Monday, December 28, 2009

"Dear Rival Gang Leader Tom Logan:  If You Ever Try to Take Over My High School Fortress-City, I Will Lob a Molotov Cocktail at You, Which Will Be My Only Recourse Since It's Not Like I Can Go Tell My Mom, What With That Virus Wiping Out Everyone Over the Age of 12 and All"

When I was a kid, I read this one book.

Oh, all right, Sherlock Hemlock:  I read about 4,000 books.

Approximately 3,800 of those reading experiences have fallen into the crevasse carved into my brain that night in college when I drank too much Jagermeister.  Fortunately, I still carry the imprint of the other 200 books (only 93 of which were written by that cranky Laura Ingalls Wilder and her enabler daughter Rose).

To this day, I adore the Betsy/Tacy/Tib series and wish I could take to my bed with "the grippe" and a pompadour.  To this day, I remember the heft of The Velveteen Rabbit, and I particularly like that my memory of the story stalls out when the rabbit is tossed into the fire and doesn't extend to the arrival of that improbable Nursery Magic Fairy who turns shabby toys into real bunnies after all!!!! To this day, I remember clutching Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret to my already-increasing bust with disbelief and then hiding its horny older sister, Forever, under the covers as I whipped through its illicit pages (characters had the sex in it, and they weren't even married to other people yet). 

I'm currently reliving my childhood reading of Island of the Blue Dolphins, as I lead the girls in my daughter's class in discussion of it each week.  Mostly, the girls' book club is gratifying to me because I'm, like, so sure I would have had astute things to contribute to the discussion in 4th grade, such as "Wow.  I would never kill a cormorant, just to make a skirt. That's so harsh. Why doesn't she just make a decorative shawl out of otter pelts and have it double as a mini-skirt when she goes out clubbing in that scary Black Cave of That Ancestors that has all those creepy skeletons in it?"

Even more strongly, I remember laying under the desk that held my Billy Joel-laden turntable while reading The Good Earth.  Then again.  Then 16 more times.  Interspersed between readings of Pearl S. Buck were readings of Gone With The Wind.  Then again.  Then 26 more times.

And that was fifth grade.

Sometime around fifth grade, I also read a book that still haunts my imagination:  The Girl Who Owned a City, by O.T. Nelson.  Researching it now, I learn that the book contains the tenets of Ayn Rand's theories of Objectivism (explained by the Wikipoodle as:  "the advocacy of reason, individualism, the market economy and the failure of government coercion," a definition I supply for those of you who never read The Fountainhead in high school and therefore never acted all pretentious and pompous for about four months afterwards--and then there's the part the Wikipoodle doesn't cough up:  despite the fact that such poseurs didn't really understand everything Howard Roark was so moody about, they remained certain that they'd stumbled across the sole intelligent creed ever put to paper, yet even as they held themselves above the ignorant masses and scoffed at the plebes' ignorance, they pronounced the author's name "Ann" instead of "Ein").  Interestingly, I never picked up on the Objectivism in The Girl Who Owned a City, probably because I was 10 and am kind of dim and had never heard of it and was too distracted by the notion of a virus that killed all the adults in the world (But where did their corpses go, I ask you, O.T. Nelson?  Where did their corpses go?).

Even without detecting the underlying political message of the book, I was transported by its premise.  Indeed, all the adults have died.  Fortunately, even in their absence, electrical power plants continue to work (So, um, readers who work at power plants?  Maybe quit, 'cause, clearly, you don't really do much).  Despite there being light, the kids of the world, especially in the neighborhood of one 10-year-old named Lisa, quickly turn to gangs and warfare and fighting over food. Lisa emerges as a "leader"--if "didactic dictator" is your definition of leadership, although I suppose unreasonable and selfish are instrumental traits to success in a post-apocalyptic society, so if you see a bomb falling, run real fast to the nearest Trump Tower and yell "Take me to The Donald!"

Anyhow, eventually Lisa takes her gang, whom we readers are rooting for (Well played, O.T.  Well played), and builds a Kingdom of Happiness in the local high school.  She turns the place into a fortress, and they start growing their own food, and then the rival gang leader shoots her in the arm, and then the whole thing ends on an uplifting note, with the implication that Lisa will lead her minions to safe and productive lives under her watch.

Until she turns 12, I suppose.

Then the Kingdom of Happiness is going to need a new leader.  And they won't even be able to bury or burn or eat Lisa's corpse, what with there not being one.  At least they can not find her corpse with the aid of fully-powered 100-watt bulbs, though.

And here's the thing, and I'm sorry to get honest and straightforward on you at this late point:  this post is actually just supposed to tell you about my amazing Christmas Eve, except when I sat down to type, I realized the amazingness of my Christmas Eve needed the preamble of a backstory about how I read books as a kid and this one book in particular.

So now you know enough to understand why, when I laced up my hiking boots during a snowstorm on Christmas Eve and stepped outside for Walkies in the darkness,

I felt like Lisa.

Except with boobies and a mommy.

The clacking world had gone still and silent--hunkering down, staying off the slippery roads, opening presents with family, watching Charlie Brown.  I stepped off the porch and was immediately enveloped by the sensation of being the only person left alive on the planet.

I waded through the drifts and slush, feeling my heels rub against the stiffness of my boots, my glasses fogging with drops of precipitation.  Obscured vision closed me even more inside myself, inside a place where it was quiet.  Peaceful. 

I walked for an hour: 

No car lights dilated my pupils.  No tires splashed past me.  No dog walkers grunted hello.

Christmas decorations sparkled on every block.  There wasn't a corpse in sight.

And I was all alone, smiling, humming, owning my city of solitude.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"Postage-Free But Heartfelt"

Dear Inhabitants of the Interwebs, You Slimy, Three-Eyed Beasts:

At this reading, may you be sipping on something mulled, wearing something fuzzy, and not hating those around you.  What's more:  may you have protein in your belly and a carb in your heart.

I offer up to you the following holiday greetings with a shrug of my shoulders and a simple, "Hell, Jethro.  It's what I got."

This year, our family mailed out the card below, an image created when the members of Groom's digital painting class were assigned to illustrate the various verses of The Night Before Christmas; Groom's required stanza was the "On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer and Vixen.  On Tootie, on Blair, on Natalie and Mrs. G" blurpie.  So he staged a bunch of our Playmobil figures, took photos, and then used the photos as a basis for his painting.  I haven't even asked him, as we don't talk much, but I assume he got an "A," which, clearly, seems strong enough basis for a holiday greeting.  Christmas is nothing if not all about staging and pixels.

In previous decades, I used to crank out a massive letter to accompany the card, but now that I have this blog in which to blather, doing such a thing seems redundant.  If anyone cares, he/she can check in twice a week here and find out who's broken a bone or gone bowling.  Hence, we went, in the text on the back of the Santa card, for a straightforward listing of what actually mattered in our year, and that would be the favorite words our eyes intook.

While the previous image and note went out to a hundred of our closest friends (plus four acquaintances about whom we remain ambivalent), the next image is for you alone, O Gracious Denizen of the Interwebs. To celebrate an impending blizzard and the fact that I'm intending, in the next few days, to make a Tres Leches cake for the first time, I asked His Groomitude to create a new Pyramid Man for me (see this, this, and this for the backstory).  The result is a Groom/Paco collaboration, the best gift I can imagine:

My wishes for you over the next wad of days, Gentle Reader, are that you--

Savor life. 
Revel in the good stuff. 
Rest your yappin' dogs.
Find peace in your head.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Although I Felt the Freak in Many Other Ways, There Was This Month in Seventh Grade When We Did Track in P.E. Class, and As It Turned Out, I Was Pretty Good at Standing Broad Jump and the 100-Yard Dash.  Whenever I Feel Down, I Remember Out-Jumping and Out-Running All Those Cute Little Things Who Had Boyfriends, and Suddenly I'm Humming Again, Which Indicates That My Happiness Stems from a Place of 'In-Your-Face, Bitches'"

A few weeks ago, my sister sent me a book.

I think she's making up for all those years in childhood when she insisted a "slap fight" was actually a "fun game" as she pinned me down and proved her superiority at fun games. Plus, once, she took my Bass ballet flats and threw them across the room at me (how Bush in Baghdad 2008 of her!). As sisters do, we were occasionally awful to each other; however, she was the first--and for a long time, the only--person in my life with whom conflict felt comfortable.  We could fight like reality show bimbos clawing each other to win the Rock of Love...yet our battles somehow felt safe.  Even though she threw things at my head, she wasn't going anywhere.

That noted, I still like to think she owes me.  While she doesn't feel that way at all--from her point of view, she had to protect her space from a marauding wisenheimer of a ginger-haired douchnozzle--she is, as an adult, generous to a fault.  Hell, there's a Darth Vader costume under our Christmas tree from her right now, and we don't even run with the Sith.  She's just equipping us for future possibilities.  Currently, we have an Anikin.  But in twenty years, if Count Dooku takes him on, our Anikin may have need of a Darth costume to help cover his missing limb and scarred face, and all we'll have to do is clamber down to the basement and dredge it out of the costume trunk, thanks to her foresight.  Yea, my sister is a regular Nostradamian benefactor, like "What if, down the line, light turns to dark, and you need to dress the part?  Just in case, I should send something!"

In addition to providing for Paco's potential future, she has satisfied my present by sending a book.  It could being recompense for hurled shoes, but it also may be an apology for her insistence in 1981 on watching Ryan's Hope when the clearly-superior General Hospital aired during the same hour.  Middle school was wrenching enough, without the added drama of jousting over the dial.  I mean, seriously, at an age where my armpits were getting hairy and my glasses frames ever more enormous, the least she could have done is let me eyeball Luke and Laura in peace.

Ssssssweet Car-o-line, but those platters ate up half my face.

Her apology came under the title The Geography of Bliss.  Written by Eric Weiner, an NPR foreign correspondent, the book is one of those conceit-driven nonfiction tomes that is easily packaged and promoted for sale to customers who "actually only came in for one of those Gingerbread lattes."  Despite its being a conceit-driven nonfiction tome that is easily packaged and promoted, I'm enjoying it quite a bit. Never let it be said I'm anything less than easy.

The premise is that Weiner, an avowed curmudgeon, travels the world and tries to find where happiness lives--basically, he explores a variety of countries and attempts to determine who on the planet is happiest and why.

Okay, timeout.

1)  Weiner never comes across as the grouch he claims to be; in fact, I'd go so far as to assert that he rather likes traveling around the world, talking to people.  While he may be a man who feels down sometimes, who tends towards negativity on occasion, he's no Sith.  Thus, the conceit of the book ("life-hating writer travels the globe and maps joy") feels manufactured;

2)  Hello?  What is happiness?  I'd argue that since it's his book, Weiner can define the concept however he wants, but, repeatedly, he finds the idea of happiness so relative, so individual, so unquantifiable, that he can't even set down a baseline from which to work.  As a result, the book is more about exploring what passes for happiness in various regions than discovering who wins the gold in the Happiness Olympics, and so I need to take a moment to holler, "Listen, Gomer, if you're going to take my sister's money for this book, you sure as hell better pony up with a concrete answer by the time I'm done reading.  If you don't end with a firm conclusion like 'Incontrovertible happiness is to be found in Nasinu, Fiji,' I'm going poke out the eyeballs of with a pair of really long chopsticks";

3)  Despite the basics of the book being contrived and slippery, it's an interesting read, and not only because Weiner gets really stoned in Amsterdam.  There's also the fact that Bhutan, as a nation, has a GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness) quotient, as declared by the king--and, frankly, the very fact that a king can declare such a thing ups Jocelyn's Cheer Meter Reading to the level of WOW!.  Here and there, when the author is particularly sardonic, my Meter Readings have even escalated to Slam, Bam, Thank You, Ya Big Weiner

So gracias for this book, Dear Sister.  It's the perfect end-of-semester read:  I can attack it in chunks; it makes me smile; it is intelligent without taxing my toasted brain overmuch; and if you ever come at me with a pair of ballet flats again, I can throw this paperback volume at you, and I will aim for your head.

Should I have piqued your interest (or perhaps I've piqued your pique), and you find your own Cheer Meter Readings plummeting because you don't have Weiner's book nearby, here is a taste of one of the early sections, during which our intrepid explorer spends time in the Netherlands (learning to say "I'll have seconds on the hash brownies, please" in Dutch).  At one point, he visits a Happiness Science Center, which, at first, I thought was the official name for Wavy Gravy's LSD lab, but, as it turns out, the Happiness Center is a place where people who call themselves real scientists try to figure out the variables of an upbeat state of mind. 

Heading the lab is researcher Ruut Veenhoven (like I don't want to have another kid, just so I can use that name), who has a compiled a database of findings (which Weiner characterizes as "alternately obvious and counterintuitive").  So take the test, Gentle Reader.  According to one Dutch guy with an awesome name, are you happier than most?

Veenhoven has found that:
  • Extroverts are happier than introverts  
  • optimists are happier than pessimists  
  • married people are happier than singles  
  • ...though people with children are no happier than childless couples  
  • Republicans are happier than Democrats  
  • people who attend religious services are happier than those who do not  
  • people with college degrees are happier than those without (at the very least, they are more smug)
  • ...though people with advanced degrees are less happy than those with just a BA
  • people with an active sex life are happier than those without
  • women and men are equally happy
  • ...though women have a wider emotional range
  • having an affair will make you happy but will not compensate for the massive loss of happiness that you will incur when your spouse finds out and leaves you  
  • people are least happy when they're commuting to work  
  • busy people are happier than those with too little to do
  • wealthy people are happier than poor ones, but only slightly
According to this list, I'm about 3/7ths happy, which is odd because I really am feeling more 6/7ths-ish today.  Perhaps if I align myself with the values of Newt Gingrich, John Ensign, Mark Sanford, Jeff Miller, Ed Schrock, Strom Thurmond, Randall Terry, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Joe Scarborough, Jimmy Swaggart and--oh, fer Christ, do you really want me to type them all out?  It promises to take weeks--I could become an affair-having Republican and increase my happiness fraction. Provided I manage to hide my infidelity from my spouse (Groom:  stop reading two sentences ago, please), my happiness levels should soar.

After looking at Veenhoven's data, Weiner notes, "Social scientists have a hard time un-raveling what they call 'reverse causality' and what the rest of us call the chicken-and-egg problem. For instance, healthy people are happier than unhappy ones; or is it that happy people tend to be healthier? Married people are happy; or maybe happy people are more likely to get married? It's tough to say. Reverse causality is the hobgoblin that makes mischief in many a research project."

I take his point.  At this very minute, for example, I'm unsure if I'm happy because I'm eating a salad...or if the salad chose me because I was already a happy person.

Um, huh?

I think I need to keep reading.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"I Promise You At Least Five Parenthetical Asides in This Post; Bonus Points If You Count More"

There is a fortuitous convergence at the end of the semester:

Gasping for air from beneath a heap of research papers, I claw one hand out from under essays about childhood obesity, bacteria-phobia, the death of newspapers, and the upsurge in wind farms,

and that hand, calloused and gnarled, flops around blindly (what with having no eyeballs)

until it encounters my husband's faintly-whiskered cheek (because he's 99% Nordic Boy Wonder and 1% newborn mouse, faint whiskering is the most he can achieve).

The flopping, stroking hand is expressing appreciation. Were it in a bad mood, it would slap and flip off and plumb for ear wax.

But no.

Flopping, stroking hand loves Groom (and may very well express that sentiment more fully, after dark).

For, just as Flopping Hand is cramping from clutching the grading pen and wiping away tears of disappointment,

Groom has finished out his semester and has work to show for it.

Translation: I ain't be gottin' much time right now, but, because my husband took some art classes all term and made pretty pictures, I can hitch my blog to his star and post them here.

At the end of last Spring term, I went on at some length in a video about his work, but this time I'll be more brief (somewhat unattractively, your collective "whew" registers even here, miles and miles away). Groom took Painting I this semester and marveled at how long it takes to turn out a good piece, largely because one has to wait for the paint to dry before adding the next bit. Paint and wait; paint and wait; paint and wait. He also completed Art History, an online class that fully demonstrated any possible pitfall of online education (typed this mortified online instructor who canNOT believe the poor quality of "instruction" she has sometimes viewed over her husband's shoulder in the last year, O Holy Mothers of Slackers Who Still Collect Pay Cheques). Fortunately, he had the textbook, read the thing and, therefore, edjamicated himself. Lastly, he took Digital Painting and Drawing, a course that fully demonstrated the possible strengths of online education. In fact, he learned the software and techniques so well that many onlookers can't appreciate the hours upon hours of work he put into each piece.

However, as a kind and astute audience, I feel certain y'all will be just the right folks to see that talent can distinguish itself, even in digitized art. You are also the right crew to fathom how cool it is to have random pictures floating around the house when one is casting about for a picture to adorn, say, one's anniversary invitation:

As you can see, Groom's response to an assignment early in the term gave us fodder for our invite. While everyone enjoyed the image, some lost their breath upon reading the text. An astonishing number of people got all nervous and had to blurt out, "That business about 4 affairs? Really??? What happened? Is there something we should know?"

Yea. 'Cause when people are throwing a huge party for their 10th anniversary, and they are the most soppily in love couple you know, and they have evidenced in the past a sense of humor that tends to skid sideways,

generally the backstory is a whole lot of adultery that screams out for publicity.

Knowing there was some consternation in the ranks after we sent out our invitation, we prepared an answer to use during the party:

"Yes, Guido/Carla/Father O'McFlanniganahan, there have been 4 affairs. Neither of us had them alone. We always had them together, as we enjoy opening the marriage to the magic of a third. So, uh, the first affair was with Miss Silvia, our espresso maker. The second was with Tina Fey. We took turns licking the make-up off her face. The third was with late night television's Craig Ferguson; he brought puppets. And the fourth was with Omar from THE WIRE. Now, with that mystery cleared up, what did you think of the squash on the card?"

After the 85 wonderful guests (only 3 of whom remain bewildered--and hopeful--to this day with regards to the infidelity) trooped out after our party, Groom was ready for a little quiet time during which he could refocus on his art assignments. This past week, he spent hours and hours and then an hour plus 14 more minutes working on this (my favorite thing he's ever done):

Based on photos of the ice packs that jumble the shoreline of Lake Superior each winter, this was his final project for Digital Drawing and Painting.

This picture does for me what Groom himself does. It alters my heartbeat.

But here's the thing: he posted it to the online class, in the discussions area, amongst all the other messages containing digital paintings and drawings of unicorns, Captain Hook, and guitars sporting angel wings...and no one commented on it.

Later that night, Himself admitted to feeling a little hurt, as he'd been excited about what he'd created and hoping for feedback. But nothing.

The next day, he asked his instructor about it, and her take was that he had created an image that appears photographic. Everyone thinks he uploaded a photo and then clicked a few buttons on the computer, and voila (or, as my students write it, "Viola!").

Eventually, a couple of classmates did comment, ho-hum "that's neat" responses. Despite that, he feels proud of what he did, especially because he knows he opened a blank canvas on the screen, took the digital "brush" in hand, and drew, filling the blank white with just the right shadings of grey and charcoal to transport viewers to a cold February day on the shore of the world's largest surface of fresh water.

That's what real art does: it transports us, makes us catch our breath (sometimes with shock; sometimes with awe).

In this case, the art provides my cramped, flopping hand with a frigid respite,
a soothing patch of ice upon which to rest and recooperate

before I force my attentions back to the next essay on the stack.

(the end)

(except P.S.: at the art show on campus this week, Groom received bids on two of his pieces, one of them the squash from our invitation and one of them an oil painting. We's rich! We's rich! Daddy sold his squash so Mamma could get her some Grillz!)

Monday, December 07, 2009

"Recipe for a Headache"

My life policy of Don't Get Harried is inviolate.

Also, I lie a lot, especially on Mondays, when zipping around and feeling always eight minutes behind is the norm, and my life policy is brutally, repeatedly violated.

The policy of Don't Get Harried is predicated by the fact that doing lots isn't part of my self-definition. For me, racing around from commitment to commitment doesn't give life a sense of worth or purpose; on the contrary, it leaves me with a feeling that I've missed life's purpose altogether.

Honestly, I have no idea what life's purpose actually is, but intuition tells me it has something to do with sitting very still, pulling air into my lungs slowly, and staring at something the wind is blowing around.

Hey, if you take that description, plop a bag of Old Dutch bbq chips down next to me in the scenario, scatter about a few Little Debbie snack cakes, then suddenly I'm not so much seeking purpose as stoned.

Stupefied or meditating, either way I find myself sitting in a place, feeling a moment, being there. It feels right.

Contrast a relaxed Old Dutch day with my Mondays of late, and you'll be screaming for a toke of the Mary Jane. For some reason, even though I don't have classes on campus on Mondays, the start of the week has become crazy-mad-rip-roaring busy--as in, the day takes place in chunks of 24 minutes in 40 different places, and then the sun plummets, extinguishing exhaustedly.

Normally, this is just how it is. It just is. Last week, though, Monday took on an added pressure: it was my husband's birthday. And since he is the finest of souls, and his birthday last year was particularly The Suck (being born right after Thanksgiving means you're usually in a mini-van with crabby children, driving home up a grey highway, on your birthday; the highlight is stopping at the Chug 'N Munch for wasabi almonds), I had vowed it would be better this year.

Specifically, because he never got a Birthday Treat last year, he would get something this year. I would figure out the details of that when the time came. Like, on his birthday.

Thus, last Monday, the Gourmet cookbook and I had a date. Since Groom had no preference about his treat (high maintenance, that one is), I leafed through, looking for a recipe entitled "What Jocelyn Would Like to Have But Which She Can Pawn Off as Being For Her Husband."

Clearly, chocolate and profiteroles were in our near future.

The choice made, I scanned the list of ingredients, went through the kitchen cabinets and was able to whoop, "Yee-haw! We have sugar! This thing has legs!!" Then I wrote the rest of the ingredients down onto a shopping list and sent Groom off to buy his own damn heavy and ice creams.

What I realized, as the day went on, was that the Gourmet recipe was incredibly unrealistic. As if a person--on a Monday--can just take out the ingredients, stand in front of the stove, and make profiteroles and hot fudge.

Recipe, O Recipe, where is the section that has the cook crawling around on all fours in her basement pantry, spending 24 minutes trying to find the missing pastry bag?

Recipe, O Recipe, you mention 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, but why do you not mention 6 loads of laundry?

Recipe, O Recipe, why do you not mention the 24 minutes the cook will need to spend pulling together materials for the Girls' Book Club she's leading each week in her daughter's 4th grade class?
Why, O Short-Sighted Recipe, do you not list "24 minutes of driving to the elementary school" or "31 minutes of deconstructing the plot of Island of the Blue Dolphins with 12 girls" as necessary ingredients to your hot fudge? Why do you not acknowledge the emotional energy the cook will have to expend in explaining to a group of preadolescent girls that sometimes, as in the book, members of our families will die (albeit not at the hands of otter-pelt-hunting Aleuts)?

Recipe, O Recipe, why do you fail to mention the post-Book Club dash to first grade, wherein the cook will grab her 6-year-old, drive him 24 minutes to the Martial Arts studio, and--with no whisk in hand--help him strip in the backseat of a Toyota Camry and change into his karate kit?

Dear Recipe, you also neglect to mention the late afternoon latte the cook will need to make, after she whizzes home from the karate studio. By the time she has made her espresso, transferred the laundry, and found a saucepan, it's time to go pick up Paco. Amazingly, during class, he's managed to stain his uniform (with what??? blood???), entailing a double trip through the wash and the application of a bleach pen. Where is "bleach pen" on your list of ingredients, Ressy-pee-pee?

O Negligent Recipe, you also fizzle in the Homework Section of the baking, overlooking the fact that the chef's daughter might have been asked, for Social Studies, to make a timeline (complete with photos) of the seven Biggest Events of Her Life. Due the next day.

As it turns out, Dear, Blindered Recipe, 4th graders aren't completely certain what the Biggest Events of Their Lives have been. Fortunately, cooks who are chopping 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate are able to multi-task and suggest things like, "How about when you learned to ride a two-wheeler?" and light the burner simultaneously.

Speaking of simultaneously, O Recipe of Restricted Focus, you fail to lay out the moments when the cook will make her lunch for the next day, pack her gym bag, and ready her work satchel. Why do you not mention "ready work satchel" in your list of instructions, Small-Visioned Recipe?

Moreover, as your cook peels carrots that appear nowhere on your list of ingredients, she also muses that you underestimated the amount of homework 4th grade teachers like to give on Mondays. Dumb Recipe, you haven't done the math.

Specifically, Challenged Recipe, you have not allotted for the fact that a boy named Benito dropped a pocketful of change along a maze-like path, and my daughter--some sort of good Samaritan on a two-wheeler--needs to help him recollect it all, adding up his potential loss along the way.

Speaking of being lost, did I add the vanilla yet to you, Precious Recipe? I'm no longer certain, but assuage my feelings of confusion with the knowledge that Benito has regained his lost change and now has enough to go buy wasabi almonds at the Chug 'N Munch.

Oh, and Benito? When you're done, feel free to toss your wrapper into the trash. While the chocolate melts for the hot fudge sauce, I'm emptying garbage cans from around the house and compiling the recycling for its Tuesday pick-up.

The baking soda only went missing for a few minutes during the Recycling Phase of you, O Recipe.

Ultimately, once my salad was made, and Benito had a full tummy, and the karate uniform was again pristine,

Hot Fudge was born.

The labor had been long and difficult, but the fudge was dark;

the pastries were puffy.

Ultimately, it all came together like a dream. Groom felt properly honored, and we all needed napkins.

Of course, the real celebrating began after we'd put you to bed, Loyal Recipe,

and we took considerably less than 24 minutes to suck down your Urban Cousin: Surly Darkness, an imperial stout without compare.

When it hit our bellies, we sat


pulling the air into our lungs slowly

gazing out the window into the night

watching things blow in the wind.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

"Juicy Fruit"

Scroogey McSkinTheReindeer here.

It's that time of the year again. Sumpin' about jolly and holly.

Not this grouch's vibe. Nor is Kill The Turkeys day.

In trying to put a finger on why the holidays make me want to carve a cave into the side of Wal-Mart using my bare hands and then climb inside toting a headlamp, a Scrabble board, and a machete before rolling an SUV in front of the opening, I can come up with a few reasons:

--it's the end of the semester, which means it's all I can do to peel students off the walls and grade their lackluster work (why can't they pour all that adrenaline into their writing?); by this time next week, when cultural pressures are smashing me into an undecorated pine tree, telling me to crank out some homemade gifts, and urging me to create a sense of tradition that will one day inspire nostalgia in my children, I'll be facing a whole new stack of 100 essays that need grading before the next stack comes in the following week. I tell you: before I started the college teaching gig, it never had occurred to me that the end of the semester makes teachers completely whack, just as it does students;

--I already want to add three additional hours to each day, just so I can sit down more and read or write or talk to someone. The time crunch makes me NOT want to spend hours using Scotch tape and wrapping paper to "hide" presents when I know that same paper and tape will be ripped off in 5 seconds flat and crumpled into a ball that I later have to retrieve in its wadded form from under the couch. A week after that, I'll still be scraping tape remnants out of the carpet. Three weeks after that, I'll be crawling around the floor, picking up pine needles. Four weeks after that, I'll carry the damn ornaments back down to the basement. Sometimes people have mentioned that I don't really seem to make phone calls. Let's thank Christmas for that;

--Any of the time or money that is put into holiday efforts--from shopping to washing up after a big meal to laundering the dirty table cloth--would feel better spent on a family trip somewhere, preferably a trip that sees me looking at art, running on a trail, and reading;

--I realize now, more and more, that I never much enjoyed holidays as a kid. Something there was always hollow. Flat. Contrived. (kind of like my parents' marriage, which took thirty more years to come clean!).

Clearly, I am a holiday pisser of the highest order.

What became again apparent to me last week, however, was this:

I can't blame my dislike of the holidays on family. While some dread get togethers because of tensions, fighting, drinking, passive/aggressive-ing,

I have lucked out. Because my husband's family lives in our state, and none of my family immediate members does, we see my in-laws the most. And they are awesome. Seriously, if you offered me a thousand bucks to come up with a single complaint about my mother-in-law, I'd have to congratulate you on your good fortune at keeping that thousand bucks in your tight little wallet.

My husband's parents, sister and her partner, grandparents, aunt and uncle, and cousins all live in the same town. To a number, they are the best people I've ever known.

They are so engaged and attentive and deliberate and thoughtful that I almost feel bad about wanting to go scratch out my Wal-Mart cave. In fact, I'm so near to feeling bad about it that I'd be glad to write them a card detailing my regrets as I squat there in Ye Olde Wal-Mart cave, if only the postal service would grant me a zip code and thereby allow me the return address required on mailings.

What I would tell them is this: if all the fuss and bother would go away, and only they were left behind, that would feel like a celebration, and no one would have to do dishes for an hour afterwards.

This photo sums up perfectly how killer In-Law Family is:

That's Ben, my sister-in-law's partner. They have an organic farm, which supplies kale and beets to locals in the form of CSA (community-supported agriculture) shares, supplies the co-op in town with cabbages and squash, supplies the residential colleges with tomatoes and spinach. In this photo, Ben (who's also a trained yoga instructor) is doing a headstand amongst the seedlings in their hoop house.

I could stop right there, as I'm certain you have already grasped how un-hate-able this family is.

'Cause a headstand in a hoop house is my idea of a party trick (much better than the time when I tried sticking a little pinch of chew between my cheek and gum while having cocktails and then swallowed a gullet-full of the Skoal and had to go puke in the lilacs. I'm a whole different kind of charmer than Headstanding Ben).

In case your jury is still out, I next submit this photo, in which my father-in-law pushes Paco on a swing they made out in the woods. Like his mother, Paco can be a little crabby sometimes...but never on a homemade swing in the woods with Grandpa pushing him.

Maybe I need a holiday swing in the woods, and then I'd be able to hesh up.

But wait: I've got more evidence of this Crew of In-Laws' excellence. Last week, a couple of days after Thanksgiving, Ben and Erin (my sister-in-law) hauled their cider press from the farm out to my in-laws' house, so we could pitch together our Northern apples with their Southern-er apples and make cider.

Cider pressing is a process of control and violence, and seeing those apples get decimated whittled the edges off my sulkies.

Even when Paco doesn't have an ear infection, he likes a Pajama Day. But for SURE he needs to go commando and sport an elastic waistband when he's running a fever. And for SURE pajamas are required when he gets to crank fruit into pulp (although one does worry about going commando around the masher; Boy Bits could flop in by mistake). Alternate cranking uniform: a vigorously polka-dotted hat.

Bye-bye, crabbies (both the apples and my mood).

Paco and Girl, rockin' the juice.

The man in the hairy sweater is Groom. I look at this photo and think, "GAWD, I canNOT even believe I have a crush on a man in a hairy sweater." Then I remember I brought him that hairy sweater from Iceland, a trip that took place in midsummer, during 24-hours of light, which consequently messed up my biological clock and resulted--surprise!--in the girl in the polka-dot hat. So hell yea, he should wear that sweater. Without it, I'd still be a virgin.

Or whatever.

The Result of My Trip to Iceland and the Pajama Kid have taken to making up choreographed dances that they can trot out at any moment. I appreciate this a great deal, as Groom has always maintained that musicals are silly because people don't just randomly break into song and dance in the real world.

In. your. face. Groom. Lighten up and sing "I Feel Pretty" already. Give us a twirl.

Ultimately, crabbies turn to mash turn to pulp turn to juice

and the press lets loose its bladder.

Rallying in the face of such incontinence, I concede that holidays have their moments. As far as what my children will take into the future with them when they wax nostalgic, I can only hope their memories include the phrase,

"Remember the year we drank apple pee?"