Friday, March 30, 2012

A Dish Best Served Cold

"For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?'' - from Jane Austen's Pride and Predjudice

I recently heard of a couple, having just adopted a child, who were asked, "Did you not want any children of your own?" Now I could dissect that statement and point out the at least four things wrong with it, but I imagine you can do that yourself.  Conversations like that make my stomach sink or make me squirm in discomfort.   I am left shaking my head and blinking my eyes in disbelief.

Then there are the times that render me speechless.  Like the time a well-meaning individual told me that the reason Matt has spina bifida is because his mother stood in front of the microwave while she was pregnant. I stood staring at her and not saying anything.  I considered quoting random Bible verses just to avoid saying the wrong thing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Ruins

 A short story by Elizabeth Collins

The coffee was hot, black and bitter. Meg took another gulp, willing the scalding liquid to make her feel something.  From the table, Jason was watching her over his mug. She leaned into the counter, and wrapped her fingers tightly around her cup.

Jason cleared his throat.  “I heard you last night.” Discomfort showed on his face like oil on water.

“I’m sorry if I woke you up.” She barely recognized her own flat voice.

“I’m worried about you.” The warmth of his voice traveled through her like the warmth of the coffee. She loosened her grip on the mug, and imagined clasping his hand instead.  His fingers had once fit casually between her own.

“I was thinking,” he said. “Maybe we should put some of those things away for a while. Turn the third room into an art studio for you.”

Her head whipped up and the words died on his lips.

“Forget it.” His face was slack.

Dizzy, she turned and clutched the counter. “No,” she whispered. “I appreciate it; I really do.”

Outside, a distant leaf blower whirred to life. A car hummed by.

“I’m sorry.” She turned to face him, but he was looking down at his phone.

The coffee was unpalatable. She had lost count and added too many scoops.  Slowly, she set the half-empty cup in the sink. “I’m going for a walk.”

Without waiting for a reply, she grabbed her coat.

Outside the air was damp and held the chill of an inevitable winter.  Leaves as brittle as old, yellowed paper crunched under Meg's feet as she ducked under the pine trees dense behind their house.

Last night, when Jason’s breathing had become soft and even beside her, she had slipped out of their bed and stumbled across the hall and into the nursery. Fumbling on the rocking chair for the plush bear, she had curled up on the floor with it and cried into the sleeve of her t-shirt. Even in the dark, she had known the undisturbed white crib and the sheets dotted with tiny blue elephants.

 “It’s never too early to buy furniture!” a glossy brochure had lied.

She stopped shy of the ruined house tucked back in the woods. Stubby remnants of a brick wall and a chimney were all that were left. From where she stood, she could barely make out the original outline buried under leaves. She never grew tired of looking at the skeleton of rooms and imagining the family that had gathered around that fireplace.

Stepping over the bricks, she gathered up a pile of leaves accumulating in the corner of the wall and dumped them on the other side. They fluttered to the ground like dried-out butterflies. She gathered up another pile and then another, systematically clearing the ground of leaves.

“You can try again,” the doctor had said from the safety of his white coat. Jason had shaken the doctor’s hand and then retreated into his own version of silence. Try again. Like it was easy. Like it was putting a quarter in the claw machine at the mall.

The dust from the leaves and debris burned her eyes and choked her, but she kept clearing.

All she had left was the wasteland she shared with Jason – the person she couldn’t look at without seeing all her suffering reflected in his eyes. If she faced that, then the only thing still holding her together might crumble like the leaves in her hands.

She kept gathering leaves and throwing them over the side. Scoop, dump, scoop dump.  When, at last, the entire area was clear, she sat down and leaned against the brick wall. Cold seeped up through the grass, but she didn’t move. She ran her eyes over the exposed foundation of the house. No one had warned her how painful love could be. How it could be like a million slivers of glass, shining and blinding, trying to come back together again.

There was a crunching of leaves, and she looked up to see Jason standing near the edge of the wall.

“Hey." It was the best apology she could muster.

Awkwardly, he held out a thermos. “I brought you some coffee. Thought you might be cold.”

Once again, the warmth began to stir in her stomach. She inclined her head. “Do you want to sit down?”

In two strides, he covered the distance between them. “Here.” He shrugged off his coat. “Sit on this.”

Meg adjusted her weight until they were both sitting on his huntsman jacket. Jason unscrewed the thermos, poured coffee into the lid, and passed it to her. The steam was thick in the damp air. She took a sip and felt the warmth spread. They sat silent, sharing the coffee back and forth until the cup was empty.

She pulled at a loose thread on the lining of his jacket.  "Jason."

He pulled himself up. “Wait right here.” He gathered up an armful of leaves and carried it to the fireplace. Pulling out a lighter, he lit the debris then came back and joined her.

Fire licked over the leaves then burst up into flames. Meg leaned her head against Jason’s shoulder and watched as one more fire burned in the ruined house.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Secret BBQ Ribs

Have you tried my friend Josh's peanut butter cookies?  The recipe is here, and I suggest you take out a stick of butter and let it start softening now.  And while you do that, I will let you in on a little secret.  I didn't successfully make cookies until about four years ago.  I'm still not sure what I was doing wrong.  In high school and college while other girls were gathering around mixing bowls and bonding over the process of making cookies, I was staring dismally at a pan of flattened, crispy disks of sugar, butter and chocolate chips.  My oatmeal cookies turned out like day-old biscuits and my peanut butter cookies crumbled like sawdust at the first bite. 

What I came to realize is that although some people have success with the recipe on the back of the bag or the side of the oatmeal tin, I had to carefully research and find the recipe that works for me.  Josh's peanut butter cookie works for me every time.  When I take that cookie places, people sit up and take notice. 

So when Josh told us he had a trick for cooking BBQ ribs, I pulled out a pen and a pad of paper.

These ribs will make you look like the crackerjack of outdoor cooking.  People's eyes will roll back in their heads, and they will try to hide the fact that they are sucking on the bones.  And when they ask you what your secret is, you'll act all coy becaues you won't want to admit that you made them in the slow-cooker.

That's right: a slow-cooker!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Then There's a Pair of Us

Chairs by Hazelnuts

I'm nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there's a pair of us — don't tell!

They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!

How public, like a frog

To tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog!

- Emily Dickinson

My friend Charis likes to change the end of this poem to "To tell your name the livelong day/To an admiring blog." A pun that always makes me smile.

Here are some of my favorite frogs on the world wide bog:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Reindeer Games

Mr. Bach
"If I can't drink

my bowl of coffee three times daily,

then in my torment I will shrivel up

like a piece of roast goat."

J.S. Bach from the Coffee Cantata

Today in the break room, I brought up a question that has been puzzling me for a while.  A popular parlor game/ice breaker is posing the question "If you could meet anyone alive or dead, who would it be?"  However, there are many missing parameters that trouble me.  For instance, if you chose to meet Joan of Arc, would it be necessary to be fluent in Medieval French?  Or what if I was eager to meet Queen Victoria only to find she was scandalized my my loose hair and visable ankles.  Where are am I meeting this person?  What place?  What century?

You see the trouble.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Cloud Nine Banana Cream Pie

Homeschooling traditionally is hands-on learning.  My experience was no different.  For everything we studied, there was an accompanying hands-on project that generally included food.   A study of Jewish holidays would not have been complete without latkes.  When we were studying the Dark Ages, we all tried some cow tongue.  And I was extremely jealous of my sister Rebekah the year she decided to do a science fair project on leavening agents in brownies. 

Some of these experiences were of epic proportion.  When we studied Queen Victoria, we made queen cakes.  Mom mixed up the batter and let us fill the cupcake tins.  After about ten minutes in the oven, the cupcake tins overflowed and the bottom of the oven caught on fire.  

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Army Day: The Celebration of Bad Puns


My mom and her father love puns.  They also play with their hair.  Naturally, my cousins, my sisters and I all play with our hair.  My sisters and cousins also indulge in the pun habit.  For the most part, puns elude me. 

I attribute it to being grounded in reality and far too literal, but I cannot effortlessly find alternative meanings in words.  At gatherings, over plates of brats and Grandpa's legendary potato salad, family would throw puns around like tennis balls.  I would sit quietly and muddle over a word in an attempt to come up with a tortured word play.  But before I could throw mine in the mix, someone else would use my word - only they'd use it better! The celebration of puns, however, is something I partake in with enthusiasm.

Grandpa started it.  On March 4th he and my mom would wish each other a "Happy Army Day!"  Do you get it?  March 4 = march forth = Army Day (I warned you it was bad).  After my mom moved out, she and Grandpa would call each other on March 4.  It became a joke between them to see who could call whom first.  When I was little, I thought March 4 was a nationally recognized holiday.  Obviously, one of the hazards benefits of homeschooling is growing up with your own holidays. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Chicken Soup with Spinach and Orzo

A number of years ago, I called my mom and boasted, "I just roasted a chicken!" 

She was nonplussed.  "Anyone can roast a chicken.  It's taking the meat off the bones that is the hard part."

There is something to that.  Deboning a chicken is greasy, mindless work.  When we were kids, my parents would scare us into doing homework by regaling us with stories of chicken factories.  Now I pull meat off the pokey bones off a chicken and mutter, "I went to college...I went to college." 

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