Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Sweet Corn Soliloquy

The halcyon days of summer produce have finally arrived in Eastern Iowa. Sweet corn stands are sprouting up alongside country roads, and the tables at Farmers Markets are developing an ever-so-slight swayback as, each week, more and more crops ripen.

These are the days we've been waiting for. These are the days of veritable vegetable gluttony. The days we dream of while shivering in January. The days that justify the humid agony of August: When you finish drinking the air, try a bite of this tomato!

The grocery stores have been teasing us with sweet corn imported from down south and out west for months now. Actually, those golden ears are available nearly year round, for a price. But every loyal Iowan knows this faux corn is a poor substitute for the real deal.

For corn connoisseurs (corn-oisseurs?) only homegrown Iowa sweetcorn will do – and the closer to home it's grown, the better. Sweet corn – even more so than tomatoes and watermelon – distills the essence of the land into its growth. Fresh sweetcorn bought from the neighbor down the road tastes of sunlight and humidity, of earth and place and memory. Of home.

I watched with delicious anticipation as the corn in the nearby fields sprang from ankle-high to waist-high, seemingly overnight. From there it shot directly up to “elephant's eye.” Meanwhile, produce stands – featuring close-but-no-cigar corn from Missouri – returned as seasonal parking lot squatters, and grocery stores rearranged their produce displays.

Those early, plump ears of pseudo-corn taunted me. The partially husked ears winked at me coyly. With each trip to the store, I circled my cart closer and closer to the emerald-wrapped seducer. I drove slower and slower past the parking lot PRODUCE stands.

I foolishly gave in to temptation.

The first batch of generi-corn tasted of plastic wrap and long days in a claustrophobic semitrailer.

I should have known better, having already succumbed to the enticement of a fat bottomed watermelon. The roly poly orbs, barely contained by their cardboard corral, dared me to thump and heft and sniff. Watermelon? Pseudo-melon is more like it. Where was the ruby-red juiciness of a Muscatine melon? Where was the spicy bite of Mississippi River water percolated through glacier-ground sandy soil and sediment? Where was the tincture of sunburn and fireflies and fireworks?

The second batch of getting closer-corn was (according to the blue-eyed, blond-haired farmer's daughter/produce attendant) grown in Ainsworth, only 40-ish miles away. I could taste the explosion of springtime growth, and the cool relief of summer evenings. A hint of deja-there recalled the sweetness of Dairy Mart soft serve, and left goosebumps from traversing the swinging bridge in Columbus Junction.

Now the pop-up canopies and pickup trucks with their hand-lettered signs and honor-system cash boxes sit in fields ever closer to home. Now it is only a matter of timing the arrival of the daily harvest against the number of passing commuters – and remembering to have cash on hand.

Now the sweet corn reaches its apex of flavor – steeped in sunshine and chlorophyll, thunderstorms, languid cloudless days and yes, even mosquito bites.

Now it is time for homegrown Iowa sweetcorn.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Cat Scratch Furor

We were late for the cat's veterinary appointment.

There's nothing new about me being late. What is new – and completely true, despite the skepticism of the staff at the animal clinic – is the reason we were late. And yes, it was a reason, not an excuse.

We were late for the cat's veterinary appointment because the cat had to use the litter box before we could leave home.

I swear it's true. Because really, how could I possibly make up something that ridiculous?

I will admit I was running a little not ahead of schedule, but we would have been fine – not early, mind you, but fine – if the cat hadn't decided to answer the call of nature.

Not only did he decide to answer the call of nature, but suddenly he decided he was quite shy about his litter box habits. The same cat who will hop up on top of a table – where he is not supposed to be – hoist a leg skyward, and commence to licking his privates in full view of everyone, decided he couldn't possibly use the little box while I was watching.

Not that I was watching. I was merely trying to locate him so that I could grab him, stuff him into his carrier and try to get back on schedule. I fully expected to find him hiding under the bed where it would be nearly impossible to get him, because where else would he be when we were almost behind schedule?

So there I was, searching of all his favorite, out of the way hiding places when I heard the familiar “scritch-scritch” of litter being shifted.

“Ohhhh no! No, nonono!” I said, knowing full well that Lenny (aka Popper, aka Chicken Fingers aka NONONONO) tends to be quite leisurely when relieving himself. I know this because he typically has no problem using the litter box when I am in the room. In fact, sometimes I wonder if he ever uses it when I am not in the room. In other words, my presence has never deterred him from using the litter box.

Until that moment.

Unable to believe my ears – and knowing this really would put us behind schedule – I stood in the doorway to “Lenny's Room,” hoping against hope that he was just finishing his business.

Instead, he stopped, front paws in the box, and gave me a cat-in-the-headlight stare that said “Do you mind?

I quickly ducked into an adjacent room to wait him out. Hearing no additional scritching, I decided to check again. All four paws were in the litter box this time, and the look on his face was decidedly hostile, something along the lines of “PERVERT!”

Duly chastened, I slinked down the hall to make sure everything else was ready for our departure. I was standing by the door checking my watch, jangling the car keys and tapping my foot impatiently when Lenny eventually sauntered my way. With a frantic scoop, stuff, escape, chase, grab, re-stuff and zip, Lenny was safely yowling in his carrier and we were out the door. Only 10 minutes late.

It wasn't until after we returned home and Lenny was lounging on the couch, looking as exhausted, betrayed, and pitiful as possible – worn out, I'm sure, from yowling throughout the horrific five-minute drive to the clinic and back – that I thought about how utterly hypocritical he was being.

When I use the bathroom one of two things happens:
Watcha doin' over there, human?

1. If I remember to completely shut and latch the door, Lenny sits outside singing me the song of his people.
“Yeoowllllll. Where are you human? Why, oh why have you shut this door between us? Are you forgetting that it is your responsibility to care for me? It has been 30 seconds since I saw you, since you admired me, since I tripped you.
“Yeoowllllll. When are you coming out? I could starve! I feel myself weakening even now! Listen to this – I can hardly muster enough strength to scratch on this door! Look at this! Look at how thin my paw has become! I can pass it under the door! Yoo Hoo! Hellooooo! This is me waving at you! Remember me?
“Yeoowllllll. The door! Is it? Are you? It is! You are! Mphf. About time. Talk to the tail. Ingrate.”

2. If I don't shut him out, or if he sneaks in before I can shut the door, Lenny sits at my feet singing the song of his people.
“Yeoowllllll. What are you doing human? Why, oh why have you shut the door, trapping me in here with you? Why are you sitting down? What do you mean I can't sit on your lap right now? Are you forgetting that it is your responsibility to care for me? It has been 30 seconds since you held me.
“Yeoowllllll. There is no food bowl in this room! I feel myself weakening even now! It is all I can do to sit here and stare at you, while you do whatever it is you are doing THAT DOES NOT INVOLVE ADORING ME! This is an outrage! I demand that you . . . wait. What? What are you doing? Why is there water running? What is going on in this giant bowl? Why can't I see?
“Yeoowllllll. The door is open? No. No! I do not want to leave! I want to trip you! Or, wait, hey! Come back here! Nope. Changed my mind. Talk to the tail. Ingrate.”

On the up-side, I always remind the family to use bathroom before we leave the house. At least now I know someone has been listening.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Thank You for Not Sighing

Yes, I know we're behind schedule.


I knew we were behind schedule even before you started following me from room to room, only to stand there. Waiting. Silently.

And P.S.? Thank you for that. The silently waiting. Because if you were to audibly sigh, giving voice to your frustration, I would have to have to throat punch you. And then I'd probably feel bad and I'd have to take you to the emergency room and we would be really behind schedule.

I'm ready to go, now. Sort of.

I've been ready to go, sort of, since before you started following me from room to room, etc. It's just that about the time I was ready to go (sort of) the first time, I realized no one had fed the cat or cleaned his litter box.

So I fed and watered him. And cleaned his litter box.

And then I put everyone's breakfast dishes in the dish washer. Because I emptied the dishwasher right before I finished getting ready to go (sort of) the first time. Before you all finished breakfast. But that's beside the point.

Before that I had to round up the charging cords, double check to make sure I had the tickets, turn off the lights, sweep the floor, paint the hallway, re-roof the house, fell the tree, bale the hay, build the barn and check again for the tickets.

I wish I could be more spontaneous. I wish I could just walk out the door without a second thought.

But I can't.

Because I'm the Mom.

And if I don't feed and water the cat and clear the dishes, I will spend all day wondering how long it will take before the cat throws a fit and tears the house apart, or he at least jumps up on the counter and knocks all the dishes off. Or how long it will take before those dishes start growing mold and attracting bugs.

Or how disgusted the burglar will be when he breaks in and smells the dirty litter box and sees the moldy, bug-infested dishes scattered on the floor, and finds the cat happily stretched out on the counter, playing with the papers that should have been put in the recycling bin before we left.

Or how we will explain to the police that this is the mess the burglar made when he/she broke in, but that is the mess the cat made because we forgot to feed/water/clean his litter box, and there is the mess that we left on the table because we didn't want to be late.

And then the policeman will probably sigh.

And we'll really be late.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Double (Stuf) or Nothin'

The Health Food Tyrants have gone too far.

Have you seen a Double Stuf Oreo lately? I mean, have you actually taken the time to examine the ratio of mystery cream to bland cookie before stuffing it in your face?

There is no way Double Stuf are doubly-stuffed. They are barely single-stuffed.
Double Stuf? I don't think so.

A math teacher (with too much time on his hands) actually weighed and compared Double, Single and Thins in 2013 and – indeed – found that Double Stuf do not contain twice as much Stuf as Single Stuf. But that's not my point. My point is that Double Stuf don't contain as much Stuf as Double Stuf used to. I'd go so far as to say you have to eat double the Double Stuf to get half as much Stuf as Double Stuf used to have.

(BTW: Don't even get me started on “Thins” which look like someone whispered “stuf” from the other side of the factory as the stacks of cardboard cookie shapes were packaged.)

(While we're off the subject: Yes. I did walk five miles, uphill – both ways – through snow, while being chased by velociraptors to get to school.)

I did not buy Double Stuf Oreos because I was being health conscious. I did not buy Double Stuf Oreos thinking they were a low-calorie food. I did not buy a family-sized (Pfft! Family of pigmy mice, maybe!) package of Double Stuf Oreos, sneak them into the house under cover of darkness, hide them in the back of the cupboard behind the expired canned goods, then quietly open them at 6:30 a.m. after my morning workout while everyone else was sleeping, because I thought they were good for me.

No. That's what the bananas, which are conveniently located on the counter – splotchy brown and drawing fruit flies – are for. That's what the shriveled up apples in the crisper drawer are for. That's what the bag of mushy, liquifying, slightly grey and fuzzy . . . well, I'm not sure what it is/was . . in the veggie drawer is for.

You do not need a PhD in nutrition to know that Double Stuf Oreos (or any Oreos) are not a type of health food. Nothing that creamy and delicious, nothing that melts so delightfully on your tongue, leaving that slightly buttery, vaguely nauseating film in your mouth could be good for you. Without even looking at the package I could tell you the ingredients for that mysterious but crave-able filling are, most likely: sugar, sugar, fat, soylent green, and more sugar.

And I'm OK with that. In moderation. On occasion.

I bought this particular package of so-called “Double Stuf” cookies because I was feeling a little down and needed some comfort food. I needed to do a little emotional eating. I needed a chance to wallow in a bad food choice and then regret it and vow never to eat them again. Or until I was feeling blue again.

What was I sad about when I bought them? I have no idea. See? It worked.

Why am I sad now?

I'm out of cookies.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

There's No Nest, Like an Empty Nest

It is 9 a.m. and I am alone in the house.

I have forgotten what silence sounds like.

There is no chatter from the other room. No laughter, no muttering. No radios. No doors opening and closing.

My car is the only one in the driveway.

The nest is empty.

There is no pitter-patter of workboots on the stairs, no hiss-bang of an air compressor, no smack-smack-smack of nail guns, no whirrrrrrrring of a radial saw.

The contractors are gone.

After an intense three-month push – a daily parade of electricians, drywallers, woodworkers, painters, insulation-ers, flooring-ers, and multi-taskers – the kitchen is finished and the contractors are gone. Work continued right up to the last minute to finish and polish, clean and stage for a builders' “parade of homes” – a sort of graduation party without the cake.

And now it is done.

I sit alone in my office – my office, not a corner of the living room, not a corner of The Princess's room/overflow storage – my office, sipping coffee I made in the kitchen – the kitchen, not the craft room/temporary kitchen, not The Princess's room/overflow storage/temporary office – the kitchen, basking in the delicious silence, and trying to remember how to think in solitude.

The cat, who has spent the last three months hiding under the bed from noises and strangers and strange noises is . . . well, hiding under the bed, because he is a cat, after all, and who knows why cats do anything. But now his movements are languid as he oozes out from under the bed skirt, stretches lazily, and saunters to the hallway. Despite his sanguine manner, his half-lidded stare, his lackadaisical yawn, there is an attentiveness to his posture as his sits, ears erect, keeping watch down the hallway, ready to growl and retreat at a moments notice.

And he is right.

They will be back.

A year-and-a-half into this project – beset with setbacks as are all remodeling projects – we are about three-quarters of the way done. A large portion of the basement ceiling is MIA, a casualty of plumbing and heating repairs, replacement and upgrades. There will be more insulation, more flooring, more painting, more air compressors and saws and nail guns.

This empty nest, like most, is welcome but fleeting.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Cell Phone Fable-tale

Once upon a time, a family of four bears got new cell phones.

Papa Bear and Baby Bear got their phones first. They transferred the data from their old phones to the new phones with no problem.

“Easy peasy,” said Papa Bear.

“Lemon squeezy,” said Baby Bear.

“So, all I have to do to make my new phone work is read the instructions and follow directions?” asked Mama Bear.

“That's right,” said Papa Bear.

Baby Bear rolled his eyes.

Sister Bear got her phone next. She transferred the data from her old phone to her new phone with no problem.

“Easy peasy, lemon squeezy,” said Sister Bear.

“So, all I have to do to make my new phone work is read the instructions and follow directions?” asked Mama Bear.

Sister Bear rolled her eyes. Then she went online and found instructions on how to activate “Grandparent” mode, making the Galaxy s7 “super easy” to use. Then she rolled her eyes again.

At last, Mama Bear got her new phone.

“So, all I have to do to make my new phone work is read the instructions and follow directions?” Mama Bear asked Papa Bear.

Papa Bear rolled his eyes.

Mama Bear carefully took the phone and all the accessories and instructions out of the box. She read the instructions thoroughly, because the instructions had big pictures and few words. She followed the directions and called the 800 number to transfer service to her new phone. She followed directions to turn off her old phone. She followed directions to turn on her new phone. She watched the spinning circle and read the cheerful greeting.

The cheerful greeting said it could take up to five minutes to transfer service.

She waited and watched the spinning circle spin some more.

“Is it supposed to take this long?” she asked Papa Bear.

“It takes a while,” he said, rolling his eyes, “but it's easy.”

Mamma Bear waited and watched and surfed the net on her laptop and looked at all the pictures from Billy Joel's latest concert at Madison Square Garden and played a game of spider solitaire and checked her email again and repainted the Sistine Chapel.

Finally, the spinning circle stopped spinning.

The cheerful message told Momma Bear the data from her old phone could not be transferred to her new phone.

Mamma Bear considered throwing the phones across the room, but it was a very small room and she figured they would probably ricochet and hit her in the head, killing her or causing extensive brain damage. At the very least she knew she would have to clean up the mess herself.

Mamma Bear cussed and read the instructions even more carefully. She Googled “How to Transfer Service” and cussed some more. She followed the directions she found on Google. She looked through her secret files to find the WiFi password. She found the WiFi password. She found her Googlemail password, her social security number the name of her great-great-grandmother's dog's veterinarian's cousin's neighbor's first-grade teacher, the square root of Pi, and her natural hair color. She typed it all in.

None of her information transferred.

“That's OK, “ Mamma Bear sighed, “I can put all those numbers in by hand.” Then Mamma Bear tried calling the home phone land-line number, just to check out her fancy new cell phone.

It didn't ring. Service had not transferred.

Mamma Bear tried to call from her old cell phone. No service there, either.

Mamma Bear considered punching a wall, but the contractors had just installed new drywall and she didn't want to impede progress.

Mama Bear took a nice, hot, relaxing shower. She poured a glass of wine. She poured a BIG glass of wine. She took a deep breath.

Mama Bear turned the new phone off. She did another Google search. She told Google what they could do with their search results. She told Samsung what they could do with their 3-step instructions. She took a wild guess.

It worked.

“Easy peasy,” she said.

“My ass.”

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Greetings From The Great Beyond

If you are reading this without an Ouiji board or a crystal ball, color me surprised.

Apparently, without my knowledge or consent, I have expired and passed to the other side. At least that is my conclusion after trying to communicate with my son – the boy child formerly known as The Little Prince, when I was not so annoyed with him.

I have become accustomed to talking at the boy, but lately I've noticed my words seem to bounce right off him and fall to the ground at his feet without so much as ruffling the bushy mass of hair hanging over his ears.

At first I assumed that the poor thing had had been struck deaf – perhaps as a result of playing the drums, or from listening to heavy metal music. But he seems perfectly capable of hearing the TV, his friends' cars arriving curb-side, and the ding of the microwave.

I accepted the increasing one-sidedness of our talks as typical teenage boy behavior. After one recent exchange – which I took to be a semi-active discussion, but turned out to be a monologue – he replied with his usual noncommittal shrug and vague grunt.

*Shrug* Eh.”

I interpreted this as “Yes, Mom. I understand what you're saying, agree with your conclusion and will endeavor to act in accordance with your wishes.” Especially after I point blank asked him “Do you understand? Can you do that?”

Instead, what he really meant was “*Shrug* Eh.”

Or perhaps, “    .”

Maybe even, “     !”

But more likely, “      “

There is a chance I've brought on this escalation of indifference myself. Frustrated by his ever-shrinking verbal exchange rate, I told him I was going to set a daily word goal for him. I was hoping to squeeze 20 words per day out of him.

He was thinking of a smaller number.

Like zero.

Of course, if he is purposely rationing his responses, that means that he can hear me – even if he chooses not to listen.

Which is good.

Because I really hope hears me when I tell him I hope that someday (in the far, distant future) he has a child just like him.