What is Love?

It is so fascinating to observe how a young mind develops, as it observes this crazy world we live in, and tries to make some sense of it. Annika was listening to the radio when Haddaway’s song “What is Love?” started playing. She asked us what the song was about, but before we could answer, she heard part of the refrain, “Oh baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.”

Annika paused for a moment and then declared, “Well, it must not be true love then!”

Of course, as parents, we praised her for such a clever observation: “That’s right darling, people who are truly in love, try not to hurt each other.”  (Of course I realize that is an idealized view of love, but she will have plenty of time to learn that trying does not always mean succeeding.)

I’d say that Annika, having just turned five years old, is becoming a pretty smart cookie. Also, I’m going to have to review the channels I’ve programmed into her radio: It’s time to move away from pop music before her vision of the world gets stuck in pre-adolescent mode!

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Budding Shutterbug

This gallery contains 9 photos.

This winter, Annika’s godfather Chris gave her his old digital camera.  I realize these things are so automated that almost anyone can take a pretty good picture. Keep in mind, Annika knows nothing about lighting, framing the scene, or anything … Continue reading

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Summertime and Ice Cream Trucks

oldfleet_7e920.LargeNothing says summer to me more than an old fashioned ice cream truck. Where I grew up in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, that ice cream truck was owned and operated by the Palagi Brothers, and it would tour our neighborhood just after suppertime. As we watched television in our living room, we could hear the clanging of the bell getting louder, the sound floating far and wide on the hot humid air. As the bright red and yellow truck got closer and closer to our home, that ringing bell would get drowned out by this child’s excited screaming “Daddy, daddy, it’s the ice cream man!”

My father and I would then head outside just as the truck pulled up to our front yard, and we would step up onto the running board, and place our order at the window. Strangely, as an eight year old kid, I almost never had ice cream because it always left me feeling thirsty afterwards. Instead I usually opted for Palagi’s much more refreshing “frozen lemonade”, just the perfect balance of sweet-tart icy cold goodness.

Back in the house, as we spent family time in front of the television, I would first slowly suck out the chilled lemonade, leaving behind mostly slushy ice. Then, I would let the slush melt a bit, creating a barely flavored but very frosty and thirst quenching combination. Finally, I would finish off the last few gulps by siphoning off every bit of liquid, the slush now leaning on and freezing my lips as I tilted my cup. With the very last bit of liquid thus drained, I would take the last few bites of dry slush and compress it in my mouth into mini ice cubes between my back teeth, and then happily crunch away on it.

Where we live now, there is no such thing as an ice cream truck. So imagine my surprise one summer a few years ago, while at a local park with my wife and three year old daughter, we heard the familiar clang-clang-clang of an old fashioned bell. My heart skipped a beat or two at the thought of introducing an old family tradition to my sweet little girl, as my eyes scanned around. There appeared to be a white van being driven ever so slowly down the street, it’s little bell ringing like I remembered from the days of yore.

As the van pulled closer and closer I could hardly contain my excitement, which suddenly turned to extreme confusion and then disappointment. It turned out not to be an ice cream van at all, but, a van that was offering knife sharpening services. I wondered to myself “Who the hell drives around the neighborhood offering knife sharpening services?”

As the van pulled away, my mind continued with the absurdities of life as I thought to myself, “Get your ice cold metal shavings here! Special today: Sharpen two knives and one lawnmower, and get one metal slushy free!”

I think I’ll just buy a hand cranked ice shaver to ensure one summertime family tradition lives on. That way, I can enjoy some homemade snow cones, and watch my daughter happily enjoy on hers, just like my dad used to watch me. And I can’t help but wonder, if I ever see that travelling knife sharpening van again: Would he be able to sharpen the blades of our ice shaver?

http://www.palagibros.com/

Posted in Family, My Life So Far | 1 Comment

Sunday Soundbites # 2: Important Conversation

When Annika was about a year and half old, before she was able to speak in sentences, she grabbed a toy, and pretended to be on the phone with someone.  This is the conversation she had:

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Sunday Soundbites # 1: Marriage Proposals and Butterflies

I find voice recordings lead to more natural results when it comes to capturing a person’s true nature. Record conversations with your kids (and grand-kids) while you can, you won’t regret it.

When Annika was three years old, I decided to record the ensuing conversation while we sat down and looked at family photos on my computer.  When I have trouble falling asleep, I listen to this, and am instantly soothed by her voice, and her words which express pure love for her family:

 

 

 

 

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Twisted Toy Movies

Back in 2012, a friend and I were discussing some of the silly movie concepts Hollywood puts forth, that are based on the classic toys of our youth. At that time, there was a rumor of “Stretch Armstrong” action movie, which according to IMBD, is still in development.  Even though the movie based on LEGO was a pleasant surprise, it still earned a PG rating.

With that in mind, here’s my prediction for future “classic toy” based movies, rated PG and up:

  • Twisted Soul (A Slinky Adventure)
  • Battling Tops: Spinner’s Revenge
  • Etch-a-Sketch And The Search For The Missing Knob!
  • Playdough:  Something Squishy This Way Comes
  • Burning Gingerbread Man (An Easy-Bake Oven Tale of Terror)
  • Slip ‘N Slide To Hell
  • Night of the Nefarious Nerfs

Contributions from my friend Taras:

  • Lite-Brite: Dark Nights, Bright Lights
  • Lite-Brite 2: Electric Boogaloo (okay, that one was obvious, but I couldn’t live with not doing it)
  • Trapped: The Frisbee On The Roof Story
  • Day Of The Headless Colorforms
  • Bop Bag’s Revenge

Feel free to post your suggestions right here!

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Frank the Ripper

© 2014 Frank Verpaelst

Author’s note: The following humorous story is part fiction, part true. The actual events and people involved are all true. But, any evil intent or thoughts described are purely fictional, and for comic effect.

Sometimes, we go through grim periods in our lives, times when the things we do make us shake our heads, as if they were done by someone completely different, someone much more sinister than ourselves. It all started innocently enough, at work, a place you think would be safe from such evil intent. One would have to be considered mad for perpetrating such a heinous act in front of so many potential witnesses.

I was having a casual conversation, about what I cannot now recall, with my friend Patrick Page, who was just on the other side of our shared cubicle wall. I had actually wandered over, and was leaning on his desk, by the time our discussion had come to an end. For some reason, I made the decision to return to my desk walking slowly backwards, since it was only a few feet away.

In hindsight, some deep nasty part of me recognized that I had to make it all look like an accident. Suddenly, it happened: I “tripped” and fell over backwards, crashing to the floor in what looked like a horrible mishap. Patrick of course, being the good man that he is, jumped up immediately to see if I was alright

My vile plan was making itself even plainer now, as I responded “I’m OK, I’m OK, but, I do need some help getting back up.” And that was when my ultimate scheme, my nefarious endgame materialized. Somehow, my mind caused the cuff of Pat’s trousers to become trapped beneath the heel of his shoe, giving not an inch of slack in his slacks to perform his heroic rescue.

As Pat bent down, his trousers tautly tightened, and a very loud ripping sound arose, revealing a black hole that was even larger and blacker than my soul. The resulting rip in Pat’s pants stretched from his butt cheek all the way down to the back of his knee. Despite the state of his now destroyed dockers, he managed to pick me up, and then he looked back to assess how much of his assets were exposed. His boss gracefully allowed him to go home from work half a day early, so as to avoid flashing too many of his coworkers.

You would think that one such pants ripping incident would be enough to satisfy such a corrupted being as I. But no, just several weeks later, my despicable desire descended on me again, this time at a birthday party. To this day, I shudder to think that instead of wanting to celebrate a friend’s day of birth, my sordid spirit acted of its own vile volition to expose someone almost right down to their birthday suit.

Again, everything started innocently enough. In spite of my recent trouser tearing episode, I am usually a very loving human being, prone to hugging my friends, be they male or female. It makes no difference to me, a hug is a nice way to say “I care for you, and I am your friend”, without getting too mushy about it. That was the true genius behind my wicked plan, and it is what ultimately fooled my second victim.

I approached my good friend Atambir, who was relaxing on the couch, as I offered up my usual friendship hug. He, being a great big teddy bear of a man and also one of the best huggers of all time, slid forward. Atambir’s sliding forward became his undoing: The couch must have somehow gripped his pants, perhaps the couch again controlled by my malicious mind, and we all heard a loud “RIP!”

Atambir’s face instantly looked shocked, as he realized what had happened. His trousers, ripped just like Pat’s, from around the butt down to the back of the knee. Again, the wretchedness of my rottenness rocked me to the bottom of my being. It was at this point I realized how dark my secret sinister passenger was, how dangerous it would be if I gave it free reign to rip pants willy-nilly.

Soon after that party, I sequestered myself and sought professional counselling. I also attended PRA meetings (Pants Rippers Anonymous) whenever possible. Even with all of these efforts, at best, I can only control these unholy urges to rip and uncover underpants, but never eradicating them entirely. And nevermore will I be able to enter the men’s clothing section of any department store, or worse yet, a professional tailor’s place of business, or I will run the risk of pernicious pants ripping recidivism.

Posted in Humor | 5 Comments

Chef Carmelle

My mom, her parents and siblings

My mom, her parents and siblings

It would be no exaggeration to say that my mother has forgotten more about cooking than most people learn in their entire lifetime.  Back in the great depression when she grew up, access to cookbooks was severely limited.  Meanwhile, people today have access to online resources and yet still, they rely on takeout or order in more than once a week. Everything my mother learned about the kitchen came from cooking every day with her mother on the farm, for a family of sixteen.  (My mother, her parents, and thirteen siblings).

Some older kids today complain about having to clean up their room or doing their homework.  Can you imagine their reaction if they had to help their mom prepare a meal every day for such a big family after a long day at school?  And back in the 1930’s and 1940’s, there was no bevy of pre-made products to speed things along:   No frozen dinners, no instant mashed potatoes, no Hamburger-Helper. Almost everything was made from scratch.  Faced with that amount of work, today’s younger generation would probably get on their I-Phones and file a complaint with the Human Rights commission, or order ten all dressed jumbo pizza’s and charge it to their father’s credit card.

Friends Visiting

Friends Visiting

As for my mother, you could assume that all those years of back breaking kitchen work would cause her to be sick and tired of cooking in all its forms. But no, when we get together, even still now at age 84, she prefers to cook rather than order in, or go out to a restaurant.  As well, thirty to forty percent of our time together with her is spent discussing recent recipes we’ve enjoyed, often while we are eating, or, are overstuffed after eating one of her tasty meals. I think the world will come to an end before my mother gets sick of cooking or eating delicious food.

As an example, recently while planning a future visit to see her in Sherbrooke, I told her we could bring some delicious organic ham, and fresh bread from the Atwater market.  My mother blinked back at me in total surprise and said, “Why buy bread, you don’t like my homemade bread anymore?”

“No no, ma”, I reassured her, trying not to drool over memories of how good her bread smelled while it baked in our wood oven, “we love your bread!  I just thought we’d save you a bit of work.”

Feeding my aunts and cousins

Feeding my aunts and cousins

To be honest, my mother is not the most experimental of cooks. Her specialty has always been French Canadian cuisine.  She does not dabble too much in recipes from different countries, mostly because she’s never sure where to get the variety of herbs and spices required for the more exotic cuisines.  But, when it comes to her style of cooking, the scope of her knowledge is vast, and always yummy! If I started listing everything she does well, I’m sure I could write at least ten pages, so I’ll just stick to major categories.

Xmas Meal

Xmas Meal

Meats she handles with great ease, to such a degree, I’ve never seen her use a thermometer to determine when it has reached the peak of perfection. From her experience on the farm, she knows all the different cuts of meat, and is never bashful about locating the butcher wherever she shops, and politely demanding exactly what she wants. Her roasts are always juicy, tender, and full of flavor.  The pan juices or gravies are also guaranteed of deserving that extra slice of home baked bread to wipe your plate clean with.

Good Morning

Good Morning

Her vegetables are also to die for, never just simply boiled or steamed and served as is. They are always somehow both tender and crisp, lovingly served up with melted butter, sautéed shallots, herbs and such. Her desserts you will always want seconds of, and maybe even thirds. The in-laws in fact were always trying to pry the secrets of how she made her pie crusts, but my mother kept that to herself.

Her soups were always a perfect ratio of goodies to broth.  Even though my mother says I’m also a good cook, my soups are always hit and miss, even when I use recipes.  Apparently, it is oh so easy to ruin a good soup:  Too much of this, not enough of that, even just too much time on the boil, and you get a soup that is either too thin, or, you get something that looks (and tastes) like oatmeal.

My mother is such a good cook, that even things many excellent restaurants buy pre-made, she did well, and often. I’ve already mentioned the bread baking, but she also did pickling of all kinds. From beets, to cucumbers, to green tomato relish, my mother prepared them all, and with produce she herself grew in our garden.  Did I forget to mention compotes, jams and jellies?   Yep, and far better tasting than anything Smuckers could come up with.

Chef Carmelle

Chef Carmelle

More than my mother’s love of good food, I realized long ago that her cooking was truly an expression of love for her family.  As I grew older, she would confide to me she got sick and tired of thinking up of new recipes, especially as one by one, we her children, moved out, and her old recipes no longer were as useful to feed just two people.  I suspect her problems of cooking for two, and now just one, have much more to do with the fact that her table is much quieter than it used to be.

When you prepare the next meal for your families, remember to focus on the love and caring it represents.  Meals are not just about fueling our bodies, they are also meant to fuel our souls, and bring us together as a family, under a delicious mouthwatering moment in time during our chaotic day. And if you are lucky enough to still have a wonderful master chef and mother still living and cooking for you when you visit, remember to let them know how much you appreciate their efforts.

PS:  Here’s a recipe from my grandma, to help you pass on the love!

Apple “Pudding”

This recipe is more like a molasses cake that sits on top of a delicious base of cooked apples in a butter and brown sugar sauce. YUMMY!

Part A: Bottom layer ingredients.

¼ cup butter
¾ cup brown sugar
3 apples, cored and thinly sliced (peeling optional)

Part A: Bottom layer preparation:

Melt butter in an 8 inch by 8 inch square baking pan and take off heat. Layer sliced apples in the melted butter, then sprinkle the ¾ brown sugar over the apples and butter in the pan.

Part B: The cake batter ingredients

¼ cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
¼ cup molasses
1 egg

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup hot water

Part B: The cake batter preparation

In a big bowl, cream ¼ cup butter and 1/3 cup sugar.  Then beat the 1 egg and ¼ cup molasses into the creamed butter and sugar.  In a separate bowl, mix all the dry ingredients, and then stir the dry ingredients into the creamed butter/sugar/egg/molasses mixture.  Add and mix the 1/3 hot water into the batter at the end.  Pour the cake batter over the apples in the baking pan.

Preheat oven and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, for 35 to 40 minutes.

Posted in Family, My Mother | 2 Comments

Music, Not Military Madness, for the Masses

Again and again it has been proven that music is good for the brain. And yet, when governments decide it is time to tighten belts, in school curriculums the world over, music classes are amongst the first things that are dropped, if a music program ever existed at all in that given school.  Of course, these music programs that are being crossed off the budgets are for publicly funded institutions, whilst the rich continue to send their kids to private schools, thus increasing their children’s advantages over those from the middle and lower classes.

And really, is there any research at all that proves the opposite, to justify the reason they cut the creative arts first and foremost, that learning music, or any other creative art for that matter, actually harms the brain?  I seriously doubt it. Could it be that those politicians are just afraid of creating an intelligent, articulate and well educated middle to lower class population?

No, that can’t possibly be! Honestly, all those politicians, and billionaire lobbyists are just doing their best to heal the economy that they themselves destroyed.  All this cutting back is for our benefit, not theirs.  (I wish there was a font that indicated sarcasm, so instead, I’ve underlined it, to indicate my contempt for these self-serving so called “public” servants.)

The real enemy that needs to be crossed off from budgets is greed and ignorance. I realize I’m living in dream land, but if enough governments simply took 10% of their military’s budget and applied that money to improving public schools, in only a generation or two, the world would be a better place.  Even if you are pro-military, or even a soldier, what do you have more faith in that will make a better world generations from now: More bombs and guns, or, better education?

We all know the military complex and all their weak-kneed billionaire lobbyists would scream you can’t ever never cut their budgets by 10%, or the world as we know it will come crumbling down.  It is hilarious and at the same time so pitiful that, for example, the big brave US military system is actually fearful to give up 10% of their budget, to help the very same children they claim to be protecting.

We might not change the world right away, but we need to let our politicians know that we the people are aware of how horrible it is to neglect a child’s education, especially when compared to the costs of producing the modernized killing machines we call armies.  It is time for all of us to realize that we have spent more than enough on the art of war, it is now time for the creative arts, and education, to be given a real chance to make a difference.

PS: The following articles were the inspiration for today’s rant. Feel free to send them, or other articles that might be more relevant for your local schools, to your political representatives:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/music-lessons-combat-povertys-effect-on-the-brain/

http://ledermanstudio.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/the-effects-of-drawing-on-your-brain/comment-page-1/#comment-1

http://www.apa.org/education/k12/brain-function.aspx?item=1

Posted in Random Meanderings | 1 Comment

Saint Carmelle

Carmelle Verpaelst, and Frank

Carmelle Verpaelst, and Frank

To say my mother made me the person I am today would be a major understatement.  As I grow older, the depth and breadth of my love, respect and admiration for her keeps increasing as I experience life with my own daughter.  What I admire most about my dear mother, who at this writing is eighty-four years old, is her towering strength, both physical and mental, combined with a lightness and joy in her soul I have not found in any single other person I have ever met.

Consider the fact she raised six children while dealing with three of them who were almost constantly in the hospital.  Raising healthy kids is a lot of work as it is, imagine having to take the time to drive to the hospital almost every day, and spending a few hours cheering up those children who were often in deep despair or pain.

My parents, and us kids, 1966

My parents, and us kids, 1966

Add to that maintaining a household, feeding all the other kids at home, spending a bit of time with her loving husband: Lather, rinse, repeat, day after day for over eighteen years. Even when we three kids who had dwarfism were not in the hospital and were relatively healthy, we still had innumerable checkups to attend. These appointments could take up to half a day, as we sat for hours in overcrowded waiting rooms.

During all those years of  treatments and surgeries her children went through, I never once saw my mother looking sad, or heard her complaining about how tough this must have been.  Her one and only concern was to make us happy, and to make sure we had fun together.  Back then, I remember looking forward to those daily visits: They meant more to me than all my Christmases and birthdays combined.

Boston Children's Hospital, 1965

Boston Children’s Hospital, 1965

She was so adorable when she arrived at my hospital room: So eager to see me, leaning so far forward I would see her face long before the rest of her body, like a mouse peeking around the corner, scanning the room to lock eyes with me as soon as she could, smiling all the way.  My dad was usually there to when his work schedule allowed, and I did so love him also, but he was more the strong silent type.  My parent’s eventual departure at the end of visiting hours left a great big gaping hole that often left me sobbing.  As I grew older, I was better able to control this impulse, but that void was always felt very intensely.

Me at Boston Children's Hospital, 1967

Me at Boston Children’s Hospital, 1967

When I was practically incoherent from the pain of surgery, she had this habit of softly rubbing the top of my foot. Somehow, that magic touch worked better than the painkillers the hospital provided me. As I gained strength and got better, we would chat quietly, play card games, or just sit and cuddle. Sometimes, she would bring me a home cooked meal, still hot and tasty in a thermos bottle.  What a pleasure that was, especially considering some of the gag inducing hospital foods I had to choke down. Saturday lunch was particularly nasty, plain white bread and bologna sandwiches.  Now there’s a meal to heal and recuperate with:  NOT!

Carmelle and Frank, 1972

Carmelle and Frank, 1972

When I was inconsolable as to why these surgeries kept happening to me, my mother would quietly draw my attention to other patients in my room, who were suffering far more than I was.  This led me to an awareness at an early age, that we all suffer together, and that the best way to forget one’s own troubles, is to try and make the other person’s time on this planet a little less difficult.  The lessons my mother taught me made it possible for me and my hospital friends to even have fun, when our health allowed.

All of these difficult memories I’m presenting to you are not to highlight the problems I faced, but rather, to raise my mother up to a level I believe she truly deserves. Carmelle Verpaelst is a patient saint of a woman, who always puts her needs aside, so that she can bring some love and joy into the lives of her children, no matter where we were.  If the whole world were burning to the ground, my mother would be there by our side, telling us a funny story to distract and entertain us.

When you next visit a loved one or friend in the hospital, remember to keep your problems out of the mix, and focus entirely on making your time together as memorable and uplifting as possible.  The simple things you do or bring work best:  A home cooked meal, a silly card, a few magazines or word puzzles can all have a huge and positive impact. Best of all, a simple caring attitude will go a long way towards making sure the person you are visiting has good memories left to hold on to when visiting hours come to an end, and act as an oasis to hold on to while they wait for your return.

Posted in Dwarfism, My Life So Far, My Mother | 2 Comments