Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I’ll Miss You, Grandpa!

I said goodbye to my grandpa a few weeks ago. After celebrating a really nice Easter with his wife, children, and a few grand and great grandkids, his earthly journey came to an end.

I will miss him for sure, but I do count myself fortunate to have had him in my life for so long. A lot of grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the case of my kids do not have the wonderful opportunity to get to know their grandparents for as long as we did.

He had a very full life during his 97 years in this world. My earliest memories were of the family farm where he worked until 1976. I spent a lot of Summers at that place. The Tangen farm was known for an old chicken coop they renovated into a playhouse once the chickens were gone. There was a table and little kid chairs in there and various assorted play dishes and other toys necessary to complete the experience. My cousins and I spent hours having secret meetings in that old chicken coop, running races around it and sending the younger kids out on silly errands. Being one of the older grandchildren definitely had its privileges.

The farm also had a tire swing. There really isn’t anything like an old tire swing. You can swing back and forth, you can spin, and you can even climb on top and hang from the rope if you want to pretend your Tarzan. Many more hours were spent playing with that thing.

It was a very sad day when they retired and moved to town. But even their house in town has special memories for me. There was an unfinished basement where we could have fun playing Skittles.

What is Skittles, you may ask? It is a super cool bowling game where you place little wooden pins in various rooms on the board. On the lower right you can just barely make out an opening that resembles the letter “T”. In this opening, you place a top which has had a string wound around it. You pull the string which sends the top flying across the board. The object being to knock down as many pins as possible. The pins farthest away give you the most points. That game got many hours of playtime. I have never seen this game anyplace else.

When grandpa moved to the nursing home, the game was sold at auction, but I’m told it remains somewhere in the family. Wherever it is I hope it’s still bringing enjoyment to kids. I was talking to my mom and she said they found the original invoice for that game when they were cleaning out the house. Everything was mail-order. The game sold for $100 which was a substantial amount back then. It makes me wish us grandkids would have treated it with a little more care. Years later when most of us grandkids were getting married and having kids of our own they upgraded to a pool table and Skittles disappeared.

There was also a park across the road where we’d always travel when we went outside, or sometimes we stayed at the house and set up a game of croquet. Grandpa would always come out and sit in a lawn chair. He would chuckle at our antics. After awhile the goal wasn’t so much to win the game, but to hit such a weird or spectacular shot that Grandpa would exclaim over it. I will never forget his laugh, no one could laugh like grandpa. He made a sound that seemed to come from his whole body and you just knew how much he was enjoying himself.

Although he retired from farming, he never really stopped doing what he loved. Grandpa’s lawn was always one of the greenest in town and not a weed anywhere. It was like playing croquet on plush carpet. His garden was also in pristine shape. His tomatoes were always perfect. I could never understand how he was able to have such “seed catalog quality” looking vegetables. I sweat and weed and water and fertilize all Summer long and my garden is a joke compared to grandpa’s.

He didn’t stop at his own yard either. During the prayer service before his funeral, there was a time of sharing memories. Someone commented that she spotted grandpa one day watering petunias in the park across the street. She said something to the effect, “Melgard, those flowers aren’t your responsibility!” Grandpa looked at her said, “who else is going to do it?”

Once a farmer, always a farmer. Grandpa hated to see plants suffer. If something needed watering or weeding he got it done. He was always mowing other people’s lawns if they needed some help and any other yard or garden jobs that needed doing in his neighborhood.

I remember our walks. When grandpa wasn’t working in the yard, he was fond of walking around Hawley. Us grandkids would usually tag along. Hawley has gotten a little bigger and more modern over the years, but the Hawley of my childhood was about as close to a real life Andy Griffith’s Mayberry as you could get. Kids could run and bike all over town and no one worried too much about them. As we walked if there was anyone outside a cheerful greeting and a wave was standard procedure. I love towns where everyone knows everyone else. It is sadly lacking in our society today.

I’ve rambled long enough, how about some family pictures to look at?

Here’s a big birthday party I was actually able to attend. I’m not sure how big the photo will turn out but in the front row from left you have grandpa’s older brother Elmer, grandpa (Melgard, then 91), and younger brother Leonard. My grandma (Annie) is on the right. In the back from left is grandpa’s sister Agnes (feisty lady), another sister Clarice and her husband Alfred Amundson, then Jewell, Leonard’s wife. Leonard and Jewell are my mom’s godparents. Alas, only half the members of this photo are still alive today. Grandma, Leonard, Clarice and Alfred. If you can see them, the birthday boys are wearing fancy bolo ties. They were given to them by a distant cousin Robert who lives in Norway and manages to visit every now and again.

Here you have a better picture of the 3 kids. Grandpa, Agnes, and Leonard. Agnes was so much fun to visit with. She would have you laughing the whole conversation.

Look at this dapper gentleman sporting a fancy new flat top hat. I don’t ever remember him not wearing suspenders.

Here is grandpa and Elmer wearing some fancy Norwegian sweaters. More Christmas presents from Robert.

Finally, my favorites in the bunch. Here are the happy sweethearts. Grandpa and grandma on their wedding day, September 8, 1940.

I don’t know anything about cars, but I sure like to look at them. This is grandpa’s 1937 Studebaker. Note the “suicide” handles in the door.

Click here for the obiturary from the funeral home website if you wish to read more about my grandpa's life.

As my brother said on his Facebook page. “Goodbye grandpa, I will miss your smile and your laughter.” I will as well. Thank you for being such a wonderful part of my life.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Two Guys and a Kitchen

Food is easily in my top 3 list of things to blog about. It just so happened Palm Sunday afternoon I had another blog-worthy event involving food. I mentioned in my last post the Meissner men can feed themselves if they have to. To my hearts delight, my son has inherited this love of cooking as well. The last few months Brian has gotten into making dinner for our family. He also likes to try new things.

Interestingly, my beautiful wife has had a habit of collecting “recipes to try”. In our almost 22 years of marriage she’s collected only about a gazillion or so recipes that cram almost a whole drawer in our two-drawer recipe box. We’ve maybe actually made 20 of them, but that might be stretching it a bit.

I’m constantly giving Deanna a rough time when I look through this box. “Sweetheart,” I’ve found it usually works pretty good to start off with this word. “We can’t possibly make all these in 3 lifetimes.”

“I know,” she agrees, “we have to start making some of these so we can decide whether to keep or throw.”

“Honey,” this is also an appropriate starting word, “we’ve been saying that for almost 22 years. We’ve hardly made a dent in this thing.”

You get the idea. A few months ago Brian started rifling through the box too. He pulls out this Mexican Torte and asks if he can make it. I get this brilliant idea, if I do say so myself. Why don’t we let the kid make some of these? If they’re good we mark them appropriately, put them in the appropriate section like, oh, I don’t know, “main dishes” rather than this huge pile of “recipes to try.” But if they’re not so good, we trash them.

Sounds like a plan so we made this Mexican Torte. It was a daunting task. I tried very hard to let Brian do as much of the work as possible, but things get complicated and hard and I have this annoying way of just assuming I can do things better. In the end Brian was a little disappointed, both because he didn’t get to do as much as he wanted and because the torte wasn’t any good. We ended up taking the filling between the flour tortillas and dipping chips in it. That wasn’t too bad but it wasn’t good enough to keep and we tossed the recipe. I still declared the exercise a success because we succeeded in eliminating at least one of the recipes.

Brian was still disappointed, last week he pulled out an Italian pinwheel meatloaf and a tater-tot casserole. He wanted to make them, I said OK. Then he demanded that I would stay out of the kitchen completely and he would do everything himself.

Let’s think about this. I’m supposed to turn an 11-year-old loose in a room filled with sharp knives and electric appliances that get extremely hot? I don’t think so. I told Brian, “No deal!”

He got mad, pouted, and said, “fine, just do it yourself then.” I told him I would let him do absolutely everything he could but I would be right there to supervise. He still said no, but after pondering the wisdom of this choice, conceded. But it was so cute the way he looked me in the eye and said, “but you can’t help me unless I ask, ok?”

“Deal,” I said.

The groceries were bought and away we went. Step 1, mixing the first nine ingredients. 2 eggs beaten. I handed him an egg. He looked at me like I just gave him a loaded hand grenade. I said, “you want me to do it?” His eyes are huge and keep flipping back and forth between me and the hand grenade. He’s speechless and just nods his head.

“This is what you do, hold it firmly like this and crack it on the flat inside of the bowl, never crack it around the rim because that will make a mess.” I demonstrated and continued, “then you take your two thumbs and dig them into the crack and pull the two halves apart.” I finished and a lovely, unbroken mind you, egg fell into the bowl. “Now you try.” Good thing the recipe needed two eggs.

More confident now, he barely hits the side of the bowl. “you can hit it harder.” A muffled crack, not quite perfect, but an admirable first attempt. He dug his thumbs in and pulled apart the shells. “Good job, Brian.”

I handed him a fork, “whisk them up.” His technique was pretty good but he allowed me to show him how to fine tune it a bit for maximum efficiency. He was a pro by the time that job was done.

The other 8 ingredients went off without a hitch, he gracefully measured seasoned bread crumbs, a little spaghetti sauce, Italian seasonings and copious amounts of salt and pepper. For some reason, our hamburger dishes just don’t taste good unless we put what seems like way too much salt and pepper. Just my personal opinion, but it seems to work for our family.

Mix thoroughly. So I handed him a large spoon and he went to work. It became apparent he would need a little spatula to scrape the sides so he did that too and a fine job it was.

Crumble hamburger over the top and mix well. I unwrapped the raw, bloody hamburger and handed that to him. He looked at me like I was now handing him a cruise missile. The raw meat freaked him out. “You want me to do it?” More head nodding.

So I crumbled and was about to dig my very clean, scrubbed hands into the mix when I tried one more time. “You sure, this is actually the really fun part.” Vigorous head shaking now.

I shrugged, dug in my hands, and mixed the loaf. When I was satisfied I handed him the aluminum foil and asked him to rip off a sheet about yay big. I gestured with my hands how large. He quite skillfully pulled out the foil and set it and the box down on the counter. “You have to tear it off the box.” He nods and rips away.

I sprayed the foil with PAM and dumped the loaf on top. “Now we have to make an 8 X 12 rectangle, you want to try?” All right, I get a head nod this time. He presses his hands down in there and starts to flatten it out. All I really did was give a little help squaring off the edges. But he got this done, for the most part, himself.

Then a few handfuls of shredded cheese, he’s really good at this, and a layer of deli-sliced ham, topped with some more cheese. “Now the hard part, we have to roll this up.” I showed him how to get it started and realized I really need to take a picture of these events. “Give it a try.” I said as I ran to get the camera.

I’ve tried pinwheel things several times and have never quite gotten them to work with either hamburger or bread dough. Imagine my chagrin when I came back and he’s got a neat, rolled loaf, looking just like a little sleeping bag.

Look at that expression, it’s like he’s saying, “Whaddya think of that dad, huh?” I was impressed, I have never rolled anything so perfect in my born days. Now I was the one that was speechless, I took the picture and said, “good job, Brian!”

I think his choice of shirts is worth mentioning, if you can’t read it, it says, “I see an old fashioned BEAT DOWN in your immediate future.” I told him to never wear that to school or the one getting beat down just might be him. So he just wears it around the house for fun. I still had an ominous feeling when I looked at his shirt and then looked down at his perfect loaf.

It was quite heavy, but he tried to roll it into the pan anyway. I had to help just a little. Done!

Tater-tot casserole involved a bag of tater tots, of course, then a mixture of sour cream, cheese, and “cream-of-whatever kind you like-soup.” We used the cream of chicken variety. Salt and pepper, then layer French fried onions over the whole thing.

He didn’t need my help at all with this one. Just some general instruction and finger pointing. This one was a walk in the park.

We got the items in the oven and I had to go help our daughter, Brianna with solo & ensemble music. I chewed her out last year because she signed up for too many things, and warned her again not to sign up for so many things this year. So she promptly signs up for even more. “Resistance is futile.” I keep picturing the Borg from Star Trek coming to assimilate me.

The reason this bugs me so much is because you do nothing but run around the school frantically trying to make it in time to play all these pieces. She was in band and choir for 7th grade and had to miss two of three choir songs last year because she was busy playing her saxophone. She got an excused from the music teacher but I still didn't think it was fair to the rest of the choir.

The other reason I get upset is because I suffer through practicing these too. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one in the house who knows how to count, or has any rhythm and I refuse to have her walk up there and sound like she’s never even seen the music. So I practice with her, over and over and over again. Counting, playing my trumpet, clapping, whatever it takes to get the beat down. Maybe I should wear Brian’s shirt?

I’m being unfair, I have to remember she’s only in 8th grade, can’t say no to her friends who want to play duets and trios with her. She can’t say no to the high school band director who “makes” her play the sax in the ensemble. Plus she’s playing extremely complicated rhythm’s in cut time, 3/8 and 6/8 and don’t even get me started on dynamics. Things I didn’t have a clue about until 10th, maybe 11th grade. She is an amazing musician, make no mistake. I just get a little tired of having to go through the practicing of HER music.

So we’re in the middle clapping, counting, squeaking, squawking, over and over and over and over again. Brian walks in a bit concerned. “Dad is it ok if cheese is exploding out the sides of the meatloaf?” I assure him as long as it’s staying in the pan and not making a mess of the whole oven it should be ok.

Reassured, he abruptly withdraws to the quiet of downstairs.

I’m sure you’re wondering how the meal turned out? Not so good. After years of apartment ovens and the lackluster oven in our old house, I’m still not used to how quickly things cook in our new house oven. Baked, bread goods like cakes, bars, and cookies may take up to as little as half the recommended time or they burn. casseroles and things are either right on the recommended time or about 10 minutes earlier. When you add that I didn’t think Deanna would be home as late to the equation you get a slightly burnt dinner.

The meatloaf wasn’t bad but this is our 2nd or 3rd time trying an Italian meatloaf mix and I’m convinced the two were never meant to be united. We have an absolutely fantastic German meatloaf recipe that we make all the time and the whole family likes so if you can’t find anything better why keep something else?

My suggestion is if you want meatloaf, find a good German recipe that you like. If you want Italian, stick to lasagna, or some spicy sausage Manicotti. (another recipe Brian tried that was delicious, a keeper) I’ve given up trying to put the two together.

I really liked the potatoes, but I was the only one. They were barely warm on the bottom and the onions were burnt black on top. I should have covered it with foil, but the recipe didn’t say that and I’m a stickler for following instructions. And it actually could have baked longer with the foil and then uncovering the last 15 minutes.

We threw both recipes. But still I count that as a success because we eliminate two more from the pile, I enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon cooking with my son, and practicing music with my daughter. I do enjoy the music practices deep down through all my complaining, especially when I sit and finally listen to her play another masterpiece she’ll get a superior rating for. It is all worth it in the end.