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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Got Milk? (July 4, 2009)

This entry was inspired by cookies, which, let’s face it—are downright inspirational any day of the year! But it’s also July fourth, one of my favorite days, and so here I am, musing about stars, stripes, and baked goods.

July Fourth is a happy day. I’ve loved this holiday for as long as I remember. Although there was the time when I was about ten and I ate WAY too much cheese popcorn during the parade. I’ve never been able to eat it since.

We’re heading out to see fireworks soon. Lately I’ve been busier than ever so July fourth snuck up on me this year. But usually I’m looking forward to this night for weeks. You can’t beat fireworks. They are purely celebratory. There’s no real function behind them, which makes them even more fun. They exist solely to please the viewer. I love the intense colors sparkling against a dark sky. I like the surprise element—you never know what is coming next: which shape the firework will be, which color, which size, etc. And surprises are often fun. Not always, of course. But often, yes.

Today my five-year-old and I made patriotic cookies to bring to friends who have a new baby. I also made them dinner, since they are unwittingly on the Fractured Sleep Program and need a little help in whatever form it arrives. The cookies turned out really cute (although let’s face it, even ugly cookies are delish).

I used a sugar-cookie mix from the store. I’ve made my own dough before but the kind from a mix seems more pliable. I decided to dye part of the dough red, part of it blue, and keep most of it white. Yay, food coloring! I made worms out of the dough (you remember this from grammar school, right? Using clay and making a long snake-shape by rolling it on a flat surface). I chilled the worms and made a few rectangles from the blue dough. The dough needed to be cool enough so that it wouldn’t melt when I started touching it. I lined up white and red “worms” for stripes and fitted them around my blue rectangles. I’d never made flag cookies before but I’ve worked with Fimo clay, and decided to approach it the same way. (Do you know Fimo? People make jewelry and tons of other stuff with it, creating designs by lining up worms of it and cutting cross sections. It’s groovy.)

The flag cookies turned out great, if I may say so! With left-over worms I made a random cookie with a round blue center. It was born of my scraps (which is how some of the best art ideas originate, as you know). It ended up looking a little spider-ish, or more appropriately (I realized later)--like an exploding firework. Also made some star and circle cookies, decorated with red and blue sprinkles, which are like confetti, if you think about it. Both confetti and sprinkles are hard to clean up but are fun and cheerful, so this worked well with our celebratory-July 4-mood.

It’s time to head out to the fireworks so I’ll sign off now. Hope you had a great Fourth. America, I love you!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Time for the Red Gingham Again (July 1, 2009)

Gingham makes me think of my grandparents. They passed away a few years ago, but I feel very lucky to have known them into my thirties. My relationships with them were close emotionally as well as physically, as they lived less than a mile from my parents’ house. We spent every holiday with them including July fourth. Today is July 1, and as the fourth of July approaches again, I’m remembering many barbeques on their patio, in late afternoon sunlight in the beginning of July.

We called my mom’s mom Mimmi (it rhymes with Kimmy). She accepted the name I gave her before age two, and answered to it, even signed it in cards and letters, for the next thirty years. I’m getting misty-eyed thinking about it. That Mimmi accepted my baby name for her and never tried to outgrow it says so much about who she was. Grandad eventually outgrew the name I gave him as a baby (“Ran-daw”) but that was ok. He was a little more reserved that Mimmi was, and their yin-yang balance worked.

Of the two of them Mimmi was the decorator. I assume it was she who got out the holiday decorations each month, so she was probably the one who opened up the gingham table cloth each July fourth. There may have been a blue and white one, possibly vinyl for easy outdoor clean-up. But what really says “Mimmi and July Fourth” to me is a cotton, red-and-white gingham table cloth. Even if I didn’t have a connection between my grandparents and this fabric, I’d still like it. The checkered pattern is so simple, but it just works. The contrast between a bright color and crisp white is cheerful and it makes you feel good. It has a classic look about it. Besides associating it with my grandparents’ picnic table, red and white gingham makes me think of Italian restaurants and vintage clothing, which are also good.

A red and white cotton gingham table cloth is unpretentious. That sums up almost everything I need to say about my grandparents. They were educated and lived in an upscale neighborhood, but they shared an old Volvo station wagon and lived humbly. They may have had a modest approach to life in general, but Mimmi celebrated holidays with full gusto. She decorated the house and patio, and for whatever reasons, I remember her napkins in particular. Sometimes it’s the simple, inexpensive things that make a real impact. Mimmi had festive paper napkins for each holiday. March brought napkins with grinning leprechauns. Napkins with well-fed, feathered turkeys and pilgrims marked November’s arrival. In July there were red striped napkins.

Grandad sometimes wore a chef’s hat while manning the charcoal grill. I think he even had one in red gingham. It’s no wonder I associate that fabric with this holiday. He had his special recipe for barbeque basting. He’d baste the hamburgers with a combination of ketchup, mustard and at least one other top secret ingredient. Flavorful and a little spicy--those burgers were great!

After the annual parade finished, the family gathered on the back patio at my grandparents’ house. The grill is hot. Sun shines through the yucca tree and over the swing set as the wind chimes sing when a breeze floats through. The turquoise picnic table is covered with gingham and so much food that we have to arrange our plates around it all. There are big slices of watermelon, the hamburgers and buns, maybe some hotdogs, drinks, theme napkins and condiments. Grandad puts a big dallop of relish on his burger, and calls it piccalilli. Later the whole town will gather at the high school for a giant fireworks display. I can’t wait. Maybe it’s the fireworks, or just the festive atmosphere in general that make July Fourth my favorite holiday. I’m patriotic. Once, for a high school dance I made myself a dress that was red, white and blue.

I’m thinking of my grandparents a little more this week because July fourth is coming, and I always celebrated it at their house. Although it’s been years since I spent July fourth with my family, I still associate this holiday with my grandparents, and I probably always will. Mimmi and Grandad, I believe you’re in Heaven, where every day is the happiest day imaginable. The fireworks display inside the golden gates must be spectacular. I’ll be watching one on my side of the clouds, and as I gaze up at the bursts of color, I’ll be looking toward both of you. Grandad, you’re probably wearing your chef’s hat at the grill, and Mimmi is getting out the striped napkins and watermelon. That’s my kind of July Fourth.