Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me

People who know me know that I hate my birthday. Not that I'm-another-year-older-look-at-those-wrinkles kind of hate; but rather a deep and abiding hatred for the physical date. I could change my name, I could lie about my age...but I can't change the fact that I was born on November 12th.

Born, in fact, on the day my grandfather died. Growing up, I was frequently reminded that I was "the only good thing" to come of that terrible time. And I know the family meant that as an affirmation...but occasionally my eight-year-old self or my ten-year-old self felt, well, marked. And, perhaps, a little guilty.

As I got older, my family began to share my dread of the day. If the dog was past her expiration date, you could pretty much mark her demise ahead of time on the calendar. A family member would need emergency gallbladder surgery, IV antibiotics for pneumonia, or a colon resection the first week of the eleventh month...and we would "celebrate" my birthday in a hospital room. Or the unhospitalized family members would gather at the Fancy Sushi Restaurant after our hospital visit, to choke down some California roll and pretend it was a party.

People who didn't know me well would hear my tales and brand me a Cry Baby Drama Queen. I didn't blame them.

One year I decided to hide from the dark date, and fled to the other side of the world. I was sitting on the balcony of my hotel room in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia - trying not to exert any negative influence over anyone in my immediate vicinity - when the desk clerk came to find me.

"Miss Nancy, Miss Nancy! Telephone for you!" Clearly not good news...in fact, my cousin had passed away. There was no hiding.

As I approached the Big Five-O, I decided to change my mindset. Rather than dreading the day, I would embrace it. Yes! I would greet it with joy!! I rallied the troops around me, made reservations for a fabulous family getaway in New York City; and, for the first time in a very long time, truly anticipated the date.

Until my uncle's passing, just three days before my birthday. Trip canceled, I was sad for our whole family, sad for me...then I learned that a friend's father had also just passed away. More sad.

And then, horror of absolute horrors, on the eve of my fiftieth birthday...my beloved friend Tina committed suicide. Tina, who could talk me off of any ledge; who could make me laugh until I cried.

I spent my fiftieth at my uncle's funeral, talking to the folks at my friend's dad's funeral via cellphone; and writing a eulogy for Tina's memorial service.

That was five years ago.

Four November 12ths passed. I begged friends and family to ignore them. Mercifully, they weren't devastating; nor were they remarkable. I tried to stifle it, but the remnants of my optimistic nature peeked through; and I promised myself that if I got through those four unscathed, I would plan a do-over for my 55th...a REAL celebration of November 12th. A trip? A party?

Couldn't decide, couldn't commit...

And then it was upon me. I spent November 12th by myself, Christmas shopping and making jewelry. Quiet; until Son Two called...

To wish me "Happy Birthday". And to share this story. When my daughter-in-law and precious, precious granddaughter returned home the night before, they found the house full of gas...and the pilot light still lit on the heater. They got the pets out and fled...the gas company emergency tech pronounced it "a miracle" that there had not been an explosion. The plumber who replaced all the pipe work the morning of my birthday said the same thing.

And the moral of the story is:

Sometimes it is not what happens on your birthday that matters. It is what doesn't happen. My 55th birthday was my best birthday, ever.

Friday, October 29, 2010

How to Go For A Flu Shot And Land in the ER

I have always had a gift for making life more exciting than it needs to be. Call it "embellishing", "embroidering", or just plain coloring outside of the lines. Everything has to be an adventure.

Take getting a flu shot for example:

Through a fluke of nature - a weather pattern deemed an "inland hurricane", full of tornadoes and hail and other nastiness that prevented my usual Wednesday drive from Alabama to Georgia - I found myself in Birmingham rather than Atlanta on Thursday, the day I had planned to get my flu shot. In Georgia, you can walk into a Walgreens or CVS at your whim, and a friendly nurse practitioner will dispense wit and wisdom along with your vaccination. How conveeeeeenient.

But Alabama has a different medical model. Here, we have no in-store clinics. Instead, we have mini-emergency facilities, designed to serve a walk-in population; and to reduce the strain on the major hospitals. They also offer flu shots.

I had this mundane list of chores for the morning: buy leaf blower, get cat litter, buy groceries, and get flu shot.

I also had one less-than-mundane chore: Pick up urn containing remains of dear Violet, which had been delivered to the animal emergency clinic where our sweet old kitty was euthanized. That was my first stop. I knew it would be difficult, and I wanted to get it off my plate.

Of course, as I drove up to the horrible, horrible building, all of the horrible, horrible emotions of the horrible, horrible day returned...and I felt just horrible. The young lady behind the counter retrieved the pretty little white urn, bearing Violet's name; and I felt even more horrible. I took it to the car, where I opened the beautiful sympathy card from the pet crematory; and I cried for Violet, and I cried for my mother, and I cried because I missed both of them...and I am crying as I type.

I couldn't stop. I sat in front of the clinic blubbering; then I tried to drive away but had to pull into a shopping center lot to blubber some more.

Finally, the sobs receded to sniffles. And I drove, puffy-eyed, to get my flu shot.

I arrived at the medical center during a lull, and I was the only person in the waiting room. (Good thing, too...since I looked like I had just escaped The Nice Young Men in Their Clean White Coats.) Hmmm...since there was no one else there and there wasn't a wait, I asked Kay, the receptionist, if the doctor could see me for the pesky sinus infection that had been plaguing me for weeks. She agreed, probably thinking that would be a good way to have this mad woman re-committed. She handed me four forms to fill out.

Even though I was wearing my reading glasses, my eyes were still pretty squinty. I filled out just about everything wrong. Kay spent a good ten minutes fixing my mistakes. She also asked me some hard questions, like "Do you have a co-pay?" I dunno. "Does your insurance pay for your flu shot?" I dunno. This woman was doing absolutely nothing for my self esteem.

I heard my name called, and was directed to the vital statistics station, where a tech took my pulse, and then my blood pressure, and then looked panic-stricken, grabbed my hand and shouted, "Come with me!!!" Not very professional. But I followed her...

Around the corner, to where the doctor was sipping coffee in a break room. The tech shouted, "Two forty over one twenty!" and the doc spit her coffee; someone else grabbed me and stuffed me into a room, shoved some pills and a cup of water in my face and shouted, "Take these, RIGHT NOW!"

At this point, I was wondering which of us really belonged on the Funny Farm...these people had clearly ingested too much caffeine, and I was at their mercy. I had no idea what I had just swallowed, or why. Just then, Ashlee the Nurse Practitioner stepped in. She asked, "Has your blood pressure ever been this high before?" Huh? Wait...240/120...that was my BLOOD PRESSURE? I eat right, I exercise, and I take my blood pressure medicine. Surely, someone has made a big mistake.

Ashlee took a reading again. Still high, but lower...and then she made a grave error, because she is Alabamian. She asked, "Are you OK, honey?" and I erupted again into tears and blubbering. Ashlee handed me tissues and listened (while intermittently checking my pressure) as I recounted losing Violet and retrieving the urn and missing my mother and having a sinus infection. Ashlee listened to my chest, which was pronounced "clear", said "bless your heart..." which is the required Alabamian response to any outpouring of ills, and stepped out of the room.

She returned with orders and some very strange explanations for them. First, they were going to run some blood work, to see "what kind of bug" I had. The results would take about 20 minutes. Although I am not a doctor, I have spent a lot of time in the medical community. I didn't protest, but I wanted to tell her that a culture would not be back in 20 minutes; it would take a couple of days to grow. Then she said they wanted to take a chest X-ray. Clearly a plan to make money at my expense, she had just pronounced my chest "clear"; and I knew I didn't have any chest congestion. Finally, they were going to run an EKG...just because it, um, "comes with the X-ray". Whatever. I really didn't feel like shopping for a leaf blower anyway. So I was poked, prodded, photographed, and wired up. Did you know that now they can run an EKG on a laptop?

And then I waited. Eventually, the lovely young doctor who spewed her coffee and was ultimately responsible for all of this intervention, joined me in my cubicle. Dr. B., also Alabamian, had been filled in on my tribulations by the nurse practitioner. The first words out of her mouth were, "Bless your heart..." and then she told me that - although they didn't want to tell me while my BP was so high - the tests were all to see if I was having a stroke or heart attack. Fortunately, my results were "as normal as normal can be". Then she asked, "Do you hurt anywhere?" Geez, these people asked weird questions. I explained that I had head and neck pain from the sinus infection; and that I have fibromyalgia. Dr. B. explained that chronic pain can raise blood pressure significantly. Hmmm. So I mentioned that I also have a ruptured hamstring; my orthopedist recommended surgery because physical therapy hasn't worked. And I have a Baker's cyst behind my knee, but I have an appointment to have it evaluated in two weeks.

Dr. B. was starting to look very strange. Her jaw was slack, her eyes were big. She swallowed. She spoke..."So you recently lost your mom, today you picked up your kitty's urn, you've been fighting a sinus infection for weeks, you have fibromyalgia and you are limping around on a leg with a torn hamstring and a Baker's cyst?" Yeah; and your point would be??? "Nancy, it's time for you to take care of yourself." Do you have any idea how busy I've been lately? Really busy. Super busy...busy, busy, busy...but, hey you kinda have a point...I said, "You're right. I think that's why I'm here today." And I meant it. Dr. B. asked me to make an appointment for a re-check in two weeks, gave me a hug and another "Bless your heart..." and left.

Ashlee returned, checked my blood pressure one last time (it was finally low enough that they could "legally release" me) handed me an assortment of medications to take home, injected me with a megadose of antibiotics; oh, and...gave me a flu shot.

Then I went home - with a stop at Lowe's, to buy a leaf blower.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

From the Ridiculous, to The Sublime

It's difficult to see the "Funny" in life when you've just lost your mom. Forget finding the "Ridiculous", which often inspires me to write. It's kind of like eating when you have a cold. You know the flavor is there, but it is masked by rivers of snot. Or, in my case now, rivers of tears.

Still, Ridiculous is all around me. I hear it. I feel it. And, if I could just rip these teary scales from my eyes...

I could see that I have been blessed with a legacy of Ridiculous.

You had to know my mother. But you didn't, so I will fill you in. "Meem", as she was known to the grandkids, and eventually many others who loved her, entertained early, entertained often, and entertained with a purpose. Every event had a THEME.

There were By-the-Sea dinners, preceded by By-the-Sea hors d'oeuvres served on real scallop shells, and wine served in antique nautilus goblets. Thanksgiving feasts for thirty with hand-carved turkey napkin rings. Swedish meatballs and glogg presented in Orrefors crystal on glorious antique Swedish tablecloths. And. She saved. Every. Single. Prop. Just in case, I guess, that theme rolled around again in the Theme Rotation.

Meem was the Queen of an ordered and orderly household. The dogs got their heartworm pills on the same day each month, and dinner was always ready at 6:30. There were no piles of "stuff" around the house. Every room was decorated in its own color scheme, and one room flowed to another. But no one knew Meem's secret. She was unwilling to part with a themey find, and she was damn good at finding someplace to store it.

The kitchen cabinets were time capsules of a life well-lived. Meem, in her later years, discovered the joys of plastic cutlery and paper plates, verboten in the days of china and polished silver. These items, in every hue and design, populated the outermost regions of the cabinets. Behind the paper and plastic were layers of exotic spices in exotic jars - vestiges of culinary adventures prompted by The Food Channel and many Junior League cookbooks; and Party City banners proclaiming congratulations to my dad's tennis team. In the very back of the cabinets I discovered boxes of Knox Gelatin Powder. My mother had the most beautiful hands...she could have been a hand model for Palmolive...and here was her secret.

The china cabinets were rife with cups and saucers, collected from here and there, near and far; dozens and dozens of designs that rarely saw the light of day at the same time. My father thought that they would be lovely keepsakes for her closest friends. We started handing them out, and I got nervous around Friend 48 that we would run out. We did not. Like Manna From Heaven, we would open another drawer, another cabinet. And find exactly enough cups and saucers for the friends we just remembered.

Eventually, we will have the Yard Sale of The Millennium...perhaps The Yard Sale To End All Yard Sales. The sheer volume of interesting stuff is ridiculous. The 30 custom-carved turkey napkin rings will find new life at a church serving Thanksgiving supper to 30 recent immigrants to the United States who have never had a turkey dinner. The Authentic Scallop Shells will grace a dorm room dinner, where the main course will be shrimp-flavored Ramen noodles. A newlywed will rejoice in the Junior League cookbooks...and I will know that Meem touched so many more than the folks who attended her theme dinners...sublime...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Everybody In The Bathtub!

Nancy and the Kitties are making gin!

A weird thing has happened to me since I moved to the country. OK, a lot of weird things have happened since then, but the one that's applicable here is, to quote Son One in the throes of the Terrible Twos, "I do it MYself!"

Perhaps it's because we are 10 miles from the nearest grocery store, unless you count the convenience store across from the Barber Motorsports complex, where you can buy Red Hots, fried pies, pork rinds and cheap beer at expensive prices. Maybe I've been inspired by my Super-Woman-Farm-Girl friend, Rachel, who grows her own wheat and hollowed out her own mushroom cave. Perhaps it's just because I CAN. Whatever the case, I find myself eschewing "storeboughten" in favor of in-house productions.

A polk plant caused The Great Polk Revolution, and two months of home-grown weed consumption in place of spinach. That led directly to growing vegetables in straw bales, and a devotion to the Dervaes family, and their urban homestead. (Thanks, Valerie!) At that point it was, of course, only a matter of time before I started making gin.

Well, I had all those herbs laying around...

And Megan over at Not Martha posted a link to this story at Gourmet.

The husband drinks gin, I make martinis. I am happiest making martinis when we have that very fancy, very French, very expensive gin in the house. It is made with "19 spices from all over the world". It smells divine, and the bottle is beautiful. Only the price tag is in poor taste.

Imagine my delight! A experiment with homegrown ingredients, and no real fear that I might kill someone (the original Polk Salad Experiment was a bit nerve-wracking until we both woke up the next morning.) I DID have to make a run to Whole Foods, fifteen miles away, for juniper berries - they don't carry them at the convenience store by the racetrack. But they probably have Juniper Berry Chewing Tobacco in a cute pouch. Then I pulled out that bottle of vodka that we keep around just in case someone who drinks vodka decides to stop by unexpectedly. (Since my sister is the only person I know who drinks vodka, and to my knowledge she has never been in the state of Alabama, that bottle has remained intact...for years. I sniffed it, though, and it smelled OK; so I proceeded.)

So here is how I made gin. First I put a bunch of juniper berries in the vodka. Some of them sank, and some floated. I let the bottle sit overnight on the counter, with an army of countertop appliances around it so the cats couldn't knock it over. The next morning I sniffed it (oh, OK...I tasted a tiny little bit!) and then added - in no particular order - a few peppercorns, a star anise, a spoonful of fennel seeds, a couple of cloves, a broken bay leaf, too much cracked cardamom (because it is my favorite spice), a sprig from each of my two rosemary plants, two purple basil leaves, the last shoot from my cilantro plant, a twist of grapefruit rind and another of lemon rind. And a cranberry. That was not in the recipe, but I had one, so what the hell. Now, that comes to 13 additives. The very fancy, very French, very expensive gin has 6 more ingredients, but maybe some more things will grow in the straw garden before I make the next batch. And I THOUGHT I had cinnamon sticks, so I really intended to add one of those this time.

By midday, I sniffed again...and yes, I tasted (just a tiny bit, though!) And, like magic, it smelled (and tasted, although I don't LIKE gin) like gin! With too much cardamom! Coffee filter in the funnel, decanted into another bottle. It had a bit of a golden color - true gin would go through another distillation to make it clear - but it looked like sunshine!

So, around 5 PM I chilled the shaker, crushed the ice, poured my homebrew, dribbled in the dry vermouth, and set my creation gently in the freezer to await The Moment of Truth...

Thumbs up! High Five! Passed muster with flying colors! And I'm thinking...Nancy's Herb World and Designer Gins! You Pick 'Em, We Pickle 'Em! Anyone know how to grow star anise?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Down and Dirty in Alabama

Blood sport is nothing new around here; we have cock fighting, for example. And Alabama-Auburn football. But today is the Superbowl of Blood Sport; the Nirvana of Nastiness...beyond the Extreme Rugby Championship, or no-holds barred cage fighting...it's...The Alabama Primaries!

This is a primer for anyone who wishes to run for office in the Yellowhammer State. First, you will need some funds to play ads every seven minutes on every radio station and every reality TV show broadcast throughout the state. For a solid month. Clearly, that requires a lot of funds; so you might need to meet people who are engaged in illegal activity. They generally have more funds than people who are not engaged in illegal activity. Some recommendations include, but are not limited to, gambling cartels, friends of ex-CEOs and politicians who are currently incarcerated, and teachers' unions. These funds will then need to be properly "washed", because talk show hosts on those radio stations where you are advertising have no gratitude; they insist on "following the money" that you have given them. Bank insiders, PACs with confusing names, and fake websites make the "washing process" a bit easier.

Then you need some name recognition. It's helpful if you already have a moniker like "Young Boozer" or "Twinkle". (These are actual names of actual Alabama candidates, and this writer has no earthly idea if they have followed the recommendations outlined here.) If you are not lucky enough to have a fancy name, but you are a doctor, you can change your name - legally - to "Doctor"; which will instill trust in your constituents when they see it on the ballot. Or you can make billboard-sized signs and put them up on public property, especially along interstate highways. (Notes: Do NOT remove these interstate signs when the election is over. They will be useful when you run again in the future. And while you are "off-roading" in the Ford 150 posting your own signs, you can mow down those of your opponent. Just be sure you don't have one of them stuck in your truck grill when you show up at your next fundraiser.)

Next, you will need a commercial. Here is the text, suitable for radio, along with the action, for your TV ad. " __________________ is YOUR candidate for _________________. (Candidate, smiling, holding important-looking book.) _________________ is just like you. S/he is TIRED of career politicians. _________________ is a small business owner/farmer/hard-working American. (Candidate, smiling, filing/driving tractor/wearing hardhat.) S/he is proud of his/her Alabama values (Candidate pushing child on swing and smiling at spouse.) ___________________ is a conservative Christian (Candidate holds Bible and walks up to church) and has been a Sunday school teacher/lay pastor/acolyte for _____ years. (Candidate shakes hands with folk in front of church.) Vote for ___________________ for _______________. (Closeup of billboard-sized sign with candidate's name and website info. Unless you are running for Agricultural Commissioner. Then it is best to point a rifle at the camera.)

And you will need a "Don't Vote for My Opponent" commercial. If you are creative, this is your opportunity to shine! This is no time to burden yourself with the truth - it is not required under Alabama law. Compare your opponent to livestock! Insist that s/he does not believe in God! Note that his/her money came from illegal sources! (Yes, I realize this miiiiiight be bordering on the truth...) It is also fun - if you are, for example, a Democrat - to make up an uber-Republican PAC name and buy a bunch of air time to accuse your most likely Republican opponent of being a "Liberal". The sky's the limit!

One final strategy: Identify the jurisdictions that typically have 120-130% voter turnout. If they're in your pocket, you're ahead of the game. Go for the Bonus Points!

That should get you through the Primaries. Stay Tuned for "How to Win a Runoff!"

Sunday, May 16, 2010

'Round, 'Round, GetARound, I Get Around!

When I travel, I spend exactly nine hours a day in my hotel. Eight are for sleeping, and the other hour is for getting ready to go out and getting ready to sleep. The rest of the time I am pounding the pavement. Literally. I walk.

On Friday, I was in New York City. It was a buying trip; I needed supplies on 83rd Street, W. That was close to the hotel...got the goods, stuck them in the purse and headed off to the next stop at 57th Street. On foot.

I realized at 57th Street that I had the address of my favorite metal supply house confused with the address of my favorite breakfast restaurant (Norma's at LeParker Meridien) for the zillionth time - oh, well - and hiked the 10 blocks to 47th street. Bought some jump rings and ear wires; suffered verbal abuse at the pleasure of the proprietor, who assumes that because I have a southern accent I am stupid, how else to explain my request for pre-soldered bezel rings when I could easily solder them myself?; dished out my own sweet southern verbal abuse by telling him that his competitor sells them and I would just get them there; and

Hoofed over to the 30's, and the Garment District.

Which borders the Bead District.

Oh, Sweet Heaven.

Four hours, two shopping bags, and a tuna salad on rye later, I walked back to the hotel on 81st Street. Please note, I had a fully-funded MetroCard, valid for travel on any bus or subway, in my front pocket.

This behavior does not endear me to friends and family. In fact, it causes great hand-wringing. People love to travel with me because I know where (almost) everything is. People HATE to travel with me because I NEVER take a cab. What? And miss all the action on the street? My dear girlfriends, who have journeyed with me the world over, always stash rolls and cheese from breakfast in their purses, because it is likely I will have them exploring a cathedral in Lisbon well past lunch time. And I will want them to see Belem before we stop to eat...who wants to miss Belem? For years after they will talk about that nice old man who escorted us "safely" back to the hotel because women - even a dozen of them together - should not be walking the streets "alone". Those moments don't occur in cabs.

The husband has been known to ask, "On this trip, could we just sit one day? And read a book?"

(The truth is, I am glad for my traveling companions to sit in the hotel and read a book. But they don't really want to miss an adventure...they always choose to come along.)

I was on my own this trip. No one with aching feet, no begging for potty breaks, no "I'm hungry!". Just me. To get to my hotel in New York City, I drove from home to the airport. Walked to my gate. Flew to Newark, walked/rode the moving sidewalk/took an elevator/took an escalator to the Air Train. Which took me to the New Jersey Transit train that would get me to Penn Station. Where I took the C Train to the 81st Street station, and walked to the hotel. Oh, the humanity.

But my return flight was out of La Guardia. I could take a cab...or...I could take the subway to Harlem and transfer to the M60 local bus! Which goes all the way to the airport! For $2.25!!! And absolutely no one would tell me I'm crazy.

(Strange, but true. The reason Nancy knows so many places so well is that she adores local buses. Sometimes she will ride a local bus its entire route, just to "see what's out there." She thinks this is probably odd, much as speaking about herself in the third person is odd. But she does it anyway.)

So I needed to get to 125th Street in Harlem to catch the bus. That would be the good old C Train again...but the C Train was out of commission for the weekend for "enhancement of services". And the B Train doesn't run on weekends. Which meant that the D Train was running as a "local" (although it is normally an express.) All of this was explained clearly, to my mind, on the notices plastered all over the station. As it turns out, I was the only person at the 81st Street station who read the signs. And, I guess, I was emitting Ask-Me-How-To-Get-Where-You-Want-To-Go Vibes, because everyone did; until (Hallelujah!) my D Train arrived.

A lovely ride to Harlem, and up on the streets to meander over to the M60 stop. (I had built a lot of meandering time into my itinerary - I love Harlem. Although this six-foot tall redhead dragging the lime green roller bag through the throngs of women in gorgeous African garb was about as incongruous as Annie making an appearance in "The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency" series...) The bus was packed beyond the gills, and all the way to the eyeballs; and still had about four dozen stops to make. I put my my roller bag on the luggage rack, and sat on top of it; a seat I later relinquished to a travel-worn woman who was terrified she'd miss the stop for her airline. (She didn't.) Gave my almost-full MetroCard to a young lady who was shocked that someone would do that. And scored two priceless slices of life:

1) An Adopt-A-Mile sign that read, "Beautification provided by the New York Department of Corrections Hispanic Association" - who knew? And,

2) A church with a wedding in the front - ribbons, balloons and a limousine...and crime scene tape roping off the back door.

A good day.

Yes, if you're looking for adventure, come along with me. But be sure to bring a sandwich.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Polk Salad Nancy

This city girl would like to imagine I have an Inner Thoreau; but the truth is, I'm just plain cheap, and I love greens. So when I noticed a polk plant (at least it looked like polk to me) growing in the gully on the other side of the fence, I had no choice but to put it on the menu for dinner.

Confident in my botanic expertise, I pointed to the leaves, and asked The Husband if he had any idea how to reach them. My thought was to use that Grabber Thing that gets the light bulbs out of those vaulted-ceiling fixtures. His idea was to scale the fence, shimmy down the gully and manhandle the polk. I deferred to him, of course. And fetched the Bactine for his skinned knees.

Now, there is just one problem with eating polk. It is poisonous. (The other problem, was that I didn't have any real proof that it was, in fact, polk. No botanist, no avant garde chef, no pistol-totin' granny. Just a few Internet pics...but I chose not to dwell in the negative.) So it has to be carefully prepared to remove the toxins.. The Official Recipe is:

Wash, boil, rinse, reboil, rinse, reboil, rinse, drain, throw into pan with bacon grease and eggs, scramble.

There is just one problem with this recipe. Bacon grease is disgusting. And the other problem is that The Husband doesn't like eggs for dinner, unless they are deviled eggs at a cookout.

I made up my own recipe:
wash, boil, rinse, reboil, rinse, reboil with a veggie bullion cube, drain, throw in a pan with some olive oil, vinegar and pepper flakes, heat through.

And I really, really hoped that the bacon grease and the eggs weren't necessary to counteract toxins.

Sampled, tasty, waited, didn't die. Put the greens in a bowl, put the bowl on the table. The Husband looked wary. Served himself some potato gratin. Reached for the spoon in the polk. Or whatever it was. Asked, "Am I going to die?" I assured him that it had been at least 15 minutes since my sample, and I wasn't dead. He tasted. Liked. Served himself some more.

My friend, Rachel, who really DOES have an Inner Thoreau, makes her own sauerkraut, and gave me the Official Polk Salad Recipe (with two caveats; she said it "smells" and "it tastes like yuck", but she is wrong), had warned me not to eat too much because it can cause diarrhea. Which is somewhat better than death, but I practiced serious portion control anyway. There was a tiny bit left...the dogs loved it.

This morning I woke up early. Dogs woke up, too. That made three of us who didn't die. No evidence of diarrhea anywhere. I was feeling pretty proud of myself, living off the land, saving the $1.99 for that bag of collards. Wondering how to cultivate polk in a more convenient place. Then I realized, The Husband didn't wake up at 4:30 as usual. He didn't wake at 5:00. By 6:00, I had to face the possibilities. He overslept? He never oversleeps. He was taking the day off? Surely he would have mentioned it. OMG, he died. Of polk poisoning. OMG, I'm a murderer. No, I'm sure it would be reduced to involuntary manslaughter...can't prove intent...oh, I hear the shower! I'm freeeeee!!!!!

And making the grocery list for dinner. What is that Japanese blowfish? The one that you have to fillet so carefully, because its organs are toxic?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

City Kitties in the Kountry

(Warning: mouse dies.)

Every now and then, an unfortunate field mouse notes that the mud room door of the farmhouse has the tiniest gap at the bottom. Just large enough for an itty-bitty field mouse, if it holds its breath, to wiggle through. And just inside that door is a bowl of cat food.

So Mr. Mousie awaits the cover of darkness, sucks it in, belly-crawls toward the Manna From Heaven, and startles Bes the Doublewide Kitty, mid Midnight Snack # 3. Bes' howl brings her five siblings running.

The Staff does not mean this unkindly, but these Kitties are...um...not good mousers. They spent their formative years in a cluster home in the city. A cluster home with the Gold Standard of Pest Control. The closest thing to a mouse in their lives pre-farm was a dying cockroach. (Although some of the older Kitties remember the day the wren flew into the house. They watched as The Staff used a broom to swat it out an upstairs window.) The very first Field Mouse Incident, in fact, took place while the Mother-in-Law and her little dog were visiting...guess who caught the rodent?

Since the Great Humiliation at the paws of the pesky pup, The Kitties have developed a strategy. The Staff has cursed loudly, and often, especially in the face of impending tornadoes, about "herding cats". While The Kitties found this vastly amusing (and, by the way, they think The Staff grossly overreacts to twisters) they also noted the opportunity in their numbers. They developed drills. Foster chases Veronika down the hall. Veronika chases Foster up the hall. Dewi chases Bes around the kitchen island. Bes.....gets a snack. Violet times their runs. Mona hides under the sofa. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Ad nauseam.

And, last night, finally, the payoff. Alas, Poor Mousie...herded to death. But The Staff is going to have to handle things around the farm for a while. The Kitties have some recovering to do.

Friday, April 9, 2010

In Praise of Older Kitties

If life passes in a blink, our fuzzy companions are with us for a mere nanosecond. They are our first "children", our birth children's best friends, our confidants, keepers of secrets and volunteer tasters of new recipes; our favorite necks to hug, and occasionally the bane of our existence...gone in a flash...although we remember the days of string chasing and shoe chewing like it was yesterday.

I have the softest spot for the Old Kitties; who still take a roll in the catnip, and gum their Kitty Treats. But I am especially soft on Violet...sweet, sweet Violet. The daughter of a feral mom, captured in an abandoned building in Gainesville, GA. Who had no idea that humans came with caresses; no idea that her white self with the black nose, looking for all the world like some kiddie scribbled on her proboscis with a Magic Marker, is remarkably beautiful. Who howled in disbelief when handed over to us from our vet, her Savior...as he whispered, "Stop complaining! You're on the way to Kitty Heaven!" Who can cancel out evil in the world with a "meow".

Violet is 16, and in kidney failure; every day I give her fluids (which involves a big needle) and a potassium tablet. She forgives me, if I also give her Seafood Medley Temptation Treats. And, if I let her drink water out of the dirty dishes in the sink...and if I give her a little scratch on the butt every now and then. And access to the empty yogurt containers. Today, she upped the ante...Violet wanted a taste of the violets I gathered from the horse pasture.

I tried to change the subject. Picked her up, clipped her nails, put her down...Violet returned to the bouquet. Handed out treats, Violet headed back to the violets for dessert. Moved the flowers to the safety of the master bath. Violet looked wounded.

Then I remembered that birthday cake with candied violets years ago. I have no idea who was feted, just that beautiful cake. People eat violets. Maybe cats can eat them, too. A quick check with poison control indicated that violets pose no harm to the Kitties; and, in fact, Violet is not the only cat with a taste for violets! I returned the bouquet to the window sill, and looked the other way while Violet had a nibble. (Followed by her little brother, Foster, who can't stand to miss out on any adventure...)

The violets in the pasture are fading, now. I hope - with all my heart - that Violet is here to enjoy the first delicious, purple, taste of spring, next year.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

There should be a Law!

I am all about Economies of Scale, and Multitasking, and Consolidating and Maximizing. I plan my errands during smog alerts, so I only make left-hand turns. No retracing steps for me! No wasted motions or carbon-squandering...and my vehicle has rounded edges, so it slips oh-so-easily through the air. With nearly 40 miles to the gallon, the Audi tt and I are practically energy-invisible. And we are proud of our practicality.

I am so practical, in fact, that I had my children on the same day...two years apart. One giant party! One date to remember! And what two-year old doesn't want his very own baby brother for a birthday present? (Silly me, I also believed that the brothers would never forget each others' birthdays...yeah, well...)

This practicality would have played well in, say, August. When there is really not a lot going on except Back-to-School Sales and the occasional Tax-Free Holiday for Appliances. Or February, with the exception of Valentine's Day. But I chose April. And this year, I ended up with

Two birthdays, Easter, AND World Rat Day on April 4th.

I couldn't decide whether to hide the birthday presents, wrap the Easter eggs or hoist the World Rat Day flag first.

What we did:

The Grand was experiencing her very first "I Get It" Easter, so we started with an egg hunt. The potted plants magically (thanks to Unka Drew) yielded colorful plastic orbs filled with jelly beans. Then Easter baskets all around, filled with - depending on who you are - a stuffed Easter Snake (it goes "ssssssssss") and a stuffed Easter Banana; some edible Easter grass and Easter Buffalo Jerky...and the obligatory Easter Burt's Bees hand cream for gardeners.

Followed by Easter banh mi - Vietnamese pork, chicken and tofu sandwiches.

And a platter of sweets from the local Korean bakery; alongside the traditional Birthday Rhubarb-Strawberry Pie.

Some origami cash...in the shape of kayaks; and a tarantula...as birthday gifts. And a Remote-Controlled plastic rat and Rat t-shirt for the Rat Aficionado in the group.

A mandatory Easter/Birthday/International Rat Day nap.

Then a FAB Chef Liu Chinese Dinner, featuring shredded tofu and lamb skewers and pork buns and veggie dumplings. And, the most delicious chocolate mint birthday cake.

Are you confused yet?

I want to sing songs..."He is Risen", "In Your Easter Bonnet", "Happy Birthday" and the National Rat Day Anthem - the theme from "Ben"? But I am too confused...Happy Easter, Happy Birthday, Happy National Rat Day! And to the Bosses of Holidays, could we spread them out a bit next year? I think it will help with candy and card sales...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wha Dis Day, Ees-tur?

Nono, not dress. Jus diaper. No dress. Itch, dress. Nooonoo! Not socks! I...take...off...(grunt)...socks... Nononono! No shoes! Socks stuck. Oh, shoes shiny! Oh shoes pretty! No, no, no hairbrush! Hairbrush hurt!!! Nono pigtails! I pull pigtails. Oh pigtail pull hurt. Nono bows I run away haha! You catch me. Bows. I pull bows out. Oh...

Go outside? OK! Outside! I see bug! I get bug I eat bug....egg? What egg you say, Daddy? Where egg? Oooh, in plant! I see egg! Look, Daddy, I see egg! I get egg. Pur-pul. Pur-pul egg. Egg no pur-pul!! Egg white! Haha! Ooh, egg shake! Thing in egg! Daddy open egg...beans in egg! Egg have beans? Ooh, bean taste like bu-Nana! Egg have beans taste like bu-Nana? noooo...oooh, bean taste like pi-nappel! Bean taste like pi-nappel? Nooo, bean taste like gween. Give to dog. No like gween bean. Oh, dis gween bean taste pear! Me like pear! I confused. I sit in grass take off shoe.

What say Mommy, more egg? What dat Big Purse, Mommy? Have big handle no top. Put egg in Big Purse? Okay, Mommy. Look, Mommy, I find egg. It lellow. Shake, have beans? put in Big Purse. Other egg! Gween! Shake, put in Big Purse.

I mix up...no egg here yesSirDay. Why egg, Daddy? Bunny? Bunny have egg? Silly Daddy! Bunny not got egg! Chicken got egg! No bunny, Daddy! Chicken got egg lellow inside! No beans! Daddy silly. Silly goose Daddy. I go neck-store. Pick up eggs. Put in Big Purse. What say Mommy? Bunny not put egg neck-store? Why Mommy Bunny put eggs my grass not neck-store?

Nooooo I not hold big purse, Mommy. I tired. I tired pick up egg shake put in big purse. Noooo not shiny box! Mommy got shiny little box. Put on Mommy eye. Say look here sweetie. Say cheese. I no got cheese? Got eggs. Beans inside egg. Bunny have egg. Egg put in Big Purse. Wear dress. Shoes. I so tired. I confused. Daddy, I no smile. I tired. Daddy, uppies me. Daddy shoulder. I tired, Daddy warm...I go nap...nigh-nigh...Mommy shiny box go click...nigh-nigh.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Home Curling, a How-to-Guide

The Winter Olympics are in full swing, and in between criticizing the figure skaters' outfits and shivering, I have become obsessed with the sport of "curling". Probably because one of the Canadian Curlers, Kristie Moore, is pregnant. And, with decades of experience as a Maternity Educator under my belt, I have absolutely no idea how I would have reacted if one of my pregnant clients had asked what I thought about her participation in the Olympics. As a Curler. Although I am (technically) retired, I could be called off the bench at any time; and the issue could conceivably (ha! conceivably! Maternity Educator humor!) come up in the future...so I am getting prepared.

Now, curling, as far as I can tell, involves sweeping, and heaving a big rock down the ice. There is a "hog line" at each end, and a big target beyond each hog line. The participants wear Teflon shoes. They shout stuff while sliding around.

Let's break this down. Sweeping is probably not dangerous for pregnant women; who have been known to be at home, barefoot and pregnant, probably sweeping, for millennia. Targets pose no clear danger, either. They are the best places to find baby gates, and cheap-but-designer infant clothes. I just got my granddaughter a really cute navy and pink retro peasant top and leggings at Target, and they were 30% off. Also, although Teflon has been linked to Alzheimer's, I don't think Teflon is inherently dangerous during pregnancy. Target has a fine selection of Teflon cookware. So I would let this issue, um, slide.

Now, as far as heaving heavy stones. A little research turned up the fact that the stones are granite, as featured on the counter tops in The Kitchens of the Martha Stewart Home Collection. As long as the granite is well-sealed, experts agree there is no health threat. Most expectant mothers have had some experience with heaving before the 12th week of pregnancy, so that's a non-issue; however, hydration must be carefully monitored, and dehydration - should it occur - must be addressed immediately.

Shouting is benign, as it is common in pregnancy, and even more common in childbirth.

So I'm left to ponder the "hog line." I am not a fan of the "rare pork" en vogue at your finer restaurants. Especially for pregnant women. In fact, I am not in favor of pork at all; but I try not to impose my dietary views on others. And living in the country, we see some wild hogs that look pretty mean. I would not advise tangling with them, either.

But, clearly, I can't see the "Big Curling Picture" by examining all these little pieces. So I have constructed a Home Curling Course to get a real feel for the physical demands of the sport, and how they could affect pregnancy. You might want to give it a try, yourself. So, here's how:

First, if you have carpet in your living room, you must remove it and install hardwoods. Or bamboo, which is much more eco-friendly and renewable. Then get the Murphy's Oil Soap and dilute it 1:1...not that 1:16 as recommended on the label. You want the wood good and slippery. Then create Targets at either end of the room. I used the symbol from Target plastic bags. I like to recycle. You probably won't be able to tape them to the slick floor, so you'll need a few brads, or a heavy-duty staple gun.

Next, create your Hog Lines. I didn't have any hogs, or pork (again, I don't mean to impose my dietary views) so I used the dogs. They were, as usual, asleep. I shoved one in front of each Target. I don't think they even noticed, because the floor was so slippery.

You will need Teflon shoes. You can either strap an upside-down Teflon griddle to each foot, or use the old Irish trick of duct-taping your feet. (I am not making this up. I learned it on Wikipedia.)

Get a broom.

And then, a big granite rock. I have a granite mortar and pestle that I use to grind cardamom pods for Swedish coffee bread. I intended to use it for the rock, but decided against it for sanitary reasons...I didn't really want Murphy's Oil Soap in the next batch of coffee bread. I couldn't find any other flat-bottomed granite, so I had to improvise...

AHA! the Roomba! It looks just like that granite thing, and it is self-propelled. Which is a blessing when you don't have any teammates to heave the opening stone. (And you thought Roombas were just for amusing cats!)

Now, get a fanny pack, fill it with water balloons, and strap it around your stomach. If you don't feel suitably weighed down, you might need two fanny packs full of water balloons. (PLEASE NOTE! IF YOU ARE AUSTRALIAN, SKIP THIS STEP!!! AND I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR A WORD ABOUT IT!!!)

To play:

Starting at the far dog line, turn on the Roomba. Look disappointed when it flashes "replace batteries". Replace batteries. Look disappointed when nothing happens. Put on your reading glasses, notice that the batteries are backwards and re-install. Turn on the Roomba. Without tripping over first dog, gently sweep the gyrating Roomba back in line, in the direction of the far Target. Shout something. Sweep curious cats out of the way. Shout something. Sweep Roomba, shout something, sweep cats, shout something, sweep Roomba, shout something, sweep cats, shout something...face the Roomba while sliding backward toward second dog line, shout something colorful while tripping over the second dog and landing on the Target. Clean up mess from ruptured water balloons.

The International Olympic Committee has determined that curling is not dangerous for pregnant women. I concur, with a caveat. Dogs should be removed from the field before play begins.

DISCLAIMER: Although I am a Maternity Expert, and I think that curling during pregnancy is fine in moderation, other Maternity Experts disagree. Please consult your personal Health Care Team for their views on curling during pregnancy. Writer denies responsibility for any injuries sustained while tripping over dogs, wearing fanny packs backwards or heaving mortars and pestles; illness from consuming pork, or shock from improperly wired Roombas.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Down and Out in Oxford, Alabama

I am a Road Warrior. The road I battle is I-20, between Atlanta, GA and Birmingham, AL. A lot of this road is national forest. A lot of it is what we called, when I pursued Urban Studies in college, "hinterland". Which means "void of cell phone towers, radio stations and clean restrooms; yet offering a variety of fireworks superstores".

I have driven this stretch of I-20, in one direction or another, on a daily basis for nearly five years. I am intimate with mile markers. Some of them bring back fond memories, like my friendly discussion with the state trooper who insisted I was going 81 mph at Mile Marker 195. In fact, I was going 74 mph. But I WAS D.I.S.C...(Driving In Sports Car) so I understand why he assumed that it was me, not the silver 1998 Honda Civic in front of me, kicking it around the semi. Billy the Trooper let me go with a warning. I am not sure whether that had anything to do with my snarling, teeth-baring canine co-pilot...but now I know where Billy camps out; and I always wave.

So last Friday was a routine trip in the making. I was to arrive in Atlanta in the early evening, in time to retrieve my mother from a doctor's appointment downtown. I left Birmingham around 2 PM, for my two-plus hour drive. It was raining, and cold. But I have heated seats, and the Audi tt has Quattro traction. Which means that by some kind of physics or magic, it sticks to the ground in the rain. It works - I've yet to go airborne.

Fifty miles out of Birmingham, I saw trouble ahead. Well, I kind of saw it...the aura of flashing lights way on up there; and brake lights for a mile or so. Let me just admit here, I got kicked out of Girl Scouts for scaring the Brownies on a camp out. It was by design. I was a lousy Girl Scout, and I didn't give a half a flip about badges. BUT I did learn a bit about that "be prepared" stuff...so I had a Reader's Digest AND my reading glasses in the front seat. I shut down the ignition, and the headlights; donned the glasses and read for an hour. And then...the traffic started to move.

Cranked up the tt, and....zzzzzzzz....blink...blink....zzzzz.


A. Complete. Electrical. Meltdown.

It was not the first time I had been through this with my Little German Friend. My Cute-But-Bratty transportation has always had "issues".

Called 911. Connected to the State Patrol. Alabama State Patrol. Where are you? Mile Marker 184 eastbound...just outside of Oxford, Alabama. Where is your car? In the left lane...GET OUT OF YOUR CAR! STAND IN THE CENTER OF THE MEDIAN! Help is on the way!

It was pouring rain. The median was a lake. I was wearing suede shoes. My mother was expecting me to pick her up...but help was on the way!

I think that every man, woman and child driving by this woman in suede shoes, shivering in the middle of a soggy median just outside of Oxford, Alabama, offered to help. But I informed them that "help is on the way"; and sent them on their way.

Until the truck full of Alabama Department of Transportation employees stopped by, blocked traffic, moved my bratty vehicle to the right shoulder, and compustered about getting it started again.

None of them had ever driven a stick shift. But they HAD heard that you could push a car with manual transmission real fast, and "throw" it into gear. So they decided to push it BACKWARDS until they could "throw" it in reverse...I was numb, physically and mentally at this point. They could have said they were bringing in a Chinook helicopter and lifting the damn thing 40 feet in the air; then dropping it to "jar" it into reality. And I would have said, "OK." But I still managed to think,

"What could possibly go wrong here?"

As the six Burly Men got into position to push the tt backwards on the right shoulder...this was now 2 hours after the initial "failure" and there was no Alabama State Patrol to speak of on the scene (even after 2 more phone calls) and I was soaked to the bone and my mother was surely wondering where I was (yes, I called, but my parents don't leave their cell phones on, they might lose their charge)...a TOW TRUCK appeared! Hallelujah, a tow truck! I was certain that a "jump" would restore the sanity of the tt. I could reset the electrical system, and be on my way! And no one would have to push my car backwards to get it "jumped" into reverse!

Oh, happy day, the tow truck guy, Travis, emerged.

But he didn't have jumper cables.

He could, however, tow me to Daddy's shop, a mile away. They could jump me there. Super duper...He loaded the tt on the wrecker, and told me to get in the truck. Which I did. But I had to remove his GUN from the passenger seat to sit down.

Hello, I had to move his


Which I did...

And he towed me 1 mile to the shop, got the jumper cables, opened the hood, looked around, opened the TRUNK, looked around, at which point I asked him what he was looking for, told me that he "can't find the battery" and I told him it was under the thing that said "BATTERY COVER" in the front of the car, jumped the sporty-yet-petulant vehicle; sending it into "safe" mode, which allowed me to program it with the "secret code" that resets its bad self....and said that his daddy, who owned the shop, wanted $150 for their service.

I pulled out a credit card. They didn't take credit cards.

I pulled out a check book. They didn't take checks.

I had $105 in cash. The service provided, miraculously, now cost $105.

Called the parents at home, to leave a message about my inability to retrieve my mother; but they ANSWERED, because they got an earlier appointment. And they were home and done and eating crockpot pork tenderloin; and my services were not necessary after all.

Drove back to Birmingham. Thankful for my steam shower. And the fireplace, and fuzzy socks. And I will never view mile marker 184 quite the same way again.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Dear National Weather Service...

Dear National Weather Service,

I am writing because I believe a terrible mistake has been made. I live in the Deep South. I say ma'am, and y'all. I eat grits, and fried okra. People like me do not have heating blocks for our car engines. We don't wear gloves, except for those cute fingerless ones that make us look like refugees from the Oliver Twist Orphanage. And our "winter coat" is a stylin' leather jacket, with a silk scarf around our neck for a Stacy and Clinton "pop of color". We close all non-essential businesses, government offices and Starbucks if we have snow flurries.

So imagine my surprise, when today it was so cold that the plastic cover on the very expensive electronic key to my German sports car cracked. Hello, they have Alps and stuff in Germany. They know cold. Those expensive electronic key covers are engineered to withstand Alp Cold, but couldn't handle the Arctic Blast clearly misdirected at we gloveless souls.

As The National Weather Service, I believe it is incumbent upon you to rectify this situation, and return our typical "sweater weather". Certainly, some jurisdiction that thrives on ice fishing and...umm...slalom stuff, wants its weather back.

(It has occurred to me that there could be a more sinister explanation for this unpleasantness. Like, perhaps, some terrorist types have developed Weapons of Mass Refrigeration. Binary compounds, benign on their own, but bone-chilling in combination. And possibly these FreezeMongers managed to worm their way into the country on a flight from Siberia to Atlanta; then released their horror somewhere above Villa Rica. In which case, I'm sure, an investigation is ongoing. I really don't want to compromise National Security. I just want to feel my fingers again.)

So, please, National Weather Service, look into the possible misdeployment of Jack Frost. He is not welcome here, among grits and okra eaters. And the people who love him - those people who strap two-by-fours to their feet and slide down mountains - must be mourning his absence. It's a new year, and a fresh start. Let's start by putting the weather back where it belongs.