Empty talk — January 12, 2022

Empty talk

Although I’m known as a thrifty sort of gal, sometimes I wonder if I could be a little more thrifty. These doubts creep up from time to time, especially when I’m close to emptying a tube of toothpaste.

Allow me to explain.

When I was in college, one pal, with whom I am no longer in contact, shared an anecdote about another pal, with whom I am also no longer in contact. According to the first pal, the second pal’s family used a razor blade to open tubes of toothpaste when said tubes where close to empty. Why did they do this? To extract more toothpaste from the tubes. After all, as much as you squeeze that darn tube, you can never extract all the toothpaste.

It’s been dozens of years since I’ve been in college. And I’m not even sure I remember the second pal’s name. But I haven’t forgotten that anecdote. Over these dozens of years, as I’ve “emptied” tubes of toothpaste, I’ve looked at those tubes and said to myself, “Self, you know there’s more toothpaste in there.”

But what was self supposed to do? Firstly, I don’t keep razorblades on hand. Would it be cost efficient to buy them for the sole purpose of slicing open tubes of toothpaste? Secondly, I’ve considered cutting the tubes with scissors, but am I going to do that with the scissors I use to perform random household chores. Would it be cost efficient to buy a special pair of scissors for the sole purpose of slicing open tubes of toothpaste?

I answered no to both questions. Still, I wondered.

Anyway, on a related note, a few years ago, I “emptied” my first tube of hand cream/moisturizer. With that college anecdote swirling in my head, I just knew there had to be globs of lotion stuck to the innards of the sparkly tube. So, I retrieved the scissors.

As I suspected, the innards did in fact contain additional lotion. Lotion that moisturized my skin.

I made a few mistakes during that first attempt, though. I made only one cut, which I put too close to the top of said tube, and I allowed the lotion to dry. Thus, I didn’t get to use all that sweet smelling lotion.

Lucky for me, the galaxy contained additional tubes of hand cream/moisturizer. Two weeks ago, I “emptied” one of those tubes. This time, I made the first cut about a third of the way around the tube. When my little fingers had extracted all they could, I made a second cut down the tube. I also covered the tube to keep the lotion from drying.

I’m happy to report there are no more globs of lotion left inside what remains of that sparkly tube.

Of course, I’m sure I continue to throw away globs of toothpaste. But after dozens of years, at least I was finally able to put that anecdote to use.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Read all about it, part two — January 5, 2022

Read all about it, part two

Last week when I shared the best nonfiction books I read during 2021, I promised that this week I’d share the best works of fiction I read last year.

Before I do so, allow me to impart deep thoughts I’ve developed about annual reading challenges. As I reviewed all the books I read last year, I said to myself, “Self, a reading challenge serves as a good metaphor for a year. When you begin a new year, you have no idea what adventures and challenges await you. When you begin a reading challenge, you have no idea what books await you.”

Unless, of course, you’ve selected every book you’ll read that year in advance. But don’t do that because you’ll upend my metaphor.

Anyway, the best works of fiction I read last year were the first two installments in Swedish writer Fredrik Backman’s Beartown series.

The first book, the aptly-titled Beartown, was published in the United States in 2017. I learned of its existence in 2021 upon my bestie’s recommendation. In Beartown, Backman tells the story of a despairing town, the aptly-titled Beartown, and how the town’s residents have pinned their wishes, hopes, and dreams on the junior hockey league. (There’s also an HBO series based on the book.)

Although I’m a sports fan, I watch hockey only during the Olympics. When the teams ran plays in the book – are they called plays in hockey? – I didn’t understand what was going on. What’s more, I never fully understood the structure of the hockey leagues.

But I understood Backman’s characters. I felt them. I worried about the fate of one character so much that, upon learning the second book had already been published, I told self we would not be reading it. The way I saw it, if said character suffered a tragic fate, he would do so without my knowledge.

But I woke one morning and realized I owed it to that character and the others to see them through to the end. My bestie lent me her copy of book two, Us Against You, and I returned to that despairing town and to its desperate and damaged residents.

At times, I regretted my decision because the story made me sad and/or angry. But as I wrote last week, emotion is good. Besides, at other times, the book made me laugh and smile.

I still worry about that one character, though. With one book to go, I stress over his fate. Backman has released the book in Sweden and, reportedly, it will be published in the U.S. this year.

I hope those reports are true or I’ll be learning Swedish.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Need I remind me — December 22, 2021

Need I remind me

Most of the ornaments on my Christmas tree were hand painted or handmade by my mom, by my sisters, or by me. I’ve also adorned my fake fireplace and my real mantle with a plaster village and other decorations that I painted. Indeed, most of the tree’s hand-painted ornaments are plaster.

Some are wooden, though. They represent my first attempts at craftiness. I can remember the first time I spotted said ornaments in my mom’s craft catalog, which is heavy on needlepoint items. I cannot do any type of needlepoint, but I am a catalog fiend. Hence, that is why I was flipping through the catalog on that snowy day back in the 1990s.

When I spied those wooded ornament kits, I said to myself, “Self, you’re not artistic, but this is like paint by number. What idiot can’t paint by number?”

At first, I tried my best to prove that this idiot couldn’t paint by number. In fact, the first ornament I painted – a gingerbread house – looked so bad that I eventually threw it away.

Although I never put that hideous thing on a tree, I kept it for a while. It served as inspiration.

Take the deformed bunny. (By the way, for reasons I don’t understand, the bunny is hanging out with a polar bear. What kind of bunny befriends a polar bear?) The bunny is shown in profile and its eye sets too far down its face and too close to its nose. This leaves entirely too much of a forehead. Oh, and one ear is too pointy and the pink part of the other ear extends onto that big ole forehead.

I have put other not-exactly-hideous but less-than-pleasing-to-the-eye ornaments on the tree. I still do.

I also created a semi-deformed donkey.

The donkey resides on one side of a house. Not a real house in which humans live. How would I hang that on a tree? A mini house. It’s part of a six-house set. The donkey actually doesn’t look that bad – except for the snout. Not only is it rather large, it has no holes. I’m not sure how the donkey has been breathing all these years.

Another house features a figure whose existence makes my loved ones laugh and laugh. All I’ll say is that he’s supposed to be Santa. Since he does not look a thing like Santa, he has caused tremendous excitement over the years. In this year alone, on separate visits to my house, two loved ones have scampered to my tree and strained their bodies, asking, “Where is he?”

I put him and the deformed bunny and the semi-deformed donkey on the tree each year because they elicit chuckles and because they remind me of how far I’ve come.

Indeed, another visitor this year commented on the village and other decorations adorning my fake fireplace and my real mantle. When I explained that I had painted them, the visitor looked closer at one of them and noted the detail.

I saw no reason to point out the deformed bunny.

Merry Christmas!

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

A character story — December 15, 2021

A character story

Of all the great holiday movies, A Christmas Story is my favorite. The saga of Ralphie Parker’s quest for a Red Ryder B.B. gun never fails to entertain me, to make me laugh, and to touch my he

And of all the great characters in the movie – Ralphie, his old man, his mom, the Bumpus dogs – it’s a relatively overlooked character – Ralphie’s brother, Randy – who serves as my favorite.

Most of the time, when I hear people refer to Randy, they call him Ralphie’s brother. It’s as if he doesn’t have a name. And most of the time, when they’re referring to him, they’re comparing something in their lives to the scene in which Randy and Ralphie’s mom dresses Randy in so many layers that he can’t put his arms down.

That is a fantastic scene, but there’s so much more to Randy. Take my favorite scene in the movie. In the voiceover, the narrator (Jean Shepherd, who wrote the stories on which the movie was based) explains that Randy has not eaten a meal voluntarily in three years. Displaying her ingenuity, the mom asks Randy to show her how the piggies eat. Randy, pretending to be a pig, puts his face into a plate of mashed potatoes and does just that. Whilst eating like a pig, he oinks and oinks and laughs and laughs.

The laughter is contagious. Just like Randy, I always laugh and laugh during that scene. (I do not oink and oink, though.)

In my everyday life, I also frequently quote Randy’s rant in this scene: “Meatloaf, smeatloaf, double beatloaf. I hate meatloaf.” People respond by looking at me as if I have lobsters crawling out of my ears.

Anyway, when Ralphie finally breaks bad and beats up bully Scut Farkus, it’s Randy who runs home and fetches his and Ralphie’s mom. What a hero! Later, Randy hides under the kitchen sink and cries because he’s afraid their dad will kill Ralphie for fighting. What a sweetie!

By the way, once again, their mom handles Randy like a pro. She doesn’t drag him out from under the sink. She gives him a glass a milk and lets him process his feelings in his own time. She should have written a book on parenting.

Later in the movie, the family goes to a Christmas parade and to Higbee’s Department Store. While there, the boys get an audience with the Big Man aka the Head Honcho aka Santa. Some might say Randy should have comported himself better when he finally got to see Santa, but I retort that Randy was but a child and he had been standing in line for dozens of minutes. Besides, Santa and those elves were scary. I would have screamed, too.

Near the end of the movie, after Randy has exhausted himself opening presents on Christmas morning, he falls asleep with his arm clutching a toy zeppelin. He’s so adorable and so unaware of the B.B. gun- and Bumpus dog-induced drama about to unfold.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Oh, happy day — December 8, 2021

Oh, happy day

My sisters and I have always enjoyed a close relationship. Sure, they hurl accusations of hatefulness my way and I deride Pam’s ear-splitting witch’s cackle and Kathy’s ability to fall asleep whilst holding a scalding hot cup of coffee.

No, there’s nothing like that sisterly bond.

But, a few years ago, a wedge developed between us, a wedge that threatened not only our relationship but my freedom of speech.

You see, I developed a theory, which turned into an idea for a column. I mentioned the theory to Pam, who said, “No, you can’t write about that.”

Since I value her opinion, I decided to remain silent. Yes, I decided to keep my readers in the dark. It’s a decision I grew to regret.

Anyway, a few days later, Kathy approached me and said, “Pam told me about ____. Don’t write about that.”

I held my pen for two reasons: We were celebrating the holidays and I wanted to prove to my family I’m not nearly as hateful as they believe. But I said to myself, “Self, how much longer are you going to allow them to silence you? How much longer are you going to allow them to abridge the freedom of the press?”

But after my sisters once again ordered me not to write about this controversial subject, I thought, “That’s it! No longer will I remain silent!”

So, at the risk of ruining my relationship with my sisters, I shared my theory with newspaper readers and now I’m sharing it with you: I think Fonzie and Mrs. C had an affair.

What, you ask? Arthur Fonzarelli, the cool, motorcycle-riding, leather jacket-wearing, thumbs up-giving, shark-jumping mechanic on Happy Days carrying on with the all-American housewife Marion Cunningham? Surely I jest.

Surely I don’t.

This is the Fonz. This is a man who could make a dead jukebox come back to life just by pounding on it with his fist. Do you think Marion could resist that kind of electricity?

Need more evidence? What about their nicknames for each other? She purred his first name “Arthur” as if she were auditioning for the lead in a Marilyn Monroe biopic and whenever he called her the scandalous sounding “Mrs. C.” she came running.

In a holiday-themed episode I watched around Christmas that year, Fonzie was frustrated because a blizzard left him stranded at Arnold’s restaurant and unable to reach Mrs. C. Meanwhile, she was stuck at her house, equally frustrated yet resplendent in a vibrant green floor-length dress and upswept hair. Oh, some might say her disappointment arose from her physical distance from her children and her cuckold husband, Howard. Not me. I recognize subtext when I see it.

Either my sisters refused to see the truth or they didn’t want me to share the truth with the world. For the sake of our relationship, I have chosen to believe the former.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

As the story goes — December 1, 2021

As the story goes

Don’t you hate when you find a recipe online or otherwise, only to find that the recipe sharer has also shared a seemingly never-ending backstory that’s sorta connected to said recipe?

Yeah, about that…

I tried two new recipes at Thanksgiving: cranberry sauce and vanilla pie.

Here’s the backstory on the cranberry sauce. I had tried the Thanksgiving staple twice during my lifetime. I’ll be nice and say I wasn’t a fan. But I had cranberries leftover from cranberry balsamic chicken – it was pretty good – so I thought I’d whip up some cranberry sauce for the person at the table who enjoys the dish.

When I searched for a recipe, I found a lot of backstories as well as recipes containing orange zest. I don’t do orange zest. I don’t like the taste and the process of extracting the zest makes my knuckles bleed. Thankfully, I stumbled across a paleo recipe on cookeatpaleo.com that features three ingredients – cranberries, orange juice, and honey.

Now, if you’re like me, you might be saying to yourself, “Self, what the expletive is paleo?”

According to our friends at the Wikipedia, “The Paleolithic diet, paleo diet, caveman diet, or stone-age diet is a modern fad diet consisting of foods thought by its proponents to mirror those eaten by humans during the Paleolithic era.”

Wikipedia further notes that adherents of the paleo diet avoid processed foods. This recipe (see below) calls for fresh orange juice but I’m not the type of gal who’s going to squeeze her own orange juice. Regardless, as promised, the cranberry sauce was super easy to make. It also tasted wonderful. I ate it warm, straight from the bowl.

I also ate the vanilla pudding, which filled the pie, warm and straight from the bowl. My bestie supplied that recipe. I don’t know why I hadn’t considered making a vanilla pie before this point of my lifetime. After all, I love the homemade vanilla pudding that goes in banana pudding. I love it so much that sometimes I make it without the benefit of nanners and wafers.

The vanilla pie recipe calls for a meringue, but I’m not the type of gal who makes meringue – or her own pie shells – so you’re on your own there. You should also know that I don’t think the vanilla pie qualifies for inclusion in the paleo diet.

Cranberry sauce

12 ounces fresh cranberries

¾ cup (fresh) orange juice

½ cup honey (or maple syrup)

Combine cranberries, orange juice, and honey in a saucepan. Simmer over medium heat, until berries pop and sauce thickens, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Cool completely and refrigerate. Serve at room temperature.

Vanilla pie filling

4 egg yolks

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup cornstarch or ½ cup all purpose flour

3 cups milk

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

1 tablespoon butter

Combine sugar and cornstarch, gradually stir in milk. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir two more minutes. Remove from heat. Slightly beat egg yolks. Gradually stir egg yolks into one cup of filling. Pour mixture back into hot filling. Bring to gentle boil. Cook and stir for two more minutes. Remove from heat and add in vanilla and butter. Pour into pie shell.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Turkey TV — November 24, 2021

Turkey TV

When it comes to Thanksgiving TV, no sitcom approaches the hilarity of WKRP in Cincinnati’s 1978 classic “Turkeys Away.” Most of the episode sets up the reveal and Les Nessman’s description of the parking lot carnage. The episode is available on certain streaming services and cable providers. If you watch every year or if you haven’t watched in years or if you’ve never watched, do yourself a favor this Thanksgiving and find it. You will laugh and laugh.

Everybody Loves Raymond also aired a few classic Thanksgiving episodes during the show’s nine-season run. There was the Thanksgiving Debra decided to serve a fish instead of a turkey. There was the year Marie decided to serve a tofu turkey. Then there was the year the Barones spent the holiday in Pennsylvania with Amy’s family. These exploits played out in 2003’s “The Bird.”

In case you’re unfamiliar with the show, Everybody Loves Raymond revolved around the aforementioned Barones, specifically Raymond, his wife, Debra, Ray’s intrusive parents, Frank and Marie, and his hapless brother, Robert. Robert dated and later married the aforementioned Amy.

I’ve learned that a lot of people don’t like the show because they consider it to be mean-spirited. I, on the other hand, consider it to be a documentary.

Of all the Thanksgiving episodes, “The Bird” is the best. Whereas the Barones are loud and obnoxious, Amy and her family are quiet and reserved. As you might expect, the two families clash on Thanksgiving Day.

Firstly, Frank is offended when he discovers that Amy’s family doesn’t own a TV. Things take a darker turn when a bird crashes into the house and Amy’s mom, Pat, takes care of it.

By takes care of it, I mean she kills it.

The Barones express outrage when mild-mannered Pat puts the bird out its misery. Debra, who had taken the children out of the room to prepare for a family pageant, returns to find the respective family members sniping at one another.

Next, Ray and Amy’s brother, Peter, (Schitt’s Creek fans will recognize the actor as the man who brought Roland Schitt to life) legit remove their shirts and … you just have to watch. You also should stay alert for an ironic line Frank utters at the end of the show. You can find Everybody Loves Raymond on various networks and Peacock TV.

By the way, although “The Bird” provides 22 minutes of brilliant TV, it’s not even Everybody Loves Raymond’s greatest episode. For that, you will need to watch “The Canister.” As you might expect, that episode is all about a canister. After you watch all the Thanksgiving episodes and WKRP’s “Turkeys Away,” find it. You’ll laugh and laugh.

Happy Thanksgiving!

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Portrait of a man in red — November 17, 2021

Portrait of a man in red

It’s the week before Thanksgiving, which means people have been complaining about other folks’ Christmas decorations for almost a month. As I’ve mentioned before, I mind my own business when it comes to other people’s decorating timelines as well as when it comes to when they choose to start listening to holiday tunes.

Well, there was that one year someone in the general neighborhood kept his or her Christmas lights up – and turned them on – well into summer. That did make me turn my head on more than one occasion, but what really caused whiplash was when the neighbor took down the lights in late summer.

I will admit it was none of my business, but I will admit I was also perplexed. If you’ve already committed to more than half the year, what prompts you to go to the trouble of climbing a ladder and removing the lights in August?

Speaking of August…that’s around the same time of the year Hobby Lobby brings out their Christmas merchandise. That’s also the same time of the year I start asking this question: Is there really a market for portraits of Santa Claus?

I guess there is or the store wouldn’t stock them, but who buys a big ole portrait of Santa? Don’t get me wrong. I am a fan of Santa. He spends the entire year making toys for all the good – and I suspect even the bad – boys and girls around the world. Then he somehow delivers all these toys in the span of one night. I know he gets help from Mrs. Claus, oodles of elves, and a team of flying reindeer, but there must be a bit of magic involved. And a few maxed out credit cards.

But that does not mean I want to hang a portrait of him inside my home.

I am not here to judge and, just as with the people who left their lights up until August, this is none of my business. Oh, but how those portraits fascinate me. Every year when I see them, my initial question leads to other questions like: What is the demographic of the Santa portrait purchasers? Are the purchasers parents who buy them for their younglings? If so, why? I know times change, but I don’t remember begging my parents for a portrait of Santa.

Do they keep the portraits up year-round? If not, do they remove a family portrait or a portrait of, let’s say, a fox chase to make room for Santa during the holidays? Do they do so to make Santa feel like he’s one of the family when he shimmies down the chimney on Christmas Eve?

Maybe I’ll ask Santa for answers to these questions for Christmas.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Hold that thought — November 3, 2021

Hold that thought

As you might expect from women of a certain age, my friends and I have been talking a lot about Capri Sun late

Although I can’t recall why, I’m the person who first introduced the subject into conversation. For some reason, I felt the need to tell my pals that I never mastered the fine art of opening pouches of Capri Sun.

Indeed, if not for my best friend, I would have died of thirst during my grade school years. You see, she stuck the straw into the pouch for me because no matter how hard I tried, I could not puncture that gosh-dern pouch. I’m not sure what I did for refreshment on days when she was absent from school. I guess I lapsed into dehydration.

Anyway, if I expected my friends to make sport of my failure, I was surprised. They never mastered the fine art of (correctly) opening a Capri Sun, either. One shared that her attempts result in the straw puncturing both sides of the pouch. Another said that when she does manage to open a Capri Sun, the juice squirts everywhere.

Feeling vindicated, I also shared with one friend that I struggle to use can openers. That’s why I am in favor of legislation requiring all cans to feature pull tabs. This friend said she could use manual openers but not the electric kind. That reminded me of a grudge I’ve nursed for decades.

I will not name names (in print), but dozens of years ago, I packed some sort of canned food for lunch. In the breakroom, my coworkers directed me to an electric contraption they called a can opener. I had never seen anything like that. It looked like something out of The Jetsons. I couldn’t figure out where to put the can or how to turn on the gosh-darn thing.  

My coworkers laughed and laughed and joked that my mommy must have always opened cans for me. Actually, it was my job to retrieve cans from the lazy Susan and open them with the can opener that doubled as the bottle opener or the can opener with two little rotating wheels. Not that I ever became proficient at using the openers, but I performed the task capably enough. I still do.

Anyway, my friend also said that she cannot open small cartons of milk. Oh, I can do that with ease. Not that I drink milk from a carton. Once, during my aforementioned grade school days, I drank milk from a carton. I did not like the taste and dozens of years later, I still refuse to entertain the notion of drinking milk from a carton.

Yes, I can even hold a grudge against cartons of milk.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Lock it up — October 20, 2021

Lock it up

Last week, I shared what, if not for my quick reflexes, could have been a smoothie-making accident. At story’s end, I promised to explain what happened when I attempted to remove the base from the blender and, later, clean the contraption.

Here goes.

I could not remove the base from the blender. That surprised me because, earlier, when I took the blender apart to see if it worked, the base removed with ease. But once my less than smooth smoothie had been prepared, the base would not budge from the rest of the blender.

No matter how much effort I expended, that gosh darn base refused to move a millimeter. Knowing I needed to apply some traction, I pressed one foot against a cabinet, held the blender in my hands, and tried to turn it.

It didn’t work.

At that point, just when I decided to give up, my tired eyes rested on the base. It featured two icons – one represented locked, the other unlocked.

You know where this is going.

I picked up the base, turned it in the direction of the unlocked icon and, voilà, the base was no longer attached to the blender at large.

My problems were not behind me. Once I emptied the less than smooth smoothie from the jar, I had to clean the jar and my nemesis, the blade. (You might remember from part one that the blade literally rose in the air and twirled around my kitchen when I took the blender apart to see if it worked, and then pressed the on button whilst it was apart. Spoiler alert: It worked.)

It might not come as a surprise that I couldn’t separate the bottom cover – where the blade lives – from the jar. I checked. There were no icons. I cleaned it the best I could and then took it to the Goff Estate.

As soon as I walked in with the jar, the snickering began. They hurled such remarks as “Isn’t that an important part of the blender?” my way.

When I explained my predicament, my sister, Pam, with smugness dripping from her every pore, reached out her hands.

She couldn’t pry it loose, either.

Ha!

She gave it to my niece who quickly solved my problem with a turn of her hands. I returned the still-borrowed jar to my home, cleaned it, and made another less than smooth smoothie.

About those less than smooth smoothies … I think they taste fine, but they are a tad thick. My niece has seen them and agrees. As we discussed this at the Estate, my siblings pipped up, admonishing me for not including milk in my smoothie recipes.

As you might recall, before I started my smoothie-making endeavor, these same siblings assumed I planned to make peanut butter smoothies. No one said a word about milk. No one offered advice. But now they’re smoothie-making experts?

I’m sure these experts would have noticed the unlocked icon, too.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.