April Fools

picking-my-battles-all-under-control-web

“The day before spring break is always a perfect day for a snow storm,” or at least that’s what I imagine Murphy was thinking to himself as he thought of all the conditions that might prove his law to be true.

It it actually is a perfect day to dump a bunch of precipitation on our town. The snow had mostly melted. The trees are mostly bare, making potential matchsticks out of the mountains.

So everything that could go wrong did, but it isn’t really a bad thing.

I Wonder What Would Happen

The great thing about having raised teenagers is that, when your perpetually adolescent cat puts his front paws up on your plant shelf and starts sniffing the various items that are ‘in his spot’, you know exactly what he’s thinking.

There’s a plum tree right outside my window, and the late spring has produced an explosion of blossoms (and hopefully plums) along with a squad of visiting chickadees. A chickadee chirp woke Jim up. He drew himself up into pounce position, turning his head this way and that as the chickadee hopped from branch to branch. Every few minutes he tried the cat equivalent of bunting — pretending to jump at his prey but not really doing anything.

Then the chickadee made a truly bold move, moving to a lower branch with a particularly lovely lunch of blossoms, and Jim had to make a move. I though he might forget that a window lay between them as he launched his front paws on to the plant shelf.

Instead he paused.

I let him sniff for a few minutes and could almost see the thought bubble above his head asking the classic question,

“I wonder what would happen if….”

In this case, ‘if’ was a temporarily forgotten chickadee as Jim tried simultaneously to move a hind leg onto the shelf so he could what would happen if he pushed the squash plant in front off the shelf. But, having watched Thing1 and Thing2 ask (and test) this question at various times about anything that could be climbed, blended, eaten, or flushed, I know when to let the experiment play out and when science is about to run amok.

I clapped my hands once . Jim’s hind foot returned to the poof and his gaze to the chickadee. The bird heard my clap, fluttered across the yard, and, for the greater good, scientific investigation was stymied.

How to be Real Cat

Real cats, according to Jim, don’t drink out of the water bowl. Drinking water, you see, is not really about hydration. Everything you do as a real cat should establish that everything in the place where you reside is belongs to you.

This is why, for example, when presented with a $.10 beer glass won at a fireman’s carnival, Jim preferred to push aside the flowers that were already there, jam his face into the glass and begin lapping at the water until the level is low enough for him to tip over the glass and spread the rest of the water around. This will teach the humans to exercise more care with “their” things that are actually his.

P. S. Jim was repeating this demonstration with a recycled tin can that currently serves as a watering can but got his face stuck inside the can. When I freed him from said can, he indicated in no uncertain terms that taking or posting any pictures of the fiasco would result in him peeing on everything I own. He would like everyone to know that the tin can still belongs to him.

Holiday with a Side Dish served Dark

It takes more than a perfect menu to make a great holiday. It takes at least one good tradition, and sometimes those come from the craziest sources.

Thing1 had graciously offered to spend his first afternoon home from college helping me with the big shopping trip for the big meal that was coming up on Thursday. The sentimental part of his brain (coincidentally attached directly to his stomach) had apparently suggested that any Thanksgiving dinner would be incomplete without now just one or two of his favorite recipes, but all of them, and he had ideas about the shopping list.

The final list included ingredients for his favorite green beans, the boys’ favorite cranberry relish, enough stuffing ingredients to feed an entire village, and, finally, burnt bottoms.

Yep, you read that right. With Thing1’s help, I finally realized that our family’s signature recipe for every holiday meal includes a big basket of buttery, flaky, burnt bottoms.  Here’s how I make them:

I start with only the best ingredients:

  • Enough tubes of Crescent rolls to meet the real and imagined capacity of two average teenaged boys (I just get what’s left in the freezer case).
  • A functioning timer
  • One too many irons in the fire (or pots in the oven as the situation permits)
  • Optional ingredients (one, maybe two, glasses of wine or a good conversation)

I roll out the crescent roll dough from the tube and then re-roll the pre-cut dough from the fat end of the triangle to the skinny end (The boys and/or their cousins often volunteer).

We then put rolls on a cookie sheet after a good debate over whether eating rolls baked on a non-stick coating or a greased metal sheet will be worse for us 20 years from now. We set the oven to recommended temperature, put the sheet in and set the timer.  I used to be tempted to set the timer a little early to keep the bottoms nice and golden, but this strategy somehow always backfire.

Someone usually pours a glass of wine, and I go back to preparing the rest of the meal, often talking with a family member or other guest about food or some other non-distracting topic like politics.

When the timer goes off, I check the oven to confirm that rolls are almost but not quite done. I set the timer for another minute or two – or, actually, I don’t – I know I’ll remember to check them again before they get too well-done just like I’ve never done for the last 23 years.

This year I deviated from the routine, setting the old-fashioned timer with the bell along with the timer on my phone. It was Thing1’s first Thanksgiving as a college man, and I wanted the dinner to be perfect. But the bell rang, and the bottoms weren’t even done.

I set out the cranberry relish and the stuffing and completely missed the buzzer on the phone. It was only as I pulled out the green bean recipe that a distinctly smoky smell made it clear that I’d done it again.

“Oh man,” I moaned and then laughed as I pulled out the first cookie sheet. To be clear, I am not the only hostess in my family cursed with the inability to serve anything but burnt bottoms in the bread basket, but, I was sure this Thanksgiving would break the curse.

I hollered the bad, but expected, news to my oldest son who blurted out what he had asserted in the grocery store when I presented the option for an alternative starchy side dish just a few days earlier:

“It wouldn’t be the holidays without a burnt bottom, Mom! Now Thanksgiving can officially begin!”

And when I thought about it each time, it wouldn’t be the holidays without at least one good inside joke.

What’s your signature dish?

 

P.S. The burnt bottoms get eaten every single year – every single one.

Sunshine on Etsy

Under the heading of “she’s kind of funny girl”, I decided to blow sunshine up on Etsy.

And there is a funny thing about my new mantra. Each time I feel frustrated or down, it gets easier and easier to start blowing sunshine into my life. It appears to be pretty good source of renewable energy so far. I liked that the place that prints these T-shirts offers a few colors. i’m thinking of ordering the blue one first and using as armor when I do tech-support.

Yes, at the Dinner Table

Denial isn’t a river in Egypt. It’s a pitcher of Kool-Aid, and as the heatwave wore on into its fifth day on Thursday, Thing1 and I were sporting faint purple mustaches, reality about to crash through the walls — again.

 

Heat advisories all week had included warnings for people with chronic illness. The advisories didn’t specify what care the chronically ill should take beyond staying out of the heat. Thing1 and I, however, still mentally had him in the ‘warning doesn’t apply here’ category, and, when Thing2 suggested going to the driving range, I got my keys.

 

It was 92 degrees by the time we put our money in the honor box in the barn that doubled as a pro shop and plant nursery. Thing2 and I were happy to make contact with the ball. For Thing1, every shot matters. He’ll hit one 200 yard ball for every three his eleven-year-old brother knocks into the ruff. Thursday Thing2 swung his way through half the basket before Thing1 had teed off four times.

 

“I need to sit down in the shade.” Thing1 grabbed his water and headed down the small hill to the car. He sat on the shady side, hand resting on the open door, sipping and breathing slowly.

 

“Do you want to go?” I asked, ready to put my foot down and force an exit. Thing1’s illness, however, has kept him indoors most of the summer. I wanted him to enjoy a normal day out.

 

He shook his head ‘no’, waited a few more minutes, and trudged back up the hill for a few more shots. We quickly realized practice was over for him, and he went back to the car for a minute while Thing2 hit the rest of the bucket. We headed home thinking Thing1 only needed a dip in the Green River and some rest to be better for work the next day.

 

Friday morning, Thing1 woke up with a fever and a phone call from the hospital telling us that his latest blood test showed his anemia — a side effect of the ongoing six month flare up — was worse. Neither of us was surprised. His lips had no color. His energy level, briefly improved in June, was almost non-existent again. He didn’t work Friday and stayed in bed all Saturday, determined to go to work today.

 

This morning he woke early and got breakfast. He headed out for his shift, and I took another mental sip of Kool Aid hoping he was over the worst.

 

<<I’m coming home.>> It was three hours into his four hour shift when the text came. <<If I stay any longer I won’t be able to drive.>>

 

We texted back and forth, arguing if should be driven. He was already on the way home by the time he managed to text enough teen tone to convince me of his alertness. He spent the rest of the day on the couch, hydrating to control a new fever, once wondering aloud if his body will ever let him out of limbo. Thing2 waited on him, bringing him water while I worked.

 

When work was done, the Big Guy and I sat on the deck as he grilled burgers for dinner. We talked about the fragility of Thing1’s plans for school in the fall and beyond. The wall of reality was crashing in.

 

Thing1 used his last bit of energy for the day moving from the couch to the table. He looked at the burgers.

 

“I’m not really hungry,” he said. “It smells great. I know I need it, I just don’t have have any desire for it.”

 

Thing2 had spent the day monitoring his brother in an unnatural state of quiet and was bubbling with energy as the Big Guy served the burgers. He waltzed to his seat, a speaker-connected iPad in his hands and a devilish grin on his face. He tapped the screen and a loud fart emanated from the speaker. He tapped again and a Beavis and Butthead laugh echoed into the surrounding forest.

 

Tap, fart. Tap, goat laugh. Tap bark causing the pets to look in our direction andThing1 to smile and then quietly chuckle.

 

“All that science and technology for a fart joke,” Thing1 murmured. Then he grinned at me and the Big Guy and reached for a burger. Thing2, never one to let an audience down, serenaded his older brother with more creative fart sounds as he ate until, as happens with all great jokes, the farts grew stale. But the farts and the technology had served a higher purpose.

 

It’s still early evening. Thing1 is already in bed as I write this. We have a visit to the hospital this week, and I’m pretty sure both of us are no longer drinking the Kool Aid. Thing1 is in the ‘really chronically ill, better heed the warnings category. He’s in the ‘no idea what his plans are past tomorrow category’. We’re off the sugar high of denial, but just because the walls fell in, doesn’t mean we’ve fallen down.

 

One of my favorite books growing up was Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy which traces the voluntary circumcision of Tashi, an African woman trying to mediate her gender and and cultural identity. Through her physical and emotional recovery in the aftermath of the mutilation, she discovers and reveals to the reader that “resistance is the secret of joy.” I’ve never wanted or been able to forget the story and the beauty of Walker’s writing, but that missive burned itself into my subconscious. It resurfaces in chaotic times, it is guidance.

 

Since Thing1’s illness intensified this year, my resistance has been finding the right drug, the right strategy to get him well enough to start his adult life. As squeaky gassy sounds from the iPad surround us at the dinner table, however, it becomes clear that resistance is not about finding the solution to every problem. It’s about recognizing that some problems won’t be solved, but life will go on, and, if you’re willing to seize it, joy — however dinner table inappropriate — happens anyway.

Food, Glorious Drug

Food and I go way back. Almost fifty years now. We’ve had a great relationship. I mean, don’t all great friendships include an all-controlling dominant half (food) and a sycophantic lickspittle (me) or, in my case lick-whatever’s-left-on-the-plate?

I have started to question that relationship in the last few years. I’ve tried to take the upper hand by counting calories, cutting out certain kinds of food colored chocolate with labels like ‘Abandon all self-control here, ye of little self-respect’. A few years ago, I started to dominate the relationship to the point where I’d lost fifty pounds, which helped my five foot three frame look more like a short pear than a cantaloupe.

I controlled intake. I exercised. It lasted a few months.

A broken foot knocked me off my fitness routine, and soon I was back on the Bernaise sauce. And the steak and asparagus. And don’t forget the garlic mashed potatoes. Oh, yeah, that’s the stuff..

Last week I had an inkling a depressive phase might be setting in when the mental call of the country store round table took on a decidedly fried sound. My day of work and deep-fried self-medication wasn’t the first over-indulgence, but as I got home feeling sick from over-eating and somehow still willing to eat more to feel ‘better’, I realized, my relationship to food was more like an addict’s to a pusher.

Yesterday, online, I caught the headline of an article in the Guardian about not just changing the relationship with food, but breaking up with it for a few weeks. By taking it out of the equation.

After read the first few paragraphs (always a good idea when making a healthcare decision) about using traditional meal-replacement shakes that have been around since the 60s and 70s to turn food from emotional balm into pure function, I knew what I have to do. I headed out the door to our favorite British-style diner for a last supper.

Okay, maybe today will be the real last supper.

But I didn’t have to read the rest of the article to know that this sounded right. I need to break up with food. I need to get the upper hand and find another, more constructive emotional outlet like writing or painting (I hear some people swear by it).

So today, like the dozens (maybe hundreds) of Sundays before every diet I’ve ever broken, might be a free-for-all (okay, it will be), but tomorrow, we’re breaking up. I’ll make sure the calorie count is sane and that a bottle of multivitamins is handy, but for the next eight weeks, food won’t be what’s for dinner or for celebration or inebriation.

Food, I’ll call you in a couple months, and if you want to be friends, things are going to have to change.

That’s No Lady

We thought we were starting with Lady Jane Grey (yes I watch too many historical dramas) and Gentleman Jim.  Well, 5 minutes after we got home, we decided our swaggering orange tabby was more of a confirmed country boy and started calling him Jim-Bob.

We still thought Jane was very ladylike as she hung back under the coffee table and curled up in cardboard boxes in the sun.

That night one of the house mice made the mistake of venturing out from behind a cupboard to steal a piece of Katy’s kibble.

A ball of grey shot across the living room and kitchen, and the mouse scampered back to his hiding place.  Little Jane was on the hunt however, and she was ready to tear apart our kitchen to get to it.

She didn’t get it, but she was in the mood for a hunt.

Everything was fair game. Bits of string, hands under blankets, feathers.  Nothing was safe.

She spotted Katy-the-Wonder-Dog’s thumping tail and crouched for the attack, but then decided she didn’t really want to hunt anymore.

For now.

When the light is right or she just feels like it, however, Lady Jane becomes a fuzzy poltergeist.  A one-woman weapon of mass distractedness.  She’s a calamity.

Which is how I suggested a better name for her might be Calamity Jane.

I wish I could say it wouldn’t help her fit into her new life at Casa Chaos better.

And Now for Something Completely Gratuituous..

Pretty soon, we’ll be snowbound, and the seed catalogs (otherwise known as Porn for Gardeners) will start to arrive.

But this week kicks off not only celebrations of family and holy days for many religions, but a four-week orgy of eating which will hopefully be a feasible explanation for why I’ve been indulging in so much Diet Porn recently.

Of Plans, Plants, and Cigars

Blog  Plants and Cigars

I have come to believe that in many marriages there is one partner who has their head in the clouds and another who helps keep both people anchored to the ground.  Anyone who knows me knows that my head is not in clouds; it’s often in another dimension.  No one knows this better than the Big Guy, so, last night, when I casually moved the new dark green shrub to the edge of the counter as I unloaded the grocery bags, he raised an eyebrow but didn’t ask what had prompted the purchase.

The plant was just the end of a journey I had started two days ago on the first sunny afternoon since the official start of spring.  For the first time since I’d claimed my Mom-Cave at the back of the house, I minded that my cozy winter cocoon lacks a view of the impending greening of our yard.  Our house is earth-sheltered, and, while all the bedrooms and family areas look towards the forest and fields that border our yard, the bathrooms and the study are tucked into the back part of the house, which is buried under three feet of dirt.

All of this made my first thought – how could I install a window – just a tad irrational.  When I returned this dimension at five A.M. the next morning, I considered other options as I wrote.  Taking over the one unoccupied bedroom/winter laundry room isn’t feasible for the longterm (the boys are getting old enough for their own rooms).  Then I though about moving to our well-lit, but unheated, attic.  My mind churned as I mentally figured out heating and decor for the space.  The Big Guy has plans for most of that space, however, so I nixed the idea.  Then came a stroke though, sadly, not of genius.  It was the stroke I envisioned the Big Guy experiencing when I finished pitching my next plan – remodeling the upstairs and the downstairs with a workshop, study and guest-area down and family bedrooms up.

The Big Guy popped his head in as he was heading out to work, bringing me back to the ground.  I posted my posts, got the kids to school and returned to the Mom-Cave for the next 8 hours of my Work-At-Home-Job.  My 3 minute dance sessions – my latest attempt to get more movement (not exercise, just movement) – reminded me there was another advantage to working in a room without windows.  Maybe I could find a way to make it feel less claustrophobic for the summer.

I googled windowless offices.  Google gave me white offices (straight from the pages of the Neat & Childless Magazine), walls with trompe l’oeil murals, mirrors built into reclaimed windows, and plants.  I remembered the houseplant cemetery we call a forest and took closer look at the mirrors, stumbling on to a gorgeous and, most important, affordable distressed window with a mirror behind it.  I saved the page just as the Big Guy got home with the boys.

“Look at this mirror,” I said, not mentioning my other decorating ideas. “Don’t you think it would brighten up the office?”

“I guess do,” replied my husband with practiced composure. I don’t have hard scientific data on this, but it’s my suspicion that nothing strikes fear into the heart of a married man like the words, “I have an idea”.  To I decided not to reveal my endgame (however much it had shrunk), and the conversation ended.

The next afternoon, I announced I needed to get some groceries after work and headed into town.  The mirror was still in mind, but as I guided my cart through the aisles, I wandered into the nursery area.  The aroma of dozens of Easter lilies and hyacinths assaulted me. I explored, remembering the plant idea and started hunting for something that looked like it would do well in extreme shade.  A few minutes later, I emerged from a corner with a nameless plant whose directions to keep it out of sun and not overwater reassured me it might not join its predecessors in the woods as compost.

When I had the last of the groceries put away, I picked up the plant to take it to its new home in the Mom-Cave.

“What do you think?” I asked. “I just thought the room could use a little green.”  The Big Guy just nodded and got to work on the latest incarnation of his famous pasta sauce.   After +16 years of being the anchor in our marriage, he knows that a cigar may just be a cigar, but a plant is never just a plant.