Seize the day

I enjoy baking. One of the desserts, pronounced as zerts by my late father, I most enjoy baking – and eating – is white cupcakes with chocolate buttercream frosting.

A couple years ago, however, I decided to mix it up and make chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream frosting.

The cupcakes turned out splendidly and, in the end, so did the frosting. It’s just that it never became white chocolate frosting.

Indeed, as I mixed together the frosting, I multitasked by melting the white chocolate baking bars. But the bars didn’t actually melt. Instead, they appeared to scorch and form into puffs.

Assuming I had made a mistake, I expressed gratitude that I hadn’t mentioned the white chocolate aspect of the frosting to my family. Frankly, I feared they would accuse me of using outdated baking goods. And we all know what a ludicrous accusation that would be.

So, my pet army and I made a vow to never again speak of the incident and I scraped the brownish-looking white chocolate into the trash.

Flash forward to last December. As we gathered at my mom’s to prepare Christmas goodies, my sister tried to melt white chocolate chips. Although she frequently stirred them and added copious amounts of oil, the chips turned into scorched puffs. She noted that white chocolate is dern-near impossible to melt and lamented our lack of almond bark.

She might have felt forlorn, but I became so giddy I dern-near skipped down the road.  (I also once again questioned the origin of almond bark. Is it literally the bark of an almond tree? And how does bark come in more than one flavor?)

Anyway, my happiness stemmed from the realization that I hadn’t goofed. It wasn’t me. It was the white chocolate. Flash forward to last week. After I purchased half a flat of strawberries, I decided chocolate-dipped strawberries would improve my quality of life.

As it turned out, I had some white chocolate baking bars in the cabinet. Where did they come from? How long had they been in said cabinet?

None of that matters. All that matters is that I said to myself, “Self, you’ve got nothing to lose. You might as well melt them and see what happens.”

I guess you know what happened. The bars turned into scorched puffs. I’m sure I didn’t help matters by adding milk instead of oil, but I think they were already beyond salvaging.

Fortunately, I had some chocolate baking bars, which I melted. In case you’re wondering, chocolate-dipped strawberries did improve my quality of life.

Yet, due to my thirst for knowledge, I had to know more about melting white chocolate. Was it simply something we Goff sisters struggled to accomplish? Is there an easy remedy?

There’s not.

In fact, based on everything I read, my sister followed the standard operating procedure vis-a-vis melting white chocolate.

My research also resulted in the discovery of a new term – seized chocolate. Surprisingly, this does not refer to confiscation of a bakery’s assets. It’s the term for the scorched puffs created when one unsuccessfully melts white chocolate.

Maybe someday I’ll learn the term for what happens when one successfully melts white chocolate.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.


The weight of water

As you’re probably aware, most health experts recommend we humans consume eight cups/64 ounces of water a day. There’s some debate amongst the aforementioned experts as to whether other beverages and food should also count in our quest for 64 ounces. But I don’t think anyone – expert or otherwise — would argue that drinking approximately six cans of soda and zero sips of water on a daily basis constitutes a healthy relationship with liquids.

Anyway, although I’ve been aware of the eight-cup rule for decades, I ignored it for most of my life. There were times, however, when I vowed to drink more water. But even as I did so, I felt like I was torturing myself. When I expressed my opinion that water was boring, folks would recommend I try flavored water to make it more interesting. Since that sounded, to me, like extremely weak Kool-Aid, I decided to pass.

But a few years ago I became serious about losing weight and, thus, had to make some hard decisions. From the way I saw it, planning meals and snacks was like planning a budget. When I looked over my caloric budget, I realized I needed to replace most of my beverages with water. And that’s what I did. Sure, I still drink a soda every now and then, but usually as a treat when I’ve been good or when I feel bad.

My weight loss program has been a success in large part because of my reliance on water. In addition to serving as an alternative to calorie-laden beverages, it also fools me into thinking I’m full. The more water I drank, the more I wanted. Indeed, I haven’t found water boring in years.

To help me on my water-drinking, weigh-losing quest, my sister gave me one of those stainless steel tumblers. Thinking the tumbler held 20 ounces, I pledged to fill it with water three and a half times per day so I could drink 70 ounces of water. And that’s what I did.

Then one day during a meeting, I noticed that a co-worker was drinking from a tumbler that looked like mine. The only difference was that hers featured a band proclaiming that it held 20 ounces.

I looked back and forth from her tumbler to mine several times before finally conceding that hers would fit into mine.

As it turns out, my tumbler holds 30 ounces, which means I’ve been consuming 105 ounces – or more than 13 cups – of water a day. And that doesn’t even count the water I usually drink for lunch.

Now that I know the truth, I have an explanation for all those trips to the bathroom and for all those days when I said to myself, “Self, I can’t drink one more sip of water.”

Of course, this revelation doesn’t mean I plan to scale back to eight cups a day. It just means I won’t chastise myself on those days I fall a little short of filling my tumbler three and a half times.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The Homecoming: A Christmas Story

For the most part, I think people who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s can be divided into two camps – those who prefer Little House on the Prairie and those who prefer The Waltons.

I’m definitely in the Waltons camp, so every holiday season I watch The Homecoming: A Christmas Story.

Broadcast on Dec. 19, 1971, The Homecoming opens with snowy scenes of seven children – and a cow – marching in single file across a field. The narrator – author Earl Hamner Jr. – explains that the Depression has forced family patriarch John Walton to find work miles from his home, nestled in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. On this day, Christmas Eve 1933, John has yet to make his way home. Later that night, when family matriarch Olivia Walton learns the icy roads have resulted in a bus crash and the death of an unidentified person, she sends her son, John Boy, out to find his daddy.

The Homecoming was so popular that CBS ordered a full season of the series that would become The Waltons. The only actors who would reprise their roles on the show, however, are the ones who played the children, including Richard Thomas as John Boy, and Grandma Walton.

Kentucky native and Oscar winner Patricia Neal plays Olivia in The Homecoming. Her interpretation of Olivia is harsher than the warmer version Michael Learned would make famous through her award-winning performance on the series.

Neal’s Olivia frequently unleashes her fury at John Boy. She yells at him when the young’uns misbehave and accuses him of smoking cigarettes and bringing bootleg whisky into her home. (The Waltons love pronouns. It’s never just Daddy or Mama or the children, but always my Daddy, your Mama, my children.)

Anyway, when confronted with the truth, Olivia shows a softer, supportive side. She loves her children, but she’s basically a single mother managing a house full of seven young’uns in the dark days of the Depression. It’s no wonder she derives such pleasure in simple things like finding her Christmas cactus and making applesauce cake.

Olivia’s characterization isn’t the only difference between the movie and the series. The movie is much more realistic in general. I love The Waltons, but as much as they carry on about never having any money, I don’t buy what they’re selling. Maybe it’s because, in the depths of their struggles, they invariably find an antique in the attic or a job with some stranger who happens to wander into Ike’s store.

But, in The Homecoming, when Olivia explains to John Boy that the scarves she’s knitted represent the only Santie Claus they’re going to have this year, I buy her every word.

Of course, it turns out that multiple variations of Santie Claus visit the Waltons that Christmas. The most disturbing is a missionary who hands out presents to children gathered at Ike’s store. This part both infuriates and confuses me. Although the missionary insists the children recite a quote from the Bible and also tells them their Sunday school teachers must be proud, she still refers to them as infidels. She comes across as a mixture of ignorance, stupidity, and condescension.

Although it’s clearly spelled out in the opening credits, I didn’t know The Homecoming was based on a separate Hamner novel until last month. I had always assumed the movie, like the series, was based on his book, Spencer’s Mountain. Thankfully, our awesome library district had a copy of The Homecoming, which is now in my possession.

I’ve never read any of Hamner’s work. On the other hand, I read the entire Little House series as a child. Maybe I’ll enjoy The Homecoming. Maybe I won’t. But at least I know I can keep coming home to the movie every Christmas.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Life is just a party

Being an adult has its advantages. For instance, with the exception of a judgmental pet army, no one cares if you eat chocolate fudge for breakfast or wear your pajamas for 41 consecutive hours.

Adulthood also has its disadvantages. For instance, it’s your responsibility to investigate the odor emanating from the garage.

But no occasion represents the inequities of being a grown up more so than Christmas. When you’re a kid, it’s a magical season highlighted by the appearance of a jolly elf who grants your wishes. When you’re an adult, you’re responsible for granting and wrapping the wishes and baking the cookies and decorating the house and washing the mountain of dishes that somehow materialized in the kitchen. To make matters worse, you don’t even get to enjoy school parties any more.

Other than the last day of school and our spring “field trip” to the baseball field, the Christmas party represented the best day of the school year. Even if the partying didn’t start until late morning or – gasp! – early afternoon, we knew we weren’t going to do anything all day.

And we didn’t. Instead of practicing our multiplication tables or building our vocabulary, we listened to the sounds of the season and watched the clock. It’s a miracle we didn’t spontaneously combust. After all, we were getting cupcakes and presents and treat bags and/or stockings stuffed with walnuts, candy canes and oranges. If that weren’t enough to make us bounce off the walls, the jolly elf was also giving us a couple weeks off from school. Even thinking about it now makes me light headed.

Everybody was on their best behavior on Christmas party day. Nobody received a whipping with a wooden paddle. Nobody was sent to the office. Nobody had a care in the world.

Although grade school parties were the best, the fun didn’t stop when we moved to the high school. In either seventh or eighth grade, our class pitched in for pizza. Pizza, that is, topped with Canadian bacon. It was my first experience dining on international fare. I felt so worldly. For weeks I casually mentioned this life-changing event. We would be sitting around the parlor, debating if Santa had finished preparations at the North Pole, and I would say, “The North Pole. That’s, like, close to Canada, right? You know, Canadian bacon doesn’t taste anything like American bacon. We had Canadian bacon on our pizza at school. It was very Canadian-tasting.”

A few weeks ago, I considered bringing back school parties. I deliberated suggesting to my co-workers that we throw ourselves a work-day party. I thought we could pitch in for pizza. Somebody could stuff stockings with oranges and nuts and somebody else could bring cupcakes.

Then I remembered I was an adult and that Canadian bacon actually tastes a lot like American ham, so I had some more fudge for breakfast and wore my pjs all day.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

A brand new world

Back in the early ’80s, there was a popular commercial on the TV that featured Madge the Manicurist. In the commercial, Madge extols the virtues of Palmolive dishwashing detergent. In what would become the ad’s tagline, Madge informs an incredulous patron that she’s “soaking (her hands) in it (Palmolive).”

As the commercial ends, the grateful patron returns to the shop to let Madge know she’s now a believer in the power of Palmolive.

Although the ad stood out, it didn’t mean anything to me. After all, I grew up in a Dawn household. Once I started keeping apartment and then house for myself, I remained loyal to Dawn.

I’m something of a generic fanatic, so you might be surprised to learn that I possess loyalty to anything other than store brands such as Great Value and Equate. While that’s true, I’ve learned from experience that when it comes to cleaning supplies, shampoo, and garbage bags, the brand does matter.

Thus, I continued to buy Dawn. At least I did until I came into possession of a coupon for Gain. I had heard some good things about that brand of dishwashing detergent, so after much deliberation, I bought a bottle.

Gain served me well, so I said to myself, “Self, you can go back and forth between Gain and Dawn, depending on which one offers a more reasonable price.”

And that’s what I would have done, had I not come into possession of a 25 cent coupon for Palmolive. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to save a quarter, so I bought a bottle of Palmolive.

What’s my opinion of the detergent that’s marketed as “Tough on grease. Soft on hands?”

Let’s just say I wish Madge was still living so I could go to her shop and let her know I’m a believer in the power of Palmolive.

After washing the dishes with Palmolive, my hands only looked moderately like the Crypt Keeper’s. In other words, the chore didn’t render my hands more shriveled than usual. What’s more, I think I could have washed every dish in the neighborhood using only a drop of the detergent. Ultra strength indeed.

And there was another benefit I didn’t see (or smell) coming – it smells like bubble gum.

The detergent is green, so I’m not sure how that’s possible. Nonetheless, I’m going to have to be on the lookout for additional Palmolive coupons, because I’m developing loyalty to another brand.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Making do out of nothing at all

I’ve made some changes in my life and, frankly, I’m struggling to become accustomed to a few of them. For instance, I keep forgetting that I don’t have to use a knife to open the door that leads from my garage to my house.

Allow me to explain.

As is usually the case when things go wrong, this story stems from me just trying to make do. This time I continued to make do with a loose door knob. Every time I went in and/or out of that door, I said to myself, “Self, this door knob gets looser every day. Perhaps, you should be proactive and replace it before it just falls off.”

But then I would remind myself that it’s ineffective to fix something that’s not broken. And, technically, the door knob wasn’t broken.

Well, it wasn’t until the day off it fell into the floor.

At that point, I looked on the bright side. At least the dead bolt still worked.

Of course, on the not-so-bright-side, the latch remained intact. That meant I needed to figure out a way to rig the latch so I could get in and/or out of the door.

Luckily for me, I’ve learned a thing or two from making do over the years. For instance, I’ve learned that a butter knife serves as a multi-purpose tool. Thus, I retrieved one from the kitchen and inserted it into the latch until the lock opened. I realized that as long as I didn’t slam the door, said butter knife would stay in place, allowing me to open and/or close the door.

Except for forgetting to gently close the door on occasion, my invention and I co-existed peacefully for months.

At this point, you might be wondering why it took me months to pick up a door knob at the home improvement store. I’ll have you know that I was in possession of a new knob within days. Now, if you’re also wondering why I didn’t replace the knob within days, you’re obviously a first-time reader of this-here blog. I might be able to invent my own door knob out of a butter knife, but I don’t possess the skill set to install simple machines.

Thus, I had to wait until a certain somebody finally found the time to install it for me.

Thankfully, the time came, and my door now features a shiny new knob.

It’s lovely, but I had gotten so used to making do with the butter knife/latch that the sight of the knob continues to catch me by surprise.

As a side note, a certain somebody ripped off my towel rack in a fit of roid rage. So, my days of making do are not yet behind me.


This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Getting salty

I recently bathed for the first time in at least 13 years.

In case you’re wondering, I haven’t walked around unclean in the ensuing years. Indeed, I’ve taken hundreds if not thousands of showers during that time.

You might also be wondering how I know for sure that it’s been 13 years and not 12 or 14 or 30. There’s an easy enough explanation for that as well. I moved into my house in 2004, yet I took my first bath in its tub only last week.

Why now?

There’s an easy enough explanation for that, too. I followed doctor’s orders.

In case I haven’t mentioned it 12 or 14 or 30 times, I suffer from migraines. Although they’re not nearly as bad as they used to be, the fact that I still have them means all is not well, either.

I also battle insomnia from time to time. By time to time I mean dern-near every week. So, a doctor advised me to soak in warm water infused with Epsom salts. The doctor even recommended I drape a wash cloth around my neck, warming it in the steaming water whenever it cools.

According to the doctor, the baths will help me relax, theoretically keeping migraines and insomnia at bay. What’s more, magnesium has been identified as a natural remedy for migraines. And what comprises Epsom salts? You guessed it. Magnesium sulfate.

As of this writing, I can’t be sure if this new prescription is working as I’ve taken only two baths. In fact, it took me two weeks to actually try the cure because, you guessed it, I had a days-long headache and I didn’t think the powerfully-smelling cleaner I use to scrub said tub would help matters. (Yeah, you read that right. I hadn’t scrubbed my tub in at least two weeks. We’ll leave it at that.)

Furthermore, I had to make myself take the time to bathe. As I told the doctor, I equate lounging around in a warm tub with wasting time. He countered by mentioning the time wasted when a migraine sets in. The migraine I experienced last Sunday only reinforced his advice. After lounging in the bed and on the couch all day, I realized lounging 20 minutes in the tub every day didn’t sound so wasteful.

Or, as the doctor all but said, an ounce (or a couple cups) of magnesium sulfate is worth a pound (or a few minutes) of cure.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.