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Rule # 14: Aunt MiMi’s Famous Dip!

Aunt Cookie's Famous Dip

Aunt MiMi was a party in a pale blue pantsuit.

Aunt MiMi had been quite the social butterfly in her younger years, and age hadn’t made much of a dent in her sparkle. Oh, how she loved entertaining! I remember many a holiday dinner around her dining room table. In warm weather, she and Uncle Stanly strung lanterns above their flagstone patio. While the adults drank martinis under the shade of giant oaks and poplars, we children explored the tiny paths among her shrubs and ferns, looking for pixies and blue jay feathers. A large mirrored ball peeked mysteriously from a dense clump of azaleas in the middle of her back yard—a sure sign that magic was at hand.

Aunt MiMi, who lived happily to the age of 100, is remembered for many things. Here are just a few of them chosen random:
-her love of every type of shiny bling and bauble
-her “Kiss My Grits!” apron
-the way she did handstands and leg-wrestled nieces and nephews until she was in her 70’s
-her refusal to get rid of her original black bakelite rotary phone with the fabric cord up until she was forced to move into a nursing home in the late 90’s
-her habit of feeding peanuts (Planters or bust!) to the squirrels from her back steps
-the fact that she was able to convince my father to let me and Gwen pierce our ears after he had proclaimed it “bodily mutilation”

But today I’d like to draw your attention to an Aunt MiMi achievement and Family Rule she modestly referred to as “My Famous Dip.” She served it at every one of her gatherings.

When Aunt MiMi got to the point that hosting became too arduous, she upped her game. She came to every gather bearing—in her own words—“a tractor-trailer load” of this manna. At some point, my mother had developed a love-hate relationship with this dip. For us kids, the dip was the meal. The relationship was all love. Ruffles made great shovels, and shovel we did. By the time dinner was ready, we burped our way to the table in a queasy daze and declined all offerings until dessert.

I’m pretty sure the dip originated as someone else’s proprietary recipe but the trail has long since grown cold. I’m passing the recipe along to you, so please forgive me if the culinary equivalent of the mattress tag police come knocking at your door.

Aunt MiMi’s Famous Dip
(Best when made the day ahead. Can be frozen.)
One 8 oz. pkg. Philadelphia cream cheese
1/2 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
1 hard boiled egg, finely chopped
2 TB onion, finely minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup minced parsley
dash of pepper
Mix well. Refrigerate.

Enjoy!

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post in the series, click here. For the next post, click here.

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Rule #13: Dig It In & Pile It On

Photo courtesy of Roger Smith

Photo courtesy of Roger Smith

One of my daughters and I coined a term for a family rule which I learned from my father and attempted to pass down to my progeny. In recent years, transmission of this rule has been slowed and nearly halted, with the unfortunate consequence that I have been unable to properly imbue my daughters with a deep-seated belief in their own defectiveness.

You win some, you lose some.

The rule we now refer to as Dig It In dictated that if someone had made an error or in some way fallen short, you were obligated to inform her of this failure. With Olympic strength and endurance. The offender needed to fully comprehend 1. the inconvenience, 2. the irreparable damage (or at minimum, the potential for irreparable damage), 3. the mortification, 4. the danger, 5. the hurt, 6. the disappointment, and 7. the loss of face caused through her action or inaction.

Am I forgetting anything?

As you might guess, Dig It In led to a few sub rules, such as Not Me and Pile It On.

Think of Not Me as a game of dodge ball. See, my family did know how to have fun! “Who broke the lamp?!” “Not me!” Get the idea?

Once the perp had been fingered, it was time for Pile It On, which takes its name from football, another super fun game. While the accuser dug it in, any innocent bystanders, relieved to have been spared and wanting to make sure the tide didn’t suddenly turn against them, made sure the person who had been taken down stayed down.

If the person who had made the mistake came away thinking it was possible to be sorry enough–or ever fully remediate the error–the rule had obviously not been properly executed. A proper digging-in infuses the recipient with the knowledge that her very person is shameful.

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post in the series, click here. For the next post, click here.

Photo credit here

Rule #7…

As previously mentioned, this Family Rule is called Everything German is Better. German, I say.

When my mother remarried after my father’s death, she mutinied abruptly and shamelessly. And she has never looked back.

Mom married a third-generation Irish-American and became an overnight evangelist for all things Irish. She eats soda bread. She reads Maeve Binchy and Frank McCourt. Mom reads up on Irish folklore and history. She named her puppy Finn McCool, for the love of God. My Mom started buying shamrocks and Beleek china and became more Irish than my stepfather’s entire family combined. Before the marriage, while drunk on romance, she visited Ireland and kissed the Blarney Stone. She came home bearing gifts to soften us up: wool sweaters for us and kilts for the children. Mom tried hard to convert us but we weren’t buying. Nope.

There are many fine things about Ireland but that is not the point! The family rule is GERMAN is better, Mom, GERMAN.  Get with the program. Ach du liebes Bißchen! So eine Scheiße! I don’t really need to translate that, do I?

So on that happy note, I offer you the last in a series of four pieces on what exactly IS better. Or at least what we enjoyed when we lived in 1970s Germany. We hated to return home to such a young and uncouth country, and we lamented it in a stage whisper every chance we got. This way we got a lot of attention, which was, of course, the point. Right? Yes–we were just that cool. By the way, don’t trip over my Dachshund and my authentic German Birkenstocks in your rush to escape….

Image courtesy of Hebi65

Image courtesy of Hebi65

36. Scrubbing your front steps: pastime of German grannies everywhere. If I can stereotype for a moment: Germans can be super clean and orderly. It was common in my childhood to see old women scrubbing down the front steps of their houses as part of their morning chores.

Imago courtesy of JaBB

Imago courtesy of JaBB

37. Spätzele. Small, lumpy egg noodles. You can buy them ready to cook but my friend Margarete makes them by dropping a blob of the thick batter on a small board and using a knife or wooden blade to scrape it off into boiling water one tiny bit at a time. She is a real pro and moves like lightning!

Image courtesy of Gerbil

Image courtesy of Gerbil

38. Lighted candles on the Christmas tree. Yes, I suspect some are still doing it. Beautiful. Magical. And probably the stuff of VFD nightmares.

Image courtesy of traude

Image courtesy of traude

39. Logic. As a whole, the Volk is not warm and fuzzy. But it works for them.

Image courtesy of OpenClips

Image courtesy of OpenClips

40. Punctuality. No ifs, no ands–or you got your butt handed to you.

Image courtesy of geralt

Image courtesy of geralt

41. Order (Ordnung!) This, logic, and punctuality fit in well with my Dad’s worldview. The word trinity comes to mind. But this emphasis didn’t always sit so well with the rest of us. See a pattern here? If not, please see this Family Rule and then treat yourself to a good stiff drink on me. I don’t think I have ever known my father so happy or our family life so calm and orderly as when we lived in Deutschland!

Apfelwein_Geripptes_Bembel copy Eva K.

Image courtesy of Eva K.

42. Apple wine. Pucker up! You might have to be a Frankfurter to appreciate it fully. Drink it ice cold or your brain will implode. Great with Schnitzel. Shown above in the mandatory Bembel (pitcher).

Image courtesy of GS1Brasil

Image courtesy of GS1Brasil

43. Shower gel. We were using it in Germany waaaay before the U.S. even thought of it.

Image courtesy of Kuchen

Image courtesy of Kuchen

44. Clogs. So what if they were not strictly German? We adored them and how we click-clacked around town. I proudly wore my white Swedish clogs my entire 9th grade year after returning to the US. People gave up heckling me because I wore them with such confidence (read: oblivion to fashion). Ha, ha! Clogs became popular in the U.S. when I was in about 11th grade but mine were better. Nanny, nanny, boo boo.

Image courtesy of sechtem

Image courtesy of sechtem

45. Daily shopping. No need to clutter up the kitchen with a month’s worth of hermetically sealed foods. If you shop each day for fresh food, you only need a dorm-sized box. Also cool–many small, family-run stores. This is changing but back then there were many, many of these shops, each of which handled only a small niche: baker, butcher, coffee shop, etc.

Image courtesy of lheofacker

Image courtesy of lheofacker

46. Mittagspause (afternoon rest). This is probably changing too but most people, including those working in little family-run shops, dropped everything each afternoon from 1-3 for a hot meal and a break. Makes sense since the midday meal is the big meal of the day. Dinner is the time for light fare.

Image courtesy of Jonathan Billinger

Image courtesy of Jonathan Billinger

47. Plums. Italian plums were the only plums I knew there. So mouth-wateringly scrumptious.

Image courtesy of Томасина

Image courtesy of Томасина

48. Dogs. Germans love their dogs, and the stereotype of the Dachshund is accurate. You can probably still see the little hounds sitting under restaurant tables where they wait obediently for their masters to finish a leisurely meal. Restaurant meals could last a long time. Once you sat down at table, it was yours until you choose to leave–even if you closed the place out. Restaurants weren’t just a place to fill your belly. They became your living room. I don’t know if it is still the same way now. Anybody?

I think that is more than enough data from my informal study of German, well, supercalifragilisticexpialadocious…ness? Thanks for hanging in there with me. I may devote a future post to the stuff which was not so savory.

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post in the series, click here. For the next post, click here.

Rule # 12: The Perfect Gift Is Something You Would Like For Yourself

gift FutUndBeidl

Image courtesy of FutUndBeidl

Again, a rule my father actually articulated. The problems with this rule should be immediately apparent. I am ashamed to admit how old I was before I realized this probably wasn’t the best guideline for gift giving.

One Christmas I had my eye on a small brandy snifter. It was a clever gag gift—exactly the kind of thing I loved during my tween years. The “brandy” was sandwiched between thin layers of glass. From the side, it looked like a glass of brandy but if you tried to drink it, of course, nothing came out. I bought it for myself but convinced myself I was buying it for my father. It sat on a shelf in our living room until it disappeared one day.

In my early 20’s, I gave my mother a navy blue Nike sweatshirt. I got it when she decided it wasn’t for her.

Dad was the kind of husband who might use Mom’s birthday as a good excuse to replace a major household appliance. On the other hand, he was not the kind of Dad who would ruin a perfectly good birthday or holiday with clothing. When I was little, my heart would sink when my grandparents presented Gwen and me with those lightweight boxes which indicated right up front we’d be getting something “useless.” Whatever small element of surprise remained was quickly dashed since we generally got the same item in different colors.

I guess Dad did not follow the rule 100%. One time I begged and begged for a Cub Scout pocketknife and actually got it—even before I reached the age of majority. This was a real stretch for my father. He tended to anticipate danger at every turn. My mother swears my first word was “dangerous.” I thanked him by not slicing off any body parts. Another time I got the Barbie Camper and accessories I thought I wanted but didn’t. They just sat there stupidly. Something about them annoyed me.

My father was a true nerd, pocket protector and all. Some of his nerd gifts were right up my alley. He gave me a super cool Audubon bird call. He bought me experiments and kits from Edmund Scientifics. I made noise and messes! I wrote secret notes on dissolvable paper! I learned how metal expands and contracts with heat! An electronics buff, Dad gave me a small white transistor radio. It even had a wrist strap! I took it outside and hid in my favorite spots listening to Simon and Garfunkel.

Dad wasn’t one to martyr himself. He did not spend his energy on matters which didn’t interest him. He had a very active mind and was quick to become bored and impatient. My father was definitely not the kind of parent who liked spending time on the floor playing games or on the couch reading the same stories again and again. All I can say is Thank God for Mom.

Instead, Dad showed me how to build a solenoid radio, make rock candy, knit, crochet, garden organically, and program in BASIC. I wonder how many of my interests started as a way to connect with my father.

I hope the times he spent with me were gifts he wanted for himself.

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post in the series, click here. For the next post, click here.

Rule # 10: If There is a Problem, it Must Be Your Problem

Imago courtesy of geralt

Imago courtesy of geralt

My Dad had no problems. No, really. It’s true. I heard him say so myself.

When Mom attempted to ask for help or discuss problems she was having with us kids or, God forbid, her relationship with him, my father responded predictably.

“Is there a problem? Well, I don’t have any problems. So it must be your problem.”

And that was that.

This is part of Family Rules. For the prior post in the series, click here. For the next post, click here.

Rule #7: Everything…

Here is my second to last segment about my family culture of Germany Worship.

I had a difficult reentry into suburban America after spending four years of my childhood in the ebb and flow of German city life. Over there I had been too American. On my return to the U.S., I was surprised to find how out of sync and foreign I felt. I clung to my German identity as best I could.

Awesome things about life in Germany included the following. And P. S.: I clearly love food but I swear this is not a food blog.

25. Walking

26. Walking

Photo courtesy of kelseyannvere

Photo courtesy of kelseyannvere

27. Did I mention Walking? It is basically a national pastime. I understand things have changed somewhat but when I was a kid, there were just not any overweight people to be found. Really. And along with the walking was the tradition of using a lightweight wooden hiking stick or cane. Each time you hiked at a new location, you had the option of buying a tiny colorful plaque to commemorate your visit. Yes, it is touristy. Yes, I have one. Yes, I still adore walking.

Photo courtesy of Faibel

Photo courtesy of Faibel

28. No waste. Or very little. I learned a lot about conservation. I witnessed one classmate saving money and trees by turning used notebook papers sideways and taking notes on top of and at a right angle to the original writing. Another example: Everyone had a single tiny water heater or a few tiny source heaters for their kitchen and bathroom. Some folks turned the water off after wetting themselves in the shower and then turned it back on to rinse off the soap.

I learned the hard way that long American showers were problematic. The first time I stayed at my German friend Hanna’s house, I used up the hot water supply for the entire apartment without realizing it. Oops! Everybody was too polite to correct me. Hanna’s Mom couldn’t stand me for years.

Photo courtesy of sst via wikimedia commons

What else? Public transportation was abundant and efficient. Plenty of folks went without cars, and those who did own them bought tiny ones. I went into culture shock in the late 70s when I returned to the U.S. and the endless swaths of pavement swarming with gas guzzling behemoths. We’ve begun to use tiny cars here too but at the time, the contrast was extreme. And yes, by the way, this is a double standard since we drove a huge station wagon!

In Germany, I also learned that you can wear your clothing more than once before throwing it into the laundry bin for Mom to wash. On the down side, I also learned that deodorant was optional and that it is actually possible to wear your clothes so many times they stand up by themselves…

Photo courtesy of Frank Murmann

Photo courtesy of Frank Murmann

29. Füller. Fountain pens. Everybody used them. Even young kids, and even for math! That reminds me that I need to buy another pen, since my last one broke. I enjoy writing with them. I stick to Pelikan out of nostalgia, since that is the brand I used in German school.

30. Making up your own words. Yes, it’s allowed. Think of Fahrvergnügen = driving + pleasure. Schadenfreude = harm + glee. Let’s do one now for fun. I think I’ll invent Schokoladentherapie and use it in my counseling practice. Chocolate + therapy = happy clients.

Photo courtesy of Hans

Photo courtesy of Hans

31. Federbetten. Featherbeds. Americans have caught on. But I’m not sure they have the kind that are just one big bag of down without any stitches to hold the feathers in place. Using a Federbett is like sleeping under a giant marshmallow. It’s just a gigantic bag of down. People get really, really anal about the upkeep of their feather beds, so tread lightly. Not to be used in cases of profuse sweating. Must be gently beaten so as to fluff but not break the feathers. Should be aired regularly–you may see them hanging out of windows on nice days. And speaking of conservation—it is these featherbeds that allow the Germans to sleep with open windows in cool weather and keep some bedrooms unheated in the winter.

Photo courtesy of Paul Downey

Photo courtesy of Paul Downey

32. Whipped cream without sugar. Found this one out the hard way but eventually came to like it very much.

I remember the day my sister Gwen and I discovered it. We had begged my father to buy us ice cream. Uncharacteristically, he hesitated, and we figured we had a foot in the door. We then begged my father not only to buy us ice cream, but to pay the extra money for a big dollop of whipped cream on top. He assured us we would hate the whipped cream, and it would go to waste. We thought he was crazy and begged harder. We promised to like it. We promised to eat it. Against the odds, he caved in on both accounts: ice cream and topping. Our lucky day!

After he paid, he started to lope of ahead of us with his long grasshopper legs. He must have noticed we were not huffing and puffing, as usual, to keep up with him. He turned around a split second after the whipped cream had, uh, accidentally slipped off both Gwen’s and my ice cream onto the sidewalk with a puffy splat. We were appropriately mystified at our clumsiness. Mercifully he did not question us further.

Photo courtesy of EME

Photo courtesy of EME

33. Quark. We don’t have it. It’s a kind of fresh dairy product. We used to eat it with sliced fruit.

Photo courtesy of Gourmandise

Photo courtesy of Gourmandise

34. Vanillesoβe. A ubiquitous Dr. Oetker mix commonly used to make vanilla-flavored sauce for desserts. It is good but I’m not prepared to say it’s legendary. I think it was raised to the status of an exotic delight because my father brought several of the small packets home after work trips to Germany in the years before we went as a family. Also, I think my mother remembered it fondly from her own childhood when she spent time in the home of her best friend Luisa, a German girl.

Photo courtesy of Magnus Manske

Photo courtesy of Magnus Manske

35. Pommes Frites. I don’t care if they are supposedly French. If you want to die and go to heaven quickly, spend the day hoofing it around the city, working up an appetite, and then buy a big serving of Pomme Frites with ketchup and a Coke. The best fries ever!

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

36. Italian ice. The real thing is amazing. It is nothing like the stuff you get in the freezer section of American grocery stores.  Once you have it, you will wonder why people aren’t jumping up and down in protest. Can you believe my classmates actually used to beg me to buy American ice cream in the commissary and bring it to their birthday parties??

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post in this series, click here. For the next post, click here.

Rule # 9: I Know You Better Than You Know Yourself

Photo courtesy of TMAB2003

Photo courtesy of TMAB2003

I think I was my father’s little boy.

I say this tentatively and with an apology to my younger brother Will. Both because I may have misunderstood–and that makes me sound queasily grandiose–and because it might sound like I am blaming him for not being chosen as heir. Maybe I should apologize to Gwen as well. If one daughter could be his son, why not the other? I believe it had little to do with our individual merits.

Maybe birth order is to blame since both my siblings are loveable and gifted individuals. Looking through my adult vantage point and my therapist goggles, I see that my father was prone to bending logic when it suited him. It is deforming to spoil, provoke, or ignore a child into brazenness, neediness, or despair and then point at that child’s behavior to justify your concerns about his or her goodness or stability.

The fact that I learned to negotiate the shifting shoals is both an achievement and a source of shame and guilt. I rarely ran aground in any obvious way. While I was astute enough to figure out and operate within the rules of engagement, I did not save or defend my siblings when I might have. Instead, I stood quietly by and watched as they were branded with various labels and then punished for bearing them. Older and stronger, I sometimes even threw them under the bus.

I know, I know. I was just a kid. But it still feels bad sometimes. Back and forth, back and forth I go. Was I a victim or an accomplice? This is how I wear my damage. They wear theirs differently.

Allowing myself to contemplate my brokenness brings self loathing. If I claim I am damaged, I selfishly compete for balm at the expense of those who need it more. I have shown I can manage. If I claim I am undamaged, I smell superior and condescending. There is no way out. Thankfully, the reverberations have become dampened over time. I don’t spend a lot of time or tears on this matter. It generally stays in the back of my mind, held comfortably in check by God’s cleansing and my adult logic.

Occasionally old feelings still build and threaten. Writing this–right in this moment–I feel the edges of madness pressing in. That slow sinking. Eyelids falling shut. Bad Jane, bad Jane. Time to take a break…

…The brands I received were different but no less constricting. Though I never struggled with sexual preference or identity, being Junior and being entrusted with my father’s inside views on my mother’s shortcomings caused me to associate my womanly emotional makeup with weakness and disown it as inferior. I was just as uncomfortable with my body.

I got to be the Good Student, the Responsible One, the Dutiful One. Whoop dee do. These labels came with the designations Stoic One and Stick In The Mud. I think in time I also got Sneaky One, and sometimes that one fit.

Gwen got to be the Feminine One, the Cute One, and the Artistic One. Sigh. Sadly, those were padlocked to the brands Dramatic One (never to be taken seriously, even in extremis) and Messy One (“She can’t help herself. It’s because of her artistic temperament.”). How would you like to labor under those prophetic burdens? And what do you think happens when two girls, so differently regarded and so close in age, have to share a single small room? This was not a recipe to cultivate sibling love.

Will had other brands but those escape me now. The comparison between me and Gwen was sharpest given our 18-month age difference.

Dad labeled me because he knew he knew me and what I was about. Looking at me was looking in the mirror. It was a Fun House mirror–wavy and distorted–but only one of us seemed to realize it. I was supposed to be an engineer like him. He knew it was a fit for me. I knew I would never, ever, do it. Even the thought of it made me clammy.

I stood up to him about the engineering major but compromised by giving in to his expectation that I enroll in 21 credits my first semester in college. He had done it. No problem! Never mind that I was participating as a scholarship athlete on a Division I sports team. I lasted a few weeks before quietly adjusting my schedule and doing my own thing. To his credit, he was entirely supportive. This marked the start of a better phase in our relationship. On the cusp of my adulthood, I began to understand him differently. I came to view his behavior as motivated more by a lack of insight than a spoiling for malice. More on that soon.

I ended up studying Bio and German. I said I might try for medical school though I knew I never would.

In retrospect, this may have been the most Jane I was able to be at this time in my life. The finding of Jane has been a molasses-slow and ongoing process. Bio was not my thing. German, I love, but not as a profession. Years later, I ended up in counseling and then in grad school for counseling. It’s a great fit.

As for writing? Too artistic for me to even contemplate.

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post in the series, click here. For the next post, click here.

 

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