pick me up.  There are smaller, closer airports, but they don’t have the cheap Southwest Airlines flights that Boise has.  It was wonderful to see their faces at the airport.  I remember seeing them just outside the gate in the “pre 911 world,” when they’d come to pick me up during a quick trip home from college, the years measured only by my dad’s shirt pattern, or my mom’s hairstyle.  There’s something terrifically comforting about knowing that there’s someone waiting for me if I need them.

The next week or so was to be defined by several excellent meals, a solstice celebration, Rock Band competitions, and increasingly less caffeine.  And raccoons.

Yes, raccoons.

My mother has a number of bird feeders that hang or stand on the second-floor deck just off of the living room.  The French doors to the deck make up one wall of the big living room.  That means we can watch the birds that come to feed during the day as they dart from the tall aspens a few yards from the house.  Every day or so, Mom goes out and fills the feeders.  One is a little feeder that hangs from a beam and feeds the little sparrows and chickadees that fill the trees.  The other is a big, flat-bottomed, wooden tray that has been affixed to the railing, and outfitted with a roof propped on four posts.  This is to keep the tray from filling and freezing over.  The magpies that use this feeder don’t like it when the feeder freezes.  They bang on the peanut butter, ice globs that form until someone comes out and refills the feeder with the sunflower seeds that live in a clear plastic container.

The container is the kind that has locking handles.  They “clack” menacingly into place, holding the lid securely onto the bin.  Mom got the container to keep the raccoons out of the seeds.  Ever since she looked out the window to see the raccoon in front of the open bin, running his fingers through the seeds in a gesture of pure pleasure, she’s had to take extra precautions.  Now, every night when the doors are locked, the bin comes inside.

Every so often, we see the raccoons.  Their white markings stand out against the dark glass, as they peer into the warm living room in the evenings.  I half expect them to reach up and turn the doorknob.  Usually, when we go to take a look or turn on the light, they crawl to the railing and lower themselves down into the snow, shimmying down the 6 foot post.

This Christmas brought a couple of close encounters with our furry friends.  The first came one evening when I went to pull the seed container inside.  I’d just gone to open the door when I decided to turn on the light to make sure there weren’t any friends on the deck.  “Click.” The first bandit looked up at me from the seed bin.  They’d already found a way into the seeds, knocking the bin over and scattering the black shells everywhere.   I moved toward the door, ready to scare them off.  “Wait!”  Mom wasn’t so sure.  “Don’t worry, I’ll just go out and shoo them away.”  “Oh really,”  she was smiling.

I opened the door, and in the full brightness of the floodlight, the raccoon looked up at me.  He backed away about a half a step and considered me.  I backed into the house.  These guys are cute, but they also carry rabies.  I wasn’t so interested in tangling with this guy’s black claws.  We turned off the light and finished locking up the house.  We’d clean up the mess in the morning.  Some people would have charged out, banging around to scare the animals off, but, like the magpies that so many people consider pests, my mom likes the raccoons.  The messes they make are fair trade for the cute faces that peer in the windows every so often.

The next morning, Mom cleaned up the mess and gathered the gifts that needed to be delivered to friends – packets of the homemade pizzelles that she makes every year.  Whenever I’m home I ride along.  When I was younger I’d hop out of the truck and drop off the packets of goodies.

Our first stop was a quick visit.  We were greeted by a skittish dog that Mom identified as the latest rescue.  He was a beautiful shaggy red and moved away from us, barking, keeping an eye on our movements.  We rang the bell and stepped inside for a quick hello.  After hugs and pleasantries, we reached for the door and backed out, still talking.  “Oh, watch for the raccoon.”

I turned to see a raccoon ambling up the walkway toward the front door.  “Mom!  Check out the raccoon!  There’s a raccoon out here!”  I was preparing to make a run at the fuzzy ball.  “It’s okay, it’s a pet.”   Our hostess had closed the door, making sure the raccoon stayed out, but now we were looking at the raccoon as he walked right up to us, climbing up Mom’s leg to stand on his back feet and play with the keys in her hand.  Raccoons are big.  They’re big in the way porcupines are big.  Mom and I looked at each other.  “Can we pet him?”  I was hoping she knew more to the story than I did.  “I don’t know.”   She reached down and stroked his back.  Cool.  My turn.  Raccoons are also soft.  At least this guy was.  And he was curious.  He had abandoned the keys and had his head up under my mom’s jacket at this point.

Rocky

She realized quickly that he was trying to get to the dog treats in her pocket.  After a giggling fit she reached into her pocket and found the treat.  It’s amazing what dog treats can do.  At once, the raccoon was subdued and the dog from earlier had reappeared.  Taking my life into my own hands, I snuck a chunk of the treat from the raccoon to the dog, who slinked off.  The door opened and our friend reappeared.  “What’s the story with the raccoon again?”  Mom asked as the raccoon sniffed her shoes and eyed the doorway.  “Oh Rocky? He was a rescue.”  Evidently Mom had heard this story before.  We said our goodbyes and headed for the truck where she shared the story.  Rocky had been orphaned as a baby.  When Mom’s friend’s found him, they realized that he wouldn’t make it on his own, so they took him in and contacted the local raccoon rescue organization.  Yes, apparently, there’s an organization – or at least a woman who rehabs them.  Months later, there still wasn’t room at the rescue, and the raccoon was watching tv on the sofa, and had a name.

The next day while we were playing Rock Band, we had a visitor.  One of the raccoons that usually came at night made a special daytime appearance, sitting in the birdfeeder and eating handfuls of seeds.  We all watched him and said how cute he was.  And we locked the door.

Raccoon in feeder

Rocky was super cute, but he was also known to help himself to boxes of cake mix when he was hungry.  It’s a lot easier to clean up after one of these guys outside.  And this guy looked like maybe he’d been talking to Rocky.

Raccoon up close

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January 2, 2010   1 Comment