Clerc-Gallaudet Week

Held the first full week of December, Clerc-Gallaudet Week is a tribute to two men who had a significant impact on education for the deaf in the United States. Laurent Clerc and Reverend Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet founded the country’s first school for the deaf in 1817. The school is now known as the American School for the Deaf.

In honor of the occasion, I perused SigningSavvy.com and attempted to come up with a short message. I make absolutely no claim to have gotten this right.

What was I going for? “Hello, I am S. I like holidays. I live in Wisconsin. Snow today. Have a nice day. Goodbye!”

Hey, it was worth a try.

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Bodhi Day

I’ve been fascinated with Buddhism for a long time, since a really brief stint as a communications intern at a local temple. The Dalai Lama makes surprisingly regular visits to Madison, and I’ve seen him speak. I also just really like the central themes of Buddhism, like compassion and balance. However, I really don’t know that much about the specifics of the philsophy or much about the Buddha himself.

So there was no question I was jumping on the Bodhi bandwagon today. Bodhi Day celebrates the Buddha’s enlightenment. After a hard stretch of intense meditation and wrestling off mental demons while sitting under a fig tree, the Buddha realized the nature of suffering and experienced his awakening, or bodhi. The tree, called the Bodhi Tree, under which this all occurred is now considered a very sacred site in India.

Celebrating Bodhi Day is a big deal for some Buddhists. A lot of the associated activities look similar to typical Christmas doings: on Bodhi Day, you can hang lights, decorate a ficus tree, or even make tree-shaped cookies. Some also light a candle on Bodhi Day that remains lit for 30 days.

Before the Buddha sat down under the Bodhi Tree, he was offered rice and milk by a servant girl, Sujata. He ate the meal to gain strength before meditation, so it’s traditional to eat a meal, typically breakfast, of rice and milk on Bodhi Day.

The Buddha by PBSMy goal today was to learn something about the story of Buddha. So I lit a whole mess of candles, settled in with a bowl of rice and glass of milk, and turned on Netflix. I spent the evening watching The Buddha, a PBS documentary that premiered last April. It was really informative and chronologically followed the Buddha’s life from his days as Prince Siddartha to his renunciation of palace life and days of spiritual searching, to his enlightenment and teaching. It’s narrated by Richard Gere, who I certainly don’t mind listening to for two hours, and the Dalai Lama makes several appearances. The animated portions aren’t my favorite, but the storytelling is strong and the Buddhists who are featured do a really great job of explaining their philosophy for non-Buddhists.

Learning about different religions is really fascinating to me, which is convenient since it’s Spiritual Literacy Month. G gave me one of the Dalai Lama’s books awhile back, and cracking it open by candlelight on Bodhi Day seems like the right way to end the night.

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National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

My grandfather

My grandfather, loading .50 caliber bullets into airplane artillery.

This holiday is pretty self explanatory for Americans. It is a day that has indeed lived in infamy.

I think today is a good day not just to remember an event that rocked the country as profoundly as 9/11, but also the people whose lives were drastically changed when we went to war. There are still almost two million WWII veterans alive today, though around 900 of them are dying every day.

Both of my grandfathers served, both in Europe, one in Germany, the other in England. One was infantry, the other air force. One lost a foot, the other was uninjured.

While my family has photos of both, this is my only photo of either. Though I only knew one, the one who is pictured, both are important. Both are remembered.

 

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Microwave Oven Day

The microwave. No other item in my kitchen is as crucial to my survival. Except maybe the fridge. No, it’s definitely the microwave, which brings life back into fridge items.

My microwave is nothing fancy, one of those basic GE models most college freshmen get. It’s the kind with the buttons for “baked potato” and “popcorn.”

The microwave is often demonized, but really, on a daily basis it’s an item used without a second thought for all manner of things, from heating water for tea and instant oatmeal to defrosting bagels and meat. It reheats leftovers and melts cheese with no fuss.

G and I are probably more conscious of our microwave than most people. We have limited heat in our apartment–though we live in the tropics compared to other campus-area Madison apartments–and we rely heavily on a space heater. The trouble in our small digs is that if the heater is on when we use the microwave, we usually blow a fuse.

So we’re aware of our microwave, but do we truly use it to its full potential? Google “things to do with a microwave” and you will get some really scary stuff. People have put everything from CDs to insects in there. Seriously, why do more of our homes not blow up?

If I’d have better prepared, I would have tried a grape tonight. G has brought up more than once the fact that microwaving a grape sliced in half with the inside facing up will cause sparks. For a physics student, this is ridiculously exciting.

Alas, there are no grapes to be had in my household tonight, so instead I opted to try soap. After all, the microwave desperately needed a cleaning.

We cut off a third of a bar of unscented Dove. This is what happened.

The smell was so acrid, it was awful. Even though the soap puffed up like a mutant marshmallow, the end result looked like a flaky fried egg, sans yolk. I’m waiting for the smell to clear out before my next and final microwave mission of the night: popcorn.

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Bathtub Party Day

rubber duckyAfter a hard day’s work of making sachertorte and celebrating Repeal of Prohibition Day with a few friends and beers ala National Lager Week, I figured I’d earned a really nice bath.

I told G about this holiday, and he made it his mission to make sure I didn’t miss out. He drew the bath, adding aromatherapy salts and placing candles in the corners. The scene was complete with a iPod stereo set to Snow Patrol. I even had a rubber ducky. It happened to be painted red with devil horns and is actually a mini squirtgun, but whatever. Close enough.

And with that, my first week of December holidaying was washed away, leaving me relaxed and restored, ready for the rest of the month.

 

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National Sachertorte Day

 

Successful Sachertorte

Despite difficulties, ultimately successful Sachertorte

As we have well established by now, I am not a particularly proficient cook, and baking is probably my worst arena. So seeing that today was a celebration for a rather intimidating cake was, well, intimidating.

The sachertorte is a unique Austrian chocolate cake that is supposed to be very light and fluffy, with a layer of apricot spread in the middle. It was invented by a sixteen-year-old under intense pressure from him boss to deliver something great that night for a crowd of hoighty-toighties. Hey, if a kid can do it …

If you can believe it, Wolfgang Puck’s recipe is one of the more approachable versions. Seriously, though, WHY does the Food Network refuse to convert measurements into American standard form? I don’t own a single kitchen item that measures ounces and grams. I have cups and teaspoons, and I hate math.

Anyway, my plan for the day was to run some errands, come home and make the cake, and then head over to a friend’s place for the evening. Not long into my erranding, G called, looking for the satellite radio, which I had taken with me. He’s a Vikings fan living in the land of green and gold. There usually is no  way for him to watch/hear the game other than the satellite radio. So even though I was across town with a list to do, I knew it was my girlfriend duty to return, radio in hand.

Thank God I did. Once home, I decided to just put off the errands and start the cake. It ended up taking me about three hours. Three. Hours. If I’d have started when I originally planned to, I never would have finished before our evening plans. Yes, I totally admit it took three hours because I had no idea what I was doing. I had to look up “how to make egg yolks look like ribbons” and “how many teaspoons are in one ounce of sugar.” I had to stare for awhile at my make-shift double boiler (one random pot set in a larger one) and tell myself no, this will not result in melting a pot or mysteriously causing the oven to alight (two things that have happened in my kitchen in the last month).

The double boiler ended up being the least of my problems. For whatever reason I had the darndest time separating eggs, and on egg number four I ended up with a little yolk in the whites. There was no way I was going to waste the eggs and start over, so I just went with it. Sure enough, yolk contamination makes it next to impossible to get “hard peaks.” By the time I finally mixed them to what passed as soft peaks if you squinted, I declared them hard enough and folded them into the chocolate/butter/sugar/yolk “ribbon” mixture.

Sachertorte

When the cake came out, it was nowhere near as tall as the recipe probably intended. I’m positive this is because I didn’t do the egg whites correctly, but regardless, it tasted fine and was just thick enough to slice in half. The Puck method calls for slicing the cake into thirds and putting the apricot/brandy puree in between, but there was no way my cake could be split more than once. So I just added the excess to make a super-thick puree layer, replaced the top layer of cake, and covered the whole mess in melted dark chocolate . Voila. Or, however you say that in Austrian.

After I let it set and cool while we were gone, we gave it a try. I have to admit: It’s a pretty tasty dessert. G was ridiculously excited about licking the chocolate out of the bowl, and I realized I could have just melted chocolate over the stove and he’d have been just as impressed. But nonetheless, I achieved a version of sachertorte complete with apricot filling and chocolate glaze. It’s incredibly sweet and rich, and while this cake is not for the faint of kitchen skill, I’d say it’s worth the effort. Once a year.

 

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National Dice Day

Today G and I went Christmas shopping, and my plan was to sneak in a little holidaying along the way. Between the toy store in the mall and Barnes and Noble’s respectable game section, I figured there would for sure be a cheap, unique dice game I could pick up. There were a couple, but none that really looked like something fun to play. G even asked around for a dreidel, which I figured would work as, essentially, a spinning die, and after all, it is Hanukkah. But no luck.

So when we got home, I went digging in my bin of life clutter. I came up not with dice, but with a dice roller. When I was a kid, my uncle had a small leather workshop next to the cabin west of Madison he used to own. He made belts, wallets and other items. I guess he even once went to a boot-making seminar in Wyoming. I still remember the workshop’s smell: really earthy, like sawdust, but sweet. I’ve been a leather-lover ever since.

Homemade dice roller

Homemade dice roller

I don’t remember exactly when he made me the dice roller, but I do remember getting to pick out the stamps he used to decorate the roller, which is basically a hard cup covered in tan leather and black stitching. My little kid self selected two teddy bears, a cat, a butterfly, a bunny, a heart and a golf ball. I have no idea why I picked the last one, but it’s funny since I ended up on my high school golf team.

So yeah, the thing is as busy-looking as it sounds. Part of me wishes I’d asked for a wallet, like the one he made my mom, or a belt, like the one he made my brother. But truthfully, I’d probably have destroyed the wallet, and like my brother, I’d eventually have outgrown a belt. Instead, I still have a dice roller that is a reminder not just of my uncle’s leather-making days or my childhood stamp preferences, but also of his kindness toward me then and now.

The best part about my dice cup? On the bottom is another stamp, his personal one: Handcrafted by Grindy.

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