Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Way To My Brain Is Through My Stomach

 I was mixing up a pan of Mr. Dell's Cheesy Hash Brown Potato Casserole and looking out the window at a gorgeous Midwestern fall day, when I was reminded of something The Little Princess said:

“I feel sorry for people who don't live in the Midwest. They've never had Puppy Chow. Or Scotcheroos.” (She also feels sorry for people who live in Australia because, apparently, they don't have the pop-n-fresh, “whomp biscuit,” canned-type cinnamon rolls. On the other hand, she says they call McDonald's “Macca's”, so . . . point for them.)

As I layered the cheesy with the potatoes, I wondered if this was strictly a Midwestern thing. There's a good chance it is, and if so, I feel sorry for everyone outside the Midwest who has never had the warm, gooey, cheesy, delicious, comfort-food goodness of hash brown casserole (or puppy chow, or scotcheroos).

And then I wondered what equally gooey, cheesy or chocolaty, delicious, comfort-food they might be enjoying that I have never tried.

And that reminded me of a quick trip we recently made to Madison, Wisconsin, for a wedding. From the interstate, all the metropolitan areas we by-passed looked alike – at least if you use restaurants as a point of reference.

There is a certain comfort in the familiar, a certain relief in uniform sameness, a feeling of safety that comes with sticking with what we know. When traveling, I – more often than not – eat at the chain restaurant nearest the hotel, rather than trying something new.

But . . . .

Sigh.

Where's the adventure in that? Where's the excitement of trying new things, of developing new tastes, of meeting new people? Where's the thrill of a new experience? The exposure to new ideas?

Comfortable conformity is all well and good, but when it is all, is it still good?

I could count on one hand the number of new restaurants closer to home that I have tried during the last year. What's worse, I tend to order the same thing every time I go to one of our familiar, “go to” restaurants – even when I swear I'm going to try something new. There's nothing wrong with that, but sometimes I wonder what might I be missing. (Granted, not all my “new” restaurant experiences have been winners, but still . . . .)

Old habits are hard to break. New things can be hard to try, whether they are new foods or new points of view. But maybe there's more to life than hash brown casserole and puppy chow.

Maybe I need to potluck more

Maybe we all do.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Stuff and Nonsense

The King and I moved into our current house when we outgrew our starter castle. Two young(ish) people with the usual assortment of starter-outer stuff had become two not-as-young(ish) people with two toddlers and a rapidly expanding amount of stuff. Rather than continue to make the boy-child sleep in what was basically the hallway, we pulled up stakes and moved. We gained a bedroom for the boy-child, if not much more in the way of storage space.

Years passed and  what was once cozy for two adults, two small children, a kitten, and all their stuff, became claustrophobic for two adults, two teenagers, a full-grown cat, and all their stuff. So we added on, expanding by approximately 860 square feet. And one teenager left the roost.

In a time of down-sizing and “tiny houses,” we added the equivalent of two tiny houses to our already regular-size house and decreased our population density. And there still isn't enough room for all our stuff.

The worst part is that we haven't added any new stuff since the remodel. In fact, we've gotten rid of stuff. While I was packing up stuff for storage I sorted, donated and threw away stuff we didn't use or need. As well as stuff I was tired of packing. I repeated the process when I started unpacking stuff from storage – sorting, donating and throwing away stuff I realized I hadn't missed while it was in storage. As well as stuff I was tired of unpacking.

We have twice as many cupboards in the new kitchen, and yet I still have pots, pans, dishes and gadgets sitting on counters (and in totes) waiting to find a home. The closet in our master bedroom is almost half-again as big as our old closet, and yet we still have totes and bags of clothes waiting to be put away.

The Little Prince, who is so low-maintenance he could subsist on air alone, moved into a room twice the size of his old room . . . and immediately filled up the larger space. Granted, his drum set, which once took up a big part of the “toy room” now takes up a big part of his bedroom. Unfortunately this did not (surprise?) free up any space in the room formerly known as the “toy room,” presently known as the “I don't know where else to put this stuff room.”

The only room in the house that doesn't seem to be overloaded is The Princess' room. I suspect that is because she has moved out of our house and into an apartment at college . . . where her room is filled with stuff. And to be honest, here at home her closet, bookshelves and the space under her bed are filled with stuff . . . that wouldn't fit in the “I don't know where else to put this stuff room.”

Evidently I had developed some seriously next-level, Tetris-master type storage/stacking skills pre-remodel, when we first realized we were space challenged. In theory, what I need to do now is figure out in which of the remaining un-unpacked totes those skills are packed.

Because I shudder to think what might happen if I had to pack everything up again while we add on even more space.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Good Night, Sleep Tight (But Not TOO Tight)

I haven't been sleeping well lately. Maybe it's because I've reached that age at which a woman's body goes haywire (but it's not puberty). Or maybe I worry too much. Or maybe I have an over-active imagination.

Or maybe it's my family.

Take the other night for example – it doesn't matter which night exactly, because they're all the same – I was having trouble falling asleep because The Girl Child (AKA The Princess, when I'm not so worried) is starting her second year at college, so she was not under my roof at that moment. And she's a girl so I know how she thinks, because – believe it or not – I was once a college-age girl. And because she's My Little Girl and I'm Her Mommy and I'm supposed to worry about her.

And that made me think of The Boy Child (AKA The Prince, when I'm not fretting), who is starting his junior year of high school, so he was under my roof but won't be for long. And he's a boy so I have no idea how he thinks, or even if he does sometimes. And because he's My Little Boy and I'm His mumblemumble Mom and that's just what I do.

But I forgot about those things because The Darling Husband (AKA The King, when I'm not distraught) was snoring so loud I couldn't sleep, and snoring may be a sign of sleep apnea. And just at that moment HE STOPPED SNORING and I freaked out because OBVIOUSLY HE WAS DEAD!

While I was straining to hear him breath I started wondering if I had “accidentally” smothered him with my pillow because HIS SNORING WAS DRIVING ME NUTS, but all of a sudden SNRKXSZERK he was snoring again and I was glad he was alive, but I was also kind of annoyed because HOW COULD I SLEEP WHEN HE WAS SNORING SO LOUD?

Then the cat, sensing my distress, jumped up on the bed. But instead of purring his rumbly, comforting purr, he curled up behind my knees on the outside edge of the bed, pinning the blanket down. This was a problem because TDH had pulled the blankets tight on the other side of me, so I was TRAPPED LIKE A MOUSE IN A BURRITO and I couldn't move. And between the little, furry body on one side and the bigger, furry body on the other I was HOTTER THAN HELL.

Since I have so much trouble sleeping I hate to interrupt any one else's sleep, even if it is the cat and he sleeps 26 out of 24 hours, so I reached down to scratch his little ears and maybe get him to move just a little bit BUT HE DIDN'T MOVE AT ALL and I realized that HE WASN'T PURRING EITHER, in fact I DIDN'T THINK HE WAS BREATHING and oh, great, first my husband almost dies and now my cat, when all of a sudden SNNNNNTTFF the cat started snoring.

So I was thinking “Phew, really dodged a bullet there,” and I wasn't sure which would be worse, if my husband died or the cat. Because the kids would never believe me if I lied and told them the cat “ran away,” but they might believe their dad “ran away” because they've both threatened to run away whenever I start dancing or singing. On the other hand TDH might help me dispose of the cat's body, but the cat would be ABSOLUTELY NO HELP disposing of TDH's body because I clean the litter box and I know how bad he is at burying things.

In the mean time, I was going to SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST, so TDH and the cat would both be reduced to ashes and there wouldn't be ANY bodies to dispose of.

And I'd have the entire bed to myself so I could finally get some sleep.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Sandwich Mom in the Sky With(out) Diamonds

Yesterday I made my annual trip to the happiest place in the midwest – the Iowa State Fair. Other state fairs may come close, but I agree with the marketing geniuses who declared “Nothing Compares to the Iowa State Fair.” Nothing compares to the food (deep fried, bacon-wrapped, chocolate dipped, and on a stick), the fun (outhouse races), the culture (balloon sculptures), the spectacle (the gargantuan bull, boar and ram), the long lines (for the butter cow), the butter cow (at the end of the line), or the traditions (all of the above).

And for me, nothing compares to the terror of The Sky Glider.

I've had my moments of unbridled emotion before, but nothing compares to the near-hysteria of The Sky Glider this year – not even the time my Billy Joel concert ticket was so close I could see the stage with my bare eyes!

After a full day of fair fun my fair-going friends and I decided to wrap things up with a round-trip Sky Glider ride. Twice the ride, twice the terror.

The ride got off to an rocky start when it stopped – briefly – just after we reached cruising altitude (far enough off the ground to make my palms sweat). The ride restarted and I resumed my white-knuckle grip on the safety bar just before The Princess – my daughter, rock of bravery and gondola partner – said “Oh.”

“Oh?” I asked, WITHOUT turning my head OR MOVING in any manner.

“I can't do this.”

“Oh.”

I realized I would have to dig down deep into my Super Mom Power reserves to keep it together and set a good example. I had no choice but to suck it up and my assume my resp-Mom-sibilities. I relaxed my grip a little, forced a smile, and began chatting about all the ways this ride WAS NOT ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIYING. I even managed to LET GO OF THE SAFETY BAR WITH ONE HAND long enough to point out the lovely architectural details adorning the roof line of the historic agriculture building. I pointed out the happy people in the gondolas on the return side, the lovely breeze, the dense foliage BENEATH US AND OHMYGODLOOKUP! Look UP, UP! at those fluffy, white clouds.

All the while I was mentally cataloging the things that TERRIFIED ME:
What happened to those riders?

  • Looking DOWN at the roof line of the ag building.
  • The riders on the return side who were smiling and laughing as if UNAWARE OF THE DANGER WE WERE IN.
  • The riders who looked AS TERRIFIED AS ME BECAUSE THEY REALIZED WE COULD PLUMMET TO OUR DEATH AT ANY MOMENT.
  • The gondolas which were empty BECAUSE OBVIOUSLY THE PASSENGERS ALREADY FELL TO THEIR DEATHS.
  • The dense foliage BENEATH US that would IMPALE US BEFORE WE CRASHED TO THE GROUND.
  • The asphalt roads BENEATH US which we would SOON BE SPLATTERED UPON.
  • And the fluffy clouds WHICH SHOULD BE MUCH FARTHER ABOVE US.

By that time we were NEARLY three-quarters of the way up the hill – or nearly three-quarters of the way to the HALFWAY point if you have forgotten AND HOW COULD YOU FORGET? that we were making a round trip – and I had begun to giggle nervously, and maybe cry a little . . . because that's just what happens when I start to giggle uncontrollably/hysterically.

It was at precisely this moment The Third Musketeer – who was riding solo in the gondola behind us – announced that she WOULD NOT BE MAKING THE ROUND TRIP ON THE SKY GLIDER OF TERROR. And I started to giggle/cry a little harder because I HAD JUST BEEN THINKING THE SAME THING! I gave her a thumbs up over my shoulder BECAUSE I COULD NOT TURN MY HEAD AND LET GO OF THE SAFETY BAR AT THE SAME TIME.

That was when we FINALLY began our descent, and I was able to take an actual breath and look around me and that stubborn, pig-headed, go-big-or-go-home, warrior-princess within me said AWWW HELL NO! I WILL NOT BE BEATEN BY AN IRRATIONAL FEAR! I WILL NOT BACK DOWN!

And in a quieter but no less convincing voice, the cheapskate in me said I will not waste a return ticket. I MAY BE A CHICKEN BUT I AM A CHEAP CHICKEN AND BY GOD I PRE-PAID FOR A ROUND TRIP RIDE SO I'M DAMN WELL GOING TO MAKE A ROUND TRIP RIDE.

So I TURNED to face The Princess and I asked her if she wanted to get off or if she wanted to ride back down the hill WITH me. She looked at me with admiration – or as if I had sprouted a horn on my forehead – and considered her answer carefully before answering.

“I will ride back with you. Because I don't think we can pry your hands off the safety bar.”

I would love to say that we bravely continued our ride and we lived happily ever after.

But the truth is I had just dried my cheeks and started to realize I HAD MADE A HORRENDOUS MISTAKE when our gondola came around the end point to begin the return ride and the nice young man checked the safety bar and smiled at us.

“Enjoy the ride,” he said.

And I started laughing so hard I SNORTED and the look of surprise on his face was so funny that I laughed HARDER and when we reached cruising altitude and the RIDE STOPPED AGAIN DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN my eyes filled with tears. And for the entire two-and-a-half hour (or five minute) return trip The Princess and I laughed and “ooohed” and “awwwed” as we watched the lights of the midway, and talked about the breeze and the architecture and the foliage and the smell of deep fried, bacon-wrapped, chocolate-dipped fun on a stick.

And made plans for doing it ALL again next year.


If you're not afraid of heights, or if you want to experience them vicariously, check out this video (not shot by me, obviously because there is no screaming): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcSwm-5V5Zs


Friday, August 11, 2017

Apple Pie and Aliens

I stepped out of my house and into a Norman Rockwell painting.

Sunday's weather was unusually comfortable for an early August afternoon in Iowa, if a bit overcast. A few clouds were turning dark around the edges, making the sky look slightly ominous, while keeping the temperature in the mid-70s.

I chatted in passing with a neighbor working in her yard. Her hanging baskets overflow with beautiful flowers every year, filling me with envy and awe, as I struggle to keep hostas alive. We both grew up in a small town barely 12 miles away. Our current hometown high school and former hometown high school were arch rivals back then, and, as we were both cheerleaders, switching loyalty between the two would have been unthinkable. But a mom's first allegiance is to her children. We both wear t-shirts emblazoned with the current hometown school's mascot – requisite small-town boosterism.

I hiked down the dirt path snaking through the farm field that separates our subdivision from the town proper. The field was all grown up in weeds this year, although whether it was purposely allowed to lie fallow, or if the farmer just grew tired of people tramping through his corn and beans, I do not know. I do know the path moved a few feet to the west this year, skirting the worst of the erosion-carved ruts, particularly at the bottom of the hill.

As I emerged from the last of the weeds and scrub brush, a car pulled to a stop in the middle of the street ahead. A woman stood curbside, keeping one eye on a wobbly toddler, while visiting with the car's driver. I walked down the block, turned the corner, and still did not see any traffic that would disrupt them.

The streets were not entire deserted. I watched as a statistically correct family bicycled by in a neat line -- Dad, followed by Duckling One, Duckling Two, and Mom. On the next block, a small group of small kids played a game of driveway basketball. The “poing” of the ball echoed between the houses, as their shots fell short of the regulation-height hoop.

The dogs in this neighborhood are familiar with me, yet still bark a welcome and signal my approach to the dogs on the next block over, which they relay to the next, and so on.

I headed up another hill, this one covered by carefully manicured lawns. This street was part of the Hometown Days parade route the day before, yet not a speck of post-parade debris remains. American flags flutter from every porch or yard, many the result of a Lion's Club fundraiser/patriotic service project.

I listened as the wail of a siren grow louder and nearer as I approached the nursing home, then breathed a sigh of relief when the flashing lights stopped at the top of the hill, near the water tower. By the time I arrived, firemen were exiting the water treatment plant – a building not much bigger than a single-car garage. A few neighbors, drawn outside by the commotion, were heading home as the firemen repacked their gear. I recognized most – some by name, others by face.

It doesn't get much more “Our Town” than this, I think. I doesn't get much more Apple Pie, much more Red, White and Blue than this. Every Midwestern stereotype, every All-American, small-town cliché is played out here in my hometown. It is movie-set perfect.

So why do I find myself wishing for an alien invasion?


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Drivin' Like a Big Shot

In today's edition of Small Town Driver In The Big City, I am pleased to report that I did not get lost in Minneapolis.

Suburban Waterloo/Cedar Falls, Iowa, however, was another story.

But first: What, you might ask, could possibly prompt me to drive – by myself – in downtown Minneapolis? The answer is simple, and is the same reason I took on the streets of Chicago: Billy Joel. And so, now I must digress a little further for a mini concert review that isn't really a review at all.

** SQUEEE!!**

Billy Joel. Sigh. He was wonderful. I mean the concert was wonderful. Although I'll admit I'm not very objective when it comes to Billy Joel (SQUEEE), or the talented group of musicians performing with him. Mike DelGuidice and Crystal Taliefero singing “Nessun Dorma” and “Heatwave” – A. Maze. Ing! Instrumental solos by Mark Rivera, Tommy Byrnes, Carl Fisher and David Rosenthal – Swoony! Andy Cichon and Chuck Burgi – the bassist and drummer never get enough appreciation (and I'm not just saying that because The Little Prince is a drummer.)

The only drawback was the drunken fans in front of me. There's a not too fine line between singing along, and shut the flock up and sit down because if you flail about one more time and hit me things are gonna get ugly. Er.

So yes, while the concert was the highlight of the trip (or maybe it was meeting up with my high school pal for breakfast/gabfest), Driving through downtown Minneapolis without getting lost was a close second (or third).

And I will admit I was more than a little nervous after my last (solo) trip up North – also for a Billy Joel concert – although I did not get lost then, either. Technically, that is.

I did, however, try to check in to the wrong hotel. What can I say? It was dark, it was late, it was raining, there was traffic (there is always traffic). It was not my finest driving hour.

Determined not to make the same mis-adventure a second time, I pored over the maps and directions before I left home and planned my arrival for non-rush hour. In fact, I was so surprised by the easy route, minimal road construction and non-rush hour traffic, that I had to make up reasons to hyperventilate.

Google directions through the Twin Cities were surprisingly simple: “Keep Left,” “Use Left Lanes,” “The Other Left, Dummy.” There was no actual exiting. (Unlike that final “Keep Right/Exit” north of Waterloo, which the truck behind me almost missed, too. Dear God, I hope they weren't following my navigation!)

Since all the downtown Minneapolis traffic was in the right lanes, I hugged the leftest-left lane (after a brief moment of flop sweat when I couldn't remember which was left and which was right), and accelerated to Big City Speeds, meaning I passed almost as many people as passed me. It was glorious.

Until I realized I was driving solo in the car pool lane. And I was going too fast to read the hours for the car pool lane, but not too fast to read the part that said “Do NOT cross white line.” A quick check of the mirror, however, revealed that people obeyed the “Do NOT cross white line” sign about as much as they observed the “Speed Limit” suggestion.

I was just beginning think that perhaps I was not equipped to drive, read directions, seek out road signs, and PANIC at the same time, and hoping that somehow MN-65 would miraculously turn into a quiet-ish 3-lane, one-way, city street from a mega-lane, concrete pretzel when . . . it did.

And I was downtown and I was just a turn and a turn away from the hotel, and I was feeling like a Grizzled, Big City Driving Veteran.

I was feeling so much like a Grizzled, Big City Driver that I wasn't even rattled (much) by the occasional, random honking. Because obviously that car wasn't honking at me when I was stopped at a red light. And obviously they weren't honking at me when I was waiting my turn to zip around the double-parked car and glare at the empty driver's seat.

The car (which came out of no where and) honked at the Small Town Girl walking across the Big City Street despite the flashing “Don't Walk” sign?

They might have been honking at me.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

50 Shades of Green ... Or More

It is officially, quite possibly, my favorite time of the year in Iowa. That long-awaited, much anticipated brief period of rest, sandwiched between the rush to get things done because it's almost summer! and the rush to get things done because summer is almost over! Those two or three days – maybe seconds, maybe minutes, and not necessarily consecutive – when you can look around, heave a sigh of relief and notice just how green everything is.

I certainly enjoy complaining about the heat and humidity as much as – if not more than – the next Iowan, but today dawned cool and clear, a welcome change from the heat, humidity and thunderstorms of recent weeks. Pleasant weather arrived just in time to miss several county fairs and will, no doubt, leave just in time for the state fair.

Before the heat and humidity return (any second now), I am going to relish this meteorological respite and the natural beauty of summertime in Iowa. It pains me to admit, but all that heat, humidity and rain, rain, rainrainrain that we've had lately have turned the landscape into a, well, if not tropical paradise, perhaps a cropical paradise.

This is the summer-green phase, when the grass and the trees and the beans and the corn and the weeds are all a rich, warm, green – almost black-green – lush and fecund. It is a more mature shade than the spring-green phase, when the grass, trees, beans, corn and weed grab the lightest, brightest shade of tangy yellow-green they can find as they rush to break free from the soil.

Looking out at the horizon, it seems we live in a snow-globe of green and blue. The green, green fields stretch up to an arch of blue-gray and azure, which leads back to more green. Flowers toss confetti blossoms of color, which are swallowed by green. Delicate white UFOs, launched by a bumper crop of Queen Anne's Lace, hover over ditches of green.

Soon even the air will be saturated with green, every breath will taste of chlorophyl. Soon I will become bored by the unrelentingly verdant countryside and long for some other – any other – color. There is a danger of drowning in green, of being crushed by claustrophobic greeness.

Just when I don't think I can stand it a moment longer, the green will begin its retreat. The plants will develop a slow leak, and drop by drop the green will drain away. Slowly, subtly, the vibrant colors will fade away unnoticed, until overnight the palatte of vibrant greens is swapped for more sedate, subdued hues of tan and gold and burnt orange.

The rush to get things done because summer is almost over! will be replaced by the rush to get things done because school has started! and then the rush to get things done because winter is almost here!

And I'll be the first to sigh and ask, “remember those wonderful, lazy, hot and humid days last summer when everything was so green?”