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Friday, November 23, 2012

The Mom who didn’t was dishes

Way back in 1950, a little book was written and published about a man who just stopped doing his dishes.  He simply came home one night, starving, and quickly fed himself and thought he’d do the washing the next day.  But the next day, he came home twice as hungry, and that was the start of it all.  Soon he ran out of dishes, so he began using any vessel in his home he could find, including eating from a candy dish and a flowerpot.  Dirty dishes piled high all over his house until finally he thought he should do something about it.  She hit the breaking point.
Mothers and fathers who are raising children who do not pick up after themselves across the world now have a bit of a hero, a mom who simply stopped doing everyone else’s dishes.  And picking up their clothes.  And everything else.  For a series of days, she handwashed and put away any dishes that she herself used, and would only wash laundry if it was left near the washing machine, sorted.
This brilliant mother cataloged her experience on a blog and even appeared on the national TV to share her story of legitimately doing what so many of us wish we had the guts to do: nothing.  She writes about how her counters were filled with stinking bowls of rock-hard cereal and milk leftovers, and her couch was littered with dirty socks, empty drink bottles, and used tissues.
My favorite part of the whole story is that her children did not unpack their lunch containers, and so she sent their lunches in doggie doo baggies to school, which is clever and suburb parenting skills in my book.
After a few days of doing nothing except taking care of her own things and kicking back her feet, the children began to catch on, and soon enough there was a victory and big ol’ cleaning party.  Whether or not the tween aged children have caught on is yet to be seen, but I can’t help but think that moms and dads everywhere are considering this little experiment of their very own.  I know I am.
The very fact that this mom had the audacity to put this strike into action makes me feel a little bit better about my own kids, that I’m not alone in the plight of dirty clothes on the floor, crusty dishes on the table, and paper airplanes everywhere else.
There are certain tag lines that I find myself saying or shouting around the house over and over.  I would sound like a broken record to my kids, if they knew what a record was and what would happen if it were broken.  “Who didn’t rinse out their cereal bowl?  Well here goes five minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.”  “Do you think these socks are going to walk themselves to the laundry?”  “How many cups can three children go through in one day?  I need another top rack in my dishwasher.”
I’m not sure I’d have the nerve to do with the striking mom of Alberta, Canada did, but I am proud of her.  Envious?  No, because when the strike ended she reports that it got a little ugly.  Children turning on each other, milk completely dried in glasses, and two entire bottles of Pinesol.  The wise mom put the house on lockdown while the children were told to clean everything to their mother’s standards, and I’m sure there were plenty of words said under the roar of the vacuum cleaner.  Did the kids learn a lesson?  I hope so.  I hope they learned to appreciate the things that their parents do for them on a daily basis.  I hope they also learned to appreciate the things that their parents have done for them their whole life, including reading books about men who didn’t wash his dishes.  (If they did, they would have followed his lead and waited for a rainy day, and carried half the house outside.)

Getting to the core of apple philosophy

October, well known for its color and crisp mornings, also has something else going for it.  It’s national apple month and has been just about since 1904.  And because I love apples almost as much as I love October, I feel it is my duty to pay homage to the humble apple as I admit my naivety about one of America’s favorite fruits.  Juicy, sweet, convenient, and crunchy, just thinking about them makes me want to head to the kitchen and shine one up on my shirt.
I eat a lot of apples, but after learning recent facts, I’ll never eat another apple and not marvel just a little bit.
Growing up in Ohio, I was fed story upon story of Johnny Appleseed.  I’d even go as far as to say that a good portion of us have sat in dimly lit classroom watching a cartoon man with a pot on head and nothing on his feet on a massive TV that was wheeled down from the library.  I grew up thinking (and singing) that he planted lots of trees, and so today we honor him.  Pass the cider, please.  
And then I learned a little more about apples and thought about them probably more than an average person should.
First a bit of basic apple biology that I sadly recently learned.  If you eat a scrumptious yellow delicious apple and want to have a whole orchard of them, you cannot plant the seeds from that apple and expect to get yellow delicious trees.  Instead, you get a some wild cross-pollinated probably inedible variety.  The only way to get a yellow delicious apple is to graft a little from an existing yellow delicious tree.  By this logic, every single yellow delicious apple tree has been grafted and grafted, and grafted again, from one very special tree.  That very special tree happened to be in West Virginia in 1905, and the variety was absolutely by chance.
Think that’s old?  The red delicious apple was first grown in Iowa in 1880.  The granny smith originated in Australia in 1868.  And every single mcintosh apple that you have ever eaten came, essentially, from the same tree in Ontario, Canada in 1796.
Apples have five seeds that form a beautiful flower image if you slice the apple through its equator, and one quick look and you’ll be taken to spring when the blossoms fill the trees.  The pretty little seeds are evolutionarily brilliant, though, each containing the slightest bit of cyanide to keep the little critters from eating them.
So what about all of those apple seeds that our local hero Johnny sprinkled from his burlap sack as he whistled a happy tune?  Knowing what I now know, those apple trees made apples that weren’t so tasty.  I bet Johnny knew this too, and yet he still planted orchards all around our part of the world.  The reason?  Apple cider.  Hard or otherwise, it was the cleanest thing to drink on the frontier.
And so here we are, in national apple month, on the brink of the holiday apple bobbing and pie seasons, faced with a rather philosophical relationship to apples.  We’ve picked bushels, we’ve sliced and diced and cooked and strained applesauce, and the lunches of my children are constantly filled with apples.  If each apple has five to ten seeds, I can’t fathom the amount that I’ve thrown away.  And in each tiny, discarded seed there is a new apple, unlike any other apple that has ever been.  Maybe the next braeburn or Jonathon got tossed out.
I can’t help but wonder what my pie would taste like if I planted just one.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A daring adventure race

One of my choices for a time machine lunch would have to be Helen Keller.  I’d have her over, sit at my kitchen table and tell her that if she could see it, one of her own quotes hangs upon my wall, just above the door.  It serves as a graphic reminder to me that, “Life is a daring adventure, or nothing at all.”  (She said that.  I think she’d dig my fancy wall sticker.)
A quest for adventure is nothing new in my life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  The time spent out of one’s comfort zone, whether or not your well-being is in danger, gets the blood pumping and just gives you that little boost of life that only comes from situations like that.  It’s a natural rush and honestly a bit of an addiction.
So when The Wilderness Center advertised an adventure race, I immediately signed up and took my husband with me.  A team race that was scheduled in about a month, the two of us looked at each other after reading what the day was all about: 35 miles of biking, 3 miles of canoeing, and 10 miles on foot.  The looks we gave each other were along the lines of “what in the world have we gotten ourselves into?”
“A daring adventure” was my answer.
As casual joggers, we had to ramp things up a little so for the four or so weeks we morphed into make-believe athletes and got to work.  And I’m so thankful we did.
There’s something about pushing yourself to your very physical limit, that point when your muscles tremble and you know that if you let your mind give up, your body will gladly cave as well.  It takes all you have to envision yourself at the top of that hill, at the end of that road, across that finish line.
So that’s what we imagined as we pushed ourselves for a full eight hours.
Adventure racing, for others who are new to it like we are, is an event that involves multiple sports such as cycling, running, orienteering, boating, and climbing, and varies in length and distance from a few hours to several days.  The combination depends on the season and the amount of time given is something you tend to need every minute of.
Our day started on a frosty Sunday morning, layering clothes and gloves and preparing our bicycles for some serious changes in elevation.  Despite a few accidental detours and a few dozen massive hills, our ride was fairly beautiful.  There’s something about moving on a road with no motor sounds to interfere with your view of the countryside. 20 or so miles later, we learned that we would have to run three miles to get to our canoe, so that we could paddle back downstream.  Once the jog and canoe was done, we hopped back onto our bikes, said multiple curse words under our breath, and rode 17 miles back (we thankfully didn’t get lost that time.)
The final leg of the race was an orienteering course, where each team is given a topographical map with marked points around a piece of property.  Our goal was to use only a compass and map and find as many as we could, even if it meant wading through a sea of prickers and thorns.  My legs looked like I walked through a storm of razor blades by the time it was over, but sprinting across the finish line at the eight-hour mark felt incredible.  It was an accomplishment with my very best friend at my side, full of briars and scrapes and sore muscles. 
I’m not sure if all of that is what Helen Keller had in mind all those years ago when she said those words that hang in my home, but I’m glad did.  If you have to choose between a daring adventure or nothing at all, I most certainly, with every tired bone in my body, recommend adventure.

Friday, November 16, 2012

And now, your local fishing forecast

I have this ongoing beef with weather forecasters, and having actually met a real, live, on-tv-everyday weatherman, I still continue to have issues with the things they tell us.  I fully understand that weather prediction is not an exact science, and that the plethora of factors that go into a single sunny day is enough to give anyone a 50% chance of accuracy, but really.  C’mon.
Originally, my question was this: if they announce a 30% chance of rain, does that mean that it will definitely rain in 30% of the area?  Or does it mean that there is a 30% chance that rain will fall?  Will it rain 30% of the time?  (This is really a legitimate question.  I promise.) I have since learned that, by definition, 30% chance of rain means that “30% of the viewing area will see rain.”
So that USED to be my beef.  Now my biggest question is: Have you ever been on Lake Erie?  Do you know what a “wave” is?  What about a “ruler?”
As it happens, our family booked ourselves a perch charter on the mighty lake to the north.  Anyone who has a memory of perch fishing knows how great it is.  Two hooks at a time, hitting the hot spot, hitting your limit, and fresh perch for dinner.  It’s enough to make even a non-fisherman want to give it a go.
But perhaps not a young girl.
Our daughter was not thrilled about going, having only experienced the boring side of fishing hours for very little fish.  She was also concerned about the weather, knowing that a cold front had come through and the whole trip would be potentially canceled due to rocky seas.  So when the night before the forecast was suddenly changed to one-foot waves, we still had to convince her.  And perhaps bribe her, but that’s not really important at this point.
As most fishing days go, we were up way before the sun and heading north with warm weather gear and a cooler of sandwiches and water.  The boat was beautiful, the captain was fantastic.  The lake was neither.
Coming around the breakwall, we were greeted by nothing like a one-foot wave.  More like 5 foot rolling swells, and even thinking about them as I write this my body starts rocking back and forth and my dinner sits a little lighter in my stomach.  It didn’t help that we had forgotten to all take our motion sickness medicine before leaving home.
But still we fished, as true fishermen and fisherwomen do.  After a bit of searching, we hit the “honey hole” and started pulling them in pretty quickly, which was a great distraction from trying our best not to toss our cookies.  The entire trip was in full motion, to the left, to the right, and back again.  For five hours we endured a ride that would rival the Tilt-o-Whirl at any amusement park.  
The thoughts running through my head were unstoppable.  I knew that if someone was sick, I’d be sick, and then the whole boat would be heaving over the side.  For that reason I completely ignored my upside down stomach and avoided all eye contact with my husband, except for the one dirty look I gave him while trying to calm my frantic kid and holding on for dear life.
Towards the end of the day, not a word was spoken until we hit land with our own feet.
“That.  Was.  Horrible,” said someone.
“But we caught almost 100 perch,” said another.
“I’m never fishing with mom again,” said another child who was not pleased that his mom was a perching machine and was on fishy fire out there.
“I’m just happy to be on shore,” said I, wobble walking in attempt at my losing my sea legs and dreaming of the upcoming fish fry, and just how sweet they would taste.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Toma-toe, tomat-oh

All hail the tomato.  It is the base of so much of our cuisine and stands firm in its acidic ability to thrive, multiply, and fill home gardens everywhere.  Often misunderstood and living its life as a conversation topic in the fruit or vegetable debate (we’ll get there later), the simple tomato deserves a little more respect than we give it.
First, a basic history of this odd plant whose leaves leave the distinctive tomato-y smell whenever you brush against them.  It is generally believed that the tomato that we know and love today originated somewhere in South America.  In the 1500’s, it traveled across the ocean blue and made a quite a splash; it’s nightshade relation to other poisonous plants typically turned people away.  The Italians, as I’ve read, were the ones who eventually fell in love with it.  I figure that they were faced with a giant bowl of un-sauced spaghetti when this thing showed up, so they gave it a whirl.  Personally, I’m glad they did.
It didn’t make its way into the United States until the 1700’s, at which point I’m pretty sure someone was standing next to a fire pit and said, “thy cheeseburger doth need something more than just thy lettuce and all beef patty.  Let us try this fruit/vegetable in slices.”  Welcome to America.
Fast forward to the 1800’s, and the lowly tomato began to raise quite a ruckus in the food science and taxation world.  Scientists had defined this reddish orb as a fruit.  By its very make up, it had all of the exact traits of a fruit.  It is the fleshy part of the plant, containing seeds and that can be eaten.  This was pretty basic science stuff, but when a tax was introduced on vegetables being imported into the United States, some guy who was bringing in tomatoes was forced to pay more.  
You could imagine the banter.  “Fruit!”  “Vegetable!”  etc.  “I’ll see you in court!”
And that’s just what happened.  The infamous Nix vs. Hedden case in 1893 had the following outcome:  Though biologically the tomato is a fruit, according to the Supreme Court, it should be considered a vegetable because we don’t eat tomato ice cream.
Again, in 1981 this fruit vs. veggie quandary again arose, this time in the way of working “vegetables” into children’s lunches in the form of ketchup.  For what it’s worth, I don’t care much about the outcome of that whole issue because I have my own beef to pick with the tomato.
My problem with this ancient fruit/veggie is that it comes in too many forms and no matter what I call it, my children insist on opinionating over each and every one.
Consider the various ways that the average American child consumes tomatoes: pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, salsa, ketchup, the occasional diced tomato in a casserole of some sort (my word, the audacity of you, mother!) and rarely just popping them raw into your mouth.
The same child that insists on applying ketchup only every piece of food that comes near their mouth refuses to eat salsa.  And the same kid that thinks pizza is so delicious because of that special red sauce they put on there would rather have a bowl of plain pasta than to taint it with a nice marinara.  And no matter what type of tomato-based product they eat or do not eat, chances are you are wearing a white shirt that will be stained before the night is over.
And as you’re standing there in your pajamas hunched over the sink scrubbing a once beautiful white shirt, your worries reach beyond the fruit and vegetable argument and daydream a nice Italian meal in a black shirt.

Note:  I am really late in posting this.  I promise we were in full swing tomato season when this ran in the newspaper.  Really.  I swear.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Worth the weight snack mix

It's hard being an anti-chocolate person. Even harder as a woman. But when I came across this snack mix (or something similar), my inadequate feelings flew out the window.
This is like Rice Krispie treats on steroids.
I admit that I often post recipes on this blog so that I have a place to keep them safe from certain irresponsible members of my family who continue to lose things.  It's me, by the way.
So after perfecting this recipe this morning, i thought it wise to quickly taupe it here for safe keeping. And sharing, of course.

This doesn't have a good name.  Suggestions accepted!

Mia together in a large bowl:
4.5 cups golden Grahams
6.5 cups rice chex
2 cups shredded coconut (unsweetened is best, but sweetened will work, too)
1 cup sliced almonds

In saucepan combine:
1 stick butter
3/4 cup Karo syrup
3/4 cup sugar

Cook and bring to a boil.  Continue to simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from hear and add in 1 tsp vanilla.  Pour over cereal mix and stir to combine.  Spread on cookie sheets (waxed paper makes easy cleanup) to cool and harden up a bit.

This is a tad less sweet and gooey than other recipes out there.  You can always add more cereal to make it even less sweet.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Writing in Mrs. M. on the ballot

During my time at the College of Wooster, I was selected for a special course in leadership.  My first day, I looked around the table at the fine young men and women who, quite frankly, were smarter than I, and instantly panicked.  As a geology major, I was up to my ears in my senior thesis which involved collapsing roofs in coal mines and while the rest of the students in class were studying the classics and great leaders throughout history, I could easily tell the stories of the deposition of our eastern Ohio stratigraphy.
This didn’t help much when it came to the course on leadership.
On the first day of class we each went around the room and named someone whom we each thought was a great leader.  The historians in the crowd named kings and authors.  The political science majors named politicians.  Knowing that I would inevitably embarrass myself, I named a person who served as a personal leader, someone who while may have not changed the course of history, changed my life.  I named Mrs. M., the Girl Scout leader of my youth.
You know those humiliating moments that stick with you?  For me, this was one of them.  At the time I felt like my brain was shriveling up and someone put a “DUH” sticker on my forehead.  The blank looks I received spoke their disbelief, but even to this day, I stand by my answer.  
Nowadays, when our lives are inundated with the upcoming presidential election, I can’t help but think back to the things Mrs. M. did to define what leadership means to me.  
Mrs. M. taught us responsibility.  Every girl has a job, and every girl will do her job because it is her responsibility to act as a part of the whole.  If you are supposed to do it, you do it.  Or else you pay for it.  There was minimal hand holding, a general intolerance for whining, and through it all a gentle reminder that we young girls were quite capable of taking care of ourselves.  We had to unload the gear, plan and cook our own meals, clean our own bunks, and if we didn’t, we were held accountable.  If you burnt the scrambled eggs, we all knew it.
Mrs. M. taught us fairness, that in reality we get what we deserve, which can be great things if we put forth a respectable amount of effort.  Girls were all treated the same, given the same opportunities, and it was our duty to treat each other with kindness and equality.  Above everything else, we were all scouts working together, no matter our differences.
She taught us that if we worked hard, we would play hard.  The reward system is nothing new, but for everything I have done in my life, I still remember the sweet feeling of passing tent inspection after sweeping and cleaning half of the campground and being allowed to run wild and get out of dish duty.
Mrs. M. taught us to do it ourselves.  If you were faced with a challenge, whether it was knot-tying, fire-building, puffy-paint on a t-shirt, or trying not to burn the eggs, she made sure you were given the tools to succeed and then were set free with the knowledge.  And if we complained about how hard it was, we’d hear her voice saying something like, “tough noogies, you can do it.”  (Although she didn’t say “noogies.”  She was a pretty honest gal.)
And finally, she taught me to dance in your underwear.  At the end of the day, when camp is clean, the girls are fed and in bed, don’t forget to celebrate all you have accomplished by guiding those you care about.  It just so happens that, on a day when a craft includes tie-dying underwear, putting them on and boogying through the wilderness is simply what makes a great leader absolutely human.
I just wish she were running for president.
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