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5 Scary Things That Happened to Me Today and Why I May Be Having a Mid-Life Crisis

25 Jan

5. While writing something, I could not figure out how to spell silhouette. I was misspelling it so badly that spell-check couldn’t even get a grasp of what I was trying to say. Finally, urged by desperation and impatience, I just looked it up.
s-i-l-h-o-u-t-t-e. Huh. Okay.
So I continued with my work until I got flummoxed again. Jiminy Cricket is a …conscious? No, wait…consiounce?  Oh God, no. Five minutes later, I had confirmed that the word conscience has “science” in it (since when??) and established a growing fear that I had lost all my smarts. Plus, I kept thinking of this 
great (if wince-worthy) comic by For Lack of a Better Comic that depicts an English major getting his English Major Badge taken away for bad spelling. 

4. I decided to treat myself to a mug of hot chocolate, what with my spelling nerves being so frazzled. I got a mug out of the cupboard, got the milk out of the refrigerator. I poured the milk into the mug, put the mug in the microwave. I put the milk back in the cupboard….
wait a minute…

3. Tomorrow, I will be chauffeuring a friend of my grandma’s to a doctor’s appointment. (I have a feeling that this experience will require its own post. The possibilities for hilarity and insanity are endless.) Today, this lady called to confirm what time I would pick her up, then said seven terrifying words: “I have you for the day, right?” The last time this particular woman asked this, I ended up spending 4 more hours with her than I had intended, pushing a grocery cart through Starbucks like a crazy person, reading the nutritional content of every single frozen dinner in Trader Joe’s, cleaning out her fridge, and doing her laundry. 

2. I applied for yet another job that I could potentially be excited about. ‘Nuff said. 

1. During an afternoon phone call, Grandma expressed her concern about me not meeting new people, living with my parents, not finding a job–the list goes on because, apparently, my life is very concerning. Grandma concluded with: “You really need to meet more people your own age. Your life is half over.”

I’m 23. I’d just like to put that out there. I’m 23, and Grandma has me in the middle-aged category already. Gee,  I thought I’d have accomplished so much more by this point.

“You’re 93!” I shouted. “If I live to be your age, then I’m definitely not at the halfway mark!”
“What, so I rounded up.” Grandma said.  And then: “Still, I think something’s half over. Your child-bearing years. Your brunette years. Your freedom years.”
“GAH! STOP TALKING! JUST STOP TALKING!” 

The Truth is, I Never Left You…

6 Jan

Well, okay, I did leave you.

I left you for about two months. Two months without a word. Two months without my words. I’m not sure how you survived without me and will admit that I got a warm and fuzzy and guilty feeling when a couple of folks inquired about my disappearance. (Hi Allenavw! I’m alive!)

I’ve been an irresponsible blog parent. I’ve been a grade-A procrastinator. I’ve been working on a secret project that will remain unmentionable until it isn’t. 

If you’re at all grateful for my prodigal return (fatted calf burgers anyone?), then you must be grateful for my friend Lisa and the New Year. Lisa is out of town, so I am dog sitting for her. With an empty house–apart from Ginger the sweetheart golden retriever, that is–it seemed like the perfect opportunity for some blog writing/brainstorming. Thus the where and the when blogging puzzles were solved. As for the why….

One of my New Years resolutions is to get back on the blogging horse. No more M.I.A. Oh My Words! This is actually my only resolution that made the cut. Those that have already hit some bumps in the road include:

1. I will not buy another book until I’ve read all those that are lining my shelves, piled on my floor, propping up lamps, hiding under coffee tables etc. etc. etc. 

In theory, this resolution is top notch. It’s practical, fun, and good for the soul. I’ll feel so accomplished if I can finally read the books I’ve been meaning to read. The hiccup? There is another library used book sale coming up and, if you’ll recall, the last one had me swooning from sheer joy. I can’t not go to this sale. Can’t do it. And I can’t go and not buy anything. That would be Hell, pure and simple.

So, within 24 hours of making my book buying resolution, I was forced to amend it. I will try to go easy on the book-buying, I really will–but a book nerd and bargain hunter only has so much strength. For my new goal, I will tackle my To Be Read list and occasionally post about my reading. I’m not into book reviews (more specifically, the idea of writing them gives me the heebie jeebies), so this will likely mean just quotes or random thoughts. But look at me, combining one resolution with another! I. Am. Good.

2. I will spend more time on my creative writing.

The vagueness of this resolution is a problem. “More time” is relative, since I haven’t seriously devoted myself to my writing for quite a long time. I could spend a minute writing today, and it would be more than I spent yesterday (or the day before, or the day before that). Also, this blog doesn’t count. I know, I know–but it’s still writing! It’s still engaging the right (write?) part of the brain! Let’s not forget the blogging resolution already! All good points. What would I do without you?

What I need is a writing schedule. Or a daily word count goal. Or some stick-with-it-ness. What I need is a writing resolution without a lot of wiggle room. (See “more time,” discussion, above.) What I need is a cookie.

Other resolutions I’ve bandied about: working out/exercising more diligently (cliche and vague!), being braver (just vague), and following all horoscopes and fortune cookie fortunes to adventure (call it what you will).

For now, you can rest assured that I’m back, baby! As always, thanks for reading. You can expect more words soon!

“More” being relative, of course…..


Today, a Telemarketer Made Me Cry

3 Nov

I’m not proud of it. It was not a shining moment of maturity, nor an example of my sanity. But, yes, today a telemarketer made me cry.

She happened to call at a particularly bad time. Let’s just say I had recently dunked my fifth post-Halloween kit-kat (“fun size” my left foot) into my third cup of coffee and was trying to ward off a so-much-work-so-little-time panic attack. This was at least the gazillionth time the same organization has called asking for my mother. In the beginning, it was funny because they added “Dr.” to her name. She’s not a doctor, but my family likes to joke that she could have been so the first (and even the second and third) call was amusing.

When I answered today’s call–teetering on an emotional cliff, even as I reached for the phone–the familiar request for my mother the doctor hit me hard. “Who is this?” I demanded.

The woman remained cheerful. The fool. “This is a political call,” she said. “We’re looking for donations–“

I cut her off right quick. “Well, the person you want isn’t a doctor. And she won’t give you money. And anyway, she’s not here. She works–particularly on Wednesdays, at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Like. Most. People.”

At this point, my voice was breaking and I’m sure the faceless woman could hear that I was two kit-kats past crazy. “Someone from your group keeps calling. Do these calls even work, anyway? Could you stop? Could you take us off your list and stop calling? Please? PLEASE JUST STOP.”

There was a pause and for a moment I thought that she hung up on me–a first, in my experience with telemarketers.

“I–I understand.” She finally said. “I do apologize.”

I felt a twinge of guilt. She sounded shell-shocked, hesitant. I generally don’t like to be rude (or batshit crazy) to telemarketers. “We’re not interested” is my go-to phrase. (Not sure if that’s a royal we or if I am speaking for the household. Either way, I’m a queen–right?) If they mispronounce our name in a particularly creative way, I politely tell them they have the wrong number. If I’m really feeling non-confrontational, I just say he/she isn’t home. Of course, then they call back later and I have to mentally choose my own adventure: continue the cycle or end it?

So I felt sort of bad for talking to this woman like I was a supporting role from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

Until…

“Ma’am?” She ventured. “Would you be interested in providing a donation?”

Bad Day Tonics

20 Jul

I think I'll move to Australia

Bad day today. Very bad day. Can’t even form complete and grammatical sentences. (Pronouns = too much work.) 

Started to write post about bad day. No good. Started to write a different post about bad day. Nope. Just started typing words that seemed appropriate.

discouraged, embarrassed, disgusted, frustrated, hungry, wimp, idiots, inner angry dialogue, outer strained smile, sweat, tears, hangnail, BIG idiots

End up with big mutant pile of words. Not a post. Not a story. Not even a cathartic rant. 

There’s only one thing to do in a time like this. Time for some Bad Day Tonics.

Cute kids:

     

Inspiring songs:

      

Always-good-for-a-laugh television:

    

Quotes that say it all:
“Some days you’re the dog, some days you’re the hydrant.”

“When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
–F.D.R

” ‘What?’ said Piglet, with a jump. And then, to show that he hadn’t been frightened, he jumped up and down once or twice more in an exercising sort of way.”
–Winnie the Pooh

Sheldon: This is for you
Penny: Ice cream?
Sheldon: I’ve been familiarizing myself with female emotional crises by studying the comic strip, “Cathy.” when she’s upset she says, “ack” and eats ice cream.
Penny: Ack.
Sheldon: If you were a cat, I would have brought you lasagna.
–The Big Bang Theory

“Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.”
–Abraham Lincoln

Add a milkshake, 4 snuggly dogs, a nap, crazy solo dancing. Repeat if necessary.

So, what do you all do to cure the Bad Day Blues? Come on–spill.

I’ll Take My Criticism Sandwich With Extra Cheese, Hold The Pickles

6 Jul

So, the online Creative Writing course I signed up for right before the apocalypse-that-wasn’t started last week. It’s an interesting experience, taking an online class. Though there is a system and certain expectations, I can log in as my schedule allows and post when I have time. The other students are eager and enthusiastic and, in general, a good deal older. That last distinguishing fact means that they seem to have a a good grasp of their abilities, goals, confidence. And they write!

We are reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird as a class–no hardship, since this is one of my favorite books and never fails to be inspiring and reassuring. One of the most re-readable parts is about the writer and self-doubt:

Typically you’ll try to comfort yourself by thinking about the day’s work–the day’s excrementitious work. You may experience a jittery form of existential dread, considering the absolute meaninglessness of life and the fact that no one has ever really loved you; you may find yourself consumed with a free-floating shame, and a hopelessness about your work, and the realization that you will have to throw out everything you’ve done so far and start from scratch. But you will not be able to do so. Because you suddenly understand that you are completely riddled with cancer.

and later…

Many of [my students] have been told over the years that they are quite good, and they want to know why they feel so crazy when they sit down to work, why they have these wonderful ideas and then they sit down and write one sentence and see with horror that it is a bad one, and then every major form of mental illness from which they suffer surfaces, leaping out of the water like trout–the delusions, hypochondria, the grandiosity, the self-loathing, the inability to track one thought to completion, even the hand-washing fixation, the Howard Hughes germ phobias. And especially, the paranoia.

The class’s first writing assignment was due today and of course, I decided at midnight to completely rework the story I had mostly finished. Part of what makes midnight the witching hour is that at that time, horrible, deformed, delusional ideas seem like good ones. Your common sense is infiltrated by insidious what-ifs that have all the charm of a used car salesman and the diabolical temptation of a second cookie. When I had a roommate, I could occasionally be talked out of creatively suicidal actions like last-minute writing makeovers. Left to my own devices and stuck in my own brain bog, I become tangled in good intentions and panic.

It doesn’t help that I’ve had one successful eleventh hour idea. The night before my senior thesis presentation, the world aligned, the matrix grid decoded itself, and I saw a way to organize my speech to be more thoughtful, clear, and engaging.  It was a crazy plan–why not just go with the perfectly fine version I had prepared? But no, never! Perfection flirted with me (the saucy minx) and I had to pursue it.

The final copy of my speech was better. Was it worth the agony? Yes. Well, probably. But the horrible puce lining was that after this one success story, late night ideas are harder to suppress. It’s like when someone fixes a couple up and it happens that the two click and make a nice go of it. It could have been a fluke or a lucky guess, but it doesn’t matter–now, that matchmaker will try pairing people off like a busybody Noah.

So I started over last night, trying to approach my idea from a different angle. (The first draft was round, and I wanted it sharp, if you know what I mean.) Then, I decided that some of the sentences or paragraphs from my first draft should be kept so I started copy-pasting. Then, I got confused about which version had which background. Had I copy-pasted a section on eating without ever mentioning that the characters were having dinner? Was a character talking, having a big dialogue-y moment, who was never introduced or explained? Had I cut out the scene that had been my inspiration in the first place?? Hysteria bubbled up around 1 am, my brain started twitching soon after. 

I ended up wrestling my short story into something resembling a short story and turning it in (posting it) this morning. I wasn’t at all satisfied with it, and not just in the I’m-never-satisfied-with-my-writing sort of way. I knew I had botched up my naive attempt to make my draft better but I couldn’t stand it anymore and had to turn it in before I went crazy (okay, crazier). So I closed my eyes and clicked “post,” and then ran away from the computer.

Then, the responses started coming in. Well, okay, one response. Critiques are an essential part of the class and for that matter, a vital part of the writing process. That said, when I read my classmate’s comments I was like a raw collection of nerve endings, the Phantom of the Opera’s less stable sister, a woe-is-me maiden from the olden days–all rolled into one. I know,” I thought. It’s terrible. It’s not my best work. Yes, you’re right, it doesn’t flow. No, that part doesn’t make sense to me either. Yes. Yes. Of course. Yes. Stop! Stop reading! Don’t look at it! Avert your eyes! Save yourself!”

“The good news,” Anne Lamott says, “is that some days it feels like you just have to keep getting out of your own way so that whatever it is that wants to be written can use you to write it. […] And often the right words do come, and you–well–‘write’ for a while; you put a lot of thoughts down on paper. But the bad news is that if you’re at all like me, you’ll probably read over what you’ve written and spend the rest of the day obsessing, and praying that you do not die before you can completely rewrite or destroy what you have written, lest the eagerly waiting world learn how bad your first drafts are.”

The good news is that I completed my first assignment and received straightforward, constructive criticism. The bad news is that I sort of miss the elementary school days of gold stars and compliment sandwiches, and I’m still learning not to mutilate my first drafts.


Dogs Who Heal and English Majors Who Wield Needles

20 Jun

My family suffered a major loss last December when my aunt passed away from cancer related to Fanconi Anemia. She was my mom’s younger sister and, in all the ways that matter, my big sister. She was one of those people who make friends instantly and she had an enthusiasm for every aspect of life. She fancied herself a matchmaker and was the one who arranged my first date—an unremarkable occasion with a boy who didn’t have much of a sense of humor but helped me out of my jacket and opened doors. (Gentlemanly acts = 10 points.) She cooked legendary spaghetti dinners and had a kitchen policy of “the more, the merrier.” She was thoughtful, vibrant, beautiful, charming, and funny. When other family members call me “Little Lynn,” I consider it the grandest of compliments.

Before she passed away, my aunt made my mom promise to take care of her two dogs, Lucy and Molly. Of course my mom wouldn’t have dreamed of saying no to her request, but we were a little concerned because we already had two dogs, Mona Lisa and Max. Besides the sheer idea of the numbers (four dogs!?), I was sure there would be some doggy politics when we merged the two households. I was predicting canine power plays and a very un-Brady atmosphere. The miracle? They all love each other! Sure, they occasionally get a little jealous or want their own space, but when they first met? Oh the tails, they were a-wagging. And if happiness is a warm puppy (and it is, according to Charlie Brown), then we’ve got four times the happy.

Lucy and Molly have made a really sad time in our lives a little easier–it’s a riot to see all four dogs together, and they are so loving and so loveable. Lucy is a clown with a big personality (you might recall that she doesn’t like chickens) and it’s easy to be drawn in by her big eyes and long tongue. Molly, however, has a special spot in all our hearts. She was Lynn’s constant companion, both before and during her illness. Towards the end, when my aunt was forced to stay in bed, Molly never left her side. She wasn’t interested in food, especially if it meant leaving her person. She wasn’t interested in going outside, and had to be forcibly carried out of the room for trips to the backyard. And when Lynn finally died, Molly wouldn’t leave her bed. The priest who came to give last rights did so while Molly looked on, strong and regal. At one point during the blessings, to our horror, she started licking Lynn’s face. We were embarrassed that Father Brady witnessed what we felt was an undignified (and a little bit yucky) scene, but he just stroked Molly. “She’s just saying goodbye.”

When times of great crisis arise, humans often fall short of being true compassionate forces of good. Neighbors may tut-tut at your misfortune, but go about their lives. Family members might fail to rally, and instead be consumed by denial or selfishness. Sometimes friends, though well-meaning, don’t know how to help and issue vague promises. “Anything I can do…” they say, leaving you to spin their helplessness into gold. “That’s so sweet of you” and “I’ll be sure to call”—this is the dance you’re forced to perform, and it requires certain expected words and strained smiles.

Dogs can’t run errands. They can’t drive to doctor appointments or call the deceased’s friends and relatives to deliver bad news and pass along funeral details. Their power is quiet and steady. Their inaction is, in fact, a monumental action. It’s amazing what a cold nose on the hand or the presence of a warm doggy body can do. When they’re needed, dogs are there—and that is everything.

Molly was sick recently. The vet performed a series of tests while she trembled and looked to me for assurances that he wasn’t evil. (The jury’s still out.) Kidney disease was the tentative verdict, and major dehydration was a side-effect and major problem. We were given bags of nutrient-rich water, needles, and instructions on how to inject Molly in the neck twice a day. That was a few weeks ago, and until now, it’s been my mom who did the actual dirty work. While I prepped our makeshift medical station and held Molly, my mom played doctor to my nurse. (Although, perhaps that should be reversed—whenever I’m in a hospital, it always seems to me that nurses are doing more than doctors…) This suited me well, since it’s a role I’m comfortable playing. In 7th grade, when it was time to dissect earthworms and frogs, I was more than happy to sit back and let my partner do the actual cutting. I took notes like a trooper and drew detailed, vivid drawings of the internal workings of Kermit and pals—but I’m fairly certain that the only time I touched the tray holding the unfortunate creature was to move it away from my notebook. (Ewww, slime.) Like a privileged noblewoman with unworked, callous-free hands, I did not deign to get involved in the dissection. My fingers were made to hold pencils, not scalpels.

My mom’s out of town right now, so it falls to me to give Molly her injections. The vet has cut it down to every other day, which is a small blessing because I’m enough of a panic-stricken mess. I’ve never minded getting shots. That’s not to say that I enjoy injections or that I like to watch the actual process, but I don’t cry or freak out or anything. Imagine my surprise to discover that the idea of giving a shot gives me the heebie-jeebies on steroids. Yesterday, I sat staring at the needle that I was supposed to stick Molly with. It’s as big as a darning needle, with a nasty point that makes me woozy. “But I’m an English Major!” I wailed. “I can’t do this!”

My grandma, who had agreed to assist me by holding Molly, rolled her eyes. “So now you’re an English Major who gives dogs shots. Hurry up.” I pinched a hunk of skin on Molly’s neck, trying to find a fleshy place to stick her. But the idea of poking that darn darning needle into her body made me let go. “I don’t even sew!” I protested, as if that’s a prerequisite for this sort of thing. “I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t.”

“Do it do it do it do it!” Grandma said.

I have to tell you, I instinctively shut my eyes as I moved the needle closer to Molly. “Are your eyes closed?” Grandma asked, appalled. “Open your eyes! For God’s sake—would you want a doctor to operate on you with his eyes closed?” So, I forced myself to watch the needle disappear into Molly’s fur and feel the icky popping resistance as it pierced her body.

We can do amazing things when it comes down to the wire. A mother can find the strength to lift a car off her trapped baby. A pilot can land a plane in emergency conditions. An English major can wield a needle and move out of her comfort zone with eyes wide open. A niece can make a small effort to pay back the miracle dog who brought peace to her dying aunt.

Molly seems to be doing much better. She’s very perky and vocal. She even played with a squeaky toy for a while last night. Still, tomorrow it will be time for another shot to the neck and the trauma will begin again. I should probably start doing deep-breathing exercises now.


Friends Dragging Friends and Absent Words

14 Jun

Even in 2-D, running sucks

Bad Abigail! More than a week without posting? Bad! And what were you doing that whole time? Well? What was that? That’s what I thought–nothing! 

In high school P.E, the teacher used to make us run around the gym for a certain amount of time. (In my mind, it was long, painful hours–who knows how long it was in reality?) Those who stopped, failed. If I recall correctly, the teacher’s rule was that you had to have one foot in the air at all times. Sometimes, to amuse myself while running in circles, I would play with my feet placement. Up, down, up, down, airborne, on the ground. I probably resembled a drunk gazelle, only less graceful. 

Our teacher’s pièce de résistance, however, was that she would idly pick off runners and make them pull over to the side (these teacher-approved stops didn’t count as stopping) while she put two fingers to their neck and counted their pulse rate. If it was high enough, she sent them on their way, back to the running masses. If it was too low–fail. 

I was always picked out for a pulse count. Maybe it looked like I wasn’t running to my full potential (which I probably wasn’t) or the teacher had a particular place in her heart-region that was reserved for me, but there was never a time that I wasn’t obliged to halt my unremarkable-but-still-mobile progress. The uncomfortable wait, with the teacher’s fingers on my neck, usually felt longer than it really was. I never failed the pulse rate test, but it was agonizing all the same. It wasn’t the embarrassment of  being singled out, or the possibility of failing P.E (that was, after all, always a possibility for me). It was that after my heart succeeded in beating the proper number of times, my P.E teacher would tell me to get going again. “Okay, you’re good. Now, get running again and keep running until I say otherwise.”

Now, I may have passed high school physics by the skin of my teeth (and the grace of a teacher who recognized that matter didn’t really matter to me), but I know that a body at rest abso-freaking-lutely wants to stay at rest. To start running again, after being stopped for more than a heartbeat of time? Agh. Commence groaning.

Luckily, my friend Nikki was in my class. She was rarely stopped during these runs, but when she was, her heart rate impressed our teacher–something about the speed with which it dropped. While I stood with the teacher’s fingers on my neck, Nikki enthusiastically kept the faith, running in circles without slowing down. When my count was finished, and the idea of getting one foot in the air again was more than a little daunting, Nikki would actually take a hold of my arm and pull me into motion. You know that Albert Camus friendship quote that goes: “Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” Nikki makes me think of that, only our quote would go something like “Don’t run away from me; I definitely won’t follow. Don’t run without me; I won’t be inspired. Just take my arm and pull without mercy while I struggle behind you…and be my friend.”

I posted more than a week ago and intended to do so again a few days later. A few days later, I claimed to be uninspired and vowed to write the next day. I met a friend for coffee on Monday and Oh My Words! came up in our conversation. I really should post something when I get home, I thought. I had time to watch itty bitty rappers on slightly trashy tv, I had time to see amazing garments made out of paper, and I had time to ponder phobias, dogs, and true callings. But I did not blog. Once you’ve stopped and taken an unintentional blogging break, it’s hard to start again. My words have been absent from the internet universe for all this time because it’s hard to take a hold of your own arm and drag yourself until something good results. 

Except that I sat down to write a quick word about writing, procrastination, and my leave of absence, and now have 700+ words that form a story that form a blog post that breaks my blogging silence. So I guess I can yank myself into action.

I almost wish there was someone around to time my heart rate.

aorta be a law against running

Oh, For Pete’s Sake

26 May

Well, I got some bad news about that thing that happened a few weeks ago. Now that the universe doesn’t depend on my silence, I think it’s safe to say that the thing was a job interview and the bad news was a polite no. Though I was not exactly surprised, the news that they had “opted to pursue another candidate” was still a downer. It was the first job I’d been excited about in a long time and oh, how I wanted to be pursued.

My reaction to the rejection included an unusually emotional response to an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the consumption of a (mostly) Gin and (very little) Tonic, and then the obligatory oh-God-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life panic. And I baked. I baked a lot.

I like baking when I’m upset. I can get frustration out through the aggressive whisking of ingredients, or during a forceful round with a rolling pin and some dough. Or, I can be calmed by the careful cracking of eggs, the familiar comfort of recipe cards written by my aunt, my grandma, my mom’s cousins. There’s something satisfying about gently measuring sugar, but I also like to pretend I’m as good a cook as my mom and grandma and eyeball things as they’re poured into our big red bowl. That looks like a cup, I think. Or , That was about a tablespoon. Breezy. Confident. And then at the end of it all, you’re rewarded with something good to eat. I can think of no better therapy.

So, the day after the job letdown, I baked. I made candied nuts, and mercilessly picked apart my interview as the walnuts bubbled and became glittery, crusted vanilla and sugar fossils. I had been nervous, my voice a little higher than usual. I had rambled while answering one question, hadn’t responded long enough during another. My outfit was boring. My shoes were too big. Maybe I should have bragged a little more? I stirred up Raspberry and White Chocolate Chip muffins (more like cupcakes without the frosting) and, spooning the batter into cupcake wrappers, thought about fate and signs and doors that open and close. The recipe should make a dozen muffins—I got eighteen and had to fetch another pan for my runovers.

I zested lemon for my version of Lemon Sugar Cookies (similar to the recipe found on the wonderful blog Let’s Talk Cookies) and the kitchen immediately radiated a crisp citrus smell. I considered making a Lemon Pudding Cake, a favorite of my family’s. Stirring vigorously, I accidentally sloshed some of the liquid onto the counter. I scooped dough onto sheets and growled to the dogs, always hopeful kitchen helpers, to get out of the way.

Then, I dropped an egg. In the grand scheme of things, not a big deal—but it threw me off my game, disrupted my rhythm. I grabbed paper towels violently, and swore louder than necessary. For the first time in hours, I sat and broke into a muffin. I crunched a few nuts and waited for the cookies to turn golden.

In the book The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, the main character can taste the emotions in everything she eats. They are the emotions of the person who made the food, and upon the first bite she immediately knows all the intimate feelings that swirled during the stirring, measuring, heating, kneading. My candied walnuts and Raspberry White Chocolate muffins didn’t taste like any emotion, but imagine if they did. No amount of sugar would cover those insecure nuts. And I definitely wouldn’t want to sample the feelings in those muffins.

I gave half of my baking results away, some to my grandma and some to her neighbor Pete. I feel a little protective of Pete. His wife died recently, and you can see how it weighs on him. Last week, Pete gave me a ride to pick up my car at the garage where it was being serviced. I felt badly, taking him away on an errand (and a little embarrassed that my grandma had roped him into it), so when I thanked him for the lift, I really meant it. “No, thank you,” he said. “Thank you for saving me from a lonely afternoon.” There was silence for a few seconds, then he said quietly, “I’m lonely most of the time, these days.”

So when I was done with my cathartic cooking, I made sure to give Pete a pretty little jar of nuts and an assorted plate of muffins and cookies. Out of a job disappointment, I got tasty gifts for a sweet, lonely senior who, luckily, won’t taste any turbulent emotions in them. I’m not sure if that’s a silver (cupcake) lining, but it’s all I’ve got at the moment.

Looking for some similar kitchen therapy? Scroll this way……

Stop Acting So Candied Nuts
a.k.a Bavarian Sugar Almonds/Candied Nuts from My Baking Addiction.

Ingredients
1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (1 tsp. of vanilla extract if you are using regular granulated sugar instead of vanilla sugar)
1 tablespoon water
1 pound nuts (normally like to use almonds or pecans, but this time all I had was walnuts–still good!)
3/4 cup vanilla sugar, or regular granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons of fine grain salt (or vanilla fleur de sel, if you’re the type that would have it)

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper
2. In a large bowl, combine egg white, vanilla extract, and water. Beat mixture until frothy. Stir in nuts and mix to coat.
3. Gently combine sugar, cinnamon, and sea salt and stir into nut mixture, thoroughly coating all nuts.
4. Evenly spread nuts onto prepared baking sheet and place in oven.
5. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring/shifting nuts every 15 minutes. (The stirring part is very important, otherwise the nuts will stick together into one brittle mess.)
6. When cool, pack in an airtight jar. They will keep at room temperature for about 2 weeks.

Shared Joy is Doubled Joy, Shared Sorrow is Half a Sorrow Raspberry and White Chocolate Chip Muffins
a.k.a  Raspberry White Chocolate Muffins from one of my favorite cookbooks, Peace Meals

Ingredients
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup white chocolate chips
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pint raspberries

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat muffin pans with nonstick cooking spray, or line with wrappers.
2. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the yogurt, then the white chocolate chips.
4. Stir in the flour, baking powder and salt (the batter will be stiff). Overmixing the batter makes muffins tough, so use only 10-15 strokes to incorporate the dry ingredients.
5. Gently fold in the raspberries. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin cups.
6. Bake for 22-24 minutes or until golden brown. Cool the muffins in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemon Sugar Cookies
a.k.a the cousin of The “Can’t Eat Just One” Lemon Sugar Cookie
Here, I adapted the recipe from Let’s Talk Cookies.  Once I figure out how I merged the LTC recipe with another one I had, I’ll type it out and share. The problem with merging/experimenting is trying to get the same result a second time!

Plumbers and Geeks and True Love

11 May

Did someone call tech support?

When I was younger, my mom took me to see the movie Bread & Tulips at a local independent movie theater. I wasn’t really at the right age to appreciate a foreign film (it’s an Italian movie) or some of the struggles the main character Rosalba goes through during the course of the story. I think I was in a bit of a grumpy mood (subtitles will do that to a pre-teen), but I do remember certain parts of the movie very clearly. The views of Venice are amazing, the characters have some very funny lines and moments of physical comedy. What really sticks out, however, is a scene where Grazia (the best friend/supporting character) is gushing to Rosalba about the new guy she just met. She really thinks this is the one; he might not be the most handsome fella in the world, but he makes her heart go pitter patter. The real deal-maker, though? “He’s a plumber!” Grazia whispers to Rosalba excitedly–in the same sort of voice a woman might use to tell her best friend “He loves cuddling and doing laundry!” She’s giddy with love, but something else, too: she sees the answer to all her plumbing problems.

I’ve been having problems with my computer. Today, it froze twice. The first time, the screen blacked out, leaving me staring at my reflection and making mewing noises of distress. The second time, it froze with all stuff still on the screen. I watched the swirling cursor, mesmerized into a horrible paralysis. My computer know-how is very limited. I’ve been using Internet Explorer, for instance, which is apparently so lame that all the cool computer nerds know to hate it. And remember my tragic mishap with the delete button? Technology is my frienemy. My usual fix for a stuck computer is to force-quit and turn it off, but I hate doing that because it feels like I’m smothering it to death.

Oh, I can google problems as good as the next person. But it feels a little like cavorting with the enemy and oftentimes the answers I get assume too much about my prior knowledge. I have a friend who’s pretty tech savvy, but she lives in Canada so her power to help is limited. (Plus, there’s the very real chance that I depend too much on her and my emails now send tingles of dread down her spine. Basically, she may feel our relationship goes something like this.)

Anyway, I was sitting at my desk today, contemplating the emotionally abusive relationship I have with my computer, and Bread & Tulips popped into my head. I now completely identify with Grazia and her plumber-inspired joy. I can totally see myself grinning like a fool and squealing to a friend: “He’s a computer whiz!” Heart be still! Help me fix my computer without talking down to me, think my computer ineptitude is adorable, and I’m yours. Wear a fedora at the same time? Ho boy. 

One woman’s plumber is another’s computer guru.

That’s amore!

P.S
Unbelievably, Bread & Tulips is available to watch (legally) online. So if you’re itching for some context or to bask in the sweet sound of Italian, check it out here.

What Sexy Raccoons Cry About

5 Apr

Yesterday started with eyeliner. Well, it started with me feeling brave and adventurous, which is why I put on eyeliner before going to work. I do not have a good relationship with eyeliner. Like Adam Sandler movies and my math skills, it always disappoints me. First, I rarely apply it correctly. I don’t know if I was absent the day eyeliner application was taught to the world (even Johnny Depp can handle it!), but I almost always end up with a zig-zagged line above my eye that would not pass any sobriety test. Even if I do manage the desired look, it never lasts. For one thing, I have a tendency to touch my eyes throughout the day when I’m bored, frustrated, or deep in thought. I also have a theory that I blink more vigorously and more often than most people. The result is raccoon eyes, and I’m pretty sure raccoons are not sexy.

As you can tell, I’ve given the subject of eyeliner a lot of thought. Actually, that’s what today’s post was going to be about. (I know, now you’re saying to yourself That’s what this post IS about! Well first of all, don’t jump to conclusions. Second of all, are you talking to yourself in front of people? Are you at work? You should be careful, your boss might not appreciate my relevance and your good taste in blogs.)  Things, and post subjects, have a way of changing though.

After I left work yesterday, I dropped some books off at the library, made an exchange at Target, and stocked up on craft supplies at Ben Franklin. The sunshine made me cheery, and as I drove home I was doing crafts in my head and thinking about what to eat. There were three messages on the machine and I started rummaging in the fridge as I half-listened. The first two were unimportant, but the unimportant callers talked and talked until they were cut off. Then, the third message came on. It was my grandma. “Hello? When you get home from work, I’m in the emergency room. Just….well,  just come get me. And hurry. I want to leave.” There was some background noise, and then, “oh, how do you turn the damn thing off? Hello? Nurse? Hello? Wonderful. I’m blind and they’re deaf. Shi–oh nurse! would you turn this off, please? Thank you much.”

I didn’t know what time she had called because she hadn’t said and our answering machine isn’t that smart. When I got to the ER, a nurse in a smock with sleeping kitties brought me to the back where the examining rooms are. She pointed towards one room. “Is that your grandma?” I looked over. It was a white-haired grandma, but it wasn’t my white-haired grandma and I told her so. “Okay, over here,” she said. She led me towards another room, which also had somebody else’s grandma in it. I was starting to wonder about the professionalism of this ER–had they lost my grandma? Was this some sort of Grandma Identification test? I turned to the nurse to ask some form of these questions and she looked sort of startled. Then she patted my arm and pointed straight ahead. “There you go.”

She’d gotten grandma on the third try. There she was, in all her grumpy glory. She’d been there for more than eight hours and was anxious to go. The docs believed she’d had a “heart spasm,” which means she probably had a heart attack but they were too chicken to commit to the words. “Why didn’t you CALL me??” I scolded. Because she’d called the ambulance at 6:30 and knew I wasn’t awake. “So what? I’d wake up when you called.” Well, she didn’t want me to miss work. This was unbelievable. “You mean my unpaid internship? Don’t you think they would have understood?? I think I could afford to miss one day.”

We stood there arguing until the nurse came with the release papers, then we smiled and thanked her and looked cute. Then we walked outside arguing, got in the car arguing, and argued during the short trip to the pharmacy where I had to pick up her new medicines. I waited in line for 25 minutes and when I got to the front the woman said that one medicine was not quite ready. I huffed out a breath and tried to decide whether to leave grandma waiting longer (she was sitting in the car) or come back later. The pharmacist pursed her lips while I thought. She looked like a grandma herself, and her eyes were full of sympathy over her tiny rectangular glasses. “Why don’t I check again?” Pleased and surprised, I just stood there. I don’t know if the woman lit a fire under one of the other pill counters, but pretty soon everything was ready. I thanked her and she smiled and said she hoped my grandmother felt better soon.

Grandma and I got home and I made her eat something. After I checked on her medicine, it was time for Jeopardy. The two of us blew the competition away and by the time I left, I was feeling reassured that Grandma was doing better. I got home and made a bee line for the bathroom to take my contacts out. I almost had a heart attack. (Is it inappropriate to make heart attack jokes, given the circumstances? hmmm…) I had the BIGGEST black rings under my eyes. I not only looked like I had slept in my makeup, I looked like I had swam, jogged, and wrestled in it. It was black and blurred and it had gotten all over. How many people had seen me like this? Did I go a whole day at work with black craters under my eyes? Did I come into the ER looking like a zombie? Couldn’t someone have TOLD me?

Looking back, I have to wonder if the ER nurse and the pharmacist thought I’d been crying. They both knew my grandma had had a health scare and that I was anxious about it. Maybe that pat on the arm and those odd, sympathetic looks were more than they seemed at the time. I don’t cry for just any crisis, but those women couldn’t have known that. I think I’d prefer it if they thought I’d been crying, because the alternatives are a) they thought that was the look I was going for, or b) they knew it was a makeup meltdown and let me go about my day. I don’t know how they could have brought it up (I suppose it would be an awkward conversation), but it seems to me that people should always let you know if you have something in your teeth or grotesque smudges under your eyes. Just saying.

So, yesterday ended with eyeliner. Well, it ended with me taking the dratted stuff off. I think the next time I’m feeling brave and adventurous, I’ll just have a cookie for breakfast. Oh, and you know what? You were sort of right–this post was partly about eyeliner. So there you go, I half-apologize. But then, I’m also going to squeeze in a half-I-told-you-so, because it wasn’t all about eyeliner. See how that works?

Whew, I think I need a cookie.