Thursday, December 23, 2010

Birds at my feeder

I am mostly ignorant about the creatures who partake of the nearly 2 pounds of feather-friendly kibbles and bits I put in my bird feeder every three days. Someday I'll start researching who is visiting the feeder hanging off the porch.

The birds at my feeder today - at least the ones I could identify - included:
  • Chickadees

  • Sparrows

  • Female cardinal

  • Male blue jay

  • Female turkeys.
Yup, in addition to feeding nearly a pound of seeds to neighborhood birds and squirrels every day I am apparently also feeding turkeys.

I suppose it is only fair, in a Karmic kind of way, as I have a toasted turkey sandwich every morning for breakfast.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dr. Goldman, You're Fired!

Dr Goldman, my all-in-one primary care doctor of the last nine years, is fired. Here is the list of infractions over the last three months:
1. Flagging low blood sugar during my recent well check
2. Flagging high cholesterol during my recent well check
3. Telling me I am healthy as is and don't need to lose weight (I LOVE her for that, but it is bad advice)
4. Insisting I come in for an office visit for what I was pretty sure was a cold by telling me I might have pneumonia
Having an auto referral system that prevented a local urgent care clinic from getting a live time referral and therefore prevented me from getting what ended up being a strep-free throat culture closer to home.

This is not a story of customer service outrage, but rather a reflection on the messed up state of health care services in America. It took me 5.25 hours, a 1/4 tank of gas, and either visits to or communication with five separate medical practices to get a throat culture today. Let's review:
Step One: At 10:30 this morning, concerned about my fever seeming unabated I called my primary care doctor, who insisted I come in to the office for a throat culture.
Step Two: At 12:22 PM BMG checks in while on his lunch hour to see how I am doing. Hearing that I didn't feel well enough to make the 2-hour round trip drive, he suggests I might be able to get a throat culture closer to home.
Step Three: At 12:37 PM I call my primary care provider only to learn the entire office is shut down for an hour while they take lunch.
Step Four: At 1:06 PM, I call my primary care provider to ask if I can get a throat culture closer to home, like, for example, at the urgent care center at South Shore Hospital. They say, "Sure, you can do that."
Step Five: I hop into the car and drive to South Shore Hospital. Arriving at approximately 1:45 PM, I park, head to the concierge and ask for directions to the urgent care clinic. That's when I'm told they South Shore Hospital doesn't have an urgent care center. "I'm told they are concerned about competition with CVS," says the nice man at the hospital concierge desk.
Step Six: At 1:56 PM I call BMG who helps me find another medical practice in the area with "Urgent Care" in the practice name.
Step Seven: At 1:59 PM I call the new practice only to learn they don't provide urgent care services to anyone other than their patients. They give me the name of ANOTHER nearby medical practice.
Step Eight: At 2:02 PM I call what is now the fourth doctor's office I've talked with today, explain my need. They say "Sure you can come in."
Step Nine: At 2:22 I arrive at the fourth practice. It is sketchy inside, but I'm desperate. I explain my situation and they ask me if I'm in the market for a new doctor. I look at them and say, "I'd like to take care of my immediate need for a throat culture before I answer that question." The receptionist insists they can't see me without a referral from my doctor. I give them my doctor's phone number. They call and claim the phone just "rings and rings."
Step Ten: At 2:26 I call my primary care provider from my cell phone, and go through the voice activated referral line and submit a referral request. I hang up and tell the sketchy practice the referral has been requested. They say they won't see me if they can't talk to my doctor's office directly. My doctor's office won't talk with them directly and apparently the sketchy practice can't make a phone call.
Step Eleven: At 2:29 PM I leave in a sweaty huff and call BMG and tell him I'm giving up.
Step Twelve: Concerned about my apparent lack of concern for my health he (a) tells me again my doctor sucks and I need a new one, and (b) realizing that isn't helpful in the moment (after I scream, "That doesn't help me right now"), he finds a CVS 1-Minute Clinic a short 8 miles from home.
Step Thirteen: I drive back towards home to the CVS clinic. The medical provider administers a rapid strep test, affirms I don't have strep, and sends me home at 3:15 PM with an order to drink fluids and get plenty of rest.

Aughhh!

What if I didn't have a car? Or a cell phone? Or someone who could help me with web research during my muddled state? What if I were toting kids around with me on this stupid odyssey?

It is no wonder to me that America's health status relative to the cost per capita spent on health services is lowest among industrialized, shoot, even developing, nations. If I was more than a little sick, had kids, or was using public transportation I would have stopped at Step Five and gone directly to the emergency room. As it was I had resources, including a degree in public health, that led me to make the choices I made today (for better or for worse).

And it is with these resources that I'm going to find a new all-in-one primary care provider who can see me with minimal travel hassles the next time I'm too sick to drive to work.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Homeless cats

As I was waking up this morning I had a dream about taking Brisket, one of my kittens, for a walk to visit one of his cat friends. Brisket was curled up all cozy and warm in a cardboard box I was carrying.

I had seen Brisket and his friend cat hanging out on this busy street corner before and, like a good cat mama, wanted to meet the cat and make sure the two were safe as they played. This is why I was escorting Brisket there.

As we rounded the corner I realized that Brisket's friend cat had a sibling and two owners. They were all on the corner together, and they were all obviously homeless. The cat parents were an elderly couple, wearing coat upon coat upon coat, each with a different pattern of tears in them. They were pale white with stringy white hair, his hanging out from underneath a black beret, hers from underneath a kerchief. The homeless wife stood in front of the homeless husband, his arms at her side, with tens of ragged bags at their feet. She held a cat while Brisket's cat friend sat nestled atop a suitcase. Both the homeless wife and the homeless husband stared straight ahead, neither person talking.

In my dream I stopped short and wondered, "What next?" If I continued with the kitty play date I would naturally have to introduce myself to them. And, while our pets played I'd need to talk with them, and I knew there was no way I could avoid learning more about their circumstances, and then I'd naturally need to dedicate myself to helping them.

****

It was at this moment of wild panic and conjecture that I woke up. Brisket was resting on my pillow. I was safe, in my home, in my warm bed. I moved Brisket to my chest, absentmindedly stroked his back, and reflected on the dream.

*****

Homelessness is one of the issues that cuts to the core of my heart. Everyone should have a home where they feel safe and comfortable - where they can escape from the perils of their world. This, I believe, is a basic human need. When I hear of children who are homeless my heart breaks.

Given the depth of my empathy for individuals struggling with homelessness, I know I cannot have a career doing this work. This is why I give money and time to homeless causes. I give money to organizations that are relieving immediate suffering by providing food, clothing, and shelter. I give money to organizations that are creating points of normalcy for homeless children and families. And I give money to organizations that strive to prevent homelessness or to create long term solutions to the problem in US society.

One of these organizations is the Somerville Homeless Coalition. They recently had an anonymous donor give them a $20,000 challenge grant. For every dollar I give the donor gives $1, up to $20K. This can go a long way to helping building permanent housing for homeless families in Somerville and surrounding communities.

If ending homelessness, or being part of a challenge, strikes a chord with you, then I invite you to give to the Somerville Homeless Coalition during this $20K challenge grant period.

If homelessness isn't your issue, no harm, no foul. Take a moment to think about the last time you gave time or money to a cause that made your heart go pitter pat. Share your cause in the comments section below, and consider making a gift this week.

Friday, September 17, 2010

If I were just a stump would you feed me Doritos?

I haven't yet documented my DNR, but I'm clear that I don't value life (or fear death?) enough to crave extraordinary heroic life saving heroic measures in the event (knock on wood) that something terrible happens to me. I haven't documented my DNR yet because I'm not sure where the line gets drawn.

My older sister and I were talking about this issue today vis-a-vis her decision making about heroic measures for both of her dogs who are suffering from slightly out-of-the-ordinary maladies.

Big Sister H articulated her (also undocumented) DNR beautifully when she said, "I don't want heroic measures if they will result in me breathing but with a poor quality of life."

"But how do you define 'poor quality of life'" I asked. "This is why my DNR or living will isn't yet written down. I'm now sure where to draw the line."

My sister explained that if she is in a position where she is in constant pain or severe discomfort, or she can't enjoy her life x% of the time - regardless of her mobility, she'd experience that as low quality of life.

I persisted. "What if you had no arms and no legs, but still had full capacity to 'enjoy' things. Is that quality of life?"

"Well, I don't think I'd have good quality of life if I were just a stump," she conceded. "Unless....there was always someone around to feed me Doritos, because I think that would bring me enjoyment if I were just a stump." She paused. "In fact, if they just put a big bowl of Doritos near my stumpy self that I could then stick my face in to eat whenever I wanted, that would probably be a good enough quality of life."

*****

I'm still not sure what my 'quality of life' threshold is. Join the conversation. Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Interspecies Communication

I want to detail two very different interactions I had just minutes apart while on an early evening walk through my neighborhood.

The first interaction took place as I passed another walker, a man in early middle age also walking at a brisk pace:
Me: With a nod in his direction, "Hey."
Man: "I'm fine, how are you?"
Me: Puzzled, "I'm fine."
Man: "Thank you."
We both continued to walk throughout the brief interaction. Once he was clearly behind me I started shaking my head, thinking, "That might have been one of the most inauthentic conversations I've had in a long time. That man didn't hear a word I said." He was merely going through the motion of social niceties.

The second interaction was maybe three minutes later. I rounded a corner I heard a rustling in the decorative brush in a neighbor's side yard. I slowed my pace, wondering what might be making the noise.
"Is it a cat?" I wondered. "Maybe the neighborhood fox. What would I do if I ran into a fox?"

As my internal musing continued an animal burst out of the ornamental grasses. It was a skunk.

I froze.

The skunk froze, with its gorgeous tail waving slightly in the ocean breeze.

I slowly started to back away.

The skunk did the same.

When it assessed there was enough distance between us it finished scurrying across the road into the bushes of another neighbor. With the skunk out of sight I hurried past our rendezvous point and continued my walk.

As I did so I thought to myself, "I think the skunk and I understood each other better than me and that other man did. We both communicated we were scared. We both knew to back away, and we both knew the skunk needed to safely cross the street before I could continue my walk. And all without uttering a sound."

Monday, September 6, 2010

And now for an immature moment

My jaw dropped a few moments ago, when I learned that BMG had never heard this popular nursery rhyme:

"Artie Farty had a party
All his friends were there.
Tutti Fruitti blew a beauty,
And they all went out for air."

Please leave a note in the comment section if you have heard this before. I want to figure out if I had the warped childhood, or if BMG is the deprived one.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Miracle of Potlucks

I grew up in a handful of church communities where potluck suppers, particularly during Lent, where de rigueur. My family would show up with casserole, a bag filled with our plates and silverware, and we'd sit down to eat. I was always intrigued by the smorgasbord on the table. How many other people brought homemade mac and cheese, I'd wonder as I scanned the table deciding what I'd want to eat. Potlucks provided an opportunity to share one of your family staples with friends, while also trying something new.

As I went through graduate school, potlucks were a strategy for hosting a dinner party without breaking the bank. Later, when I moved through my hippie phase, they were democratic social gatherings. Everyone gets to contribute, the meal was never extravagant, and there were no class barriers for we didn't know who brought the Tofurkey with all the fixings, or who brought the bag of mealey apples.

Wikipedia, for better or for worse, tells us that a potluck is a meal with no particular menu. For me, a potluck is a meal where the whims of the guest create the menu. What you eat is the amalgam of luck, desire, and individual taste. Everyone brings brownies? Awesome! Brownies for dinner. How lucky is that?

Potlucks are never planned, always a surprise.

So, for all of you people who call to ask "what can I bring?" when invited to a potluck, I offer you the Eight Commandments of Potluck Dinners:
1. Stop asking "what can I bring?" If your host or hostess wanted to tell you what to bring s/he would not have planned a potluck.
2. Take a deep breath and think about what you want to eat at the party, what meal you'd like to share or show off, and what your time, budget & energy level can handle. And then bring that.
3. Don't worry if everyone else brings the same thing you did. That's the fun of a potluck. Seriously.
4. Don't bring anything to the party that requires (a) baking, or (b) extensive preparations before it can be served. I once went to a New Year's Eve potluck where someone brought a bag of dried black eyed peas to cook. She ended spending the whole time at the stove while everyone else danced and drank. She missed most of the party and, by the time the peas were ready to eat, people were too full or had actually left the party.
5. Don't have a lot of time or a lot of cash? Who cares. Go to the grocery store, buy two Granny Smith Apples, a box of Triscuit, and an 8 oz. block of cheddar and you're done. Is that too much work? No problem. Swing by the corner store en route to the party and grab a bag of chips. You won't be the first person to do this and you won't be the last.
6. Don't bring anything that requires other ingredients. For example, if you bring margarita mix (fun!) and expect your host to have tequila, a blender and ice, you may end up bringing the loser dish of the day. The lesson here is if you bring margarita mix, also bring the tequila, the blender, and the ice.
7. Don't bring anything that requires unusual serve ware. No soup, no gallon tubs of ice cream (popsicles or Hoodsies are fine), no lobsters. Period. Expect your host/ess has plates, cups and plastic silverware and plan around that.
8. Expect that the food you bring will be served in the vessel that carried it to the party. If you want your great-aunt's silver tray back, put your name on it in a discrete place so the host/ess knows who it belongs to as s/he cleans up after the party. If you want to bring your serving vessel home with you plan accordingly.

What potluck advice would you add? Leave a note in the comment section so we can help each other develop the faith needed to believe in the miracle of potlucks.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Feeling Groovy

I think I've been a little depressed lately. Not Abilify depressed, but definitely not myself.

Today things feel like they've turned around, even for for only a day. How is it different? I noticed I had energy for yard work I've neglected literally for three months. When I was 95% done with yard work I pushed myself to take another 30 minutes to get to 100% done. Then I cooked, not a gourmet meal, but a satisfying meal for myself, without worrying if it would work for BMG. I have a new book from the library that I'm excited to read and don't feel an ounce of guilt about wanting to read when then house is coated in dust and I have a satchel full of work to do.

I've been on the go for 11 hours I don't feel exhausted, sad, or listless. I haven't felt this energized at 7:00 PM in a very long time.

I'm not sure what shifted.
  • Maybe, because BMG is doing more chores around the house I feel less burdened at home?

  • Is it the cumulative effect of nearly 15 years of personal introspection settling into my soul?

  • Maybe it is the long weekend with nothing I HAVE to do? (That's not it, I rarely have anything I HAVE to do. So much of the "HAVE to" is created in my own mind.)

  • I listened to a snippet of a moving story featuring Holocaust survivors' memories on NPR while running errands today. Could that be it? Or maybe the stirring cry I had while finishing "The Hour I First Believed" by Wally Lamb?

  • I am in the midst of a brief reconnection with a dear friend and spiritual touchstone and saw my best friend from childhood last weekend too, which is causing me to look inside of myself and the person I have been, or people have believed me to be causing the shift?
No idea why, but I know it feels good.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Zukanscrewups:

(or, when life hands you zucchini latkes gone horribly wrong, you make zucchini-ade.)

Finding new and delicious things to do with zucchini has been my mission this summer, a mission made possible by a freakishly productive zucchini plant in the otherwise anemic garden.

On Thursday night I made up a zucchini latke recipe that failed horribly, resulting in massive piles of egg and matzo meal-soaked zucchini strands coating my non-stick griddle. Dejected I scraped the mess up, dumped it into a 1 quart clean wonton soup container, stuffed it into the fridge, and forgot about it.

On Saturday morning I picked two more gigantic zucchini from the garden (along with 3 cups of grape tomatoes, two cucumbers, one "nice first try" head of cauliflower, and one red pepper) and set them all in the dish drainer as I contemplated their fateful trip into my stomach.

This is where the deliciousness comes in.

I find a recipe in my risotto cookbook for zucchini stuffed with risotto topped with handmade tomato sauce. Interesting. So I start. First, I blanch the largest zucchini and set it aside. Then, I get distracted by efforts to make a raspberry/peach pie with handmade whole wheat crust. I get the pie into the oven after struggling with the recipe-free crust and remember I now have to make tomato sauce followed by risotto followed by a period of baking in the oven. Ugh.

I persevere. I chop the grape tomatoes (a fine substitution for the required plum tomatoes). While chopping I'm crisping 1/4 pound of pancetta I bought earlier in the day. I pull the pancetta out of the cast iron dutch oven given to me by Sitboaf and prepare to drop in the tomatoes when I remember I love the smell of onions cooking in pork fat. So I quickly mince 1/8th of an onion and toss it in the pan. Then I remember I harvested a bulb of garlic from the garden this morning and I quickly tear it apart, peeling the tiny tiny cloves. While I'm deconstructing the garlic the onions become soft. Good timing! I press the garlic into the pan of aromatic onion, I scrape the chopped tomatoes from the cutting board into the pan, and enjoy the smell of the sizzle. I'm psyched I'm almost done with this recipe, because I've been cooking for nearly two hours.

Then I remember I still have to make the rice. Ugh. That will add 30 more minutes to this cooking trip. I don't want to cook for another 30 minutes.

And this is where the inspiration hit.

I thought to myself, "I don't need to make rice. I have that shredded zucchini in the fridge." So I pull it out to bring it to room temperature (which is hot, because the oven has been on for two hours. I hollow out the blanched zucchini while the tomatoes continue to soften. When the tomatoes are nearly deconstructed I dumped in the zucchini formerly known as latkes, mix it together and taste. Oh, so delicious! It was hard not to gobble the entire pan.

Restraining myself, because I know I'll be pissed if I eat all of the stuffing without ever putting it into the zucchini, I toss the tasting spoon into the dishwasher, and pull out a new spoon. I then stuff the four hollowed zucchini, cover them with Parmesan cheese, and toss them in the oven for 20 minutes.

That will be dinner for the next two nights at The Tiny Bungalow. Psych!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Gas Station Gratitude

Yesterday morning, at 6:10 AM, I sidled up to the pumps at a local full-serve gas station - filling the tank with gas before starting the 18 mile commute to the office. On the passenger seat next to me was an open purse overflowing with receipts, my half-eaten breakfast (turkey on wheat toast), and coffee soaked napkins from the drippy Venti Bold coffee I had just purchased at Starbucks. The stop for gas presented time to create a little order out of the chaos beside me.

As I saw the pump guy leave the booth and head towards my car, I hit "down" on my window and flipped the gas tank open. As he arrived I turned my head and called out, "Can you please fill her up with the least expensive unleaded?" Suddenly, there was a smiling brown face in my field of vision, and the pump guy looked at me and said, "Good morning!" I was startled, and realized that I was interacting with this man as if he were a machine designed to pump gas, rather than a human being providing me with a service. I stopped my front seat multi-tasking, looked at him, and said "Good morning to you."

*****

It is good to be reminded of the dignity of the people who provide services in this world. People who work in grocery stores are making it possible for me to enjoy beautiful and life sustaining food. Post office workers make it possible for me to stay connected with the people I love, and garbage men keep our society safe from disease by hauling away our trash. I invite you to remember to acknowledge the people who provide services that make your life easier, safer and more pleasant by saying hello, or thank you, or taking the time to find out just a little more about who they are and what makes their heart go pitter pat.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

PMS Cafe'

This is my new restaurant, open 24 hours, seven days a week and serving an all-you can eat buffet that includes:

On the sweet side:
  • Chocolate bars

  • Chocolate ice cream

  • Cupcakes (all varieties)

  • Boston cream pie

On the salty, greasy side:
  • Chinese food

  • Cheese (all varieties)

  • Pepperoni pizza with extra cheese

  • Crudite with french onion dip

  • Potato and/or tortilla chips (all varieties except baked)

  • Carnitas, hold the rice, hold the veggies, hold the beans, hold the tortillas

  • Movie popcorn

  • French fries - with cheese, gravy or ketchup

  • Macaroni and cheese

On the salty, greasy, sweet side:
  • Chocolate covered potato chips

  • Peanut butter by the spoonful (side order of M&Ms optional)

All special orders honored upon request.

Private booth seating for one comes with complimentary headsets with affirmations that repeat, "Yes dear, you're right dear," "No, those shorts don't make you look fat," and "I didn't even notice that blemish on your cheek;" televisions exclusively tuned to Lifetime for Women, Wedding Central, Discovery Health, and the Oxygen Network (coming soon - the Oprah Network!); and collectors' editions of OK, Star, and US magazines featuring movie stars with the worst bikini bodies and botched plastic surgery procedures.

Forget the mint! All checks delivered with a complimentary pair of ibuprofen and your choice of diuretic.

Smells of Summer

Some of my favorite summer smells include:
  • Fresh basil in the refrigerator

  • Tomato plants

  • Newly mown grass

  • The beach at low tide

  • Sea spray

  • Baking ice cream cones

  • Hot asphalt

  • Freshly sliced limes.

Every one of these smells evoke a memory of a favorite summer activity or a feeling of decadence and relaxation. What are your favorite summer smells? Why?

Getting Older Part One: No longer sweating the small stuff

As I get older I'm finding things that once aggravated me to the point of being incensed no longer have the same head spinning effect on me. Things like:
  • Inappropriate use of apostrophes

  • Professional correspondence with obvious spelling errors

  • Grammatical errors in general (printed or spoken)

  • People playing loud music in cars with the windows rolled down

  • Disruptive teenagers in public spaces

  • People who wonder why other people don't do things exactly like they do

  • Heavyset people wearing horizontal stripes

  • Designers and manufacturers who produce clothing for heavyset people with horizontal stripes

  • Panty lines, whale tails, or colored/printed underpants with see through pants or skirts.

My boss often says, "If people knew better, they'd do better." I've come to believe this. People and institutions don't do the things above to aggravate me, and make the world intentionally ugly and unhappy.

To be fair, there ARE things that continue to inspire irrational responses from me, like:
  • Dog poo left in public spaces

  • People who are rude to retail and restaurant employees

  • Screaming children left unsoothed in public spaces.

You COULD say I was once a very uptight person who let minor issues take over her life. I would counter by saying I once had expectations that the world could be a harmonious and beautiful place. What I know now is that the world will never be perfect.

What is even better is knowing that I no longer "need" it be perfect in order to feel safe and at peace in my day-to-day life. Expecting, needing something to happen that is impossible is only a set-up for failure - mine and those of the people around me.

Ah, it is good to grow older.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Starving cats in China

I just reflexively said to the cat, who looked at me plaintively from her perch next to an uneaten bowl of chicken flakes in gravy, "If you you don't like what you are having for dinner you can make yourself peanut butter and jelly sandwich."

I'd pay to see my cat making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Cynalytic

Are you one of those Facebook quiz junkies? I am. My Facebook profile is littered with the "answers" to questions like: "Who were you in a past life?" "What 80's television show are you," "What color are you," and "In what soap opera would your relationship star?" I also know my Myers Brigg type and my enneagram type, just to be on the safe side. I know my sun sign, moon sign and ascendant sign.

I am relentless in my pursuit of silly, unimportant, self-knowledge.

This fascination with all things quizzes has been aided and abetted by Facebook, but certainly didn't start there. I'm not a Cosmo girl, but I DID take the Cosmo quizzes. Does anyone else remember the game played by little girls wherein you draw a square and pick four types of houses and write them on one side of the square, four numbers that are written on another side of the square, four boys' names, and four cities? Add a spiral drawn in the middle and a complex counting system and voila! Future predicted? Yeah, I played that game. A lot.

Which is why, when my friend Alicia Staley posted a Facebook link to the "I Write Like" writing style analytic website, I sat down, cut and pasted a blog entry into the machine, and was compared to Margaret Atwood with one keystroke. In two more keystrokes I had revealed yet another nuance of my personality on Twitter and Facebook.

I KNOW human beings like you and me, bored at home, are making up Facebook quizzes. I know that I fall nearly in the middle of nearly every personality test I've ever taken, and I'm cynical that one analytic of one blog post can definitively say my writing style is like that of any other author, poet or journalist.

It is this cynicism about self-reflective analytic tools that led me to create a new compound word today - cynalytic. It is an adjective meaning cynical about the pursuit of personal understanding and improvement through the use of quizzes on Facebook, in Cosmopolitan magazine, or other places in print and on the Internet. Pronounced 'sin-a-lit-ick' you might use it like this, "I'm a little cynalytic about my results in the latest New Yorker magazine quiz. Did you take it, the one that allegedly determines the perfect New York home for you? My results show my ideal Manhattan home would be in Ossining."

I've made up lots of words before, only to find someone else has invented them before me. This new one, cynalytic, is nowhere to be found on the Internet. While it may not ever make the top ten list of made up words, I think it is going to catch on.

Compromise at home (or, What would you do differently if your sweetie were away on a trip?)

BMG started a two-week assignment in New Orleans yesterday. I spent most of the day at home, reveling in my temporary bachelorette-dom. Reflecting on my Saturday, while waking up on Sunday morning, I realized there are a host of small things I would do differently if I lived alone. These include:
  • Turning the air conditioners to "fan" at night; turning the air conditioners to "fan" when I'm not home for long stretches (I'm not psyched to see our electric bill for the last month.)

  • Making the the bed immediately after getting up (My motto? "Working hard to keep cat hair and litter out of the sheets.")

  • Turning off the bathroom light, unless I'm in there.

  • Lighting candles at night, and leaving them lit until I go to bed.

  • Forgetting to shut the fridge door and the dishwasher for longish periods of time (Okay, maybe I do this when BMG is here, but with no one around facetiously and lovingly calling me "The Closer" I have to notice it now.)

  • Preparing fewer meals with meat and carbs

  • Throwing more food away that I think may trigger a mini binge ("Olive oil chips, you were delicious in Canada, now you are being thrown away.")

  • Doing situps and stretches in the middle of the living room at totally random times.
Looking out over the living room in The Tiny Bungalow I'm also aware that I apparently leave abandoned shoes and mail all over the place (I guess I'm a little obsessed with tidiness when there are two of us in the 925 square foot house. One person's clutter is okay. Two people's clutter is too much.)

We all compromise at home. If you didn't have to - if your sweetheart and/or your kids were away on a two-week trip - what do you do differently - consciously or unconsciously? And for those of you single folks who don't live with a partner, what do you think you'd have a hard time compromising in the event you do move in with someone?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Great Pumpkin Part 5: Gay pumpkins and droughts

My giant pumpkins were all gay (not that there is anything wrong with that). And a drought has killed them all. While I grew better, stronger pumpkins than I did the previous year, I now have only three yellowed plants with anemic squash flowers on them to show for my Giant Pumpkin Experiment.

It was obvious to me on Independence Day that there would be no giant pumpkins at The Tiny Bungalow when I had no fruit starting to mature on the vine. The book said that I should have one fruit that I was starting to bet on by this time. Scurrying, I did some background reading on hand pollination and realized, to my dismay, that I had no female flowers on any of the six plants stretched out across the backyard. The male flowers were crawling with bugs, confirming that the lack of a tiny giant pumpkin on any of the vines was not a problem of insect inactivity. So I began checking obsessively and daily at dawn and dusk - when the shy female flowers are more likely to be open - in the hopes that a female flower would emerge that the bugs would fertilize once, and I would follow up with the double fertilization by hand.

But nothing. I began to think that my pumpkins were gay.

Then our swank suburb by the ocean entered into a state of water emergency, restricting to the use of hand operated sprinklers (or hoses in everyday parlance) every other day. Irrationally I began to worry that the reason the pumpkins were producing no female flowers was because they didn't have enough water and this was going to cement the fact that I'd be carving watermelons at Halloween instead of a carriage sized pumpkin. In my mind I had made my pumpkins gay by withholding water from them.

Now, home from vacation, three weeks after the initial realization that there would be no giant pumpkins this year, I have given up hope for the three shriveled up plant mounds. My pumpkins, in defiance of the word of God, have literally not been fruitful, nor have they multiplied. They have remained a joyful handful of male flowers on increasingly yellowed pumpkin vines.

I am now putting all of my pumpkin eggs into the watermelon basket. This morning I fertilized the watermelon vines, which proudly boast at least eight of the tiniest and most perfect miniature melons I have ever seen. I hope to have watermelon to give away to my family and friends by the end of August. And one I will keep to carve as a jack-o-lantern for Halloween.

Over the winter I'll read more about giant pumpkins and try to figure out how to make year #3 even better than years #2 and #1. I will not give up until I have a giant pumpkin to call my own.

*****

In other garden news, I've discovered, in this year of gardening at The Tiny Bungalow, that one side of the garden gets TONS of sun. The plants growing there are going bananas - I have cherry tomatoes entwined with zucchini which have locked leaves with peppers, cucumbers and cauliflower. I am practically drowning in zucchini, and the cherry tomatoes will need to be picked daily to keep up with their gorgeous, jewel like selves. On another side of the garden the zucchini plants from the same six-pack are tiny and have yet to produce one dark green, squashy bat.

In the spirit of learning I know (a)where to put tomatoes versus brussel sprouts and cauliflower, (b) I need to find better strategies for fencing off the garden from rabbits but NOT from me, and (c) my charge for the Winter is to find organic ways to keep the invisible bugs from eating all of my cabbage-like plants. I also need to make more space for the sun loving veggies and to give each plant wide enough berth to do their enormous veggie-making thang.

I'll be solo for the next two weeks, while BMG is in New Orleans on assignment. This means lots of vegetables will be cooked and enjoyed for lunch and dinner. Give a holler if you want to visit for a garden fresh meal.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

So this is what an anxiety dream looks like in my 40s

I had an anxiety dream last night in which I was literally running to make it to my advanced colonoscopy procedure on time. What made me late? Stopping to pick up meat - pork ribs and sausage, taking a detour through the pet shop to look at the snakes and turtles for sale, getting lost in a medical office building, misunderstanding subway routes, and arguing with a cab driver. Realizing I wasn't going to get to the hospital (a) on time, or (b) using public or other transportation, I started to run. The city blocks were huge and unfamiliar, and the more I ran the more I realized I was much farther away from where I wanted to be than I thought I was. My anxiety in the dream increased exponentially with every block I ran and every roadblock I encountered. This was exacerbated by my own dream knowledge that I hadn't read the pre-op instructions that told me what time to show up, what I was - or wasn't - supposed to eat in the 24 hours before the procedure, and how long I was going to be in the hospital. In my dream I don't remember how or when I finally arrived, but do remember the doctor looking at my test results and telling me everything was beautiful.

*****

Climbing up or down something is the usual tell-tale indicator of an anxiety dream for me - I need to go up a rickety ladder to reach a decrepit solarium roof, I'm scaling down the side of a wet lighthouse to get to my boat to sail away from danger, etc. I'm amused at the idea that my first anxiety dream in my 40s involves a colonoscopy. I guess Dr. Freud would say it was a dream about handling my own shit, ja?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Patriotic Thaw

Create your own country? Who thinks they can create their own country? I don't have the kind of hubris or creativity that would let me consider seriously the idea of throwing in the towel in my native land and just starting my own republic.

This Independence Day I've been thinking much more gratefully about the events that led the European settlers to travel across an ocean to begin the process of starting the nation that is, for better or worse, my home country.

Like a good progressive Democrat, with a dash of hippie thrown in, I've spent much of my adulthood feeling more ashamed than proud of being an American. What contributes to this shame? The perception that we're the bullies on the international playground, we consume more than our share of the world's resources, we are xenophobes who don't respect differences among people, and we hoard more wealth than people of other nationalities. This ethos of shame has only been cemented by experiences like the time, during the presidency of the second Mr. Bush, a cranky European yelled at me for being a loud American while I was traveling on a French train.

I've been surprised, in the lead up to this Independence Day weekend, by feelings of patriotism popping up at unexpected times. Observing homeless vets begging for spare change from passers-by in downtown Boston, cruising past Adams National Park in nearby Quincy, MA on my to and from work, looking at the rather unimpressive Plymouth Rock on a weekend excursion, watching fireworks while mindlessly humming the lyrics to the "Star Spangled Banner," and stopping to watch local firemen hang a large American flag across an intersection the night before the big parade. In these and other activities what I'm feeling is a sense of timeless and single-minded hopefulness, expansive possibility, and chutzpah. The strength of character or depth of pain one needs to feel to travel by ship across an ocean, or by wagon across a prairie, to settle a new land inspires me. I yearn for the intellectual excitement and repartee of writing a brand new national constitution, one that could become the model for many young republics follow. I want to create something brand new that makes a positive difference in my life, and the lives of the people who come after me.

I am certain this patriotism is partly inspired by the work of President Barack Obama. I'm not a Pollyanna however, I work for a local government and I know firsthand our system of government has flaws. That's because our nation, like all nations, is run by human beings. I'm sure the Iroquois chieftains fought amongst themselves, and Mayan peoples engaged in nation building and underhanded political acts for their personal benefit. (Europeans wiped out many native peoples as the Americas were colonized, which is crappy. But said native peoples weren't any better than we are.)

What I do know, this July 4, 2010, is that the values and experiences - the hope, the possibility, the hardship - that have shaped this nation have different meaning to me today. When I look at our flag, with its 50 stars and 13 red and white stripes, I feel an appreciation for the chutzpah it takes to declare independence from a nation or set of ideals, and for the on-going struggle to sustain and adapt these new ideals in an evolving culture. With my eyes wide open to the realities of our nation's flaws and strengths, today I feel proud to be an American.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A blessing for one who is exhausted

This is not my work, but that of John O'Donohue. I read it on the InnerNet Weekly email I get through Charityfocus.net.

"A blessing for one who is exhausted" by John O'Donohue

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The ride you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

--John O'Donohue, from "To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings"

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Grocery shopping like my daddy did

My mom, in my experience, places high value on efficiency - in shopping, planning and home making. She has literally hundreds of bars of bath soap stored on the stairs to her attic - all different brands based on what has been on sale, and all faithfully unwrapped - exposing the soap to the air which allegedly hardens it and makes it last longer. Buying up lots of soap when it is on sale and storing it in such a way to maximize the longevity of the soap would earn high marks in her book. Daily shopping, in my mother's opinion, wastes time, wastes gas, and wastes money by not maximizing sales and succumbing to impulse.

I have memories of my mom disparaging my dad, from whom she was separated and then divorced very early in my childhood, because he appeared to go to the grocery store every day as part of his household management strategy. He apparently was not organized enough to know his 5 mostly estranged kids would be visiting on the weekend and therefore he'd need to buy Cheerios and milk for our breakfast. He couldn't do advance menu planning to determine that when we'd visit we'd eat hot dogs with mac and cheese on Friday night and meatloaf with instant mashed potatoes and frozen peas on Saturday night.

I write this as I prepare to head to the grocery store for the second time today - this time to buy ingredients for dinner tonight. I went earlier to run a favor for a friend. I, in fact, was not organized enough to know what I would want to cook for dinner at 8:30 this morning, when I was off to buy newborn-sized diapers and People magazine to give to GPA, who had her first daughter on Friday (congrats). So now I plan what is, in fact, my third trip to the grocery store in less than 24 hours.

I'm okay with this. I love the grocery store. When I'm feeling uncentered I know that visiting a beautiful grocery store perks me up again. I love visiting markets in foreign countries, to experience grocery shopping as a cultural exchange. I'm also at peace with being a little unorganized. I have the resources to buy what I want to buy - which is usually the store brand which is cheaper than the brand brand even if it is on sale. I'd rather carry three bags into the house once a day that carry 10 bags into the house once a week. I believe it is reasonable to want - even need - to compartmentalize my life in order to manage it (e.g. separating the gift shopping trip from the food shopping trip). I like being whimsical and instinctive in my meal planning. The daily shopping has a European flair to it, where I am driven by what looks or sounds good to me on any given day - rather than having to make do with what I have in the fridge. Today is a chilly, cloudy spring day and I'm inspired to roast a chicken. The trip to the market is to buy fresh poultry and the ingredients I need to complete the recipe from my cookbook.

I have no idea why my dad shopped daily. I know that I do and, it often reminds me of one small way in which I am more like my daddy than I am like my mom.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fist for punching


"The Office: Scott's Tots (#6.11)" (2009)
Dwight Schrute: In an ideal world I would have all ten fingers on my left hand so my right hand could just be a fist for punching.

*****

I've experienced work as very stressful lately. During supervision with my boss, a fantastic boss, today he commented on how fried everyone in the office is.

In my traditionally female, empathic way, I said, "Yeah, I'm so exhausted that I've been on the verge of tears for about a week."

My traditionally male boss stopped, turned, narrowed his eyes, and looked closely at me. "Don't cry. If you cry my respect for you will go down by a significant percent."

"What about punching? Is punching allowed?"

"Yes, punching is allowed."

Friday, May 28, 2010

A recipe for my favorite 12-minute dinner

1/4 sliced onion in rings
3.5 oz. Gimmee Lean Sausage style (1/4 package)
1 garlic clove, peeled and pressed/diced
1 4 oz can tomato sauce
Capers
Fresh ground pepper (black or red)
Goat cheese

1/4 pound uncooked pasta

Put on a pot of water to boil the pasta in.

While you wait for it to boil:

Saute onion slices in hot olive oil until soft
Add Gimmee Lean and garlic
Cook until faux sausage is crispyish
(Optional - add sliced or chopped mushrooms to the saute)
Add tomato sauce, capers to taste, fresh ground pepper and enough goat cheese to make creamy

In the meantime, cook pasta. Add frozen peas to pasta if you want to make a (nearly) one pot meal.

When pasta (and peas?) is done, drain and toss with the tomato/faux sausage/goat cheese mixture.

Eat.

The whole meal takes about 12 minutes from start to end. Seriously.

*****

I adapted this recipe from one called "Penne with Woodsman's Sauce," which was a fav of a former friend now affectionately called "Bad Steve." This was a friend who contributed to my, at the time, low self-esteem. I harbored ill feelings towards Bad Steve for a long time. I'm over it now. And I'm psyched to have this awesome, meat-free, healthy, hearty and filling pasta dish as evidence of the friendship.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Great Pumpkin Part 4: Co-opting the neighbors

"Hey guys! I need a favor. Do you want to hear more?"

The two Dennis the Menace clones who live next door, stop pulling beach gear out of the family minivan and looked at me. Their dad turns inquiringly.

"Did you notice we plowed a big strip of land in the backyard?" I ask.

"Uh huh."

"Can you guess what we're trying to grow there?" I continue.

"Flowers?" says the younger of the two uncertainly.

"Nope."

"Corn on the cob?" says the older one, the ring leader of the duo.

"Good guess, but that's not right either. You'll never guess, so let me tell you. Giant pumpkins!" Both kids leaned in with interest. "Yup, we're trying to grow pumpkins that might be as big as 400 pounds! Regular pumpkins are only maybe 15 or 20 pounds." I mimed lifting a big pumpkin. And then mimed trying to lift an even bigger pumpkin. "I need some help."

"What kind of help?"

"Well, I'm in charge of keeping rabbits and other animals away from the plants. And I wonder if you could help me keep kids in the neighborhood away from the pumpkins. Can you help me keep *other* kids from running on the plants and throwing balls on the plants?" (Here's the secret - these are the very same kids I'm worried will trample the pumpkins. I need them on my side to keep the plants safe.)

"Do you need us to keep birds away too? They can hurt plants."

"Good point. I'll be in charge of birds and rabbits. I really need your help keeping kids out of the garden. If you help I'll let you help carve a 400-pound jack-o-lantern," I say temptingly.

Dad, who encourages rambunctious behavior by organizing the boys "play" hunt neighborhood cottontails in the backyard, chimes in, "Well guys, that seems like a pretty good deal. Are you in?"

The older brother, with the poorly cut blond bowl cut says, "Yes!," while the younger brother opens his mouth to say more. He then simply nods, closes his mouth, and turns away.

The kids are hellions. I've had visions of them digging up the garden, playing soccer with the tender fruit, using their play machetes to tear apart the 3,000 square feet of vines, and building a fort in the giant squash should it mature to be big enough to play in.

I'll keep you posted on the saga of the neighborhood brats and the Great Pumpkin.

The Great Pumpkin Part 3: In the ground

I planted nine giant pumpkin plants last weekend. It may have been too soon to put them outside without a protective shelter, but I was afraid the tiny root balls were rotting. Why you ask?


About three weeks earlier I had repotted the seedlings into a larger pot temporarily because I was concerned the baby pumpkin plants had leached all of the nutrients from their seedling pots. And the larger pot, stolen from a gorgeous and coincidentally orange begonia, had bad drainage and the pumpkins were swimming in a slurry of enriched potting mix, Neptune's Harvest All-Natural Organic Fertilizer, and two weeks worth of water that hadn't been absorbed by the atmosphere of my home.

So, after working 30 quarts of cow manure into the freshly tilled soil, I transplanted the pumpkins outdoors. The plus side of the plants swimming in slurry was that they weren't root-bound. I smoothly eased each of the three clumps of pumpkins out of the pot they shared, dropped them into three freshly dug holes, and then scattered the soil slurry around the base of each freshly housed seedlings.

We've had two chilly nights, one rain storm, and several beautiful, temperate days. I've hand watered the plants twice.

I've examined the seedlings at length today. It appears as if one grouping is doing better than the other two. This group - made up of three plants - has fewer dried out leaves, more budding leaves/stalks out of the center of the plants, and was standing just a little taller.

I planted four watermelon plants nearby just to cover my bases in case none of the pumpkins survive.

Monday, May 10, 2010

#3 or "If I knew then what I know now"

CAUTION: This is a scatological - and mildly humorous - blog post. If poop stories aren't your thing then feel free to stop reading here.

*****

I recently headed into the bathroom at my sister's house, immediately after one of her kids exited the room.

As I turned the door handle I received the following warning. "Aunt Clownface, I wouldn't go in there right away. I just did some #2 and #3."

"#3? What is #3?" I asked.

"Diarrhea. You know, #1 and #2 mixed together."

Deep breath. "Uh, diarrhea isn't #1 and #2 mixed together." Then I explained what diarrhea is.

Affronted the child responded, "THAT'S what diarrhea is? How come no one ever told me?"

*****

One of my sisters used to carry a very tiny chip on her shoulder that our mom never "taught her that she needed to rinse conditioner out of her hair." My mom claims that she didn't want to point out my sister's greasy hair (which was made so by the unrinsed hair conditioner coating it) for fear of making her feel bad about what my mom thought was an unfortunate, temporary and unavoidable aspect of puberty.

Hearing my niece complain about never having been told what diarrhea is made up of reminds me that you can never predict what your child "needs" to know in order to live a fully informed life.

Good luck parents.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Say Yes to the Dress

"I am not getting a wedding dress. Instead I want a wedding bathing suit." So starts my niece, CMR, in reply to my mother who asked her if all of the women in her life could go with her to Kleinfeld's to pick out her wedding dress when she is ready to be married in 30 years or so.

To understand the genesis of this line of questioning posed to a 9-year old, one must go back in time 12 hours earlier to the Kohl's in Fayetteville, NY.

With CMR in the backseat, I was driving to my sister's house in rural NY to spend the night when I realized I had left my pajamas at my mother's house, now 15 miles away. I knew a pants-free sofa bed night with my other niece, the Divine Miss M, was unacceptable. So I told CMR we'd need to take a few minutes to stop so I could buy some pajama pants. So, at 8:47 PM we roll into the Kohl's parking lot and head in to buy a cheap pair of jammie pants.

After finding an acceptably soft pair of sleeping pants for under $15 we we were headed to the registers to check out when CMR was distracted by girlie dresses. This itself was odd. CMR is generally not a girlie girl. She makes fart noises in her armpits, wishes they dissected more things - really anything - at school, and claims she'd rather be friends with the kids everyone else calls 'nerds'. So the in-store detour from women's pajamas to party dresses for 'tweens was a surprise. I decided to roll with it (a) because there was nothing we HAD to be home for, and (b) I wanted to see what happened.

After 4 minutes of frenetic browsing she had two dresses over her shoulder - a flowy pink number with sequined flowers under the bodice, and a polyester white dress with an asymmetrical hem and lots of ruching. She turned to me and said, "Now can we try them on?"

"You want to try them on?" I replied, somewhat disbelieving. I've never known CMR to enjoy shopping for clothes, and she especially hates the trying on part.

"YES!" and she made a beeline for the dressing room. Aunt Clownface gamely followed, wondering what amazing thing would happen next.

She chattered with me like I was her best girlfriend as she slipped into the first dress. She curtsied, twirled, and primped in the mirror. But it wasn't the right dress - too big.

Next came the white dress, a polyester number with black straps and a built-in bolero jacket. The white dress transformed this tomboyish 9-year old, who entered the dressing room in faded lack yoga pants, kiddie-sized barn "muck boots," and a fleece jacket over a purple t-shirt with sequin butterflies on it.

She ogled herself in the mirror, gushed about how pretty she felt, and was inspired to play an extended air guitar set in the dress which ended with an impressive split.

She begged me to buy the dress for her.

We hadn't planned to stop at Kohl's, nor had we planned to buy a party dress. In fact, CMR has no parties on her size 8 agenda. But she loved the dress, and, more importantly, she loved herself in the dress. So we made a spit shake deal - she'd pay me half the cost ($22.40 marked down from $56) AND if her parents said "no" she'd have to return the dress.

All the way home, she said repeatedly "I hope they say yes to the dress! I hope they say yes to the dress! I hope they say yes to the dress."

We arrived home by 9:25 PM and CMR immediately asked if she could try on the dress for her parents. While she changed, under the supervision of her 6-year old sister, I explained the conditions of the spit shake to her mom and dad, and told them the story of the unexpected shopping trip.

Then, with a drum roll played out on my thighs, CMR was introduced to her parents in her fancy party dress. It was impossible to ignore her excitement, and they "said yes to the dress."

She wore the dress to mother's day brunch the next day. Everyone oohed and ahhed over CMR's fancy dress. Together, she and I relayed the story of the dress adventure to the gathered crowd. When we got to the part where CMR was praying her parents would "say yes to the dress," my mother interrupted and said, "CMR, when you get married, will you let EVERYONE come to Kleinfeld's with you to pick out your wedding dress?"

My sister smirked and said, "CMR doesn't want a wedding dress when she gets married. She has other plans. CMR, why don't you tell them your plans?"

"Well, I am not going to wear a wedding dress. I'm going to wear a wedding bathing suit."

All of the adults in the room cocked their heads quizzically.

"Go on CMR, tell them why," prodded her mother.

"Well, instead of having a wedding aisle, I'm going to have a Slip n- Slide. In my wedding bathing suit I'm going to SLIDE down the aisle, pop into my husband's arms, and then we'll kiss."

The adult heads remained cocked as my sister added, "This plan started out as a wedding via water slide."

"Yeah!" CMR continued enthusiastically. "I was going to go 'whoosh' down the water slide and at the end, in the pool, I would end up in my husband's arms and then we'd kiss and be married. My husband and I will have already built a beautiful house with an in-ground pool and that's where we'll have our party afterwards."

'nuff said.

*****

I loved hearing my niece, who has fully entered the confusing world of pre-teens, chatter on about her ideal wedding plans. I love that she has these dreams, and they are so characteristic of a nine-year old mentality. I've never had wedding dreams that I remember and listened to her with the curiosity of a loving anthropologist. I loved being a catalyst in the chain of events that triggered her plans being revealed to her family, and being part of the circle that gave her a dress that made her feel so special.

Being an aunt is great.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The perfect gift for your favorite paranoiac!


Does your mother sleep with a knife under her pillow to attack bad guys who might sneak into her home while she's sleeping?

Is your brother-in-law actively preparing his family to fight back in the event of a zombie apocalypse?

Does your partner maintain a list of things to worry about online?

If so your family is JUST like mine. And that's why I recommend that you consider purchasing the Zombie Table. This solid and attractive table features a small, circular table top almost impossibly cantilevered on a center leg resting on a reflective pedestal. The Danish modern style table will add to the decor in any home. And...when bad guy, zombies and bees strike, the table can be converted in two quick moves into a solid wooden shield and a bat that you can use to defend yourself and wound your enemies.

Consider buying one to give it to your mother to use as a bedside table so she can put away the knife and immediately reduce her risk of stabbing herself in the brain by 100%!

How about buying two for your brother-in-law to put by the front and back door to his home so he is ready should zombies ring the bell before they break in?

And increase the peace at home by buying one for your partner to strap to his scooter so he is ready for whatever perils the world has in store for him.

Tables are ready to be shipped immediately. Some assembly required, and the table comes with a helpful zombie fighting training video.

Search for "zombie table" online and get yours today.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Great Pumpkin - Episode 2 (aka more questions than answers)

So I actually read, well skimmed really, the Giant Pumpkin Book. This is what I learned:

1. There is more to the exciting history of giant pumpkins that I have to learn. Things like the first giant pumpkin weighed in at like 400 pounds. The award winners are now weighing in at 1,400+ pounds. That's a lot of pumpkin.

2. Soil preparation is really important. I need to use manure and sea kelp plant food to enrich my soil.

3. Giant pumpkins can take up to 3,000 square feet of space. I cleared 180 square feet of space for the pumpkin plants. I need to plan for the pumpkins to take over the entire yard. Which still is not 3,000 square feet of space. I need to tell BMG I am taking over the backyard with pumpkins. I'll be standing in front of the mirror, practicing smiling broadly while I say: "Honey! I've got some awesome news. You don't need to mow the yard at all this summer! FTW!"

4. I have left the seedlings too long in their little seedling cups. I may be over watering my seedlings and they may not be getting enough food right now. (Last year my seedlings rotted on the vine because of the wet weather and my ignorance.) I need to work the sad 1.5 cubic feet of manure I bought into the pumpkin seedling prep areas, find and add the sea kelp food, and then plant these little sweethearts right away. But I'm going out of town this weekend and I don't want to plant them if I won't be home to check on them, and water them, and make sure the bunnies don't eat them. I'm anxious about the pumpkins and my ability as a giant pumpkin grower. One MORE reason I'm not a parent.

As this adventure evolves things I'm going to need to pay attention to include:
  • Fertilization of the flowers. Nature is SUPPOSED to get pollen from the stamen to the pistil, but if nature doesn't work I need to plan to fertilize by hand. Like IVF, but for pumpkins.
  • Trellising and burying the stalks to protect the fruit and encourage growth.
  • Fertilizing the fruit with more manure, more kelp and unprocessed compost (e.g. veggie trash)
  • Preventing the soil around my pumpkin from getting compacting by building board trails throughout the vine lands.
  • The pace and timing of the weight gain of my giant pumpkins. During the last 10-30 days of a giant pumpkin's growth it could gain as much as 25 pounds daily. The pumpkin should be ready by October 15th.
Things I'm now wondering about include:
  • Will the bunnies that eat my vegetables also try to eat the pumpkin? I know the kittens have been gnawing on the seedlings' leaves. Will bunnies like them too? What about the red foxes in the neighborhood? And the turkeys, ducks, and coyotes? What are the natural predators of giant pumpkins?
  • Speaking of which, how do I keep the obnoxious and violent rug rats who live next door away from the pumpkins? I may need to enlist them as partners in pumpkin care.
  • How am I going to get what could be an 800-pound pumpkin out of the backyard? If I can't get the pumpkin out of the yard my dream of an 800-pound jack o-lantern in the front yard may be for naught. Maybe I'll turn it into a carriage that can be rolled into the front yard? I may need to get an engineer on board with this plan.
  • Speaking of which, how will I gut and carve an 800-pound pumpkin? Has anyone ever done this? I'm thinking I need to begin planning the carving party sooner rather than later.
I'm going to sign off to take a Valium and practice my speech for BMG about the potential take-over of the yard by the pumpkin. More answers - and certainly more questions - later.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Great Pumpkin - Episode 1

For the first time in my adult life I have a yard big enough to grow giant pumpkins. Why? Because I want to have a giant jack-o-lantern on the front porch at Halloween.

I tried growing them last year. But my efforts were half-baked and woefully uninformed. As a result, no giant, candle-lit face adorned the stoop of the tiny bungalow.

This year things will be different.

The first thing I learned in my giant pumpkin odyssey (part 2) is that the pumpkins need a lot of space to grow. So I rototilled a 25' x 6' plot in the back yard just for the pumpkins.

Two weeks ago I started giant pumpkin seeds indoors and had 19 giant pumpkin plants with their second sets of leaves baking in the dining room window. I've thinned the plants and now have only 15 plants baking in the window. It is possible I did not start them early enough. We'll see.

I have a book on order and a website bookmarked to take me through my pumpkin growing odyssey. I know I'll need to fertilize my soil and my plants nearly constantly. Am I up to the meticulous challenge? Do I want a 500 pound jack-o-lantern so badly?

I'll keep you posted here on my blog.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Where does my time go?

I spend an average of 8 hours a night sleeping.

My work schedule is the equivalent of 7 hours a day working every day of the week.

My commuting hours are the equivalent of 1.5 hours a day, every day, driving to and from work.

That's 56 hours a week sleeping, and nearly 60 hours a week working or going to work.

That leaves 7.5 hours a day or 52.5 hours a week for cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning, playing, relaxing, gardening, running errands, parenting my cats, and having fun with Jeff.

Something isn't right here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Tilting at Pistachios

So I'm at the fancy new supermarket that opened 9 days ago, waiting at the fish counter to get a 1/2 pound of shrimp. A very well coiffed, older woman appears next to me. She is a walking stereotype of the moneyed class - you know the type with Louise Vuitton (or was it Gucci - I can't tell) purse hanging off her forearm, uberbranded sunglasses on her face (she was indoors and it was raining outside), riding jodhpurs, and very shiny gold hanging off whatever body part could accommodate the expensive hardware.

I glance at her briefly, turn back to the fish case, and then hear a small ping. I look back at the woman, see her staring at the ground, and realize she has dropped a pistachio shell. I can see it plainly, resting on the brand new floors maybe 1.5 feet from her own well clad feet. "Can she see it?" I wonder. "Well of course she can see it! It's right there!" I mentally point.

The woman looks up from the ground and begins staring straight ahead.

"Oh my god! She's going to leave her trash on the ground. I can't believe it. She knows she dropped it. She knows it couldn't have gone too far. What the heck?" I'm in a state of irritated disbelief.

The internal dialogue continues.

"Should I say something? Should I pick it up? Do I just leave it for the staff to find when they clean up after the store closes? If I dropped it and KNEW that I dropped it I'd pick it up. I mean, this is a BRAND new store - it isn't like we're at an outdoor market or something. Picking up your trash is respectful of the people who have to clean up after me. But she must not be respectful of the "peons" who work here, who wait on her. I mean, look at her, she is obviously accustomed to people taking care of her. Oh my god, she is such a bitch."

The rant goes on while I continue to wait.

"I really have to say something to her, to hold her accountable for her actions, to let her know people are watching and judging her behavior. I won' forgive myself if I don't say something. This is what it means to believe in something, and I believe in respect, and beauty. I cannot let this type of behavior slide without commenting. If I do what else will I be silent about. I CANNOT BELIEVE she did that!"

I turn to her and say haltingly, "Uhm excuse me, I think you dropped something." I point to the shell on the floor, "You surely weren't going to leave that there, were you?"

The woman looks at me and then to the ground. She leans over, picks up the shell, and places it in her palm, which then slowly closes around the once discarded object. All without saying a word.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Kids say the darndest things

I had the privilege of reading to a group a second graders today, as part of a local celebration of "National Library Week." I was reading an interpretation of the classic Hans Christan Anderson tale The Ugly Duckling. You know the story - where a swan is accidentally born into a family of ducks. Until the swan grows up he feels ugly and unloved because he looks different.

Early on in the story I paused and asked the question "Has anyone here ever felt like they were being made fun of? Raise your hands if you have ever been made fun of in your life." My goal was to have a brief conversation about how everyone has felt like they didn't belong at some point in their life.

Of course, all of the adults, being good role models who were familiar with the lessons embedded in the story story, raised their hands. About 2/3rd of the children raised their hands too.

One of the little people sitting in the front row declared loudly, "I've never been made fun of."

"Well you are a lucky boy," I replied emphatically.

"Yeah!" he said. "Sometimes my cousin and I play this game where he hits my head like a bongo. That's a really fun game!"

I'm thinking, "Well that's apropos of nothing."

The little buddy on his right spun his head around and accusingly said, "You told me you didn't like that at all!"

I looked at Mr. Bongo Head with my eyebrows slightly raised.

"Well, sometimes I don't like it when my cousin hits me," Bongo Boy conceded.

"Yes," I said, my own head spinning, "Sometimes life is confusing."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Grocery Wars

How did you pick the grocery store you shop at? I'm curious because I am currently rich in grocery stores. As of Wednesday a third supermarket opened up within 2 miles of my home here in the picturesque seaside suburb. We now have the standard big box store, a local market with fresh meat and seafood counters, and a grocery opened as a direct competitor to the Whole Paycheck eight or so miles away in the tony outdoor shopping mall.

I was raised by a fierce woman who did whatever it took to make her meager income work for her and her five kids. This meant clipping coupons and strategically planning the Saturday shopping to ensure she got the best deals for her dollars. If ground beef was $0.03/pound less expensive at Price Chopper than it was at Wegmans my mom would make the special trip to Price Chopper to get the cheaper meat. Marketing was tedious with my mom, often taking hours as we went from one store to the next snapping up the best deals, regardless of cost to one's time or psyche. Once a month or so one or more of us kids were given the task of going through mom's voluminous coupon files and weeding out the expired ones, and putting those that were just about to expire in a special file to be used right away. My mom's pantry, to this day, is filled with canned goods bought on sale because she had a coupon or the sale was too good to pass up.

Growing up relatively poor I've developed a cautious attitude towards money. However, I tend to believe coupons are a waste of time because store brands are almost always cheaper. I don't have the energy to clip, store, and sort coupons. I don't have the space to store mounds of "good deals." I zealously believe that if something is on sale once, it is likely to be on sale again when I need or want it. The net effect is that I tend to favor expedience in my grocery shopping over bargain hunting. That means I'd rather spend $1/pound more for pate' because I like the pate' at Store X and I'd rather not spend 30 minutes driving to the store with the cheaper pate' looking for parking and wasting time and gas.

Now with three grocery stores in such close proximity I find myself reconsidering my shopping attitudes. I'll always go to the big box market - deli-sliced American cheese, yogurt, bread, canned vegetables, cat food, toilet paper, and ice cream will always be cheaper at the big box store.

But what about the two boutique markets? Both are beautiful on the inside - think open market style fruit displays, aromas of fresh roasted coffee, enticing bulk food bins, and beautifully displayed prepared foods. And how do their prices compare? Well, today I went to both and compared prices for the ingredients for cheese fondue. Here is now it stacked up:

Local market - $24.13
1/2 pound of emmenthaler cheese - $8.98
1/2 pound of gruyere cheese - $6.48
1 bottle of white cooking wine - $4.49
1 loaf of French bread - $2.19
1 head of cauliflower - $1.99

Fancy new market - $26.43
1/2 pound of emmenthaler cheese - $8.98
1/2 pound of gruyere cheese - $7.48
1 bottle of white cooking wine - $3.49
1 loaf of French bread - $2.49
1 head of cauliflower - $3.99

By price alone, the local market is the winner. However, if cauliflower hadn't been on sale at the local market ($2 under both the new boutique market and the big box store), the grocery bill for the cheese fondue would have been roughly even.

So how do I decide? The new store has more varieties and sizes of bread than the local market. The new market has bourbon praline pecans in bulk, beautiful flowers, and a more robust wine, craft beer, and organic and international foods section. The new market doesn't require, like the local one does, that I pay for meat and seafood separately (and cash only please). In the local market's favor they have the best snacking prosciutto sliced to order, terrific Italian foods, are a reseller of locally produced candies, cookies and other delicacies. They also have the best salad bar on either side of the Mississippi.

(Have I mentioned that I love going to beautiful grocery stores? It is one of the things I do to relax. A trip to NYC without going to Zabars or Citarellas is beyond me. Whenever I travel grocery stores always make their way to my tourist itinerary. I routinely stop at Wegmans when visiting my family in Central New York - even before I see my mother.)

If I'm to stay true to my "keeping it simple" grocery shopping philosophy how do I pick which store to patron? Even thinking about bopping between three grocery stores to do my weekly-ish shopping gives me hives for its high maintenance implications. Do I abandon the locally owned business in favor of the new, slightly more convenient but globally owned market? Do I plan to price veggies each week online and pick whichever store has the lowest prices, and just trust that the other things I need will come out in the wash?

The values I'm balancing include value, quality, business loyalty, beauty, convenience, and adventure. Which of these do you value most highly in your marketing? In your life?

The new store has been open five days. I think I'm going to wait to decide until the low prices intended to hook consumers go up as I'm told they will. In the meantime, you can find me shuffling between three suburban grocery stores, stalking the aisles for bargains and interesting foods.

How will you celebrate National Cheese Fondue Day?

Thanks to the magic of Twitter I learned that today is National Cheese Fondue Day. Now accepting facts in one's Twitter stream as the gospel truth is like believing everything in Wikipedia is true, so I went to the Web to verify.

And I got distracted by the first web page I found, titled "American Food Holidays." While it also had no references, I became entranced by the more than 600 alleged food holidays. Things like "Lobster Thermidor Day" (January 24), "Crab Stuffed Flounder Day" (February 18), "National Turkey Neck Soup Day" (March 30), "Lima Bean Respect Day" (April 20), "National Spumoni Day" (August 22), "Biscuit and Gray Week" (second week in September - which apparently and not without some philosophical conflict is also "National Vegetarian Awareness Week), "Eat a Cranberry Day (just one, really?) (November 23), and of course, "National Chocolate Covered Anything Day" (December 16). Every day of every year there is food that calls out to be eaten in celebration.

Of course I checked my birthday to make sure the acclaimed foods were good ones; cheese, frozen yogurt and cognac are all honored along with me on the fourth of June. En route to June 4 I noticed that May 28th is National Brisket Day. I have a cat named Brisket. "Awesome!" I thought. We can make May 28th his special day. Now I also have a cat named Ducky. So I searched for celebrations of duck too. I found Peking Duck Day (January 18). "Perfect!" I thought, "There is balance in the food and cat universe."

It has been more than one hour since I started to poke around on this website. My mind is reeling with the possibilities. Do I pick the weirdest ones and put them in my calendar to celebrate? How about I strategically select my favorites from the list of celebrated foods and plan parties that feature them? Do I go all "Julie and Julia" and plan a year of eating the foods and write an blog about my adventures? Who would play me in the movie when my blog attracts the attention of Hollywood and they option the rights to my year-long, albeit derivative, laudatory feasting? I've been craving a hobby lately - maybe this is it?

In the short term, I was planning on making a nice dinner tonight. Cheese fondue as part of the repast in the Tiny Bungalow is an inevitable part of our menu. If you will be in our picturesque seaside suburb give a holler; we'll be eating cheese fondue later.

If you aren't tooling around our town, I invite you to check out the list of unsubstantiated American Food Holidays online, and share your favorites with me.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Princess MCKTP

My niece MCKTP is a six years old. She has a wide smile, shy talent, and refreshing curiosity and honesty about the world. She is also adopted, living with two (and White) dedicated moms, and is African American. My sister, one of her parents, is committed to raising a daughter who is confident, smart, and loves how she looks. Her home has a healthy dose of Black Barbie, stories featuring Black characters in positive and healthy roles, and art depicting African Americans in ordinary and appropriate scenes.

For whatever reason - maybe living in a predominantly Caucasian family in a mostly Caucasian neighborhood, and being raised in a culture where books, toys and TV shows featuring African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities in supporting roles far more than in lead roles - MCKTP has expressed a kind of dislike for African Americans for most of her little life. "I must make made choices because all Brown people make bad choices," she declared conclusively to her parents one day. She distastefully pushed the African American American Girl Doll away when she received it for her birthday a few months ago, and she adores her blonde haired, blue eyed cousins.

On a recent visit to see my family my sister and the Divine Miss MCKTP were enjoying hot cocoa and conversation at a local bookstore. I was chatting with the little princess about the new Disney Princess, Tiana.
"Is she beautiful?" I asked.
"Yes, Auntie Clownface" she replied assertively, squirming in her seat as she absent-mindedly sipped her cocoa.
"What does she look like?" I prompted her. "You know I haven't seen the movie yet."
"Well she has a sparkly green dress, and..." MCKTP stopped in mid-sentence as a light bulb started to glow brightly over her braided head, "Hey, she looks like me! Does that mean I can be beautiful too?!"
I looked at my sister, who was grinning from ear to ear, fighting back tears of joy and relief. "Of course you can be beautiful too! You ARE beautiful MCKTP!"

*****

I'm smart with an overly developed empathic gene. I've read Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye several times, and the film version of The Color Purple brings me to heart shaking tears. It wasn't, however, until this brief conversation with my niece that I really understood the pervasive power of popular culture, no, of American culture in general, on African American identity. This beautiful girl who is only 6 years old and surrounded by a family who has loved her since birth, listened carefully to social cues and came to the misguided conclusion that she was ugly and bad. And something as seemingly simple as one movie, one schlocky Disney movie, helped my niece reach the tipping point in her articulation of her beauty.