Saturday, November 16, 2013

Random Quote Saturday

"Put things into words and there's no telling when you'll get them out again."

~~Carrie Fisher, The Best Awful

Friday, November 15, 2013

Monkey Business

Tuck this into the ever-growing file of "what I'm doing today instead of blogging."

Monkey cupcakes: one down--23 to go.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


When Son-One was a few weeks old, Hubby and I impulsively moved from our little furnished apartment outside of Altoona, Pennsylvania to my grandmother's house in the northwestern wilds of the state. I say impulsively because we had had no intentions to move, but while helping my parents move their household to that area, Hubby decided to apply for a job at the same grocery store where my mother was applying. It was a Saturday. He was hired on the spot and they wanted him to start the following night.

Hubby had desperately wanted out of the position he had at a shoe factory near Altoona and the move would mean we would be closer to family so I was all for it, but the logistics were a bit daunting. Yes, our belongings were meager. But, I would be moving them all from a second-floor apartment and trying to squeeze them into the back of an Escort GT with only a breastfeeding newborn and Youngest Sister for help. Oh, and did I mention I'd had a C-section only a few weeks before? Heavy lifting and repeated frequent stair climbing were not an endorsed part of the aftercare instructions I'd received from the doctor.

Anyway...we moved in with my grandmother,  my Nan, who was mostly happy to have us. She was, of course, full of advice for us first-time parents. Much of the advice sounded hilariously outdated, especially to the ears of someone who had prepared for motherhood with both book learnin' and the hands-on education of younger siblings, cousins and babysittees.

For instance, she firmly believed that holding a toy in front of the baby's face for even just a few seconds could make the baby cross-eyed. She believed, like many of her generation, and many even still, that picking up a crying baby too soon or too often resulted in a spoiled baby.

But the thing about which we butted heads most often was the importance of keeping the baby on a schedule. I was not working outside the home at the time and I had read a lot about the benefits of on-demand breastfeeding, especially in the earliest months. Add to that the fact that Hubby worked nights and there didn't seem to be any good reason not to let the baby dictate the schedule.

In the beginning, Nan warned, "That baby's gonna get his days and nights mixed up."

Eventually, of course, she declared, "That baby's got his days and nights mixed up."

And he may have a little, but it all eventually righted itself.

I have been thinking a lot about getting days and nights mixed up and what it means to be on a schedule that goes against your own natural rhythms. I have been working second shift (2:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.) for a little over four years now. Early on, I assumed I would adjust to it, but that hasn't happened so far.

I think I would be better off if I could just come home and go to sleep, but of course, I can't do that anymore than someone coming home at 5 p.m. would immediately go to bed. The minimum wind down for me seems to be about 2 hours, so I'm usually going to bed somewhere between 12:30 and 1, but on particularly stressful nights I'm up (or at least awake) until well after 2 a.m.

Since adulthood, and maybe even earlier, I have always been a very light sleeper who wakes frequently and has a hard time going back to sleep. That, too, has not gotten better with time. I often am awake at least once per hour all night long. It seems miraculous to me to make it through two or three hours of sleep without drifting to consciousness.

I linger in bed longer than I should, hoping to feel more rested, but instead, when I finally do get up for the day, I usually feel like I've been bludgeoned.

There's an old Steven Wright bit that I've always loved, he says, "My girlfriend asked me if I slept well and I said, 'No I made a few mistakes.'"

Sleep seems like it should be the easiest, most natural thing in the world, but I can't seem to get the hang of it. I wish my Nan were still around--I'm sure she'd know just what to do.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Random Quote Wednesday

" crossed my mind that to know others on a superficial level only is a desperate hell and that life is worth living only if the veneer is stripped away, the polish, the wax and we see the true grain of the other no matter how far less than perfect, even ugly, even savage at the heart."

~~Louise Erdrich, Four Souls

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Random Quote Tuesday

"That's why I write, because life never works except in retrospect. And writing makes you look back. Because since you can't control life, at least you can control your version."

~~Chuck Palahniuk, "Almost California" from Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories

Monday, November 11, 2013

Masked Mom's Media Monday: '70s Sitcom Themes

Here's a frightening glimpse into my state of mind lately. I actually got a little misty-eyed when I heard this on the radio earlier today:

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Timely.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Wednesday, December 27, 1989

Tonight's journal excerpt features a 21-year-old me (mother of one, enormously pregnant with the second), gushing with gratitude over the thoughtful gifts her family has given her for Christmas. Or not...

Wednesday, December 27, 1989
I have a few comments about the gifts--I got two in particular that I'd like to talk about. Mom got me a pair of red sweatpants. Not a subtle shade of red but RED, as in fire engine red, as in screaming RED sweatpants. Dad asked Mom why she'd picked such a loud color and she said, "Because she always buys dark back or dark blue for herself and I thought she might want to brighten up her wardrobe." Now, pardon me, but if I liked or wanted red pants, wouldn't I buy them? Isn't there probably a reason why I choose black or navy?
On the same note--the note being inappropriate gifts--Nan got me a sweatshirt and stationery with Garfield on them. I had a raving passion for Garfield when I was 13--my first journal is in a Garfield notebook! but I've outgrown him. I'll wear the shirt, but who can I write to on Garfield paper at the age of 21?
I guess my message is about how depressing it is to me that no one in my family knows me well enough--or likes me well enough--to buy gifts for the me I am right now. My mother wants me to be someone I've never, ever been. And my grandmother wants me to be the person she thought I was at 13 or 15. (The truth is, I was probably never that person either--though I pretended to be. I've never pretended to want to wear red (RED, folks RED!) sweatpants. Surprisingly, I'm not offended by any of this--just--well, if bemused weren't such a stuffy word, it's the one I would choose.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Drafted: Random Excerpts From As Yet Unpublished Posts

"Ah, the sweet smell of procrastination in the morning, er, afternoon or, you know, whenevever I get around to it."

"Daughter-Only and I do two kinds of arguing--the get-out-of-my-life-I-utterly-hate-your-guts-door-slamming stuff and then the other stuff, which we tend to do in front of her friends--an entertaining bickering which they all seem to enjoy greatly."

"We may have fallen short in a thousand ways as parents, but I count our openness with our kids about sexuality as one of our greatest successes. I do not harbor the illusion that my kids tell me everything, but I have little doubt that they know they can tell me anything."

"A week or so ago, I had a dream in which Mr. High School was trying to text me. I was somehow waiting to receive the text while also able to see him as he was trying to peck out the words with fingers that appeared to be freakishly large above the itty-bitty keyboard of the teeny-tiny phone he was holding."

"How far down your drunk-dial list do you have to get to call the girl you had a crush on in seventh grade?"

"A cigar may sometimes be just a cigar, but around here, a dog is hardly ever just a dog."

"It's a weird time to pursue 'fame and fortune' in a given field. In some ways--the American Idol, Survivor, and clones ways--it's easier than ever to achieve some semblance of fame or notoriety. But I think it's also harder than ever to get recognition for real talent without being dismissed as a 'wannabe.'"

"Eventually, Gram took to sending us to the library at the beginning of each period to 'study math.' Air quotes weren't in Gram's repertoire, but her tone made clear she knew that precious little studying was going on."

"A week or so before Thanksgiving, a friend complained in an email about his wife's hyper-elaborate holiday planning. He talked, mostly good-naturedly, about the binder in which she kept her sheet-protected, color-coded recipes and ever-growing shopping lists."

Friday, November 08, 2013

Random Quote Friday

"She liked to sit in the car. Marianne sometimes sat there in the driveway not going anywhere for hours. She enjoyed the quiet, the way it felt to be sealed inside of something, the suction of the air as the door slammed shut."

~~Hannah Tinti, "Bloodworks" from Animal Crackers

Thursday, November 07, 2013


Daughter-Only and I competed in our second Team Trivia night at a local art center café. Last time, we came in second out of five or six teams. The teams can be up to eight members and we were the only two-person team, so we were patted on the back (mostly by other people, but a little by ourselves) quite a bit for doing so well "especially for a two-person team."

We went into tonight with some fairly high hopes/expectations--our own and those of some of the repeat competitors, a few of whom mis-remembered us as the winners from last time.

Right out of the gate, the first question stumped us: "When Michael Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls for the first time in 1993, he signed a minor league contract with what Major League baseball team?"

No idea. We scribbled down the Mets, just to put something down. When I handed the sheet of paper to Daughter-Only to take to the moderator, I said, "That's the only question we're getting wrong tonight."

How wrong I was...At the end of the first round, the moderator announced totals and we were in fourth place. Out of six questions in the first round, we got three right.

The moderator did not update the standings after that until just before the bonus round and there is no big scoreboard on display to keep track of other teams' scores. It didn't matter, though, because I knew we were failing miserably to narrow the lead the other teams had on us.

We got four out of six questions right in the second and third rounds and just three out of six in the fourth and final round.

I hate to admit this, but my face was burning, my stomach was churning. I was utterly mortified by how poorly we were doing. I could not believe I had taken a night off of work to get so horrifically trounced at trivia in public. I kept trying to give myself little "It's just a game" and "We're having fun, that's all that matters" pep talks, to no avail.

Then came the reading of the points totals before the all-important bonus question, in which teams wager points (much like Final Jeopardy).

Daughter-Only and I had 175 points. The team closest to us had 145. We wagered wisely (I've not been an armchair Jeopardy player all these years for nothing), making the most of our lead.

The bonus question: "The Carboniferous Period is divided into two Epochs, each named after a U.S. state. Name the states."

Yeah. Okay. Uh, California & Illinois?


But...everyone else got it wrong, too so...we won!

We won even though I had spent two hours feeling like the biggest loser on the planet. We won even though I was absolutely certain we were humiliating ourselves.

I'm pretty sure there's some kind of lesson in there somewhere.

Maybe not.

Maybe it's just a really long story about how badass Daughter-Only and I are at Team Trivia.

PS--Pennsylvania & Mississippi.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Random Quote Wednesday, With a Tiny Bit of Commentary

"...your eloquence should be the servant of the ideas in your head. Your rule might be this: If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate my subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out."

~~Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday
Tonight's quote comes to you courtesy of an all-day Vonnegut binge which promises to carry on (even) later into the night. Thank goodness reader's block is nowhere near as common as writer's block. 

Tuesday, November 05, 2013


So. The first few days of NaBloPoMo around these parts have been lackluster, to say the least. I have high hopes for the coming days, though I make no promises.

In the meantime, please enjoy* this gratuitous ultrasound picture of my first grandchild. ETA: January 13, 2014.

*You are under no obligation to enjoy this ultrasound. In fact, I will totally understand if you do not enjoy ultrasound photos at all. As I said to Hubby's Little Sister, I personally find them about equal parts adorable and disturbing. Many people find them baffling and meaningless, unable to pick out anything resembling a human being in the grainy gray murk. In this case, as Son-Three (the soon-to-be father of said grandchild) said when he texted this shot to me, "There's a face in there somewhere."

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Saturday, February 18, 1989

Saturday, February 18, 1989
Anyone who thinks being "just'' a housewife and mother is not challenging has obviously never tried breastfeeding an 8 month old who has 3 teeth.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Random Quote Saturday

"...understanding that you suck at some things is useful information in life. The world would be a better place if people were fully cognizant of their areas of suckage."

~~Dave Barry, "A Festival of Grimness," from I'll Mature When I'm Dead: Dave Barry's Amazing Tales of Adulthood

Friday, November 01, 2013

Random Quote Friday

"My mind spends very little time in my body. Where exactly it hangs out, I couldn't tell you. But I suspect it's been up to no good."

~~Eric Weiner, Man Seeks God: My Flirtations With the Divine
(P.S. Happy NaBloPoMo everyone! See you tomorrow!)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Thursday, August 26, 2004

Tonight's Spiral Notebook selection features the bitter ravings of a renegade on the front lines of anti-schedule activism. Or something.

Things have improved somewhat since this entry was written--working second shift and presiding over  a single (nineteen-year-old) nestling, it's gotten significantly harder for me to truly "oversleep."


Thursday, August 26, 2004

To the extent that my life is ruled by The Clock (which, fortunately for everyone involved is to a much lesser extent than most other functioning adults, but is still to a greater extent than I personally consider ideal), I entertain myself with the illusion that I control the clock--an illusion I maintain by tinkering with the clock by setting it so far ahead that I feel I'm getting away with something (a habit I've mentioned previously) and also by setting the alarm itself so long in advance of when I need to get out of bed that I can hit snooze forty gazillion times and, again, feel I'm getting away with something (another previously examined habit). All this tinkering appeals to me as an act of passive rebellion, a way of living outside the constrictive bounds of normal society, but there is a price to be paid for standing up for what you believe in, and in this case, that price, ironically, is often much higher than the price of just going along with the status quo--though now that I think of it, that's probably true of most acts of rebellion: going along to get along is often not only a force of habit but also much easier and less risky than stepping outside the lines of the masses--that price in this case is having to go through mental acrobatics in the form of staggering algebraic equations required to calculate the actual time as well as how many minutes are left until the next "snooze" is interrupted by the jarring drone of the alarm and how many snoozes are left until I actually have no choice but to get out of bed, at which point a good portion of my allotted brain power for the day has been expended so I am not only bleary-eyed and suffering from bed head of truly astronomical (as in "oh my god I've discovered a 10th planet and it's orbiting around my head") proportions, but I'm also befuddled by the kind of brain buzz that comes from an excess of input into an only nominally functioning brain whose closest physiological comparison is a bunch of sugar on an empty stomach. What a way to start a day! And not only a day, but every day, all week, every week because even on my so-called days "off," I keep the alarm set because I always go to bed with the best of intentions for the next day, planning on getting an early start on all those eight million things I put off on al my work days, but when morning comes, as I'm sure is no surprise, I hit the snooze button over and over and over until I'm well past--hours past, in fact--not only the time I had, with my optimistic plans, intended to get up but well past the time I likely would have woken up of natural causes if I had simply left the alarm unset so then I rise groggy and cranky not only from oversleeping and being mad at myself from the previously mentioned performance of complex equations and from mediating the internal debate between my well-intentioned, do-gooder half and my much-neglected, self-indulgent, what-the-hell, you-deserve-it half, my part of which debate is to counsel the dark half that we will all feel better if we get some stuff done and sleeping in ends up being more punishment than reward because nothing gets done and then I feel guilty about it and nothing's done and I never feel all the way awake, unable to shake the crappy, groggy feeling, anyway so the extra sleep is a hindrance to even relaxing and is that really the kind of self-indulgence I might wish to engage in?, to which my darker half replies, "Shut up! You're keeping us awake!"

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Random Quote Wednesday

"As our culture speeds incessantly toward faster and more convenient forms of communication, there is still something powerful in patiently scripted words, as they languorously flow onto a sheet of paper."

~~David H. Lowenherz
~~The 50 Greatest Love Letters of All Time

Monday, September 23, 2013

Masked Mom's Media Monday: 2 Broke Girls

Let's get this out of the way right up front: I am in no way qualified to review the show 2 Broke Girls because I have seen a total of 13 minutes of the show ever.

From the beginning, the previews promised a particularly vapid and shallow sitcom with a particularly vapid and shallow premise. I was persuaded to watch the 13 minutes I did watch in part because I had enjoyed Kat Dennings in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist so much that it was hard for me to imagine her being associated with something horrible. There was also the fact that several people close to me highly recommended the show.

Short story shorter yet, the previews delivered exactly as promised and then some--throwing in clichés, sexism, racial stereotypes and even some classism as an added bonus to the shallowness and vapidity. I clicked away after 13 brutal minutes of stilted delivery of wooden lines (or was it wooden delivery of stilted lines?).

Therefore, I'm obviously not qualified to bring an in-depth perspective to what works and what doesn't on the show. I only mention the show at all because a little boy I used to babysit is all grown up and making a guest appearance on tonight's season premiere of 2 Broke Girls.

Ever since I caught Eric Tiede's appearance on Castle, I have periodically checked in on his Facebook fan page to see when and where he would be popping up next and have gotten a kick out of seeing him in episodes of Major Crimes and Grimm. I have even checked in on a few episodes of shows he's been featured in on Nickelodeon and Disney.

So, this latest appearance presents a real dilemma for this stalkery ex-babysitter: Do I want to see Eric's performance more than I hate 2 Broke Girls?

The episode's in the DVR and the jury's still out.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Conflicted.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

What I Did On My Summer Vacation...

I'm not sure vacation is the right word--since five was the highest number of consecutive days off work I logged all summer and two is the farthest number of hours I traveled from home--but I've certainly been gone from these parts for most of the summer. So, perhaps an explanation is in order or perhaps I just needed some mindless, quick and easy way to reenter the blog world on this rainy September morning.

So where has the summer gone? I've worked a lot, including (due to staffing shortages) many shifts that are not my regular shift, leading to acute sleep deprivation (not to be confused with my persistent chronic sleep deprivation).

I've played nowhere near as much volleyball as I would've liked, but what I did play I savored thoroughly, particularly because every time we played, we were surrounded by family and friends we don't get to see anywhere near often enough.

I've gotten nowhere near as much writing done as I would've liked (on the blog, obviously and elsewhere), but the writing I have gotten done has led to two minor publications and a contest win. (In this process, I also discovered (not for the first time) my extraordinary capacity for reflexive self-deprecation since immediately after doing the dance of joy in each case, I caught myself thinking things like "It's just a small magazine..." or "I bet not that many people even entered that contest...")

I discovered yet again that in blogging specifically and in my writing generally1, I am either all in or barely in at all. If I am not doing daily writing practice, I am lucky to pick up the pen once a month. There are no happy mediums for me, apparently--committed daily habit or habitual laziness seem to be my only choices.

I know from experience that all in eventually wears me out, but I also know that it's always a hell of a ride on the way to worn out.

All in.

1. Naturally, this applies to far more in my life than merely writing.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Ways I'm Not A Grown-Up, The Nineteenth In A Potentially Infinite Series

"But I don't wanna!" still seems to me a perfectly valid reason not to do something, particularly when it's me that doesn't want to do whatever it is that needs doing.

Perhaps the fact that I don't use it as an excuse anywhere near as often as I'd like could be considered a step in the right direction.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Shelf Life

There are a couple of great things about blog awards. The first is the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when a fellow blogger picks you for one of these awards. The second is that this is the kind of award you can accept in your pajamas--no red carpet or run-in with the shrill and spiteful Joan and Melissa Rivers clothing critique team necessary. Perhaps best of all (for our purposes today, in any case), is that these awards do not come with an explicit expiration date. Therefore, the only side effect to waiting, say, two months to accept one is a mild case of sheepishness on the part of the accepter.

Sheepish, I am. I am also (as you may have noticed) a bit blog blocked at the moment so I'm going to take this chance to have a post practically write itself by accepting the awards given to me over the past two months by Jodi over at the 100 Smile Challenge Blog, Allison at Off the Mark, and Jessica at A word or two, about a word.

All three awards were versions of the Liebster Award, which involves posting 11 random facts about yourself, answering 11 questions and posing 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate. As always, I'm bending/breaking the rules by posting 11, not 33  random facts (you're very welcome) and by not nominating anyone else, but instead inviting anyone else who would like to participate to snag the badge (or badges) and answer the questions that appear after my answers. Just leave a comment with a link to your post if you do decide to play along.

11 Random Facts About Me

1. I have a pretty kickass backyard volleyball serve. It almost makes up for the fact that I'm not as mobile as I once was when it comes to returning the ball.

2. Once the thermometer hits 85 degrees or so (lower if the humidity is bad), I'm pretty much useless for anything except whimpering and whining.

3. I shout out the answers when I watch Jeopardy! on TV, even when I'm the only one in the room.

4. At the risk of outing my inner seventh grader: I rarely hear the word "dictator" in even the most horrifying context without thinking it sounds like a condition preventable with routine body maintenance. You know: ear wax, toe jam, foot corns, dictators.

5. A few months ago, I spent several shifts updating the resident handbook at the halfway house where I work, combing through thirty-some pages of rules, making amendments and additions. Partway through this ridiculously tedious project, the probable futility of it hit me upside the head. Though we do have the occasional resident who goes through the book line by line (looking for loopholes), the reality is most of them never even open it--and I highly doubted my boss, much less my coworkers, would spend much time perusing my updates. So, fully expecting that next to no one would be reading what I'd written, I decided to place a sort of test sentence smack in the middle of the visitation policy. I wrote: "Two-headed purple people will not be permitted on the premises without prior written permission." Much to my surprise, my boss caught the sentence--and to my further surprise, she left it in because she said it would help us keep track of who is actually paying attention.

6. My maiden name means "lime burner" in German. I once got into an argument with a middle school art teacher who insisted it meant "cabbage burner." Considering how often (and often inattentively1) I cook cabbage now, "cabbage burner" may be more accurately descriptive.

7. I firmly believe that Chinese food tastes better from chopsticks and I refuse to eat it with a fork.

8. I have (so far) been working on this post for almost two weeks...This list of random things is the last bit and it's taken me the longest.

9. I have never plucked, waxed or otherwise groomed my eyebrows. Never even seriously considered it. I am completely baffled by the existence of such practices.

10. Most of the time when I'm cooking--especially if I am making one of my "specialties," I am narrating my own cooking show in my head, patiently and wittily explaining my choices and techniques.

11. Since the mid-nineties, I have had a borderline unhealthy fascination with Julia Louis-Dreyfus's hands. They are compact and proportionate and somehow strong-yet-delicate-looking; my eyes are drawn to them with an almost creepy regularity. I'm not watching HBO's Veep purely for Dreyfus's hands, but frankly, they do rank fairly high on my list of reasons.

Jodi's Questions:

1. What or who put a smile on your face today? Discovering that, even after twenty years away, riding a bike turns out to be just like riding a bike.

2. What or who inspires you to blog? The desire to connect with others and the opportunity to hone writing skills, in that order.

3. What is your greatest goal right now? Right now, I am working on focusing more on my writing. This has been my focus for a lot of right now's, with only marginal success. I'm hoping this right now is different.

4. What is your favorite way to spend ME time? With words, ideally somewhere near a large body of water.

5.  If you could change one thing about the world what would it be? I think just a little more compassion and empathy would go a long way. So many things from wars to hunger to hate would be improved if we could just understand the suffering of others on a more visceral level.

6.  What is your best feature?  My appreciation for the unusual and the absurd.

7.  What are you grateful for today? Corny as it may sound, I am grateful for so many things to be grateful for.  Family, friends, work that I love even when I hate it, books, spring finally having sprung, etc., etc., etc.

8.  What is your favorite candy? Despite my avowed (and somewhat conflicted) passion for Peeps, I am more of a random craving sort of candy lover than an all-time favorite kind of candy lover.

9.  Which is your favorite holiday and why? Call me Ebenita Scrooge, but I think overblown expectations are the root of many a disappointment and holidays the way we as a culture tend to celebrate them are all about overblown expectations. That said, my favorite holiday is any one where I can squeeze the most members of my family under a single roof and just all be together. 

10. Dogs or cats? Considering I woke up to yet another bra ruined by the neurotic2 Nomi, our beagle-German shepherd mixed mutt, now's probably not a good time for me to answer any pet-related questions.

11. Which one word describes your mood right now? Whiny.

Alison's Questions:

1. What's a bad habit you have? Procrastination.

2. What's your favorite blog post (you've written)?
3. What is the physical feature you dress to highlight? I'm a comfort dresser and have long dressed to hide rather than highlight.

4. Odd or even numbers? Even, mostly. This question (like so many things in an average day) does remind me of a Steven Wright quote: "A while ago, I was in Las Vegas at the roulette table, having a furious argument over what I considered to be an 'odd' number."

5. Movies or plays? I don't get the opportunity to see many plays so I would pick movies if forced to choose. I am so much more verbal than visual, though, that it's a rare movie or play that can hold my attention the way the written word does.

6. What's your favorite slang/silly phrase to say? My current favorite is the exclamation "motherfudgsicles!" pronounced in exactly the tone and volume of the more vulgar exclamation it is meant to replace.

7. If you could only have one piece of software on your computer, what would it be and why? Microsoft Word. Not merely because I can't imagine editing without but because I can clearly remember editing without it.

8. What's your least favorite color? Teal. Ewww.

9.  If I say "soup to nuts" what does that mean to you? To me, "soup to nuts" means a wide or even all-encompassing variety of a given thing. If you say it, it means to me that you might be channeling my long-dead grandmother or someone of her generation.

10. If we're getting together for drinks, what are you going to order? Tequila and any concoctions derived therefrom.

11. What's your favorite comfort food(s) when you're having a rough day? This is a tough one, but I guess I will go with anything involving potatoes. Let me also add, though, that if comfort food actually provided comfort, I'd perpetually be the most comfortable person on the planet.

Jessica's Questions:

1. What is your favourite day of the week? Friday, but only because Friday is my Saturday with my current work schedule.

2. What is your favourite TV show? Don't really have one. I watch more TV than I should (and actually more than I really mean to), but there is nothing I'm sorry to miss, if that makes any sense.

3. Out of all your family members, who are you closest to? What a diabolical question...I guess I would go with my husband.

4. What is one thing you are grateful for today? See number 7 in Jodi's questions.

5. Who is the one person you've lost contact with over the years and wish you could get in touch with? Been there, done that, would totally do it again despite the painful ending. There really isn't anyone left on my list, partially thanks to Facebook and partially thanks to the fact that I've always had a hard time letting anyone go. I'm forty-four and I still exchange Christmas cards with people I haven't seen since seventh grade.

6. Do you believe in marriage? After nearly twenty-six years of wedded bliss or, as I like to call it sometimes, wedded blitz, I believe all kinds of things about marriage. But, yes, I still believe in it.

7. Salty or Sweet? Depends on the day. Sometimes both.

8. What is one of the most beautiful/amazing things you've ever been a witness to? For some reason, when I read this question the first thing that popped into my head was a photograph my friend Toni (of the forbidden pepperoni) sent me years ago. It was of her daughter, who has cerebral palsy. She is wheel-chair bound and non-verbal (which should not be confused with non-communicative--she most definitely makes her wishes known). The photo was taken when she was 8 or 9, I believe and in it, she is sitting outside during the first snowfall of the year with an expression of delighted rapture on her face. There was something so beautiful and alive in her joy that even though I was not there to actually witness it, I've carried that moment with me--literally (for years in my wallet) and figuratively as well.

9. What is one thing you've done to help make a stranger's day better?  I recently chased a woman for two blocks to return her toddler's sneaker, which had fallen off on the sidewalk.

10. If you had one wish for the world, what would it be? See number 5 in Jodi's questions.

11. What made you start blogging? Originally, I started the blog as a companion to what I hoped would be a newspaper column. I only pitched the column to one market before giving up, but by then I was committed to the job.

Here are my 11 questions for anyone who'd like to play along (yes, they are the same 11 questions I posed last time, but I worked really hard on these questions, so I'm sticking with them):

1. If time travel were possible, where would you go first? The past? The future? A specific time?

2. If you could claim any existing literary work as your own, what would it be?

3. You come upon a group of extraterrestrials disembarking from their ship in a deserted field. What is your first thought? First action?

4. I once read that smell is the sense most closely linked to memory. Which scent most strongly brings back childhood for you?

5. If you could rewrite the ending of a favorite book or movie, which one would it be and why?

6. Speaking of childhood, what food or foods make you wrinkle up your nose even now that you're a grown-up?

7. Who is the friend who's been in your life the longest? How did he or she come into your life?

8. Who has been your greatest teacher (inside the classroom or out)?

9. Do you have or have you ever had a nickname? Love it? Hate it?

10. What would the teaser on the back of your autobiography be?

11. Though you've no doubt been warned, do you nevertheless judge books by their covers?

1. In fact, there is cabbage frying (and likely crisping a bit too much at the edges) in the kitchen at this very moment.

2. And damned resourceful--I'm still not quite sure how she manages to find and decimate my bras so quickly. The fact that I rarely put my bras in a drawer or hamper and instead fling them about my bedroom--even though I KNOW she wants nothing more than to destroy all of my bras--is utterly irrelevant.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

There's A Sucker Born Every Minute

At the risk of outing myself as just another delusional blogger, I want to tell you how close I feel to all of you, even though I've never met most of you in person and in all likelihood never will. Sometimes, I tell you all things I would hesitate to share with my closest friends and family.

For instance, I will now reveal to you a source of deep personal shame, something I've never had the courage to speak aloud before: I suffer from acute infomercial envy.

Intellectually, I know that these products rarely (if ever) live up to their hype--because how could they? The entire infomercial philosophy is about overselling, raising expectations to the point where even a stellar product would underdeliver--and let's face it, these are mostly mediocre products at best.

All this I understand intellectually, but believe me when I tell you that it is not my intellect that is standing between me and the acquisition of a Magic Mesh Door Cover. It is only my wallet.

Never has the siren song of "As Seen On TV" been so strong as when those vacuum food storage systems were all over basic cable. I did not merely want one of those systems--I yearned for one, craved it, coveted it.

But even the "ridiculously" low price at which they were being offered was beyond my ridiculously meager means. Sure, I could've splurged, but it would've blown the budget for a month or so, leaving us with no food to vacuum seal, which would've been a cruel tease, not to mention how difficult it would've been to explain to Child Protective Services.

So, you can imagine my excitement when I came upon the Ziploc Vacuum Freezer System. It is a hand pump that you use with specially designed bags. The starter kit, which came with the pump and three quart-sized bags, was less than five dollars. Replacement bags are about $3 for 8 bags.

In the five years I've been using the system, I've frozen leftovers of all kinds in addition to blanching  and freezing fresh vegetables that are on sale and, of course, I've frozen meat from larger (cheaper) packages into smaller meal-sized portions. Though the bags are intended for use in the freezer, they work pretty well to keep cookies, chips, etc. and brown sugar fresh at room temperature. I've not had any problem resealing/resucking the bags after I've opened them when using them this way.

When I first got it, three of our four kids were still at home and the system really let me take advantage of big pack meat sales. Now that all of the kids are out on their own, rather than doing the complex algebra required to decrease our traditional recipes down to a manageable size for just Hubby and I, I just freeze the leftovers, getting two meals for the work of one.

My only caveat (which, I'm pretty sure, is Latin for "lesson learned the hard way") is to be sure to label the things you freeze lest you, as I have, spend the day looking forward to hot turkey sandwiches made with the turkey and gravy you think you're defrosting only to open the bag and be whapped upside the head by the completely unexpected smell of sauerkraut and pork roast.

Z is for Ziploc Vacuum Freezer System

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Rock, The Hard Place

In kindergarten, Daughter-Only started a rock collection. She was especially drawn to fossils and other bumpily textured rocks and then to some others that had sharply contrasting colors or unusual shapes. All these she called "pretty" rocks and deemed them worthy of collecting. At least once a day, she would update me on the number of rocks in her ever-growing collection. "I have twenty-two rocks," she would say. And then the next day, "Today, I found three more rocks so I have twenty-five rocks."

During this rock-crazed period, I ran into the mother of one of Daughter-Only's classmates at the grocery store. This mom confided that her son had quite a crush on Daughter-Only.

"You'll never believe how I found out," she said. "The other morning, as we were getting ready to go out the door, I picked up his backpack and noticed that it was much heavier than usual."

Thinking he might be trying to sneak a forbidden toy into school, she opened up the backpack and found eight sandwich baggies full of little stones and pebbles. When she asked him about it, he said they were rocks for Daughter-Only's rock collection--"rocks" which he had apparently gathered from their driveway the previous evening.

"I made him put most of them back, but I did let him take her one bag. I hope that was okay."

It was not just okay, it was almost painfully adorable. When I got home, I asked Daughter-Only if this little boy had given her any rocks for her collection. She said, "Yes, Mommy, but they weren't pretty rocks. They were just regular rocks. He got them from his driveway. I took them because I didn't want to hurt his feelings and now I don't know what to do with them."

Despite his questionable taste in rocks, the boy's crush was apparently mutual. It was decided that Daughter-Only would continue to accept the rock offerings and just bring them home and pour the bags out into our driveway.

This rocky ritual went on for quite a while, but eventually Daughter-Only and the little boy drifted apart and the baggies stopped coming. Daughter-Only was probably relieved, but I was sort of sad to see them go.

Y is for Young Love

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Old Enough To Know Better

When Son-One was twelve, he needed some push pins for a school project, so I brought home a handful of boutonniere pins from the flower shop where I worked at the time. The pins were about an inch and a half long with a pearly acrylic teardrop on the end.

Son-One had been working on the project for several hours when he wandered into the living room, where his siblings and I were watching some mindless, marginally entertaining show on Nickelodeon. He announced that he was taking a break and he sprawled out on the floor beside Son-Three.

We were all laughing at a particularly hilarious moment in whatever show it was when Son-One jumped up and said, "Mom, I did something really stupid. Am I going to die?"

Without knowing what stupid thing he'd done, but fairly certain that nothing life-threatening had occurred right under my nose in the middle of Angry Beavers or whatever it might've been, I immediately reassured him, "No, you are not going to die, but what did you do?"

Son-One held up one of those inch-and-a-half long pins and said, "I swallowed one of these." He said he had been chewing on the little plastic end when Son-Three, in a fit of hilarity, had nudged him in the shoulder, jarring him just enough that the pinhead had slipped from between his teeth and the pin slid down his throat.

"You are not going to die," I said again, though my heart had begun to race a bit at that point with visions of emergency surgery dancing in my head. "But I do think we should probably go to the emergency room."

When we got to the hospital, the ER waiting room was packed, but it's amazing how quickly you move to the head of the line when you hold up an inch-and-a-half long pin to the receptionist and say, "My son swallowed one of these."

We were ushered in immediately and Son-One was in x-ray within fifteen minutes. They could clearly see that the pin had made its way to his stomach, which the doctor said was a good thing. He said that since it had made it that far without getting lodged anywhere, it was likely that it would "pass normally" within 24 to 48 hours. We were instructed to come back right away if Son-One experienced any sharp abdominal pains or any other unusual symptoms, which, blessedly he didn't.

I assume the pin "passed normally," but I can't say with absolute certainty that it did, which is another blessing, if you ask me.

X is for X-ray

Friday, April 26, 2013

Not-So-Random Quote Friday

"Poetry, I thought then, and still do, is a matter of space on the page interrupted by a few well-chosen words, to give them importance. Prose is a less grand affair which has to stretch to the edges of the page to be convincing."
~~Fay Weldon, Auto da Fay
"All the arts depend on telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing offers the purest distillation."
~Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
"It is not a sin to write one's truth. We have an obligation to the living, but this includes the person living within us, whom we may never know if we do not let her speak."
~~Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life
W is for Writing

Thursday, April 25, 2013

I Can See Clearly Now

In my high school yearbook my senior year, under "ambition," where other kids listed the college they would be attending or the career path they had chosen, one of the ambitions I wrote was  " never stop growing and changing."

It's tough, especially at this point, to say how much that ambition represented a sincere commitment to growth and change and how much it was intended as a subtle dig  at the townsfolk in that tiny,* stagnant town where little seemed changed since the Fifties and even the young people acted old. Either way, if I had only realized how much of that growing and changing would be accomplished by learning and unlearning and relearning the same few life lessons only to unlearn them again, all the better to be smacked upside the head by the same old truth all over again, I probably would've picked a different goal.

They say hindsight's twenty-twenty, but if I've got such a clear view of where I've been, how the hell do I keep ending up back where I started?

V is for Vision

*The class of 1986 had 71 students; it was the largest class anyone could remember.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ways I'm Not A Grown-Up, The Eighteenth In A Potentially Infinite Series

I make assumptions.

For instance, I think it's safe to assume that most of you have long since gotten the news about what happens when you assume. Perhaps you even remember, as I do, a long ago teacher dusted with chalk and a heightened sense of his own cleverness, writing out the word "assume" on the blackboard and then, accompanied by strategically timed underlining, saying, "You know what happens when you assume? You make an ass [ass] out of you [u] and me [me]."

From the first time I heard it, I failed to understand why you would be branded an ass for my assumption--it smacked of blaming the victim. Imagine my bafflement then, years later when I heard Al Franken's Stuart Smalley quip, "Because when you assume, you make an ass out of Uma Thurman."

Regardless of who exactly is made into an ass, I've always accepted that making assumptions--especially about other people--is a fundamentally assy thing to do.

Assumptions, generalizations, stereotypes are mostly inaccurate, often unfair and occasionally even dangerous. Knowing about a person is not the same thing as knowing that person. Just because I know your political leanings, doesn't mean I know your heart. Just because I know your religious beliefs, doesn't mean I know your mind.*  For that matter, there are plenty of valid reasons why you might be at the grocery store in your pajamas at 2:24 in the afternoon, most of which have nothing to do with the impending collapse of civilization and, more importantly, my reflexive rush to judgment serves no constructive purpose for you, for me or for civilization as a whole. I not only believe these things to be true, I have direct personal experience with the consequences of forgetting how true they are.

Still, I spend a lot of time consciously talking myself down from the ledge that hangs out over the conclusions I'm so eager to jump to. I suppose stopping myself before I jump is a kind of progress, but if I were a real grown-up, I don't think I would spend so much time up on that ledge in the first place.

U is for Uma Thurman

*That said, I do believe that how you choose to express those political leanings and religious beliefs can be genuinely revealing.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Who Needs a Flux Capacitor?

"Right now, I'm having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time."
~~Steven Wright, I Have a Pony

Last Friday marked my four year anniversary working at the halfway house. I was extremely fortunate to have started at the halfway house about a month and a half before the flower shop, where I had worked for ten years, went out of business. That month and a half overlap was a crazy time of 70 and 80 hour work weeks (in addition to two kids still at home and two in college). As exhausted as I was, it seemed just this side of miraculous that I never once answered the flower shop phone with the halfway house greeting or vice versa.

Fast forward almost two years, I pick up the halfway house phone early on a Sunday morning and say, reflexively, "The Village Flower Shop" before breaking into hysterical giggles. Fortunately, the person on the other end was one of the residents in our supportive living program who had long since become accustomed to my occasional bouts of goofiness and he immediately ordered a dozen roses.

A few weeks ago, after two more unblemished years, on another Sunday morning, I again answered the halfway house phone, "The Village Flower Shop." A few other times over the past four years, I've caught myself just on the verge of answering, "The Village Flower Shop" or worse, "Video Connection," a video rental place I worked at for a little over a year way back in 1997.

Once, when I was a senior in high school, I was sitting on the kitchen counter and reached behind me to grab the phone that hung under the cabinet five years and four houses before. It was not a conscious enough thought to be considered an intention, but I'm pretty sure I meant to call my friend Michele, whom I hadn't seen or spoken to since eighth grade.

I have it on good authority* that many respected scientists suspect that time, if it exists at all, is not actually linear. Everything that has ever happened or will ever happen is happening all at once, right now, always. Our perception of time as a linear concept is apparently a defense mechanism designed to keep our heads from exploding (I'm paraphrasing). Most of the time, all due respect to people who actually understand physics, that just sounds like crazy talk to me. But every once in a while, I wonder.

T is for Time Warp

*Okay, maybe Morgan Freeman is not actually a scientific authority, but he narrates a science show with his authoritative voice, that's gotta count for something.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Class Act

If Miss Bauer was not the most reviled teacher at Shikellamy High School in the early '80s, odds are she was in the top three. She was guilty of that most horrific of teacherly sins: she had high expectations for all of her students. On the first day of freshman writing, I remember her referring to herself as "tough but fair." Her fairness was hotly disputed, most notably by students who had failed to complete assignments on time or who had completed the assignments to a lower standard than Miss Bauer thought them capable of.

I incurred Miss Bauer's wrath on only one occasion and it was unrelated to any academic effort or lack thereof. One afternoon, I had stretched my legs out too far from under my desk and she nearly tripped on them during one of her pacing rants. The rant was likely about "alot" and the fact that it was not one word and even as two words should not be used if it could be avoided at all. That was a particular pet peeve of hers, though she had many others as well.

I played along with the "I hate Miss Bauer" thing, but the truth is I didn't hate Miss Bauer at all. If you did your best, and avoided "alot" and "a lot," Miss Bauer was fairly easy to get along with. And, of course, an "A" in her class meant all the more because I knew her standards were high.

It helped that I loved writing--and I especially loved writing for someone who loved the English language the way Miss Bauer did. She was not one to give gushy compliments, but she did occasionally scribble "good job" or "nice work" across the top of an essay that had particularly pleased her.

The first and only time Miss Bauer spoke directly to me about my writing was the day after I'd turned in an assignment on how to plan a trip to Alaska. I don't remember much about the essay, other than that I had put a humorous spin on it, including things like being sure to factor in time for highway closings due to herds of migrating caribou and so on. I walked into her classroom in my usual hunched-over-to-avoid-eye-contact fashion and took my seat. I was the first one in the room.

Without preamble she said, "You know, I love reading your work. You have a pleasing sense of humor.* You should really let it show more; you should smile more and talk to people more."

I may have managed a nod before someone came into the room and the weird moment was blessedly broken. I was spared having to formulate a spoken response. If I'd had to say anything, I would have sputtered something about my shyness as an explanation for that gap between who I was on paper and who I was in the social jungle of 9th grade.

It's been a long time since 9th grade. I've thought a lot (heh) about that moment with Miss Bauer since then. I have written here and elsewhere about the difference between the person I am on the page and the person I am in the real world. Although some differences remain, I feel the two are closer now than they've ever been. And I also feel it's always been true that neither one is more valid or "real" than the other--they are just two parts of a whole.

S is for Shyness

*Miss Bauer also had a pleasing sense of humor. For example, she once told us a long joke, complete with character voices and sound effects. Here is an abridged version:

Once upon a time in the faraway land of make-believe, there were two towns called Tridvillage and Tridtown. In between these two towns was an enchanted mountain. Now the only way to get from Tridtown to Tridvillage was to cross the enchanted mountain through the enchanted forest. One day, Baby Trid wanted to go visit his friend in Tridvillage so he went to the enchanted mountain and at the top of the mountain he met up with an ogre, who blocked the road. Baby Trid asked the ogre to move out of the way, but the ogre roared, "NO!" and kicked Baby Trid so hard he bounced and rolled back down to the bottom of the mountain.

Baby Trid went to Big Brother Trid and told him what had happened. Big Brother Trid said, "Don't worry! I'll take care of that ogre!"

He went to the top of the enchanted mountain, met the ogre and the ogre kicked him so hard he bounced and rolled back down to the bottom of the mountain. Big Brother Trid told Papa Trid who said, "That's it! No one messes with my boys! I'm going to the top of that mountain and take care of that ogre."

So Papa Trid climbed to the top of the mountain, where he met the ogre and was promptly kicked back down the mountain just as his sons had been. As Papa Trid was dusting himself off, a rabbi came walking along the road. He said, "What's going on Papa Trid? Is there anything I can do to help?"

Papa Trid told the rabbi the whole story and the rabbi said, "Well, I'll go up there and talk to the ogre and see what I can do." When the rabbi reached the top of the mountain, before he could even say anything, the ogre moved over and let him pass. The rabbi said to the ogre, "Why didn't you kick me down the mountain?"

The ogre said, "Silly rabbi, kicks are for Trids!"

(This joke is a play on one of the longest running advertising slogans ever. I do realize that not all my readers are the connoisseurs of TV commercials that I am, so here's why this joke's funny, if it is in fact funny at all.)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Branching Out

About a year ago, as some of you may remember, I was lured into amateur genealogy by Cranky (Ex-) Boss Lady's Daughter who asked for help tracing their Cranky family tree on Since then, Cranky (Ex-) Boss Lady has gotten to know a half-brother she never knew she had and I have developed a full-blown genealogy obsession of my own. (First byproduct of this obsession: I can finally, at the ripe-old age of 44, spell genealogy right on the first try approximately 84.5% of the time.)

I have spent absurd amounts of time (and some of my own money now) on and have recently begun conducting real world records searches by mail. Even as I am in the midst of some three-hour-long feverish binge, scanning census records for clues until I'm bleary-eyed, I sometimes wonder what the attraction is.

I think part of it is the puzzle-solving aspect--piecing together scraps of information to get one step further back. And part of it is the music of all those names: Benajah Main, Weltha Ann Robbins, Godsgrace King, Zilpha Keyes, Tryntje Melchiors, Alanson Fosset. As enamored as I am of some of the names lurking in my family tree, it's probably a good thing for all involved that my children were named before I discovered genealogy.

The names and the mystery are only part of genealogy's allure, though. I think the real heart of my passion for digging around in my roots is discovering my place in my family's little sliver of history. As Melanie over at Is This The Middle? recently said, in her post of the same name, "...everyone comes from an 'old family.'" As someone who grew up everywhere, who craves permanence still, finding my place in long lines that can be traced to the distant past offers a tremendous sense of comfort. I take great joy in knowing my dead relatives are always right where I left them.

R is for Roots

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Parenthetical Chef: Masked Mom Makes (Inauthentic) Mexican Food

I'm not sure, but I think it was Son-Two who suggested homemade quesadillas the first time. I think he had gone out to eat with friends and really loved the quesadilla concept. I know for sure that it was Son-Two who suggested I fix the "chicken to cheese ratio" after I made quesadillas for the first time--those first ones were, in Son-Two's estimation, a little chicken heavy, cheese light.

It's been seven or eight years since the first quesadillas were produced in my kitchen and they remain a family favorite. As with many family favorites, there was no recipe to begin with, just guesstimation and trial and error, which is how my written recipes always ended up filled with parentheses. (That, and my passionate love of parentheses, of course.)

Quick & Easy Foldy Quesadillas
1 lb. cooked chicken breast, cut or torn into 1/4" pieces
1 envelope Chichi's Fiesta Restaurante Seasoning*

1 cup water

1 (10-count) package soft taco size (6"-ish) white flour tortillas

Butter, softened (I consider margarine to be culinary blasphemy, but I suppose it would suffice.)

1 bag (8 ounces) finely shredded Mexican blend cheese (not the seasoned kind, the kind with four cheeses, but no seasonings) or the shredded cheese of your choice (It's a good idea to have a back-up bag of cheese in case your handfuls are more generous than mine.)

Optional toppings/dips/garnishes: Ranch and/or bleu cheese dressing, salsa, sour cream

In a 10" skillet, heat chicken, water and seasoning packet to boiling, simmer about five minutes and remove from heat. Meanwhile, butter one side of the tortillas and heat griddle, skillet or electric griddle. (I use an electric griddle set to about 350O, so I would imagine medium or medium-high would be the right temp for stovetop cooking, depending on how heavy your skillet/griddle is.) Place tortillas, butter side down, on heated griddle. Place approximately two tablespoons seasoned chicken on one half of tortilla. Top chicken with a generous handful of shredded cheese. If desired, dressing or salsa can be added now. (I do not do this for my own, but various members of my family like ranch or bleu cheese dressing squirted in during the cooking process. Some others prefer to dip the finished product in dressings or salsa.) As cheese begins to melt fold empty half of tortilla on to chicken/cheese side and press to seal. Allow first side to brown and then flip to brown other side evenly. (Time varies, but not more than a couple minutes per side.) Repeat process until all quesadillas are finished. (I suppose quesadillas could be kept warm by covering and keeping in an oven on a low temperature, but usually what happens when I am making them is that people begin serving themselves while I am making more.) Makes 10 foldy quesadillas, which (in my experience with teenaged boys and quesadilla-loving relatives of all ages) serves about three people. (I routinely quadruple this recipe--or more accurately, this recipe is quartered from what I normally make.) I serve them with Spanish rice made from a package and Southwestern seasoned corn.

Q is for Quesadillas

*The seasoning is essential and the packets look like this:
And, yes, that is an entire case of Chi-Chi's seasoning packets, which were ordered from when the local grocery store discontinued them. If you cannot find this particular seasoning in your area and are not ready to commit to a case of seasoning packets, you can substitute one (4.25 oz) can diced chilies, drained; a handful of dehydrated chopped onions and a couple of heavy shakes of garlic powder or garlic salt. It is a passable substitute. The thing about the packets, though, is they are great not just for quesadillas, but for chicken tacos, and chicken chili. (Bonus parenthetical recipe: take the one pound seasoned chicken from the recipe above, put in a large saucepan with 2 cans (undrained) great northern beans and heat through. Voila, chicken chili! Sprinkle with cheese and serve with garlic bread. So good, easy and cheap.) Full disclosure: I received no compensation or consideration from Chi-Chi's for this post, but would not be opposed to receiving some retroactively. Hint-hint. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Sacred Silliness

In high school, I once toiled and tinkered for months on a short story I'd titled "The Ketchup Sisters." I don't remember much about it--not the names of any characters or the details of the plot or even if there was anything resembling a plot involved.

I do remember that the title referred to a childhood ceremony the main characters had performed to seal their friendship. Inspired by a blood oath scene in a movie, in which two men cut themselves and mingle their blood together, thereby becoming "blood brothers," the girls in the story were too squeamish to actually cut themselves and instead touched their ketchup-smeared thumbs together, binding themselves together forever in ketchup sisterhood. Silly, yes, but sacred, too. Sacred silliness.

That scene was loosely based on the ketchup ceremony Toni (of the forbidden pepperoni) and I performed at lunch one day. I say "loosely based" because Toni and I were semi-jaded teenagers performing the ceremony mostly ironically as a goofy antidote to the tedium of lunch period; the girls in the story had pledged their oath with sincere hearts.

Is there anything more sincere, more solemn, more sacred than a vow made by a child? We didn't only give our word, we crossed our hearts and hoped to die, stick a needle in our eye if we broke that word. We didn't merely promise, we sealed our promises with a firm shake of entwined pinkies.* And we meant it--or most of us did, not wanting to be caught with our pants on fire, hanging from a telephone wire.

I sometimes wonder what happens as we get older to that impulse to put our whole hearts behind something.

The world happens, of course. Not that childhood is without its fears. But while the monsters under the bed turn out to be mostly imaginary, the monsters afoot among us turn out to be fiercer than we imagined. We suffer loss and disappointment and brush up against the jagged edges of things. Even the luckiest among us are left a little scarred, a little harder, more cynical, the better to protect ourselves, we think.

I don't think it's only the world, though, that we lose faith in. It is ourselves. As young children, we fling our whole selves into projects and people, into lemonade stands and true love, into fantasies and friendships. Eventually, we learn the hard way (is there any other way?) that forever is not ours to promise. Despite our best intentions, we break hearts--our own hearts and the hearts of those we love too little or too much. We learn that our best intentions do not always amount to much.

Our trust in the world is broken, but more importantly, so is our trust in ourselves. We conclude (and who can blame us?) that the problem was in promising too much, in making our way through the world with a heart too open. We are wrong, of course.

Promising less, risking less may mean failing less, but it inarguably means succeeding less. When we are broken and hurt, the best cure may well be flinging our whole heart into something--even something silly. Perhaps the path to healing is paved with sacred silliness.

P is for Promise

*In the house I grew up in, this was known as a "pinkie promise." Everyone else I ever met (including my cousins) referred to it as a "pinkie swear." Even my own children called it a "pinky swear." Not only that, but they upped the stakes on the standard issue "pinkie swear" with the "double pinkie swear." Son-One and Daughter-Only made these by crossing arms and linking all four pinkies and then bouncing their linked arms up and down while chanting, "Double pinkie swear, yeah!" I fully expect both of their weddings to involve some version of this ritual.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


I make bacon a couple times a month. Every time I make bacon, I think deep thoughts about the nature of bacon--about what it is exactly and how, if you break down its component parts, it has no business being anywhere near as good as it is.

There have been a few people in my life who have had a daily bacon habit--among them my Pap who had two eggs overeasy with well-done bacon and toast for brunch every day. He would likely not have approved of the word "brunch," but since it was his first meal of the day and it was served between 11 and noon, "brunch" seems fair. His bacon was dark and so hard that it would shatter if you poked it with your finger. Not that poking Pap's bacon was in any way recommended, of course.

Cranky (Ex-) Boss Lady was another person in my life with a daily bacon habit, but she preferred hers rare. She would call up the diner down the street from the flower shop and order four slices of bacon "barely cooked." If someone new was manning the phone or the grill, she would go one disturbing step further and say, "When I open the container, I wanna hear a squeal." That was her breakfast most days, with a chocolate frosted doughnut from the grocery store bakery as her "breakfast dessert."  'Cuz breakfast dessert is a thing, apparently.

While I could--and did--eat both Pap's bacon and Cranky's bacon without complaint (it was bacon, after all), I prefer my bacon the way the bacon on the bacon package looks--crisp and evenly colored. Yum.

A couple of months ago, I fried some perfectly crisp bacon for my famous grilled tomato, bacon and Swiss on seeded rye. As Hubby was polishing off his third sandwich, he said, "Is there any extra bacon?"

I snorted. "Extra bacon? What does that even mean?"

O is for Oxymoron

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Location Joke

Considering how readily (and often) I get lost in thought, I have a remarkably keen sense of direction out in the actual world. Maybe it is some mysterious inner compass thing, or maybe just one more byproduct of a good memory, but either way, it's the reason I was able, thirty-some years later, to make my way back to Hanky Panky Road without the aid of GPS or Google Maps.

That's not to say my sense of direction is infallible. Just after I graduated high school, for example, on a trip from New Hampshire back to Pennsylvania with Little Sister, I took 17 East out of Binghamton instead of 17 West. We were 57 miles from New York City and over 200 miles from where we should've been before I realized it. When I called my mother from the next rest stop to tell her what had happened, she did not believe that I had taken a hundred mile wrong turn and instead accused me of making a deliberate and unauthorized detour to visit friends in Pennsylvania. This despite the fact that up to that point, I had mostly been a tediously rule-abiding teenager. Apparently, an unprecedented rebellion seemed a more likely explanation to my mother than the thought that I had suffered a rare navigational failure.

Little Sister was my copilot on that unintentionally extended trip, but the position was largely ceremonial because it was understood in our family that Little Sister had no sense of direction at all. Like many family truths, this one was built as much on mythologizing and retelling as it was on factual evidence. A surprisingly solid foundation can be built of exaggeration, though.

Years after our wrong-way road trip, Little Sister and I and the rest of the family were gathered at an unfamiliar hospital where my father was having surgery. The hospital was a warren of poorly marked corridors and none of the several wings had the same number of floors, which meant an elaborate elevator system, requiring transferring from one elevator "line" to another to reach certain destinations.

At one point, Youngest Sister, Little Sister, Dad's Girlfriend and I were making our way back to the waiting room from a meeting in the surgeon's office. A nurse had led us there so it was simply a matter of retracing the path backwards. Youngest Sister and I were in the lead, fifteen or twenty feet ahead of the other two when they started giggling behind us.

"We were just saying how glad we are that you guys are with us," Dad's Girlfriend explained. "If we were on our own, we'd be completely lost by now."

I pointed out that if we hadn't been there, they would probably have paid more attention on the way knowing that they would have to find their own way back. They expressed their doubts in a burst of cackling laughter.

A little while later, Dad had been moved to Recovery and we had moved to a different waiting room on a different floor of a different wing. Little Sister announced that she was going outside to make a couple of phone calls. Youngest Sister and I, deep in conversation or thought, let her go.

During a lull in the conversation a short time later, I looked at Youngest Sister and her husband and said, "Did we honestly just let her go outside by herself? We may never see her again."

We all laughed and then I said, "But seriously, how long has she been gone? And when should we start to worry?"

We did the math and figured out she'd been gone about twenty minutes and that we'd give her a little while yet before we sent out a search party.

When she walked back in fifteen minutes later, I immediately shared my joke about her getting lost and she laughed good-naturedly. Then I said, "You know, it's only so funny because it's such an exaggeration. Your sense of direction is not that bad."

She smiled sheepishly and said, "Well..." Then she told us about how she'd been in the elevator and a man had gotten on at one of the stops and pushed a button and she was so distracted that when he got off, she followed him out and had ended up in some weird maintenance room or janitor's closet before realizing what she'd done. She'd eventually made her way back to the elevator and to the ground floor and outside to make her phone calls.

Okay, maybe her sense of direction really is that bad, but at least her sense of humor's intact.

N is for Navigation