Madame Moon's Meanderings

Thoughts & commentary from the daily life of a joy fairy.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Some Thoughts on Housekeeping, Kindness, and Variation

This morning, I was looking at my kitchen in despair. I was thinking about all the boxes of Christmas decorations I've not yet carried down to the basement. I was measuring up all the boxes from our move that I haven't yet unpacked against those I have. I was stunned and overwhelmed by the sheer mass of plastic bags that engulf our laundry room, despite my frequently remembering to request paper. I was trying to figure out how everyone else's garage floor stays clean. Yes, everyone else on the planet surely has a cleaner garage floor than I do. I was wrinkling my nose at the horrid smell lingering in my car because I forgot my Indian leftovers in there too long & the smell, apparently, lives long after the actual food has been removed, even when everything is frozen. I was feeling horrified at all that needs to be done in the house before we leave for our wedding trip and our cat sitter comes into our home. In short, I was thinking of all my housecleaning and organizational failures and excoriating myself for not being a better housekeeper, for not being more organized, for not being the kind of woman who, like my friend Connie (who happens also to be our cat sitter), meets a challenge and tackles it right away, diving into closet-building & room-painting after moving in, rather than looking at all the boxes and imperfections and walking into another room to settle in to write or read or socialize online or cook or---well, do anything but something about it. I was knocking myself for not being the sort of person who goes out and clears the driveway, for being the sort of person who hires someone to mow the lawn and weed the beds. I was mad at myself because my house has never been and probably never will be the sort of home which is always company-ready. I was scolding myself, saying, "Well, if you're not going to be a proper housewife, then you should at least be 3/4 of the way finished with your novel and already have a book deal." Oh, I was really letting my mind monkeys chatter and chatter. And, let me tell you, even now, I am castigating myself for writing about this rather than cleaning house or going to Lowe's to get materials for bookshelves or something else useful and yet, here I sit at the keyboard.

We all have those tapes running in our heads. Those inner critics, telling us we will never be enough. For some of us, it's the dad who will never let us think we are good enough, even when we've become  VP of Finance by the time we're 35. For others, it's the art school friends who think we've sold out when we take a commercial job that actually puts food on the table. Or it's the pastor telling us we are not godly because of who we love when all we wanted was some relationship guidance from someone we thought we could trust. Or it's a best friend who has always criticized our clothing choices and made us feel less-than. Or a co-worker who always talks about how crazy people are and how when he makes house calls, it's amazing what hoarders those people are, while we wonder what he would think if he could see our house and whether he tells other people we are mentally unstable. Or a brother who doesn't think we have the right to complain about our kids ever because we have three healthy kids while his wife miscarried. Or a music teacher who told us in no uncertain terms that we should just mouth the words at the winter concert, thus shutting down our very own singing voices ever after, no matter how much we love to sing. Or the guidance counselor who had such a narrow view of what success is that very few of us could fit within its confines. Or the Conference that won't ordain us if we don't affirm the doctrine they expect to hear, in the way they expect to hear it. Or the bully on the playground telling us we're weak and not worthy of companionship. Or the wife telling us we'll never measure up to her college boyfriend, who apparently hung the moon but never did it while holding a full-time job and helping raise children. Or the television shows that make it quite clear that people like us who have disabilities aren't really contributing members of society with our own value and worth. Or the commercials that prepared us for being grown women by talking about how a good wife never lets her husband suffer ring around the collar or her children play on a less-than-spotless floor. Or the magazines that tell us men must be well-muscled and rich while women should be slim and compliant. Or the fashion designers who would never risk their reputations by designing for fat people because it would ruin the look of their clothing to have people shaped like us wearing it. My tapes were running rampant and at full volume this morning and I was shoulding all over myself.

And then I thought. I thought, "Hey, I do some stuff. And I don't think badly of people who don't do that stuff. If someone doesn't cook, I don't assume it makes them inferior. If someone would rather go hiking than curl up with a book, I don't assume there's something wrong with them or they are intellectually lazy. If someone hates to write and would rather solve math problems or do science experiments, I don't think it reflects badly on their character. If someone would rather do just about anything than make an art piece, I don't scorn them. If someone has never worn a tiara in her life, I don't think she should just try harder to be a tiara-wearing kind of person."

So, let's knock it off. All of us. Let's start just being who we are. Let's be kinder to ourselves and quicker to notice our talents and special qualities than our shortcomings. And, above all, let's stop judging ourselves based on someone else's idea of what's right, what's normal, what's useful and good. Let's not apologize for bringing food from the market or a fast food joint to the potluck. Let's not spend all day cleaning before a party and then apologize for how messy our house is. Let's not avoid bible study because we are afraid we'll look ignorant. Let's not stay away from social contact when we're depressed or just pretend everything is okay when it's not. Let's not pretend we only like to read complex literary fiction or watch art house films when sometimes, we'd honestly really rather curl up with a James Patterson thriller or enjoy our popcorn to the latest superhero film. If we hate socializing, well, it's fine to stay in on Saturday night & enjoy our very own company. If church is not the place we find spiritually nourishing, it's okay to connect with Spirit in other ways. If coffee tastes like sludge from hell to us, why not just say we'd rather have a grape slushie? If a drag show is a whole lot more fun to us than the ballet, that doesn't mean we have no culture. If we are childless by choice or choose to co-sleep and nurse until the child decides he/she is ready or want to vaccinate our kids and put them on a feeding schedule or allow our boys to wear princess dresses or encourage our girls when they want to join the Army even though we brought them up to be pacifists or have a house without t.v. or let our kids watch all the Disney Channel they can stomach, let's let ourselves just be the kind of parent or not-parent we are. If our dogs are the only babies we need, well, by all means let's carry pics of them on our phones to show everyone. Let's stop with the guilt about not becoming the doctor or the activist or the musician or the teacher our parents wanted us to be. Let's stop worrying about whether we're doing it right and start enjoying the doing of it. Now. Today.

That said, let me excuse myself to continue getting the house more respectable-looking before we leave town.

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J is for Journaling

We had a lovely, if chilly weekend, for our J date. Friday, I had lunch with a new friend, Connie, the wife of one of Jeannene's co-workers. The food, at a local Chinese & sushi place called Ming's that bills itself as having "the best Chinese food" in town, was not very good at all, but the proprietor kept our teapot filled and the conversation flowed for almost 4 hours. It's fun to have someone to hang out with right here in town. After she went off to pick up her husband, I came home to put on a pot of ham & bean soup and try to finish season 2 of Downton Abbey. I can't get over how lovely the interiors and the costumes are. The storyline is good, too, but the sumptuousness of the surroundings really nourishes my eyes. When the soup was nearly finished and Jeannene was home, I fixed some corn muffins to add to our supper. Friday's holiday was Muffin Day, so it was perfect. The soup turned out beautifully and Jeannene told me it was as good as her dad's, which is very high praise. Jeannene's dad was the cook in the family, a man who showed his love by feeding people. His Kentucky rearing showed in his food, too, and he was well-known for making Southern classics like biscuits and gravy superbly. His bean soup was renowned within the family, as well, so I was very proud for Jeannene to give me that compliment. My grandmom made terrific bean soup, too. When I was 21 or so, I set myself a goal of being at least as good a cook as her and my almost-grandma, Mary, by the time I was 40. I don't mean to sound arrogant, but I believe I have hit my goal. I love to cook and I think I do it very well, for the most part. I credit much of that to having learned to read recipes for successful ones and not using ones that will turn out poorly.

That said, this past week, I managed to make dinners 2 nights in a row that Jeannene wouldn't eat, at least in part. The first night, she objected to the Asian flank steak. I wasn't terribly surprised, as she is not a big fan of Asian food in general and hoisin sauce in specific, but she had just used hoisin on our Super Bowl Cornish game hens, so I thought she'd begun to like it. She thought the marinade made the meat taste tainted. Me, I liked it. She also doesn't dig chorizo, especially the Spanish-style chorizo I simply adore. The next night's dinner was, admittedly, not my favorite. It wasn't horrendous, however. The recipe called for cheapo white bread and American cheese, both of which I like for grilled cheese sandwiches. However, I apparently don't love them for cheese-stuffed French toast and Jeannene objected, as well. I ate mine, but I would make it next time with some good, thick sourdough or challah and cheese like Cabot extra-sharp cheddar or a nice Gruyère. The recipe was from Woman's Day way back in 2000 and, not meaning to sound snobby, I often find that recipes from that magazine turn out not to be my favorites. When I was in my 20s and learning to cook, I found it very useful, but my tastes have evolved. Perhaps, too, their recipes have evolved since 2000. All this is to say that I was quite relieved to have made a dinner she found "fabulous!" I guess I show my love by feeding people, too.

Saturday morning, Jeannene returned the favor with a meal worthy of her dad, something, in fact, that I suspect he made often. I'd never had smoked pork chops before I met Jeannene, had never had them until this winter, in fact, when she picked some up at a smokehouse near the plant. To me, they're like ham elevated to a higher level. Not that ham itself isn't good and, if it's country ham, there is little better, especially if it's served with delicate little biscuits and you are at the Loveless Café in Nashville. But, I digress. Jeannene made smoked pork chops, eggs over-medium, and biscuits for our breakfast. It was delicious! In trying to eat healthier, I am going the route of smaller portions, less processed food, less salt, less sugar. Moderation. I am also learning only to eat what I really want, what is really worth it. That breakfast was worth it! After breakfast, we meandered over to the local coffee shop to sip a couple of lattes over books before our J date. This shop, Crates Coffee House, has only been open a few weeks. The owner is interested in making it a real community center and has created a wonderfully warm and lovely atmosphere. Having finished our drinks, we headed to the library for our J date. I like to keep the dates a surprise until we are actually there. When I turned onto the road for the library, Jeannene guessed that I wasn't just dropping off the audiobook of Neverwhere, but that our date was there. It was especially funny, then, that there was a big sign out front for a kids' movement class. The sign wasn't super-clear on it being a kids' event, though, and so Jeannene thought I was making her go to a dance class, jazz dance to be specific. I giggled like mad and was utterly delighted. She has been dragged by me to belly-dancing classes twice. Once was with our women's spirituality circle years ago and we both found it completely puzzling, although fun. The last time was on a women's retreat last winter. They'd planned to bring in a ballroom dance instructor who ended up not being available, so they did belly-dancing instead. We laughed so hard our faces hurt as we tried to do the complex motions. It was actually a grand time.

Once we entered the library, though, Jeannene realized it was a kids' dance thing and was vastly relieved I was only making her do art. Our library has all kinds of cool workshops. I was really mad at myself last month when we missed out on a found object necklace workshop because I neglected to register in time and the class filled. So, I had registered for the art journal workshop almost immediately so we would be able to do that. It just happened to work out well for our J date, too. We had a wonderful time creating pages for a journal and learning about some techniques, as well. One of my favorite ideas was to use a picture of a door as an actual, moveable door on the page. Jeannene made a door in hers of Citrucel-treated paper that looks really cool. I did not make moveable doors for this piece, but have noted the idea for the future. I also got to see, in person, the results of a packing tape image transfer and will be playing with that technique. The best idea I got, however, was that of creating books from empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls! I always hate the waste of them, but find the toilet paper rolls without cardboard unwieldy and hard to use, so I just chuck the tubes in the recycling bin. But the little books were so cool and would be so much fun to make! I bet people would like getting them as little gifties, too. Perhaps even little recipe collections? Illustrated. Wouldn't that be cool? I felt sorry, after the class, to hear Jeannene say that she would probably just throw hers away. I think hers is really cool, but she doesn't think she can do art, always says it looks like a kindergartener made it. Hell, what does she think a Pollock looks like? The main point is that we have fun making art. But also, we need to realize that we create differently. It doesn't mean we are better or worse, just that our style is different. In her family, though, her brother was always the artist and she was the writer. So, thus it must remain. She knows she's a kick-ass writer, at least.

After the workshop, we lingered in the library, choosing movies. Both Captain America and Thor were in, so we decided to make it Superhero Night! First, though, we headed into Oxford to pick up a gift for Pie's girlfriend. She'll be 21 next week. On our way to the shop, we spotted a local goods store, things produced in Michigan. Inside, lo and behold, there were postcards for sale! I have been looking high and low for postcards for the last couple of weeks and have not been able to find any. I'd been afraid that postcards might be going the way of the dodo, but there they were. Jeannene teased me for buying 20 on the spot. We were also able to order, from a wine shop, the Elektra moscato we've been looking for ever since we moved. We were both hungry, so we popped into a Mexican place she'd heard was good. It was, indeed. We split a chicken chimichanga, with a couple of gorditas on the side. I'd been tempted to order the carnitas, but they are so often lacking in flavor. I was glad Jeannene got a carnitas gordita because I was able to discover that this is the case here, as well. However, the shredded beef was stellar, juicy and flavorful. We also got tropical drinks, a Blue Hawaiian for her and a Sexo en la Playa for me, in hopes that they would chase all thoughts of winter away. Not so much luck with that. It's been such a miserable winter that I've begun to tag all of my Instagram snow pictures #livingonhoth. I am ready for the thrill of crocuses, for waking up to birdsong instead of snowblowers in the mornings, for heading outside on the spur of the moment without lacing up boots and shrugging into coats and wrapping a scarf around my neck and pulling on hat and gloves. It makes me tired just to write about it. Once home, we got a cozy fire going, snuggled under blankets on the couch, and watched our superhero movies.

Sunday morning, after staying up until nearly 3, we skipped church in favor of sleeping in. What luxury to be able to do that, after 3.5 years of being at the church, ready to help lead service, every Sunday by 8. We had a little breakfast and packed up our things for a long day at the coffee shop. Jeannene's got a big week coming and had a lot of work to do. I filled my bag with my computer, colored pencils, a coloring book, magazines, the Anne Rice novel I'm reading (The Wolves of Midwinter), postcards, gel pens...that is to say, all sorts of tools for fun! I happily sipped Earl Grey Lavender tea and wrote out postcards to Anke in Germany, Alexandra in Russia, Catherine in Belarus, Joona in Finland, and Coby in the Netherlands. I am delighted that Tyler hepped me to the fun of Postcrossing! I can't wait to start getting postcards from all over the world. It's fun to learn about the people, too. This one loves to cook, that one is a Harry Potter fan, the other one is only 9 years old and loves animals.
We'd gotten to the coffee shop right after the birthday party for the owner's grandma and it was very quiet after the mirth. I was honored that the owner's daughter, who is a tiny, blond 2-year-old whom I had not yet met, saw me and immediately broke into a large smile and raised her arms to be picked up. It's a shame my hands were full. Her father was apologetic, which just seemed all kinds of strange to me! Whyever would you apologize for having a lovely, friendly little girl?

Although I did not think it a good idea, given Jeannene's busy week upcoming, we took the time to drive out to the bookstore and Whole Foods before heading home. I'm glad we did because I was able to get the books for both my book groups. One is for the Uppity Book Women, Sarah Addison Allen's latest, Lost Lake. I started it when we went to bed and could not stop reading it, only finally putting it down and removing my glasses when I dozed off repeatedly and almost dropped the book. The other is Tell The Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. I love belonging to a book group that's not mine because I end up being challenged to read books I'd not otherwise choose. This one looks great, too! I also picked up a large, attractive book about vegetables to turn into a journal. It cost the same as the discounted journals, but is hardbound rather than spiral bound and gives me more surface on which to work. We were disappointed at Whole Foods not to discover the Greek Gods salted caramel yogurt Jeannene was seeking nor reasonably priced cornmeal for my enchilada soup. I may, if I dig deep in the pantry, discover that I have a partial bag of masa which should suffice nicely. We simply do not like this location nearly as much as the one we frequented in Dublin. It's close by, but it's just not doing it for us. Maybe we need to try the one in Ann Arbor or Detroit.

Once home, I dove into fixing supper while Jeannene relaxed on the couch with her Persians. I made a cheater chicken tagine, using skinless, boneless chicken breasts in a skillet atop the stove instead of whole chickens, cut into pieces and placed in my tagine in the oven. The chicken violation alone is enough to cause revocation of my serious foodie card, I know. I just get the heebies when eating chicken on the bone, unless it's cut from a whole roasted chicken or southern-fried. So, revoke away, food snobs of the world, and I will continue to eat what I like. I will used condensed cream of mushroom soup in recipes and American cheese on my grilled cheese sandwiches. I will nibble on Ho-Hos and eschew caviar (unless I get to poink it merrily across my plate in a fancy restaurant----then, by all means, bring on the caviar!). I will avoid rabbit and elk steadfastly and chance the neon orange of Cheetos on occasion. But I will also make apple cider vinaigrette from scratch and put chile powder in my chocolate cookies and relish plump organic raspberries and make my own marshmallows and play around with maple syrup in my cheese crisps and devour half a head of kale at a sitting in Tuscan kale salad. And I will not apologize for any of it.

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Jeannene's Childhood Summers Freewrite

My last post was my 20-minute timed freewrite on what I used to love about summer. Jeannene and I were playing around with this in our hotel room this afternoon. She has graciously allowed me to post hers here, too, edited only for typos. I would love to see free writes on the same topic from any of you who want to play, too!

"As a child, when spring morphed so slowly into summer and summer was real and now, with dandelion covered hills, mosquitoes buzzing, bare feet, beans to be picked and POOL OPEN signs, I had no concept of it ever ending.  That first step into summer never felt like a path to anywhere ending at a time or place.  It was just a hot, frozen reality, a now with never a thought of later or an end, summer as a child was a real experience, from which you never ponder transitions.  I miss the peace of childhood summers when I was like a dog playing fetch, never thinking my master might tire of throwing the stick or the winds might chill and leaves might brown.  Summer was as much a state of never-ending experience as it was warmth, ice cream, flowers blooming, fireflies, campfires and the smell of chlorine in the bathroom from suits dripping dry night after night.  As a child in summer, I was never plagued with the worry of the bottom of the bowl of strawberry shortcake or the vaguest consideration of having anything more to do the next day than meet my best friend in the nursery to walk to our next adventure. 
Summer, as a child, was the taste of fresh berries and long grass stems between the molars.  Summer was the color of white foam water against the brown & green creekbed and the thousands of shades of red, yellow, green, blue and pink in the beds, in the fields, in the woods and along the road.  Summer was the cool water around my skin, the rough &, at times, cutting dried grass, and the welts & scabs itching & healing and the callouses thickening on the bottoms of my feet and my hands from walking and hoeing.  Summer was the sound of crickets and frogs all night long and the hum of bees and gurgling creeks all day long.  Summer was the smell of earth, the honeysuckle, the odd bitterness of drying swamps & skunk cabbage, the sweat of people and animals, and pies baking.   Summer was a never- ending sensory explosion without any thought further than the taste, smell, touch or delight of the moment.  I miss my summers as a child.

Summer was light, a lightness of heart and bounty of joy that only happens when you think no further than the feel of the slimy toad in your hand, the shared joy of jumping hand-in-hand into the pond with your best friend, the taste of ox roast sandwiches and Methodist Ladies’ cream pies at the fair.  Every year that passes pulls us further from those simple delights of summer to the fear of losing or never experiencing them again.  Childhood summers, with no thought of end, to my adult summers of worry and my incessant temporal awareness leaves a hole in my heart… and a pining for assurance of infinity."

What I Used To Love About Summer

Jeannene and I are hanging out in a lovely hotel room in Edinboro, PA, after having dropped Boot back off at college. We decided to take the weekend just to chill and relax. Last weekend was spent in my hometown so I could preach at a dear friend's ordination. We saw lots and lots of people, which was wonderful but definitely busy and a lot more extroverting than this weekend. This weekend, we have brought with us coloring books, colored pencils, word searches, a book of brain games, swimsuits, Elizabeth Berg's marvelous book on writing, Escaping Into the Open: the Art of Writing True, and a pile of novels.

We came in a blowing snowstorm, making the 5 hour trip from Michigan into an 8 hour odyssey, fraught with nerves over the slick roads and ominous drifts between us and vast expanses of frozen lake. We finally arrived at Boot's girlfriend's house at 2 a.m. Jeannene stopped the car and Boot busily transferred the sum of his belongings from our car to his and into the house. I, having been told just to tuck myself out of the way, maybe stay in the car and keep warm, obstinately stood in the driveway, out of the way. The just-past-full moon was magical as it lent a glittery twinkle to the blue-white snow skreeking underfoot and the air was full of the mouthwatering scent of fresh doughnuts wafting from the plant across town. We, being terribly suggestible, ended up with Krispy Kremes from the gas station before we began the half-hour final leg of our the journey to bed.

We luxuriated in sleeping in after turning out the lights at 4 a.m., arising just in time to make the free breakfast. The rest of the day was spent poking around both town and campus. We loaded ourselves up with swag from the college bookstore, had an excellent lunch at the Crossroads Dinor (I will probably never get the NW Pennsylvania spelling), looked in a few shops, and had drinks at the Empty Keg (where we got to admire the bartender's multi-lingual tattoos). Then, I suggested some timed writing in the room. We settled in to our computers, set an alarm to alert us after 20 minutes, and ran with the theme, "What I Used to Love About Summer." We each had a wonderful picture of our childhood summers at the end of the 20 minutes. Here is mine, unadulterated aside from typo correction. I hope you enjoy a peek at my childhood summers in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

When I was a kid, summer was wide open, magical! We kids would spend all day running around, a gaggle of lawless amerugins, in no need of parents, if only for those free hours. We would pop out of bed early, down our Cap’n Crunch and Super Sugar Smacks and Froot Loops---and, for a few unfortunates with hardcore hippie parents, muesli. Now, of course, I will happily take it, but back then, anything that could have come from 9th House Life Foods was infinitely inferior to things we could find at Weaver’s. Once fueled up, we would meet at Willow’s or on my porch or in the green space behind the AME church. We would come bearing towels, clad in swimsuits, with perhaps a bottle of Coppertone with an SPF of, oh, 2. I often had a book, for the terrible rest periods that tortured us throughout our days at Gaunt Park pool. We would walk, or ride bikes if we were so inclined (but never me), down High Street and cut over by the Bill Brown apartments, where the road curved around to dump us out almost directly in front of the pool.

Once we had paid our dollar and received our locker key, marvelously attached to a numbered metal pin I always thought was really cool (what I wouldn’t give to have one of those pins now to play with in my altered art), we would find a spot in the grass where we could spread out our towels. Then, yelping with glee, we would slip, slither, or cannonball into the water joyously! We would send hour upon hour in that clear, cool blue. We would race from end to end, swimming like speedy little minnows under the water, leaping like dolphins with a giant sploosh out of the water. We would toss in quarters and dive like maniacs, seeking to be the first to reach the glistening discs. We would sit underwater and hold hands, in a circle, and pretend to be mermaids. We would giggle at the ridiculous boys’ antics (and I would silently give thanks that my swimsuit was not the blue and white gingham bikini with the ties Todd always liked to undo). We would have tea parties under the surface, seeing if we could talk to one another, holding our pinkies in the air like fine ladies, giggling again as we bobbed up to the surface, unable to defeat our naturally buoyant child bodies. We would challenge one another to break the surface with eyes wide open. We would toss one another high above the surface. We would see how very many times we could somersault forwards, now backwards. We would perform gymnastic feats like cartwheels and handstands and even walk on our hands for as long as we could.

Then, the whistle would blow. We would, reluctantly, dragging our feet and groaning about the unfairness, shimmy out of the pool, climbing up ladders and pullig ourselves up on the edge. We would sit on towels, griping about the heat, watching the adults luxuriate in the kid-free pool, the vast expanse of luscious water, while we sweltered on our little patches of terrycloth real estate. When we hadn’t already spent our allowances at Grote’s or the Ott Shop or Erbaugh and Johnson, we would rush down the painfully knobbly blacktop path leading to the parking lot at the bottom of the hill and patronize the little concession stand. This place was a treasury of frozen Snickers bars, grape Tangy Taffy, Pixie Sticks (oh, those giant ones!), barbeque potato chips, and, if memory serves, even hot dogs. We would take our selections back up the hill and eat as we stared down the adults like vultures circling some delectable dying creature. When there was no money, we sullenly occupied our towels, or went out and rolled down the fireworks hill (ah, another glory to love in the summer of my Yellow Springs childhood, those magical fireworks!), or pumped and pumped to try to reach the sky on the swingset. Then, that siren call of the lifeguards’ whistles! By then, most of us had begun to hover around the edges of the pool, sometimes earning stern looks for dipping too much leg in before permission was granted. We returned to our games.


When evening came and the pool closed, we would drift home, a chlorine-scented gang of red-eyed rapscallions. Soggy towels draped over our shoulders, we would skip and dance our way home, delighting in the beginnings of cooler evening air. We would stop and smell the flowers, perhaps bringing some home to the lucky mom who got to host our roving bunch for dinner that night. We would have Ha Ha Pizza at my place or spaghetti with dread tofu chunks in the sauce at Willow’s, then climb out her kitchen windows to sit on the roof and watch the moon rise or pile out the back door and across the porch to my yard, anchored by a giant sugar maple and ablaze with fireflies.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Water Park Whirlwind Weekend

Since the Wild Mango Queens were slated to meet at Geauga Lake's Wildwater Kingdom and my Aunt Jeanie adores water parks beyond reason, she planned to come up for the weekend so she could attend that and my Aunt Anne's 50th birthday bash, too. She arrived Friday evening and we whisked her off, at her request, to the Winking Lizard for dinner on the patio. The two of us had strawberry daiquiris (which were supposed to be margaritas but oh, well) while J had her usual beer. We shared an order of Phred's Preferred Phries (cheesy & bacony) and Jeanie had a tomato/mozzarella/basil salad, as well. Then, J chose the buffalo chicken salad (all crisp and delicious & jealousy-inducing), I had the Bo-Man's Buffalo chicken sandwich (which was really much hotter than I'd expected) and Jeanie had one of the specials, a pulled chicken BBQ sandwich. Jeanie and I both got mac & cheese with our meals and regretted it. I don't understand how mac & cheese can be so bland, but it was. It was like a mouthful of starch, like the cheese, rather than extra-sharp cheddar, was extra-flavor-removing. Just blah! We enjoyed the evening & didn't even get too eaten up by mosquitoes.

Saturday morning, J arose early and went in to work, hoping to join us at the water park later. Jeanie and I were the only Mango Queens willing to publicly humiliate ourselves by donning swimsuits, so I was glad she came up! It would have been lonesome at the park all by myself. We started out by finding suitable chairs, then went for a few rounds in the lazy river. We spent a little time riding the waves in the wave pool, then found lunch. It was rather unappetizing. Jeanie's first burger was raw and cold, the second not much better, albeit safer. My club sandwich was a much wiser choice, although the bread was absurdly dry. I few the crusts to a collection of sparrows who'd gathered around. When we'd eaten, we took our chairs into the water and enjoyed the splash of the waves as we read. She was bold enough to take the library's Sue Grafton novel into the pool! I have developed my own collection of "pool books" expressly set aside for the purpose. This one was chick lit, the best genre for pool reading, in my opinion. When we'd soaked the pages sufficiently, we indulged in some poolside treats, a strawberry daiquiri for her and the world's largest, I am certain, blue snow cone. I dripped blue everywhere and could only manage to eat about a quarter of it. I am normally quite decent at finishing snow cones, but I'd've been quite ill had I finished this one. I somewhat doubt that anyone of sound mind has ever finished one of theirs. Not only is there a ton of shaved ice, but it's surprisingly syrup-heavy. Delicious, but way too big! After we'd finished those, we noticed the time and realized that we'd be late for Anne's party if we didn't skedaddle. Since Jeanie had been almost 2 hours late for the last party we went to with Anne (and had been rather castigated for that), we were determined to be on time!

We stopped at the house to get changed and pick up J, who was napping after spending the afternoon averting an oil catastrophe at the plant. One of the guys had managed to knock several way-high-up barrels of oil askew, putting them in serious danger of spilling all over the floor and creating a colossal mess. With no small amount of derring-do, the problem was solved and she was able to head home. I felt bad dragging her out of bed, but we had such a good time at Anne's party that it was well worth it. The party was at a bar called Petey's Filling Station, decorated with all kinds of old gas pumps and advertising signs. I had the very worst margarita of my life, very much like flat Mountain Dew with tequila added, and resolved to stick to the Coke in pitchers that was flowing abundantly (although not as frequently as the beer!). It was fun to see Anne's family and Jazzbo & Anne's collection of friends, who we have seen over all these years at various celebrations. The food was delicious, really good pizza, hot wings and BBQ wings. It sat winking at us throughout the night and I was glad when they'd boxed it up so I no longer had to resist the siren call. Anne's cake was perfectly delicious, too. She won't actually be 50 until this coming weekend & kept remarking on how weird it was to celebrate a week early, but her oldest brother is in the Merchant Marines and was in town, so the timing was worked around his visit. I hadn't seen him in over 10 years and had to giggle when he introduced his 20-year-old daughter, Mavis, to us. She had actually been one of the folks who helped us move into this place! Mindful of church in the morning and J's long day, we left at a reasonable hour and hit the sack at home.

In the morning, Jeanie headed off for a visit with my second-grandma & her family while J and I went to worship at my new church. I've accepted a Director of Christian Ed position at a great little church on the East Side. The pastor had told them about me at the congregational meeting that morning, so everyone was very welcoming and excited. I was happy to have several familiar faces from my previous visits. The service was really nice and Gerald's sermon was spectacular and brave, stepping right up and naming homosexuals as "other sheep" that are part of Jesus' flock. We worshipped with the African-American Baptist congregation that shares the building & coffee hour, so I got to meet their pastor, too. He seems great. The picnic was a great deal of fun, under the big old trees out front. We had plenty of congenial company and got to laugh a lot. I was especially pleased when one of the teenage girls asked how long J and I have been together. It will be nice to be at a church that is truly open and affirming, rather than just thinking they are.

After much hilarity and good food, we left so that we could have our U date. I'd meant for us to go to a U-Pick farm and gather peaches or berries or something and then bake a pie together, but everyone seems to be between crops right now. I had located a farm that had beans to pick, just in case. In light of the lack of fruit crops, though, and the extreme heat, I gave J the option that we could make our U date be "underwater" instead and hit the water park. However, we decided that it would take us too long to get there. So, I came up with Unusual Food for our theme instead and we stopped at Whole Foods on the way home, with the goal of each picking at least one unusual food to try. I won hands-down with the Vosges Mo's Milk Chocolate Bacon Bar. I'd been reading about it in all my usual foodie magazines and knew it was their best-selling chocolate bar. I couldn't even fathom how that could not be revolting, but when I saw it, I knew it was my choice. We tried it last night and, while not totally sickening, it's not anything I'd really eat on purpose. I can only imagine that it's their bestseller because of curious folks like me. Here's a link, in case you're curious, too: http://www.vosgeschocolate.com/product/bacon_exotic_candy_bar/candy_bars_chocolate_chips
If, however, you'd like to eat Vosges chocolate that's actually good, I can vouch for both their Barcelona and Fire bars. My other unusual food was gooseberries, which I'd never had, aside from canned (which were abysmal). J had fond memories of gooseberries from when she was a kid, so I chose those over currants, which I've also never had fresh. I like the gooseberry flavor quite a bit, but the texture is a little squoogy for me so I might see about making a little batch of jam with them. J's unusual food was a kind of cheese we'd never tried, from Holland. We will probably snack on it tonight.

Once we arrived home, we discovered that our Roadrunner was again down. It's been working intermittantly all summer and I had someone out last week who purportedly fixed it, but it's still spotty. Stupid Time-Warner. J had wanted to see if there was any live music or anything fun to do at night. Lacking internet, though, I decided we'd do cocktails & snacks on the porch. I cut up an heirloom tomato, put out a bowl of tiny fresh mozzarella balls, a handful of basil, some olive oil and balsamic glaze and a baguette for our noshing pleasure. Then, I mixed up a batch of Latin Lovers for myself while J tried a Mike's Hard Pink Lemonade. We sat on the porch and enjoyed the summer, moving from eating and drinking to bubble-blowing and chalk drawing. It was a delightful evening. I'd marinated some top round steak for bistec de palomilla while we relaxed and put on the full Cuban dog for dinner. We watched Aslan be sacrified and resurrected while we ate, a lovely cap to a fun-filled weekend!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Rainy Saturday with the Boy

I was just poking around Elizabeth Berg's website (www.elizabeth-berg.net) and really enjoying the whole feel of it, the writing, the thoughts of how good her latest book, Home Safe, is and memories of meeting her several years ago. She is by far one of my very favorite writers and reading her blog made me want to write on my own, right now!

I have a little free time from the family while J and Boot watch the latest "The Fast and the Furious," which one of J's employees loaned her for the weekend. Boot says the movie is "for people with penises" so I am happily excused from joining them in the living room for it. Whew! If they were watching Transformers, which Pie picked for us and which my friend Michael worships, I would gladly go. Ditto the Eddie Izzard DVD that I put on our queue. As it is, I am happy as a clam away from all that.

I woke up today with no idea what we'd be doing. Generally, weekend planning, particularly visitation weekends, belongs to J. Of course, I drag her to church with me...and will do so tomorrow, too, but I mostly leave the decisions about what to do the rest of the weekend up to the one who works 12-14 hours most days lately. So, we hung out in bed with coffee, hers in a bright green Jiminy Cricket mug I brought her from Disney this spring and mine in the purple Tink mug that was under the tree for me last Christmas until the decadent hour of 10:30. Quite a switch from popping up at 5 most mornings! It was starting to rain and we decided fairly quickly against going to Cedar Point, which is just as well, since Pie wanted to play video games all day and Boot wouldn't have enjoyed riding everything alone. I do wish it'd been a good water park day, but we had fun nonetheless. J made egg sandwiches for all of us and then we hit the road for a video game buyback store. I planned to wait in the car with a book on Christianity and pop culture, but Boot came out to retrieve me shortly, saying "It's really cool in there. I think you might actually like it." It was a huge store and I quickly found a small stack of things to buy. I'd been hoping for the Dead Milkmen's Big Lizard in My Backyard or Beelzebubba, but they didn't have a copy of either, so I chose Michelle Shocked's Arkansas Traveler, a Dead Kennedys CD containing both Plastic Surgery Disasters and In God We Trust Inc., and a Celia Cruz CD. J picked up Ani DiFranco's Not So Soft.

After we'd indulged in CDs and Boot had gotten $123 for his old video games and PSP, we went to Crocker Park so he could buy some clothes. It was just raining a bit when we left the parking garage, but by the time we returned to the car, it had made up its mind to be a real rainy day. Boot and I split a huge sandwich from Karl's Corned Beef and ate it in Barnes & Noble while J had more coffee. While she was in line, I asked Boot what his top 3 comfort foods are. Without hesitation, he answered, "Pizza, wings and some kind of dessert. Like cake. But not birthday cake. Homemade cake." And he even asked me my top 3. Mashed potatoes, mac & cheese & popcorn with butter & nutritional yeast, if you're wondering. I refrained from splurging on any more magazines or books, but was sorely tempted by a magazine featuring the studios of women artists. Of course the magazines I love are all upwards of $7. I'd like to get a copy of either Altered Couture or Belle Armoire for Marie. She's never seen them and I know she'd love them! She has a fun idea for a Wild Mango Queens get-together sometime---decorate pajamas! Wouldn't that be fun? I would sew some kind of cool bead fringe like the one on my "Pink" art journal to the bottoms of the legs. Boot got a white leather belt at American Eagle, a couple of t-shirts & a new pair of jeans at Hollister (where I sat in a velvet chair and watched people pass by in the rain outside the front door) and finally returned to AE for a pair of, of all things, clogs! What on earth? Who is this and where did he put my Nike-wearing, manly man son? We then went to pick out Rit dye so he and J can do some tie-dying tomorrow. I think there is some kind of weird rip in the seam of the universe. This tie-dyeing thing was his idea! I stuck to lipstick and computer cleaner, but did get some cute little stickers for my toenails next time I paint them. I saw a woman in the post office last week with princess fingernails, all sparkly and wondrous. She'd gotten them done for her daughter's wedding and I said to myself then, "I need some toenail bling!" Since the Mangoes (or possible just me and my aunt Jeanie) are going to the water park next Saturday, what better time?

We dropped Boot off at home before going to the grocery. We had a successful shopping trip and when we arrived home, J started making chicken parmesan for our supper. Boot and I ate Chips Ahoy dunked in milk at the kitchen table. Pie was finally awake again (he is nearly entirely nocturnal these days) and he joined us for dinner, then rinsed his dishes and returned to his cave. With as cool as Boot's been today, I'd be perfectly happy for him to get kicked out of his dad's house (which he is certain will happen any day now) and have him back with us. If he would be like this all the time. Which he wouldn't, but it sure was a fun day!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

T is For Touch & Taste

Friday night, when J got home from work (at 8:30, meaning a 15-hour day-she has GOT to hire a new supervisor!), she suggested that instead of having dinner at home, we hit the bar she discovered while I was in Wisconsin. She'd been wanting to take me ever since I got home the previous Saturday night, but kids & work barred that. So, we popped over to Lady Z's. I was extremely skeptical when I saw the neighborhood (largely industrial) and was pretty damn sure I wasn't going to like this place. I am a boring lesbian, as it is, preferring lovely restaurants to the bar scene at almost all times, no matter how cool the bar. I am simply not a bar girl, much to J's chagrin, even though I gave every indication of it the first night we went out dancing. I am infinitely more comfortable in church and feel fidgety and awkward most of the time when I do the bar scene. J, on the other hand, loves the people-watching & the loud jukebox, especially when she can inflict Ani DiFranco or Tom Waits on unsuspecting patrons. At least, she assumes it's affliction. I don't know why she assumes they don't like it. Could be the rapid feeding of money into the machine by baby dykes while her songs are playing, a quick remedy of the situation with some Lady Ga-Ga or Kanye West.

Anyway, I was expecting to feel awkward & uncomfortable & want to go home immediately. J was expecting me to, as well, saying on the way over, "Let's just go home. You don't have to pretend you want to go. You hate bars." I continued to pretend because I don't think it's fair for my lack of interest in the bar scene to keep her from getting to enjoy it with me sometimes. And I'm glad I did. It was surprisingly large and pleasant inside, with friendly bartenders and a decent bar menu. We sat at the bar and chatted, looked at Billie's (one of the bartenders) family pictures (her baby niece), played J's usuals plus my eclectic song selections going from George Strait to the Sex Pistols in the blink of an eye, had a couple drinks and some dinner. The pierogies were great, made by a couple of ancient Polish women, according to the owner's wife. Before we knew it, the time was after 11 and J had to get up early for work the next day. So, we made our way home to bed. It's funny to think that just 8 years ago, on that first night together, we probably didn't even get to the bar until midnight. Now, it's "Cinderella, your pumpkin awaits" if it gets much past 10:30.

I did get up and make coffee, although 5:30 was awfully early and I crashed back into bed after J left. I slept quite late and J was ready to come home right when I was about to head for the farmer's market. I knew I'd miss the eggs, being that late, but there's still plenty of good things to be had there later. J met me at the market and we happily prowled the stalls looking for the yummiest deals. We got a huge green pepper strictly for munching, a yellow squash for last night's confetti burgers, a fat tomato for same, a basket of peaches (mmm), fingerling potatoes (the Amish guy who always helps us gave us extras on the sly), a scrumptious-smelling melon and, at the last minute after a heavenly sample that took J right back to her dad's garden, some gorgeous green beans. She told the guy that she used to eat about as many as she'd pick when she was helping. He laughed and murmured, "Strawberries." I can just picture him, a tiny boy in a big hat, walking along behind his elder brother with a berry-stained mouth and not-full-enough basket! J also indulged in a little vial of lavender oil from our favorite purveyors of soap and shampoo. I love their products and they have very good energy. The oil was shockingly cheap, too. Yippee! She intends to wear it on work days, taking a big sniff every time she starts feeling waxed out. Good plan.

After the market, we did our usual Trader Joe's and regular grocery time. I love grocery shopping! Bar? Nah. Grocery store? Oh, yeah! Boy. I should feel old or stodgy because of this, but I just don't. When we got home, we had some chicken salad sandwiches and J laid down for a nap. That nap extended several hours. She'd planned to arise at 6 so we could have dinner and then hit the bar again, this time for some live music on the patio. That, frankly, sounded okay to me. But, she was so tired. I took a bitty nap, but spent the bulk of the time reading and writing. I didn't wake her until 7:45, when supper was ready. Then, I suggested that I bring her dinner in bed. So, we ate our Italian sausage & spinach pie, Caesar salad & chocolate cake (Ruth Reichl's fabulous "last-minute" cake with both coffee and orange liqueur) on Lenore-trays in bed (recipes at www.lunacooks.blogspot.com). We spent the remainder of the evening watching house porn on HGTV and Style Channel. I am positively drooling for a "spa-like" bathroom. Maybe we'll get a parsonage with just that. Ha!

In the morning, J was rested enough to go to church with me. Alas, the problem she had with her back when I was in Disney last year has recurred, so she was not very comfortable. She started the service slightly disgruntled at being there. She ended the service in a towering rage when they announced that they've chosen a new youth leader and he is not me. Of course, we basically knew I wouldn't get the job (and, truly, I'd rather work with the pastor who's going to be my boss, even if the job is much further and pays much less---he is a perfect mentor, someone I respect immensely, and the folks there are splendid), but it still hurt. J is positive that I wasn't chosen because I'm gay and because I don't have a penis. That may be a factor, but I think the main reason is that they are afraid (and probably rightly so) that if I am offered a pastor position, I will bail. Still, it hurts. To add insult to injury, this guy has a BS! No theological background at all, education-wise, and not even a BA. I obsessed on it all day, ridiculously. I checked out the website of the church where he's been serving as interim youth director (should I apply there?) and pondered why he would leave that position. I also am rather puzzled as to why they would choose a Presbyterian rather than a UCC youth leader. Not that there's anything wrong with Presbyterians, but he's not even UCC! Rant, rant! I found myself hoping the kids didn't like him, his A/V presentations sucked, the youth group dwindled even further and so on. Very immature of me, and certainly unChristian. Of course, what I really want is for these kids I love so much to have a fabulous youth group experience and for the spiritually-ossifying church to be revitalized by his presence. But I am jealous. And spiteful. Sigh. Fallen nature rearing its ugly head for sure. I think I just might believe in original sin, if not in the sense Augustine meant it. I surely evidence it far too often. The good news about going to church was the hug from Lori, the excited greeting of Angie, the CDs of my sermons Marjorie gave me so I can send them out to churches who are interested.

Brooding all through it, I served J some leftover spinach pie for brunch and we formulated our T date plan. J suggested we trade in the books a Freecycler had no-showed on to Half-Price Books and get ourselves new books. She said that since we weren't going to the Science Center, we were saving $9 each and therefore had $9 for books. I predicted that we'd get 50 cents for the books we took in. J came up to me after getting her offer & said, "You were way off. We got $1." Hee hee! She got a couple of fantasy novels, I chose Nigella's "How To Eat," a book on Christianity and pop culture and a Violent Femmes CD, which we listened to all the way to the beach. We'd never been to this particular beach before and it was just perfect, aside from the water warning. The perils of Lake Erie. We hadn't planned to swim, anyway, in fact weren't even so sure the weather would hold for our picnic. Since the theme was Touch & Taste, we did plenty of both, starting in the amazingly grogeous rose garden. Did some sniffing, too. We spread out our blanket and enjoyed some snacky things while listening to the waves come in, looking at the lighthouse and reading our books. J's back hurt too much if she laid down, so we didn't laze about as long as we might have, but it was wonderfully relaxing nonetheless.

After we'd put up our things, we went to the concession stand for ice cream. A tough-looking black guy in Harley gear cracked up at J's "No One Knows I'm A Lesbian" t-shirt and said, "Right on! I like your shirt!" I love people. You never know who they will turn out to be. We got vanilla cones (I should've got a Popsicle-the cones were entirely too buttery for me) and sat on a wall enjoying them while baby-watching and dreaming about a possible Lucie-girl someday. A seagull perched on a nearby lamp post and watched us avariciously until J gave him some of her cone. She's as bad with the gulls on the beach as she is with the dog at home! Then, we strolled by the water's edge holding hands until we came to the steps back to our car. I took the long route home, wanting to take in the summer landscape and feel the breeze in my hair. J was remarkably calm about the extra time in the car. Having her nose in a book for part of it probably helped. The long ride in the car just about knocked me out! I was simply wiped by the time we got home and collapsed on the couch in front of an Eddie Izzard DVD. It was hilarious, but I found it hard to keep my eyes open toward the end. Finally, it ended and I got on dinner, a rather bland rendition of bacon & basil pasta that I won't be making again. Ah, well, you never know unless you try it.