A Hotel Hanukkah in Knoxville

Our menorah powers off of a 9-volt battery.  Instead of lighting a candle, The Boffin threw a DIP switch. Dinner was what we could grab at CVS since every place else was closed or closing. That was OK because of our gluttony at Skyline Chili earlier.  No latkes.  Just Stouffer’s or snacks.  Our presents were loaded into reusable grocery bags and lugged in for the evening.

It wasn’t home.  We didn’t have our Furball beating us with her paw and proclaiming her complete and utter starvation by standing pathetically by her bowl.  But we still had the quiet.  The calm.  The three of us.  Still good, though not usual.  I guess it is what you make it.

Here’s to a happy Hanukkah to all those who celebrate.

Skyline Chili…Finally

Lunchtime in West Harrison, Indiana provided an opportunity to check off a box on my national culinary list.  Yes, folks, it was a stop at Skyline Chili.

Of course, The Boffin and The Sprog were most of the way toward the restaurant while I was faffing around with this picture of Horace.  To my pleasant surprise, the manager came out and told me, “Go on!  Get in there!”.  How could I say no?

So, what is special about Skyline Chili?  Skyline Chili is a Cincinnati institution.  Nicholas Lambrinides, a Greek immigrant, opened the first Skyline Chili in 1949 and named the restaurant after the view of the city’s skyline.

And it is not just about the tastiness of the chili.  Of course, you can get a bowl of chili, chili dogs, and chili fries.  But, the grotesquely American dish on offer is a 3-way which is chili and a megaton of cheese on top of spaghetti.  The Sprog and I chose that option after the drug pushers gave us free samples.

The Boffin got the 4-way which means you get the above with the addition of either beans or onions.  He chose beans.  He only mildly hates us. If he truly hated us, he would have gotten the 5-way with beans and onions.

The oyster crackers seen above are a Skyline tradition.  They actually are good at counterbalancing the heat.

This meal will probably kill me, but I will die happy.

From Romantic to Mature Anglophilia

When I was a teenager, I had your standard romanticized view of what the U.K. was about.  I lapped up anything and everything that I could get my hands on.  It never got to the point to where I wished I were British, but I wanted a chance to live over there because I imagined this world full of witty, intelligent people with cool music and fascinating history.  I bought Dream U.K. lock, stock and barrel.

Of course, what we are sold over here isn’t Dream U.K.  It’s Dream England.  It has nothing to do with Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland.  It’s a place where Received Pronunciation (the Queen’s English) is spoken.  It’s a place of castles, the BBC, and white people putting on airs.  Or, if you are a teenager, it’s that Boy Band world where all those sweet words of undying devotion sound extra romantic with an English accent.

Well, the Britons are probably having a good chuckle at my expense right now.  Rightly so.  Have a good belly laugh.  Go on.

OK, so I did meet witty, intelligent people.  I did hear cool music, and I learned more about its fascinating history.  But the U.K. is a real country with real people and complexities and deserves the same amount of celebration and scrutiny as the United States.  Even at age 19, I should have known better, although the Boffin says I should cut myself some slack on this.  I have to say I am really embarrassed with how shallow I was with the knowledge and misconceptions I had when I first arrived in 1992.  (“What do you mean you don’t go trick-or-treating here?  It’s Halloween!”)  But what I had in naïveté, I made up for in enthusiasm and a desire to learn where I was going wrong.

And learn I did.  I made friends, read the newspapers, asked questions, and traveled.  I tried to make the most of the limited time I had there and bumbled all along the way.  I knew I couldn’t learn everything, but I just wanted to understand better what eluded me.

And what did I learn?  Well, I learned about the diversity of Britain thanks to the city of Cambridge being so close.  My discovery was still at the time of ethnic minorities being 8% of the population as opposed to the 13% now, but it was still eye-opening to see how Indians, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Jamaicans, Chinese people, and a host of others gathered to study and live in one spot that was not London. It also showed me how they made the place so much brighter and dynamic just by their culinary contributions, let alone their societal ones.  It made for a refreshing change from the Italian/Slavic/Hispanic/German backgrounds that the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania population had.

I am craving a proper dosa so badly I could cry right now.
I am craving a proper dosa so badly I could cry right now. “Dosai Chutney Hotel Saravana Bhavan” by Mike Linksvayer

My journeys did take me into Scotland and briefly into Wales.  (I married into a Welsh family.  I think that counts for something.)  I never did get to Northern Ireland because of the tumult at the time, but that does not mean it won’t be on the docket when we get back to the country.  It only showed me how different those nations are to England and to just lump everything together is like lumping Canada in with the United States.  I learned to take each one and enjoy them as their own entities.

I was still able to enjoy the BBC shows, food, and all the stuff I did when I was in my romantic phase.  But, you know what?  It was even better because I understand the context in which they were created better.

However, I also learned the U.K. was also a country with its own problems.  I remember the beloved National Health Service being in need of funding back then.  The Real IRA decided to restart its bombing campaign in various locations around the U.K., including, I later discovered, some perilously close to where the Boffin was going to university.  The country was in a recession when I arrived in 1992 with unemployment reaching as high as 10%.  Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD, the human form of Mad Cow Disease) reared its head during my time there, and I still am not allowed to give blood over here because of the inability to screen.  Being a romantic meant ignoring what was happening on a human level and only led me to make the Britons into characters in my mental play.  That was demeaning and wrong.  I am so glad I now see them as the people they are, and I appreciate those who helped me open my eyes.

Little did I know that my experience would do more than personally enrich me.  Fast forward to 1999, a young American divorcée meets a young English widower.  Several things were in my favor when I met the Boffin.

1)  I was immune to his accent, so I was listening to what he was saying and not gushing over the fact that he was English.  Admittedly, he wishes I listened to him a little less.  (“Yes, you did say that!  You were wearing your hunter green polo shirt and standing by the bow window.  It was on Tuesday last week, and you just got home from work!”)

2)  He didn’t have to explain every little thing about himself to bridge the cultural gap.

3)  I didn’t have doe eyes when it came to his country of origin and was more understanding about why he was making his home in the States.

And while I missed my time across the Pond, I managed to get the good parts back in a way through the Boffin.  Meanwhile, he was left with the mixed feelings with being an immigrant and very complex reasons why he left the U.K. behind.  (It’s not my story to tell, but I can say that part of the reason is that the country knows how to educate its STEM stars, but it doesn’t know how to employ them.)  It only goes to show just how complicated, once again, the country truly is and how I just cannot hold the “tea and crumpets” version that so many Americans carry.

I guess you can say the process of my love of the U.K. has been like a marriage.  I went through my honeymoon stage with Anglophilia, but it developed into that nice settled bit.  There are bits of the U.K. that I absolutely adore.  There are bits that make me apoplectic.  In the end, the U.K. and I have been through a lot together, and I see it for what it is and still love it, faults and all.

The Boffin Family Goes to Lambeau Field

We had to do something else besides look at toilets.

For those who are not familiar with American football, Lambeau Field is home of Green Bay Packers, the National Football League (NFL) franchise that makes its home in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  Within its city limits, we are talking about a place that contains about 104,000 people with approximately 306,000 in its expanded metro area.  This is a team that does not have a huge fan base at its doorstep.

However, what it does have is intensely devoted, loyal and deep, and its national following carries the banner just as high. Starting in 1919, the Packers is the oldest team in the NFL that has stayed in one location. (The Decatur Staleys became the Chicago Bears, and the Chicago Cardinals eventually became the Arizona Cardinals.) So, the franchise has been there for nearly 100 years. Not only that, the Packers have won 13 NFL championships, including four Super Bowls.  Five of those championships were under the helm of Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach after whom the famed Super Bowl trophy is named. And I haven’t touched upon people and events like Donald Driver, the Ice Bowl, the Lambeau Leap, Bart Starr, and host of other references.

So, even if you are not a Packers fan, this is home to quite a bit of American football history.

With that in mind, yesterday, the three of us decided to partake in the Classic Tour (the comparatively cheap hour long one) of the field.  Since I have become a lapsed rabid, football fan, my attitude was to just take in the atmosphere and info and go with the flow. My recommendation is to get there early to get ahead of the rest of the hoard sporting Lambeauners. It is basically like being at a game or training camp as far as T-shirt, cap, and jersey donning of the crowd is concerned. And it is understandable. This is Packer Mecca.

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Our tour guide, Kevin, was quite genial with a Dad-style humor who dearly loves his Packers. Let me put it this way.  He has been on the season ticket list for 26 years.  He is about number 13,000 out of about 114,000.  He can will his spot to his granddaughter and hope she gets the coveted seats eventually.  No exaggeration.

All of us on the tour were out-of-towners, so he really enjoyed giving his spiel to a fresh set of ears. After taking us to the plaza where the statues of Curly Lambeau and Lombardi, Kevin told us how Lambeau, a clerk for Indian (Meat) Packing Company, asked his boss for money for uniforms for the football team he was organizing and how it all snowballed from there.

From there, we got to see how the other half lives from the box seats.

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Would sitting here be considered cheating the single digit Fahrenheit temps during December?

If you look around, you will see something…or not see something, as the case may be. Notice the minimal amount of advertising. The Packers are a not-for-profit, publicly owned franchise with shareholders and a board of directors. The board has made a conscious decision to keep advertising to a minimum to cover expenses. Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting to make a profit off of your football team, but one of my issues with the NFL is how excessive it has become. It is lovely to see a team who has reined it in.

From the heights to the depths, we got to the cool part…the home team’s tunnel. They even played crowd noises for us as we walked out, although I think the Bears would eat the Boffin and Sprog alive with their lax attitude.

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And being able to walk on the field. Wow.

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And aluminum benches that will “keep you cold during the winter and hot during the summer,” according to Kevin.

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My uncle and cousin recently went to a game here in the middle of winter without building themselves up to the cold, and I am thinking about the windchill and uncomfortable seats and came to a conclusion. They obviously wanted to test their endurances and give themselves a real football fan experience. The reality is that they were nuts. And I only say this with love, guys.  Mwah!

So, what did I take away from the tour? I really enjoyed the experience from a football history standpoint. But I have to say, I still have my issues about what the NFL is now, which is a separate post entirely and has no place here. If I ever do go back to the NFL (not looking likely at this point), I would consider the Packers as a team. I think I could pull off the look.

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