Saturday, December 19, 2015

21st Century Family Time Line

The twenty-first century really belongs to my children, but until I started with the first year of the new century and recording the major life events, I didn’t realize just how much.  I thought it would be interesting to post it for others in the family to see, just to get a family perspective.

2000 – Oct. 28 – Pat and Rita married
2001 – May 27, Melissa and John married
2002 -  Oct. 6, Amelia born
             Nov. 5, Connor born
2004 – June 21, Jack born
            July 10, Maya and Ryan married.
2005 – June 20, Andrew born
2006 – July 16, Eli and Mary Beth married
2008 – Feb. , Maya and Ryan divorced
            April 14, Liam born
            Nov.  4, Grandma Ventura died
2009 – Sept. 19, Maura and Dan married
2010 – Dec. 29 – Maggie and Owen born
2011 – Grandma Northen died

What amazes me is the continuous flow when looked at as a family. If any dates are wrong, let me know.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Baby Pictures

Can you identify these Northen family babies?  They are all either  one of my five children or seven grandchildren. Obviously, some are easier than others.  The choices are: Amelia, Andrew, Connor, Eli, Jack, Liam, Maggie, Maura, Maya, Melissa, Owen and Pat. Only one of each.

Answers are Below

Answers (left to right, )
Top row: Maggie, Jack, Maura, Connor
Middle row: Pat, Liam, Maya, Andrew
Bottom Row: Eli, Melissa, Owen, Amelia

Monday, November 16, 2015

Good Luck Journal

            One of my projects over the last year or so is to go back and read from the beginning the journals that I began keeping in about 1970.  They were originally all hand written and then around 1999 I transitioned to keeping them on computer.  Today I began reading a new volume of my journal.  It begins on June 14, 1990 and leads off with one of the more upbeat entries.
            It is the last school day of the year for Maya, who had just graduated from elementary school and will be headed for middle school.  She received the “Creative Writing Award” for her class and Eli received “Best All Around Student” for his.  Several days later, there are entries saying that Maura’s high school graduation has come up and that she has just been involved in an All State band convention for her school where she had been in charge of orchestrating all of the student activities.  In her class yearbook, she was voted “most likely to return to school as a teacher” and “least likely to ditch college for 4 years and go skiing in the Alps”.  Meanwhile, Melissa had just been promoted to head chorister in her choir at St. Paul’s and was also trying out for a part in a Shakespeare in the Park production in Delaware Park (which she eventually got).  Pat was beginning one of those boring summer jobs that everyone needs to be able to put under their belt and say – thank God it’s not my career.
            While I know that for some journal writing seems a form of narcissism, to me it is not only just a safety net for my own memories (and a way of keeping those memories I have honest). When I read in just a few pages about what talented (and now successful) kids I have, it allows me realize just how exceptionally lucky I am.  While I was never the type of parent to go around forcing pictures of my children on unsuspecting strangers I have always been proud of them and feel compelled to admit that my good luck continues:  Eli’s architecture firm is going well and he is now “flipping” his first house; Pat was just named general council for his law firm; Maura was been put in charge of operations for implementing new computer programs at her job; Melissa has gotten her yoga instructor’s certifications and is teaching classes; and Maya is in charge of front desk operations and scheduling for CHF (she has also finished writing her first novel).  Of, course, I’m not bragging…  
            In addition to what I re-discovered about my kids, I also found within the first few pages a two other things that were a bit more arcane.  The first was a note mentioning that Dad was one of the people who helped build the original golf course at Disney World – there’s a huge back-story there, the second was a poem I’d discovered I’d written that I had completely forgotten.  Since it is November and my productive output this year is zilch, I think I will simply steal from the past and reprint it here:

In the basement
of an abandoned house
Tinkerbell is trapped
n a Franklin stove.
Her faint light flickers.
The audience has all gone home.
She strains at the sound
of imagined applause,
it is only a bulldozer overhead
sharpening its jaws
to raze the building
where a drive thru bank
will be erected

Aside from the capitalization and lack of punctuation, I’d actually say it was finished.
            I could perhaps embarrass all five of my children by also reprinting poems that they wrote when they were young and that I have also kept in the journal. Since none of them have deemed poetry a worthwhile pursuit for an adult, however, I’ll leave their past efforts to the past. I think their current successes stand them in good enough stead.

Friday, November 13, 2015

What Do You Know About Famous Books?

Even if you don't think of yourself as a literary buff, you probably know more about famous books in literature than you think that you do. Just for fun, here is a little quiz for you to check yourself on.  There are two parts and in each, I give you the first line of a famous novel. Part one is the easiest. Name the book and who wrote it.  The second part is a bit tougher so it is multiple choice for the title, but you still try to name the author.  One point each for title and author with a total of 20 points.

1. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” __________

2. “Alice was beginning to get very tired sitting on the bank and having nothing to do.” ____________

3. “You don’t know me without you have read a book of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no  
    matter.  ___________

4. “Call me Ishmael.” ______________

5. “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” ____________-  

The next five are multiple choice. Don’t forget to name the author.

6. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
   (a) The Hobbit, (b) Jane Eyre, (c) A Tale of Two Cities, (d) Frankenstein

7. “It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
   (a) 1984, (b) The Red Badge of Courage, (c) Moby Dick, (d) Ulysses

8. “When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.”
   (a) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, (b) To Kill a Mockingbird, (c) The Sound and the Fury,
   (d) Fifty Shades of Grey

9. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
   (a) The Scarlet Letter, (b) Ulysses, (c) Anna Karenina, (d) Lolita

10.  “Mother died today. Or maybe it was yesterday. I don’t know.”  
   (a) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, (b) Beloved, (c) Of Mice and Men (d) The Stranger


  1. The Hobbit. J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll    
  3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain     
  4. Moby Dick. Herman Melville  
  5. Mrs. Dalloway. Virginia Woolf  
  6. (c) Charles Dickens
  7. (a) George Orwell
  8. (b) Harper Lee
  9. (c) Leo Tolstoy
  10. (d) Albert Camus

How did you do?
18-20 – You’re a lit major.
15-17 – People consider you well-read.
10-14 – You have a god balance between reading and television.
5-9 – You spend a lot of time with ESPN or Facebook
less than 5 – Do you know who Ann Frank is?                                     

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Aunt Beryl

While almost anyone in the family would agree that my mother did not have an easy life, that claim could be made of almost any of her siblings - and perhaps in particular her sister Beryl.  Beryl was born in 1924, three years younger than Mom and in many ways they were similar. They were about the same height, both with blond hair and round faces that seeming to take after the Sitzmann side of the family. Both loved to talk and smiled a lot and, out of a family with ten children, they were the two who ended up with the most children themselves - Beryl with six and Mom with seven. She and Mom were running about even and Beryl might  have had more, except for the turn that her life took in 1958.

Beryl was married to a man named Mickey Near.  My memories of him are vague. The earliest that I remember seeing him was in was when we lived in San Diego and I was ten or eleven years old.  Her had dark wavy hair and had a reputation for drinking. I remember little about him except that I did not like him. He seemed a bit of a braggadocio and so different from my father, not the kind of person I felt comfortable around.  The one concrete thing I remember was that we were playing cribbage and he commented that the only time he had ever lost a game was to a blind man.  That level of humor probably captures the general aura that surrounded him.

When I was twelve and beginning seventh grade, my family moved up to Santa Ana. We lived on South Baker St., only a few blocks away from Aunt Beryl and her family who lived on Camden Ave.  We would go around to visit them and all of the cousins were expected to play together. At that time Mom had five (Ed was the youngest) and Beryl had four.  The oldest two in each set were parallel ages.  Beryl’s oldest, Teresa, was six months younger than me.  She had her dad’s wavy black hair, light skin and freckles. No one ever actually called her by her given name.  Instead she was called Tinker or just Tink.  Her next youngest sister Patty, was tall, thin and had dark blond hair. The two had very different personalities.  Tink was precocious and brash, whereas Patty was quieter. Patty died of lupus in her mid-twenties, without children and having been married only a few years. The rumor was that when she began to get really sick, her husband deserted her.  Tink’s life took quite a different course.  When our families got together the house was crowded.

It was not long after we were settled into our place in Santa Ana and I was attending junior high, that Beryl called Mom to say that Mickey had died. She found him lying on the bathroom floor. The circumstances of his death were never exactly clear but it appeared to be connected with his drinking. Making the situation even more difficult  was that Beryl was pregnant when Mickey died. Beryl pledged that whether her child were a boy or a girl (there were no ultrasounds in those days), she would name it after her husband. So her youngest daughter was named Mickie.  This was in 1958.  At age 34, Beryl was widowed with five children. 

How Beryl met Frank Liska, I have no idea, but within a couple of years, they were married. Beryl was 36 and Frank just 32. Frank was originally from New York, the first easterner in the family. He wasn’t the handsomest guy in the world – he had a head of hair like Larry Fine and was already starting to bald in the middle – but of all my male relatives, Frank may have been the nicest and most genuine. I heard others say more than once that it took a pretty remarkable person to make the commitment to raise five kids that were not his own. 

No doubt Uncle Frank’s commitment (and Aunt Beryl’s too) was tested pretty soon because in 1962 at age 15 Tink was pregnant and, like any Catholic girl of that time, got married. It wasn’t exactly a shotgun wedding, but it was probably pretty close. Her husband’s name was Marion Blair, but he went by Junior. So by the time that she was 37, Beryl was also a grandmother. 

Shortly, thereafter Frank started a business putting up block walls called Star Construction.  Frank hired my Dad and Junior to work with him. It was long, tough work.  Dad would come home with his hand torn and calloused from working with the blocks all day.  Even so, Dad and Frank were proud of their work because they could drive almost anywhere near the city of Orange and see their walls lining all of the homes in the mushrooming the suburbs.  When I was 16, not long after the company started,  I worked for it too as a mason tender during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. Both Dad and Frank had a tremendous work ethic, but Junior, Dad used to say, though a nice enough guy wasn’t much of a worker.

Once I graduated from high school I pretty much lost contact with Aunt Beryl’s family.  They eventually all ended up moving north to Paradise in Butte County, California. No one in Mom’s family had it easy. “Happy Days” notwithstanding, life wasn’t easy for everyone in the fifties.  When vying for which of my mother’s siblings had the most to contend with, though, I’d say Aunt Beryl was in the running for top place.      

Friday, October 02, 2015

Grandchildren Quiz

Although I have put up a number of family quizzes, I have not done one about my grandchildren so thought I would try this out to see how everyone does. 

1.       Which grandchild is oldest _________?
2.       The youngest ____________?
3.       The tallest ____________?
4.       The shortest _____________?
5.       Who is the only grandchild named after one of their parents?
6.       What is Maggie’s real first name?
7.       Which two grandchildren have the same middle name?
8.       Here are the middle names, list the first name.
Michael __________
 9.       Andrew’s favorite sport is  __________?
10.   Who is the only grandchild born in spring?
11.   Which grandchild made their First Communion this year?
12.   What is Maggie and Owen’s dog’s name?
13.   What instrument does Connor play?
14.   Which grandchild was elected student body president?
15.   Which grandchild has a peanut allergy?
16.   Which grandchild has been to Europe?


1.       Amelia
2.       Owen
3.       Connor
4.       Maggie
5.       Jack
6.       Margaret
7.       Jack and Connor
8.       Michael – Owen
9.       Basketball
10.   Liam
11.   Andrew
12.   Joey (or Joey Ramone)
13.   Piano
14.   Jack
15.   Owen
16.   Amelia

Friday, July 31, 2015

Another Piece of the Puzzle

Sometimes old news is new.  The other day I was looking on line renewing a book from Pennsauken Library, when I saw that the library site has a link that allows me to search Heritage Quest for several kinds of family records including censuses, slave schedules and cite directories by using my library ID number.  Because U. S. censuses only go up to 1940, I decided to take advantage of anything that I could find on city directories  that might tell me a bit more about my parents, who were not married until 1942. 
I found an address for James and Elvera Northen in Long Beach, California in 1952 (2313 W. Willard), listing him as being in the US Navy.  This makes sense because my sister Judi was born in Long Beach in 1951, and I have it in my head that when I was four years old we lived in El Sobrante and that I moved to Long Beach when I began kindergarten.  I did, in fact, find a listing in Long Beach for my dad in 1953 as well.  It is on a page that is putatively a city directory but lists a series of numbers rather than addresses. Our was 70-0677, whatever that signifies.
            According to a 1954 city directory, however, Dad is listed as living at 2024 Ward St. in Oakland.  This was a surprise to me because in my own memory, the next place we lived of any duration was in Berkeley where I finished out second grade and began third. I thought perhaps that – because Berkeley and Oakland were relatively close to each other that, we had actually lived in Oakland rather than Berkeley.  When I found the address on Google Maps and looked at just where the address was, I was in for a bit of a surprise.  That section of Oakland is right next to Alameda and I know that I lived in Alameda at some point during my early life. My only very vague memory was that it was near a train track.  I’d thought that Alameda was prior to living in Long Beach, but now I realize it must have been after.  It is actually is a perfect fit.  There is a gap in my memory between when I first started school in Long Beach and when I moved to the apartments in Berkeley and finished out the end of second grade in Washington School. I also vaguely remember having to leave a school before the end of the year around the time of my birthday to move in either first or second grade.  That time period must have been my time in Alameda.
It is definitely true that even one’s past can continually change. So I reconstruct the sequence of this time period as El Sobrante when I was 4 (in 1950), Long Beach -where Judi was born - from 1951-1953, Alameda 1953-4, and then on to Berkeley 1954-5.   In Berkeley, I finished second grade in Washington Elementary school and then we discovered that I as in the wrong school district so started at LeConte Elementary in the fall of 1955. Shortly after school began we moved to Concord where Ed was born in October 1955. So that is where Alameda fits in.
But wait – as they say in TV commercials – there is a small fly in the ointment. My brother Dave, according to his birth certificate, was born in Alameda in August of 1950.  So how does this fit in? Did we live in Alameda prior to moving to Long Beach in addition to living there after as well?  It is a possibility, but looking at a map I discovered something else as well. More than likely in 1950, Dad was working at the Naval base in San Francisco.  San Francisco is about mid-distance between El Sobrante (where I thought we lived) and Alameda (where Dave was born).  Perhaps the hospital where Dave was born was a naval hospital, so he was born in Alameda even though we actually lived in El Sobrante.  For now, I think that is the hypothesis I will choose.
 Rediscovering the past is a continual adventure. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Maura: Buffalonian or Seattleite?

(A few days ago I was wondering at what point I stopped thinking of myself as a Californian and began identifying with other places I lived.  I asked Maura if she now felt like a resident of Seattle or if she still thought of herself as a Buffalonian.  This was her reply. I think she made so many good points that I could not resist – with her permission – posting it as a blog in its own right.)

I have been in Seattle for nearly 14 years ( I arrived in June).  I definitely feel like it is home.  It is funny you asked because I was recently thinking about how I perceived the city when I first moved here.  I remember getting lost in locations that I now know like the back of my hand.  Also, I think it feels more like my permanent home because of Dan. When I married him I knew I was also marrying Seattle in a way because I would have a very hard time getting him to move anywhere else.  I guess that is kind of like when Pat married Rita or Eli married MB.  We have recently seen a huge influx into Seattle, mostly related to Amazon hiring.  A constant dialog here is about the sky rocketing rents, the awful traffic and the insane amounts of construction.  It is funny because I find myself sympathizing with the complaints about how the city is not the same because of the rapid growth and how if it continues Seattle will lose its character.  Then I remember that I am one of the émigrés. 

Still, I will always think of myself as from Buffalo.  There is definitely a part of my personality which was formed by my Buffalo upbringing and I don’t think that will ever leave me.  I love Seattle, I enjoy the people and like that it is a very socially conscious and environmentally conscious area.  People tend to be educated, there are a lot of cultural opportunities as well as a diversity of cultures/backgrounds that does not exist in Buffalo.  There are many professional opportunities.  But Buffalo has a gritty aspect that I think I benefited from.  People are just more real and honest there.  The poverty is more in your face and nobody tries to white wash it.  There is a history there of families who have lived there for many generations, ever since their relatives arrived at Ellis Island.  People my age talk about the old days of Seattle with Boeing and grunge and cheap and easy access to things like skiing and camping.  That is not a Seattle I ever knew.  When I hear my Buffalo friends talking (via FB mostly) about Bethlehem Steal, and the Elmwood Strip, and sledding at Chestnut Ridge that is my personal history and identification. 

So, I’m not sure if I will ever be able to say I am from just one place.  Both have impacted who I am and what I do.  When I am in Seattle it will often come up that I am from Buffalo.  Many here are not “natives” so it is a common conversation starter.  But, when I go elsewhere I always identify myself as being from Seattle.  All in all, I will take it.  I always feel a bit sorry for people like Dan or Rita or my Long Island and Buffalo friends who have lived in one area for their whole life.  It seems so limiting. I know my personality changes in each place I live.  I am drawn out by different aspects of each culture.  If you never have a change of environment then you never really have the opportunity to explore some different facets of your personality. 

Well, that was more of a dissertation than you were probably asking for, but I find it is an interesting topic.   It would be interesting to put together a collection of essays by different people with different backgrounds and experiences on what “home” means to them.  It is so important, but so different, for each of us.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Oil and Water

Ed emailed me today to  tell me that one of my few remaining aunts, Sr. Karen, died on Friday. I suppose that every family has that relative that they would rather not have show up at their front door. In our family, it was Sr. Karen – but she showed up anyway.  She is also one of my top candidates for the person least likely to be a nun – but, again, she was.  If the capacity to put on blinders to the feelings of others and plow ahead with what you want can be considered a virtue, then that virtue was Sr. Karen’s. 

I think we all have our stories about Sr. Karen that illustrate what has caused us to form our particular opinions.  I’ll just offer two brief ones and hope others will add their own.  The first was when my son Pat, was an infant.  We were in my parents’ living room and my wife Mary was nursing Pat.  Sr. Karen walked into the room, grabbed Pat and started pulling him away from her in mid-nurse.  The second instance happened when Lora and I were visiting in California, I think for Mom and Dad’s Golden Anniversary.  It was getting late in the evening, the sky was dark and everyone was tired.  We were sitting in the living room and Sr. Karen was there as well.  People kept hinting that they were tired and wanted to go to bed, but Sr, Karen did not take the hint.  One by one, people got up and headed back to bed. Finally, only Lora and I were left and finally, we said we were going to bed. We walked down the hall and turned out the lights. But Sr. Karen still didn’t leave. She just sat there until she felt like going.  The ultimate indictment for me is that on one occasion Dad, who had the patience of Job and was rarely roused to anger, actually kicked her out of the house.    

I’m sure that other family members have happier memories of her.  I have the sense that she and my sister Mary were close at one time and that she helped Mary out.  She would also send out a family newsletter every Christmas  before blogs and email came into vogue and update everyone on her year and  her various travels.  Though it was mostly about her, it was a way of trying to keep the family connected.  I suspect that Sr. Karen saw herself as a caring person and that by gracing people with her visits she was doing them a favor. 

Ed says that, despite her flaws, she had potential, and perhaps he is right.  She went into the convent at fourteen years old and while still young was sent to the Solomon Islands (near New Guinea) to work in the missions there for a period of ten years.  I suspect some kind of cultures shock occurred – this wasn’t a time in history when farm girls went off to exotic islands.  Even Mom, who gave Sr, Karen no ground for anything said that when she returned, she was never the same person. 

Mom and Sr. Karen were like oil and water.   Their relationship would have made for a TV situation comedy.  Whenever I called Mom during the last few years of her life, I could always expect to hear about the tribulations she had suffered at the hands of Sr. Karen.  At that point in their relationship, Sr. Karen could have been St. Karen and she still would not have had a chance. Even so, she was Mom’s sister and the original left.  In fact, if she is still alive, my Aunt Geneice in Texas may be the only one.

As I was updating my information about Sr. Karen on the family tree, I also discovered that my Aunt Beryl had died in January of this year.  Beryl  was Mom’s next youngest sister and the polar opposite of Sr. Karen.  She was the one Mom was closest too and had a tremendous amount  of character.  Her life, though, is a whole different saga.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Blast from the Past

Sometimes old news can be new.

Recently, Judi posted a pictures of the six Northen siblings at the reception after Mom’s funeral. Whenever I look at Dave in that picture, it reminds me of one of the very few of my Grandpa Wilkins that I have of him at a younger age.  In that picture he is standing with his oldest daughter, my Aunt Lucille, who is a young adult and his mother.  This means the picture must have been from  about  1940.  I cropped the two pictures and pasted them together and put them out on Facebook with the following comment:   “Judi and Ed, I've always thought this picture of Dave in the photo Judi posted the other day looked a lot like a younger picture of Grandpa Wilkins, but see what you think.”

Ed's and Judi’s comments were as follows:

Ed Northen    I have never looked at the two photos together but yes they do resemble one another.

Judi Frensley   I think they do too! I think he has the same body frame too. It's hard for me to remember Grandpa Wilkins not in a wheel chair.

Though I was glad that I saw these comments that support my perception, what really interested me was the conversation that came next.

Cloice Janson Dave looks just like your Dad....good old Jim he was always so good to me... Even when I recked his car, in to a gas Pump at Dave's Mobile station....anyone remember THAT????

 Judi Frensley Well of course we remember that. I was in the car with you. This story has been told many times in this family.

Cloice Janson Yeah, that was embarrassing, the day after I got my license .... We didn't even get in trouble... WELL guess I did by David but your mom and Dad were so good about it.
Yep I thought my driving career was very short and over. Thank God your dad saved me… Many many memories with you guys.

For the younger generation of Northen’s who may not know,  Cloice was Dave’s first wife and one of Judi’s best friends as a teenager.  This exchange struck me on a number of levels.  First of all, I was out of the family loop by that time and had never heard the story. Second,  I thought it was hysterical.  I was laughing out loud at Judi’s comment about being in the car.

More than anything, however, what it does is reinforce my own warm images of Dad and Mom. I know that people outside of the family who hear about our upbringing simply don’t get why we all have such loyalty to Dad, but this is exactly why.  Dad and Mom would do anything to try to help out their children’s friends and Cloice was by no means the only one.  A number of them ended up living at our house – even becoming part of the family.  Mom also said that what was most important to her was that her kids group up to be good people, and when it came to how they treated others, they led by example.

What I love about Cloice’s comment is that her image of Dad is fresh from a time warp.  She and Dave separated early in their lives, so her image of Dad is that of the person he was many years ago and it is the core image of Dad that I still carry with me.  What Cloice said here, only as a kind of passing joke, to me is a real tribute to them.  If people think as well of us when we’re gone, then I think we will be satisfied – at least I know I will.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Zucchini Bread and Memories

( The following is blatantly plagiarized from Maya’s Lilies and Elephants blog.  My mother made zucchini bread as well – Ed and Judi can probably either back me up or prove me wrong – but the following words are all Maya’s. If you have zucchini bread memories, please share them in the comment. MN)

When I was a kid, my mom invented a game for us called Mixer. Or rather she probably gave an "official" name to an activity that countless other mothers had also shared with their children. Mixer was this: we took every allowable baking ingredient (flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, spices, water, milk) and mixed them into a bowl however we wanted, and then baked and ate it. They didn't guide our cooking, just let us go to town. Keeping in mind that my brother and I were probably four and five years old at the time, the fact that my parents ate these concoctions and deemed them "delicious" is a testament to their love. 

In the past 30 years, my cooking style hasn't changed much, other than the fact that I now know the ratio of baking soda to flour shouldn't be 10 to 1, or you're going to get some strange looking (and tasting) baked goods. 

I like to cook, I really do. But I'm a vegetarian, and many of my dinners involve things like veggie stir fry with baked tofu or seitan, and that's pretty self explanatory. The majority of my cooking is in one of two forms:  intricately follow a recipe from a book/site/pinterest that I could never duplicate without it, or throw everything in the pan/pot/baking dish and taste as I go along, adjusting and learning from trial and error. There's not much of a middle ground. 

My day to day "recipes" also don't hold much special meaning to me, unless you could general sustenance as special, which I guess it kind of is. Still, they didn't seem like something worthy of a blog post. But to keep to the theme, I did, technically, choose a food that does have a special meaning to me. Then, I googled it and found a version here on All Recipies. (Note: this is not my recipe nor do I know the person that wrote it, but it got 5 stars so why not?). The recipe is for Zucchini Bread. I admit, I've never used this particular recipe, but it seems about right. To duplicate the bread of my memories, I'd suggest adding raisins, if you're a raisin person. If not I'm sure it'll be just fine without it. 

Zucchini bread and I go way back. Probably farther back than Mixer and I do. My Grandma Ventura lived in Buffalo, NY which was, at the closest, about six and a half hours from where I grew up (significantly more when we lived in Georgia, of course). As a child, zucchini bread was synonymous with my grandma, and vice versa. Every time she came to visit us, she'd get off the plane holding loaves of zucchini bread wrapped in foil - I can still picture this exact scene.... it was in the days when you could still meet people at the gates. Going to Buffalo to visit her, we'd leave after my parents got home from work, usually around 6 or 7 PM I suppose, and arrive in the middle of the night. She'd always be wide awake (I was amazed at this, since it was usually 2 or 3 AM by the time we got there) and have zucchini bread and Italian Wedding Soup waiting for us. Sadly the soup was out for me after I became veg at the age of 11. This tradition happened every visit, which was at least Thanksgiving, Christmas/New Year, and Easter every year, from the time I first remember until I was about 17. In college, I wasn't at Grandma's as much, but when we visited each other, it was the same. 

I think I knew when Grandma started to get sick because the zucchini bread and soup stopped. I couldn't imagine she'd break the tradition for any other reason other than that she physically couldn't keep it up. She either wasn't able to remember how to make them, or didn't have the energy. I'm not sure which, as she covered her symptoms up well at first. Probably, it was a combination. Eventually, she couldn't remember what the stove was for.

My Grandmother passed away, seven years later, from stroke induced dementia and Parkinson's. Towards the end, she didn't recognize us and could barely communicate. But we talked to her anyways, telling her stories from the past, hoping to get a glimpse of some recollection, to share happy memories with her. Once, when she seemed to stop recognizing us and communicating all together, we reminded her of our late night arrivals to her house, and how she used to greet us with zucchini bread and wedding soup. She quietly said, "but no soup for Maya, not with the meat." Whether it was a moment of lucidity, or she was more alert than we thought and just couldn't tell us, we'll never know. But in that moment, I realized not only how much those visits, and that zucchini bread (and for everyone else, the soup), meant to us, but how much they must have meant to her. 

Thursday, April 09, 2015

April Quiz

Here's a quiz for family members to try that takes in some of the events of the first few months of 2015. 

      The  name of Eli’s new architecture firm is _____________.
(a)    EN Architects, (b) Urban Geometries,  (c) Architects R Us, (d) Northen Exposures
2.      The most unusual ingredient in a pupa cu l’ova is ___________.
(a)    ground lamb,  (b) a hard-boiled egg,  (c) curry powder, (d) crushed candy canes

3.       My brother  Pat and his wife Rose recently bought a house in ___________.
(a)    Hawaii,  (b) Canada,  (c) Mexico,  (d) Florida

4.       Which member of the Cotter family did not swim in a race recently ___________.
(a)    Amelia,  (b) John,  (c) Liam, (d) Melissa

5.      The name of the “little sister” in Seattle that Maura has been taking on trips and outings for quite a few years is _________________.
(a)    Latifah,  (b) Rachel,  (c) Brooke,  (d) Junita

6.       For over the past year, Maya has been working for CHF.  What does CHF stand for?
(a)    Camden Health Fund,  (b) Community Housing Federation, (c) Corn Hole Fanatics,
(d) Chemical Heritage Foundation

7.      Connor just celebrated a special event.  What was it?
(a)    confirmation,  (b) winning school basketball championship, (c) his birthday, (d) indication into school honor society

8.        Which family member preached a sermon in their church last month?
(a)    Ed,   (b) Lora,  (c) Judi, (d) Melissa

9.        Which of the following cities did Lora, Mike and Maya visit in February?
(a)    Madrid,  (b) Istanbul, (c) Morocco, (d) Lisbon

10.    Of the following people, who is the only one that is currently working a job directly related to their undergraduate degree?
(a)    Maura, (b) Melissa, (c) Maya,  (d) Eli

And a few family history questions.

11.    Elvera Northen’s  last name before she was married was __________?
(a)    Lewis,  (b) Wilkins,  (c) Ryman, (d) Sitzman

12.   The children of James and Elvera Northen can trace their family history back to all of the following countries except which one?
(a)    England,  (b) Ireland,  (c) Germany,  (d) Switzerland


1 (a),    2 (b),    3 (c),    4 (d),    5 (d),    6 (d),    7 (a),    8 (a),    9 (d),    10 (d),   11 (b),   (12) b

Monday, March 23, 2015

Birthday Picture

Last week I was at a lecture at the Philadelphia Historical Society about  using various family documents to try to put together a family tree.  One of the speakers was talking about how family pictures can be misleading.  She put one up on the screen and was pointing out that the places in which people were standing made you draw conclusions that were not necessarily correct. In fact, a couple of the people in the picture were not even family members.

On my old computer downstairs, my desktop screen shows the following picture.


As I was look at it today, I remembered the lecture and thought that if someone in the future saw came across this picture, they might draw a few wrong conclusions so I decided to play a bit of a game with myself to see what I might think, if I knew nothing about this family. Here goes. 

The picture is of a birthday party.  The boy in the great sweatshirt who is blowing out the candles is probably turning about ten years old, though it is hard to tell because of the flames.  Looking on are his two brothers.  They all have similar haircuts.  The youngest who looks to be about three has the same hair and skin color as the birthday both and the same eye color has his oldest brother who is about thirteen.  Watching them is their grandmother or possibly an older aunt – she looks young to have a thirteen year old grandson, but a bit old to be the mother of the youngest boy.  Both boys are wearing sweatshirts that, if you put the names together spell Eagles, so they probably live in Philadelphia. If it is football season, then this picture is probably taking place in fall.  This is backed up by the fact that the grandmother is wearing a sweater in the house as is someone whose elbow we can only see.

These are the most obvious guesses, but  one might guess that the elbow belongs to the boys’ mother.  The picture on the wall behind them looks like a large family group, so it is likely that their mother would be there for the party. (As opposed to the boys living with their grandmother.)   The house is probably a good size house – or at least not a small one because the stairs in the background show that there is a second floor.   The table we are looking at is just a portion of what appears to be a much larger table so this must be the dining room.   The display of plates behind them also has more the look of a dining room than a kitchen.  It is a dining room that is actually used for eating, though, because there are salt and pepper shakers on the table and those don’t go too well with cake. The birthday boy likes diet coke, while the grandmother prefers crush which she drinks from a can rather than using a glass like her grandson. 

Since this is a family blog, anyone who is reading this, will recognize that a couple of the conclusions drawn here are wrong, but I think it is an interesting exercise in  making assumptions.  No doubt some of you would have come up with different inferences.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring 1948 - a cameo

            Recently Lora, Maya and I took a trip to Lisbon.  It was a three day stop on route to a conference in Marrakech.  We’d first landed in Casablanca and then taken a plane to Portugal.  As we walked out onto the tarmac in the Lisbon airport to board the plane for our return trip to Casablanca, we were surprised to see that we were walking towards not a jet, but a propeller plane.  Knowing that we were going to be flying over a stretch of the Mediterranean Sea and possibly even the Atlantic to reach Casablanca, this was a cause for dismay among some of the passengers. 
Yesterday as I was working on family history, I came across a document I had never seen before, and it surprised me as much as walking up to that propeller plane in Lisbon.  It was called “Clearance Declaration of Aircraft Commander.” The document was issued on April 20, 1948 in Honolulu, Hawaii.  It was a list of non-Navy passengers who were being transported back to the United States; aboard it were my mother, me and my brother Steve. I was two and my brother Steve, who had born on March 21 of that year, was less than a month old.  As a family, our places of birth made a strange grouping on the  list since Mom’s was as Aberdeen, South Dakota, mine was San Diego, and Steve’s was Honolulu, TH – the TH meaning Territory of Hawaii since Hawaii was not yet a state.  As the document notes, we were “Bound for” Alameda, California. The ultimate destination for the three of us was listed as  838 N. Van Ness St., Santa Ana, California – my grandparents’ house.
As I look at that piece of paper that appeared like something out of a time warp, I wonder how my mother felt on this trip, sixty-four years ago.  It must have been extremely difficult for her.  She was traveling with two young children, having given birth less than a month before, over a distance of 2400 miles, and I can imagine, being a military plane, it was no luxury travel.  It was certainly a propeller plane – one that probably makes my recent plane from Lisbon look like luxury transport. .  Once she landed, she had to make her way down to southern California.  The distance between the two cities, Alameda and Santa Ana, is about 370 miles.  My guess is that she took  a bus. It would have added another day to the journey.  Even for someone who was used to a tough life, this could not have been an easy trip, and I seriously doubt they had massive plates of lamb and Moroccan tangines waiting for them at the other end as I recently did.

Tomorrow is Steve’s birthday, the first full day of spring.  He would have been 65 years old – retirement age.  I always knew that he had been born in Hawaii, but I never imagined that he had been uprooted at only a month old and transported down to begin life in his grandparents’ house.  Of course, one can always see signs and causes in events, if they look long enough, but I wonder if such a beginning had any bearing on the short, often troubled, life that he led.  What might his life have been like given the stability and advantages that my grandchildren have.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Dad Quiz

Meeting up with my brother Pat and his wife Rose in New York last month in New York was a really wonderful occasion for me. Pat and I are fifteen years apart – something that seems a bit strange in today’ smaller families – but because of that, by the time he was in kindergarten, I was already in college.  With a continent between us, it has only been on rare occasions that we had a chance to get together and , often, as for the illness or deaths of our parents, it was not the happiest of circumstances.  Perhaps because I am a bit closer to encountering that scythe-wielding figure myself  that in the last few years it has become important for me to try to fill in some of the gaps in the saga of our family.  I frequently wish that I were able to sit down with Dad or with Mom as she was before she had trouble communicating, and ask them questions about their lives..  There is still much about them that I don’t know or understand.

It has been eighteen years since Dad’s death. Had he lived, he would have been 94 years old this month.  In the spirit of trying to keep some memory of him alive and, perhaps just importantly, passing along a little about him to children and grandchildren who met him long ago, if at all, I’m posting one of my ersatz quizzes .  It is one of those where those who get the most answers wrong my likely benefit the most from having done it.  (For ease, I’ll just use the word “Dad” in the questions.)

1.Dad’s middle name was ______________.
(a)    Edward, (b) Lee, (c) Crocker, (d) Lewis

2. When he was growing up, Dad’s religion was ____________.
               (a) Catholic, (b) Baptist, (c) Episcopal, (d) Seventh Day Adventist

3. Dad played sports on a high school team. What was his sport.  (a) wrestling,
               (b) football,   (c) baseball,  (d) swim team

4.  When Dad was eleven years old, both of his parents died.  How did his mother die.
               (a) heart attack,  (b) scarlet fever,  (c) automobile accident, (d) drowning

5.  After he graduated from high school, Dad joined the Navy.  How long was he in the Navy?
               (b) 5 years, (b) 10 years, (c) 15 years, (d) 20 years

6.  Which of Dad’s sons is named after him. (That is, their middle name is his first name.)
               (a)  Steve, (b) Dave,  (c) Ed, (d) Pat

7. Which of these foods is the only one that Dad did not like to eat.
                (a) tongue,  (b) liver,  (c) pickled pigs feet, (d) mutton

8. Dad always listed his eye color as ___________.
                (a) blue, (b) green, (c) hazel, (d) light brown

9. One of Dad’s favorite sayings was _____________________.
                (a) good things come in small packages
                (b) only the good die young
                (c) if you don’t have anything good to say don’t say
                (d) if its not your ass, its your elbow

10.  Dad always said he couldn’t sing, but when he was younger he did try to learn to play an instrument.
        What was it? (a) guitar,  (b) piano, (c) fiddle, (d) trumpet

(1)    a,  (2) b, (3) c, (4) d, (5) d, (6) a, (7) d, (8) c, (9) c, (10) a

Let us know how you did. If everyone aced it, I’ll have to post something harder.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Family Quiz for 2014

As usual , at the end of 2014, I went back and read through the journal I keep and was amazed at the many things that had happened during the year that I’d forgotten. It was a tremendously full year. While I have the impulse to wax lyrical about it, what seems to be more enjoyable and generate more interest are the family quizzes reviewing the years.  In fact, I think it’s getting to become a bit of a tradition. So here is the quiz for 2014. Since I stuck with questions about those who are most likely to see it, this is probably the easiest family quiz yet.

1.        Who went on vacation and ended up in the emergency room?
2.       Who quit their job and began their own business?
3.       Who  fell into a swimming pool fully clothed?
4.       Who  moved from the city to the suburbs?
5.       Who had a moose in their back yard?
6.       Who took a trip in a submarine?
7.       Who was elected president of his class?
8.       Who made his first communion?
9.       Who has a mother that wrote a book?
10.   Who passed an important certification exam?

Who did not    ____________?
11.    Start a new job  or get a promotion (a) Maura, (b) Maya, (c) Eli, (d) Ed
12.    Make a trip to Buffalo (a) Mike & Lora, (b) Dan & Maura, (c) John & Melissa, (d) Pat & Rita
13.    Touch a snake (a) Liam, (b) Mike, (c) Owen, (d) Jack
14.   Have writing published (a) Lora, (b) Ed, (c) Maya, (d) Mike
15.   Sing in a Christmas program (a) Amelia, (b) Maggie, (c) Connor, (d) Jack
16.   Have to fly on a plane for work (a) Mary Beth, (b) Rita, (c) Lora, (d) Pat

What is their pet’s name?
17.   Maya
18.   Owen
19.   Amelia
20.   Maura

Bonus – Who noticed that the stamps on the Christmas cards that Mike and Lora sent out was a picture of all the Northen family cousins?

1.       Pat
2.       Eli
3.       Lora
4.       Maya
5.       Ed
6.       John
7.       Jack
8.       Andrew
9.       Dan
10.   Maura
11.   (d) Ed
12.   (b) Dan and Maura
13.   (c) Owen
14.   (a) Lora
15.   (c) Connor
16.   (a) Mary Beth
17.   Cinnamon (or Cinn)
18.   17. Joey Ramone (or Joey)
19.   Poppy
20.   Kitty 2.0