Thursday, May 24, 2012

A normal little country mouse

I have this theory that you make your own normal.  Everything that you do, no matter how wacky and odd it seems to everyone else, is pretty standard in your life.  And naturally it follows that whatever everyone else does is just plain weird.
My theory was once again proved true during a recent trip to the whopping metropolis of downtown Cleveland, where my husband and I met some friends and enjoyed a concert.  Truthfully, I was a little excited to have this destination, because it’s not often that I step foot into a world of concrete with a plethora of shops and restaurants at every turn.  (Some people might argue that Cleveland doesn’t have that many options, but those people have never lived in a small town in rural Ohio.)  Visiting a city like this gives me a feeling of comfortable anonymity and the ability to step out of my usual self, to test the waters of a life I don’t normally lead knowing that I will be back home in a matter of hours.
The evening was lovely.  We walked from our friend’s downtown apartment to dinner and the show, and out for a late night pizza before retiring for the night.  Walking everywhere is definitely a perk of living in an urban area, and it was so late when we got home that we just went to bed.
I woke up in the morning at my own rhythm.  There were no children to jump on my face, no dogs to nip at my hands, and no cardinals flying into my windows.  I couldn’t hear the rooster that lives down the street from my house, and with the small window in the bedroom, I couldn’t even catch a glimpse of sunlight.
“Let’s get moving,” I said to my husband, wondering if he also felt like we were in a cave in the middle of a foreign land where no birds sing and no light shines.  “I need some fresh air.”
We quickly dressed and headed down the apartment building’s elevator and I marveled at how life must be, always feeling like you’re living in a hotel.  In my mind, no normal person would ever want to have one exit door and then ride a stuffy elevator just to step foot outside.  These people, I thought, must be crazy.
When the elevator stopped, all I could think of was how I needed something.  I needed fresh air, the feel of a breeze blowing through the trees.  I needed a bird, a flower, a patch of dirt.  I needed these things like I couldn’t imagine, and there wasn’t a trace of any of them anywhere.  Sure, if I looked hard enough I could find them.  The sunshine peeked over the tops of buildings, and a few ornamental trees dotted the streets along with the pigeons.  But it just didn’t seem real to me, so unnatural.  So unnormal.  So weird.
We drove home early and I watched the concrete jungle disappear in the rearview mirror.  Upon arriving at home, my dear husband saw the look in my suffering eyesw and promptly brought me back to life by building a small campfire in our backyard.  He handed me a cup of coffee and there I sat, listening to the crackle of flames, the song of the cardinals, and watching a chipmunk snitch a quick drink from the birdbath.  Maple seeds floated down with the sunlight and I took in a huge breath and then a sigh of relief.
Our friends from the city could never handle the peace of the woods, the quiet life of the country.  To them, the smell of downtown and the scuff of cement is normal.  It’s home.  But to me it’s just painfully unnatural, to the point where I couldn’t be happier that I am weird, in my normal sort of way, where I can open a door and step outside to a sea of green and feel dirt between my toes whenever I want.

Yes, I want fries with that.

Dear Fast Food Restaurants,
French Fry season is just about full swing, when busy families like ours simply have no other choice than to buzz through your drive through.  Not that we don’t enjoy it, because we do.  You have done an amazing job making your food mouth-watering and delicious, and I stand by my sentiment that anyone who says they don’t like french fries is just a just a downright, two-faced liar.  We are Americans and have been raised to crave salt, fat, and sugar.  There is no one better than you to give it to us.
As I said, we’re just about in that time of year when our family dines more frequently than we should at your establishments.  It seems we’re always running from this game or to that event, often times changing clothes in parking lots.  The back of my vehicle has been filled with the necessities of the season, from baseball gloves to concert attire.
My point is that I personally struggle to keep my family going to where they need to be and have them as ready as I can at any given moment.  This also means that they need to eat swiftly and cleanly, because chances are we have about 4.2 minutes to eat our dinner without spilling on themselves before rushing to wherever we need to go next.
It is for this reason that I beg of you to please, please, please stop messing up our orders.  If we order a drink, please give us a straw.  If we ask for a burger, please remember to put it in the bag.  If we have an order with two bags, please remember to give us both when we stop at the second window.  If an item requires a fork, please stick it in there so I don’t have to eat with my fingers and drive.  And for Pete’s sake, think about it—if I order three kid meals, don’t you think we just maybe could use a couple of napkins???
Like many people I know, we have tried to combat your forgetfulness with our own stockpile of supplies acquired also by your mistakes, such as when we order two coffees and you give us five straws.  These extra straws are stored away in what I like to call the “supply cabinet” of the vehicle, the glove box.  I have also squirreled away extra napkins, salt, ketchup, barbeque sauce, plastic silverware, and those little coffee stirrers which have at times doubled as any necessary utensil.  Without this hoarded accumulation, we would be in trouble more often than not.
My request today comes with more than just complaints, it comes with a solution.  Obviously the simplest answer would be to just stop botching up the orders and have extra training in condiments and accouterments.  I know this isn’t always possible, so here are my slightly brilliant ideas: 
Treat your value meals the same way you treat kid meals.  Instead of putting in a little toy that will inevitably end up wedged between the seats of my car or tossed out with the wrappers, make the adult meal’s prize be a nifty little baggie containing all of the necessary items to enjoy their meal on the go.  
And I know this is asking a lot, but add a third window as a last-step check point for your patrons.  It could simply be a place where we could stop and politely review our order so that we don’t find ourselves steaming mad, screeching tires through your parking lot and storming into your restaurant and ripping sixty four napkins out of your dispensers (because that’s how many come out at once—are you aware of that?) or worse yet, bounding up to the counter to demand the french fries that you forgot to put in our to-go order.  Because, as I’ve mentioned, they really are pretty delicious.  Even when you only have thirty seconds and a coffee stirrer.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The gasses that we passes

It’s time to get a little personal, and if you’re offended by the passing of gasses, I suggest you discontinue reading this column.  For in the next few hundred words, I’d like to express my maternal nose’s lament and explain why I have sudden outburst that I never thought were possible.  As a mother, you expect to yell things like, “clean your room!” or “finish your dinner!”  Maybe even a rhetorical question such as, “why doesn’t anyone ever listen to me?”  But it was a recent exclamation that got me thinking that no one really ever warned me about all this stinky stuff.
“I am so tired of smelling farts!” I yelled, in total honesty, on a chilly day when opening the windows wasn’t really an option.  Because when you’ve got three kids, a dog, a husband, and let’s keep it real here, yourself all processing food, there are bound to be releases.  I just don’t want them in such close proximity that not only does my nose burn, but my eyes also water.
 “But farts are natural,” they argue.  “Better out than in, isn’t that what you taught us?” they quip, trying to turn my own logic against me as I bury my nose in the collar of my shirt as a makeshift gas mask.  And it’s true.  Apparently the average person produces 2 quarts of gas a day and passes it 14 to 20 times.  As food travels through our intestines, bacteria does its job aiding in digestion.  Their byproduct, however, is gas.  So if food is exceptionally slow or difficult to digest, the bacteria simply have more time to make more gas.  It’s not just beans or cabbage that can cause these “stink bombs” as they are sometimes referred to.  Everything from sugary drinks to bread to beef.  One of my best parenting tricks, though, is to serve a big bowl of broccoli and cauliflower and promise a farting contest after dinner.  Clean plates galore.
“But my farts don’t smell,” I often hear, which is a boldfaced lie if anyone ever heard it.  (Although, true story, I once walked into my mother’s room and said it smelled like fresh cut flowers and she about fell over laughing at my smell description of her flatulence.)  Mostly, children create gases potent enough to clear a room or in some cases, require me to roll down the car windows even if it’s negative thirteen degrees because my inner nose would rather freeze than register the scent of rotten eggs.   One study that I read revealed that males have a higher odor quotient when it comes to farts—they scored a whopping 0.86 compared to a female’s 0.54.  I have a sneaking suspicion that if they included dogs in this study, their stinkometer scale would have just shattered.
“But farts are funny,” they say, and for that I have to agree.  Historically speaking, farts have added humor to just about every culture since before the dawn of whoopee cushion, which really only added to the snickers and giggles.  If you find yourself in a quiet room of people and the only sound you hear is someone doing the one cheek sneak, if you’re not laughing out loud, chances are you’re working hard to hold it in.
In reality, farts hold a special place in my heart, because like many kids I was never allowed to say the “f-a-r-t” word.  I was required to call them stinkers or tooters, and being so very desperate to verbalize this funny and forbidden word, I would go into by bedroom, shut the door and bury my head in my pillows.  Only there, when I was sure my soundwaves would be safe from adult ears would I chant, “fart fart fart fart fart.”  It wasn’t until my parents deemed me mature enough that I was able to use the actual word in public.  Are my children allowed to say it?  Yes.  Better out than in, as I always say, but too much of a good thing isn’t always the best.  So they must learn to use moderation when it comes to the sacred word, just as they must also learn to hold them in until they’re out of earshot and farther than the range of my sniffer.

A pleasing night of P’s

Alliteration, if you can’t remember from way back in high school English class, is the repetition of similar first syllables used in adjacent words in literature.  Or basically, a bunch of words start with the same letter.  Technically, Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers is more than just a tongue twister, it’s alliteration. 
This wacky little English tool has been used for hundreds of years, and was quite prevalent in old English, but something so spectacular seems to spread though the centuries.  It’s used in advertising, cartoons, poetry, music, and just about everywhere else, including my own home on what turned out to be an excellent evening of events.  We simply dubbed it “The Night of P’s.”
The first great thing about The Night of P’s was that it was just G’s, as in just girls.  With just my two daughters and my dog, we were free from the plagues of the boys, including passing gas, paper airplanes, and persistent pestering.  We all four sat huddled on our couch, my two daughters and I snuggled under a soft red blanket and our puppy perched on the top like a princess.  It quickly evolved into one of the best evenings I’ve had in, well, about forever, and I have these “P’s” to thank for it.
PJ’s.  No comfy night in in complete without them, these rewarding clothes at the end of the day, because they truly are a reward after a hard day of work.  After hours of wearing clothes that have to look nice enough to be seen in public, pajamas are the wardrobe’s way of whispering to the world, “you had your fancy stuff, now I just want to relax.”  (Note: This is the philosophy behind why people who wear pajama pants during the day appear lazy.)
Princess Protection Program.  This triple P is the actual name of the actual tween movie we chose to watch that evening, that we actually enjoyed.  There’s something to be said for movies produced specifically for that age group that has outgrown animation and not yet progressed to the violence and adult content that is sadly most of the entertainment world.  They’re sweet, family-friendly, and there’s always a hint of life lesson and a speckling of immature humor that appeals to just about anyone who is sacked out on the couch wearing pajamas.
Polish.  As in nail polish.  Chimpanzees and other animals use grooming as a very important social tool.  They bond over picking bugs off of each other’s skin, and it’s something we humans may never understand.  But I reckon that if a chimp could watch a bunch of girls paint each other’s nails, it would totally get it.  Nail painting is one of those mysterious activities that brings two people close—physical contact, decorating the other person, and the whole issue of trusting that the painter isn’t going to spill the paint or really botch up your nails, even though you chose to have your nails painted green and pink.
And finally, popcorn.  (You must have guessed that one by now!)  This tasty treat has been a tradition for us just as it’s been at every slumber party/movie night since the dawn of the big screen.  The girls in our family are most fond of this food, so when the boys are away, the corn pops away.  It wasn’t just any old popcorn, it was “mommy’s famous popcorn” and while knew we may delight in digestive difficulties at a later time, we didn’t care and devoured two entire delicious batches.
And there you have it, the six P’s that came together so profoundly to bring this parent a feeling of peace and prosperity, pride and pleasure, and primarily perfection.

Mommy’s Famous Popcorn
In a lidded pot or large pan, heat 2 Tbl olive oil over medium high heat.  Add ½ cup popcorn kernels (or less depending on the size of your pot) and cover.  Shake frequently and don’t remove the lid.  When popping has nearly stopped, empty popcorn into large bowl and toss with more olive oil and popcorn salt.  

There are more than fifteen uses of alliteration used in this column.  How many did you find?

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