Creepy Crawlies in my Closet

The other day when I went into my closet to get dressed, I was greeted by one of these hanging out on the wall. A nice, big ‘un. Now, as a rule, I’m pretty sturdy when it comes to bugs. I don’t love them, and they are not welcome in my house, but these things totally creep me out.

As a child, when my (older) brother wanted to examine a critter, he would get me to pick it up so he could have a closer look. (This, according to my mother.) I kind of enjoy watching a caterpillar crawl around on my hand. Snakes are OK too. There are only two kinds of poisonous snakes around here, and I know what those look like, so I was the one Mom would call when she’d find a garter snake in the garden. I’d pick it up and move it to neutral territory.

In high school, while hanging out with other geeks in the biology room, I used to take the snakes out of their cages and play with them. Once, while in a joint lecture with another biology class, one of those snakes managed to somehow escape its tank and make its way all the way down the hall to the lecture room. The teacher picked it up and put it in a trash can to keep it out of trouble until class was over. So many of the girls were freaking out over it that he picked the snake up and handed it to me so I could take it back to its tank. I think half the girls fainted, and maybe a couple of the boys.

All that to say I’m pretty sure these particular bugs, known as house centipedes, are evil. They like dark, dank places, and they skitter away when the light shines on them. (Except for the brave one in my closet, who nicely stayed put while I ran for a Kleenex to squish him with.) I am absolutely certain that one ran across my neck once when I was sleeping. What does this say about the state of my closet? Small as it is, there’s a big ol’ window in there and I’m going to go with the theory that it came in through there to get out of the rain.

Now that I’ve read up a little on them, however, I guess I’ll need to dial back my vitriol a little. It seems they eat things like roaches and spiders. But I’m still going to squish them if I see them in my house. The roaches and spiders too.

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Keyboard Players Don’t Get No Respect

I just finished watching the Newsboys YouTube video God’s Not Dead and I noticed, like in most other music videos I watch, they don’t show much of the keyboard player. You might get a glimpse now and then, but mostly you can just see them in the background somewhere.

While it can be irritating when I’m watching to try to learn a song and I want to see what the keyboard is doing, I can understand why they don’t show them much. The drummer gets to wail away with his sticks, the guitarists get to strum and swing their guitars around, the singers can dance around and raise their hands, even the bass guitarist gets to move a little if he wants to. But what can the keyboard player do? More often than not, he is standing there (or sitting, in my case) holding a chord down. If things are really jumping, he might be moving his fingers a little. Oooooo.

For those who don’t know, I’ve played piano or keyboard at church for probably 27 years (with a couple of years off when my firstborn came along). How I got into that with little or no musical training is another story. For a while I played standing up – by the end of the service I would have cramps from standing on one foot while using the foot pedal with the other. Even then, other than bopping up and down a little, there’s not much you can do when you’re attached to a stationary object at three points.

On our church’s worship team, I am the old lady. The trumpet player is four or five years younger than me (we went to the same high school, not that it matters). Everybody else is in their twenties or early thirties. I have friends younger than me who are grandparents. I’m pretty sure nobody wants to see a fat old(er) woman jumping around on stage. And it would probably be dangerous since I’m kind of a klutz.

I’ll be the first to admit that my musical skills are limited, but even I can do a little better than to hold a chord now and then. Granted, sometimes what’s called for is to just hold a single note, or even not to play at all. We all need to be sensitive to what’s going on in the service.

I also have to admit that it can be a blast to play with these talented young guys. Still, why do the guitarists and percussionists get to have all the fun? Maybe that’s why accordions were invented. No, not going there.

In “modern” churches we seem to have this need to put the musicians up front, then claim that it’s not a performance. In the churches where I grew up, the organist and choir were in a loft in the back of the sanctuary. I like that. After all, it’s not the worshippers we’re supposed to be focusing on, it’s the worshipee.

I guess having the worship leaders in front of the crowd does have some Biblical basis – after all, God often put the singers, players, and dancers in the front of the parade. People like having someone to follow. And if that makes it easier for someone to enter in to worship the living God, I’ll continue to sit up front, and remember to smile, and lift my hands up now and then, while the others do their part.

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Icicles and Sauerkraut

When my writer-daughter mentioned the other night that she had put up a new post on her blog, I realized that I haven’t posted anything for about two weeks. (News met with mild disapproval from said daughter.) Why is it that I can think of all sorts of wonderful topics when I’m in the shower, but not so much when I’m in front of my laptop?

For a while I though of talking about the icicles that are forming on our roof. I’m looking at a four footer right outside the window now. But then, what can you say about icicles? They’re pretty when the sun hits them. The ones on the west side of the house kind of glow in the sunset. They can be fun to play with, but they can also be dangerous – I tend to scoot past the eaves of the house when going in and out at this time of year.

Writer-daughter suggested I talk about the variety of dinners that I make. I hesitate to jump into the food blogging fray, but I do enjoy a good kitchen adventure. According to my friends and family I am a very good cook. Not to say I don’t have my flops (there was the hamburgers turned hockey pucks incident for example) but successes far outweigh the flops.

That night I had made pork chops and sauerkraut in my iron skillet. Since the sauerkraut was covering up the pork chops, the family had no idea what was for supper when they sat down to eat. They said grace anyway, followed by a common question: “was this a recipe?”

“Of coarse not.”

I have to admit that I haven’t mastered pork chops. They always seem to come out a little tough and overcooked. These weren’t so bad. I browned them quick, then piled the sauerkraut and onions on top with a little water, and stuck them in the oven to finish.

More often than not, when I do cook from a recipe, I don’t really follow it. That conversation usually goes something like, “was this from a recipe?”

“Well, yes. Except…”

I also don’t make a lot of repeats. There are a few standards that I make more or less the same every time: chili, potato salad, spaghetti sauce, whole-wheat bread, pizza, macaroni and cheese.

A long time ago I discovered that making up a menu, even just a week in advance, is a waste of time for our household. I often don’t know who’s going to be around for dinner as I’m beginning to cook. Things just change too much and food was being wasted. So what I do is how I operate in almost everything – I gather ingredients to keep on hand (or paints, or craft supplies, or yarn) and pull dinner together according to our mood and circumstances. It usually works.

I’ve been having a hard time figuring out how to wrap up this post. I’ll end with this: omurice. After watching Rooftop Prince (see What is it About Foreign Films?) in which the characters love to eat omurice, I found some recipes on the internet and fixed it for our Valentine’s Day dinner. It’s basically fried rice seasoned with ketchup, covered with a thin round of scrambled egg, and garnished with more ketchup.

I haven’t put ketchup on scrambled eggs since I was about five years old, but this was pretty good. Three out of six went for seconds, if that tells you anything. It’s also fun to make. You make something like a crepe with the egg, slide it into a bowl, plop the fried rice filling in there, then flip it over onto a plate. You tuck the edges under so you have a nice little package, then decorate it with ketchup.

The recipes I referenced are here: http://www.trifood.com/omurice.asp, and here: http://mykoreankitchen.com/2007/04/30/omelet-rice-omurice/.

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I’ve Got a Song in My… Head

Most every morning I wake up with one tune or another running through my mind. The other day it was, of all things, I’ve Got You Babe, by Sonny and Cher. Where it came from, I have no idea, but later in the day it was the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. This got me to thinking about some of the songs that ring from my past.

When I was in grammar school, we used to have a record player going during lunch in the cafeteria. (It wasn’t a boom box, or even a stereo – it was a record player.) A few of the students lent the use of their collections of 45′s to keep us all entertained. 45′s, for those who don’t know, were vinyl disks with a single song on each side. One could go into any Five and Dime and find a display of the top 100 “hits” of that week, determined in some magical way (presumably sales) by the local music station, in our case WABC. I also listened on the little transistor radio my grandfather gave me one Christmas when he felt sorry for me because I was sick on Christmas day.

The tunes we listened to were disparagingly called bubble-gum music by my more “sophisticated” older brother. There were songs like Jam up and Jelly Tight, with words like “yummy, yummy, yummy I’ve got love in my tummy”; Love is Blue: “Blue, blue, my world is blue. Blue is my world now I’m without you”; Macarthur Park: “Someone left the cake out in the rain… I don’t think that I can take it, ‘Cause it took so long to bake it, And I’ll never have that recipe again, oh noooooo”; I’m a Believer by the Monkeys; They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!, and Wipeout.

I had a cardboard case for keeping  my collection – I still have it somewhere. If it wasn’t 10 degrees outside I would go dig around in the garage for it. It’s a rather paltry collection as I didn’t have a lot of spending money to throw around in those days. (Some things never change.)

During our last weeks in that school, our music teacher had us listening to some of those songs, and we had a great time being embarrassed and laughing at ourselves. We sang If I Had a Hammer, and Blowin’ in the Wind at our eighth grade graduation, accompanied by me and my friend Karyn on guitars. Don’t be too hard on us – our teachers picked them.

I stopped listening to so much popular music in high school, and switched to Christian pop, but those early songs, silly as they may be, represent an innocent, pleasant time of life. Therefore I’m not altogether unhappy when one of them comes to mind.

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Daisy

Two cats sit side by side, one big and gray, the other small and white with black and brown spots. Their tales swish back and forth in companionable unison; Daisy, the smaller, younger cat, imitates her wiser, older, (and fatter) friend. Things between them have not always been so easy. In fact, when the older cat had been introduced to the household, he had been quite fearful and hid behind the couch until their human dragged him out and made him face his fears – Held down by the scruff of their necks and face to face until they figured it out.

Daisy looks over at her companion with a decidedly star-struck look. Do female cats bat their eyelashes at male cats? Daisy is smitten, and her visitor is happy to let her be. Sometimes they play tag, with Daisy doing most of the tagging until her friend tires of the game. He is surprisingly agile for such a fat cat. Sometimes when Daisy is ready to pounce he jumps straight up in the air, and she flies right under him. He has discovered that Daisy hates to have anyone touch her forehead, so when he is done playing he reaches up and pats her there. She goes off in a huff.

A few weeks later and the visitor’s humans are home from their trip. Poor Daisy is a single cat again. She looks for him, and cries in that funny, scratchy meow that she has. All she has are her memories, for as long as a cat remembers such things. Soon, she is content to be with her humans.

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What is it About Foreign Films?

Dan and I have taken to watching lots of foreign movies and TV shows lately. It started with some Bollywood films (the Indian version of Hollywood, for the uninitiated). We watched a few we really enjoyed, then got some more recommendations from a couple of Indian friends. We’ve watched enough of them that we’re starting to recognize some of the actors (even if we can’t pronounce their names). More recently we have found some Korean shows we really enjoy. We even did a marathon of sorts to finish a series because we got so caught up in the story.

Since I have some hearing loss, we are used to having closed captions on when they are available (hear me Netflix?) so using subtitles wasn’t a big jump. One of the funny things we found, though, in Bollywood films anyway, is that the actors often throw in English phrases and sentences. When we asked an Indian friend about this, she said that some things are just easier to say in English than in Hindi. Go figure. Still, sometimes you have to read pretty fast, and you can’t exactly be doing something else while having a show on in the background.

Anyway, I got to wondering why we find these shows so appealing. For one thing, they don’t tend to take themselves too seriously. What American film have you watched recently that wound up the story with a big dance number? (Slum Dog Millionaire doesn’t count.) When was the last time the hero in a (new) movie you were watching broke out in song? The stories are campy and predictable, but they present cultures completely different than we’re used to, albeit we recognize that entertainment media might be just a little bit slanted. They don’t try to teach me anything – they simply entertain, and that is very refreshing.

One more thing: because we can’t really do anything else while watching these shows, like sitting with our separate digital devices, or even doing hobbywork, all that’s left is for us to sit next to each other and hold hands or cuddle.

Here’s a short list of some of the movies and shows we’ve enjoyed:

  • Babette’s Feast (Danish): our first. An interesting study in human character.
  • Eat, Drink, Man, Woman (Chinese): It’s funny how many of the films we like revolve around food.
  • Outsourced (English/Hindi): not really “foreign”, but showing a lot of Indian culture. A very American businessman thrown into Indian life.
  • Jab We Met (Hindi): A very un-serious romance
  • Pasta (Korean): Like I said, food – with an endearingly persistent female protagonist. “Yes, chef.”
  • The Great Doctor (Korean): Serious and funny at the same time. Set in Medieval Korea, with wonderfully detailed costumes and sets, and lots of interesting characters.
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New Years, Fresh Starts

The holidays are officially over. NaNoWriMo is done: I didn’t win – I only got to 20,000 words or so, but I’ve got lots of material to mine for this blog. Our semi-annual trip to the mid-west is complete: even though we went earlier this year to avoid severe weather, we still wound up coming home a day early to avoid a winter storm. Christmas has been wrapped, sent, unwrapped, and put away: except for the tree and decorations, they’re still up. And the cookies – we still have plenty of cookies. And the New Year has been celebrated and welcomed in.

Our Christmas celebration experienced a minor glitch when both of our debit cards were compromised. We made the mistake of shopping at Target for the first time in years, and Dan’s card was one of the 40 million that were exposed to fraud, so his card was cancelled and we had to wait for them to send a new one. Then, while going through our account looking for possible problems, we found a $151 charge to my card that we didn’t make. So that card was also cancelled. Two days before Christmas. It all has been an interesting exercise in learning just how much we have come to depend on those cards. (I had to pay for my groceries with a check, of all things.)

Just so you know, the company that was party to the fraudulent charge on my card was Beach Body. They refused to do anything about it, and just said we needed to file a report with the police. Fortunately for us, our bank is more honest – they have refunded us the money and are pursuing the matter. There was also a fraudulent charge to Staples, but they caught it themselves and refunded the money within days.

Then, this morning I woke up with a burning desire to make a cheese souffle. Go figure. I’ve never made a souffle before, but the chef at the convalescent home where I worked many years ago used to make them. Well, now I have made one; and it turned out very well, thank you very much.

Now we’re hunkering down for the next winter storm that will be coming through tomorrow. I’ve got two cartons of milk keeping cold out on my front porch, along with the cookies and a few other things that won’t fit into my refrigerator, and I make my own bread, so I’m good there. But I’m out of cheddar cheese. Oh dear.

Here’s to 2014.

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NaNoWriMo Interuptus

I am sure that my readers have been wondering where I’ve been – let me put all three of your minds at ease. Against my better judgement, my daughter-who-loves-writing-more-than-almost-anything has convinced me to participate once again in the National Novel Writing Month, fondly known as NaNoWriMo. (Because saying National Novel Writing Month all the time just gets old.)

NaNoWriMo is a challange to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, during the month of November. People from all over the world participate – you can even buy t-shirts. I tried last year, and came up short. I only got up to 22,386. My story was fun, but my characters were boring. This year I’m doing more of a memoir, so if my “characters” are boring, that’s just too bad.

The good news is, I’ll have plenty of material to work with for my blog when I’m done. Meanwhile I’ll be working at cranking out 1,667 words per day, so I probably won’t be posting much.

 

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It’s a Sign(ing)

I went to my first book signing yesterday. What sort of book, you ask? The latest novel? Political exposé? No, silly. A cookbook, of course! Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman herself, was coming to promote her latest tome at a Barnes & Noble 35 minutes from my home, and I just couldn’t resist.

My cookbook purchases have necessarily been cut way back – I’ve run out of places to put them. But still, every now and then a new one comes out that screams, “buy, me!” and my kind and generous husband lets me indulge. (To be fair, he does benefit at dinner time.) And lest you think he keeps a grip on the purse strings, magnanimously doling out cash according to his whim, the permission-to-spend thing goes both ways. In fact, he’s much stingier with himself.

Anyway, since the aforementioned bookstore is in parts East (read: very urbanized, congested, confusing…) my kind and generous husband agreed to drive there with me. Making a wrong turn, or missing an exit while heading off in that direction can have you winding up in Secaucus, an hour out of your way and still not knowing quite how to get home. Ask me how I know this.

Back to the signing. As my out-of-state in-laws have noted, when you ask someone from New Jersey how far it is to a given destination, they will respond in terms of time, rather than distance, usually preceded by questioning the time of day and which direction you’re headed. We were headed east during the evening rush hour, so we made pretty good time and arrived at the bookstore just after five.

The bookstore, I have to say, was very well organized. I think they’ve done this once or twice before. There was a person right by the stacks of The Pioneer Woman Cooks a Year of Holidays and Charlie and the Christmas Kitty to explain the process. We were to buy our book and get a wristband for entry, then wait upstairs. So we made our purchase, got our wristbands, and went upstairs to get in line behind the 200 or so people that got there before us.

Since there was such a crowd, with an hour yet before the event was set to begin, Dan decided to give up his seat and spend the time perusing the computer and science sections (which were, by the way, abysmally small). He’s very considerate that way.

They finally started letting us in (I was seated at about 5:40), very carefully making sure each row was full, “walk all the way down to the end”, before letting more folks in. At six o’clock they were still seating people. There were 320 chairs set up, and they had to bring more in.

We all waited with bated breath, cameras ready, focused on the door in the front right corner of the room. The staff teased us mercilessly by coming in and out of there numerous times. I finally caught a glimpse of that fabulous red hair leaning over a table writing something. A minute or two later, one of the staff came in and placed an autographed poster in one of the many frames that were around the room.

P1010034(Sorry it’s blurry.)P1010035

It wasn’t too much longer before Ree made her entrance. She apologized for being about 20 minutes late. Apparently the traffic caught her off guard. We’re from New Jersey, Ree. We get it about the traffic!

Ree gave about a 45 minute presentation, showing some of her beautiful photos, and some of her not so beautiful ones. She gave a history of her blog, and how she got into doing the recipes, the books, and the TV show. It was fun. She was delightful. You don’t see a lot of women wearing cowboy boots in these parts.

After her presentation she sat down under that poster and started signing books. It was very orderly – first in, first out – they did one row at a time, and the good news is you got to sit until it was your row’s turn. Keep in mind that those 200 people (well, 195 to be more precise) were still in front of me. She chatted with each and every one, and posed for a picture with everybody.

There were several staff around, I’ll call them the enforcers, who kept things moving: queuing the rows, snapping pictures, making sure everybody knew what to do. They even came around with post-it notes and wrote down what you wanted her to say in your book. All Ree had to do was open it to the predetermined page and look at the note – no misunderstandings or misspelling. I counted about a minute and a half per group of two or three.

The crowd was very pleasant. There were a number of very well behaved kids and babies there. A little girl, maybe four years old was in the row in front of me. She was so excited when their turn finally came. (Keep in mind that there were 162 people in front of her.) She was jumping up and down, and gave Ree a big hug.

At some point I waved Dan into the room and he came in and waited with me. The seats next to me had been abandonded by a mom with a cute little baby – she spent most of the time in the back corner keeping her entertained.

Our turn finally came a little after nine. Dan took the pictures while I went up. Ree was still smiling and chatty after all those people (with at least 130 more behind me).  Since there were two of us I figure we should’ve had at least 60 seconds. We got maybe half of that. The enforcers couldn’t get us out through the door fast enough. They were the only negative of the whole evening, and even they were smiling.

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It Slices, It Dices

Our refrigerator is still limping along (see: Random Laundry Rant), but our old mixer/blender/food processor/juicer finally gave up the ghost. It was an Oster Kitchen Center and it could perform any of those functions depending on the attachment you used. It had stopped being a mixer a while back – the motor no longer had the oomph to run it. But the blender still worked. Until a few days ago.

A while back I made off with my grandmother’s KitchenAid mixer that was stored in Mom’s basement, and it moved further up in life when my bread machine started spewing smoke. With the demise of the bread machine the mixer no longer resides in my basement to be lugged upstairs when called for, but has a place on my rather crowded kitchen counter. Both the Oster and the bread machine were over 20 years old. They served me well and deserve their retirement.

Now I have a brand-y new blender sitting in the Oster’s place. To be fair, I don’t think it slices, or dices, but I’m looking forward to finding out what it does do. So far we’ve made smoothies and soup. According to America’s Test Kitchen it should serve marvelously. (I got the cheaper winner. Even if I could have justified the expense, the more expensive model wouldn’t fit under my cabinets.)

There was a bit of a learning curve to make bread in the KitchenAid. I was used to taking the dough out of the bread machine and baking it in the oven – my model made those funky round loaves – and using the mixer is a tiny bit more involved than “dump in the ingredients and set the timer”. I can still only make one loaf at a time this way, mine is the smaller model – not great for bulky recipes, but much better for fitting into my kitchen.

A million years ago, when I was working as a housekeeper in a convalescent home, the head housekeeper’s assistant once said to me, “I bet you never thought you would get excited about a new mop.” (She was right.) Now I’m excited about a not-so-new mixer and a new blender that promise to make my life in the kitchen more pleasant. Who knew?

Oh, yes. And now my kitty has a new box.

2013-10-23 Goldie-in-the-box

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