Tag Archives: humor

Sweet Sanity

20140410_135757 (1)

Have you been having visions of colorful foil? Have you detected the aroma of coconut in the air? Have you been seeing rabbit tracks everywhere? Have you been drooling for no apparent reason?

No, you are not suffering from a serious mental disorder. Do not take a Xanax. Do not voluntarily commit yourself to the local psychiatric ward for a 90-day stay. Do not form a support group and invite everyone over to watch “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Don’t worry, these seemingly strange symptoms are normal this time of year, because Easter makes us all a little crazy.

Of course, we expect children to spool themselves into an all-out frenzy on Easter. They burst out of church as if they’d just escaped from an asylum, and it’s all we can do to snap a quick photo of them wearing their stiff Easter ties and flouncy Easter dresses, before they start running around like crazed maniacs in search of candy eggs.

Why, then, does this sweetest of holidays cause grown adults to go bonkers too? Believe it or not, our temporary lunacy is triggered by the same stimulus that affects our children — CANDY.

Considering that mature adults have highly developed impulse control, you might not think that sugary treats would make us lose our minds. But then, you’d be wrong.

It all starts when adults deprive themselves during Lent, declaring that they’ve given up chocolate, carbohydrates, or desserts. Forty days of that can turn even the most stable person stark raving mad. Then, we are faced with temptingly colorful displays of individually wrapped miniaturized candy bars in every store, which taunt and torture us in our self-induced sugar-starved state.

To add insult to injury, we have to purchase the candy for our kids, so we hide bags in our houses, under our beds and in our closets. No one can see it, but we know it’s there, calling to us like Sirens, “C’mon…. just open a little corner of the bag and take a few. No one will know. Chocolate tastes so good….”

We respond to these voices in our heads, waffling between resistance and bargaining: “Yea, I could just have one teensy-weensy marshmallow egg [staring into space with small drop of drool forming in corner of mouth] … No! [slapping hands over ears, squeezing eyes shut] … I can make it to Easter, just a few more days [breathing into a paper bag] … and then on Easter Sunday [eyes widening, grin forming] … I can sneak into the kids’ Easter baskets after they go to bed [drooling again]… and go … hog … wild [said in a frighteningly deep gravely voice.]“

As for me, I swore off carbohydrates several weeks ago, surviving on chicken, salads, and hard-boiled eggs. Our kids don’t know about the hidden combo bags of candy I bought from the commissary last week, but I certainly do. The tiny Milky Ways have been whispering to me at night from under our bed. I’m pretty sure the dog hears them too. I can’t stop muttering, “Gimme a break, gimme a break, break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar,” and I’ve developed an involuntary eye twitch.

Despite my fragile state, I will not give in to my urge to rip the secreted bags open and gobble the candy-coated catalysts, foil wrapping and all. I am an adult, after all.

However, on Easter Sunday, after the kids have opened every plastic egg, after the dog has ingested colored Easter grass, after the leftover ham has been sliced for sandwiches, after I give up washing the scalloped potato dish and let it soak in the sink, and after we snuggle up on the couch to watch Cecile B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” I will calmly open a bag of pastel peanut butter cups.

And there, in that sweet moment, I will reclaim my sanity.

College Talk Tips

2014-04-11 12.43.05It’s college decision time, but before parents of high school seniors engage each other in conversation, take heed! You are about to step into a veritable quagmire of double entendre regarding the seemingly innocuous topic of your child’s college pick.

One might think that discussing college decisions is as simple as:

Parent #1: “What college will your son/daughter attend in the fall?”

Parent #2: “He/She will attend XYZ University.”

Parent #1: “Oh, that’s swell.”

But, BEWARE. Hidden beneath this rudimentary exchange is a underground strata of complex connotations and confidential context.

How do I, a parent of a high school senior, know this already? During our last few tours of duty, my family has had many “empty nesters” as neighbors in military base housing. I have found that there is much to be learned by observing this unique breed of parent.

No, they don’t collect twigs, preen their feathers, or engage in elaborate mating rituals….well, not that I know of, anyway. But, empty nesters have “been there, done that” when it comes to parenting. Interacting with these seasoned veterans around backyard fire pits and at the dog park has taught me that some things in life are not as simple as they seem.

In order to help other parents, like myself, who will soon be expected to tell friends, relatives and colleagues about their children’s college picks, I will pass on the college talk tips I have gleaned from more experienced parents.

Most importantly, when people ask, “What college did Little Suzie decide to go to?” they really want to know, “Did she get any rejection letters?” And when you answer, “Little Suzie is going to State,” they are tabulating all prior conversations in an attempt to figure out which schools gave your kid the Heisman.

In order to diffuse their natural curiosity, it’s best to be frank. Tell them which schools, if any, declined to accept your child’s application for enrollment. However, do not be tempted to add, “We’re actually happy that Little Johnny didn’t get into Ivy U, it just wasn’t the right fit for him.” The listener will only hear, “Little Johnny’s ‘Ds’ in Chemistry came back to bite him, and besides, those ivy leaguers are so stuck up.”

Also, although it is considered gauche for friends to discuss money matters in the civilian world, talking about personal finances is quite common in the military community. Thanks to clearly defined rank structures, we military folks know each other’s pay grade. Regardless, be careful when discussing college expenses with friends and neighbors. As soon as they find out that your child’s college costs upwards of fifty grand a year or more, they will wonder how on earth you’re gonna pay for it.

You may wish to remain silent, and let them speculate that your child was offered a scholarship for some hidden talent like didgeridoo playing or curling. In a vacuum of information, your friends might think that you’ve got some long lost rich great uncle who graced you with a gazillion dollar trust fund, but this might be hard to believe if you drive a used minivan and buy buns from the day old rack at the commissary. Or, they might guess that your family’s heritage includes a recruitable ethnicity, like the long lost peoples of the Siberian Pot Belly Tribe.

But most likely, unless you tell your friends and family that you are paying for college with the GI Bill, loans, your Thrift Savings Plans, or your 529 plans; they’re going to think that you’re planning to sell your earthly possessions, take the night shift at the local 7-11, and move the family into a cardboard box over a heating grate in order to pay for college.

Most parents have faced or will face the daunting college application process, and as long as you deliver the news of your child’s decision without pretense, you will be met with understanding. Honesty is clearly the best policy to stop wondering minds from wandering to the absurd.

My child? He was rejected from two [stuck up] schools and accepted by six [fine academic institutions]. He has decided to go to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. We are using the GI Bill. And yes, it’s really swell.

 

The Hidden “I” in Team

 

At regular intervals throughout his 26-year military career, my husband has been promoted to the next rank. Each time this happens, there is a little ceremony, during which my husband gives a brief speech. After two decades of being married to a Navy man, I have that speech pretty much memorized.

“Captain So-and-so, thank you for the wonderful introduction. Also, kudos go out to Petty Officer Whatsisface for the lovely decor and delicious cake. *clears throat* When I joined the Navy [#] years ago, I never imagined making [current rank]. I merely aspired to learn, to travel the world, and to serve my country. But I stayed in the Navy because, simply put, I love my job. And the reason I love my job is because of the people I’ve been fortunate enough to work for and with. [Names various people in the command, to include Admiral Whooziewhat, seated nearby.] But there is someone else here that I need to recognize. Someone, without whom, I would not be standing before you all here today. Someone who has been my teammate for [#] years — my wonderful wife, Lisa.”

Women swoon, men wink, cameras flash, I blow my husband a kiss, and he smiles in return. And every time, at that moment, I actually believe it’s true.

Soon after, I find myself alone, changing the wiper blades, taking the dog to the vet, paying the exterminator bill, and ordering our son to shave. My teammate is not around, because he is halfway across the globe. It’s not his fault; he’s working to support our family.

But, when I become the sole manager of our family, I am often frazzled, overwhelmed, and unshowered, walking around with my arms held up like a crazed zombie in search of Sauvignon Blanc. My personality waffles between deranged inmate, vicious dictator, catatonic robot and hormonal sobbing mess, while I try my best to handle our chaotic home life on my own. This doesn’t feel like teamwork, but more like some bizarre form of solitary confinement.

My husband just left for Italy. He’ll be gone for a only a week, then back for a week, then gone again to Alabama for a week, then home another week before he’s off again to Texas for another week. These little work trips are minor annoyances when compared to the long deployments other military folks are enduring, and besides, managing the home front alone gets easier the older you get, right?

Uh, not so much.

Like an old umbrella stroller with a wobbly wheel, an old shirt with a loose button, an old desktop computer with too many image files, an old blender that gives off a burning smell every time you try to make a frozen margarita — I used to work really well, but the older I get, the more likely it is that I’m gonna blow.

The kids tiptoe around the house, hoping that I’ll wipe the smudged mascara away from my eyes before I take them to school, and wondering whether I’ll force them to eat cheese and crackers again for dinner. The dog senses tension, and follows me around the house, licking my pant legs. But with the distraction of the DVR, therapeutic happy hours with the neighbors, and a secret can of Pringles stashed in the laundry room, I know I will cope until my husband gets home.

I must admit, I have come to enjoy certain aspects of my temporary solitude — total control of the TV clicker, sleep uninterrupted by snoring, cheese and cracker dinners. And he, too, relishes his “me time” while on travel — total control of the TV clicker, sleep uninterrupted by his wife telling him to stop snoring, restaurant dinners.

Despite the suitcase full of dirty laundry and the generous gift of hotel mini-soaps he deposits with me upon returning home, we are undoubtedly happiest when we are together. But as a military family, we must often work separately toward our common goals. As sports writer Amber Harding once said, “… there most certainly is an ‘I’ in ‘team.’ It is the same ‘I’ that appears three times in ‘responsibility.’”

Kiss me! I’m Irish today!

DSCN1581

 

St. Patrick’s Day is one of those ambiguous special occasions that can be quite confusing for non-Irish adults like me.

As a kid, the purpose of St. Patrick’s Day seemed clear to me: wear something green to school and get my mom to take me to McDonalds for one of my all time favorite treats – The Shamrock Shake. Mildly green, with a hint of mint, I savored that delectable annual delight and looked forward to this little tradition every year.

As a college student, having Irish heritage was still pretty much irrelevant. No one I knew was interested in getting in touch with their roots. To the contrary, St. Patrick’s Day was nothing but an excuse to drink green beer at the local bars until we made complete idiots out of ourselves.

But when I turned into a middle-aged adult, St. Patrick’s Day’s relevance in my life became muddled. My taste buds had lost their longing for fast food shakes, and it was inappropriate for a 47-year-old mother of three to be drinking pitchers of green beer at the bars, so I had a hard time figuring out what I should do.

It’s easier for people with Irish blood. Even if your only connection is that your great uncle thrice removed was one-seventh Irish.  Even if the closest thing you ever had to Irish culture was a bowl of Lucky Charms. Even if you were born and raised on a chili pepper farm outside of Albuquerque. As long as you are technically Irish, you have clear rights and privileges on St. Patrick’s Day.

You pseudo-Irish Americans have carte blanche to suddenly speak with the rolling “Rs” and over-enunciated “Ts” of Irish brogue. You’re permitted to utter phrases like “Top O’ the mornin’ t’ya!” and “She’s a fine young lassie!” You can unattractively fist pump to U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” even though all you know is the chorus. Without the slightest bit of credibility, you can suddenly develop a hankering for the blandest Irish Soda Bread, and Crockpots full of fatty corned beef and mushy cooked cabbage.

On the other hand, we non-Irish, despite our identical American upbringing, are not afforded the same indulgences and liberties as our pseudo-Irish friends. We must stand back, dazed and confused, repeatedly listening to that insensitive saying about the only two kinds of people in the world – “the Irish and those who wish they were.”

The only way for the non-Irish to avoid this annual humiliation is to concede defeat, no matter how unjust it seems. And don’t try to reason with them because it simply won’t work. I once drew a comparison between my Welsh heritage, with its Celtic language and similar way of life, to the Irish culture. My analogy was met with indignant outrage, “Who cares? You’re not Irish!”

I have learned that, in order for we non-Irish to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day, we need to tell a little white lie – or green as it were – and exclaim that we wish we were Irish too. Like amnesty for illegal aliens, simple surrender will authorize us to wear tacky green beads and silly plastic hats, to guzzle Guinness and slop stew, to adorn ourselves with buttons that obnoxiously demand “Kiss me, I’m Irish!” and to shamelessly dangle shamrocks from our ears and rear view mirrors.

In other words, when dealing with the “fighting Irish” on St. Patty’s Day, it’s always best to roll with the punches.

How many idiots does it take to fill out a 1040?

“Oh crud, we need to do our taxes,” I recently told my husband as I do every year around this time.

After exhausting every reason to procrastinate – cleaning out the vegetable drawer, perusing old Hickory Farms catalogues left over from Christmas, clipping toenails, surfing E-bay for vintage bar signs, napping – we finally had to face the music.

Coffee and a folder haphazardly filled with paperwork in hand, my husband and I reluctantly plopped down in front of our computer to complete the dreaded annual tax forms.

We haven’t had the best luck preparing our tax forms over the years, and are conditioned to avoid the experience. Despite my law degree and my husband’s master’s degree in financial management, neither of us ever grasped the simple concepts relevant to our personal income tax forms.

In law school, I took a Tax Law course and could write a scholarly paper on whether the federal income tax is a direct tax or an excise tax based on the Sixteenth Amendment and the Supreme Court’s opinion in the Pollock case, but I struggled with my 1040EZ.

My husband’s master’s thesis was entitled “Congress, Defense, and the Deficit: An Analysis of the FY 1996 Budget Process in the 1O4th Congress,” but he couldn’t tell the difference between short and long term capital gains if his retirement depended on it.

But every year, we begrudgingly spread out our paperwork and somehow fulfill our obligations as taxpayers.

One year, we wanted to act like grown ups, so we hired an accountant while living in Virginia Beach. He was a charming southern gentleman with blue eyes, silver white hair and a matching tidy moustache. He called me “ma’am” and politely sat with us one balmy evening in the early days of spring. Over the season’s first lemonades, we casually chatted about our finances, and he gathered all the information he needed to prepare and file our returns. It was so easy, we wondered why we hadn’t been doing it this way all along.

The next year, we tried to contact our charming accountant to do our taxes again, but strangely, he never returned our calls.

We soon found out that he couldn’t call us back because he was locked up in the big house. Turns out, our southern gentleman was politely holding himself out as a CPA without a license, embezzling from clients, and obtaining money under false pretenses. Oops. Back to the drawing board.

Since then, we have been using Turbo Tax, a seemingly idiot-proof program which leads the user through a simplified series of questions designed to accurately calculate all income and deductions.  Somehow, my husband and I still have no idea what is going on.

“Do we qualify for the child tax credit?” I asked, as my husband slurped his coffee. “Hell if I know . . . just do whatever we did last year, that seemed to work,” he said nonchalantly.

“I forget, do we have Roth IRAs or regular IRAs?” I said a few minutes later. Riffling through a pile of papers, my husband found our statements, which might as well have been written in Chinese. “Roth, but what the heck is a recharacterized contribution?”

My eyes started to cross as I tried to decipher our mutual fund papers. “Is cost basis the same as purchase price?” I said, searching my faded memory bank. “I don’t know, just punch in $200 and see what happens,” my husband suggested.

After four hours, two pots of coffee, three calls to our financial manager, and at least a dozen choice expletives, we finally got it all figured out and dutifully sent our forms off to Uncle Sam.

We won’t get our return check for several weeks, but rest assured, we’ve already spent it, and lost the receipt. When our bank statements arrive, we won’t know how to balance the checkbook. And next spring, we’ll be back in front of our computer, dazed and confused all over again.  Apparently, a few more things in life are certain aside from death and taxes.

Tortured Tenderness

st valentineI really don’t mean to be a bummer, but I just googled Saint Valentine and learned that, not only was he not the patron saint of lovers, February 14th marks the date that he was imprisoned, tortured and beheaded in Rome in 269 A.D.

Real romantic, hu?

Apparently, the Feast of St. Valentine (a.k.a. Valentine’s Day) was not intended to celebrate romantic love until some crusty old fourteenth century English historians began propagating the legend that Saint Valentine was martyred because he was caught secretly marrying persecuted Christians behind Emperor Claudius’ back.

So, as much as we want to point the finger at Hallmark, Brachs, Whitman’s Samplers, The Melting Pot, FTD and the rest of the blood-sucking consumer industry, apparently they are not to blame for inventing Valentine’s Day.

Regardless, there’s certainly nothing wrong with reserving one day a year to recognize love, right?

As a little kid, Valentine’s Day was a fun affair filled with construction paper hearts, lace doilies, cards imprinted with Ziggy, and red heart lollipops with white edible paint.

In high school, the mere chance of getting a $1 Valentine carnation from a secret admirer was thrilling. Just in case, my best friend and I always sent each other a “secret” carnation, which was smart, considering our dating track records. It wasn’t until my senior year that I received a Valentine flower from an actual boy, but unfortunately, it was from a kid nicknamed “Goober.”

Mercifully, I was finally able to experience Valentine’s Day bliss after meeting my Navy husband. There is nothing quite like the feeling of true love, and in the early years, we spent hours picking out cards for each other, covering every square millimeter with hand written words professing how doggone happy we were to have found our soul mates.

And we meant every sappy word of it. Still do.

However, after twenty years of marriage, the mandatory traditions of this manufactured holiday can seem like the torture endured by St. Valentine back in Rome. I know, I know, buying a card and planning a romantic evening with a loved one shouldn’t be compared to being stoned and beheaded. But when you’ve got the afternoon carpool, the minivan is caked with black snow, you have to get a stool sample for the vet, and the water heater is on the fritz again; Valentine’s Day can seem more like a day in hell.

Unfortunately, middle aged couples get so bogged down with the relentless demands of life — teen angst, mortgage payments, slowing metabolisms, routine oil changes, lost retainers, low water pressure, stray chin hairs — extraneous holidays become just another item on our already unmanageable To Do lists.

These days, despite our best intentions, we do a lousy job of taking a day out to celebrate love on Valentine’s Day. My husband hurriedly runs into the 7-11 to grab any old card on his way home from work. Before getting out of the car, he finds a pen between the seats and scribbles a generic sentiment such as “Love ya bunches, Honey! XOXO” in large writing to take up space.

He finds me in the kitchen, frantically trying to feed the kids and dog, while folding the laundry and helping our daughter study for her Chemistry test. We exchange a quick kiss and our hastily scribbled cards inside envelopes with still-wet glue. He rushes to change out of his military uniform, and I spritz on perfume to hide the scent of frozen tater tots.

We dole out the requisite bedtime threats to the kids, climb into our dirty minivan, and fight the traffic to make our reservation. At the restaurant, we make our best effort at romance, ordering wine, canoodling and sharing dessert. But thanks to middle-aged fluctuations in blood sugar, we start yawning before the clock strikes nine.

I don’t think that this “hurry-up-and-be-romantic-before-I-fall-asleep” routine is what the Pope had in mind when he crowned poor St. Valentine the patron saint of love, but it’s the best we can muster on a weeknight. Besides, even the most tortured schedule should include a little time for tenderness.

Super Bowl Preparedness

beprepared

Panic has set in.

Soon, folks everywhere will be mobbing the grocery stores for necessary supplies and stockpiling items in their cabinets, pantries and refrigerators. Is there another Herculean Arctic superstorm headed our way? Is a typhoon spinning its way eastward across the Pacific? Is a deadly combination of high and low-pressure systems colliding in an apocalyptic whirlwind over our nation?

Well, no.

But seeing as the Super Bowl is the second largest day for US food consumption after Thanksgiving, there is a perfectly good reason why people are shoving old ladies out of the way to grab the last jar of queso dip. After all, a Bowl Day without the traditional football-watching foods would be downright catastrophic.

So, as the mother of an Eagle Scout, I feel obligated to warn everyone to: “Be prepared.”

Before you take on the pre-Bowl crowds at the grocery stores, be sure to ready the home front. Clear the refrigerator of useless items such as milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables. Other than a few sticks of celery to accompany the wings, toss any unprocessed foodstuffs that are taking up precious space needed for Bowl day essentials.

Once the kitchen has been purged of all healthy, vitamin-fortified, low-fat, fiber-rich foods, it’s time to mentally prepare for what you might encounter at the grocery stores.

Like a Roman Gladiator ascending the catacombs of the Coliseum, like Muhammed Ali entering the ring to take on Joe Frazier, like the Greek soldiers climbing out of the wooden horse inside the gates of Troy, like the Duke of Wellington about to face Napoleon’s army at Waterloo, like The Real Housewives of New Jersey sitting down to dinner — you must be ready to wage a battle of epic proportions.

As you jot down the arsenal of foods needed for Super Bowl sustenance, breathe deeply and meditate on the past. Gone are the archaic Bowl days of yesteryear, when football fans survived on outdated canned-meat party sandwiches, pimento cheese spreads, and gelatin salads. Thanks to modern advances in processed cheese technology, the invention of Buffalo wings (origins are “hotly” debated), and the mass-production of tortilla chips in 1994, we are fortunate to have a proliferation of delicious modern Bowl day snack foods at our disposal.

Presuming you can find an available shopping cart without committing aggravated assault, enter the grocery store with a strategy. Don’t just join the stream shoppers like some kind of amusement park pony, strike out on your own and hunt down your targets.

Unlike every other grocery store trip, it is actually a good idea to bring the kids. As your secret weapons, they will enable you to divide and conquer. Send each one on a mission: “Lilly, you’re going in for three jars of salsa. Anna, you’re in charge of peanuts. Hayden, you’re almost a man now, so I’m trusting you to find those little smoked sausages for pigs in a blanket. Can you do it?!” “Yes, ma’am!” “Now, GO, GO, GO!!”

With your grocery cart filled to the brim with every snack food known to modern man, head to the check out lanes, but do not waste precious time standing in line. Simply feign some kind of cardiac episode – a la Fred Sanford’s “It’s the big one, Elizabeth!”- and fellow shoppers will surely let you cut in line so you can get to the glycerin pills you “left in the car.” It might sound far fetched, but when they see all the pork products and processed cheeses in your cart, they’ll be convinced that your arteries are harder than a coffin nail and guide you straight to the head of the line.

Finally at home with your snack foods stockpiled and beverages chilling, you can finally breathe easy, knowing that you can eat your face off come Sunday, February 4th.

Disaster averted.

Finding swagger in my wagon

IMG_2960If I have to spend one more day in this filthy, salt-crusted, paint-chipped, rusted, dog-hair-filled, good-for-nothing tuna can of a minivan, I’m gonna lose it….

This is the thought that brings me to a near mom meltdown each morning during my daily school drop offs. I swear, I used to really love my minivan, but nowadays, I can’t stop dreaming of trading her in.

I remember the first time I drove her. It was 2006, and we were stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. Our old stale-french-fry-and-Goldfish-cracker-filled, spit-up scented, dented, scratched, rusted, three-hub-capped, hunter green Plymouth Voyager was ready to give up the ghost. Having three young kids and our first mortgage, we knew that buying used was the only way to go.

Other than an almost imperceptible dent in the hatch back door and a mere 8,000 miles on the odometer, our “new” Toyota Sienna was perfect, and even had a lingering bit of new car smell. We drove away feeling like we were riding in the upholstered lap of pure luxury.

But like every new car we’ve had, it doesn’t take long for the novelty to wear off. Inevitably, Happy Meals get dropped, dogs are wet, kids get carsick, rocks crack windshields, grocery carts ding doors, and before we know it, our minivan has become nothing more than a rolling ghetto.

In all fairness, our minivan has served us well, traveling with us on an overseas military tour in Germany and sheltering us from the baking sun during a two-year tour of duty in Florida.

Now, stationed in Newport, Rhode Island, our minivan is really showing her age. After 130,000 miles, her glossy paint has faded to a dull dirty white, which is most often hazed with salt and grime. Her alloy wheels are corroded and permanently stained with brake dust. Her hood is dented and pitted with spots of rust. Much to my middle school daughter’s embarrassment, the sliding doors freeze shut at the slightest chill, requiring her to climb out the trunk in the morning car pool line. And worst of all, the interior is almost unbearable, with God-knows-what ground into the upholstery, carpeting, vents and faux naugahyde grain.

Seriously, it’s gross.

But with three teenagers in private schools and college tuition bills on the horizon, buying a new car right now is about as likely as me keeping my New Year’s resolution to stop eating seconds.

So, rather than focusing on the filth, I’ve got to think positively.

In my youth, I drove a 1975 Volkswagen Beetle for eleven years. Despite her torn horsehair-stuffed upholstery, useless windshield wipers, and finicky alternator, we developed a symbiotic relationship. I could expertly hover in that sweet spot between the clutch and gas on a steep hill in first gear without using the break. When her battery went dead, I could pop the clutch without assistance, jumping in to put her in gear after pushing her myself from the open driver’s side door. I could tune in the most obscure radio station, because I knew all the points on her radio-tape deck dial.

Despite her age, I was sad to see my old Beetle go when marriage and child rearing made her impractical. Now, when marriage and child rearing make my old minivan the only practical vehicle for our family, I need to channel that same symbiotic feeling.

I guess I have always liked the way she holds my coffee cup in her center console. I must admit, she has always kept all my favorite radio stations stored where I can reach them with the punch of a button. I guess it is kind of nice to not worry when the dog jumps in, wet and dirty after a swim in the bay. And if we traded her in, I’d have to buy more school stickers for the back window, which would be a real pain, right?

Just like me, my old minivan might be showing her age, but I guess there’s still a little swagger left in my wagon.

Thanksgiving’s Forbidden Fruit

Photo courtesy of hungryhungryhippie.com

Photo courtesy of hungryhungryhippie.com

As a kid, my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal wasn’t the turkey. I didn’t drool over the mashed potatoes or my father’s giblet gravy. I didn’t love, or even like for that matter, those miniature pickles and what-nots on my mother’s sectioned relish tray. I thought the stuffing had too many unidentifiable objects in it to be palatable, and I wouldn’t even touch a yam, candied or otherwise. Believe it or not, I never got jazzed up about the pumpkin pie, even with a humongous dollop of Cool Whip.

Nope. My favorite part of my family’s Thanksgiving meal was the one that sat inconspicuously in a little pressed glass dish at the corner of the dining table. It didn’t require much preparation, but it was an essential part of our feast that I looked forward to every year.

It was the canned cranberry sauce.

Now, don’t judge. After all, it was the 70s, when we ate everything out of cans. Peas, corn, fruit juice, grapefruit sections, ham, chow mien, beef stew, liverwurst, and even chocolate syrup. It was a decade that celebrated ingenious cooking short cuts like canned foods, processed meats, flavored gelatin and mini marshmallows. Back then, canned cranberry sauce was downright trendy.

Besides, that stuff is delicious. Admit it.

When I was old enough to use the can opener, my mother would let me prepare the canned cranberries for our Thanksgiving meal. After releasing the suction, and prying off the lid, the jellied cylinder would slide right out onto the pressed glass dish, perfectly intact and still showing the ridges of the can, with a pleasing little “PLOP.” Using a table knife, I’d slowly carve the rounded mold into uniform disks that wiggled as I carried them to the table.

To me, the sweet, tangy, chilled, translucent, smooth, slices glowed like rubies in the candlelight refracting through the glass dish, and they tasted simply divine.

Back then, I thought that canned cranberry sauce gave our Thanksgiving meal elevated status – it was gourmet, fancy, high class.

So why then, forty years later, has canned cranberry sauce been relegated to the ranks of the boxed stuffing, jarred gravies, and other homely short cuts of the culinary world? 

Twenty years ago, I married a Navy man, and we’ve moved around the world. Most holidays, we were unable to travel the distance to be with extended family, so we shared meals with other Navy friends who were in the same boat [pun intended.] During the inevitable Thanksgiving meal planning conversations between the wives, it soon became clear that it wasn’t cool to serve canned cranberry sauce.

“You don’t serve canned cranberries, do you?” they would ask, incredulously. And of course, to save face, I would lie.

 “Oh gosh no! I always make it from scratch, you know, with the real cranberries and the sugar and, uh …” I’d fib, praying that the other wife would volunteer to make it so I wouldn’t have to search for a recipe.

And at every Thanksgiving meal we shared with other military families over the years, I fawned over the homemade cranberry relishes they had been stewing all day with fresh ginger, orange zest, or cloves.

However, a year has not gone by, that I did not get a secret smack of my beloved canned cranberry sauce around Thanksgiving time.  It’s easy to saunter by the seasonal commissary display with it’s fried onions, condensed milk, and chicken broth, and inconspicuously slip a can of cranberries into my grocery cart without any of the other wives noticing.

But all these years of shame and secrecy are wearing on me. Now in my 40s, I’m ready to come out of the closet. Yes, I wear comfortable cotton underwear. Yes, I color my grays. Yes, I’m saving my puka shell anklet from 1981 just in case it comes back into style.

And yes, I will always love canned cranberry sauce. 

From soup to nuts, and back again

 

20131113_174218No sooner did I drop my husband off at the airport, than I felt the tickle at the back of my throat.

He was off on a Navy trip to Bahrain for a couple of weeks, leaving me in charge of the house, the bills, the kids, the dog, the trash, the leaves, our son’s college applications, our daughter’s inevitable fashion crises, and my own mental and physical well-being. So, this was the last thing I needed.

By the time I got home from the airport, the tickle had upgraded to a full-blown head cold. One of those throat-itching, eye-watering, lung-wheezing, phlegm-thickening, mucus-dripping, sinus-filling afflictions; that compels you to guzzle cold medicine and bury yourself under the covers, because you’re going to be totally useless.

But being useless was not an option. Before the three-o-clock middle school pick up, I had to walk the dog, have a mammogram, shop for groceries, iron my son’s dress shirts, start my column, return a few emails, walk the dog again, get something out for dinner, and try to take a shower and look human.

Head cold or no head cold, I had to be firing on all pistons.

I decided to make one minor adjustment to my jam-packed schedule that might ease the pain of functioning while sick: I’d take five minutes and throw some chicken soup on the stove before heading out to my 9:30 am mammogram appointment.

In a flash, I had onions and carrots chopped and sautéing in a pan, alongside my old Revereware soup pot which was simmering with chicken and spices. Next, I plopped four ribs of celery on the cutting board and began slicing.

I was coming to the end of the bunch when, shshshwing! There it was – the very tip of my thumb laying neatly on the edge of the cutting board.

The next few seconds were a slow-motion controlled panic. I watched my uncut hand reach for the severed cap of flesh and place it back on the tip of my thumb, albeit crooked, and unravel multiple sheets of paper towels to wrap my bleeding appendage. I flicked the stove off, grabbed my purse, and jumped into my minivan, mumbling to myself, “it’s gonna be fine, it’s gonna be fine, it’s gonna be fine.”

“Hi, I’m here for a mammogram [nervous laughter] … you’re never going to believe this [nervous laughter] … I just cut the tip of my thumb clean off,” I jabbered to the lady behind the base clinic check in desk. Despite a convincing look of utter apathy, the woman directed me to a nurse who preliminarily wrapped my thumb and told me the doctor would take a look right after my mammogram.

As the adage goes, you learn something new every day, and on this particular day, I learned that it’s nearly impossible to unhook your own bra strap with one hand. Somehow, I was able to get the task done like some kind of awkward high school boy on prom night, just before the technician came in to squash my bits and pieces between two glass plates. After several painfully humiliating images were procured, I was free to dress and head back across the clinic to see about my bleeding thumb.

With only one of the three hooks of my bra strap precariously fastened, I waited for the nurse, then the doctor, then the nurse again, then the doctor again, before my thumb was finally treated, and I was released to go wait all over again for a tetanus shot at immunizations and for medication in the pharmacy.

Four hours after entering the clinic doors, I left with a bandaid on my arm, wilted mammories, a thumb that looked more like a chicken drumstick, and a completely neglected To Do list.

Despite the chaos, I felt compelled to finish my chicken soup, needing it now more than ever. At dinnertime, I ladled the hot soothing elixir into bowls, careful not to slosh any broth onto my bandages, and placed them on the table with a box of oyster crackers. The kids and I sat in silence, inhaling the salty steam, blowing gently on spoonfuls.

“I can’t believe you made this soup with all that craziness going on today, Mom,” my middle schooler said with a compassionate slurp. “Mmmm,” she mumbled with her mouth full, “it’s still really good, Mom.”

Yes, it certainly is.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,761 other followers

%d bloggers like this: