Lyrical Laughs

Sunday, December 27, 2015

I slaved all day over... never mind

The holidays are a time when all my baking supplies get hauled out for one continuous bake-fest. You would swear an archaeological dig was taking place in my kitchen the week before Christmas. Cookie cutters, bowls of various sizes, rolling pins and baking sheets are resurrected for a few weeks. It often goes past New Year’s these days so we can get one last baking bonanza in for Second Born to take cookies back to college.

In the past I have sent Spouse to work with mounds of cookies that are wiped out by coworkers in a matter of hours. I’m not a fancy baker and none of the recipes are that complicated (there was that one year when I was cursing the pretzel antlers for reindeer cookies), but it is something I’ve come to enjoy. This year, however, being away for two weeks just before the holidays messed with getting the cookie baking off the ground.

The week before Christmas I had to provide desserts for two of Spouse’s holiday work parties. Normally that would mean mounds of cookies. Still dragging myself back to reality and out of jet lag, my baking tins stayed buried in the cabinet. I opted instead for a no-bake dessert that never fails to impress.

Since this yummy treat is made with a spring form pan it even looks like I slaved away for hours, when all I did was mix ingredients in a couple of bowls, toss them together and pour the end result in the pan aligned with ladyfingers. It was topped with blueberry pie filling and devoured by the end of the party.

Ladyfingers are the best dessert invention ever, next to angel food cake. Both make perfect bases for easy no-bake desserts. My chocolate pudding trifles, just as easy as the ladyfinger pie, have won rave reviews. I enjoy taking full credit for not breaking a sweat when I’m putting these treats together.
Before anyone accuses me of cheating by not baking – color me guilty as charged. Time got away from me this year and that meant the semi-sweet chocolate chips, powdered sugar, new bottle of vanilla and green food coloring have taken a back seat to the ease of no-bake desserts.

It’s not even the baking that takes up the bulk of the time. It’s the cleaning up. I’m sure someone out there can relate to washing endless amounts of bowls, spoons, baking pans, and cooling racks once the baking is done. There is a delicate balance between cooling the first batch of cookies just enough so you can transfer them to airtight containers and ready the cooling racks for the next batch. I never seem to have enough storage containers to hold all those cookies until I can transfer them to the right size gift-giving containers. I’m exhausted thinking about it and I haven’t even touched on sweeping and mopping the powdered, sugared, chocolate chipped kitchen floor yet.

Since neither daughter is home this year for the holidays I’m sure that’s also had an effect on my baking mojo. Case in point: it is December 22 as of this writing and the artificial tree we borrowed from The Neighbors (neither child was here for the annual examine-every-tree-on-the-tree-farm-before-choosing-one) stands unadorned in front of our living room window. Feel free to weep openly for me right now.

The Love Couple will descend upon our home for a belated family Christmas right after Second Born arrives home in early January, and it is likely cookies will be at the ready. We will still make some to send for the college kids. I will also still continue to cheat with no-bake desserts when the occasion calls for a quick fix that looks like it took hours, and I will enjoy the accolades.

After all, going bake-free is not necessarily a piece of cake.

P.S. The tree did get decorated on Christmas Eve and will remain so until everyone is together. And I broke down and made cookies after writing this post. It was either that or eat the entire bag of semi-sweet chips I had in the freezer. I'm still not convinced I made the best choice.


Friday, December 18, 2015

What's in a name nobody can pronounce?

I was walking toward my office on a recent November morning when I ran into an attorney I knew from our building, heading in my direction. As he passed by he smiled and said, "Morning, Janelle."

Later on that same day I slipped over to the office of a CPA who works across the hall to drop something off. He was having a conversation with someone about the good old days, and as I opened the door he said, "You know what I mean, right Denise?"

Sigh.

My mom gifted me with a name that is not only uncommon but also misspelled and mispronounced a large percent of the time. I like my name, though I didn't as a child, when being different meant being teased. As I grew older it was no longer a nuisance, that is, unless I wanted to see my name spelled out on a keychain or a Christmas ornament along with more common names in store displays.

In high school, where your last name becomes the first thing teachers try to pronounce, my given name was lost in the shuffle of an 11-letter surname. Only the first four letters – Jani – appeared on most forms, which led most teachers to believe my name must be Janice. I know some wonderful people with the name Janice (hand wave to Second Born’s BFF’s mom), but I didn’t want to be called by that name. High school teachers don’t have a lot of patience for a name they can’t pronounce, or remember for that matter. If I was going to be different it wasn’t because they couldn’t pronounce it. I became “J” to several teachers for the bulk of my high school sentence. I mean attendance.

When we moved to Maine we also moved to the Land of Janine, or at least that was how it felt to me. Over the years my mother had told me her choice for my name was because she wanted a name close to her own – Jennie. It certainly didn’t come out of a book for common Italian names.

In Maine my name is quite popular among the French-Canadian population. The first time someone pronounced it without faltering I was shocked. When they spelled it correctly without any prompting I thought I was on Candid Camera.

Growing up not being able to find my name easily on anything other than custom made items should have deterred me from putting the same burden on my own children. Not so much.

First Born will occasionally post a shared message on social media about knowing how it feels to never find her name spelled correctly. While her name itself is not uncommon, the spelling is just unusual enough to fall into the skipped-over-on-display category. I should feel bad but I have to admit, the quirkiness of its spelling suits her uniquely beautiful personality.

We were less creative (and more tired) when Second Born came along. She can find her name on just about anything personalized. She also had her own unique personality from the get-go, and a common name has surely not made her fade into the background. All I know is that neither of them seemed scarred for life because of their names.

We included middle names with a certain amount of emphasis for when we need to call them out for something. It’s difficult to get the point across that you’re miffed when you slap a soft middle name on like Angel or Bunny.

If they have children of their own I’m sure our kids will play the name game when they have to agree on a moniker for their offspring. Will they use family names or choose something distinctive? Only time will tell.

I can pretty much guarantee no matter what names they decide on, their kids won’t always be Angels.

Monday, December 14, 2015

19 toothbrushes and counting

It’s going to be a very different Christmas in our home this year. First Born and The Groom will be spending their first Christmas as a married couple in their Philadelphia apartment. Second Born will be celebrating her Christmas and the end of her semester abroad in Rome with her best friend. Because Spouse is on call for his job we’re not able to make much in the way of plans. I was just thinking that maybe it’s time for a change in seasonal decorating, when a unique motif presented itself quite by accident.

A few days before we were leaving for our Excellent Adventure I somehow veered off on a cleaning spree. It wasn't on purpose - cleaning never happens on purpose in my house.

I headed toward the bathroom planning to grab a few washcloths for our impending trip abroad. Don't ask me why - someone suggested bringing washcloths. Upon opening the drawer that I’ve been stuffing washcloths into for several months (years maybe), several of them threatened to jump out at me. I dug a little deeper to find out what was causing the overflow that I had been ignoring.

Toothbrushes, that's what. Old toothbrushes had been stuffed into the bottom of the drawer under the washcloths. I do believe there was a couple in there from when First Born was in middle school (she’s 27). These were old toothbrushes that would most likely never be used for anything but had been saved "just in case" we needed to scrub every wall in the house with them.

Let me just point out that the idea of saving these toothbrushes for future use is not based on factual studies or previous experience. At no time did Spouse ever wipe out a dozen or more brushes while cleaning grout. We have become toothbrush hoarders because nobody said to stop saving them. I have to admit it made for a colorful array of handles against washcloths. Naturally, I took a picture.

Rather than be disgusted by this find, I considered it a sign. Here was my new Christmas motif. Imagine if we took only what we could find around the house and decided that would be what our new holiday decorations were based on. I’m thinking a colorful variety of toothbrushes strung side-by-side on the mantle (I mean, if we had a mantle). That would surely lift our holiday spirits.

Besides this not-so-interesting discovery in the bottom of the washcloth drawer I also unearthed 12 plastic clothespins. On occasion I will put something on a hanger and need a couple of extra clips to keep it on there while it dries hanging in the bathroom. Apparently this collection of a few clips morphed into half the bag of clothespins, which explains why I always run out during the summer when I’m hanging clothes outside.

It’s a mystery to me how the smallest room in the house with the least amount of drawers has become the collection room. We won’t even discuss the bathroom cabinets. Even though they go through a period cleaning (is every three years considered periodic?) I strongly believe someone sneaks in when we are at work and jams another box of bandaids or an extra tube of sunblock in there just to mess with me.

At this point the last thing I should be concerned about is what’s in the bathroom drawers. I’m leaving within hours for vacation and there is still plenty to get done. In fact, I just thought of one more thing I can’t quite scratch off my to-do list yet.

I still haven't packed washcloths.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Unfunny

I want to say here and now that I am Not At All politically savvy. This is not a political statement or opinion. This is a citizen, a worker, a wife, a mom speaking from the heart.

I sit here this morning in my living room, head full of moments from the last two weeks of travel to Budapest, Hungary and various parts of India. There is so much I want to write about - the beauty and irony of these two countries, amazing memories with family that we traveled with and became a part of, the craziness of cramming it all in, and the jet lag that follows. All of that will come. At this particular moment, though, the humor of life is buried beneath an overwhelming disbelief of what is happening all around us.

Ignorance.

Fear.

Hate.

They go hand in hand. One begets the other. Right now there is a person spewing hate to this whole country. He has followers. That alone terrifies me to the core. You would think I'd fear terrorists more, but to me a terrorist is one with an unquenchable thirst for control. What separates this alleged presidential candidate from them?

I am sickened by the knowledge that any individual could belch out such a warped agenda and make it Word. I have literally lost sleep over the fact that every day I'm reading stories of innocent people who have suddenly become the enemy to those who buy into this perverted concept and are being verbally and physically attacked.

I can't wrap my head around how we got here and how anyone - ANYONE - could possibly agree with the absolute crap is being hoisted upon us as the way to save our country - by someone who had it all handed to him. Does anyone truly believe he can relate to the working middle class who have jumped on his "Make America Great Again" bandwagon? We may be good enough to bring the car around or serve his coffee - that's it. He doesn't 'get' you. He Will Never Get You.

This has hit me hard since we returned from our trip for a few reasons. While Budapest has come a long way in moving forward there was still that post-war feel in some areas. But I could see that our second born had a certain air of confidence as tour guide during our visit. She felt safe and so did we, despite the fact that this was a very unfamiliar environment.

In India we were the ones who stood out, with our fair skin and obvious cluelessness about the culture. Still, other than taking the warnings about pickpockets very seriously, I don't think any of us felt unsafe or at all threatened at any time. We were warmly embraced by our son-in-law's family and invited to participate in the Indian/Bengali wedding ceremony of our daughter and her husband. The whole experience of seeing these two countries was the trip of a lifetime.

They say there's no place like home. That's true, and we were very glad to be back in our own surroundings. But something has happened, a seed has been planted for an insidious branch of malice that I don't understand.

We just came back from a place where Islam is the second largest religion. We were surrounded by people who were Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and a couple of religions I had never heard of who - like us - were sightseeing and spending time with families, living their everyday lives.

Since returning home, it shakes me up to say that my husband and I have had a conversation we never thought we'd have. We are actually concerned that, if the contorted state of mind this candidate is projecting continues to spread, people who look even slightly different (i.e. not white bread American) - like our son-in-law and his family who we love dearly - could potentially be in danger just walking down the street.

If we have not fully come to our senses and this candidate somehow manages to win the nomination, whether he wins the presidential vote or not, that nomination will be another nail in the coffin of this country's fate. That's exactly what the terrorists are waiting for - to divide and conquer - and he is just the man to provide them with our heads on a silver platter. I firmly believe that.

There are a hundred better ways to say what I'm clumsily trying to express. Every part of me wants to change the direction of those who think constantly being suspicious and on the defensive is how we should live. I just keep hoping anyone who is considering bringing this person into office will have an epiphany of sanity before it's too late. We need to open our eyes and use our voices. We need to learn more about those who are different rather than conclude that different is bad.

We need to stop following fear.