That smell — April 1, 2020

That smell

A couple weeks ago, I walked into the kitchen and found Cady, the general of my cat army, staring at the stove as if she expected it to move. I’ve spent enough years with the cat army to realize this behavior typically means a vermin intruder has penetrated the perimeter, so I checked the previous points of entry. I didn’t see any evidence of vermin, though. What’s more, the rags I had stuffed inside holes remained there and my makeshift spackling jobs had held. Nonetheless, I moved the food from the pantry and to the oven, the refrigerator and the microwave.

We went on with our lives and, a few evenings later, I heard a scratching noise underneath the bathtub. The next evening, the cat army and I gathered around the wall between the bathroom and hallway and listened to what sounded like a rhinoceros crawling up the wall. A few nights later, I heard a ruckus that sounded like a crash of rhinos galloping throughout the house.

I didn’t want to interfere, so I returned to slumber. The next morning, I didn’t see evidence of foul play, so I assumed the cats had spent the night engaged in paw-to-paw combat with one another.

That brings us to last weekend. Whilst cleaning, I moved a box so that I could sweep. That’s when I spotted vermin droppings. They were few in number and concentrated in a small area near a corner.

I was perplexed.

I asked myself, “Self, why did the vermin only poo here? And how did it get in?” I returned to previous points of entry, but once again found nothing. But this time I also checked the cabinet above the stove, where I found a few droppings. That made sense because the cabinet was in the general location of the smell…

Oh, wait, I had forgotten to mention the smell that had been offending my nostrils for three or four days. I assumed it was coming from a rhino that had somehow lost its life in the wall behind the stove.

As I had no plans to tear down the wall, I also assumed I would have to live with the smell, which at times took my breath away. And not in a good way. Regardless, I went on with my life, cleaning the cabinet above the stove and stuffing old rags and spackle into holes.

After I cleaned my mess, I attempted to return the stove to his usual locale, but I quickly stopped, backed away from the stove and gasped. The smell overwhelmed me. Apparently, the offensive odor was coming from inside the stove. Specifically, from the top right corner of the back of the stove.

Whatever had died in there wasn’t going to get itself out, so I borrowed a tool from my neighbor and removed the stove’s back panel. When I saw a dead mouse staring at me, I backed away from the stove and gasped.

For moral support, I called to Cady, who quickly joined me in the kitchen. But she gave me a look that suggested she felt the cat army had done their job and now it was my turn.

So, I used napkins and a tool to dislodge the mouse. That’s when I noticed the trail of dried blood. I’ve watched dern-near every episode of “CSI,” so I reconstructed the scene. Apparently, the cat army had corned the mouse, which accounted for the droppings, and then chased it to its death, perhaps even fatally wounding it, on the night of the ruckus.

Either way, the cat army had done their job. So I showered them with praise and treats, and then we held a private service for the mouse.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Half-baked idea — March 24, 2020

Half-baked idea

Due to the coronavirus, I’ve been working from home for a week. And that means I’ve also been lunching from home for a week.

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve been required to BMOL (bring my own lunch). Indeed, earlier this month, with the cafeteria closed for spring break, I was responsible for furnishing my midday meals.

For two of those days, I decided to take Red Baron French bread pizza. I discovered the product last year and quickly became a fan of the five cheese and garlic offering. As is their way, however, the stores quit carrying that product soon thereafter.

Alas, life is filled with disappointments, but what matters is how we react to said disappointments. With that in mind, I decided to take a chance on the pepperoni French bread pizza and tossed a box into my shopping cart. I figured I could toss the individual pizzas into the microwave at work and take care of two days’ worth of lunches.

Luckily for me, there was a memory bobbing on the waves of my consciousness, which directed me to check the back of the pizza box. As I read the directions, it all came back to me and I uttered an expletive.

Why? Because there are two ways to prepare the pizzas. The recommended method involves baking the pizzas in an oven for 20 to 23 minutes. The other method involves microwaving the pizzas for one to two minutes and then baking them in an oven for eight to 10 minutes.

Unless you’re so hungry that you’re on the verge of passing out or dying, why would you choose the second method? Either way, you’ll need to use a conventional or toaster oven, so why would you bring the microwave into the relationship? The way I see it, you’d be taking the unnecessary risk of making a mess in the microwave and, as everyone knows, microwaves are dern-near impossible to clean.

The second method also includes an extra step. You’d need to put the pizzas in the microwave and remove them only to then put them in the oven. I’m exhausted even thinking about it.

Clearly, the recommended method represents the only logical way to prepare the pizzas. That’s what I did during spring break. I baked the pizzas one evening and warmed them in the microwave at work for my next two consecutive midday meals.

In spite of the confusing baking directions, I’m happy to describe the pizzas as tasty and filling. In fact, you might have recently seen me standing in my grocer’s freezer so that I could retrieve the last box of said pizzas.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Hand to mouth — March 10, 2020

Hand to mouth

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m something of a worrier. So, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that I’m devoting most of my current worrying minutes to the coronavirus. Sure, I’ve heard and read that a healthy non-elderly person such as myself should be just fine. But I’ve also heard and read that folks can have the virus yet be symptom free. In other words, I could contract the virus and unknowingly infect scores of unhealthy and/or elderly people.

Although I can’t stop the coronavirus from spreading faster than a rumor at a family reunion, I can take precautions to keep the virus from infecting me. Indeed, that’s why you might have seen me strolling through the Super Dollar with gloves on hands like an extra in a Joan Crawford movie.

I’m also washing my hands with more enthusiasm. This doesn’t mean I’ve just now started practicing good hygiene. It just means that before last week, I squirted the minimum amount of soap on my hands and then rubbed my sort of soapy hands together and under water for approximately three seconds before calling it good.

But since I’ve commenced washing my hands for the amount of time it would take “Free Bird” or in a pinch, “American Pie,” to play, my hands are quickly becoming dry. This, of course, means that I also need to put lotion on my hands more often. Thankfully, I convinced my mom to offer me a bottle of lotion, so now I have enough for home and work.

Unfortunately, though, I have some bad habits that might increase my chances of contracting the coronavirus, or any bug for that matter. I touch my face dozens of times an hour and I rub my eyes scores of times a day. In fact, in the past 45 seconds, I’ve scratched my nose twice and my forehead once and covered my mouth with my hand 14 times. The only reason I haven’t rubbed my eyes is because, now that I’ve written about these habits, I’m super conscious of them and concentrating on not putting hand to face.

I’d like to think that the threat of death would cure me of these habits, but a similar threat hasn’t kept me away from carbs. Regardless, just in case I’m forced to self isolate, I’ve stocked up on supplies. In fact, you might have seen me strolling through the store, with gloves on hands, purchasing chips, candy, and crackers. You know, the essentials.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Sucker punch — March 3, 2020

Sucker punch

Two separate conversations I’ve had with two different sets of people in two different locations over the course of the last two weeks have gone something like this:

Me: “Do y’all remember those powdery suckers?”

Fellow conversers: “No.”

Me: “Oh, you remember them. They were roundish but also kinda flat on top and powdery and they came in different pale colors and they were powdery.”

Fellow conversers: “Oh, yeah. They had those short, hollow sticks. I liked them.”

Me: “I hated them. The powder turned my stomach.”

Fellow conversers: “Hmm. Not sure why you insisted on reminding us of something you hate. But speaking of lollipops, I really miss those Life Savers suckers.”

That’s right, dear readers. Without being prompted, two sets of folks — with only me in common – shared their remembrances of lollipops past. A converser from conversation number two seemed especially attuned to the emotional memories of her taste buds. Indeed, with tears forming in her eyes, she related how she’s told her teenage daughter that she would love for her to be able to enjoy one of those Life Saver lollipops of her youth.

For those of you unfamiliar with the suckers, they were officially known as Life Savers Swirled Pops. Although they were larger than regular Life Savers, I could make one disappear in approximately three bites. They came in four flavors — blueberry and vanilla, orange and vanilla, cherry and banana, and strawberry and vanilla.

I can’t remember trying the blueberry and vanilla, I’m not a fan of orange-flavored treats, and the strawberry and vanilla turned my stomach. But the cherry and banana was so good that I can understand why my friend wishes her daughter could enjoy the fruity lollipop. For reals. It’s something that everyone should experience at least one or two hundred times.

The company quit making the lollipops at some point and, to be honest, I hadn’t thought of the product in dozens of years. What’s more, I can’t remember the last time I had a Life Saver. But when I was a child, I would frequently accompany my parents to the store. It was most likely the Piggly Wiggly or, later, the Food City. When we reached the checkout lane, my mom always let me pick a treat from the rack of candy. Sometimes I chose cinnamon Tic Tacs while other times I selected a pack of bubblegum or a tube of wild cherry Life Savers.

I’m sure I would have opted for a cherry and banana Swirled Pop if given the chance. But not a strawberry and vanilla or one of those powdery suckers. They turned my stomach.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Feed your inner splurge — February 18, 2020

Feed your inner splurge

Whether it’s buying generic toilet paper that’s so thin you could read through it or re-using salad containers, you can count on me to stretch a dollar. (A dollar comprising 100 cents in change that I accumulated by scouring for said change on floors or in parking lots.)

Anyway, due to this thriftiness, it might surprise you to learn there are items and occasions on which I splurge. For example, I buy Lindor chocolate truffles. Yes, I realize a bag that costs in excess of five bucks contains only 20 truffles, which means I’m spending more than a quarter on each truffle. But every time I pop one of those delicious balls of chocolate into my mouth, I consider it (more than) a quarter well spent. Besides, I’m still using that handful of Lindor coupons I scored in November, which means the cost per delicious chocolate ball is less than a quarter.

Although I break my fast every morning with generic oatmeal and lament the fact that I can no longer find generic tea, I buy Toasteds crackers. I also spring for Nestle cocoa mix. (What can I say? Chocolate is important to me.) Of late, however, the stores have not been stocking Nestle, which has caused my stress level to shoot into the stratosphere. Recently, as I stood in the cocoa mix aisle, I debated whether I should buy an inferior brand. Finally, I said to myself, “Self, you’re not getting any weak expletive cocoa.” So, I forked over the money for a “gourmet” brand that’s actually pretty good. (It’s still not as good as Nestle, though.)

And while I don’t dine out every day of the week, I do treat myself to one restaurant meal dern-near every weekend. Lately, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with Wendy’s Asiago chicken sandwich. (By the way, take it from me, it’s not pronounced Asia-go.) When I’m feeling especially frisky, I’ll order the meal. (It’s number 13.) But I make a point to go inside and place my order so that I can choose how much ice to put in my drink. This also means that I can then guzzle said drink and top it off before I vacate the premises.

Yeah, I’m thrifty even when I’m not.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The one and only — February 11, 2020

The one and only

On the heels of last week’s “news” that the postal service still offers collect on delivery services, I’m back with another bulletin of epic proportions. This time I’m here to let you know that the original recipe “Magnum, P.I.” is now on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel.

As you might recall, “Magnum, P.I.” ran on CBS from 1980 to 1988 and starred Tom Selleck as the title character. The show followed the exploits of Magnum as he solved mysteries in paradise aka Hawaii. Magnum lived on a beautiful estate called Robin’s Nest, which was owned by the celebrated – yet never seen – author, Robin Masters. Magnum frequently bickered with Higgins, (John Hillerman) the caretaker of Robin’s Nest, who was not amused by Magnum’s laid back approach to life.

Although I adore Higgy-Baby, which is how Magnum’s buddy, T.C., referred to Higgins, I’ve always been a Magnum fangirl. Nonetheless, Higgins had a point about Magnum. In dern-near every episode, Magnum, Higgins, T.C., their other friend, Rick, and Magnum’s love interest of the week found themselves embroiled in dangerous situations that could have been avoided.

Indeed, in an episode I happened to catch a couple weeks ago, bad guys and one bad gal descended upon Robin’s Nest with machine guns. Magnum, with an assist from T.C. and his ubiquitous helicopter, saved the day and everyone’s lives. Afterward, Magnum offered a wisecrack about how Higgins’ guard dogs, two Doberman Pinchers nicknamed the lads, let him down. At that point, I said to myself, “Self, unlike the lads, Magnum is a professional and he has opposable thumbs. So shouldn’t he be held a tad more accountable for weekly ruckuses?”

Regardless, I’ve been a fan of “Magnum, P.I.” since my days as a wee lass. I can remember coming in from a long summer’s day of playing to find Magnum on the TV, speeding through the streets of Hawaii in Robin’s red Ferrari. The show has been in syndication on and off since the ’80s and I’m always overjoyed when it shows up on my TV. It’s one of those shows I can keep on all day without watching a complete episode.

I have, however, never sampled so much as a second of the version of “Magnum” currently airing on CBS. Let’s be honest. The original series owed its success to the various charms of Selleck and Hillerman. There is only one true Thomas Magnum and his name is Tom Selleck.

So, if you want to watch him crack wise his way across paradise, check your local listings.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Collect on delivery — February 4, 2020

Collect on delivery

Did you know that collect on delivery (COD) is still offered by the United States Postal Service (USPS)?

Of course, if you’re under a certain age, you probably have no idea what the heck I’m talking about. Well, according to the USPS website, COD allows a sender to “collect from the recipient money for postage, fees, merchandise, or any combination thereof.”

In other words, you can order something and pay for it upon delivery. There are oodles of restrictions, though. What’s more, oodles of senders do not offer the COD service. But it was all the rage when I was a wee lass growing up.

Again, if you’re under a certain age, it might come as a surprise to learn that the Internet/online shopping hasn’t always existed and that credit/debit cards weren’t always common, either. So, if you saw a television advertisement for, let’s say, ABBA’s greatest hits on 8-track and you were too young to have a checking account, you could call the 800 number listed on screen or mail your order to the address, also given on screen, and pay the mailperson upon delivery of said 8-track.

All this assumes you could find a writing utensil and a scrap of paper on which to write the address or phone number before the advertisement ended. And that, if you grew up in my house and were too young to have a checking account, that you had your parents’ permission to place the order. If not, then the combination thereof the mailperson would have collected would have been one or more minor children.

Anyway, COD recently popped into my head as I marveled over the ease of downloading and/or uploading books. Although I’ve been doing this for years, the instant delivery continues to amaze me. Indeed, I hope I never forget that for most of my life I did not have the option of receiving oodles of books or movies or songs via a simple click of my finger.

That’s when I recalled, with a chuckle, the days of COD. I realized I had never really thought about how COD worked and how it seemed like a heck of a lot of effort on behalf of the USPS and how there’s no way the COD service still existed.

So imagine my surprise upon learning that although oodles of restrictions apply, I could place a COD order if I so desired.

Oh, by the way, if you’re under a certain age, we will discuss ABBA and 8-tracks at a future time.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Peer reviewed — January 21, 2020

Peer reviewed

It seems like everyone I know has an instant pot and/or air fryer. For those of you unfamiliar with these small appliances, don’t look to me for an explanation of how they work. Based on their names, however, I theorize that the air fryer uses air to fry food and the instant pot uses magic to cook food instantly – and in a pot.

For a couple years, well-meaning friends and family members have been peer pressuring me to join the instant pot and/or air fryer craze. The conversations have gone something like this:

Well-meaning friend or family member – “OMG! Fries made in an air fryer taste amazing! You should so totally get one!”

Me – “I do love me some fries, but I don’t want a bag of them constantly tempting me from the freezer, so I’ll pass. But thanks so much for thinking of me! You’re the best!”

Well-meaning friend or family member – “OMG! Rice made in the instant pot tastes amazing and it’s done in, like, an instant! You should so totally get one!”

Me – “I do love me some rice, but Uncle Ben, a saucepan, and the stove are currently meeting my rice needs. But thanks for thinking of me! You’re the best!”

Actually, it doesn’t make sense for me to obtain an instant pot and/or air fryer because I don’t cook much. Indeed, as a well-meaning friend said to me, “I guess you don’t need an air fryer to make oatmeal.”

If you’re a longtime reader of this-here space, you might be confused. You might be saying to yourself, “Self, isn’t she always going on about making some sort of mouth-watering baked good?”

Well, yeah, but that’s baking. It’s a hobby. In fact, I enjoy making mouth-watering baked goods even if said treat is something like fruitcake, carrot cake, or red velvet cake, aka stuff I don’t eat. Even if I could air fry and/or bake a cake instantly – and in a pot – I’m not sure I would enjoy doing so.

As for cooking…at my advanced age I can finally concede that it’s not something I enjoy doing. If need be, I can cook a multi-course meal. But I’m more of a one-course meal type of gal. Although that one course could be white meat I’ve thrown onto the George Foreman grill, the meal could just as easily come out of a can or a box.

And as I’m not sure making those meals in an instant pot and/or an air fryer would improve the quality of my life, I shall not be giving into the peer pressure.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

What a mess — January 7, 2020

What a mess

Last year, as in years past, I kept a blessings jar. As you might have deduced, every week I wrote a blessing on a slip of paper and placed the paper into a jar. (Well, actually it’s an aging popcorn tin.) And at the beginning of this year, I reviewed last year’s blessings.

Some of the blessings featured nature. For example, one week I included a tree I had passed billions of times on the way to my mom’s house yet had somehow never before noticed. I also made note of watching the river flow past the dentist’s office as I waited for him to come in and yank out a tooth.

There was the week I was grateful my car was still under warranty and, the following week, when I was grateful it was out of the car hospital and once again running well.

And then there was the week that my great-niece, aka the world’s most adorable kindergartner, told me my hair looked messy.

I had forgotten her proclamation until I reviewed the aforementioned blessings. If my memory is correct, she made the observation one weekend as we gathered in my mom’s parlor. What I can’t recall, however, is why I considered it a blessing.

Of course, there is the possibility that I deemed it a blessing simply because it came from her mouth. After all, I consider her daily declarations to be philosophical phenomena that should be shared far and wide. Indeed, I frequently send messages to friends that contain nothing but her musings on life.

Or it could be that I regarded her innocent remark as a blessing in disguise. Perhaps it spurred me to spiffy up my hair or to make an appointment with the hairdresser.

Regardless of why I scribbled the exchange on a scrap of paper so that it could be kept for posterity, its inclusion makes me question what else was going on in my life that week. Even if nothing exceptional happened in that seven-day period, one would think I would have at least enjoyed a good meal. After all, chicken nuggets comprised another week’s blessing. Or, baring good food, perhaps I would have taken a good nap, which showed up in two separate weeks’ blessings, or taken a good walk and/or run.

Nope. The best thing that happened that week was that a child insulted my hair.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Dough girl — December 18, 2019

Dough girl

76781467_10221205068818778_3035515819174920192_oWhen I was a wee lass, my mom, aunts, and grandmothers occasionally treated us to homemade crackers. They made the crackers by frying leftover pie dough in lard or bacon grease. The former came out of a huge plastic bucket while the later was poured from a metal canister that rested on the stove. The canister was labeled “GREASE.” I assume so that no one would forget the nature of its contents.

While the crackers weren’t exactly heart healthy, they sure were tasty, especially if you ate them while they were warm. The crackers of our youth came up in conversation as my siblings and I gathered the day before Thanksgiving to bake pies and other goodies.

Of course, no crackers were made that day, but I wouldn’t say the extra dough went to waste.

After placing the bottom layer of dough, the filling (either apple or cherry), and then the top layer of dough in the pie plate, my mom gently trimmed the excess dough from the pie. And as soon as the excess dough dropped onto the table, her helper, my great-niece, scooped up said dough.

The world’s most adorable kindergartner then played with the dough, squishing it between her fingers and rolling it onto the table. Or, as we say where I come from, she gommed in it. Indeed, she even whipped off her socks, placed the dough in the chair, and kneaded it with her feet.

There were quarter-hearted attempts to make her stop gomming in the dough, but none of these entreaties came from Aunt Cookie (that’s me). Instead, I praised her for making use of her imagination and for showing an interest in baking. What’s more, she made sweet memories with her great-grandmother. So what if she also made a mess?

She was, however, a tad possessive of the dough. When my brother reached over for a little of that freshly-trimmed dough, she demonstrated Ninja-like speed as she grabbed most of it from his grasp. I think I heard her giggle. I’m sure I saw an extra twinkle in her eyes.

When the pie-making concluded, she shaped the dough into a mound that could have been a troll or a volcano or a Shar-Pei’s face. She then stuck two small whisks into either side of the mound. They could have represented horns, but I like to think they represented flags and that she was staking her claim.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.