Thursday, December 31, 2009

Out with a whimper...

Our Christmas holiday staggered to an end when we were visited, not by Dickens' Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, but instead by the Ghost of Projectile Vomiting and Diarrhea.

Our boy saw it first, on Friday; then me late Saturday, and finally the LOML on Sunday morning.

Yes indeed.

And, by Sunday, our boy was back to normal and had gone off on to practice shooting arrows with his friend, but we spent most of Sunday in bed in misery listening to the strange symphony playing out in our guts. Fortunately, we were mostly back to normal by Monday, but even as this week draws to a close, all of us are still feeling occasional twinges in that long tube where the food goes in one end, is processed, and what is left comes out the other end.

Our bathroom is small enough that one can sit on the toilet, and with just a little effort, wash their hands in the bathroom sink at the same time. A bathroom that small reduces the options for remodeling in any meaningful way (which is what needs to be done but we are at a loss to figure how to do it), but in this instance, this is a good thing because I found myself in an awful predicament that became rather funny at the telling. After fighting the urge to vomit for several hours, I finally faced the toilet and gave in. I thought I was finished loosing my dinner, and then realized I had to pee, so I turned around and sat down, only to realize there was, in fact another wave coming, and so I was forced to sort of hoist my self up over the sink to finish loosing my dinner before I was quite done with the other end.

I could provide more details, but aide from a general statement "there was some clean-up involved," I think this will do for now.

The episode gave pause for thought. How desperate does one become to loose weight to resort to deliberately making themselves vomit by sticking a finger down their throat or drinking an emetic, or to abuse laxatives to create diarrhea? Whew.

I didn't start off intending to write about this. What I wanted to do was share one last Christmas scene.

My sister married into an Italian family, and eventually the traditional Italian village Christmas scene - my sister calls it the "brezeb" -- that was set up as part of the holiday tradition in his home as he was growing up came to him. One year he set it up early enough in December so that I was able to see it when I came to Los Angeles to celebrate my mother's birthday at the beginning of the month. Best way to describe it was a large village setting with many buildings, people, animals, and vehicles. Quite something to see.

My sister sent me a photo of this year's display (do click on the photo, it will enlarge and some of the details of the figures can be seen), which is quite a bit smaller than the one I saw, possibly because they have since gotten two cats. Curious cats and hundreds of small objects don't mix very well. My sister wrote before Christmas:

Calee is humming "O Little Town in Italy, how I love to jump on thee!" Poor ole Jer set up a mini version of his Italian Nativity Village scene and Calee has jumped a very LONG distance from the arm of the couch, and gotten up on the TV hutch to explore. I tell you. It's kind of funny, but it's not funny. Calee knows exactly what she's doing, too, and that it's a big "no-no." She likes being a bad kitty for some reason....

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Twas the Day After Christmas...

Cleverer people than I have written poems about the day after Christmas, so I am not even going to attempt it. I know I ate too much yesterday; in fact, we all ate too much yesterday - way too much - and not helped at all by our lack of control when faced with the beautiful box of Sees candy my father sent us.

Mentally, I wouldn't mind just going a day without food, but already my stomach is saying, "FEED ME!" I woke up intending to make good food choices, and the first test comes: I open the refrigerator and there is the leftover layered cake dessert (chocolate cake, chocolate pudding, whipped topping, with Heath Bar brickle on top). I gird my loins and reach for the yogurt, quickly scoop out a half-cup, and return the container to the refrigerator without eating any of the dessert. A minor victory early in the morning.

There were a few surprises connected with Christmas this year.

The first surprise came when I was able to successfully make a braided, sweet Christmas bread to give as presents to the people at church. Earlier in the week my friend Judy brought me a braided Christmas bread which was beautiful to behold - and I cut it in thirds and ate my portion before she ever left the house. If she is looking at this, she will of course, not recognize that this is the same recipe she gave me...

because I did not do the second small braid on top, I substituted finely diced prunes for the raisins, and I did not decorate with pecan halves or sliced cherries. I did, however, put add the icing after it cooled a bit.

Another surprise was a Charlie Brown tree from my younger brother. We laughed when we saw it. When our boy was little, father and son would go out to the field and chop down a cedar tree for us to decorate, but in the intervening years, we have expanded to fill the spaces in our house, and since our son moved back in with us, we literally have no space to put a tree, so we have not had one for a few years.

Now we do.

Earlier in the month there was an interview on National Public Radio with British cook Nigella Lawson, who said
Sometimes if you cook in a complicated way, your tension translates to your guests. They'll have a much better time having chili and baked potatoes than they would if you did roast duck with a wild cherry sauce and then had to lie down and cry for a while.

I was very amused by this statement, in a rueful sort of way, because I have had several very disastrous Christmas day dinners. Roast duck would not be a problem for me because we used to raise ducks for meat and so I cooked plenty of them over the years. But an attempt to roast a larger cousin - a goose - was probably the worst tasting dinner I have ever made in my life. And then I spilled nearly a cup of liquid goose grease all over the floor, which our dog began licking up before I could stop him and get it cleaned up, and he became extremely sick from all the fat.

And I always laugh when I hear the lyric "Chestnuts roasting on the open fire" because I did indeed attempt to roast chestnuts one Christmas year in the oven, only I did not know what I was doing and they exploded all over the inside of the oven and I had a horrific mess to clean up.

Taking to heart Lawson's comments, especially remember past stressful dinners on Christmas day, I decided this year we should have something simple - comfort food, if you will - and we settled on ham, which was already cooked (in fact, it was meat I cut off a bone that a friend gave me when she cleaned out her freezer) and macaroni and cheese, and green beans, and the dessert I already mentioned, which is a family favorite.

Now the other big surprise was this cookbook.

My sister said she went to see PW when the book tour made a stop in Los Angeles, but I had no clue, no clue at all, that she was going to buy one of the cookbooks for me - and no, it is not signed, the crowd was too huge.

Now it happens that PW offers a recipe for macaroni and cheese that is just a bit different than the one I was planning to use, so I did her version and it turned out very well indeed.

And a good time was had by all!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Here Comes Santa Claus....

Yesterday, while the items we were able to find in the large store that-shall-not-be-named were being passed over the scanner (funny how we are increasingly unable to find items on our list when shopping there), I overheard another customer and the clerk who was passing her items over the scanner complaining about the commercialization of Christmas and how Christ was being taken out of Christmas and being replaced with Santa Claus in our culture, and how evil was that? And on and on.... It bothers me some too, but I dunno....

My brothers and sister and I were born to parents who were committed Christians who loved God and who tried to live their lives by Biblical principles all the time  -- even at home when no one else was watching except us. We went to church, we knew about the Christmas story from the Bible from the beginning; in fact back then, we even did the Biblical Christmas story at the public school. I got to be one of the Wise Men in the 5th grade Christmas program, one of the most exciting things I remember about the elementary school.

We also did all of the other Christmas things. We got a tree and decorated it. We were told about Santa Claus when we were little. We went to the department store downtown and saw Santa. We left cookies and milk out for Santa, and there was always one unwrapped gift under the tree on Christmas morning that Santa had left the night before.

Eventually, of course, we realized that there was no actual Santa. Yep, we were told an elaborate lie, and nope, it didn’t do us any damage that I can see.

When our boy was little, we taught him the Christmas story from the Bible. But we also did Santa Claus, and I had the first two verses of the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” memorized from having read it to him so many times. Eventually, he realized there was no Santa. It was not a big deal.

Some groups get really upset about the celebration of Christmas, and the traditions associated with it. Some don’t celebrate it all. I recognize that many things we do in connection with Christmas have their origins in pagan traditions and the Winter Solstice. But unlike the Church Lady a hilarious character on Saturday Night Live, and others I have come into contact with, I do not think Santa is really “Satan.”

Because I don’t have a grandchild and I am likely to not have one, and I do not even have contact with any little kids, I do not have to make a decision now about whether I am going to “do Santa Claus” with a child and perpetuate the lie. But, I think it is really very cool that my younger brother has bought himself a Santa Claus suit and has decided to play Santa Claus for their grandson and for other small children (and adults too!) in his wife’s family.

My older brother and his family sent us a jar of cookie mix in the Christmas box, and tomorrow morning I believe I am going to make those cookies and leave a few out on my best plate with a glass of milk. Just in case.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dressing Appropriately for the Occasion

Neither of us are slaves to fashion, but we do know how to clean ourselves up for occasions when we must present ourselves in public; well, at least both of us have mostly stopped going to town looking like a bag lady and her homeless companion. At any rate, we know how to dress fairly appropriately for whatever occasion we might be attending so that we don’t embarrass the other person. Frequently he will ask me “Is it OK if I wear my bib overalls? ” And I usually say yes, even though he has lost so much weight that they hang on him like an oversized clown outfit. This does not bother me. His clothes are clean and he does not smell, which we have noticed is not always the case when we are out and about. We have also noted that “appropriate” in the Ozarks can mean bib overalls at a funeral or the grandfather of the bride showing up to the wedding wearing Dickie work pants and a shirt, and a seed cap.

And we have discovered the secret of dressing appropriately when the occasion is taking a walk on a rather cold day. The LOML seldom lets anything deter him from his daily walk – much like the beleaguered letter carrier. I admire him very much for soldiering on. I am little less committed and use the treadmill.

The local state police frequently drive the highway that parallels where he walks and I do worry about him getting stopped. I mean, I don’t think he looks like a terrorist or somebody up to no good but there is a convenience store-gas station-McDonald’s on one of the routes where he walks.

Of course, one’s idea of  “cold” is somewhat relative. I laugh when we go back to Los Angeles and they complain about it being “cold” and it feels barely cold enough to us for a long-sleeved shirt. My friend Judy, who moved here from Michigan, laughs when she hears us complain about the cold. “This isn’t cold!” she says. I know another woman who moved here from Alaska. She makes funny noises through her nose and just goes “P-f-f-f-f-f-b-b-t-t-t-t” when we whine.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Getting the Wrinkles Out

I never really aspired to be a domestic goddess. One of my favorite pictures is of me at 10 years old sitting in the dirt with my best friend, who was a boy, playing with our pet rats. My mother was, I think, a very wise woman in that she mostly let me alone to become the sort of person my genes were telling me to become, but she did make an effort to instill some level of skill in homemaking. I did the dishes, I helped her clean the house, and I occasionally helped her prepare food. She used to simmer ground beef in tomato sauce to pour over spaghetti, for hours and hours it would bubble slowly on the stove, and there would be pools of reddish fat floating on the top which I loved to skim off.

She taught me to iron. Back then, steam irons had not yet been invented, or if they had, we certainly didn't have one. I was taught to dip my fingers in a bowl of water and then flick the water on the clothes and then roll them up so the water could permeate better and then commence ironing.

Thanks to the sorts of fabrics available today and our personal lifestyle that does not require us to dress in business attire to go out to work, I don't have to do too much ironing. But given that I am obsessive about not throwing anything way, I do on occasion have to iron the wrapping paper I have saved from previous holiday events to get the wrinkles out. Which I did some of last week so I could get the gifts we had bought for the relatives in the West wrapped. As it happened, I only had to actually wrap one present, because gift bags have also been invented in recent years. This is such a blessing to challenged people such as myself who are horrible at wrapping presents. Just horrible.

So now I'm wondering when someone will get around to developing an iron to remove facial wrinkles. People have come up with all sorts of procedures to help women keep wrinkles at bay and many over the counter concoctions that may or may not also help. On occasions over the years when I was a janitor for the local post office, I acquired expensive bottles of stuff that had been thrown away. One such little bottle, which I still have, has a list price of $80 and promises to reduce wrinkles with daily use for 14 to 21 days. The bottle is about 90% gone, and only recently did I bother to look at the ingredients; among them: marine collagen, numerous chemicals (some of which I am familiar with from my work on a dermatology journal), amniotic fluid, placental protein, calfskin extract. Hunnnh? Amniotic fluid? Placental protein? Alrighty then.

I don't think it works, but I did not do a scientific test. And I am no longer sure I want to put this stuff on my face. Perhaps I will just let nature take its course...

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Mobile Nightmares

Just like there are a handful of basic plots around which most film and fiction is based, so there are certain basic categories of "bad dreams" that people in our Western culture seem to have in common. Well, I have not taken a poll and I have not spent hours researching this so conversations with other people lead to believe this is probably fairly representative. And when I mean a bad dream, I don't mean a truly terrifying nightmare, just a "bad dream", and it usually involves one of these things:

  1. Suddenly finding myself in public naked, or partly naked.
  2. Being lost and not being to find my way home, or I am trying to get back to my car and I can't find it.
  3. Being chased by something, and the harder I try to run, the slower I am able to move.
  4. Falling (as opposed to flying, which is wonderfully fun)
  5. Teeth falling out. 
The other night, however, I had a brand new bad dream involving modern technology. My dreams have finally caught up with the explosion in personal communication devices. In this dream, I was trying to use a cellular phone in an emergency and was not able to get the thing to work and the more frantically I tried to punch in the numbers to complete the call, the worse it got. This experience in my dream paralleled one I had in real life not too very long ago when I took off in the truck and really did need to use the cellular phone the LOML had given me in case I needed it and I could not figure out how to turn the thing on.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

A Charles By Any Other Name Would Be a Walter

I suppose everyone at some point has had the embarrassing situation of meeting someone whose name they should know but suddenly can’t remember. The situation I find myself in now takes this scenario to a new level of embarrassment.

Tomorrow morning at about 10 a.m, I will stand before the adult Sunday school class at church and expound further on the interesting story of Hosea. The biggest challenge will not be explaining the parallels between Hosea’s relationship with his unfaithful wife Gomer and God’s relationship with his spiritually unfaithful people. Oh no. My challenge will come when it is time to call on various people to read and then respond to things they might say. The challenge I face will be to look at our pastor’s husband, Charles, and not call him Walter.

Charles is a lovely man. He is soft-spoken, very personable, and very easy to talk to. I admire Charles very much because of the way he is coping with a big problem: He has a degenerative neuromuscular movement disorder that affects his coordination but which defies diagnosis. He has undergone extensive testing at the Mayo Clinic, he regularly sees a neurologist, but exactly what is wrong with him remains a mystery. He does not carry the gene for Huntington’s disease, his symptoms don’t quite match Lou Gehrig’s disease... or muscular dystrophy... or multiple sclerosis.

I know Charles is Charles, but somehow the wires got tangled in my brain when I started teaching the class a few months ago. For some strange reason I began calling Charles Walter. And I don’t know why. My mother’s father was named Walter, but he died when my mom was 10 years old, and from the pictures I have of him I can see that Charles looks nothing whatsoever like my dead grandfather. Charles has dark hair and a mustache and perhaps in my subconscious mind I see him as Walter Cronkite. Or perhaps the actor Walter Pidgeon...

who in his later years was a somewhat fatter version of what Charles looks like.Who knows? Not me, that’s for sure.

Everyone at church – and at home – thinks this is just hilarious and they too have started calling Charles “Walter” as a way of teasing me, which of course just makes the problem worse. Charles even thinks it is funny -- or appears to at any rate. At some point though, it is going to stop being amusing and become annoying – I am already annoyed – and I need to get a grip on it and solve the problem before that happens.

My first plan of attack will be to print the name CHARLES in block letters on a small card and clip it to the notes I use for the class. If that doesn’t work, I will make a sign and hang it around his neck! I’m going to lick this problem!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Pollock Pants

Jackson Pollock made quite a stir in the art world with his large, bold canvases of splatters, drips, and blobs of paint. Anyone so inclined can go to a Web site, click on the "Enter" link and create their very own virtual version of a Jackson Pollock painting, just as I did here...

Another one of those mysteries: Why were his paintings worth so much money? One tends to think -

Gee whiz, how much talent does that take? I mean, I could do that! My 5-year-old could do that!

Once when I was a kid and we were at the Natural History Museum and my Dad and I had climbed stairs and came into a gallery with a number of sculptures, including a large collection of scrap metal that had been welded together. There were lots of large and small car parts in the creation--tail pipes, mufflers, engine parts, transmission parts, that sort of thing. Now my Dad had a finely tuned sense of what was "art" and what was "not art," and being that he was an automobile mechanic and handled many of the objects in this sculpture day in and day out, he had an opinion about this particular piece of art:

What a piece of junk!
And he wasn't exactly whispering when he said it, either. I didn't agree with him, I loved it, but as the cliche goes, one man's junk is another man's treasure...

But back to Pollock. One of our yearly routines is to put away the summer clothes and haul out the winter clothes, which involves rooting around in storage tubs that are in various spots - the garage, the fruit cellar, under the bed, beside the bed, in the space we dub the "closet," but which is not really a proper closet at all.

Being the pack rat that I am, during the recent Getting Out the Winter Clothes, I found my painting clothes, an old pair of jeans and an old pair of tennis shoes that I wore when we added another room to the house some years back and I was required to perch on a scaffold the LOML had erected....

and paint Victorian Garnet on the second story eves.

I got quite a bit of paint on myself...

And I sat in quite a bit of paint as well...

and I figured there was no point in ruining any more clothes if I could get by with ruining just one pair.

Had I been a celebrity type and wearing these jeans on a high-profile street in New York City, there is a possibility I could have created a fashion craze, wherein everybody would want to pay lots of money so they too could wear paint-splattered pants and I would be very wealthy now.

Well, I decided not to save the pants or the tennis shoes for another year and they have been permanently retired. I have several good candidates waiting in the wings that will serve me well when painting time rolls around again.