Thursday, December 18, 2014

If I was in charge. REALLY in charge.

It’s no secret around here that Christmas stresses me out.

Immediately after Halloween, it starts.  Emails touting “HUGE SALE!” flood my inbox.  Coupons stream into the mail, store signs and billboards boast lowest prices of the year, the century, the universe.  It’s hard to ignore.  People crow that they’ve had all their shopping done since September because they’ve learned that when they wait until November to buy, they spend twice as much and they don’t even get anything they wanted.  I stare at them, wide-eyed.  My children wait until mid-December to talk about the things they want, want, want.  So does my husband.

Around November 2 family members and friends start discussing how we will spend the holidays together.  Party invitations go out.   The dates must be nailed down, NOW.  All the activities the kids are into this year have big, big, BIG EVENTS on those exact dates.  Activities call for ramped-up practices for these Big Events.  Everything is twice as intense, twice as much, twice as everything.  I am running kids to school at 7 am and picking them up from practice at 9 pm.  They miss half of everything they are involved in because all of these things happen at the same time.

My views are unpopular here.  My husband doesn’t understand the angst with which I associate Christmas.  He doesn’t like that I seriously consider not doing everything.  He wants to do everything.    

People say “Just say No!  You don’t have to do everything!  Christmas is a time for Joy!  And Peace!  And Love!  Come to my cookie exchange and relax!  Bring six dozen cookies!”

The problem with saying no is that I’ve already said yes to all of it.  The activities are already in the works.  I can’t sign my kids up for stuff and then say “We take all of November and December off because I just can’t even.”  We have family and friends whom we love and want to spend time with.  We can’t just NOT celebrate Christmas the way that it’s expected to be celebrated.  It’s only me that feels burdened at Christmas.  The more cavalier part of me says “You can do whatever you want to do!  Don’t give into the pressure – do what makes you happy!”

I know this is ridiculous.  If I had it my way, everyone would be miserable.

What I want is for everything to just calm down.  Simplify.  Tone down down the Specialness of the season.  It’s already special; I buck against the circus of it.  I want to get together with family and friends and not miss the hundred other things that are scheduled for those dates.  I want to give thoughtfully and meaningfully without feeling as if someone might be missing something if they don’t have five (Ten?  Twenty?) amazing things to open on Christmas morning.

It’s a big suggestion, to simplify Christmas.  I know for a fact that it doesn’t go over well in our house.  I’ve tried.  It's impossible for one person to convince the others that another plan is better without concrete facts and figures.  Christmas is a sacred time, protected by custom and culture. People don't like new ideas at a time steeped in tradition.

So instead, I hunker down every year and manage it.  I sit and stare at our beautiful Christmas tree and for a moment feel at peace in the loveliness of the season.  But only for a moment.  Because I have to run someone to practice again.  And is that another package on the porch?

*******

This post inspired by:

Mama’s Losin’ It

Prompt #11: Describe how you would celebrate the holidays
if it was totally up to you and money was not a factor.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Being Sick at Christmas Is A Total Bummer. Eh, Whatever.

I have a cold.  I haven’t been sick since the dawn of the dinosaurs.  It seems.  I’M NOT REALLY THAT OLD BE QUIET

It’s been a slow burn, this sick.  It started the week of Thanksgiving with an innocent dry cough that would come and go with no warning, belligerent in its effect on a quiet moment but quickly forgotten.

Then, as soon as I remembered that it went away, it came back as a sinus and chest congestion combo that took turns with symptoms: today, a headache.  Tomorrow, a wicked rumbling cough.  The next day, a few sniffles and sneezes.

Many people in our area have had this particular brand of sickness recently.  Everyone has the same story.  It hangs on for a month.  I am well within this time frame.  I hate myself for being so common. It seems I am not above the law of seasonal cold-catching, even though I haven’t been sick in recent years and isn’t it something – I got a flu shot this year for the first time in a long time and I got sick.  Let’s not dwell on this.

The arrival of this illness in dribs and drabs has served only to slow me down, not lay me out entirely.  It is Christmas, after all.  No time to be under the weather.  Jesus’ birthday waits for no one, especially one with a wittle cold.  So I try, haphazardly, to fight it.

I guzzled the expired cough syrup languishing in the back of our medicine cupboard to get relief from the hacking.  Leftover cough-and-cold medicine that one of the kids took at the beginning of the school year soothed my occasional headache.  I finally gave in and bought some heavy-duty congestion pills to loosen up the crunk that I imagine enrobes the soft parts of my chest cavity. 

They are all gone.  I am still sick.  Sort of.

Please enjoy this picture of my used tissues and cold cup of coffee.
Yup.  Those are actual used tissues.
Little known effect of having a cold?  Apathy.

I drink fluids, wash my hands, and repeat.  I blow my nose, suck on cough drops, lie on the couch and turn on the TV.  Don’t we fight colds when we rest?  The DVR is clear.

Luckily the internet is here to save the day for the Christmas shopping that would certainly be neglected if it was 2007.  I have only the energy to get a little excited that most of the purchases I’ve made are shipped for free.  I grab a wad of tissues and sit on the floor in my room with the wrapping supplies left over from last year and cut and fold paper to hide the items that just minutes before were delivered to our front porch.

It’s all that can be done until this sick is gone.  The bare minimum.  The schedule looms, threatening to overwhelm with the many huge things that we have going on.  I pick one and say no.  Another is cancelled.  The rest are holding fast to their positions, like soldiers on the winning side in a war zone or that last five pounds of baby weight you still haven’t lost even as your children are careening toward the high school years.  My house is dirty, and will be dirtier next week when my family visits.  Eh, maybe they won’t notice that the toilets haven’t been scrubbed in weeks.

Being sick has infected me with indifference.

My head feels like it’s filling up again.  I pop another cold pill, heat up some water for tea, lie down, and figure out what to cook for dinner tonight.  Maybe the cookies won’t get baked this year.  I figure I’m a week behind in my Christmas preparations.  I don’t even care.  Will the kids notice if they don’t have stockings this year?  Hoping to be free of this cold soon, I send out telepathic messages to the universe.

Send cookies.

*******

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

DIY Thanksgiving Side Dish for the Lazy

My brother is doing all of the Thanksgiving work this year, which makes me pretty thankful in general.  Thanksgiving is considered to be one of the best holidays because of all the food, but it can also be the worst because of ALL THE FOOD.

I've made Thanksgiving dinner several times, and it's eh, okay.  It's not my favorite thing in the world to do.  It's the prep, the expense, the having to make sure you have everything, and that everything is ready at the same time.  It's stressful, people.

And then your company comes over and announces "We skipped breakfast!  Step aside, 'cause we're gonna mow this turkey down!"

And then all your work is destroyed in fifteen minutes, and then your hog family members lie down on your furniture, fart up your living room and take naps while you're up to your elbows in dishes.

So basically if you're not the host of Thanksgiving, you are the winner of Thanksgiving.


Photo credit: Foter / Public domain


I love to bring side dishes to Thanksgiving fiestas, mainly for the illusion that I am actually contributing to the meal, but also because I get tired of the same old foods at holidays, which is why we had an all-appetizer Christmas dinner last year.  

Anyway, I try to make a side dish that is easy because let's face it, I am a punk and like my husband I don't like to work very much at all on the holidays.  So I came up with this side dish that will be a wonderful addition to any Thanksgiving table.  Plus if everyone hates it, who cares?  Take it home with you and eat it all yourself.

I call it Eazy-T Cauliflower Mash.  T for Thanksgiving, Eazy for everything related to being a gangsta, and Cauliflower Mash because of other obvious reasons that will be revealed soon.

Oh, you've heard of it?  Okay, okay.  This is a THANKSGIVING POST.  PUBLISHED THE DAY BEFORE THANKSGIVING.  You do know that all the good Pinteresters have had their meals planned out for weeks, don't you?  Clearly you're here for comic relief only.

So here's my recipe for the lazy gal's side dish:

Ingredients:

Cauliflower.  Get a hunk or two at the store.  Grab the biggest ones if you have hog families like mine, or a medium or small one if your family is more of the dainty eater variety.  What's wrong with your family?  Are they not Americans?

1/2 stick to 1 stick of butter.  DO NOT SKIMP ON THIS.  You must use butter.  Just do it, okay?  I'm more of a butter pusher than Paula Deen, kids.  Accept.

Salt and pepper.  Seriously.  Can we just assume that everything has salt and pepper in it?  Because it does.  Except maybe brownies.  Mmmmmmmbrownies.

Sour cream.  Just borrow some from your neighbor.  You don't need a lot - maybe a tablespoon or two. But ask them for the whole container so you can use it later when you're eating baked potatoes or something.

Instructions:

Get a big pot.  I don't care how big of a pot you use, but it better be big enough to hold all the cauliflower you just washed and cut up into pieces, because if it isn't, you're in trouble, missy. Throw the cauliflower into the pot and cover it with water.  Boil the crap out of the cauliflower until it's soft. I can't tell you how soft because I don't make it a point to touch cauliflower that's been boiling in a vat of boiling water.  Fork it a couple of times to see if it mashes easily.  Drain the cauliflower.

Ha.  Fork it.

Add the butter, salt and pepper, and sour cream.  I usually eyeball everything here, and add as needed.  This is not rocket science. You want this dish to be buttery, creamy, and flavorful.  Get it to that point on your own.  I will not enable a false sense of security by helicoptering your every move.

Get out your little mixer and mix it up a bit so it is nice and fluffy.  Then.  THEN

Spoon it into a casserole dish!  Place in the oven at 350 degrees!  And bake it for like twenty minutes! 

Or more.  Or less.  Just don't burn it, for the love of gravy.

And then eat it.  But serve yourself first, because you know.  Hogs.

Happy Thanksgiving!



Photo credit: Louish Pixel / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND






Monday, November 24, 2014

Six Perfectly Named Products

I’m an easy-going label reader, and choose products based more on their names or brands than what’s in the actual product.  Sue me.  I know that Ball Park frozen hamburgers probably don’t have much real beef in them, but darn it all, pop one in the microwave and in a little over a minute you’ve got a tasty meal.  I don’t know what they put in these things.  Preservatives for sure, and maybe even a little bit of wizardry.

Because I’m sort of lazy overall, I really appreciate when a product is named in such a way that the name completely describes the product I’m buying.  A perfect moniker is hard to come by, and sometimes the name is enough to throw me off, as in the instances of Kaboom or Murphy’s Oil Soap, or even Chick-O-Stick, which I have since found is delicious and not made with chicken.  Or V8 Splash, which always concerns my kids in terms of sweetness, resulting from an unfortunate regular V8 incident.  Or cheesecake, which is more pie than cake, and not cheesy at all.  But who doesn't know about cheesecake?  I'll tell you who.  People who don't know what's good.

Let’s break here and go back to the vegetable juice discussion.  Does anyone here know realize that Clamato actually contains clam juice?  Why would they advertise this in the name?  WHY WOULD THEY MAKE IT AT ALL

Because my job is to always be on the lookout for things that will make life easier while shopping, I appreciate when a product name matches its product perfectly.  It’s like the research and development team had a smash hit and I imagine them all standing around slapping each other on the back and shredding hundred dollar bills just for the fun of it.

Here are six home run names:

Perfect Brownie Pan – I’ve had this pan for two years.  I just used it for the first time.  You know what?  The brownies are perfect.  I can’t get over it.  I just can’t.  Neither can the kids.  We eat brownies and remark on how perfect they really are.  Get yourselves one of these mothers.



Miracle Blur (from Revlon) – When I apply this to my face it becomes smooth.    I don’t know how this works.  It sort of fills in all the lines and pores and makes my facial skin smooth like a Barbie doll’s face, or even Meg Ryan’s.  I’m okay with this.  It blurs lines miraculously.  

Mix ‘N’ Chop (Pampered Chef)  – This thing.  I will rummage through the bottomless pit of the kitchen utensil drawer for minutes – minutes! – to find it to use it while cooking ground meat.  It really does mix and chop the meat while you are cooking it!  No more “no kids, those aren’t meatballs, it’s just a clump of hamburger in the sauce” on spaghetti night.



I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter – I think the benefits of this product are well-documented, since it’s been around forever.  I actually remember it coming out and my mom buying it once.  Alas, we were a Fleischmann’s family and I was so unprepared for the butter-ness of the taste and I hated it.  In my house we eat butter like we eat candy, and once in a while I will have some I Can’t Believe It’s Not and it is pretty remarkable how much it does actually taste like butter.

Easy Readers – So easy!  They are everywhere, too.  These are your basic, run-of-the-mill dollar store reading glasses.  Why would anyone spend the time and money getting regular reading glasses when there are so many easy options available?  I wouldn't, that's for sure.  Plus, these are READING GLASSES.  That old people wear.  You don't want them to look too cute, or else you're building your wardrobe around them.  It's a slippery slope, friends.


Smooth Move Herbal Tea – Just like its name suggests, it makes everything move smoothly.  Like bowel elimination.  Because Smooth Move is a laxative.  Drink it before bed, not before you go out to the bar, silly!  You’re welcome.


What else you got?  Leave me some perfectly-named products in the comments!

*******

Disclaimer: I have not been paid to hawk these products.  I just really admire them.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

It’s Time for Some Poetry

When I was in elementary school we did a poetry unit and had to write a haiku.  All of our haikus were published in a mimeographed book that each student got to take home at the end of the year.

I, like most of the other students, wrote a haiku about Dogs.

I don’t know why I wrote about Dogs.  I don’t particularly like Dogs now, and I didn’t particularly like Dogs then.  Probably I wrote about Dogs because everyone was writing about Dogs. 

One thing I remember about that book is that I misspelled a word in my haiku about Dogs and I was so embarrassed because now everyone had a copy of the book of haikus and mine had a misspelled word in it and probably everyone thought I was stupid.

Also I really prided myself on my spelling prowess in elementary school and I couldn’t believe that I misspelled a word on my haiku, which is like a form of poetry that uses the least number of words and how could I have misspelled one of them?  Idiot!

The word I misspelled was “barking.”  I spelled it like this: f-a-r-t-i-n-g

Ha ha, no I didn’t.  I just left out the “n” – “barkig”

What a dummy.

Note: During the writing of this post I was curious about whether my memory was correct and I actually did misspell the word I was thinking about, or if it was someone else.  How much more embarrassing would it have been if the young poet I remembered and am now skewering for having terrible spelling skills was not me but in fact one of my classmates?  Who has found me on the internet and secretly reads my blog and is about to connect with me by leaving a comment or a note on Facebook or even an email that says Hey, Andrea! Remember me from elementary school?  I read your blog and think that you are truly a gifted writer!  Let me pay you a million dollars!  They would be offended and that would be tragic for me.

I found the book.  It was just two pieces of paper stapled together.  Not quite a book, you see.  Imagine my surprise when I saw that they weren’t even haikus!  They were Cinquains.

Do you know the art of Cinquain?  Well according to my research*, it is a form of poetry that uses the subject of the poem as the title and first line, and also the last line.  In between there are three other lines that describe the thing you are poem-ing about.

Settle down, now.  I was not a poetry major, okay, Angie Dickinson? 


Clearly I meant Emily Dickinson
photo via Doctor Macro

Here is my Cinquain:

If someone didn't know what a Dog was and only had this cinquain to describe one,
that person would think that a Dog is the most annoying animal ever.
I say that's fair. 

But this post is about haikus, not cinquains, and certainly not about me reminiscing about my life as an elementary school student fifteen years ago or slyly asking people to send me money.  I am reminded that haikus are “short poems that use sensory language to capture a feeling or image. They are often inspired by an element of nature, a moment of beauty or a poignant experience.” (from wikiHow) 

They are also specific in their use of syllables, specifically in a five-seven-five pattern.  And they typically have just three lines.  But I can’t stop at three lines.  I could never stop at three lines.  It’s a good thing I never tried cocaine.  OMG THAT SOUNDS LIKE CINQUAIN

I was inspired today by the leaves that I still see falling outside, despite the trees possessing no leaves to speak of.  It’s a mystery of nature, the falling of the leaves.  It’s also sort of maddening.


Haiku Series about Leaves
by Andrea Mowery

The trees are all bare
We raked the leaves just last week
More are falling down.

I wish I was rich
So I could hire someone
To rake all those leaves.

Ha ha, just kidding.
I haven’t raked any leaves
Raking is man’s work.

My husband does it
Sometimes the kids will help him
While I hide inside.

I don’t even care
Because they haven’t helped me
Clean the house this month.



*information obtained by reading through two pages of elementary school cinquains from 30 years ago.

*******

This post inspired by:


Mama’s Losin’ It


Prompt #3: Write a haiku about what you see out your window.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Trying to Hang On

This past weekend went by so fast.  Like most weekends.  Like all time these days.

The kids had sleepovers and spent time at other activities.  That meant drop-offs and pick-ups at times that aren’t convenient for anyone, packing and unpacking bags that never seem to be fully emptied, calling for left behind phone chargers and bringing home stories and exhaustion and videos of playing with friends’ pets and why can’t we have one of our own?

We shopped for Christmas presents, which these days looks like me tailing my kids into stores and taking pictures of them holding up articles of clothing they HAVE to have and asking the salespeople if they think these things will be on sale next week.

I took my time making dinner on Saturday and watched the movie version of the book my son is reading in English class.  We talked about school and assignments and he reminded me twenty times that he had to write a blog post.  As I shooed him upstairs to write I smiled at the irony that he is doing the very same thing I tell myself I should be doing every day but I don’t.  I wonder – if someone gave me an assignment to write blog posts, would I write more often?

I taught Sunday School to a group of junior highers and was grateful for their good behavior because I felt like I repeated myself too much.  They were grateful for the leftover Halloween candy I fired across the room when one of them answered a question.  Chocolate is a wonderful unifier.

Over an hour on Sunday was spent slipping school pictures into envelopes and writing notes to family members, remarking on how grown the children are.  I didn’t properly convey my amazement and dismay at this in those few lines.  By the end, my hand hurt and I hoped they could read my worsening scrawl, but then realized that the pictures would far outshine the notes anyway.  As they should.

I made to-do lists and went through a pile of mail that had been languishing on my desk, walked through the house and reminded my family again that I am not a maid and that their things need to be put away, that dishes need to be washed, that sweatshirts need to be hung up and that I am not going to clean up this mess.  My blood pressure rose when nobody moved and I felt invisible and petty so I poured a glass of wine and curled up on the couch to be still with them. 

The messes were gone the next time I walked through the house.

I read the words of friends who write.  I hadn’t done it in a while and it was good for me.  Inspiring.  Funny.  Uplifting.  My friends are good writers.

I spent this weekend thinking it was a whirlwind.  It wasn’t really; just full.  I can’t stop myself from thinking that it will all end, when the kids are gone and there’s no one doing school assignments or needing to be picked up or showing me what shoes they want for Christmas.  There will be a time when there won’t be school pictures to send.  And that’s okay.  It’s the natural progression of a life.

I can’t stop any of it.

*******


Thursday, November 13, 2014

1989

When I was sixteen it was 1989. 

I vaguely remember the news stories of that year.  The opening of the Berlin Wall, the tragedy of Tiananmen Square.  Names like Manuel Noreiga, Oliver North, and Mikhail Gorbachev were on the lips and in the minds of everyone in 1989.  The news didn’t matter to me much, though I remember learning about current events in school and hearing the adults talk about them at home and I remember wondering if we were going to have a nuclear war.

I always thought about nuclear war.





I was a sophomore in high school, actively finding my place among my peers.  I was failing Algebra but acing English and Drama, and wondering why we weren’t covering the Holocaust in History.

And I was listening to my brother’s music and finding my soul.

In the early 80s I listened to Michael Jackson, Prince, and Madonna, along with everyone else in the world.   I thought little about what wasn’t playing on the radio, but MTV told me there was something else out there.  My brother, twenty months older than me but two years ahead of me in school, was a senior in 1989 and my ticket to all things post-punk.  The local radio station that played anything alternative to pop or oldies had shut down, but we had tapes and CDs.  By the time I got wind of the songs, most of them were old, had been out for years.  

I found Love and Rockets and The Jesus and Mary Chain.  I went to England on a school trip and brought back Elvis Costello, Thomas Dolby, and Big Audio Dynamite.  When I got my driver’s license my friends and I would ride around town, scream-singing Blister in the Sun and everything The Police recorded until we were hoarse.





I memorized every lyric and rewound the cassettes again and again to hear the haunting melodies and melancholy tones of the songs that sang to me.  Despite my average appearance, I wasn’t a cheerful teenager.  I hummed along with The Smiths and was grateful for The Cure.  I also listened to Bon Jovi and Janet Jackson and Milli Vanilli, but the new wave was my spirit guide.





When I hear this music today, I love it just as much as I did when I listened to it for the first time at sixteen.   Age has softened the angst, given my high school years a rose-colored glow.  At the first familiar notes I am 16 again, driving through town with my girlfriends, singing terribly and loudly with our hearts wide open.

Now 1989 is the name of an album by Taylor Swift.  I know this because when I Googled the year to jog my memory of its music, her name was all over the search results.  That’s fine with me.  I like Taylor Swift.  My kids do too, and will likely remember her name when they look back twenty-five years to recall what they listened to when they were teens.

I hope they can look back on their teen years with fondness the way I do.  I hope they find the music that speaks to them, that the songs they memorize now bring them happy memories later. 

I hope they have their 1989.  

*******

This post inspired by:

Mama’s Losin’ It

Prompt #6: What was your favorite song when you were 16 years old…is it still a favorite?