Monday, July 15, 2013


A bunch of us have been posting on Facebook about how our Toddler Units have been really out of sorts lately, and I have a theory. What I think is that much like SkyNet in the Terminator movies, the computer in the sky that controls all our Toddler Units has become self-aware. This computer in the sky looks a lot like an orbiting Toys-R-Us. I saw it in a dream that woke me up in the most chilling of night-sweats. Anyway, ToyNet has become self-aware, and we should all pretty much prepare for the Toddler Apocalypse.

I believe this is what the makers of the Terminator movies were getting at, anyway, but they had to sub in scary cyborgs for toddlers, because people who don't have them (meaning the people who go to theaters with a box office $$$) wouldn't think that a mostly cute little mini-person could be so terrifying. Until. You're in a restaurant that's kid-friendly enough, but still nicer than Crapplebees, or maybe it IS Crapplebees you're in, and you still don't like to be embarrassed, and the Toddler Unit decides she frakkin' HATES mac-n-cheese this five minutes! Or you're in a car on a long trip, and traffic's stopped and you hear the siren call of... the tiny human in the back of the vehicle, and damned if you opted out of that little shield that rolls up or down like in a limo, and it's too late now, because that tiny human has excellent lungs and you've lost twenty percent of your hearing on this damn trip! Or, the Toddler Unit's walking, and she wants to be "UP!" so you pick her up and she wants to walk, or she's riding in her stroller, and she wants to either walk or be carried, and then you change her traveling mode and she FIGHTS you!

 OR it's naptime, and the toddler asserts "ain't nobody got time for that!"

Scary stuff all up in there. And where's John Connor, the one who'll save us all? That was Hollywood, Babies. They had to give us a hero so everything would turn out okay. The real John Connor has been captured by the Toddlinators and is in a Lego Prison in some daycare in Peoria, rendered mindless from lack of sleep and stench of dirty diapers. He can't hear our cries of "Save us, John Connor!" because the Toddlinators filled his ears with Silly String and have "It's a Small World" on continuous loop in his tiny cell.

Or it could just be the hot weather really makes little kids cranky. I don't know. I'm still pretty new at this parenting thing.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Here's the Speech I Gave In Towanda the Other Day

On Thursday, May 23, I had the opportunity to travel to Towanda, PA to the 10th Annual Meeting of the Community Foundation for the Twin Tiers to talk about the Darlene J. Sitler Memorial Scholarship Fund that I helped found with three friends from high school.  The above link is the newspaper article written about the Meeting.

Below is the text of my speech, in case you're interested in reading what I said.

The first time I met Darlene Sitler was during the first week of kindergarten.  She was in her second year of teaching music in the Northern Potter School District, and as I shuffled into the Library-slash-Art Room-slash-Music Room at Harrison Valley Elementary, Ms. Sitler greeted us with a great big smile.
That’s the first thing I remember about Ms. Sitler.  She was this petite woman with curly brown hair, big, almond-shaped eyes, and one of the best smiles in the history of forever.  Even during that first music class, it was impossible not to notice and be carried away by Ms. Sitler’s warmth, enthusiasm, energy, and love for music.  I didn’t know the word when I was in kindergarten, but Ms. Sitler was a dynamo. 
Those first few weeks of kindergarten were really eventful for me and my class, and that is in no small part due to Ms. Sitler.  Not long into the schoolyear, Ms. Sitler brought along the Big Box of Musical Instruments that contained sand blocks, jingle bells, wood blocks and mallets, and metal triangles with strikers.  Looking back on this twenty-nine years later and as an adult, this was nothing less than a show of Courage.  By all accounts, even early on, the fledgling Class of 1996 was a wild and rowdy bunch of hooligans, and here Ms. Sitler was, willingly handing over a big box of noise to us. 
We were shown how to play each kind of percussion instrument in that box, but Ms. Sitler took special care when she taught us how to extract a sweet sound from the triangles, sharply and decisively striking one of the open metal arms of the triangle, not going around and around the inside of the triangle like we’d seen on Little House on the Prairie and any western our parents would let us watch.
After demonstrating the triangle to us and making us PROMISE we’d play them PROPERLY, which of COURSE we did, she passed them out, and one of the boys in my class who’d already made one trip through kindergarten and who should have known better than to behave this way in front of a gaggle of impressionable rookie kindergarteners took his striker and ran it around and around the inside of that triangle and called out “DIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNERRRRRRRRR!”
And of course the rest of us followed his example.
Ms. Sitler sank down on her piano bench and stifled a wry grin. 
“There’s one in every crowd,” she muttered.  And she let us get our triangle terror out of our systems, after which we were more receptive to playing them ‘her’ way!
Ms. Sitler loved the holidays, and always built up our excitement for them by building her lessons around songs for the holiday.  Her Christmas concerts were legendary, but it was a Halloween song that she’d sing that made a particular impression on me.  It was a quiet, almost soothing song about an old woman, all skin and bones who lived down by an old graveyard, and Ms. Sitler would strum along on an autoharp until the song’s abrupt end, when she’d just drag her fingers over the autoharp’s strings and make it scream while she said “BOO!”
The first time I heard that song as a kindergartener, I jumped right out of my plastic chair.  I wasn’t the only one.  She’d sing that song to us every Halloween, and it didn’t matter how many times I’d heard it or how old I’d gotten.  I’d jump every time!
Over the years, whether it was in music class or band and chorus, or when she’d chaperone a field trip, Ms. Sitler was a sparkling presence.  She had an easy and contagious laugh.  She greeted the day-to-day with a ready sense of humor.  She had an uncanny ability to know when a kid needed a gentle push, or a well-timed word of encouragement.  There was no need or real place for ruthless competition in her music room.  Ms. Sitler strove to teach us that one voice is powerful enough, but the voices of many working together can bring down walls and move mountains. 
After every band or chorus rehearsal, no matter how sour our notes or how off our rhythm was that day, Ms. Sitler would always call out “Excellent Rehearsal!”  It took me years to understand what she meant: rehearsals are for learning and making ourselves better, not to play everything perfectly.  “Excellent Rehearsal!” indeed!
On December 2, 2012, Ms. Sitler was taken too soon from this world, and the news of how she died went around the world in a flash.  The Associated Press picked up the story, and soon it was all over the Internet.  Ms. Sitler had been reduced to “the lady who was shot by her ex-husband while playing the organ for church,” and that seemed to be a grave injustice in my mind.
I was not alone.  The day after Ms. Sitler’s passing, I awoke to find a message in my Facebook inbox from Melinda Martin, a woman who was a couple years behind me in school.  She lives in Taiwan now, and wondered if I could help her set up a one-time memorial scholarship for Ms. Sitler.  I told her I would do what I could, but admitted I didn’t know where to begin.  Before the panicky “what am I gonna DO to help her?” feeling could settle in, Melinda had gotten in touch with a classmate of hers, Mike Thompson, and Mike in turn brought Matt Reed aboard.  We’re all fairly far-flung geographically, and in those early days, and I do mean early- two days after Ms. Sitler’s passing, the only things the four of us really had in common were that we all graduated from Northern Potter in the mid-to-late 1990s, and that we all wanted to do something to honor Ms. Sitler, and to help ensure that she is remembered for the way she lived, for the way she inspired and encouraged us.
By Wednesday, December Fifth, 2012, Melinda, Mike, Matt, and I decided that we were going to form a scholarship committee, and instead of a one-time memorial scholarship, we wanted something that would have permanence.  We all felt as though we had been blessed and honored to have been able to be in Ms. Sitler’s music classes, that we were better people for having known her, that each of her students had been touched by a light she had, and now that she isn’t here anymore to pass that light on herself, it’s fallen to us to do so for her. 
The thing was, we had good intentions and very little know-how by that Wednesday.  The four of us got together to chat over Google Hangouts, which is a lot like Skype, and it was both relieving and alarming to know that all four of us were feeling the same panicky pebble in the pits of our stomachs.  Mike, the man who would emerge to be the Captain of our Scholarship, had gotten us some forms to fill out about incorporating as a not-for-profit organization, and we’d each dutifully printed out those forms and began filling them in, and as we were talking on our Internet chat that day, one of us broke the ice with “working with the IRS scares the daylights out of me,” and Melinda, the heart and soul of our committee said that she was certainly feeling “daunted.”  We all agreed that this was far, far out of the comfort zone for any of us, but we managed to come up with the skeleton of a charter, and we wrote a mission statement that evening over our Internet chat.  Because I’m the most local of the four of us, I was charged with heading to the bank the next day, to see what a group does when they want to set up a scholarship fund in honor of someone.
I didn’t sleep at all that night.
I’m no stranger to the bank.  I’m no stranger to setting up a corporation.  While we were still in our mid-twenties, my husband and I bought a dental practice, set up an S-corp with the considerable help of our accountant and our lawyer, and we’ve enjoyed successful business for nearly a decade.   But I remember that even in setting up an S-corp, there were lots of draconian tax laws and Things to Know, and paying the accountant and the lawyer to help us navigate those waters was expensive enough for a rookie business owner.  For a group of four friends who  just wanted to set up a memorial scholarship for a treasured teacher, it wasn’t just “daunting,” it was darn near impossible.
The next morning, I was getting my toddler bundled up to head to Ulysses to the bank to see what I could find out about all of this, when the phone rang.  It was the receptionist at my husband’s dentist’s office, and she said Ben Olney had just called and was looking for me.  I got so excited I jumped up and down, startling the toddler, and I screamed into the phone, alarming our usually-unflappable receptionist. 
I was so thrilled because while I was zipping up my daughter’s coat, it had occurred to me that I ought to stop in to the funeral home while I was in Ulysses, because of anyone in town, Ben Olney ought to know a thing or two about setting up memorial scholarships, or memorial funds, or would know where to steer me, Melinda, Mike, and Matt. 
I don’t know how Ben found out about what we were up to, or how he heard about our plans to form a scholarship committee for Ms. Sitler.  I’m sure it was more a product of living in a small town, and not magic, but that day, hearing about the Community Foundation for the Twin Tiers, and everything that organization does certainly felt like magic, because it was exactly what we needed, at exactly the right time.  I wrote down as fast as I could everything Ben told me about the Community Foundation for the Twin Tiers, and was so excited about what I found out that I really had to modulate that energy when I told the rest of the scholarship committee about the Community Foundation, so that I wasn’t talking at warp-speed, and not yelling into the computer microphone.
After a few days of deliberating amongst ourselves, we decided that the Community Foundation for the Twin Tiers is exactly the organization we should work with, because all the hard work is done for us.  The CFTT already has tax-exempt status.  There are systems in place, precedents already set.   Working with the CFTT ensures that no administrative detail falls through a crack and that the people who donate dollars to our Fund are able to use their generous donations to their benefit at tax time.  Once we sat down and took into consideration everything that the Community Foundation does for our Fund, the administrative fees are a bargain.
I won’t say that if it weren’t for the Community Foundation for the Twin Tiers, the Darlene J. Sitler Memorial Scholarship would not have happened.  But I can say with certainty that we would not be as far ahead as we are today.  Because we know that the Community Foundation is taking care of all our administrative needs, we’re able to keep our minds on raising funds for our Scholarship, and to keep our minds and hearts on the mission of the Darlene J. Sitler Memorial Scholarship Fund:
We seek to honor the person Darlene Sitler was and turn the focus away from the way she died and put the spotlight back on the way she lived, the way she instructed, inspired, and encouraged.  We plan to give our scholarship each year to a student graduating from Northern Potter High School who has participated in the music program and who plans to attend college to become a teacher.  While we would be thrilled to award our scholarship to a future music teacher, our scholarship committee believes that someone can take to heart the lessons learned in a music class or in band and chorus and use them to instruct, inspire, and encourage students at any level, in any field.
During her life and career, Ms. Sitler touched thousands of lives with her determination, strength of character, and enthusiasm.  Now it’s up to us to pass her light into the future, and the Community Foundation for the Twin Tiers is helping us do just that.

It's Memorial Day...Have A Good Weekend

I never know what to say about Memorial Day. "Happy Memorial Day" isn't really appropriate, but just saying to a Veteran, "have a good weekend" doesn't convey it, either. 

Pictures I took at the USS Arizona Memorial
This is what I mean, though, whenever I do slip and say "Happy Memorial Day:" Thank you. Thank you for going to Hell for our country. I regret the times in our history that we haven't been a grateful nation. Unless we were where you went, we can't fathom what it was like for you. You lost friends and even pieces of yourself, sometimes pieces that can be seen, but more so, pieces that never could be seen, only felt. If you're here to remember, you returned home changed forever. You made a sacrifice. So this holiday weekend, I hope that during the remembering and the tears, there is a ray of happiness for you, a stray memory of one who didn't come home that always makes you grin. That's them, coming to tap you on the shoulder from the Other Side. I wish you healing this weekend, even if it's just something small. And for the rest if us who didn't go where our Veterans have gone, let's do pause and thank them and remember with them, and be there for them. Without the sacrifices each of them have made, we would have much more than our First World Problems to contend with.

But all that is far from concise. So. It's Memorial Day. Have a good weekend. ((((Hugs))))

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I Just Want To Stay Here A Minute

Yesterday, I cleaned a bunch of outgrown clothes out of Zoe's closet. I don't have any reason to feel regretful, because she wore these clothes from last March through the summer and into the winter, before I started putting the "pantsuit" all-in-ones on her. I have lots of pictures of her in all these clothes, but this morning, I find myself with big tears in my eyes every time I think of pulling all those cute little clothes off their hangers and putting them in the box to go upstairs for "maybe someday." I don't think it's so much about the little clothes-they're cute, and we have lots of good memories of Zoe wearing those clothes, but they come out with cute new things every day. It's the little girl who's outgrowing them I'm trying so desperately to hold onto.

I've packed away the little purple and black newborn outfit that fit her all baggy and big when they took her picture on our second day in the hospital, but fit her like an undersized sausage casing before her first Thanksgiving. I have her 0-3m Fluffy Green Dress set aside to be framed (because that one carries special significance). We tried to get extra mileage out of that one, putting it on her when the ruffles seemed to swallow her whole, and finally giving up when we couldn't get the snaps fastened beneath anymore. Now the little orange romper, and the navy blue one with the white embroidery, and the turquoise and brown ones with white polkadots are folded and packed away in the bin, and her closet's full of the next wave of cute little things to wear.

Zoe's ready for the next wave of Growing Up. And here I sit in a puddle, because it seems like just the other day that I could tuck her under my arm like a tiny but chubby little football. I was trying to teach her to roll over and keep socks and shoes on her Feet of Fury. Now, she still climbs up on my lap and grips me like the little monkey she is, and she still delights in going for walks outside, all tucked into her MoBY Wrap carrier, but she left rolling over in the dust a long time ago, and instead, throughout the day, I hear the soles of her little silver shoes she insists on wearing, tapping like a snare drum on the floor as she runs through the house, squealing at the joy of just being her.

She's growing too fast, but at exactly the speed she's supposed to. It's me who's static and getting left in the dust, and I miss her a little bit, already.

Friday, March 22, 2013

I'm a Nerd Girl, and I'm Cool With That

George Takei had a post the other day showing an illustration of a mom and toddler, and the mom was telling the toddler that "Mommy is a nerd, and someday she'd teach [the toddler] about muggles, the One Ring, and the ways of the Force."  George Takei's comment was that Nerd Girls grow up to be great moms.

This put a smile on my face.

See, I've always been a bit of a nerd.  And by 'a bit of a nerd,' I mean a really, really big nerd.  A nerd with the words, especially.  From kind of an early age, I'd read dictionaries.  The first time I set out writing and got hold of a thesaurus, the back of my head just about blew off.  As I've mentioned before, I wasn't so hot at the math and science, especially starting in the seventh grade, but I was definitely interested in the things that math and science do.  For years, I wanted to be an astronaut, and in a pre-Internet world, studied up on all the early astronauts, and what you had to do to become an astronaut.  I never left the Wellsville library without an armload of books on whichever topic I happened to be obsessed with at that particular visit.

In short, I always wandered to the beat of my own drum, always in the back of my head knew I was a nerd, but I wasn't entirely at-peace with it.  Especially when the girls who weren't nerds, even a little, got asked out by boys, and me, not so much.  I can't remember if it ever came out as explicit, or if it was always just an undercurrent, my inherent nerdiness, but in looking over one of my yearbooks, one of my guy-friends wrote "To a cool girl who thinks she's a nerd, but not anymore, really."  Apparently that friend noticed the nerd sticking out since first grade, enough to notice that it was a little less obvious by the end of our high school career.

At the time, I remember thinking 'Sheesh, how much of a geeker have I been all along, for him to say something about it, out of the blue, in my senior yearbook?'  I wasn't at all mad at him.  For a little while, though, I wished he would have taken me aside and told me how nerdy I apparently was, before the tail-end of our senior year.  I felt like I'd had the back of my skirt tucked into my tights all that time, a little bit.  You know that mortifying feeling?  And then you wonder why in the hell none of your friends told you?

But for longer still, that remark in my yearbook has reminded me that I am who I am, and that's pretty all right. 

It also serves as proof that not only was I a nerd before nerdiness was "cool," but that by the time I graduated from high school, I'd already established a long history of being a nerd.

I don't even know when it became "okay" to be a nerd.  Nerds were persecuted in the 1980s.  All you have to do is look at the movies from that era.  In the 1990s, we nerds might have fared better in the persecution department than our 1980s kin, but still.  We had Screech and Urkel out there in the ether of pop culture.  Lovable, yes (from a distance), annoying up close, most especially.  Nothing anybody in their right mind would aspire to be, if they had a choice.

Maybe it was the internet that gave rise to the coolness of nerds?  Or technology in general?  Maybe we don't stick out as much, because a smartphone packing a virtual pocket protector inside looks the same on the outside as the kind of phone the vapid little twits use to text their little friends during dinner.

I don't know when the moment was when being a nerd became cool, but I'm glad it coincided with the time when I grew up enough to stop caring whether or not people thought I was one.  And in case there's still any speculation: I'm a nerd.  A big one.    Besides my friend's documentation of it in my yearbook (besides my appearances in said yearbooks themselves) what's my proof?  Well, here's the evidence:

That whole thing with readin' dictionaries and going gaga for thesauruses.  I taught myself how to play a bassoon.  It's not a sexy instrument like a saxophone or the drums.  I minored in Greek and read the Iliad and the Odyssey in the language Homer wrote them.  And that Homer bastard just made words up sometimes, so it made reading him in his native language an exercise in hurts-so-good.  In grade school, as soon as I figured out how to work the VCR, I'd come home from school and watch Return of the Jedi.  In fact, I had a Return of the Jedi lunch pail from kindergarten until it broke when I was in fourth grade, and did I ever wail on that day!  I was glued to the original Star Trek series.  It used to air on our PBS station.  I grew up to like all things Star Trek and have even endeavored to learn Klingon, which I understand makes me geeky even by Trekkie standards.

In college, it really never occurred to me to go party on the weekends.  I really preferred to stay in and read something fun or to study, and I don't feel like I missed out.  I get nervous and skittish in a lot of social situations.  I kind of hate loud bars and the people in them.  Not individually, in different circumstances, but as a group.  Drunk people are unpredictable, and I don't like unpredictableness.  I've tried to be one of the fun drunk people before (actually, I was drinking to quiet an annoying voice outside my head-unfortunately, drinking didn't make that person go away.  Crap, crap, and double crap, just like the person from whom that annoying voice spews forth!), and as it turns out, I'm just not cut out for that.  I like to keep my wits about me, and a days-long hangover isn't how I want to spend time.  So eschewing a party for reading some Homer, or writing something: if that's not nerdish behavior, I don't know what is.

As soon as I got through graduate school and had time to read for fun, I devoured The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter series, and I even read the Silmarillion.  I've been a Battlestar Galactica fan.  I read about string theory for fun, because as it turns out, if I want to be, I can be good at math and science... to a point.

My dream job would be to be an agent on Warehouse 13.

I kind of do go back to the other thing that friend of mine wrote: "To a cool girl..."  Maybe it's a little pathetic, but even as a card-carrying grown up person, I have my moments when I've nerded myself into a corner.  I have my times when the social awkwardness catches up with me.  And it's those words from that particular friend that kind of shake me out of it: he said I was a cool girl who thought I was a nerd, but not anymore much, really.

Right.  I've done a few cool things in my life.  I can fly airplanes.  That takes both cool and nerdiness.  I've safely landed that airplane with a cylinder separating and most of the power gone and limped it back to the hangar.  I've been known to drive a red sports car around (and also an orange Gremlin- a nerdy little car, and yet it radiates a cool all its own).  I can operate with confidence a big tractor with a bucket on the front of it, and I can run a chainsaw.  I live in a haunted house and have the photographic evidence, and that doesn't bother me (much).  I can throw a punch.  Blood doesn't bother me.  I can name off the top of my head most of the muscles in the body because I lift heavy weights and when a muscle starts burning, I look it up to see what its name is.  I collect words like they're money.  I also have a potty mouth, but I can defend those "potty mouth" words back to before 1066, before the Normans conquered England and our four-letter bad words were just Anglo-Saxon "words."  Not that most people listen to that particular dissertation, because their virgin ears are still stinging from my cloud of blue speech in certain circumstances.  But if you DID listen, it's a compelling argument for letting those wonderful, direct, to-the-point Anglo-Saxon words out of the cage they've been in for nearly a thousand years.

I just wish I could go back in time for a minute, meet up with myself, rip off the hornrim glasses I had but didn't need and tell myself to just let that nerd flag fly, that my friends would be okay with me being a nerd, and my nonfriends wouldn't give a rip whether I was cool or nerdy, they'd find something to continue being a nonfriend over.  And in 20 years, none of that shite would matter anyhow.  The hornrims- I've pretty much had 20-15 vision my whole life, but I insisted that Dr. Stagman prescribe me glasses- what I was doing was trying to hide my nerdiness by dumbing down and then wearing the hornrim glasses to make myself look smarter- kind of a double-agent disguise- I couldn't BE a nerd, because hell, I looked like one, and that's just too obvious, isn't it?  At least one of my friends saw straight through that little bit of trickery, though, I guess!

I'm a Nerd Girl.  No two ways about it.  And that's okay.  It's who I am, and I'm cool with that.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Snow White's Heart of Darkness

I watch Once Upon a Time on ABC.  If you're not familiar, its premise is that all the characters from the fairy tales we all know wind up in our world, in a town called Storybrooke, Maine.  In the first part of the season, they were all under a curse, and they didn't remember who they really are.  They just lived in this weird little town where time stood still.  And then someone came and broke the curse.  Now, we're dealing with these magical characters living in our world, more or less, but magic has come back to Storybrooke, and they're all trying to deal with it.

Until a very recent episode, there were two main villains on the show: Regina, the Wicked Queen from Snow White fame, and Regina's mother, Cora.  I couldn't stand Cora not because she was evil, but because her teeth bugged the crap out of me.  My husband's a dentist, and every time Cora would appear for the first time in an episode, I'd ask him if there weren't anything any dentist, orthodontist, or plastic surgeon could do to fix Cora's mouth.  She had straight teeth, but evidence of early buck-toothedness and an overbite.  In other words, I'm guessing the actress that played Cora could at one time eat corn off the cob through a chain-link fence.  She could have been a good character, and I would have hated her, just because of the way she held her mouth.

I'm like that.

Anyway, during this whole show, I've been irritated at how stupid the "good guys" are, because in true fairy-tale hero fashion, they insist on maintaining the high road, even if it means letting a really bad baddy go free.  I've used the word "pussy" to describe Prince Charming/David.  I didn't used to like that word.  But the dude's a huge pussy.  The character demonstrated the apex of his testicular fortitude when he was lying in the Storybrooke hospital in a coma.

During the entire run of the show so far, Regina and Cora have, in one way or another, tried to kill off Snow White. Snow White has had many opportunities to get both the baddies, but lets them go because she believes in the goodness in them.  I've thought all along that Snow White's real name ought to be "Stone Dumb" for this.

Finally, Snow White went against Prince Charming's urgings to continue just wimping out (or the way he put it, taking the high road), and tricked Regina into killing her mother Cora.  And then, after that brilliant show of backbone, Snow White went into a depressive molt and went slinking to Regina, begging the Wicked Queen (or in "our" world, the Mayor of Storybrooke) to just kill her already, and get it over with.  Because Regina's main desire in life is to kill Snow White, followed by regaining custody of her adopted son (Snow White's grandson). 

Regina plunges her hand into Snow White's chest and pulls out her glowing fairy-tale-looking heart- on this show, the hearts of fairy tale characters aren't the messy, blood-pumping things we're familiar with. And the characters can live even with their hearts out of their bodies.  But if the heart gets crushed, the character dies.  For real.  So anyway, there Regina has Snow White's heart, and she looks it all over and starts laughing and shows Snow the black spot on her heart, apparently earned by tricking Regina into killing her own mother.  Then Regina plunges the heart back into Snow White's chest and says she's going to let the heart turn all the way black, because once the darkness creeps into a heart, it just spreads until the whole heart is black.  And off goes Snow White, all blubbery because now she has a black spot on her heart.

Okay.  This is what always irritated me about fairy tales.  The good guys were always good, all the time, and the bad guys were always bad with no redeeming qualities.  On this show, they're a little more interesting.  Slightly more interesting.  The bad guys usually show some redeeming quality, some capacity for good, and the good guys--- well, they're still mostly one-dimensional and paralyzed by their fear of doing something even a little bad, even for a good reason.

Take Snow White and Cora.  As it turned out, Cora's been on a vendetta against Snow White since before she was even born.  And Cora didn't hesitate to kill anyone who got in her way.  Or anyone she didn't like that day.  Or just because she was bored.  If Snow White and her band of heroes weren't so lily-livered and squeamish about stooping to conquer, Cora's run on the show would have been two episodes, tops.  And Regina would have been eliminated nearly as quickly, because the bad guys are always giving the good guys opportunities that the good guys are too afraid to take.

Snow White and Prince Pussy need to get a grip about this heart of darkness thing. Everyone has light and dark in them, even they, themselves.  The trick is to acknowledge the darkness and not be afraid of it.  Use it like a tool.  The baddies do the flipside of this.  They use their light as a tool to manipulate the good guys into letting them off again and again and again, in the hopes of redemption. 

I like a good story of redemption as much as the next girl, but let's be honest.  To stem some of the carnage on the show (Disney-fied carnage, but carnage nonetheless), Cora needed to go.  The excuse that she acted the way she did because she took out her own heart years ago isn't reason enough to give her a Prince Charming pardon, and the fact that she seemed so much warmer and friendlier in the seconds after it was put back in and before she died can be called poignant or it can be called justice, since maybe in those moments, her heart made her realize just how much she'd hurt everyone around her.  If she were allowed to die without her heart, and without her conscience, it would have been a death without suffering a little bit for what she'd done.

It's ridiculous that Snow White curled up into a little ball over what she did.  Even in fairy tale terms, she's in the middle of a war.  Cora was pretty unstoppable, what with all the good guys cowering and rolling to her.  In taking her out, Snow White saved many more good characters than the one bad character.  And really, why was she so guilty about taking out that really, really bad character the way she did, when the whole thing that set off Regina against her in the first place was that Regina was in love with a stablehand, but Cora would have nothing to do with it.  Snow knew Regina was looking to run off with the stablehand and Regina warned her not to tell anyone.  Snow turned around and told Cora, because she trusted that Cora wanted Regina to be happy and the stablehand made her happy, and that was a miscalculation that cost the stablehand his life (at Cora's own hand, right in front of Regina).  That was an innocent that lost his life as a direct consequence of Snow White's inability to keep a secret and just let her future stepmother run off.  But Snow bounced back from that one pretty easily.

That's the trouble with fairytale princesses.  They could save themselves, but they're too busy wringing their hands, waiting for someone to come rescue them.  They're waiting for someone else to come do their dirty work for them. For once, one of them took matters into her own hands.  She might be a little less Snow White now, but she became a whole lot more interesting.  Now she just needs to get a grip and maybe slap some of the spinelessness out of Charming.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Dear Zoe, I Will Always Let You Sit With Me

Today while Zoe was eating her lunch, I asked her if she liked ravioli.  It was her first time trying those delicious little meat-filled pasta pillows.  She got a solemn look on her face and nodded her head, and took a sip of milk.  I followed up the question by asking her if I could sit with her and eat my lunch, and she very emphatically shook her head "no!"

Well, then!

This has been coming for a while now, actually. Zoe's been growing right up and getting a little more independent every day.  It's really nice that she feeds herself, whether it's with her fingers or whether she uses forks and spoons.  I do miss snuggling with her when she'd have a bottle, but even while she was in that stage, I really did treasure every minute, because we both knew it wouldn't last.

She started eating "solid foods" last January.  Of course, "solid" means pureed this and that, and baby cereal.  The second day she got to eat "solids," she took the spoon out of my hand and tried to feed herself.  Then she realized how cushy it is to be "the baby," and at least let me spoon-feed her. That is until this week.

Sunday night, she didn't want me feeding her anymore.  She felt so strongly about it that she grabbed her plate and upended it onto the floor, much to Rozzie's delight.  A defiant little flicker flashed in her eyes, and I knew it was a toddler thing, and that I shouldn't react, because as such, she was partly looking for a reaction.  So I said "I guess you're full then!" and unstrapped her from her high chair and sent her off to play, and while I was cleaning up the dishes from the floor (Rozzie got the floor itself good to go), I humped up and bawled. 

It wasn't the food on the floor that bothered me.  I'm not raising a brat, but I do let her have her toddler moments.  She's seventeen months old.  Sometimes she pulls crap like that just to get a reaction.  Anyway, I'm not getting into a parenting debate with you, so if you're getting all up on your high horse on me, just stop reading and go tell your favorite teddy bear all your theories of how I'm doing wrong by my kid.  But I'm not interested in hearing them.

No, it wasn't the food on the floor.  It was that I realized with no room for ambiguity that Zoe and I have passed some kind of milestone.  She wants to feed herself, or if the look in her eyes as she upended her plate is any indication, she wants do feed her damn self! and I got her message loud and clear.  Our days of her sitting in her high chair and me sitting in the regular chair, blissfully scooping food from her dish into her mouth have passed.

So this week, we've tried it her way, her eating like a big girl.  And she's doing really well at it.  Great, actually.  Mornings, she eats yogurt with cereal mixed in, to make it a little thick, and also to make sure she gets her cereal in (it's recommended that she eats the baby cereal until she's 2, so I give it to her.)  I put the yogurt and cereal mixture into silicone pinch-bowls, because they were always easy for me to grip, and I can also get them scraped pretty clean with just a spoon, and also if they hit the floor, they don't shatter or really cause much drama, other than something for Rozzie to clean up. 

I wasn't sure how a seventeen month-old would be able to handle one of these pinch-bowls, but she wanted to give it a spin and I let her.  She had trouble with it when the tray was hooked to her high chair, so preparing myself for a mess, I took the tray off and handed her the bowl and spoon so she could see into the bowl without having to tip it way over to see what's in there.  She smiled at me, grabbed the spoon in her right hand and the bowl in her left, tucked her legs up into a cross-legged position while she sat strapped in her high chair, and proceeded to scoop the yogurt and cereal out of the bowl and into the mouth, looking at me the whole time as if to say "Bye now! Come back when I'm all done!"

"You doing okay?" I asked her.

She smiled, crinkling up her eyes, loading another spoon of yogurt and cereal into her mouth, and said "Mmmmmmmmm!"

I went and unloaded the dishwasher and got the dishes put away, and when I came back, I was surprised to see that she'd gotten her bowl almost as clean as I could when I fed her.

"Well, Kid, you're hired!" I told her, unhooking her high chair's seatbelt and letting her toddle around.

That's how we've been doing feeding time here at the zoo this week, then.  I turn her meals over to her and then go into the kitchen to get things done, so she doesn't think I'm hovering, but I'm near enough if I should hear that she needs me.  There've been no more upended dishes of food.

Her rejection of letting me sit with her today to eat my lunch while she ate hers won't be the last, I know.  I walked her road before, a long time ago.  I dig where she's coming from. 

Bittersweet.  That's the word for this.  Because it was wonderful having this huggy little snuggle-baby early on- when she was sleeping- when she was awake, even as a newborn, Zoe always had to be on the move, in her swing, doing SOMETHING!  She was like a little dolly.  The very first breakfast I ate as "Mommy" at the hospital, I sat at the table in my room and cradled sleeping Zoe in my free arm, and told her all about all the fun we'd have together, when she was a little bigger.  I told her how we'd go shopping together, and read books and do crafts and play in the yard, but right then, she was too small for all those things, so I'd just hug her and hug her until she was bigger. 

Even at the hospital, though, she was asserting her independent streak.  She and the nurses had a battle over her hat.  Every time she'd come back to my room from the nursery, she'd have on the cute little knitted hat somebody knit and donated (which I keep meaning to do, myself!).  As soon as the nurse was out the door, Zoe would have the hat pulled off.  If she was swaddled with her arms in, she would rub her head up against me until she worked the hat off.  If her arms were out, she'd just pull it off.  This was the first day she was on this planet.  The rest of our time in the hospital, she didn't wear the hat.  At home, she'd wear a hat when we were outside (but she didn't like it!)

So this day, I knew would come, and I know there are going to be many more days when my little chooby-cheeked cherub more or less tells me to skedaddle.  I'm trading cuddliness for fun, and I can accept that.  I just never would have thought these separate moments would take my breath away like they do, when we come to them. 

The thing is, no matter how many times Zoe tells me to skedaddle, no matter how many times she pushes me away, one thing she can count on is that when she needs somebody to sit with her, I will always let her sit with me.  Always.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

One Thing A Day

Waaaaaay back in September or October, I wrote a post about how messy my house is and how I need to get it cleaned up.  For years now, I've been getting FLYLady's emails about de-cluttering and chipping away at messiness in fifteen minute chunks.  I will say this, IF you actually do as FLYLady says, and do fifteen minutes of a task, eventually it does get done.  You can't misuse it and just do 15 minutes a day and call it a job well done when your house looks like mine.  It takes 15 minutes of work, 15 minutes of doing something else, and so on.  You have to come back to the task at hand and chip away at it until it's done. 

In FLYLady-speak, I've basically "fluttered" and then "crash-n-burned" over and over.  That doesn't mean FLYLady's a load of hogwash.  It just means I really need a slightly different approach to turning my home from freakin' pigsty to cozy and pleasantly lived-in.

See, I was never good at leaving something only 15-minutes' worth of done.  I was never good at leaving work with anything other than an empty inbox (the physical kind, not the email kind, although...)  Having something hanging over my head just sort of wears on me, and I obsess about it so by the time I get back to the task at hand, I'm burnt out on it. 

It's not the way to be, and I know this isn't what FLYLady intends with her fifteen-minutes at a time approach. 

The other day, I ran across a site that's something along the order of Making Organizing Fun or such.  That woman's approach is to size up all the things in your house that drive you nuts, organization-wise, and then take one per day and fix it.

This, I can do!

You see, it's kind of satisfying to me to start a project, work on it until it's finished, and then be able to be proud of my work.  The key is completing a task. 

I tried this out last weekend on my laundry area/changing table area.  This space in the house, which is really an extension on the far end of the kitchen, put the "hell" in "helter-skelter."  It's always been a difficult space.  Last Friday, I decided I'd had enough of the chaos and decided I'd change things around some.  I moved the changing area into a corner and made a folding area using two Rubbermaid folding tables.  I can store hampers under the tables, so it feels less cluttered. 

It looks really nice.  The space still isn't optimally functional or optimally good-looking, but that's okay, because when Shane got home, he looked around and said "What if we moved the laundry room upstairs to my office?"

I've wanted my laundry room upstairs since we were planning out the renovation.  I made a case for it back then and got shouted down by someone in Shane's family, who apparently gets more electoral votes than I do, on the grounds that "the washer could leak and make a mess."  Well, okay, I thought.  That's fair, because washers leak all the time, whereas toilets, sinks, and bathtubs NEVER leak, ever, and we have 2 bathrooms upstairs.  Yeah.  There are some things I'm bitter about.  I have some issues about this having less electoral votes to work through.

Anyway.  I'm happy that Shane's seen the value of putting the whole laundry kit and caboodle upstairs where we actually dress and undress.  His "office" has always had the feel more of big, disaster-area closet than "office."  It'll be heaven not to have laundry hampers in our bedrooms, to be able to keep everything in one room upstairs, a room with a window and a door that can be closed if we don't want to look at the laundry appliances.

Then I envision the place that is now the laundry room as kind of a mudroom, with one of those benches with storage for shoes underneath, coat-hooks above, and above that, storage for backpacks and hats. 

I mention all this because laundry and its flotsam has been a source of chaos in this house for ever.  I feel like getting that room squared away is going to help everything else get neater in the rest of the house.  Everything having a place makes it easier to put everything in its place!

Other spots I've cleaned up have stayed clean.  The family room's stayed uncluttered since October.  The coffeetable in the living room is not piled with two feet of debris anymore. you can actually set a plate or coffee cup on it - if you're trusting enough not to think a toddler or German shepherd isn't going to steal it.

I have a long way to go, getting my place less disastery.  But at least now, when people come in to my house, the first room they see is clutter-free and pleasant.  The downstairs bathroom is clean.  The laundry room doesn't look like a hiding place for ... I don't know.  Whatever would hide in a pile of wash and jump out at unsuspecting guests.  Eighty-five percent of the time, my kitchen island is cleaned off and functional.  It isn't perfect, but eighty-five still passes!

My house isn't perfect, but it's getting better, one fifteen minutes at a time, one task at a time. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Crime Eggs- 'Tis the Season

This is an oldie but a Goodie, first written as a note on my Facebook page in 2009.  I've learned very little about moderation in the last four years.
In a serendipitous response, a friend of mine saw a mother lode of Cadbury Creme Eggs at Wegmans not long after this post, and took a picture of them and sent them to me with the caption: "April-Crime Eggs for you!" It was an auto-correct slip-up, but we all agree- unless a grown-up  rations out the Creme Eggs to me one at a time, and hides them where I have no hope of finding them, when I see Creme Eggs, it turns into a crime scene. So Crime Eggs it is, because I think nothing of murdering three or four (or more) at a sitting and then going back for more.

I have a little problem with Cadbury Creme Eggs, meaning the kind of problem that I probably should wear a Chocolate Detector Ankle Bracelet and have Jenny Craig parked at the end of my driveway ready to throw me in a van and drive me to an undisclosed diet center if I exceed one Creme Egg a day.

So one Friday a few weeks back, I got up and did my usual routine of working out for an hour, showering, getting around, and coming downstairs for breakfast. Shane doesn't work on Fridays, so he was a little while behind me, coming down the stairs. So, I fixed myself a bowl of coffee, half-caf, with skim milk, a little sugar to take the edge off, and a healthy dollop of Reddi Wip, because coffee should be fun, after all. And what to eat alongside my big bowl o' joe?

On the counter, at that moment were: a bowl of Granny Smith apples, BSN Lean Dessert Protein Powder, and...

A four-pack of Cadbury Creme Eggs.

Guess what won? I'll give you a hint. It wasn't the apples, and I didn't whip up a protein shake.

In the space of five minutes, I'd devoured three of the four Creme Eggs in the box on the counter. The only thing that saved that last Creme Egg in the box was that I'd heard Shane coming down the stairs, and as he's a dentist, he tends to frown on Creme Eggs and candy in general, but gets really high'n'mighty when it's eaten for breakfast. So I hurried to get rid of the colorful foil evidence, and stood there at the kitchen island, eating the whip off my coffee as nonchalantly as one can with that much fat and sugar coursing through one's veins that early in the morning. Shane proceeded to get into the refrigerator, take out some eggs, and make himself an omelet. He did ask if I wanted one too, and I told him I'd already eaten.

Fast forward a couple hours, to Main Street in Wellsville. We've been killing time that morning, waiting for Rozzie to get finished and dried from her monthly bath at the vet's. We're not too posh to bathe our own pet, but she has a skin condition that requires their shampoo and a shot every few weeks, and as we live about 25 minutes from the vet's and it was one of those many days in the winter when about a foot of snow dropped out of the sky overnight, we didn't want to be running back and forth between Wellsville and home any more than we needed to. So we were trying to decide where to go to eat. It was too early for lunch, but I said I was starving, without even thinking.

"You said you already ate breakfast," Shane said.

"Yeah, I had a three-egg omelet," I said, again without thinking. I should learn to think before I speak, I guess. Because Shane stopped walking in the middle of the sidewalk, and looked at me funny. I should have just yelled "anarchy!" and run down the street right then, but I did not.

"Where'd you get the eggs for your omelet?" he asked.

"Out of the carton in the refrigerator," I said. I was already committed to the lie and had to follow through now, because they send people to rehab for things like this.

"The carton I brought home last night?"

"That's the one," I said. "Three eggs, right out of that carton you brought home last night."

Shane shook his head in disbelief and grinned.

"Well, then, I bought a magic carton of eggs at Jubilee last night, because when I opened it up to get eggs for my omelet, all twelve eggs were in the carton, still."

I knew I'd been caught.

"Yeah, about that," I said. "What I really meant to say is that I made myself a three-egg omelet with the Cadbury Creme Eggs on the counter, and I didn't so much make an omelet as I just ate them, one right after another, right out of their wrappers."

"What stopped you from eating the fourth one?" Shane asked.

"I heard you coming down the stairs."

Shane looked a little disgusted, but also amused. No van from Jenny Craig pulled up to whisk me off, but I noticed in any store we went into that morning, I was propelled past the Creme Eggs displays, and when we finally picked up Rozzie and got home, that lonely Creme Egg from that morning had disappeared.

That wasn't my last tangle with the Creme Egg Monster, though. It's a tough addiction to kick, and there is no 12-step program.

In a completely unrelated note, I'm working on losing about ten pounds that seems to have appeared out of nowhere these last few months, so if you see me out shopping and I'm in the candy aisle or eyeing the Reese Cups in the checkout lane, stop me. Use whatever force necessary. I'll thank you later.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Textual Relations

Sometimes I worry about my social interactions, and then I run across somebody so socially inept it makes me feel superept.

One recent night, we were having dinner.  A family I'm acquainted with was also having dinner with their extended family.  The daughter, who is late high-school, maybe early college-age, had her phone in her hands when the family sat down, and spent the meal with her hands in her lap, face pointed down, smirking and giggling, except for the occasional pause to slip a furtive fork of food into her mouth.  When anyone at the table asked her how school was going or about her interests, she'd answer in monosyllabic responses, in a cartoonish, baby-voice and go straight back to tapping out texts on her phone.

I sure hope that girl is more interesting in her surely excessive emoticons LOLs, and textspeak than she is in real life, because at that table, in the presence of her family, she was coming off as a thoughtless, vapid little twit.

Where were her parents?  They were right there.  Were they even noticing how rude she was being to everyone at the table?  It's hard to know for sure, but I'm guessing not.Would they have been as okay with their daughter sitting at the dinnertable with all their family, with her face poked in a book?

On second thought, they might be pleased to see her reading actual words.  Huh.

I guess you could say it really irritated me, seeing this girl ignoring everybody at the table with her in order to keep up with her end of a textual relation at dinnertime.  Her family at least was pretending that she was interesting enough to engage in actual conversation.  She could have stepped up and done the same.  She would have had the easier task in that bargain.

I'm not anti-technology.  In fact, I love technology.  I have my iPhone with me all the time.  I use it to listen to music, keep track of where I'm supposed to be, to make grocery lists, to record Zoe's milestones, to take pictures, make notes, play Words with Friends, check in on Facebook when I'm out and about, find out if I'm heading in the right direction when I'm lost, to check the weather, or read a book or play a game when I'm sitting bored in a waiting room.  Ironically, I rarely get phone calls on my phone.  Texts are even rarer.

I don't always get it right, when I need to be social face-to-face.  Sometimes, my mouth gets ahead of my internal filter.  Or I don't say something I should.  Other times, like when I'm hearing for the zazillionth time the same argument over who had it the hardest growing up, I check out completely.  There's no winning that argument, since the combatants are so committed to the argument itself, that I make an exception to my own rule about not using the phone when I'm around actual people.  But at least I make an effort to be polite and interesting in person, even when there's an inevitable argument brewing.  The more practice you get, the better you get at it.

I don't know what'll become of that girl at the dinnertable with all her textual relations.  I kind of wanted to watch and see what would happen if all of a sudden, the battery in her phone died, or the cell network went down, or somebody dropped hot soup in her lap and all over her phone.  I kind of wanted to stick around and see if she'd be able to form a complete and coherent verbal sentence or if she'd just sit awkwardly silent, an S-E-G pasted across her face as she'd check the blank screen every few seconds.

Kids these days worry me, sometimes.

Friday, January 11, 2013

My Favorite Bubbles

Tiny, Mister, Dubble... Fond as I am of all the different kinds of bubbles, my favorite is the Scrubbing Bubble.

I haven't found anything these tiny, hard-working guys can't do.  They already keep my shower clean, and the tub, sinks, toilet, and fixtures as well. Yesterday afternoon, I set it in my head to clean the disaster area that is the downstairs bathroom, and got out the Scrubbing Bubbles to clean the tile on the walls, and the other porcelain features I mentioned.  It took no time at all.  It's a small room.  I couldn't get past how awful the floor looked, though.

The floor in that downstairs bathroom- well, in ALL the bathrooms, actually, has been a source of upset for me since the day we moved into this house in 2007.  They're white tile, with little black tiles set in, and the kicker: white grout.  That white grout has looked dingy, as though it's had a century of grime mashed in, since Day One.  I watched the fellow who did the tiling put in bright white grout.  I even saw the pride he took in how nice and white it was, and his anguish/ire as the other guys working on the house tracked in on those floors with the beautiful, bright white grout and turned the grout to that disheartening grime-color.  He offered to Dremel out the grout and redo it, and threaten the life of any of the guys who'd dirty up the brand new grout, and in some spots where things were spilled before it was sealed, that's just what he did, but at that point, we just wanted to get out of the Domicile of the Damned and into our own house, so we said we'd deal with the mess later, after the crew was gone.

And I did try.  I tried using baking soda and vinegar and a toothbrush.  I tried using the same mixture and a grout brush.  I tried dumping peroxide on the floor and working it into the grout.  Nothing worked.  All those remedies would make the rest of the floor cleaner, but that grout looked like it'd been in a grimy subway for centuries. 

It's been like this so long, I've stopped caring about the dingy grout.  I've certainly stopped trying to clean it up.  So this afternoon, it was nothing more than a 'can't get any worse' attempt, when I squirted a line of Scrubbing bubbles on the floor, focusing on the grout.  I took a swipe with a microfiber cloth, and mmmmmmwwwwwhaaaaaaaat?!  That dang ol' grout practically sparkled!  I sprayed the whole floor and let it sit for twenty-five minutes or so.  Gave the floor a once-over, in small sections, with a regular scrub-brush (the grout brush was all the way upstairs!), then wiped with the microfiber, and in less than a half hour after I started scrub-brushing and wiping away, that floor looks newer than it did when it was new.  Almost perfect!

I have two more bathroom floors to spruce up, now.  Instead of resenting this, I kind of can't wait to get started. 

Those Scrubbing Bubbles are quite fantastic.  I wish they worked as well on everything else as they do on hard surfaces in the bathroom.  Congress, I'm talking to you.  But that's a rant for another day.  Right now, I'm going to go stare at my nice, clean, sparkling grout, and just smile and smile.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Guess I'll Eat Some Worms!

No one likes me, everybody hates me!
Guess I'll eat some worms!

Remember that little gem from childhood?  Then the narrator of the song goes on to detail all the different worms s/he is going to eat. Somehow, this song got stuck in my head, and I can't get it out.  I've tried all the folksy methods of expelling this ditty from my head, and it's only made it worse.  I think someone out there is sitting with their April voodoo doll next to a speaker with this song on continuous loop, and I'll tell ya what, it's really mean.

First of all, I never liked that song much, and second of all, I never understood it.

Seriously.  Why, if everybody hated you, would you go eat some worms?  I've had days where I've felt like nobody liked me, everybody hated me, so you know what I did?  I went to the store and bought a King Size candy bar.  Eating worms wouldn't make me feel better about being universally hated at all, but chocolate, on the other hand, tastes good and does have happy-pill-like effects when you're down in the dumps.

Think of it.  In the Harry Potter books and movies, did the people who'd had brushes with Dementors eat worms to chase away their depression?  No.  They ate chocolate bars.

I think whoever wrote the song, talking about eating worms because nobody liked him or her, was a master of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.  "Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, so I'm gonna go ahead and do something spiteful to myself, too!"  Yeah, that'll show 'em!

The song's never made sense to me.  Not when I was a kid, and certainly not as a grown-up, unless it's sung with heavy sarcastic overtones, or sung once as a means of catharsis.  But better yet, I wouldn't sing it at all.  It's a stupid song, even as far as stupid kid-songs go.  You know what makes more sense to me?

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me
Ha-ters gon-na HATE!
I'm goin' for chocolate
I'm goin' for ice-cream!
... What's that, Haters-you want a ride?
Sorry, bitches! You're not invited!
Your behavior disgusts me!
I'm gonna find some new friends,
Some really, really GOOD friends, 
To share my chocolate and ice cream with!
Haters can run off and cry!

This is probably why I should come with a Parental Advisory label.  And also why I don't write songs.  My version's not as catchy as the original, and it doesn't really fit that well with the original score.  I think the underlying message is much more empowering than just sulking in a corner and eating worms.

Monday, January 7, 2013

I Cayenne Do It!

No, this hasn't turned into a cooking blog, although I'm happy to report that twelve and a half years after becoming an adult (graduating from college, where I had a meal plan and getting married and moving out of my parents' house, where there were three squares a day), I'm finally getting so I like to cook!

For a long time, my go-to meal was spaghetti.  I'd switch things up a lot, sometimes having a jar of meat sauce with it, sometimes tomato-basil, other times mushrooms would join the mix.  One time, I got really fancy and found a jar of spaghetti sauce with spicy sausage in it!  Woooo!  It was fancy living in the Blake house that dinnertime! 

Shane always maintained a good sense of humor about all spaghetti, all the time, only melting down once or twice over the solid stream of noodles-n-sauce.  (For Shane, a meltdown means he scowls and says "Can't we have something else for dinner for once?")  He even gave me a clever nickname: Spaghetti Lynetti. 

One thing that hasn't been so funny is my indiscriminate use of cayenne pepper.  I bought a bottle of cayenne pepper from the Acme in the Andorra Plaza in Philadelphia.  That bottle has moved with us from our first apartment, it moved with us back home, and its lasted in our house since we moved here in 2007.  I still have about a quarter-teaspoon left, which is quite remarkable, considering I've ruined more than two handfuls of dinners with that cursed bottle of cayenne.  I'd shake it on food until the food had a nice, rosy, peppery glow.  I've ruined tuna casseroles, chicken, tilapia, and haddock.  Repeatedly.  I don't know how that bottle of cayenne has held on this long, when I count up all the meals I've over-done the spicy-spicy using it.  And I think it's really remarkable how that cayenne pepper has held on to its heat all these years, considering the way other spices start tasting like pencil shavings after a few months of being opened.

Last night, I needed to use cayenne pepper to make "No-Butter Chicken" from the Eat Clean Diet Solution cookbook.  It's a cleaned-up version of the Indian dish Butter Chicken.  The recipe called for a list of spices as long as my arm (and I had 'em all!), including an eighth-teaspoon of cayenne.

To say I was nervous about adding that much cayenne pepper is an understatement.  I considered my bottle of cayenne pepper, shook around the red powder in the bottom, and then I carefully measured out an eighth of a teaspoon and mixed it in with the rest of the spices and was nervous the whole time I stirred the No-Butter Chicken. 

Where I went wrong before, with the cayenne pepper. I used to rely on sight and not measuring spoons to know when there's been enough put in a recipe.  My No-Butter Chicken had some sass to it tonight, but I could taste the other flavors.  It was quite delicious.  It was a hit, in fact!

So I guess I can do it.  I can cook with the hot stuff without turning dinner into a nuclear testing site.  Soon, it's going to be time to buy a new bottle of cayenne pepper.  I'd like to think I've gained some wisdom since I bought my first bottle, back in The Year Two-Thousand!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Cooked Onion Syrup

When I was a little kid and would get a cold, or the first hint of a cold, the last thing I wanted to do was let my Grandma Jeanette know I was sniffling.  It would certainly mean a dose of Onion Syrup.  My stomach would turn as Grandma sliced up onions and put them on the stove to simmer with some sugar and water.  

Onion Syrup has a flavor all its own, and it isn't one I really cared for when I was a little kid, despite its magical abilities to boot a virus right out of the system.  At least that was Grandma's story for dosing my sister and I up with the stuff at the first hint of sniffles.  

As a result of my distaste for Onion Syrup from the stove, I didn't pay a whole heck of a lot of attention to how, exactly, Grandma made it.  I know there were finely-sliced onions and sugar and water, and that the works was simmered on the stove.  I don't think there was more to it than that.  Besides, getting a cold when I was in school meant that it could possibly turn into a Bad Cold, or maybe an Ear Infection, and that meant I could stay home from school for a day or two.  Not that I loved being sick or hated school, but a little unexpected break, a chance to stay home and watch The Price Is Right and whatnot, was always a welcome change from the usual grind.

Now that I'm older, and getting a cold means no such thing as a day off, but instead a week or two of going about my regular daily activities carrying around the misery brought to me by a stuffed-up nose, aching head, sore throat, cough, and any other of a long list of cold symptoms, I will do anything to avoid the Virus of the Month Club. 

I will do anything to avoid getting sick, including making and feeding myself cooked Onion Syrup!

Seeing how I'm only a recent convert to the Onion Syrup scheme, and seeing how Grandma's forgotten how to make Onion Syrup (and a lot of other things- horrible, unfair Alzheimers Disease!), I've had to do some sleuthing on the World Wide Web to see if I can come up with a recipe that's close to hers.  The best I can find are a bunch of variations on a recipe for uncooked onion syrup, made with onions, sugar, and water, and all that is allowed to set out in a jar until needed.  It takes overnight to make.  This version just won’t do. 

After some experimenting, I think I’ve come up with a version similar to Grandma’s.  It isn’t so much a recipe as a bunch of ingredients thrown together.  It tastes just like Grandma’s cooked Onion Syrup (it’s funny how the taste has improved after all these years!), it’s hot and soothing, I’m pretty sure it’s responsible for nipping a budding cold and getting right rid of it, before Christmas, and it’s ready in just a few minutes.  No overnight waiting when you’re fearing a virus coming on!

Here’s my sort-of recipe for Onion Syrup, which makes a single serving in a coffee mug:

1.     Slice a small onion VERY thin.  Do you get fundraiser hoagies, ever?  Have you noticed how thin the onions are sliced for fundraiser hoagies?  THAT’s how thin you’re going for.  If you don’t have a small onion, slice up the equivalent of a small onion.

2.     Put the super-thin onion slices in a small saucepan.  The smallest one you have.  Cover with water.

3.     Add a tablespoon or two of sugar.  The amount of sugar is really up to you.  However much you like.  I’ve never actually measured, but I poured right out of my sugar dispenser, and it looked like I’d used about two tablespoons.  You can use more or less.

4.     Bring the water, with the onions and sugar to a boil.  It won’t take long, especially on low-pressure days.  When the water comes to a boil, turn the heat back and keep the mixture at a lively simmer, stirring constantly. 

5.     Let the liquid thicken a little bit.  It won’t be “syrupy” or sticky, but a little thicker than just water.  If you hate onions, you can strain just the liquid into a coffee mug and drink it.  If you don’t mind the onions, pour the whole works from the saucepan into your mug and drink up.

Now, Grandma Jeanette would never approve, but I added a splash of bourbon to my mug of hot onion syrup.  So if you want to try adding a little of your favorite spirit- not too much- give it a whirl.

I think there’s definitely a placebo effect going on with the Onion Syrup.  I believe it’s going to keep me well, so it does.  But I also think that there’s some sciency mumbo-jumbo going on.  Onions have a lot of vitamins in them.  They’re great for you!  But chowing down on a raw onion like it’s an apple is a feat of strength few of us could really do.  Especially with these sassy “sweet” onions I’ve been getting my hands on lately.  So you mix it with sugar to make it easier to get down, and cook it in some hot water, the steam from which is really soothing if you have or are coming down with a cold, and a little belief in home remedies, and voila. 

It’s worth a try, don’t you think?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Your Attitude Determines Your Altitude

Happy New Year!  It's going to be a good one, 2013.  After the last few weeks of 2012, there's nowhere to go but up, wouldn't you say?  Let's go!

With everybody posting their New Year's Resolutions all over Facebook, it's made me think about a flying cliche.  Go to Sporty's Pilot Shop, My Pilot Store dot com, or even CafePress, and you'll find all kinds of T-shirts with a picture of an attitude indicator and the phrase "Your Attitude Determines Your Altitude!"  These things are cliches because they ring true and they stopped being fresh ages ago. 

An attitude indicator is an instrument on the panel in an airplane's cockpit.  During my first couple flying lessons, looking at that instrument panel would stymie me.  They really do look like a wall full of stupid, weird-lookin' clocks.  But they start to mean something, and that attitude indicator can save your bacon when you're in a cloud or in another position where you can't tell whether your nose is up in the air or pointed straight for the ground. 

In a plane, that's what your attitude means: whether you're nose-up, nose-level, or nose-down, although your actual attitude always plays a part when you're flying, too.  You can either decide you like practicing cross-wind landings and emergency landings and turns around a point, or you can decide to be miserable, in which case, it's a good idea to hang up the flying until the stinkin' thinkin' lets up. 

So, the higher your plane's nose, the higher your altitude is going to be.  Unless you don't have enough power, and then you're gonna stall.  Keep that part in mind.

So that's what I'm going to do in 2013.  I'm going to remember that my attitude determines my altitude.  I'm not going to walk around with my nose in the air, but with my chin up.   I'll make sure I have enough power to stay buoyant, by eating right, getting enough sleep, enough water, enough exercise.  You can't be powered up if you're living on fumes!

"Your attitude determines your altitude."  You can't decide what happens to you, but you can decide how you react to the happenings.  This year, in 2013, I'm going to try my hardest to react with grace and optimism.  Darn it!

Happy New Year, everybody!