Any of you with first-generation, immigrant parents will appreciate that some things simply don’t translate.
Lost in Translation: Asparagus Legs!
My mother immigrated to the US from Denmark in 1967, swept off her feet by the charming American GI who would later become my father. And every spring, seemingly inexplicably, but without fail, my mother would throw open the doors, step out into the sunshine, and tsk in that very Danish way of hers. “Look at those asparagus legs!” she would exclaim, scrutinizing some unfortunate young woman. My brother and I were perplexed. We were mortified. We hoped that, with her thick “Swedish Chef” accent, nobody had understood her.
Danish Asparagus: The King of Vegetables
What I later learned is that, if you are Danish, asparagus reigns supreme, the king of all vegetables. Their asparagus season lasts only a few weeks in the spring. And – wait for it! – the asparagus is white or green. But it is the white asparagus, grown mostly underground on their northern coast, that they crave. And when the crop comes in, chefs at fine restaurants worldwide compete to buy up all of this white asparagus before the season ends. Or the Danes eat it all. So if you are Danish, asparagus season is a Very Big Deal. The kind of big deal that requires fine white linen napkins and the best family silver. (Seriously. If you are looking for a recipe for white asparagus, you might try White Asparagus with Egg, Parsley and Butter. Very, very Danish.)
Landing the Plane… in Delaware
So, when the arctic blast finally moved on, and the temperature rose to a lovely, Scandinavian-like 67 degrees here in Delaware, I moved my slacks to the back of my closet. I stepped outside in my dress and heels. And I looked down in horror. “Oh, no! Look at those asparagus legs!” That’s right, five months of Delawarean winter, starved of sunlight… and my legs are as white as Danish asparagus.
Time to start planning a vacation in Hawaii next Christmas.
Yesterday, I was privileged to attend the Delaware State Bar’s Annual Breakfast and Statewide Day of Service in recognition of Martin Luther King Day. The speakers included U.S. Senator Tom Carper, U.S. Senator Chris Coons, Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, and Chief Justice Leo E. Strine, Jr. You can find highlights from their heartfelt speeches on my Twitter feed. But it was Joe Biden’s keynote address, Reflections on Dr. King: A Model of Leadership, that stole the show and left me with a renewed optimism for our country and our common humanity.
Now, I am a Goldwater / Reagan conservative and free market proponent. I am skeptical of Democrat’s big government programs. (It was reassuring to hear Biden recall his father’s words: “I don’t expect the government to solve my problems, but I expect it to understand them.”) But Biden’s belief in what is good about America and his conviction that this country can, and will, come together again around our common values were compelling. So I share here a few of the highlights from the speech that particularly resonated with me in the hope that some of that optimism, in the face of the daily negativity enveloping us, may be contagious.
Lesson #1: Standing Up Against the Abuse of Power
“What lessons can we take away from Dr. King’s leadership that still resonate today?” Biden began. To answer that question, Biden took us back to the race riots in Wilmington, Delaware following Dr. King’s assassination in April 1968. (I must admit, I hadn’t heard of the Wilmington riots. Though in fairness, not only am I newcomer to tiny Delaware, but I wasn’t even born for another two months. If you aren’t familiar with the Wilmington riots, you can catch up here. Some of you may be more familiar with other riots that were unfolding across the country in cities like Chicago, Washington, DC, Baltimore, Kansas City, and Detroit.)
Biden graduated from law school in the midst of this turmoil. Reflecting on the events around him, he looked to his father, who always stood up against abuses of power in all of its forms. And he looked to his two political heroes, Dr. King and John F. Kennedy, who shared an abhorrence for the abuse of power. Why? Because everyone is entitled to dignity and to respect. And he recalled his parents’ mantra. “You are defined by your courage. And redeemed by your loyalty.” This moment was Biden’s call to action.
Lesson #2: Never Loose Faith
Reflecting on that dark period in our history, Biden noted that Dr. King had every reason to be skeptical of where our country was heading. But remarkably, Dr. King never lost his faith in God or in our political system. This is not easy. Our political system is one of checks and balances, Biden reminds us. One of tug and pull, and tensions between competing political parties.
But no matter how bitter our divisions, at least until recently, it is a political system that has been bound together by a respect for political norms. It has been a political system characterized by honor and civility, though today this idea may seem to be honored in the breach.
There are today those who would attack our political norms and undermine our political systems both at home and abroad. It is expedient. It is easy to blame our troubles on the “other.” The other race, the other nationality, the other party, the other guy. But this is a phony tribalism that offers no solutions. It divides us rather than brings us together. And importantly, Biden reminded us that these forces that are pulling on the fabric of our society and our political systems are a tiny, if vocal, minority.
It therefore falls to each one of us to stand up and to reject and challenge the forces of discord and division. In particular, as members of the bar and the bench, we are guardians of the country’s laws and institutions. Without regard to race, party, or agenda. We must reject tribal constructs of “us versus them” and instead uphold our shared narratives of democracy and freedom. Because it is those shared values that remind us of who we really are as Americans and that pull us back to the political center.
Lesson #3: The Bill of Rights and Human Dignity
At the heart of racism is the idea that a man is not a man, that some people are less than. Less than human. Less than equal. Less in dignity. But among conservatives and liberals alike, Alexis de Tocqueville, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and others are often quoted as cautioning against the tyranny of the majority (or a tyranny of the minority). To guard against such abuses, our Bill of Rights defines and protects inviolable human rights, dignity, and freedom. And while we may disagree in how to implement these ideals, it is undoubtedly the power of these ideals that make America unique in the world. It is a central purpose of our legal system to protect and preserve these ideals. If we lose this aspiration, then we lose our raison d’être. We lose sight of who we are.
Lesson #4: The Arc of the Moral Universe Bends Towards Justice
Republicans and Democrats alike can cite long litanies of outrages inflicted by the other. Assertions of bad behavior, partisanship, aggression and over-sensitivity, racism and reverse racism dominate the daily news cycles and tear at the fabric of our country. Huffington Post and Fox News alike ran stories last month about how to discuss (or avoid) politics to survive the holidays with family intact. Divisive times indeed.
But Biden reminds us that, as contentious as things may seem today, our country has experienced far worse in the past. And we have come a long way. From the ashes of the civil rights movement, some 50 years later we elected a black man, an African American, as our president. Something that would have seemed barely possible during the strife and divisions of the civil rights movement. In the words of Dr. King, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” We, as a people, will get to the promised land.
So, to honor Dr. King’s memory, Biden called upon us not to give up and not to become complacent. What I take away from this is, whatever our politics, we must commit to do what is right, to reject the abuse of power in all of its forms, and to protect our institutions and political norms. We must listen to one another. We must commit to truly see one another as people, not labels or political adversaries. And even where we disagree, perhaps deeply, we must always respect our nation’s institutions and core values. Above all, we must each do our part to uphold our shared narratives of democracy and freedom.
Since I moved from California to Delaware, a number of things have happened.
Last November, a magnitude 4.1 earthquake struck central Delaware. “This is wild! It’s not often that this happens,” said Cheng Shengzao, a geophysicist with the USGS.
In December, a bomb cyclone blasted the entire East Coast before a polar vortex uncorked tremendous cold, turning sharks into sharkcicles and causing frozen iguanas to fall out of trees in Florida. “Jaw, meet floor!” tweeted Sam Lillo, a meteorology PhD student.
One thing became quickly clear after we moved to Delaware. If you live here, you are probably: (a) an attorney, (b) an engineer, (c) a DuPont, or (d) all of the above. This is evident everywhere. Even Christmas.
A Very Longwood Christmas: DuPonts as Conservationists
One of our first holiday outings was a trip to Longwood Gardens. The property has a long history, passing from the Lenni Lenape tribe to the Quaker farmers who first planted an arboretum there. In 1906, when a lumber miller operator acquired the property, Pierre S. du Pont intervened to save the trees. Today, Longwood is one of the country’s leading horticultural display gardens.
The gardens go all out for A Longwood Christmas. The conservatory is decked out for the holiday like Versailles, with topiaries, wreaths, and more than 50 trees trimmed in holiday hues and crystal ornaments. Thousands of floating cranberries, apples, and gilded walnuts create an intricate mosaic styled after a French parterre garden. Fountains dance to holiday music, carolers stroll, and half-million twinkling lights deck the halls, trees, and everything in between.
Unlike California, however, boots, warm coats, scarves, and mittens are not fashion accessories. They are essential. The temperature today? A brisk 28 degrees. I highly recommend frequent stops for hot chocolate. Or a stop by the Beer Garden for bratwurst, a beer, some hard cider, or a nip of Bailey’s in that hot cocoa.
We are now members, so if you are in town and would like to visit the gardens, let me know! (I have extra gloves and hats.)
The Hagley Museum: DuPont Holiday Decorations and Explosives
We also visited the Hagley Museum, another not-to-be-missed Wilmington destination. The 1803 du Pont family ancestral home, Eleutherian Mills, features holiday decorations and interpretations of the French New Year’s gift exchanges and Twelfth Night celebrations.
After touring the house, we stopped at the DuPont: The Explosives Era exhibit. Then on to a tour of the powder yards with their historic stone structures that housed the powder manufacturing process, working 19th-century machinery, waterwheels and turbines powered by the river, and a sixteen-ton operating roll mill. And what better way to wrap up than watching the black powder explosion demonstrations? Unless its a stop at the site and debris of one of the largest accidental explosions in the history of the yards. Ka-boom!
Holiday Cookies: Jumbles by Louisa de Pont
Jumbles were a classic 19th century cookie. Louisa Gerhard du Pont (1816-1900), wife of Henry du Pont (1812-1889), apparently used rose water in her recipe. The Hagley is giving out copies to all holiday visitors, so I am including the recipe here. I don’t have any rose water on hand. But if any of you want to try some du Pont-inspired baking, let me know how it turns out!
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon rose water
Cream together butter and sugar. Add remaining ingredients. Make cookies by placing about a teaspoon of dough on a buttered cookie sheet and flattening out with the bottom of a glass dipped in granulated sugar. Bake at 350 degrees until edges are slightly brown.
As winter settles in on the east coast, everyone’s question is: “Are you ready for the snow?” We have bundled up in sweaters, gloves, hats as we continue exploring Delaware, our new home state. We thought we were prepared. But as the snow has begun falling, the adventures have started….
Snowblowers, Shovels, and Brine: Oh My!
When we moved into our house, it was empty. Except for the snowblower the former owners left behind with a welcome note before moving to Northern California. It seemed so thoughtful. Now we know better. I have no doubt they didn’t stop laughing until they reached the Rockies, while we are still looking for the instruction manual.
Last week the roads were covered with clear ribbons of – something – glistening in the morning sun. After a little investigating, I learned that de-icing with rock salt only helps in temperatures over 15 degrees. But a salt water brine applied before it snows works immediately and is more effective. I am now practically a de-icing expert. Did you know, for example, that alternate sources of brine, including agricultural by-products such as beet juice, are also being used in certain states?
And when the first snow arrived, my husband purchased a snow shovel and asked our teenager to clear the driveway. The look we got was something between “Whaaat?” and “Huh?” But to be fair, it’s not just him. I have been barraged with helpful lists of things to carry in my car, and have responded with that same, glazed-over look. Snow scrapers, packable shovels, flashlights, first-aid kits, tool kits, cat litter… What? Cat litter?! Apparently this is a real thing. Traction.
And speaking of traction….
About Car Shaming, Traction, and Snow
You may recall that we brought not one, but two, all-electric Fiat 500e’s to Delaware with us. They are adorable, environmentally friendly, and fun to drive along windy, sun kissed California roads.
As we pull up in front of St. Mark’s every morning, flanked by Jeeps and Subarus in various shades of black and grey, our jellybean-colored electric vehicles are… distinctive. We have shrugged off Spencer’s tales of car shaming, however, as parents do. “Character building!” we say. But after running into another St. Mark’s parent this week and watching a light bulb go off – “Oh, you’re the parents of the California kid, the one who comes to school every morning in that weird little car all the kids tease him about!” – perhaps he has a point.
Anyway. After driving home in the snow last week, I have to finally admit that my cute little Fiat may not be the most weather appropriate vehicle for Delaware. To put it in perspective, the 500e weighs in at 2,900 pounds, delivers 111 horsepower, and comes with virtually traction-free tires designed to minimize friction and maximize range. The Jeep Wrangler, in contrast, weighs in at around 5,000 pounds, has 285 horsepower, and comes in all-wheel drive with optional extreme terrain tires. As I skied my way home along the snow covered Delawarean back roads, my little Fiat performed, well, precisely as you would expect. My tips for driving it in the snow? Don’t.
Arctic Blasts v. Fire Storms: Snow Is the Clear Winner
Even as the occasional arctic blast shakes our house while we research snow tires, this year’s fire storms keep things in perspective. Having experienced the increasing heat, drought, and fire threats in Southern California, I will gladly choose arctic blasts over fire storms. To put it in perspective, picture a Category 1 hurricane barreling up the coast. Now replace rain with fire. More on that later this week.