A MEASURE OF FRIENDSHIP WITH FOUR CUPS OF FLOUR AND FIVE EGGS

I first met my friends, Roman and Roxana, over 22 years ago.  We had all just moved to Denver.  Roman is Polish, Roxana is Columbian, and they met in New York (where such geographical junctures have been known to happen).  At the time, their eldest son, Matthew, was about a year old. 

There is an old Germanic/Eastern European custom to eat sauerkraut on the first day of the new year to assure yourself a prosperous year (or, as Pony is accustomed to say, “After a meal like that, the rest of year can’t be any worse).  Roman and Roxana and I have met the first day of each new year for just such a feast for some 22 years, without interruption.  During that time, my career as a musician in the Denver area grew. I started teaching more and more private students, playing gigs in and around Denver (and throughout the state of Colorado), and eventually took on teaching at a couple of community colleges in the area, as well.  I also formed my recording label and produced five CD’s (so far). 

Roman went on to become a nuclear medicine technician, and he and Roxana had five more kids (I teased Roman, suggesting it had something to do with the way he held his fork while eating the sauerkraut that produced that particular form of prosperity). 

It is not just sauerkraut.  It is sauerkraut with roast pork and kneflehs.  Kneflehs are a type of Swedish noodle (the recipe passed down from my grandparents to my mother, and thus to me).  A German version is called Spaetzle.  You take four cups of flour, five eggs, and 1-2 cups of water (or maybe a little more, especially in the higher altitudes and drier climate of Colorado).  These ingredients are mixed together and should make a batter that is more or less the consistency of oatmeal (it should ooze around in the bowl, but be careful not to make it too runny with too much water; it is best to start with a cup and a half of water and add a little at a time until the desired consistency is achieved).  This batter is then chilled for about 4-6 hours, then you use a knife to slice the batter into long strings (the noodles) into a pot of lightly boiling water.  The cooked noodles will rise to the surface to be scooped out of the pot, drained and set on a platter.

In the Engberg family, it is customary to make a bed of these noodles on your plate, cover them with butter, then pile the sauerkraut and roast pork on top of that.  Like the singing of Bob Dylan, it can be something of an acquired taste, but I look forward to it every New Year’s Day.

Over the years, we have included many friends as part of this feast; many people who have become part of what I regard as my created family.  A few of them have played on my CD’s (Roman and Roxana’s third child, their daughter Veronika, went from being featured on the cover of my third CD to playing cello on one of my most recent projects).  Even with our recent touring, I was glad to have made it back to Denver and to continue this particular tradition.  I am not sure what the New Year may hold for me, but when I measure my wealth in friends and family, I feel I have already had a most fortunate run on this spinning planet. 

HOME AS A VERB

We looked to leave Geode State Park, in Southeast Iowa, on Sunday, December 15th.  The night before, there was a moment when I was walking Rufus around the park, and there were a few inches of new fallen snow (actually a little snow falling that evening).  The moon was waxing, illuminating the white landscape, and there was this moment when I turned to look at our RV and our new, little tow car.  The windows glowed against the dark of night and in contrast to the moonlight, and the whole scene was incredibly peaceful. 

Home.

My concept of home has evolved and expanded over the last few months.  Home used to be Denver, and Denver still has a bit of that feeling, by virtue of our many friends who await us there, and the familiarity of knocking around Denver for some twenty years.  But home now included my old boyhood haunts of Burlington, and the surrounding turf of Southeast Iowa.  It now included Annapolis and Gaithersburg, in Maryland, as well as parts of New Jersey, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Ohio and Michigan.  Before we are done, I am convinced that home will expand and evolve even more. 

Come the Sunday, before setting out, we did a smudge ceremony on Ceci (our RV), and on Gypsy Rose, our new, little tow car.  It was a cleansing ceremony, an acknowledgement of intention, and a chance to focus our thoughts towards a more positive effort overall.  It is a form of prayer, and a nod to the mysterious workings of fate, the universe, and the open road.  We took our time about it.  Pony instructed me in the use of a sweeping gesture with the smudge stick, to sweep out any negativity that may be inhabiting our vehicles.  And when it was done, I must say that I felt just a bit more comfortable driving Ceci, towing Gypsy Rose, heading down the highway on a December afternoon, back to Colorado. 

We took back roads and lesser highways for the first day, and ended up dry camping in a Walmart parking lot in Osceola, Iowa that night.  By Monday afternoon, we stopped at an RV park in Kearney, Nebraska (and one of the nicer RV parks we’d found so far), then actually made it into Denver by Tuesday afternoon.  The roads and the weather favoured us for that leg of the journey, and we warmly greeted by our friend, Sir James, when he returned from work to find us camped next to his house and settled in for a few weeks of sharing the holidays with many of our good friends. 

Happy holidays to one and all, and wishes for a most fortunate new year. 

CARMA CHAMELEON

“I want to name her Rose,” said Pony.

This was in reference to our new tow car: a 2008 Chevy Aveo, rose red in color; cute, small , with the requisite manual transmission, and just what we need. 

“How about Gypsy Rose?” I suggested.  And it was agreed. 

This post is a few weeks late (I’ll write more about all the catching up between then and now in a subsequent blog).  Much has transpired since our Yellow Submarine, the Ford Focus, was totalled in a back-end collision in New Jersey, almost two months ago.  For awhile,  we had a rental minivan, provided by the insurance company, while we travelled from New Jersey to Maryland.  I used that vehicle to travel to gigs and various other tasks for about two weeks, at which point the insurance company decided we had had enough of that particular service.  For a few days, we borrowed our friend Stacia’s Mercedes, while we continued to house-sit for her.  We had then journeyed to Iowa (including the day of wild goose chases, courtesy of our GPS, and described in a previous blog). 

While doing a handful of gigs in Southeast Iowa, both of my brothers came to our aid.  My brother, Steve (who lives in Mt. Pleasant), introduced us to his buddy, Brett Johnson.  Brett is a car dealer who hits the auctions once or twice each week.  He had actually found me a van some years back, when a vehicle of mine had broke down in a thoroughly final way while travelling across Iowa.   This time, we had given him a bit of a challenge.  It is apparently getting more difficult to find a manual transmission vehicle that would be suitable for towing behind an RV.  After a try or two, Brett found the Aveo, cleaned it up, changed the oil, put a couple of new tires on it, and turned it over to us.  Pony got first shot at driving it, which prompted her impulse to name the car Rose.  It is a year or two newer than the Focus, with about the same mileage as we had started out with that car, and it does not have the heavily-tinted windows that bothered Pony about the Focus.  All in all, I think we came out the better for it. 

But this car had to be prepared for towing, which included getting a metal plate welded underneath, and the various parts attached to allow the tow rig to affix to it.  So while all of this was going on, my brother, Tom, loaned us a vehicle to use for getting to gigs, running errands and such.

This “loaner” was a 1986 Ford Crown Victoria LTD that he had bought for the daughter of his girlfriend (who was just learning to drive).  It was a beast of a vehicle; a large barge of a car, with a roaring, gas-guzzling engine.  Dark blue it was, with patches of rust blossoming here and there, and even duct tape holding some parts together.  It reminded me of the “Bluesmobile” in the first Blues Brothers movie, and while driving it, I felt sure that I would be capable of eluding neo-nazis, redneck country and western musicians, and all manner of vengeful law-enforcement officers, were there a need.  It was hell on snowy/icy roads, however; fishtailing with just a small invitation to do so.  Pony and I both drove it over the course of that week in Iowa, and we both hoped that Tom would wait until Spring before giving this vehicle over to Lisa’s daughter.