Loafing around — March 22, 2023

Loafing around

Once again, I have gained fun and exciting knowledge from a book of fiction.

This time, the book is Jennifer Close’s Marrying the Ketchups, and the knowledge is the existence of something called sandwich loaf.

According to our friends at Wikipedia, “A sandwich loaf is a stacked savory party entrée made from a loaf of horizontally sliced bread. Typical fillings include egg salad, chicken salad, ham salad, tuna salad, and Cheez Whiz. While rare today, the food was quite popular during the mid 20th century in the United States.”

When I read Close’s description of a sandwich loaf, I couldn’t believe my eyes, especially when she explained that it was frosted with whipped cream cheese and resembled a cake. But then I found images on the Internet of various kinds of sandwich loaf, and they absolutely looked like cake, particularly when cut. It’s a sandwich cake, if you will.

My research also found that sandwich loaf was served at showers and luncheons. A character in Marrying the Ketchups considers sandwich loaf the “height of sophistication.” As most of the sandwich loaf I found were decorated to match a special occasion or holiday, she had a point. This character was part of my mom’s generation, so I asked her (my mom, not a fictional character) if she was familiar with sandwich loaf.

Mom looked at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears.

My oldest sister said she knew what I was talking about and then mentioned pickle loaf and ham and cheese loaf. Pass the barf bag.

Anyway, I explained to my mom, my sisters, and my nieces about this fun and exciting discovery I had gained whilst reading fiction. (By the way, another character in the book regards reading fiction as a waste of time. What a dumb expletive. Readers of this-here column will know that this is the third piece of knowledge I’ve gained – and passed along – from a work of fiction in recent weeks.)

Regardless, my family did not share my enthusiasm for sandwich loaf. I sent them a link that featured 20 sandwich loaf recipes. Unlike me, I don’t think they pored over the recipes as if they would be tested on them later.

In fact, they seemed confused by my enthusiasm. That’s understandable. Except for the occasional tuna sandwich, I don’t eat cold sandwiches. Well, unless it’s an emergency. You know, like in the aftermath of an apocalyptic flood. What’s more, it would take too much space and time to explain my sandwich preferences, but let’s just say I would partake of only the bread and the cream cheese frosting if served a sandwich loaf.

But I enjoy exploring recipes, including those I will never make or eat, and looking at images of retro food. I think my sisters also worried that I would suggest we purchase a loaf or two of unsliced bread and create a sandwich loaf.

No worries there. I’m just sharing my fun and exciting discovery. However, if we were going to create a sandwich loaf, we’d chose these three meats – bologna, potted meat, and Treat.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Out of print — March 15, 2023

Out of print

In recent days I had occasion to look through old photos. Whilst doing so, I once again confronted the good and bad aspects of technology.

Firstly, as I’ve mentioned before, I embrace technology and the way it’s improved my life. As someone who was raised on radio, I am still amazed that I don’t have to buy a song or wait by said radio for the song to play. I can simply type the song title – or an approximation of the title – into a search bar and listen to it immediately.

Secondly, as I’ve also mentioned, I will never not miss video stores. Sure, they didn’t always have the movie you wanted to rent, but they would have something for you to watch. Yes, I know we can still rent movies, but I refuse to rent from those red boxes due to my paranoia and I am downright insulted when a streaming service suggests I cough up a few bucks to rent a flick. The absolute nerve!

See, there’s good and bad with everything, like digital photography. By the way, I was working at the newspaper when digital photography hit the scene. I remember where I was sitting when I was told it wouldn’t take hold.

Anyway, I’m not an expert photographer. Any success I’ve had with photography stems from advice a former colleague at the newspaper gave me – if you take enough photos, at least one of them will be usable. During my careers in the newspaper and public relations fields, I learned to be aware of my subjects and their surroundings. Thus, when I point out the good and bad with digital photography, I am not going to discuss lighting and other artsy aspects. I’m all about the basics.

So, here are the goods – you can immediately review the photo and see if a subject’s eyes are closed or if it looks like fire is coming from the back of somebody’s head. You can see if a photo is out of focus. You can see if someone is making an embarrassing face or not showing the best side or if it’s just a bad picture. Those photos can forever be deleted and never seen by anyone, assuming you are not subject to a subpoena.

Digital photos can also be shared on social media and with others immediately. And uploaded to the cloud – I have no idea what that is – and other places. You can’t do that with prints. Indeed, I had to take photos of old photos with my phone for a photo book I’m creating.

Here is my only bad with digital photography – I miss prints. Yes, I know it cuts down on so much stuff. Yes, I know we can technically still make prints from digital images, but it takes wizardry to find a working machine. And if you find one, you have to pinky-swear that you own the rights to the photos. I get nervous, afraid I’ll be arrested if I accidentally make a print of a photo my niece took.

As I’ve mentioned before in this-here column, I love reading ebooks. They changed my life. And I love snapping photos of everything from store merchandise to food to lists to tulips with a phone. A phone! If you’d told me that would happen back when I was sitting by the radio, hoping to hear a favorite song, I would have slowly backed away from you.

But I’ve embraced technology. My phone and computer are filled with photos I’ve taken of loved ones. I’d also like to be surrounded by more of those photos in print even if it requires more pinky swears.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Return of the trilogy — March 8, 2023

Return of the trilogy

As I settled down to watch TV one evening last week, I realized I needed something familiar, so I decided to start a rewatch of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Here’s some breaking news – I still consider the films, based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s saga of the quest to destroy The One Ring and, in the process, the ring’s evil creator, to be fantastic.

When the first film in the trilogy – The Fellowship of the Ring – was released in 2001, I paid it no mind. This was, in part, because I confused it with Lord of the Flies, which I have never and will never read or watch. I still didn’t care when the second movie – The Two Towers – was released the following year. I still didn’t care when the third movie – The Return of the King – was released in 2003. After all, the only fantasy adventure that interests me involves my move to Cicely, Alaska.

But also in 2003, someone recommended I rent the first two LOTR movies. I don’t remember who made this recommendation, but it had to be someone whose judgment I trusted, because I made my way to the video store and rented a VHS tape of The Fellowship of the Ring that I played on my VCR.

Although I must have been skeptical, the movie captivated me within minutes. I enjoyed it so much that I returned to the video store as soon as possible to rent The Two Towers. Then, I waited impatiently for The Return of the King to be released on video because I had missed its theatrical run.

Through the years, I’ve caught the movies on the TV, but enough time had passed since my last watch that I felt I could view them with fresh eyes. As I mentioned earlier, they’re fantastic. I love the music and, with one exception, the cast, and the grandness. At times, it’s over the top, but it’s a story about mind-reading elves, an all-seeing eye that corrupts a wizard, and a self-aware ring that’s trying to get back to its master. If that story doesn’t deserve and demand theatrics then I don’t know what does.

Ultimately, though, as a friend notes when explaining why the trilogy constitutes her favorite movie, it’s a story about working together and helping one another for a greater good or simply for friendship. As a teary-eyed Sam tells Frodo, he can’t carry the ring, but he can carry him. And he does.

Here are more of my thoughts on the trilogy, in no particular order of importance:

  • The Shire is beautiful. It’s no wonder most Hobbitses don’t leave.
  • I love the way the elves don’t seem to move when they move.
  • Much like Éowyn, I fell in love with Aragorn on first sight.
  • I’m sure this is offensive to Tolkien fans, but I couldn’t finish the books. They were hard to follow and boring.
  • Whenever the characters worried about the lack of troops, I shook my head. They just needed Aragorn and his sword, Legolas and his unending supply of arrows, and Gimli and his axe. Well, those guys, their weapons, and a little of Gandalf’s magic.
  • This might be an unpopular opinion, but the Orcs are scary and creepy.
  • If I had the ring and that screaming wraith showed up, I’d throw it to him.
  • Smeagol makes me sick to my stomach, but he had some good lines. Indeed, stupid fat hobbit is one of the greatest insults in cinematic history. Poor Sam. Not only did he accompany Frodo on his perilous journey over Middle Earth, he did so without po-tay-toes, and he endured fat-shaming. It’s no wonder Tolkien considered him the story’s true hero.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Setting the table — March 1, 2023

Setting the table

For the second consecutive week, I’m beginning this-here post with a book reference. Deal with it, people. I’m a reader.

With that settled, here’s the reference. A character in Andrew Sean Greer’s second Less book – yes, I’m also making my second consecutive book series reference – explains to the title character that people made sport of her mother’s family. They regarded them as the type of people who couldn’t set a table.

Although I’m almost certain I was familiar with this phrase, I didn’t know the meaning until she explained that it implied her mother’s family didn’t have matching silverware or dinnerware and, thus, couldn’t set a proper table.

To be clear, I have matching silverware and dinnerware and, thus, can set a table. Of course, I had to discard a plate and a bowl after breaking them beyond repair on separate occasions. So, I can’t set a big table.

But when I think about a proper table, my mind goes to place mats, cloth napkins, and napkin rings. In other words, things I don’t own.

I have friends who do own and use them. When I stayed with my bestie, she served meals on a proper table complete with all the above. Whilst on the town with another friend, she searched for new place mats.

How did I get such fancy friends?

For a good chunk of my life, the only place mats I was familiar with featured mazes and word searches and were accompanied by crayons.

As for napkins…restaurants legit give them to you when you order takeout or food in a drive-thru. If you’re not too messy, you can accumulate napkins and use them for years. They also double as paper towels.

Notice I wrote variations of the word “you” twice in the sentence before last. Whilst I use restaurant napkins, I give my guests store-bought napkins because I do have some understanding of etiquette.

By the way, restaurants will also give you ketchup. I don’t eat ketchup, but I collect packets for guests. It’s the least I can do.

At this point, you might be saying to yourself, “Self, serving guests packets of ketchup from restaurants and giving them paper napkins is so gauche.”

I beg your pardon. I’m cheap, but I’m not gauche.

I’m also not the type of person who’s going to own napkin rings and place mats. That’s fine for my fancy friends. That’s who they are. But if they came to my house and I served a meal with cloth napkins, they’d suspect that the real me had been kidnapped.

Unless they asked for ketchup and I pulled out a packet I’d saved from Dorsie’s Dairy Bar.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Baking power — February 22, 2023

Baking power

A character in Fredrik Backman’s The Winners (the last book in Backman’s Bear Town trilogy) bakes a lot of bread. Indeed, he makes so much bread that I suspected a loaf of bread would play a pivotal role in the story.

Whilst I won’t tell you if that happens, I will tell you that it turns out the character bakes bread because he needs to create something. After all, he’s unfulfilled and unhappy.

When Backman dropped that introspective bombshell, I looked up from my device and stared into the void. Why? Because when I’m feeling exceptionally unfulfilled and unhappy, I bake.

I’d never realized that baking was a form of therapy. Instead, I characterized it as a hobby. Looking back, though, I recall specific times when I felt especially stressed or depressed. During those times, I instinctively went to the kitchen and made good use of my fancy mixer.

Once Backman rocked my world, I needed to know more, so I entered the search terms “baking mental health” into the Internets. As it turns out, baking can improve your mood. The step-by-step process requires concentration, which makes you more mindful. That, in turn, reduces your stress levels and makes you calmer. The entire process also gives you a sense of control.

Of course, all this hinges on baking for pleasure and having time to do so. If I am rushed or feel that I have to bake, it worsens my mood. So, if you’re reading this and recalling the time you learned at the last minute that you had to bake 120 cupcakes for that bake sale, I’m developing secondary stress on your behalf.

The same can be said for the daily trudge of cooking for sustenance. But if you cook for pleasure, then you can derive the same mental health benefits others get from baking.

According to my research, part of these mental health benefits come from sharing the baked goods. I have also found this to be true. Although I sometimes bake just for myself, I feel best when I’m baking for others.

For example, a few weeks ago, I had leftover carrots that I didn’t cook. (Yes, on occasion I eat my veggies.) I asked my niece if she wanted a carrot cake. Except for the batter, I don’t eat carrot cake. So it was a win-win for me. I got to bake and eat batter. Of course, as I shredded the carrots, I whined to myself, “Self, why did you offer to do this? You nicked a knuckle.” But those nicked knuckles were worthwhile because I enjoyed the process of baking the cake even if transporting it did cause me stress. (That’s another story for another day.)

Sometimes, I even listen to music and dance whilst baking. That’s what I did last week whilst making a red velvet cake. For the record I also do not eat RVC, as it’s known in my circle. But I do eat the batter.

Hmm. Maybe consuming batter also improves my mental health.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Double dip — February 15, 2023

Double dip

I am a woman of an advanced age and I eat Fun Dip.

To be clear, I don’t eat Fun Dip every day or even every year. Also, I’m not sure anyone actually eats Fun Dip. Instead, it’s more like one consumes Fun Dip, a powdered candy that comes in different flavors and is accompanied by a crunchy candy stick that is equally delicious. By the way, whilst researching the candy for this-here column, I learned that Fun Dip is similar to the powdered candy found in Pixy Stix. No, I hadn’t put that together on my own.

Anyway, whilst strolling the aisles of a store, a box of Valentine’s Fun Dip caught my eyes. Whilst on a video call with my adorable great-niece and great-nephew (emphasis on great), I asked if they liked Fun Dip. When they answered in the affirmative, I then inquired about their favorite flavors. My niece prefers the red flavor – cherry aka my favorite – and my nephew prefers “boo.”

Firstly, I had no idea what flavor boo aka blue represented. Secondly, I immediately decided a box of Fun Dip packets would make the perfect Valentine’s Day present for these adorable children.

The next time I strolled the store’s aisles, I grabbed a box of Valentine’s Fun Dip. I learned that boo is RazzApple, a combination of raspberry and apple, and that the packets could be personalized.

With the Fun Dip in my possession, I set to work personalizing the packets for the children. I decided to address the red packets to my niece and the boo to my nephew.

A few days before Valentine’s Day, I told them I would give them a surprise after they ate supper. My niece actually asked if it was a good surprise or a bad surprise. As if I, their great-aunt (emphasis on great), would give them a bad surprise.

They seemed pleased with the surprise. My nephew was almost as excited to read his and his sister’s names on the wrappers as he was to make that delicious stick disappear. My niece, an avowed fan of the red, decided to try the boo flavor.

As did I.

Firstly, it had been a few years since I’d consumed Fun Dip. Secondly, I wasn’t prepared for the sourness of the apple part of RazzApple. As a result, when that powdered candy hit my taste buds, my lips puckered and my eyes closed tightly. When I opened them, I saw my nephew with his hands clasped over his adorable face.

I’d made him laugh.

Happy Valentine’s Day to me.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Not to be taken literally — February 8, 2023

Not to be taken literally

With my deadline quickly approaching, I sat staring at the computer whilst trying to think of an idea for this-here column. A few weeks ago I banked columns, but I’ve used all those columns in the ensuing weeks. Yes, I made withdrawals from that bank, but I did not make deposits of new columns. I do have a couple ideas percolating in my mind, but I’m not ready to pour that metaphorical coffee into words.

To help the creative process, I searched the Internets and checked holidays and observances for upcoming wacky events that might serve as a writing prompt. As my eyes scanned the holidays and observances, I saw the words that lifted my spirits – Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk Day.

Oh, do I have a story about crying over spilled milk.

Before I get to that, let’s discuss this holiday, of sorts. Observed on Feb. 11, the day is meant to remind us to let go of regrets and forgive ourselves. There’s much debate as to the origins of the phrase, but the gist is that the milk has already been spilled so there’s no need in crying about it. Just clean it up and move on.

I learned the meaning of the phrase as a wee lass. I couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 years old that day my siblings and cousins gathered outside to play baseball. Indeed, it’s one of my earliest memories. I wasn’t part of the game. I had more important matters to attend to. I had carried my paper dolls outside. I can’t remember if we had a porch at that time or if the dolls and I sat on the ground in front of the house. I also had no knowledge of the words that were uttered as my oldest sister took her turn at bat, but they’ve been shared with me. One of our cousins implored another cousin to throw a curveball because she couldn’t hit it.

She hit it right over my head and into our living room picture window. I remember the crash.

And the crying of epic proportions that occurred afterward.

And my mom telling my sister to quit crying over spilled milk.

I said to myself, “What? There was a cup or glass of milk behind the couch?”

So, I crawled behind the couch, making sure to avoid shards of glass, to look for the spilled milk.

Finding none, I went to my mom and explained there had been a mistake. There was no spilled milk. I also handed her the baseball, which I had retrieved from behind the couch.

I can only imagine what she thought at that moment. Not only did she have to replace a broken window, she also had a weirdo kid crawling around broken glass and looking for nonexistent spilled milk.

I don’t remember the words she used, but she explained that crying over spilled milk was an expression. That we had to fix the window, clean up the glass, and move on.

And I had to stay away from broken glass and return to the important task of playing with paper dolls.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Universal coupling — February 1, 2023

Universal coupling

Ken Burns’ aptly-titled 2019 Country Music documentary renewed my semi-obsession with the life of Tammy Wynette. Tammy, as she will be referred to in this-here post, was known as the First Lady of Country Music due to the string of hits she accumulated in the 1960s and ‘70s. In addition to her songs and her success, the country music doc delved into her personal tribulations. As a friend and I discussed the doc, I said that Tammy’s life deserved an updated movie. (In 1981, Tammy’s life was made into a TV movie.)

The universe listened.

Well, sort of.

Late last year, I learned of a limited series called George and Tammy, which would chronicle the lives and careers of Tammy and her third husband, George Jones aka the greatest male country music vocalist of all time.

A six-episode series about Tammy and George? The universe not only listened, it improved on my request.

There was only one problem. The series would be shown on Showtime, and I didn’t have Showtime. What’s that? Showtime was offering a 99-cent-a-month deal through my streaming service. Heck, I find that much change on floors and in parking lots every month. Sign me up, Showtime.

I knew I would love George and Tammy within the first few minutes of the first episode when I spotted actor Walton Goggins in George’s band. Goggins has been in oodles of movies and shows, but I know him best as Shane from The Shield and Boyd from Justified. In George and Tammy, he plays Peanutt. Yes, with two tts.

Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain play, respectively, George and Tammy. I have mentally sent both actors – and Goggins – bouquets of their favorite flowers to express my appreciation for their performances. Chastain’s Tammy comes across as so vulnerable and so seeking of love and a home. Shannon does such a good job as George that I alternated between wanting to push him off his riding lawnmower to wanting to hug him to wanting to ask for home décor advice to wanting to give him a high five. Their performances, especially Shannon’s, in the final scene brought tears to my eyes.

Except for that final scene, when the leads and others perform a singalong of Lost Highway, I wish the actors hadn’t done their own singing. I legit thought my friend and I were going to throw hands over this subject, but I do not like hearing actors perform songs made famous by others. It triggers me. For some reason, their duets weren’t as triggering, but I fast-forwarded the show during some of the solos. It was either that or overturn a table.

Anyway, when I heard about the series, I wondered if it would cover the reasons I became semi-obsessed with Tammy’s life – her “kidnapping,” her fifth husband, her health, her hair. Once again, the universe listened.

I thoroughly enjoyed George and Tammy and highly recommend you find a way to watch. You don’t have to be a fan of theirs or of country music to appreciate the series. Keep in mind, though, that since it’s not a documentary, they do play fast and loose with the timeline (and perhaps some facts) for dramatic effect. Oh, it’s based on a book by George and Tammy’s daughter, Georgette. Keep that in mind, too, and keep your eyes and ears out for her. She appears twice in the series as a backup singer.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Here to stay — January 25, 2023

Here to stay

In case you haven’t heard, our long national nightmare is over – Fritos barbeque flavored corn chips are back on a permanent basis.”

I’m not sure when this event of epic proportions occurred. Therefore, I’m not sure if it qualifies as breaking news. All I know is that in early December, as I stood at the dollar store checkout, my eyes spied two small bags of barbeque Fritos, as it’s known by fans. Fearing the company was teasing me by offering the chips on a limited basis, as they did in 2020 and 2021, I snatched both bags and added them to my order.

Oh, how I savored every chip as it would be the last. For, you see, I remember when Frito-Lay pulled the chips from the shelves, thereby breaking my heart and messing with my mind. Allegedly, this heartbreak occurred in 2018, but my taste buds say it’s been longer.

Regardless, I was in need of some barbeque corn chips in my life after Frito-Lay’s betrayal, so I tried Fritos’ chili cheese and honey barbeque varieties, but I didn’t care for either. And although I have eaten other companies’ barbeque corn chips, this has only occurred on an emergency basis. Along those lines, I will also only eat the original Fritos in an emergency because they leave an aftertaste.

In case you’re asking yourself, “Self, what exactly is a chip emergency?” here’s an example: Someone invites you to his or her house. You offer to bring chips and are told the chip situation is under control. You arrive at the house to discover Fritos Scoops being served with delicious bean dip. You find yourself in the middle of a chip emergency. The Scoops, aka oversized original Fritos, will leave an aftertaste, but you can’t not eat the delicious bean dip and you need chips to do so.

Anyway, after my find at the dollar store checkout, I didn’t expect to run across more barbeque Fritos. Once again, however, I was in for an early Christmas present. As I walked down the dollar store’s chip aisle, I spied several adult sized bags of the chips. I grabbed a bag without even checking the price.

When I relayed this to a group of friends, they legit gasped. Yes, dear readers, my cheapness is well-known among my friends. But what was I supposed to do? Not buy another bag after a years-long separation?

Since then I have bought only one more bag of the chips. I’m proud to say that the bag lasted four days. That’s a record around me. No, I haven’t gotten my feel of the “tangy, flavor-packed twist on Fritos’ classic corn chip,” to quote Frito-Lay. But I can buy a bag whenever I want because the chips are here to stay. I know because I checked the definition and that’s what permanent means.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Crisis management — January 18, 2023

Crisis management

I experienced an existential crisis last month whilst shopping for post-holiday sales.

Or as I called it, Monday.

This particular crisis occurred as I considered whether I should buy drastically reduced Christmas gift tags. The price was right and the tags were super cute. But when I did the math, I realized there were so many tags in that packet that I probably wouldn’t have to buy any for a decade. I legit said, “Oh, no,” returned the tags to the hanger, and marched out of the aisle without looking back.

You should know this is not the first time gift tags have caused me to experience an existential crisis. Years ago, I purchased a roll that contained oodles of tags. Finding the deal filled me with unbridled glee especially when I realized I could use that roll for years.

The dread set in a couple years later. I said to myself, “Self, how old will you be by the time you’ve used all these gift tags?” After I had pulled out the abacus, done the math, and figured out I’d be eligible for Social Security before I needed to buy another gift tag, I decided to accidentally leave that roll of tags at a relative’s house. Deal be derned.

Since then, I’ve bought gift tags on a year-by-year (or two) basis. Of course, that produces another kind of crisis. Last year I thought I had tags. I didn’t. I had to scramble to find some at the last minute. Well, at what I consider the last minute. (By the way, the tags I procured looked like little books. They were so fancy and shiny that two people, upon seeing them attached to gifts, asked, “What are those?” Uh, gift tags…from a dollar store, but not my favorite dollar store.)

Anyway, I can buy in bulk if it’s something like ibuprofen or toilet paper. You know, items I use on the daily. But not something I don’t use frequently. For reals. I’ve been working on a thousand-count box of toothpicks for approximately 15 years. Even the late professional wrestler Scott Hall aka Razor Ramon would have needed some time to make his way through that mocking box of toothpicks. The money I saved on those tiny pieces of wood wasn’t worth the damage to my psyche.

By the way, last month, on the day after Christmas, I did find a deal on one sheet of tags that should serve my gifting needs for the next couple years. That’s as far in the future as I care to plan.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.