Saturday, October 7, 2017

More than just hitting the hot light

There are times when it can be difficult to think of what to write about. After all, not every moment of my life is chock full of fascinating events. This past week, however, my column was handed to me in the form of a gooey, glazed donut. Krispy Kreme came to town.

The first of its kind in the state of Maine, the “hot light” indicating the delivery of a warm, fresh batch of donuts was scheduled to light up at 6 a.m. Tuesday, October 3. I drove by Monday morning just to see how crazy – I mean dedicated – Krispy Kreme fans could be. There were already a few vehicles in the parking lot. I found out later in the day that the first customer, Alice, arrived at 3 a.m. to secure her spot, her adult daughter Amanda snagging the number two spot.

Out of curiosity, at the end of the day I paid a visit to those who had decided to camp out overnight. Already waiting customers were being entertained by a band. This place knows how to take care of its loyal fans.

What fascinated me was that most of the folks I spoke to had never even tasted a Krispy Kreme donut, but they knew someone who did.  Yet there they were with blankets and sleeping bags, ready to rough it on the ground of a cold parking lot (no cars were allowed). Temps were heading for the low 40s later that night.

The first person in line will receive one dozen donuts a week for a year, while the next 99 get a dozen donuts a month. That’s a pretty good incentive for hanging out all night, but Alice – Customer Number One – had a better one. Her coveted position at the head of the line guaranteed that she would hit the hot light for the first time on Tuesday morning.

All of this talking about such dedication made me think about donuts. Then it made me think about lines, and what I would be willing to wait in line for. At my age, if there isn’t a restroom in the immediate vicinity, all bets are off. But in the past, I’ve done my share of waiting in line, as I’m sure many of you have.

Back in the olden days, otherwise known as my teen years, I waited in line for concert tickets at the mall. There was no ordering online then. You were at the mercy of the mall hours and you usually had to bring a friend so your place in line was safe if you needed to step away for a few minutes.

I’ve never waited in line to get a much-desired Christmas present, though I have been laughed at by a store clerk when I asked if they had a toy that was long ago wrestled off the shelves.
As close as I've gotten so far

This particular day wasn’t just about waiting in line for a donut. Just a few years ago, the first two people in line at Krispy Kreme – mother and daughter – might have never had the chance to share this crazy experience. As a pregnant teen, Alice had given her baby, born on Christmas day, up for adoption. It will be four years this Christmas since Alice and Amanda were reunited for the first time in close to three decades. It struck me chatting with them that they may have been strangers until just recently, but the smiles on their faces and their obvious, natural bond made little moments like the opening of a donut shop pretty special for them.

I watched Krispy Kreme’s opening on the news Tuesday morning instead of choosing to stand in the line that snaked around the parking lot for my first taste of donuty decadence, but I’m glad I stopped by the day before to find out what brought people out. You never know what you might learn when you ask what motivates someone to wait in line. I hope hitting Krispy Kreme’s hot light will be a mother-daughter moment that Alice and Amanda can smile about for many years to come.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

What's that cat catching now?

WARNING: If you believe cats should not be allowed outside, you may take offense to this post (as one reader did when it ran as my weekly column in the local newspaper). We choose to let our cats outside, mostly to save our furniture (not that it's that nice... in fact, I really want a new sofa. Oh right, cats...) and because the cat that is the main subject of this post tends vengefully find something to pee on if we don't. Okay, that's the disclaimer. I think.

One morning last week I was getting ready for work when I realized Spouse was in our backyard, slowly circling our fire pit in pursuit of a terrified, fleeing chipmunk. He was trying to convince the little critter to climb into a peanut butter jar. The poor little thing’s heart must have been fluttering a million miles a minute, thanks to his (or her) near fatal altercation moments before with a great big, furry bully - Second Born’s cat, Sophie.

Sophie, a short-hair tuxedo cat, is a top notch, stealth hunter. We spend a lot of time checking her mouth before we allow her to enter the house. We learned that lesson the hard way, after three mice, a chipmunk, and - almost - a bird entered our house via the cat’s jaw.

Sophie the hunter, resting up.
It is a cat’s instinct to provide us, her surrogate family, with a donation to the table… not that any of those ‘presents’ are going to end up on my table. Even though she is catered to with canned and dry food, not to mention spoiled with extra treats, it isn’t enough to assuage her instincts. We can’t get mad at her for doing what comes naturally, but we’ve adjusted to her varying meows. Some are simply meant to signal that she wants to come inside, while others are slightly muffled with a struggling (or stifled) woodland creature.

A while back, we were baffled at how Sophie was catching birds. After all, they fly – she can’t… at least not that we are aware of. One day we witnessed her stalking the birdfeeders Spouse had attached to a backyard tree, then pull a high jump that would any Olympian would envy, and snatch a poor, unsuspecting bird out of the air.

Spouse moved the bird feeders higher up in the tree. Now we have no idea how she’s getting her flying fix – perhaps jumping off the garage roof.

Sophie has not tackled a squirrel yet, thankfully. I’m sure she would not come out on the winning end of that particular pursuit. Mice and chipmunks are constantly on her hunting radar, and their little corpses are constantly being tossed into our driveway for us to find at the end of our workday, or even before we have our Saturday mug of coffee.

It’s important to remember that dogs have owners and cats have staff. When a dog does something that fails to meet the approval of his person, he will tuck tail and hide in a corner, muddled with shame and confusion. Cats have no shame and, in fact, act the opposite of confused. When Sophie was shoved inside the house while Spouse tried to convince the chipmunk that a peanut butter jar would be a safe haven, she stood at the kitchen door with ears back and tail swishing. This is what is known as her “If you don’t let me back out, I may pee in an undesirable area” stance.

Spouse can be incredibly patient, but I didn’t hold much stock in his method of saving this little chipmunk. I had gone back to getting ready for work when I heard, “Got him.” What? He caught this tiny, lightning fast animal with a peanut butter jar? He had indeed, then deposited it back into the woods.

The chipmunk lived to frolic another day, I hope. Sophie was eventually let back out, and within a half hour had delivered a bird to the driveway. We had a cat once that brought home a garden snake and left it under our bed, so maybe mice, chipmunks, and birds aren’t that bad… except maybe to the mice, chipmunks, and birds.

For a cat who is affectionate and sweet, loves to rub her face against yours, and whose purr rivals the sound of a boat motor, you may not suspect that Sophie has a less gentle, more ninja-like side. But she has us wrapped around her little paw, even as we groan at her offerings. We can’t help but love her and also be fascinated, in an occasionally grossed out way, by her many feline facets.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Blanket weather is the best

You might hate me for saying this, but I am a happy camper since the temps dipped. Blanket weather is my favorite season. You can’t beat days where the thermometer doesn’t slip above 70 and you can sleep curled up under warm covers with the windows still open at night. Admittedly, not everybody in my family has the same affinity for fall.

While the Love Couple was visiting us last month from Atlanta, the weather was too close to home – theirs. They were comfortable, I was cranky. I didn’t move to Maine for this 80-plus degree business.

It’s not that I enjoy shoveling the white stuff to come. In fact, Spouse and I are both dreading the winter, mostly because we have ten years before retirement when we can just stay inside and not care about the weather. The Farmer’s Almanac is no help, with its “snowier-than-normal” forecast for the Northeast. Still, at night it is heaven to use a blanket and no ceiling fan. Humidity doesn’t bother my mate. He would be perfectly happy with having to mow the lawn over shoveling the… well, you know.

Fortunately, at least one person in this family totally gets my fall weather favoritism. Second Born.

While First Born and The Groom were here last month, my oldest kept a long-sleeved shirt in sight at all times because it was only, you know, 80-something degrees. My son-in-law mentioned that he felt chilly their first night sleeping here. They had t-shirt sheets and two blankets on the bed. Our youngest, however, practically breaks into a sweat thinking about breaking into a sweat. Like me.

This week, at least two of us are in our glory, lounging in yoga pants (I hope you didn’t expect me to use them for yoga) and having valid reasons to pull up that extra blanket at night. Everyone else is moaning about summer ending and temps dropping.

My friend and fellow columnist Michelle Cote (the Rookie Mama) had to battle the worst of southern Maine’s heat in her final week of pregnancy. By the time Number Three was born, he was probably looking for the air conditioning.

Maybe you’re one of us crazies who are good with seeing our breath in the air while enjoying the smell of a campfire. Perhaps you’re fine with putting away the shorts and sandals, and dragging out the sweaters and closed-toe shoes. The first day I wore a sweater to work in August was exhilarating.

The Love Couple has hinted that they’d like to consider relocating back to this area within the next couple of years. I think they should start a separate savings account just to prepare for their heating bill. They’ve also mentioned to Second Born that Atlanta has many job opportunities. Her response – yes, but it also has heat, so No, thank you.

Ready for blanket weather!
Lately, our youngest has taken on a new hobby, one that you might associate with cold weather. She is learning to knit. I’m sure her grandmother, whose many handmade pieces are still used in our home, is smiling in heaven.

The thing about knitting is that it’s essentially preparing for winter. Second Born is already talking blankets and knit caps. She started challenging herself right off the bat with fingerless gloves. She managed to con me into a trip to a local crafts store for a few small items she “needed” to start her projects, with the promise that I will at some point be the recipient of at least one handmade gift.

I know most people are lamenting the loss of hotter temps, and I hope those folks made the most of their summer. For me, the best season begins when I’m sleeping under a mound of covers.

Congratulations and best wishes from this mom to the Cote clan on their newest edition. We are all looking forward to more wonderful columns about their party of five.

P.S. This column appeared in the Journal Tribune in August (timelines have been edited)
, when sun worshippers (as much as you can be a sun worshipper in Maine) weren't worried about it getting chilly any time soon, and are in denial that yesterday was the first day of fall.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The cast iron pan that came to breakfast

My son-in-law is one of a kind - polite, genuine, funny, and wicked smart. His transition into our family was seamless, which says a lot, considering just how crazy we are. He is also, as we have discovered over the last couple of years, an excellent cook. This is a good thing because the other half of The Love Couple – First Born – is not exactly a fan of cooking. You can’t blame it on genetics. I enjoy cooking, even if I do it more out of necessity than an overwhelming passion for it. Spouse will occasionally chip in and make (most of) a meal, but if it’s anything special I am reminded of how good it was for an interminable amount of time. He made spaghetti sauce in 1986 and still talks about it.

Last weekend, The Love Couple paid a visit to Maine and we enjoyed some much-needed family time. During their stay I realized how seriously The Groom takes his cooking. We had experienced a taste of his culinary delights last Thanksgiving in Atlanta. This time he promised to make homemade cornbread and guacamole while here in Maine. I tried to find out ahead of time what ingredients he would need, but he insisted on picking them out himself. Fine, I thought. I can understand that some chefs are quite particular about choosing things like produce and spices. And then --

He brought his own cast iron pan.

That’s correct. Even though I had a cast iron pan that was perfectly good, which he could have used it to make his delectable cornbread, he chose to check a bag at the airport just so he would have his own seasoned cooking vessel. Oh, and he also brought his own special-ordered grits.

We discovered it’s not avocado season when the Groom attempted to make guacamole and almost broke the counter with the bag avocados he purchased (apparently, he wasn't tipped off when he needed a forklift to put them in the cart). While he sputtered over trying to chop up pieces of green rock, Spouse, Second Born and I ran back to the store and found the only five ripe avocados in Maine. The end result was an amazing guacamole that was completely wiped out within hours.

Over the weekend this 50-don't-ask mid-lifer who has been making meals for more than 30 years with considerable success (my lasagna is especially noteworthy), was schooled in the art of seasoning a cast iron pan by a 29-year-old. During this process I felt compelled to admit to several cast iron cookware infractions:

I’ve used soap and a sponge on my pan.

I don’t always dry it immediately after cleaning it.

I have cooked eggs in it. A lot.

In the world of cast iron cookware, these lapses of judgment could end in disaster. My son-in-law wasn’t taking a chance that my pan may not be seasoned properly or the appropriate weight for his cornbread recipe. He was correct - it wasn’t seasoned, but isn’t one cast iron pan the same as the next? Oh no, I learned. Different manufacturers and different eras meant different weights, as faithful cast iron users know. The Groom researched them, read reviews, and eventually found exactly what he wanted on eBay, not Wal-Mart... like some of us may have done.

Because I was never going to get around to it, I took him up on his offer to season my large cast iron pan. This method involves applying and reapplying oil or grease (in this case, bacon grease) to the inside and outside of the pan, then baking it at 375 for about 45 minutes… I think. All right, honestly, I wasn’t fully paying attention except for acknowledging this was the one week in Maine where you did not want to have the oven on for any length of time.

My son-in-law is trusting me to use kosher salt to clean my pans going forward. I didn’t make any promises but it was with a sigh of relief that I unearthed kosher salt in the cabinet, thereby proving that my intentions were good.

I can’t let him down even though technically he showed me up. That cornbread was like a little slice of heaven. I will accept that someone younger can still teach me a few things… but I guarantee I’ll be doing the schooling when it comes to using a lasagna pan.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Please and thank you, Alexa

When First and Second born were being brought up, they knew politeness and respect went a long way in our family. When “Please” was not added to a request and “Thank you” was absent from a kind deed, it was a short trip to the word “No.”

Enter Alexa. Chances are you’ve seen or at least heard commercials (while you were flipping through Facebook) for this “intelligent personal assistant” created by Amazon as another reason to never publish another encyclopedia. Does anyone even publish encyclopedias anymore?

I have a problem with Alexa, or Siri, or any of the smart electronic devices that can recite lyrics to a song with a simple teaser or time your baked goods or order flowers. None of them teach you how to be polite. When is the last time you used “please” when you asked Siri to show you the most direct route to a Thai restaurant? Have you ever thanked Alexa for reminding you about your dentist appointment? Of course not. They don’t require you to use your manners.

Second Born devised a sneaky little method to get around our “please” and “thank you” rules when she was very young. She would ask for something and, with the confidence of an adult who concludes a query letter for a job with “Thank you in advance for your consideration”, Little Miss Smarty Pants concocted her own version. “May I have some ice cream? Please and thank you!”

While this was not exactly the phrasing and emphasis I was going for, I had to acknowledge her clever way of covering all the bases.

So, how are we teaching our kids to ask for things now? We aren’t, at least not with these electronic gadgets that have the answer or solution for almost everything. On a side note, I just had a flashback of my twenties, when I was sure my parents were old because they used phrases like “gadgets” – and here I am. I can almost feel my hair turning white in Second Born’s eyes as she sits across the living room from me.

Back to my point of politeness. Spouse was given an Alexa as a token of appreciation from his work place. Alexa is sitting on our kitchen counter all charged up and ready to answer our questions. In fact, Alexa keeps reminding us how ready she is, if we would just start using the dang smart phone application and ask her some stuff already. I have added a condition to our use of Alexa. We must – and I mean MUST – always say please upon our request, and thank you when Alexa responds.

I have also forbidden Spouse to call Alexa stupid. That’s one of his favorite words when his smart phone or his laptop does something to irritate him. Call me quirky (and I’m all right with that) but I don’t want anything with a name to be degraded. What if it rebelled and stopped working? Mind you, user error is a significant factor, but until my mate admits that sometimes he’s messed up, he is putting us all in jeopardy by being too critical of the electronics we are surrounded with. I, for one, don’t care to end up driving down a dead-end dirt road because my GPS decided we didn’t deserve to find our way home. If you think I’m crazy, do a YouTube search of Dave and Hal from A Space Odyssey.

Am I being too persistent about politeness? Personally, I don’t feel you can be too polite or courteous. So, if you do take advantage of this new technology, use your manners, even if you are talking to an electronic know-it-all. That way you’re less likely to find yourself at a biker bar when you really just wanted Italian.

On a final note, I should apologize for doubting Garth Brooks in the commercial where he asks for a weather update. Alexa really does know that "deep in her heart" the thunder rolls. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

How not to be a turkey

You’re a turkey. Oh, don’t get your feathers all ruffled, we’re just pretending. You and your family or friends make up a flock turkeys. You’ve just stepped out of a wooded area after visiting your favorite pond or bug hunting spot, and you’re about to cross a quiet little road on your way back to your favorite sleeping tree. Yes, turkeys sleep in trees.

You don't stop and look for oncoming traffic because - well, you're a turkey!

But the driver of a car that’s supposed to be doing 25 miles per hour and is rounding the curve at 40 has no idea they are about to cross paths with you. Can anybody win in this scenario?

No.

That’s a heck of a way to start off what is normally a humorous post, I know. There’s nothing funny about a turkey-covered windshield, especially at the moment it happens. In fact, there is really nothing funny about an animal placing themselves in front of a dangerous situation. Even less so, a person. But if you drive, you probably do just that more than once a week.

So, I want everyone to count with me. I’ll go first. One, Two, Three. Your turn.

One. Two. Three.

You may have just saved your life and possibly someone else’s, because almost every day that you drive, you could be first in line at a traffic light. You wait for your turn. Your light turns green. You move forward.

Did you read that carefully? I’ll say it again.

You wait for your turn. Your light turns green. You move forward.

But the other driver is determined to beat the yellow light that’s about to turn red. Or they think they’ll just squeak under the red light.

Or, all too often these days, they JUST KEEP DRIVING long after the light has turned red.

One. Two. Three.

The American Traffic Solutions website recorded that in 2015, two people died every day in red light running crashes. That becomes 60 people dying each month, and that becomes an average of 720 a year. 720 Lives A Year. It starts with two and it doesn’t stop.

Now, here’s a somewhat embarrassing statistic.

In a national telephone survey by the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety, 94 percent of drivers said they believe it is unacceptable to go through a red light if it's possible to stop safely. We won't try to figure out the mindset of the other 6 percent. But the bigger irony? In that same survey, 39 percent reported doing so. In the past 30 days.

Three. Two. One.

Remember, the order doesn’t matter. The time it takes you to count does.

In this great state of Vacationland, reckless driving ramps up during the summer tourist season. Sometimes a driver is following another car and doesn’t want to become separated. Maybe they’re lost, or paying more attention to the GPS, or reading a text, or JUST NOT STOPPING. The reasons don’t matter as much as the devastating result.

Several cities use red light cameras now, and statistics show up to a 40 percent decrease in red light violations. But some cities have removed the cameras amid the backlash from an increase in traffic tickets... shooting the danger level back up by 30 percent.

One. Two. Three.

New England winter driving can be harsh, but it is somewhat predictable. The snow and ice don’t make the decision for you. In summer, a lot of other factors come into play. For instance, a holiday weekend equals more cars, more lost tourists, more impatient drivers not always making the best decisions.

I started with some name calling – or is it turkey calling - to get your attention, but what I really want is to ask a favor of you all. Don’t become a statistic. Please value your own life and others on the road.

I’m asking you to resist running a yellow or red light and avoid making what could be a fatal decision. I’m also asking you to always be aware that another driver just might be making that decision for you.

When the light turns green, before you move forward, count.

One. Two. Three.


Please... don’t be a turkey.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

What's next? Don't ask.

Second Born is officially a college graduate. Her authentic degree arrived in the mail, replacing the fake degree handed to each student at commencement a few weeks ago. So where does she go from here, you ask? Has she been applying for jobs? What type of job is she looking for? Where is she looking? All of these and many more little pop quizzes face the graduate any time she is near another adult. Her response is polite, somewhat practiced at this point, and pointedly vague. She is adept at avoiding the question while convincing the interrogator they know everything by the end of the conversation.

I’ve more or less learned to refrain from asking too much or repeating the same questions within a 48-hour period. Spouse, not so much. He doesn’t query about his own daughter’s progress – he follows up on every one of her closest college friends, from the gaggle of girls she shared living arrangements with during the past four years to the few friends from high school that she still keeps in touch with. It goes something like this.

Spouse: So… does anyone have something lined up yet?

Second Born: Grad One and Four have summer jobs. Grad Two isn’t sure what she wants to do. Grad Five is moving into her apartment next week to be closer to her new dream job. And, well, you know Grad Three.

Do we know Grad Three? I get them all mixed up. It seems like each time Spouse asks (I don’t have to say too much - his curiosity keeps me out of trouble and in the loop), things have switched around. Next thing you know, Grad Four could be opening a tattoo parlor and Grad Three might decide her creative writing major would be more beneficial if she takes a summer course in accounting to better understand why she’ll never make any money with a creative writing major.

Then there are her local friends who have jobs or boyfriends or both. Second Born is just starting to arrange get-togethers so they can catch up and trade stories from their final year of awesome and atrocious professors, wonderful and weird roommates, and endless exams and projects. We usually get a reader’s digest version of these visits.

This question and half-answer game about the others is just a ruse on the part of my occasionally clever husband to give his daughter a chance to clue us in on her next move, figuratively and maybe somewhat literally. But we also meant it when we said she was not expected to be on her own the minute she graduated. That had been her plan until she realized taking a full load her last semester meant that putting her all into the job and location search would have to wait.

Shortly after graduation, Second Born and a carload of The Grads took a road trip to a fellow grad’s graduation party. It was what you could call their last hurrah prior to a lifetime of workdays and responsibilities. She returned just as Spouse and I were set to leave town for a few days to attend the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ conference. That meant she’d have the house to herself for three days – three whole days with nobody asking about her plans or anyone else’s. Heaven.

The right job and location will come. It might not happen overnight – or over several nights – but it will happen. So, to anyone out there who comes across a new college grad, instead of the same old inevitable questions, tell them about your first job, your worst job, your first dumpy apartment, or your own apprehension when it was your turn to enter the workforce. Give them the benefit of your experience and welcome them into the club of uncertainty and not always getting it right the first time. We’ve all been members.

Congratulations to all graduates, from college right down to kindergarten. Remember, first grade is a whole new world... with better scissors.


Friday, June 2, 2017

Bad habits and teeth are hard to break

It was a typical weekday morning. I was eating breakfast at the kitchen table, gluten free waffles and meatless sausage patties, the result of recently shopping at Trader Joe's. As I bit down on a tiny, hard substance I recall thinking, “Hmm… what would be hard in a waffle and a non-meat sausage patty?

Immediately after this thought, one of my bottom front teeth felt strangely rough. I tried scraping off what I believed to be an offending piece of food stuck on the tooth, until it occurred to me that it wasn’t something stuck. It was something missing – the top of my tooth.

Here’s the thing. The minute you realize something in your mouth has changed, you start talking differently. I don’t know if you’d call it a lisp or a slur, but I was definitely compensating for my unhappy incisor. A detour to the dentist before work was obviously in order.

Now, ask yourself, is a dentist’s office a place where you would expect to find a “walk-ins welcome” sign? Absolutely not. But I did just that and I all but begged them to fit me in that day. Despite the business of their waiting room, they took me in for an x-ray and determined that only the top had broken off and could be repaired at the end of the day. I can do that, I figured. It wasn’t like I didn’t have a tooth at all – it was just the top that had broken off.

My tongue, on the other hand, had a different idea. It would not leave that dang tooth alone. No matter how hard I tried to consciously steer it away, my tongue kept gravitating toward the sharpest spot on that tooth until it had developed - to the surprise of no one – an extremely painful sore on the bottom.

During my work day, nobody seemed to have taken much notice of the chunk of missing tooth, my fool tongue was causing the most grief.

I’m a big baby at the dentist, stemming from bad childhood experiences, but this time I didn’t cringe hearing the drill that was smoothing the jagged edges down. It only took a few minutes for things to be packed, patched and polished so that it looked like the rest of my teeth. I had no idea they could make this kind of paste with a coffee stained hue.

This lovely little incident is believed to be the result of a life-long habit of mine - grinding my teeth. It often happens during the night in my sleep, where I don’t have much control (and yes, I’m considering a mouth piece). It also happens in daylight hours when I’m stressing or over thinking, and since the dental debacle I’ve noticed it happens because I seem to have an inexplicable need to tap my bottom front teeth with my top front teeth.

It’s a bad habit. There are others but this one takes the cake, or - in this case - the tooth. At this very moment, I am willing my teeth not to clang together, especially considering the fact that this filled-in spot is only as permanent as I make it by not biting down on anything too hard, and by stopping my own tooth abuse. I’m finding this to be quite the challenge. It’s fairly easy to avoid chomping down on anything that would loosen my dentist’s glorious work, but policing my own grinding is proving to be a challenge. However, becoming a frequent flyer at the dentist is not an option, so awareness will be a priority.

My tongue healed quickly and I am back to biting down, but with some caution. I can tell you this little mishap will not deter me from eating those gluten free waffles and meatless sausage patties.

Sometimes you just have to live dangerously.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Have belly, will dance

A few weeks ago, I took on a new challenge. Ignoring the fact that I don’t dance, sashay, or for that matter balance well, I signed up for a weekly belly dancing class through our local adult education program. Spouse didn’t even snicker when I suggested it. I think he was grateful I had stopped suggesting we take ballroom dancing lessons together. He escaped that one because those dances require high heels, and I’m afraid of heights. You don’t need shoes for belly dancing. I’m in.

Any type of dance can be intense exercise, so for this reason I chose not to tell my body where I was going ahead of time. Let’s head toward the ice cream stand, I told my quivering thighs. We’re just going to satisfy our imaginary craving at the nearest drive-thru, I convinced my wobbly arms. I took a right into the school parking lot and never looked back, except to wonder if the ice cream stand would still be open after class.

Shortly after I entered the classroom a handful of women joined me, most of us somewhere in the middle of middle age. The instructor, however, was anything but middle aged - more like an age between First and Second Born. With her perfect posture and tiny but strong dancer’s body, she could rock the bells off her hip scarf. I had to wonder whether this young whipper snapper could work with us old-ish fogies, but she was wonderfully patient and sweet, and she immediately began teaching us just how to whip and snap our somewhat mushy bodies into belly dancing shape.

Luckily, we are relegated to the school cafeteria for our lessons, which means there are no mirrors typically found in dance studios. I would only be able to stand so much hysterical laughter (which would be coming from me) if I had to watch myself attempt to be graceful. Our instructor stands in front of us and we try to mimic her moves. Of course, when she delicately swirls a leg in the air, I thrust my leg out and instantly grab a chair back so I don’t fall over. As her hips make a figure-eight, mine are going more for a triangle in an attempt to not knock a hip out of joint.

Our instructor has been staying after class, video-taping herself reenacting the lessons each week, and e-mailing them to us so we have the option of practicing before the next class. During the first week, I stood in front of my laptop in our living room before Spouse woke up Saturday morning. I studied the video and attempted to follow her steps. It only took 25 minutes of practice to successfully complete a 50-second routine.

As uncoordinated as I am, there is something freeing about belly dancing. The moves can be close to fluid with a little practice, or with a lot of practice in my case. Hip scarves are provided by our instructor to use during the class, giving us the chance to jingle and jangle when we jiggle. I’ve learned to let my fingers and arms slip smoothly through the air in a gentle lilt. I can protrude my pelvis and shimmy my shoulders right along with the other eager students who are challenging themselves to experiment with this very different kind of movement.

There are two more weeks of lessons to go and I can guarantee you won’t be confusing me with a professional belly dancer any time soon, but I’ll keep practicing. Any dance where you can shake it while shoeless is my kind of dance.

Monday, May 1, 2017

First, we learned how to pronounce quinoa

There is a bag of quinoa on my kitchen counter, you know, the kind you pour from a giant bin into a flimsy plastic bag four times before you hit a pound on the mystery scale. In case you were wondering, I don’t search out quinoa very often. If I had my druthers I’d be buying chocolate chips from those bins. But we’re trying to find some better alternatives to our occasionally questionable food choices.

It took a while to track down the aisle where quinoa and all those other bins of grains and stuff are now hidden since our local supermarket went and renovated. I refuse to refer to those green maps planted around the store. I believe the order should make sense and not be a lesson in futility over finding rice or seltzer water.

The problem is those bags that you pour food into don’t come with directions, and we are less than proficient at preparing unknown substances such as this, though we’ve come a long way since we couldn’t even pronounce quinoa. Come on, you know it looks like quin-OH-uh. The more popular this oddly powerful ingredient became the more we heard it pronounced Keen-wah. I don’t think that pronunciation even makes sense but who am I to argue with health-conscious proponents of this grain-like substance? That’s the other thing – I’ve seen it described as a grain-like substance, the seed from part of a plant, and a seed grain. How many different ways are there to say that it’s not really a grain?

Spouse keeps saying he wants to figure out what to do with the quinoa for breakfast. Anyone who’s been married for more than 30 years knows what he’s really saying is that he wants yours truly to figure out what to do with the quinoa for breakfast. I tried a new recipe last week that included bananas, cinnamon, butter and maple syrup. This led to the discovery that quinoa needs a lot of help to sweeten up. I added brown sugar and extra syrup, and even with that I could see by his dubious expression that it sort of passed as a breakfast food.

The quinoa seed has competition from the chia seed as far as offering health benefits, and it’s certainly easier to pronounce, especially to those of us who grew up with those ch-ch-ch-chia commercials. You’re singing it now, aren’t you. Because I work with people who are vegetarian, vegan or gluten free, I hear a lot about beans, soy, and edamame. Why is health food so hard to pronounce anyway? Does that word look like eddamommay?

The older we get the more conscious we need to be of how to stick around a little longer, especially since they keep making our retirement age higher. But even when we were younger we were exposed to healthier eating, or at least what sounded healthier at the time. I’ll bet Baby Boomers remember the cereal commercials with outdoorsman Euell Gibbons claiming that the taste reminded him of wild hickory nuts. Seriously, I don’t want to eat anything that tastes like a tree. I just want to be alive to enjoy my not-yet-conceived grandchildren.

On my kitchen counter are bags of green lentils and garbanzo beans, which I knew growing up only as chick peas, and already puffed up in a can. I had carefully included these items on my grocery list about a month ago in preparation for an interesting vegetarian dish I had seen on a website or an email or maybe Facebook. That’s the problem. Darned if I can find the recipe I wanted to use this stuff for.

So, if you have a great recipe that I can throw lentils and garbanzo beans into (and don’t have to add chicken to make it flavorful), by all means pass it on. I’m going to just put these bags of beans right back in the kitchen cabinet where they… oooh, look – I just found the last of the Girl Scout cookies.

Now what??

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Final Four

We just passed the four-week mark. It is less than a month until Second Born graduates from college. College? Did I really say that? That's impossible. She was 12 years old last time I looked.

This child has been preparing us for watching her take flight since she came kicking and screaming out of the womb. When she was three years old, "I do it!" was a frequently heard phrase.

Second Born was my rock collector as we walked the beach for as many hours as her little four-year-old feet would carry her. She held her ground during the rough middle school years when friends went through their catty phase. She grew up too fast in many ways when medical reasons kept me from being there as her sounding board in seventh grade, but her spirit, even when bruised, remained strong. She excelled in high school and graduated with honors... and dragged us through 15 campuses during her college search.

I can easily recall a couple of memories that would make her instantly laugh or possibly cringe. When she was six years old and in a summer program, she told visiting firefighters in no uncertain terms that she would NOT be entering their demonstration smoke house. It was around that time that our usually brave, little brown-eyed girl informed us that she was afraid of deep water (i.e., anything over six inches), dark, closed in places and - as previously established - fire. Did I mention this epiphany came during a trip to Disney World? That left the teacups and the Dumbo ride. We also got Mickey and Minnie's autograph at least six times that week.

That spring our little daredevil resurfaced when, during an attempt to jump off the arm of a chair to catch a wayward balloon, she broke her wrist in two places. That shocked the nurse who had asked her if she could move her wrist (she did). She probably should have asked if my child could move her wrist without feeling like it was on fire.

Second Born had her challenges as the kid at home when her sister left for college. She got dish duty and plant watering, and other responsibilities she definitely did not sign up for. I would say the most distasteful of these had to be the weeks she spent coming home to a daily doggy disaster when her sister brought home an abandoned pup from school. Sometimes growing up is far less appealing than you think.

Every parent thinks they’ll have plenty of time to do stuff with their family, that the summer or the holidays will come and life will slow down and we’ll catch up. It doesn’t and we don’t. I swear this child went from asking non-stop questions in the car at four years old to boarding a plane for Budapest where she would turn 21 as a college junior. The expression “Don’t blink” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

This is the child who talked so incessantly at home that we thought her middle school teachers were joking about how quiet she was in class. The one who didn’t touch anything except grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese, pizza and chocolate for the majority of her years. The one who loves tradition and harmonizing to the radio and her cat Sophie.

In less than four weeks, our baby girl will don a cap and gown, hold her diploma and feel all grown up and excited, and maybe a little uncertain about where life will take her. But she will navigate these waters with her usual determination.

Having gone through this with First Born seven years ago, I know graduation day will come and go in a blur, and I know I’m going to cry – that’s inevitable. But under that cap and gown, I will still see a little munchkin with mascara smeared all over her face after raiding my makeup bag. I’ll picture her in a shimmery dance skirt over her t-shirt, her pixie haircut, sitting on our front stoop painting seashells. And I’ll always feel her sweet “I need something” hugs.

Oh yes, some moments you know by heart.