Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter and the Reset Button

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Spring Break is coming to a close--it's back to work for me tomorrow, even though the monkeys have another week off from school and E's off tomorrow for a state holiday. Easter was lovely, and long, as always (it takes us all weekend to see both sides of the family), leaving me to wish, as always, that it happened on the first weekend of the break rather than the one right before I go back. I could use a nap but it's after dinner time, and it's time to sit down and give a last minute edit to my short story that's due tomorrow.

Of course, I had all kinds of magical, happy well-intentioned goals for the break. It was only one week off, but that didn't stop me from filling my anticipated week with about a month's worth of tasks before it actually got here. I was going to grade and clean and organize and work out. And achieve inner peace. None of that happened, unfortunately. Not one bit of it. But I made it a good week of dedicated Mom-Addie-Hank time. And we did fun things. Kid things, with trampolines and cousins and candy bars and eating lunch in our backyard, not the kind of things where I sit around the house and tell them maybe or later or someday. We just got up everyday and went someplace for the day. I feel okay about letting the goal stuff go.

This was a week I needed to reset back to normal. The week before I was off work was... ooh, you know what? Let's not even speak of it. It was too insane and I can feel my blood beginning to boil as I even begin to think about it again. I needed the time at home with my two little buds. They make it so easy to remember what matters. (Spoiler alert: the answer is not work.) I never know what to tell people when they ask what are your plans for the break? because we're not going anywhere... because I know that really, truly, being home and not really going anywhere is the one thing that's going to make me feel like myself again.

So tomorrow a new quarter starts up again for grad school and I start back at the two months of teaching I have left for this school year. Two months sounds doable and completely short in terms of what's left to teach. And at the same time I want those two months to race by so I can get back down south to see my grad school friends, but I want them to crawl because this is my last real semester of classes and I'm already going into full pout about having to graduate (read: get kicked out of my MFA program, eventually). Conflict.

Easter was great. Life is good. Let's all get up tomorrow and have a great day. (Or, I should say, those of us suckers who have to go to work tomorrow should go ahead and do that. The rest of you, sleep in.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Simple

I answered my cell phone tonight with one hand, and plucked the bag of raw chicken leg quarters from the fridge with the other. Once I'd wedged the phone between my left shoulder and ear, I could grab the naked pink poultry from the Ziplock with my right hand and fling it--by the drumsticks--into the baking dish I'd set out on the counter.

I chatted with K about the ins and outs of my third day of accreditation meetings at work. I whined about how tired I was. I drizzled olive oil on the chicken legs mindlessly, then rubbed cracked pepper and kosher salt into the skin. Remembering that I had to turn the oven on, I washed and dried my hands, pushed the buttons on the oven and set it to 350. I continued to vent. What a long day. What a long week. What a long afternoon. I grabbed the Tupperware from the top shelf of the fridge, the one that holds the lemon I use to flavor my water. Just how many last minute meetings could be in one week? Six half slices of Meyer lemon, I separated from each other and plunked on top of the meat. Three per leg.

What else did they recommend? she asked, and I was happy to recount the details of the visiting committee's report. Happy to talk to someone who "got it" about what this all was. I rolled another lemon under my palm against the counter, trying to remember which recommendations went with which subcategory of our self-study. I sliced the second lemon in half, squeezed one side over the chicken like I was Mario Batali. (Not being Mario Batali, I dropped in two seeds, retrieved those as I kept talking.) Into the oven, I slid the dish. I set the timer for 40 minutes. Left the kitchen.

Five years ago I wouldn't have trusted myself with most of those variables: dark meat; chicken with bones; roasting poultry; a simple recipe; "eyeballing it"; leaving the kitchen. Most of my cooking from marriage, on, was relegated to following recipes like they were the infallible word of God, making things that came in boxes (just add water/milk, etc), or creating things that went into casserole dishes (just add cheese and cream of something soup or spaghetti sauce). E's discovery that he's allergic to half the known foods in the world changed how I had to cook. Being poor gave me courage to buy cheaper cuts of meat. And in recent years I've found myself on a mission to learn more about simple flavors. I found I really like simple flavors better, anyway.

This year has been the year of the roast chicken.

When I heard Ina Garten speak last fall, she spoke about how people would often come to her fancypants grocery store and bypass all the fancypants pre-made foods for comfort foods like roast chicken and roast carrots. And I sat there and realized at that moment I couldn't roast a good chicken to save my life. Or, that if I did (accidentally?) manage a decent bird, I couldn't do it without all sorts of ridiculous dramatic fear throughout the process. I needed to get my chicken-roasting up to a level of comfort that I have with other foods. So I made it an assignment of sorts. To roast a lot of chicken in all its forms (whole, parts, etc) and to keep at it. After all, I could already cut up a whole bird like nobody's business, and I knew enough about how to use an instant read meat thermometer for it not to be a problem.

Tonight I stayed away from the kitchen after I put the chicken in the oven and continued chatting away on the phone until Henry came to tell me the timer was beeping. A quick poke of the thermometer in a thigh told me the chicken needed about ten more minutes, so back in it went. I left again. No sense in standing around, plus the hardwood in the kitchen was making my feet ache after work. Henry knew enough to come get me the second time the timer beeped. I wrapped up my phone call just about the same time I pulled the chicken from the oven to rest.

I sliced tart, early spring strawberries and made a simple salad which I dressed differently for each of us. I even made a rogue box of Stove Top stuffing for Henry that he managed to find somewhere and talk me into. (Nobody's perfect.) I don't know how it managed to find its way into the house, really, since I'm not a fan of that kind of thing anymore. Next to the simple flavor of the chicken and the salad, it just tasted brash and salty. Chemical.

At this point, I'll take the simple chicken. (And yeah, I'm kicking roast chicken's ass lately.)

___

For the next few weeks I'm writing in response to prompts from The Scintilla Project. Check it out.

The Scintilla Project


Today's prompt:

Many of our fondest memories are associated with food. Describe a memorable experience that took place while preparing or eating food.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pack Successfully To Exit The Ship, or: How I Left Mexico Barefoot That One Time

Supplies:

  • One Suitcase
  • A Good time, had by all
  • Balled-up dirty laundry
  • A remaining clean outfit
  • Toiletries
  • Sunscreen
  • Memories
  • Good intentions mixed with a tendency to miss detail
Instructions:

Step one: Go on a cruise with your parents. Live it up in Mexico. Get a real good sunburn--I mean--tan. Eat unusual foods. Order everything on the menu. Remark about the charming accents of your international wait staff. Dress up for meals and take charming photos. Partake of the soft serve ice cream machine. Laugh about poop deck.

Step two: Listen, distractedly, as Dad tries to explain luggage packing and removal procedures for the night before you will dock and leave the ship. Decide caring about these details can wait until just before you dock.

Step three: The night before, listen again as Dad explains luggage packing and removal procedures, this time with decidedly more attentiveness. He tells you:

A) pick an outfit to wear as you walk off the ship and leave it out of your suitcase
B) pack everything else in your suitcase
C) make sure you didn't miss anything or leave it in the room
D) put the tags on your suitcase
E) put your suitcase in the hall for the porter to pick up
F) leave an appropriate tip in the room for the housekeeping staff

Step four: Decide that this is no sweat, you can handle the outfit-picking and the suitcase-packing. You will have the suitcase in the hall on time for the porter. Do as instructed. Fold tomorrow's clothes neatly and stack on vanity counter. Check room over multiple times to make sure you did not overlook anything or forget to shove it into your suitcase with the dirty laundry. Sit on suitcase to force it shut, and make your sister help you zip it closed.

Step five: Survey your newly cleaned and neatly packed room. Self-congratulate. Place suitcase in hall. Go to bed. Check that outfit one more time. Did you really remember to leave it out? Yes you did. You're so smart. Fall asleep.

Step six: Wake up. Pick up your clothes. Go get dressed and prepare to leave the ship. Exit the bathroom and see your sister. Immediately realize she is wearing shoes. Look down at your own bare feet and realize that every pair of shoes you have was in that suitcase. That suitcase that they took away last night.

Step seven: Panic.

Step eight: Run around stateroom, trying to find a pair of shoes. Open and close door, checking to see if suitcase is gone. Panic some more when you realize that it is.

Step nine: Accept your barefoot shame. Leave your room. Wait in long lines, walk the length of the entire ship, envying people with shoes. Spend hours in holding areas, waiting, waiting, wishing you had just remembered a pair of flip flops. Finally, when it's your turn, exit the ship and walk down the ramp.

Step ten: Step back onto American soil in your naked feet.

___

For the next few weeks I'm writing in response to prompts from The Scintilla Project. Check it out.

The Scintilla Project


Today's prompt:

Tell a story about something interesting (anything!) that happened to you, but tell it in the form of an instruction manual .

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Boozin' with Rob Schneider

Strawberry daiquiri wine coolers, Deuce Bigalow, Waikiki. That, in a nutshell, is the story of my first drinking experience.

It gets better. It was my honeymoon.

And it was only two weeks before my 21st birthday. I had yet to have an alcoholic drink in my life. I thought for sure I'd at least have a sip of champagne at our wedding, or a glass of wine with dinner, but we were so busy that we barely sat to eat. I didn't even get seconds of the prime rib, and I really wanted seconds of the prime rib.

I didn't eat or drink a single thing the day of our wedding that I chose for myself. So when the photographer handed me the champagne flute full of sparkling cider for our wedding toast, my heart sank and I felt like a patronized child. But I didn't want to make a scene, so I smiled and I held that cider high as each successive toaster offered congratulations. I still don't know who made the call that day to keep our glasses "dry". I was happy, and I toasted that happiness regardless of what was in the glass.

But on our honeymoon, in Waikiki, at some point in our walk around the block near our hotel, money-dance cash burning holes in our pockets, I convinced E to step into an ABC store and buy me something alcoholic and fruity that wouldn't taste super gross. He'd been 21 for all of a month and a half, so as the older and wiser half of our duo, as the legal half, he did the buying while I hung out behind a display of chips and hoped nobody would ask if he was buying me booze.

We endured snickers from people in the hotel as we'd get off the elevator together; it didn't help that we were staying in the same low-budget hotel as a high school band at a music competition. Most people thought we were a wayward teenage couple that snuck away from the group. Our room was a tiny end-of-the-tower space with a giant cutout of square footage occupied by an emergency stairwell. The hotel wasn't terrible, but it was old and cheap, and we should have asked for another room without the stairwell in it. We just didn't know any better. And we made do. We were happy to share the space with each other, happy to have somewhere to be.

For most of the week, The Bloodhound Gang's song "The Bad Touch" played on repeat from the one radio station we could get on the tiny clock radio. We played Gin Rummy for sunflower seeds on the bed and laughed about how small the bathroom was. One afternoon when he fell asleep I decided to watch a pay-per-view movie to pass the time. The selections were slim, so I went with Deuce Bigalow. As I watched, I snacked. And I got thirsty. We were out of soda, so I started to drink a wine cooler from the pack he'd bought me. As wine coolers are wont to do, these went down easy. Like Kool Aid easy. I just kept laying there, laughing and snacking and wine coolering while he slept until the movie was over and it was time to get up and walk to dinner. It was hot. I was so thirsty. I drank quite a few.

E asked something about getting ready and I said "sure, yeah."

I got up, and then I fell right back down. Right on the carpet, like I had to hold on to it or (to quote something I read on Pinterest recently) I was going to fall off the world.

We walked to dinner after that, E holding me up so I could get there, mostly. But I got my act together. Since I was not 21 yet, I didn't bother taking my ID with me to restaurants. I wasn't going to even attempt to order anything. The place we went was a bar and grill, but we were sitting in the grill half. The host stopped us at the door and asked to see our IDs. E produced his, and I let him know that I didn't have mine since I wasn't 21.

He gave E a stern look, then looked me up and down. "You make sure she doesn't order any alcohol tonight."

___

For the next few weeks I'm writing in response to prompts from The Scintilla Project. Check it out.

The Scintilla Project


Today's prompt:

Tell a story about a time you got drunk before you were legally able to do so.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Stacks and stacks of letters

This is going to sound dumb, but one of the big, big obstacles to me sending out submissions for the first time was the fact that it's been a long time since I've had to deal with mailing anything. I was worried about pulling together addresses and writing cover letters and getting the right envelopes and postage and... I don't know, messing that up somehow.

Let's consider that I haven't applied for a job since I was 21 years old, and before that, the only mailing I did en masse was my college application stuff. And I am pretty darn sure that Dad had a heavy hand in making sure I didn't forget something and shame the family by not getting into any schools. I don't know, I just don't like those kinds of details. We pay pretty much all of our bills online, and I don't really send mail unless it's, like, one thing at a time for work, and I put it off for a really long time first. And if I'm being honest, about 85% of the time I make someone in the office help me get the right postage on it. I don't have much occasion to do mail. Most of what we get in our mailbox at home--MOST--is pure crap. The mail is an annoyance. When we moved to this house about eight years ago, we hit the junk mail jackpot. If you ever want to know where all the deforested trees went, you're welcome to come take a peek in our recycle can.

But I had to figure this shit out, or I was going to continue to write stories that exactly three people read. And I did, and like all things I fear (well, except airplanes, guns, mean people, and ski lifts), this turned out to be not as bad as I made it out to be. NO I DIDN'T FEAR THE US POSTAL SERVICE, I AM BEING FUNNY. But I just didn't want to do it, it wasn't fun.

But I'm saying I did it, and the world kept turning. Look at me, I'm as responsible as any person who can lick a stamp.

Anyway, my friend Lizi, (humblebrag: homegirl is in my program, and was nominated for a 2012 Pushcart Prize in poetry) posted on Facebook about six months ago that she was feeling nostalgic for some old-school mail and she wanted a pen pal. I said yeah, sign me up, and away we went.

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I started to remember that I actually really used to like sending mail. I really liked getting mail. Long mail. The kind that feels like it's going to take you a while to read. I loved getting it from the mailbox, taking it back into the house, carrying it into my room where I could open it. It was a thing, and I was pretty into it. Mail used to be so innocent and fun. Before I paid taxes. Before I started getting those damn coupon books for carpet cleaning and pizza places nobody wants to visit. Before realtors started making envelopes for a refi look like they were hand-addressed to trick you into opening them. I was pen pals with my second cousin once removed for a long time as a kid, and I loved it. I was all about buying stationery and finding the perfect pen.

(Some things don't change.)

Once Lizi and I started writing letters, I had the bug. After touring schools, I sent letters to a handful of students from my class last year who are now away at college. And, in fact, like most things involving words, among the MFA nerds the letter-writing is becoming a thing. There's a whole separate Facebook group for people in my program for people who want snail mail, all trading addresses and old-timey communication.

I've been trying to make an effort to put things into the mailbox on a regular basis, and just waiting to see what comes back to me. Today it paid off. I had two letters on the same day.

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Two completely different letters, but both wonderful. One joyful, silly letter from a kid, another sad expression of grief and a poem from a writer friend. Both exactly the kind of words that needed to get to me after a long, stressful week.

I love mail. I can't wait to write back.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

I miss you so much, Coca Cola.

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So, um. Super wonderful miracle daily migraine medication appears to be working. I haven't had a real migraine in the (almost) two months since I've been taking it. I've had one almost migraine, but I was able to take the uh-oh, it's coming drug and go to bed and stop it in its tracks. And I had a day about a week ago that was the exact convergence of all things that make me get migrainey: hormones, lack of sleep, stress, bad food, not enough water. I felt crappy, I felt pre-migrainey all day, like my senses were turned up too high, but the headache never came.

I'll take it.

So I'm happy with this medicine I'm taking, and I have managed, for the first time in my life to actually take something regularly like a responsible human, without missing a dose. The side effects have mostly evened out and I don't feel too weird, except for one sad, sad thing:

I can't taste soda anymore.

Well, I can, but it tastes wrong.

It's like there's no bubbles. It's all flat and it's all disgusting.

I wish I would have known this was coming. I would have prepared myself by driving through McDonald's for a large Coke with extra ice for the last six months in a row. But noooooo, I had to go and try to be all healthy... I had to try to avoid soda for the last year or so and only drink it occasionally as a treat. If only I would have known.

You see, what I didn't realize (until Coke was out of my life for good) was how much I didn't mind cutting it out for long periods of time because I knew it was always there waiting for me. My bubbly, sugary special friend.

A week or so after I started taking this medicine I had a soda or two and they tasted wrong but I thought something was just wrong with the soda machine at whatever fast food restaurant I ordered from. Wasn't until I Googled some other side effect that I stumbled upon this weirdness that is a change in brain chemistry, resulting in the non-registration of the soda bubbles.

So, this is not a bad thing. I know. Duh. I mean, soda is probably the most awful thing you can consume. And it's a waste of money. I do like that it is really easy not to spend money on something that I know is going to taste horrible. But I haven't found a suitable alternative when we're out for pizza or I have to drive through someplace for a quick lunch. And I'm getting bored with water, tea, water, tea. Even water with lemons in it. Water with cucumbers in it. Yes, it's more healthy. Yes, it's cheap. But every once in a while, a girl wants a Coke, you know?

I just want to complain a little.

In the long run, if this is as bad as it gets, it's not so bad, you know? And I am happy to trade away Coke in order to be migraine free. But gee whiz I miss Coke.