Friday, October 26, 2007

Trash Talkin'

Marjory the Trash Heap

Wednesday afternoon D2 came home from her walk to Allens (think store-where-you-take -all-your-money-from-your-allowance-to buy-candy-and-dollar-toys). On my freshly washed kitchen counter she started to unload her treasures from the shopping spree. First she pulled out a couple foot long Tootsie Rolls, next came a Butterfinger bar, followed by a plastic package of fake money.

I was surprised to notice the plastic grocery sack was still not even close to empty. But not nearly surprised as I was to see what came out next: a flatten soda can, a piece of paper with tire marks, a balled up wad of wrapper, and a myriad of smaller pieces of litter. I stood in amazement at her collection, spread across my once clean kitchen counter. Before I could compliment her on picking up so much trash along her way home, she looked up at me and explained,

"My teacher says littering is the baddest thing you can do."

"The baddest?" I doubted, ignoring her grammar.


"What about stealing? What does your teacher say about the Enron executives?" I asked.

"My teacher says littering makes our world ugly," she replied, completely ignoring my inquiry.

"And murder? How wrong does you teacher believe it is to take another life?"

"No one should ever litter. It's really bad."

"Perhaps the real questions is what is your teacher's opinion on the death penalty. Have you ever discussed capital punishment?" I questioned.

"Littering is the baddest thing you can do," she repeated, "We should never do it."

While D2's teacher seems to be a fine person, I'll be terrified if this woman ever becomes a Supreme Court Judge or heaven forbid a member of the legislature.

'Cause if I'm sent to the gallows for a receipt blowing out my car window...I'm gonna be ticked!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Don’t Run Away With the Cows, Unless, Of Course, You Don’t Want Anyone to Find You

In response to David's question of the week. :

P.S. This is a potential chapter in the potential book, which may have very little potential after all. (Can you tell all the rejections from agents are already getting me down?) So I figured when I saw David's post I'd not let it go to waste. I posted it here so at least a couple people could derive some form of entertainment from my writing. Pity party over. Thank you for joining me.

Dinner was served very early at my home. We usually ate well before 5 PM. We always ate dinner as a family, around the dinner table, using the proper utensils and good manners. My parents, both transplants to the Midwest insisted,

“Even though you girls are growing up in Iowa, you won’t learn to eat like you were raised in a barn.” I still do not know how people in barns eat, but I am very clear on how people outside barns are expected to eat.

For one, they always use the proper utensil for each food type. They use a salad fork for salad and not the entrée, hence the name. I’m certain it has something to do with lettuce maintaining its nutritional content when pierced with smaller tines compared to larger ones.

They never use their spoon to eat peas, even though it is much easier than a fork. Despite the round uncontrollable nature of peas, the left hand should remain in your lap at all times, and should never be used to help scoop up your food like you’re a monkey. Monkeys eat bugs out of other monkey’s hair, so no one wants to be confused with a monkey.

I can say with absolute assurance, people who eat outside a barn, should never stab their vegetables with a fork. After all vegetables are dead plants, without legs, and will not walk off the plate. So stabbing is completely unnecesary.

Eating your vegetables is so important; it must be done before you are allowed to serve yourself any potatoes, bread, or meat. Vegetables are best served slightly over cooked with no oil, butter or cheese sauce. You may add a prudent amount of salt.

There is a simple formula to follow in order to determine the number of vegetables you should eat. For larger vegetables like green beans or carrot chunks, you should eat one for every year old you are. Unless you are an adult, in which case you can max out at approximately twenty. (The sooner you learn that there are always different rules for adults, the fewer spankings you’ll get.) For smaller vegetables like peas and lima beans, you must eat two for every year old you are.

When your vegetables are eaten, or slyly stored under the lip of your plate, under the table, under your bum, or out the kitchen dining nook window, you may continue with the remainder of your meal. While there are alternate methods to disposing of your vegetables, eating them is by far the best choice. Being caught hiding vegetables, will result in a double serving of the disdained food.

At no time during dinner are elbows allowed on the table. In fact, resting one’s forearms against the edge of the table, even for the briefest of moments, is absolutely not tolerated either. In a barn that may be okay, it’s hard to say since most barns I’ve seen are not equipped to hold meals, let alone raise children, but it is certainly not okay at the dinner table.

No one over the age of two should ever grasp a fork like they are holding a dead chicken by its neck. Rather the technique is more akin to holding a pencil.

As far as cutting the food, that can be very tricky. Put your fork in your left, and knife in your right hand. Make certain you are not holding the fork like a dead chicken. Skillfully hold the food with the tip of the upside down fork tines and then saw slowly and gently with the knife. When you hit 1970’s mustard floral patterned Corelle, stop sawing immediately.

Don’t think you can cut the entire pork chop all at once and then chow down. You are allowed to cut only one piece at a time, switch hands with your utensils, put the knife down, eat the morsel of meat, and then pick up the utensils, switch hands again, and start all over. It is so complicated and time consuming, you understandably may decide eating the pork chop is not worth the effort.

Ah, but you better make that decision before you take the pork chop off the serving platter and put it on your plate. Once you have chosen the pork chop, it is yours to love and cherish forever. And you personally will be responsible for eating it.

But don’t worry, if you are unable to finish it at dinner, then it will remain on your plate, covered in Saran Wrap and will sit in the refrigerator until morning, when you will once again be presented with the meal for consumption. This time, however, it will be much cooler in temperature.

Having been thoroughly taught these dinner-time rules since before I could talk, I should have been wiser one summer evening as we sat down to eat in the dining nook of the kitchen.

After I uncharacteristically completed eating my vegetables without any prodding, I helped myself to some mashed potatoes and a slice of meatloaf. Jackie, assuming there was no possible way I could have devoured 14 green beans already, tattled,

“Debbie didn’t eat all her vegetables and now she has potatoes and meatloaf!”

I responded by grabbing my fork like a dead chicken’s neck, stuffing my mouth full of mashed potatoes, and in a dumb, muffled, potatoes oozing voice said,

“Debba dint et all ur begtables.”

This outburst was shocking and unprecedented in our family. Mom quickly excused me. She told me to take my plate and spoon and go eat in the living room. This made no sense to me, because none of the foods on my plate allowed for eating with a spoon, and we were never allowed to eat in the living room. She must have sensed my hesitation so she explained,

“If you can’t eat your food correctly with a fork at the kitchen table, you’ll eat with a spoon in the living room.” And then in response to Jackie’s snide snickering, she added,

“And, Jackie, you can join her.”

I was angry and humiliated. We both went to the living room. I stomped. Jackie skipped. We had never been allowed to eat anything in the family room except New Year’s Eve crackers and cheese, so Jackie gleefully starting finishing her dinner at the coffee table. I sat on the carpet with my plate and spoon on a side chair, too angry and insulted to take another bite. I wondered if my mother would ever stop treating me like a child.

Then, without thinking much about it, I walked out the front door.

I started running. I ran to the field behind our house, and continued passed the water tower and across the deserted road. Then I stopped to catch my breath. I was surprised to notice tears on my cheeks. This made me even madder so I continued to run passed the Legion Club, and fair grounds, and across a field of cows.

Looking back, the water tower was still well within view. So I kept running. Up and over another fence I ran to the top of a hill in another cow pasture. I finally stopped and sat on a bump in the ground. With the water tower in distant view I knew I could find my way home when I was ready.

It was a typical warm early summer evening as I sat in the quiet field. I cried over the seemingly unfairness of my life for a while. Then I grabbed a stick and poked at dried up cow pies. Next, I lied on my back and watched the clouds in the summer sky. Soon I noticed the sun was starting to go down, so I walked very slowly back home.

Just before dark, I entered the back door of the house and immediately saw my mother with bloodshot eyes and tear stained cheeks on the phone. She quickly told the police their help was no longer needed and replaced the receiver.

Her look was intense and painful.

“Where on earth have you been?” she asked and without waiting for a response continued, “Don’t you ever do that again. Go to your room!” I wisely obeyed.

I found out later that according to the police many teenage runaways go to the mall. Since the nearest mall was 40 miles away and I had not thought to bring my bike, that was out of the question. The next logical place to look, since I had not had dinner, was the restaurant in town and the two gas stations that also doubled as convenience stores. But since I had not thought to bring any money, those places were a fruitless search.

The next step was to call my friends’ houses. For my mom that meant all my friends and remote acquaintances. Mom called every single classmate she could think of. Some girls weren’t even really that good of friends. And then she called a couple boys’ homes too. Nothing could be more humiliating for a fourteen-year old. I can only imagine the dramatic tearful conversation.

“Debbie was eating like she was raised in a barn, so naturally we excused her from the table to eat in the living room with a spoon. Now she has runaway.” Pause for sniffle sounds, “Did she go to your home by chance?” Pause for nagatory response.

“No? Oh dear, I wonder where she could have gone.” Pause for loud nose blowing.“Oh yes, I am sure she is hungry, but don’t worry, we have her Corelle dinner plate covered in Saran Wrap in the refrigerator. She can eat it for breakfast in the morning. If we ever see her again.” Fade to muffled crying sounds before hanging up the receiver.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rise to the Occasion, Or Make Good Trades to Get There

With a high value placed on whole grains, and a small budget to feed a large family, when I was young, we made at fifteen loaves of homemade bread each week at our house. The dough was mixed as we stood on orange vinyl kitchen chairs to reach the counter that was still a few years away from being an appropriate workplace height for young girls. It was then kneaded for ten minutes, and left to rise with a cloth draped across the top of the bowl. After approximately one hour, the dough was revisited for shaping and placing in metal loaf pans. Again the bread was left for another hour of rising. The dough was then baked in the oven until the outside crust was thin, golden and crisp and the inside was soft and airy.

One loaf was often immediately devoured as soon as it emerged from the oven. As much as we might tire of it during the week, after smelling it baking, we always wanted a slice warm with melting butter swathed all over. But the other loaves were placed to cool with the top crust softened with butter. Then we placed a couple in the kitchen and the remaining loaves were wrapped and taken to the basement freezer. There they sat until one or two were pulled out each morning for that day’s consumption.

We ate bread for at least two meals a day. Breakfast might consist of toast, creamed eggs on toast, or even French toast. Lunch during the summer was always a sandwich, often a staple like peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and honey, or tuna salad. Bologna was considered a real treat. Of course, peeling the red strip off the diameter was almost as fun as eating the salty meat slice. During the school year we ate hot lunch at the elementary, but often the dinner entrée was served with a side of bread and butter.

With the prolific nature of the thick, dense baked item, we were usually not very excited about eating it. Some of the ladies in town would rave to Mom about how spoiled we were to get homemade bread every week. But we did not understand how it was such a treat. We had tasted white store-bought bread at friends’ homes and on vacation so we knew it tasted much better than homemade bread. We also believed those ladies would not call us spoiled if they knew we were the ones making the bread, not Mom. Though at our young age, that thought probably never even crossed their minds.

We certainly felt anything but spoiled when it came time to prepare the dreaded Field Trip Sack Lunch. We begged Mom to buy store bought bread for the lunch we had to prepare, take on a bus, and eat in front of our classmates. But she never would. We were so worried about being embarrassed to bring homemade bread, so we did everything to disguise our sandwiches’ origins. The night before Field Trip Day, we’d get out the best bread knife and slice as slowly as we could to get two perfect thin, straight slices of homemade bread, hoping they might pass for the store bought variety. It did not matter if it took an entire loaf to get two perfect slices, because neither time nor loaves of bread were a scarcity. But no matter what we tried, inevitably we’d get to some park in between museums, pull out our sack lunches, and as we peeled the Saran Wrap off the sandwich, someone would notice our odd meal.

“Hey,” they’d ask incredulously, “Is your sandwich made with homemade bread?”

All the kids would be involved in a trading frenzy, swapping Oreos for Little Debbie Snacks, and Tootsie Rolls for Pixie Sticks.

We’d sit with our thick peanut butter and honey sandwich, white milk, homemade oatmeal cookie and apple, wondering in vane what we had that could be traded for our classmate’s Chick-o-Stick.

One Saturday after the morning’s baking was complete, Mom told us to take a fresh loaf of bread to Mrs. Cleek, our elderly next door neighbor. Mrs. Cleek had been in the hospitable and Mom felt it would be a nice gesture. We didn’t know what someone who had been in the hospitable would want with a loaf of homemade bread, but we obeyed and took her one of the nicest shaped loaves.

We were surprised when Mrs. Cleek seemed genuinely touched by the gesture. Before we turned to leave, she asked us to wait by the door. She shuffled painfully slowly away and we waited impatiently. To ease our boredom, we tried to peer into the foreign abode that was so nearby, yet so strange to us. In the poorly lit home we craned our necks to get a peek at her many figurines of little children on doilies and piles of papers. Our heads whipped back upright as we heard her coming back down the hallway to the front entry.

In her hand was a bag of Brach’s caramels. When she tried to give it to us, we resisted, knowing our mother would not want us to take such an expensive gift. But she positively insisted, so as to not upset her, we finally relented and opened our hands to receive the generous offering. We ran home and when we finally convinced Mom how happy it made Mrs. Cleek for us to have this candy, she eventually decided we could keep the bag.

We ate the chewy candies until they no longer tasted very good. Then we unwrapped, chewed, and swallowed a few more. Finally when our stomachs could take no more, we stopped.

Each Saturday after that, we would ask Mom if we could take Mrs. Cleek a loaf of bread. Mom knew of our intentions, so she explained that she would deliver a loaf on Monday after we went to school. But sometimes, with so many loaves of bread and so many children helping in the kitchen, there was no way for Mom to keep track of everything, so we’d sneak a loaf over to Mrs. Cleek. And if she didn’t offer to bring us something right away we’d make a little small talk, until she asked us to wait by the door, while she shuffled to her pantry to get us something much better than a loaf of bread.

Friday, October 5, 2007

As It Turns Out...

S1 is a few weeks away from getting his driver's license. This has caused the typical parental concerns for DH and I as we attempt to teach him to drive. Suffice it to say driving does not come naturally to some.

We have been riding with him as he practices for several months. By now I am fairly prepared when I enter the front passenger seat of the car. The first thing after buckling my seat belt is to assume The Position.

When I was learning to drive, my mother assumed The Position which involved sticking both arms straight out against the dash and shutting her eyes as tightly as humanly possible. Then whenever she felt a subtle turn or stop, she'd let out a scream. Short but loud.

For S1, I have modified The Position somewhat. Basically I scoot to the far edge of my seat away from the side door and window. And there I am posed with one leg slightly raised and crossed over. I wince periodically as we graze trees, mailboxes, bikers, children, and cars lining the side of the road.

I often find myself panting and frantically waving my hand in a sideways flipping manner to indicate the direction S1 needs to move the car. Scrunching my forehead and squinting my eyes doesn't do anything to correct the car placement either. And jumping into the driver's seat for fear of my right arm being sliced off whatever obstacle is presently along the roadside has not been helpful.

So I've gone to silent chantings in order to hopefully help S1 with this struggle, "Feel the road, be one with the road, drive on the road. The gutter is not our friend." And it is gradually working.

The driving skill S1 and I are concentrating on this week is turns. Inevitably S1 will be halfway out in the intersection, still looking left for oncoming traffic before he finally determines that in fact it may be safe to proceed with a right hand turn. And since he is sitting in the middle of the road with no oncoming cars hitting him, it is an accurate assessment of the situation. Even though the conclusion is a long time in coming.

But since at this point S1 has not even begun to turn the wheel he ends up swinging out into oncoming traffic with the turn. Of course, all the while he is risking someone coming up alongside his right-hand side and making the same turn while in the very lane S1 should be himself.

I have remedied this with one simple phrase: "Turning is a process not an event." Gone is the screaming, lunging of my head in the direction I wish the car was going, and, of course, the ill-fated, grabbing of the steering wheel. It has all been supplanted with the simple message, "Turning is a process, son, not an event."

So while S1 enjoys turning 16 and turning the girls' heads, I silently remind myself it will not be over very soon. After all turning is a process, not an event.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Sick in the Head

I alluded to the head cold I was suffering from this weekend. While I was upset about disappointing dinner partners and my Sunday class, my illness provided an even deeper concern.

Early Saturday morning I went to pick up my vacuum at the repair shop. However, after numerous phone calls regarding the appliance's unfit condition and the cause of the condition, followed by a phone call indicating the appliance's completed repair status, when I arrived to bring home my much needed vacuum, I was surprised to learn that it was not fit for release after all. In fact, parts were still in transit that would ensure complete recovery.

Devastated I explained that with five children, the old vacuum I had stolen borrowed was not cutting it. For my inconvenience, pain, worry, and frustration, which I tried to manage with a smile, I was awarded a loaner vacuum: their top-end, take-no-prisoners, hoo-rah vacuum.

However as the Saturday errands progressed and I felt worse and worse, I barely limped inside upon arriving home and went straight to bed.

While in bed I worried about the aforementioned Saturday dinner and Sunday class commitments. But mostly...I worried that I would not recover in time to try out the fancy-dancy razzle-dazzle vacuum, before my old one was well enough to come home!

And that thought process illustrates perfectly how being a mother housekeeper of five changes a person.

Monday, October 1, 2007

A Crystal Ball Just When You Need One

The other evening, D2 approached me alone in the kitchen and said, "Mom, there's something you should know: I'm from the future."

While I admit I'm not certain how these things work, I do recall giving birth to that child. Actually more so than any of the others, since the epidural was non functional. But maybe that is how kids from the future come to this world. How should I know? I know very little about time travel.

In fact, as I contemplated this shocking news I realized that I know very little about several things. Naturally, I want to ask D2 many questions, like how and when I'll die, if DH will ever make a couple million dollars, which stock purchase will net me a 235% return in one year, and how soon Marie Osmond will be voted off Dancing With the Stars.

But if she only gives me one question, I've already decided what it will be, "Who wins: Blu-ray or HD DVD?"

The rest of my life will come and go regardless, but I'm putting off too many DVD purchases to let this battle continue undecided.