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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fall brings out our true colors

Thirty days has September, April, May, and November. All the rest have thirty-one [except Februrary] but if I truly had my way, the month of October would be 300 days long.
If there was ever a time of the year that I would want to bottle up and have to myself all year long, it’s the month of October when nature puts on its finest show for all of the senses. The smell of the leaves, the sight of the first frost on the pumpkin, the taste of hot mulled cider, the sound of bare trees blowing in the wind, and of course the feel of stick jabbing you in the leg when you jump into the leaf pile.
Honestly, I get all warm and fuzzy just thinking about it, even the stick. When October rolls around, I morph into some other person, a person who lives and breathes to embrace every aspect of the season. Like most of us who are tired of painting our toenails and shaving our legs, I welcome the return of long pants and closed toed shoes quite happily. Not only that, but I like to pretend I’m a fashion model for one of those hip stores where everyone is strangely warm wearing only a flannel shirt and a vest, even though 99% of the time my body is comfortable but my arms feel like they’re going to snap off like icicles when a stiff wind blows by.
My kids are suddenly forced to wear hats and gloves out of nowhere because maybe at some point their mother will be cold and which automatically means they should don extra gear regardless of their own temperature.
Soup becomes a staple in our house like none other, and as head chef everything that comes out of my kitchen errors on the side of “comfort food” because when the temperature first starts to drop, we collectively as a society shun the grilled hot dog and coleslaw, having eaten one too many. We fill our bellies with stick-to-your-ribs dinner and desserts, operating under the assumption that more pumpkin is obviously better.
Come October, we drink more hot beverages, we make more campfires. With all of the early darkness, we start hunkering down for the winter like bears slipping into hibernation before their time. Knitting needles and thick novels comes out because what else does one do with all that free time now that the lawn no longer needs mowed so often?
All of this inside warmth and comfy coziness does one thing: It makes us feel good and feel whole. It makes me feel true and real, which is, I think, the way it was truly intended to be if we look to the reason for the season.
Fall is fall because of the crazy Earth tilt thingy, but most of us know it as the time of year when the leaves change color and fall off the trees. But most people don’t know why the leaves change color. Technically, they don’t change color, they just show their true color. Overtaken by the greenness of chlorophyll all spring and summer long, it’s not until the temperatures drop and the sun goes down that the tree cuts off all of the extra chlorophyll that it needs when it’s making food during the summer. Once the powerful green goes away, what’s left is what color it was all along, underneath.
Sure, it dries up, dies and falls off, but for those few beautiful days in the month of October, the bright showy colors of fall dance for us in all of their glory, waving around in the angled sunlight before their final plummet.
And I for one, will be wearing my own true colors, cuddling my kids in fleece blankets by a campfire, watching them fall with rake primed and ready, surely to have a pot of chicken soup on the stove to warm my freezing, yet trendy, arms.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

There’s something rotten in the state of my garage

If you follow this column, you might remember that last week I wrote a lovely philosophical story about the lessons I’ve learned from my garden. After contemplating how an ignored garden was really a message of personal revival in disguise, I concluded with myself slowing down, taking time to enjoy life and weeding out the unnecessary extras that keep me from living the life I want to live.
And then, since then, I’ve spent an entire week sniffing around my garage. Literally.
It started the very day my husband said, “you won’t see me much this week.” With meetings and conflicting appointments, our paths didn’t cross long enough for me to force him to remedy the stinky situation: the smell of death looming in the garage. Somewhere, some sort of critter had met his or her doom, and what was left was beginning the all-important job of decomposing and releasing of gases and other such unpleasantries.
I opened the door from our house to a wall of odor. Granted, I have a nose so super sensitive that it’s earned me the nickname of “bloodhound” from my husband, who apparently didn’t catch the stench as he zoomed in and out of his car. Basically I knew I was left alone to tackle the smell that I found so offensive, which is probably what would have happened anyway because I’m just that strong a smeller.
Science tells us that women are better smellers than men, meaning that our sense of smell is much stronger (and not that we are generally more stinky.) Most likely this is due to some instinctive mate-finding principle, but I think it’s more likely because we don’t like smelly things like dirty diapers, diesel fuel, and football jerseys and have to sniff them out to clean them. Regardless, we women in our child-bearing years are faced with the plague of strong noses, and I myself have been cursed with trying to determine the source of the previously mentioned rotting creature that was hiding among the scooters and jump ropes.
We have had many dead things in our garage over the years, which is par for the course when you live in the woods. There has been more than our fair share of mice and “kamikaze toads” which seem to line themselves up perfectly for death by garage door/car wheel/recycling bin.
I was convinced that I would find some helpless little animal who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, so I began my sniff search.
They say that a dog’s sense of smell is 50 to 100 times stronger than a human’s, but I beg to differ. I had the odor narrowed down to a small segment of the garage, all by taking the time to sniff around like an actual bloodhound. Nose pointed in the air, nostrils flaring, I was committed to finding out where this was coming from.
I lifted shelving with adrenaline strength. I moved benches and rocks. I sifted through sand toys, yard toys, balls, bats, clubs, and enough sidewalk chalk to literally paint the town red. I climbed ladders and even examined the entire workings of the garage door for the departed offender. Then I called on my mother to come and stand in my garage with her own nose and sniff around.
“Something, I think. Somewhere,” she said, nonchalantly.
Apparently, the more we age, the more our sense of smell deteriorates. It follows that the pitiful dead animal couldn’t smell itself rotting up our toy storage area. I never did find the culprit, although my bottom dollar is placed on something up in the wall.
But as the circle of life goes, after a few days the smell has started to dissipate. Thankfully I can now exit my own home without holding my breath and curling my nose, whether it be to block out the odor or to hunt it down with the finely honed skill set of a hound dog.

Note: My husband finally found the source of the stink-- a dead mouse under the shelf. The same shelf I lifted with all my might and had my son look under to search for dead things. Can't trust a 6 year old for everything, I guess.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Zucchini Tomato Pie - the way to send out the summer

I don't know about anyone else, but my zucchini plants were a major bummer this year.
Sure, I didn't give them the normally needed TLC, and sure I did find the world's largest weed (see photo) planted right next to them, but when it comes to zucchini, I always thought that you shouldn't take care of them because if you do, you'll be swimming in them for a month.

But there I was, a failure of a garden year, and left with one gigantic zucchini, and a major hankering for a garden full of them. So I swallowed my pride and went to the store and actually bought zucchini in the months of August and September.

It was a sad and sorrowful day.

But it was so very worth it.

When it comes to zucchini recipes, there are thousands. This one is my new favorite savory dish because a)it's super simple and b) my son's exact words were, "gee, mom, I thought it was going to be really gross but it's actually pretty good. Can I have some more?" And really, you can't make that stuff up.

Zucchini Tomato Pie
2 cups chopped zucchini
1 cup chopped tomato
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup shredded cheddar (or other - be creative!) cheese
3/4 cup Bisquick
1/2 cup milk
3 eggs
1/2 - 3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp italian seasoning

Preheat oven to 400. Spray a deep dish pie plate with cooking spray.
Right in the pie dish, mix up the zucchini, tomato, and onion. In a medium sized bowl, beat the eggs and add everything else (cheese through the seasoning.)
Pour the mixture over the zucchini and stick it in the oven.
Bake for about 30 minutes. Check the center with a knife to make sure it's set.

Then go out and stake out next year's zucchini plot. Of course.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Learning from the WMNG

It was a sunny late summer day when I ambled over to what I now refer to as the “WMNG.” Within seconds my expression went from cheery yard work smiles to a scowl of disappointment, because right there, in plain view all summer long, my small plot of plants had morphed into the World’s Most Neglected Garden.
The beans, now four feet long and as wide as Popeye’s forearms, grew down to the dirt, their woody seeds pushing through the dehydrated skin. What was left of the tomatoes drooped rotten over their cages, spreading seeds that I’ll surely have to pull as weeds the next year. The broccoli and lettuce had all gone to seed, reaching world record heights, as if lettuce should ever be three feet tall.
And the list goes on, from hidden monster zucchini to a few dozen gnarled up carrots, none more than an inch and a half long. I stood there with my wheelbarrow full of greenery gone bad and realized that the WMNG was trying to teach me something. If I listened very carefully to the rustle of the pepper plants, they were whispering their withered up wisdom.
“Slow down, step back, take care of what really matters to you. And me oh my oh, put those beans out of their misery.”
Sometimes it takes something as tangible and visible as a pathetic garden square to make you take a moment of pause and re-think things. Whoever said that gardening isn’t mentally therapeutic has never had fingernails full of dirt. Not only is it good for the body, it’s good for the soul. For me, it’s what makes the summer really the summer, although this year’s garden was anything but worthy. Looking at the WMNG it was perfectly clear that I overloaded myself and went in too many directions, said “yes” to too many things and neglected one of my most favorite chores.
My mom used to have a poster that hung in her garden shed which she has since framed and given to me. It reads, “All I need to know I learned from gardening.” It has a list of clever phrases and puns including “We’ve all got our own rows to hoe” and “Stay away from seedy characters.” One of my favorites is, “A little manure goes a long way” but there’s one that seems to jump out from behind the glass.
“Weed out all the annoyances in your life.”
I’m not sure why it’s so hard to do, to simple down a life that goes in so many directions. Maybe it’s what parenthood is all about, juggling lessons and practices, homework and healthy eating habits. Multi-tasking is an understatement. Anyone who has filled out school paperwork while talking on the cell phone in the cereal aisle while feeding your kid bologna samples for lunch knows exactly what I’m talking about. On days when I am lucky enough to lay and read to my children at naptime, nine out of ten times I fall fast asleep and the next thing I know someone’s poking me in my eye and asking me to keep reading.
There’s only so much one person can do, and when that pile becomes too overgrown, you’ve just got to weed out those annoyances. Not that my children are my annoyances (although they are plenty annoying sometimes), but it’s the tacked on things here and there that I now know has kept me from the little things that make me happy from the inside out.
“Take time to smell the roses” is one man’s saying. I would rather take time to snap off a fresh bean or squirt a ripe tomato seed across the yard, although not this season. The first thing I plan to do is take time hang that poster from my mom. It’s been sitting in the corner on the floor for months.

***Note: 2010's pathetic sunflower house with sunflowers that barely crested my 2 year old's head (and were supposed to be 10 feet tall.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Not Penicillin, Momicillin

Many do not know, but I have a pretty substantial relationship with antibiotics. Coined "the queen of strep throat" over the past few years, I actually walk into the doctor and they look at me and say: Oh no, not again.
So me and penicillin, we go way back.
And now, I've got a new "cillin" to claim: Momicillin.
A regular writer on there, it's the bare bones of motherhood and womanhood, often not the prettiest of pictures (but hopefully one that will be the medicine you need for a chuckle or two.)
Because they have rights to the work, I can't post them anywhere else but can certainly direct readers there.

So without further adieu, here's the latest installment. Or should I say...

Great Shel Silverstein in the morning with cabbage soup for breakfast!

ps. Gerturde Hurlbutt was the woman who won the contest and gave the name "skeet" the the sport of skeet shooting. She also won $100 for her fancy idea. Thought you should know.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Letters and laughs are a lost art

At the risk of sounding too old fashioned, I would like to throw in my two cents when it comes to lost art forms. ­(Picture, if you will, me sitting in a rocking chair on a front porch, rubbing my aching knee and starting this next sentence…)
“Back when I was little, we didn’t have those fancy email forwards. If we had something funny to say, we actually had to say it. Out loud. In front of people. Over time, sure there were those blue ditto machines and eventually the fax, but still. If you had a joke, you told it, not read it.”
Because really, when it comes to jokes, when is the last time you’ve heard one delivered with poise and timing? People just don’t tell jokes anymore. We just forward them, some of us with fourteen pages of past recipients situated right at the top to really kill the moment.
My grandparents had a friend who was large, loud, and Hungarian which meant nothing except that his family served chicken paprikash a different way than we Polish folk did. But this guy, with his booming voice, could tell a joke like none other. Even as a small child I remember sitting in his basement, drinking my ginger ale when Mr. S. belted out a side-splitter. He could hold it together through the whole thing, even through the punch line, while the rest of us (even those who didn’t understand what he was talking about) slapped our knees at the very delivery.
Mr. S. isn’t with us anymore, and I’d bet my bottom paprikash that neither is the way he could pull a joke out of nowhere and perform it with the grace of Bob Hope and the nose of Jimmy Durante. Somehow as a society we’ve lost that talent, so much that I’d go as far as to say telling good jokes is a lost art. If three guys walk into a bar and one ducks, is anyone there to laugh?
I don’t understand how, but I can tell you the “why” of the answer. It’s the rotten and oh-so-convenient thing called e-mail. Instantly we can send something to one friend or many. With the click of a button, we transfer doctored-up images of billboards and old ladies not to mention a long scrolling story with a killer punch line that gets lost in translation until you re-read it three times.
Because not only is the art of telling jokes long gone, so is the art of writing letters.
I’m talking about actual pieces of paper with actual pens, complete with smudges. These are the correspondences that honestly prove that someone cares about you enough to force them to not only cramp up their hand (because no one actually writes anymore) but also shell out the big bucks for a stamp.
There’s patience involved, and a thought process that doesn’t include a simple backspace. There’s the meaning that someone took the time to say what really matters and had to really think about spelling and punctuation because there’s nothing automatic about a sheet of paper.
My oldest daughter has a pen pal in Virginia. The two of them write back and forth, send rubber bracelets and post cards from vacations. Nothing exchanged is very exciting; there are no deep secrets or outpouring of souls. But still, every single day my kid asks me if she got anything in the mail, even if she just sent her friend a letter the day before.
Maybe it’s the tangible feel of the paper in your hands, the sound of the envelope ripping, the knowing that what’s inside isn’t a bill or an application for an obscure credit card. Whatever it is, it’s a wonderful thing that is fading away a little more with every @ and .com.
Back on that rocking chair I go, creaking away and complaining about the weather and the youngsters of the day, with their fancy electronics and all that. Wouldn’t it just be something if the mailman came up and delivered a hand-addressed envelope and told me a belly-splitting joke at the same time?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bed jumper learns a lesson

Let’s just say this: I was a bed jumper all of my childhood. I did it whenever I could get away with it, and even when I couldn’t because the sweet feeling of springs popping beneath my feet was worth any punishment anyone could give.
And life could get no better when my new furniture suite arrived and I was awarded with a four-poster bed (with removable spindle tops that so awesomely could double as microphones). I was around eight, and when the put the dresser with the large mirror was placed directly across from my new bed, a star was born.
I sang every Beach Boys song there was into those wooden bed parts while I danced and jumped and watched my talent blossom in the opposing mirror. Someday, I would be famous, I thought.
Instead, someday is today, and that bed isn’t gold-plated in a museum, it was instead passed down to my daughter. Along with the bed jumping gene. It didn’t last but a few years before the cracks got too big for comfort and we had to purchase a new bed.
After much thought and too little measurement, we settled on a trundle bed so that visitors (and siblings) could easily share the room with her. It was near perfect until we realized that pulling out the trundle wouldn’t work with the existing wall-to-wall furniture we had packed in to her room.
And so, for over a month, her brand-new bed has sat stagnant in the center of her room, whilst the perimeter of it piled up and became impassable.
It is a well-known fact that people in this house don’t have the greatest git-r-dun track record, so after sneaking into the room to give the kids a kiss goodnight and stepping on a poorly placed flatulent noise maker toy, I decided that enough was enough, and I was going to take matters into my own tiny hands. I would get this room in order, no matter what.
Armed with a tape measure, I knew I would have to remove one piece of furniture from my daughter’s room, and removing the large mirror would be too devastating. I would need to take out a bureau, meaning I would have to find somewhere else to stick the clothes.
After a fast contemplation of whether I could get all of this done before my husband came home from work, surely to be astonished and amazed at my handyman progress, I rushed off to purchase a closet unit for my kid. This was happening! A girl with a screwdriver, I assembled the gigantic unit all by myself, only saying a few choice words at mislabeled parts and cutting myself only once.
When it was all finished, I lumbered it into the closet, only to realize that a) there was a bookshelf full of books in the way, and then, after moving the bookshelf, b) the closet unit did not fit. (So much for that measuring tape, eh?)
Glancing at my watch, I saw how much time I had left in my day to remedy this situation before my husband came home with enough ammunition to make fun of me for days. I had just a few hours, after much thought, to rearrange the furniture in two other bedrooms to make this one measly closet unit fit.
Weary, bleeding, and sore from hauling 60 pound bookshelves around my house, I ended up with everything in its place, except that now three bedrooms were covered in books and my own closet was completely torn apart because, in the end, it was the only place that the new closet unit would actually fit.
I may have looked like I had weathered the tornado that had blown through our second level, but I had semi-accomplished something, all by myself. Not only that, but standing there rubbing my sore muscles I re-learned the importance of “measure twice.”
But really, there’s a much more important lesson to learn from my chaotic afternoon of furniture: don’t jump on the bed.
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