Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Give Me the Damn Remote.

photo by stevendepolo on flickr under a Creative Commons license

I feel like I have no control over my life. If I try to complete a simple task, I can't find the tools to do it. The job reaches a level of complexity, of twists and turns so byzantine, that my annoyance turns to wonder.  How in the world can every single step have an obstacle?

Let's take an example. I have three freezers. (Don't even ask.) Food gets stuck in them willy-nilly. Whenever I try to organize them ("Look, guys, this is the meat shelf. There's meat on it. Nothing else. Keep it that way.") the order disintegrates within days. Boy wants a pot pie? Rummage, rummage, stuff all over. Husband picks up some frozen vegetables and ice cream on his way home from work? Let's see, it'll fit here . . . and here . . . and some over there . . . and that's why the ice cream is in two different freezers on four different shelves. Meanwhile, where's the spinach? I have no idea.

And what happens to the peas? I buy them every time I go to the grocery store. On any given night we are more likely than not to have peas on the menu because they're nutritious, quick to prepare, and inoffensive to all family members. Usually I can only find them if I dig deep to the back of the freezer (behind everything else, probably on the meat shelf) and realize that those little snowballs are not, in fact, snowballs, but frost-encrusted peas. And when I need corn? You guessed it. No corn, but an avalanche of peas.

One day I got the brilliant idea to make labels for the freezer shelves. Okay, this should be easy. Ready?

1. Mention casually to husband that I'm going to make freezer labels. The response is negative: that's too much work, it won't solve the problem (what problem?), they'll never stick to the shelves so they won't even be there when you want them. Deflate a bit at this barrage of reasoning. I have such stupid ideas.

2. Months go by. I can't find anything in the freezer. Decide to make freezer labels and damn the torpedoes. Type up some large, clear labels on my trusty Mac.

3. My computer is not connected to the printer. (See, our two printers are in the computer room so my kids can use them for schoolwork with their own computers. My computer is on my craft table in the play room. Well, it used to be. But I couldn't monitor the puppy from that end of the house so my computer is currently on a little cabinet in the living room.) Technically I should be able to do this from my computer over our home network. It doesn't always work, so I use a workaround. It's simple. First, send the file to the computer attached to the printer. Wait, that one's a PC so I  convert the file to a different format, then try to send it. It doesn't work.

4. Go into other room and turn on the PC. Play three hands of solitaire while it loads Windows. Go back to my computer. Hit Send. Return to PC. Try Print. Nope.

5. Turn the printer off, wait five seconds, and turn it back on. (It's fussy.) Go back to PC. Hit Print. Nope.

6. Un-install the printer from my computer. Install it again. Find and re-install the proper driver. Hit Print. Success!

7. I intended to print the labels on sturdy card stock, but the printer doesn't easily take heavy paper like that without jamming, so I've printed the labels on regular office paper which I will then attach to the card stock. Find my own private stash of card stock (there isn't any in the paper drawer labeled "card stock") and feel smug. This is going to work.

8. Now I need scissors to cut apart the labels and card-stock backing. Ha ha, the gremlin chuckles, this one is too easy. The scissors are not in the scissors drawer. Search house for scissors. We must have fifteen pairs of scissors. I can't find any of them. Sigh and get my sewing scissors which are Never To Be Used On Paper. They're a bit dull anyway because the kids co-opt them when they can't find paper scissors. Cut the labels apart. Almost done.

9. Now I'm going to tape the labels to the card stock and fake-laminate them by covering them with packing tape. You know where this is going. The tape. Junk drawer? Nope. Battery drawer? (It's possible. Don't ask.) Nope. Kitchen counter? Computer room? Any horizontal surface in the house? Nope. E-mail husband at work to ask where the tape is. He thinks he saw it in a drawer somewhere. Search again. No dice.

10. Remember that I stashed away a roll of packing tape for just this eventuality. Go to secret stash. Like the Egyptian tombs, it's been raided.

11. Go to Wal-Mart and buy more packing tape. (Side note: there are single rolls and double rolls of packing tape on the shelf. Single rolls are $5.44. Double-rolls are $5.44. Point this out to cashier, who rolls her eyes, and buy the double-roll.) Go home.

12. The puppy needs to go out. Decide (I must have a death wish) to try his new walking collar on him so we can go for a walk later, when I've finished the labels. Cannot find new walking collar. Tear out some hair. Here's some luck; I find the box for the walking-collar. It's empty.

13. But wait! Victory! I find the collar in the bathroom! Quickly gather up puppy, who is crossing his legs.

14. Run to get puppy treats to bribe puppy into his new collar. All together now: Can't Find the Puppy Treats.

15. Admit defeat. Take puppy outside sans collar. Bring puppy back in.

And now, finally, there's nothing in my way. I have the tape and the labels. I look at them. And I just can't do it. What began as a simple idea has become a mountainous task, and I just can't make it up that last little bit to the top.

Decide to watch TV. Where's the remote? We have six of them . . .

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Cats are Perfect

Summer Circle on flickr

When you're sleeping, do you think about how you look? If the view of you from above is as good as the one from the side? Do you personify contentedness? Are your yin and yang not only balanced but precisely described by your body? No?

Then you're not perfect, because you're not a cat.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Oh. My. God.

Could he be any cuter?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

thank God for the vacuum salesman

under a Creative Commons license

I had a crying fit today, out of the blue. Life is good: the kids are happy, the weather is beautiful, the garden is growing. (Except for the echinacea and the lilies which were eaten by the deer.) Yesterday my husband had relatively minor surgery (successful), and the reaction didn't hit me till today.

I hate hospitals: the smell, the stress, the officiousness, the waiting. We showed up an hour and a half early, as instructed. We were ushered into the little room with the curtain and the hospital bed and the call button. My husband donned his hospital gown and lay down on the hospital bed. I about had a hissy (internally). When the nurse hooked up his IV line, I wanted my mom.

A procession of nurses and doctors and aides and I-don't-know-who came into the room, all asking the same two questions: Why are you here? Which leg is getting operated on? They knew we knew, and we knew they knew. It was almost comedic except that they were very serious.

When I was a kid in the hospital, I was mistakenly prepped for the wrong operation. My mother just about brought the entire building down to rubble before they listened to her and realized their mistake. Who expects two children with the exact same name to be in the hospital at the same time?

Obviously procedures have improved. Not only did every single person ask those two questions; my husband and his surgeon both had to put identifying marks on the proper knee. It was reassuring, but odd. The redundancy seemed a tad extreme.

What's more important than not operating on the wrong limb (or person)? Not getting sued. Every single employee has to be covered in the event of a mistake. You can't sue the doctor, or the nurse, or anyone who comes in contact with you.

Yes, it's important, potentially a life-and-death situation. But it reminds me of the hoops we now go through to fly. When you are not allowed to bring a banana on the plane because it constitutes more than four ounces of a gel, we call that Security Theater. You'll be safe from terrorists because they won't be able to steal your banana to make a bomb, right? It is technically possible, after all.

More likely, the powers that be are taking steps not to make you safe, but to make you think you're safe. If security guards take away a plain old banana, they obviously found any hidden guns or bombs in suitcases. Didn't they?

Although in the hospital's case, I think protecting themselves was more the point.

But none of that is my point. (Rambling must be another side-effect of stress.) After they wheeled my husband away, I sat in the waiting room for hours. This was the orthopedic wing: people were getting their joints sanded and planed through incisions almost too small to warrant a band-aid. The tension level was not high. And yet, as I sat and waited and tried not to listen to Judge Judy or Sally Jesse Raphael or whoever was on the TV, I worried.

The scenario hit all the cliches bang on the head. We waited, eavesdropping on the employee at the desk as she took phone calls. Maybe it's news about my husband (wife, grandfather, whoever). I had to fight the urge to ask her if my husband was still in surgery or in the recovery room. (She was a volunteer. I doubt they'd give her the responsibility of reporting anything that could be bad.)

We could all hear the surgeon's footsteps as he walked down the hallway to the waiting room to give the news of a person's surgery. And it was a long hallway, with a hard floor. The surgeon's tread was loud and seemed to last forever. It echoed, too.

Usually he would sit down with the relative right there in the waiting room, pulling out charts and pictures and going over follow-up care while in the background Judge Judy presided over people throwing their own hissy fits. Reactions were muted: the knee was good, or maybe not so good. It wasn't open-heart surgery. Lives were not in the balance.

But when the surgeon came to give me my news, he led me out of the waiting room, partway down the echoey hallway, and into a very small consulting room containing only two chairs, a side table, and a box of tissues. We all know that means very bad news. (They should save the surgeon some time and just tape Dr. McCoy's voice saying, "He's dead, Jim.") (Sorry, tasteless joke.) (Rambling again.)

When he pulled out the pictures of ligaments and cartilage and bones and told me about the procedure, I had to stop him. "Is my husband okay? Did he make it?" The surgeon looked at me like I was nuts.

So I went back and sat with my husband until he was pronounced fit to go, and then we got in the car and went to Subway and bought dinner for the kids. He walked into the restaurant and placed the order himself. No problem. All's well.

And then today, I sat in my lawn chair and looked at the green grass and the trees and the fluffy clouds in a perfect blue sky and I cried.

Luckily for all of us a neighbor stopped by to chat and very kindly did not mention my tear-stained face. We talked about houses and the economy while my daughter romped with his dog in the yard.

And then I made dinner, and turned away a door-to-door vacuum salesman, and sat on the couch with my kids to watch The Daily Show, and cleaned the cat box. Just an ordinary day. With a few unexplainable tears.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Holy bloody eyeballs, Batman!

Daily double car-line waits mean small, easy projects get done. Also I now read more books in audio than print. (Weird: I still experience disorientation when switching from audio to print and back.)

I listened to Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book while making this bloody eyeball bag, which is from the pattern "Catch His Eye" by Leathra for the The Anticraft. (Note: The book is charming, not gruesome. I highly recommend it.)

Green and brown yarns for the iris are my approximation of hazel: inner ring of brown, middle ring of green, and thin spike-stitched outer ring of brown.

Alterations: I can’t count so the bag is bigger than planned (about 80 stitches around the outside of the iris). Extra ring in iris (see above). I was free and easy with increases throughout (see “I can’t count” above). Added an extra row of red around the top. I-cord handles, threaded a bit differently (I had the wrong number of loops).

Photo notes: I cheated and stuffed the bag with fiberfill for the photo. Without it, the sides are straighter and the iris puckers around the edge. I think I’m going to make a small padded bottom for the bag to correct the iris puckering. Laser eye surgery, if you will.

I wish my family had eyes in every color so I could make each of them a different eyeball. Ah well, the rest of my tribe have plain brown eyes. (I’m stretching it a bit to call mine hazel.)

I bet my son will want a red-irised eye anyway. And my daughter? Icy-blue like a wolf. Or so I hope, for variety’s sake.

My husband wouldn’t be caught dead with a bag of any type, so maybe I’ll make his violet. Ha.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


photo by Esther17 on flickr under a Creative Commons license

What a thrill ----

My thumb instead of an onion.

The top quite gone

Except for a sort of hinge

Of skin,

A flap like a hat,

Dead white.

Then that red plush.

Sylvia Plath

Well, it wasn't quite that bad; in fact, it was a coin toss whether to go to the doctor or nail it down myself with band-aids. When it kept bleeding after several hours, the doctor came up heads.

A vial of Special Glue Intended Only For Skin was applied*, a band-aid duly wrapped around it, and I was on my way. Well, after having a completely embarrassing adrenalin rush ("I feel faint") in which I was instructed to lie on the floor.

Y'know, I always thought that people who got faint at the sight of blood were just chickens. That the reaction was completely under their control. Well, it isn't.

Which isn't to say I'm not a chicken. But it most definitely was not under my control.

What I did have under my control was the decision to open a stubborn bit of plastic packaging with a dull pair of scissors held like a knife, blade-side up, my hand pressing the plastic bit down onto it. If I had seen one of my kids doing this, I would have screeched at them not to be so stupid, you're going to cut yourself like that.

Well, it was (stupid) and I did (cut myself like that). D'oh!

* Isn't it ironic that the doctor's Special Glue is, in fact, superglue? It really is great at sticking to skin, as anyone who has worked with it knows (sometimes painfully so).

Saturday, February 07, 2009

How about a recipe?

This is not a photo of a recipe. It's a vintage picture of my husband and son at Niagara Falls. I wanted to put a picture in this post, but the food wasn't particularly photogenic. My kid is. ;-)

Here's a recipe that my kids and I enjoyed last night  (hubby is in southern Florida visiting his dad). It's based on one by smitten kitchen, blanded down a bit for my kids' taste and my cupboard's  lack of ingredients.

I love the smitten kitchen site. (Until just now I've been misreading it as smitten kitten. Huh.) I made one of her salads the other day, with escarole and hazelnuts, and the whole family gobbled it down. The pickled red onion was kind of like eating firecrackers, but we liked it. (In very small quantities.) Escarole is new to me. It's a pain to prepare, and there seems to be an awful lot of waste, but it tasted pretty good. In a rare move, I followed the recipe exactly, which involved finding the escarole and hazelnuts (and the pecorino romano cheese, for that matter) in the local grocery store. Even an employee didn't know if they had hazelnuts, so I had to search for them. (Baking aisle. Not with nuts in the produce section.)

Anyway, I'm not sharing that recipe, because it's hers, she does it better, and it's only a click away. (Mom, see the underlined word "salads" above? Click on it.) What I made was a bastardized version of  her roasted butternut squash and couscous recipe. I trust that it is delicious, but my pantry doesn't have preserved lemons in it, and while I do have some fresh parsley (rare for me in winter, because I hate to pay for what grows plentifully in my garden), "fresh" doesn't quite describe its condition after a week in the fridge. 

Also my kids have what I'll call a midwestern sense of taste. They love bland. They love spicy-hot. But strong flavors are another thing. The Girl dislikes parsley, and the Boy only recently accepted onions into his repertoire. So I was pretty sure the original recipe wouldn't fly at my table. (Too bad. I would have loved to make it as written.) 

1 3/4 cups Israeli couscous (the large kind) 
a butternut squash 
a large sweet onion 
olive oil 
salt and pepper 

Set oven to 475 F (246 C). Put racks on upper and lower thirds of oven. 
Peel and cut the squash into 1/4" dice (standard quilt seam allowance). That's the hardest part.
Cut the onion in the shape/size you want the pieces. I cut it in quarters, then thin slices. 
Cover a baking sheet with foil, the nonstick kind if you have it. Lay out another piece of foil. 
Put some olive oil in a big bowl, just a slosh. Add the squash and toss till coated. Spread the squash on the foil-covered baking sheet. Salt and pepper it. 
Put the onion in the greasy bowl, adding more olive oil if necessary. Spread the onion on the foil sheet. Salt and pepper it. Fold up edges to make an envelope.* 
Put squash on top rack, and tuck onion packet wherever it fits. 
At this point, set a big pot of salted water on to boil. While the vegetables cook, boil the couscous until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. Also while the vegetables are cooking, wash a handful or two of grapes and cut them in half. They've got to be really tasty grapes, not sour. 
Bake vegetables until squash is soft and sweet but not mushy, about 25 minutes. Turn around the baking pan halfway through if you remember. Turn the foil packet upside down while you're at it. Remove from oven. 
Taste the squash. If it's soft enough but hasn't gotten that roasted sweet flavor (it happens), drizzle a tiny bit of honey over it. 
Combine the couscous, squash, onion, and grapes in a bowl. Toss to mix. Add more salt and pepper if necessary. 
This makes a bland, barely sweet, comforting dish. The original is probably a lot more flavorful. Oh. I was going to squeeze some lemon juice over it, but forgot. 

*I suppose you could put the onion on another sheet, but my oven isn't  big enough for two baking sheets.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


photo by malfet_ on flickr
under a Creative Commons license

written by my daughter during her English class:

Dear Shine,

What would I be without you? A clear sphere, obscure and unnoticed. A fragment of nothing, unseen. But with you we are a beautiful, lustrous orb of delicate light, a shimmering rainbow, a glowing sphere of joy. We would float across the world, we would visit the world from Paris to Detroit, we would drift from the bright golden ring, leaving the laughing children far behind and floating high into the sky to pose beside the sun.

I need you, Shine, to be who I am. I am an orb full of bright blue sky, and with you we are a crystal ball of flowing dreams and glittering fantasies. It won't be me and you because "me and you" makes us.