Take your medicine

The board game Loaded Questions tests how well players know one another by asking such questions as “What’s the best part of being sick?”

When that question came up during a rousing game of Loaded Questions, I gave the obvious answer – getting to take cough syrup. Of course, from the way my family reacted, you would have thought I had admitted to Robotripping. For the record, I do not get high off cough syrup. I enjoy taking it because I like the taste. (For what it’s worth, I also like the taste of generic, liquid Mucinex.)

Anyway, the best cough syrup cannot be bought in stores or prescribed by physicians. It can, however, be made at home with only three ingredients – whiskey, lemon juice, and honey. Although some folks refer to this potion as a hot toddy, my family and I simply call it whiskeylemonjuiceandhoney. Yes, that’s one word with no commas, spaces, or pauses.

When I was growing up, whiskeylemonjuiceandhoney played an important medicinal role in our household. At the first sound of a cough from one of his children, my dad would stop at “the top of the hill,” aka the friendly bootlegger, for one of the medication’s main ingredients. Then, my mom would mix up a batch. Those of us lucky enough to have contracted a cough would line up for a tablespoon of the smooth, sweet syrup that spread its warm healing powers from the top of our infected heads to the bottom of our aching toes.

I loved it. I loved it so much that when I got older, I self-medicated. At least I did until I could no longer find the jar in the cabinet. It seems like some people in my family didn’t want me to get better. I’m not saying this lack of access to a needed medication contributed to my paleness, but I’m not saying it didn’t. I guess we’ll never know.

Nevertheless, until recently, I had never made whiskeylemonjuiceandhoney. But with one of my sisters suffering from strep, bronchitis, a viral infection, and who knows what else, I intervened. I don’t want to sound like a braggart, but my first attempt was a success. I know this because I licked the spoon and held the measuring cup above my head, letting the excess elixir drip into my mouth.

Now that I’m in possession of our family recipe – equal parts whiskey, lemon juice, and honey – I’ve decided to make some cough syrup for my own use. In hindsight, I can’t believe I haven’t done so before. Think of all those nagging coughs it could have cured. Think of all those times it could have been the best part of being sick.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

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April fools

Near the end of February, a live stream of a pregnant giraffe caught the Internet’s collective attention. Since then, dern-near everyone on the planet has been watching April, the pregnant giraffe, hang out in her stall at the Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, N.Y. Apparently, they’ve been waiting for April, who’s been pregnant forever, to finally birth a baby giraffe.

Through a combination of determination and lack of interest, I managed to ignore the dozens of references to April that popped up in my news feed. At least I did until a certain meme caught my eye.

This particular meme accused April of faking her pregnancy.

Oh, now she had my attention.

I was raised on soap operas. I still can’t resist soapy goodness, so my mind immediately recalled the lessons I learned from the pregnancy-faking characters who populated my favorite soaps.

I imagined April fooling everyone by wearing a well-placed pillow under her clothes. All the other lady giraffes would say to her, “You’re so lucky to only be gaining weight in your stomach. When I was pregnant, I gained weight all over. My face was so swollen it looked like I had just lost a UFC fight and my butt was so big I was mistaken for an elephant.”

Even April’s man, Oliver, would be none the wiser. One can only assume that he, like all the clueless male soap characters who came before him, would never ask to feel the baby kick, to accompany the mother of his child to the gender-reveal ultrasound, or to request some loving.

Of course, April, like all the pillow-wearing female soap characters who came before her, would eventually need to produce a calf. Obviously, she would have to find a young giraffe who had fallen in love with the bad boy of the savannah only to end up with a broken heart and a baby in her belly. With nowhere to forge for food, she would accept April’s generous offer to adopt her baby. Sure, she would wonder why she had to spend her 13-to-15-month pregnancy hidden in April’s attic, but April would reassure her that the peace, quiet, and low ceilings were good for the baby.

It all made sense to me. But just to be sure, I did minimal research on April, the pregnant giraffe. It turns out that the zookeepers are now saying she might be past due. Uh-huh. Any fan of afternoon soaps has heard that one before.

What’s more, Oliver is allowed only minimal contact with April, allegedly, to prevent him from fighting her or stealing her food. But I think we all know the real reason April is avoiding Oliver.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

One word: Plastics

From time to time, we all board the struggle bus. In fact, for some of us, it’s dern-near impossible to parallel park, make gravy, or strike a match.

But the other day, as I engaged in a battle of wills with one of my longtime nemesis, I said to myself, “Self, surely you’re not the only idiot who struggles to open a plastic bag.”

In case you’re wondering, at that moment I was referring to those plastic bags supermarkets provide for the transportation of fruit and veggies. Oh, there have been times when I’ve won a skirmish with my foe. I’ve then confidently strode to the apples and oranges, dropping them into the open bag with the aplomb of a basketball player who has just dropped a buzzer-beating three into the basket.

Usually, though, the bag wins. Indeed, I have difficulty differentiating the top of the bag from the bottom. What’s more, the plastic clings to my hands. I attribute the latter problem to the static electricity surging through my body.

In case you’re wondering, it also takes me minutes to open a trash bag and I never use Saran Wrap. Never. I tried when I was younger and more adventurous, but the result was always the same. Instead of covering my food, the plastic wrapped around my hand before I formed it into a ball and tossed it in the trash.

Plastic bags (and wrap) aren’t the only things that own me. I also cannot fold a fitted sheet. If you’re saying to yourself, “Self, that’s not so bad. No one can fold a fitted sheet,” then you need to peek inside my mother’s linen cabinet. There, you will find fitted sheets folded so perfectly that you’d swear they had just come out of the package.

Mother tried to impart her sheet-folding perfection to me. I remember her telling me to punch the corners together. I do that. Then, I continue punching until the sheet resembles a pile of used towels discarded on the bathroom floor.

In addition to plastic and sheets, I also have difficulty with those online tests that make you prove you’re not a robot. When I encounter one that’s populated by numbers and letters, I squint and ask myself, “Self, is that an uppercase B or an 8? And is that next letter a lowercase c or an e?”

It always takes multiple attempts before I’m allowed to download the artwork or order the free pack of flowers. So, imagine my happiness when some websites switched to images instead of numbers and letters.

And then imagine my frustration when I repeatedly failed to select the photos featuring road signs. After a recent poor showing, I’ve decided websites are probably programmed to allow admission after a certain number of tries. After all, the programmers most likely realize it wouldn’t take a robot several attempts to click on the pictures of lawn chairs.

I’ll bet a robot can also open a plastic bag, use Saran Wrap, and fold a fitted sheet.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

More or less

Last week, I ran across a story that detailed a list of 10 foods that could help raise or lower the risk of dying from heart disease, stroke and/or Type 2 diabetes.

Whilst scanning the contents of said article, my eyes settled on one word – bacon. For one brief shining moment, I considered the potential ramifications of a world where bacon ruled as a healthy food.

Then, I actually read the entire story and realized that bacon is on the stuff-you-should-eat-less-of list. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, bacon and other processed meats were linked to eight percent of the aforementioned health conditions.

So, I guess it good that I’ve cut back on my intake of bacon. Of course, in the past few years, I wasn’t eating that much bacon. That was not always the case. In fact, there was a time when I feasted on a pack of bacon every week. For reals. I’d fry half the pack one evening for dinner and the other half the next evening. My taste for bacon was so well known that when I recently ran into a work-related acquaintance I made during that period of my life, he pointed at me and said one word – bacon.

I can’t remember what prompted me to drastically reduce my bacon intake, but I cut back to perhaps one or two packs a year. Oh, I enjoyed the occasional plate of bacon at my mom’s or in the cafeteria, and every now and then I treated myself to a bacon and egg biscuit. But that was nothing compared to what I had been eating.

Still, there’s always room for improvement. As the end of 2016 approached, I informed my sister that I was giving up bacon and red meat. (You might ask yourself, “Self, isn’t bacon red meat?” I might answer by asking, “Is it?”)

Anyway, my sister, a woman not known for her silences, responded with silence.

“Do you think that’s a bad idea?” asked I.

“No, I just think that you eat so little bacon and red meat that you won’t even miss it.”

She had a point. I’ll splurge on a roast beef sandwich every few months and I have been known to dip the cafeteria’s roast beef in my mashed potatoes, but it’s not like I eat a pack of red meat (or bacon) every week.

I had been consuming nachos too frequently, though, so I made the decision to give them up. I also decided to end my long-term relationship with fries.

When I shared the latter decision with others, my audience gasped in surprise. After all, I am something of a cheese fries connoisseur. And you know what makes cheese fries better? Bacon.

Thus far, though, I’ve been true to my word. I have not had a fry in three months. During that time, I’ve had approximately six slices of bacon, two slices of ham, two slices of roast beef, two hot dogs and one pork chop. What’s more, I’ve walked past the nacho bar without giving it a third look.

Lest you think I’m a health food freak, I continue to satisfy my sweet tooth and I do not go near seafood, which is included on the stuff-you-should-eat-more-of list.

In case you’re interested, the other good foods are nuts, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and polyunsaturated fats. In addition to red meat and processed meat, sugary drinks and salt comprise the bad food list.

Until perusing the list, I had no idea salt was a food. But the list supports my position that bacon is not red meat, so I guess I’ll support their position that salt is food.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

My salad days

I’ve come to the realization that I’ve wasted my life.

This epiphany occurred, appropriately enough, as I enjoyed a chicken Caesar salad. You see, recently I’ve developed something of an obsession with the tasty salad. This newfound fascination is all the more compelling when you consider that, for years, I wrinkled my nose in disgust when anyone so much as offered me a bite of chicken Caesar salad.

There’s no good reason for such behavior. As I relished each delicious morsel over lunch last week, I tried to remember what had kept me and the salad apart for what I’ve taken to calling the lost years. The only explanation I have is that I mistakenly believed that chicken Caesar salad was served with ranch dressing. Of course, I can take ranch dressing in small doses, so I’m not even sure that’s an acceptable rationalization.

Regardless, a couple months ago I had occasion to feast on what I later referred to as the best salad I had ever eaten. A week later at a Christmas luncheon, I ordered a house salad at a local restaurant that rivaled the best salad ever.

I did not connect the dots at that point. It wasn’t until a month later, after I actively ordered a chicken Caesar salad, with dressing on the side, that I made the connection. Even then, it didn’t immediately click. As I put only a minimal amount of dressing on the salad, I said to myself, “Self, this dressing doesn’t look or taste like ranch. Actually, this salad reminds me a little of the best salads ever, versions one and two.”

Since then, I have gone out of my way to get my hands on chicken Caesar salad. I waited in line for several minutes to obtain one specifically made for me. I’ve added chicken, romaine lettuce, Caesar dressing, and sprinkly Parmesan cheese to my shopping list. No croutons for me, though.

Whilst compiling my list, I searched for chicken Caesar salad recipes. Yeah, I know. It contains something like five ingredients. But I wanted to make sure I had included all the essential ingredients on my list. According to my research, common ingredients include anchovies, Worcestershire sauce and crushed garlic.

This distressed me. I thought making a chicken Caesar salad would involve tossing some sprinkly cheese on lettuce and chicken and then lightly seasoning the creation with dressing. I was not prepared to crush garlic.

Luckily, further research indicated that the so-called common ingredients comprise the dressing. Apparently, some over-achievers make their own dressing.

Not me. The less time I spend on making the salads, the more time I’ll have to enjoy them.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Love is all around

My 2016 ended with a wonderful, life-changing surprise – I learned that SundanceTV is airing, in their words, “TV’s most iconic series” on weekday mornings. They’re broadcasting “M*A*S*H,” “All in the Family,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Although I enjoy all five shows, I’ve had access to “M*A*S*H” and “Andy Griffith” pretty much my entire life. Indeed, it’s my belief that if I turn on the TV at any time of the day, I can find an episode of “Andy Griffith.” (The same can be said of “Roseanne” and the “Law and Order” franchise as well, but that’s another column for another day.) And while “All in the Family” hasn’t always been readily available, it’s my least favorite of the five.

But I’m super excited about “The Bob Newhart Show” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

In fact, one of my earliest memories involves watching “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”(Other early memories feature snippets of “Days of Our Lives.” Obviously, TV has always been important to me.)

Anyway, Mary, the producer of a TV newscast, is one of my fictional role models. When I moved into my first apartment, a friend compared me to Mary. I don’t think he realized how much I treasured that compliment.

Of course, Mary is much nicer than am I. It would take me about two minutes to tell that intrusive Sue Ann to get out of my face. I also question Mary’s decision to greet Murray at the door wearing only a towel. It would have been believable if the scene had contained romantic undertones. But the towel was barely acknowledged. The scene left me wondering if folks back in the 1970s frequently paraded around in towels in front of co-workers. Or if I just have a dirty mind.

I’m also a little confused by the episode where Ted turns down a substantial raise and a gig as the host of a game show to remain at WJM. But it featured a wonderful scene between Ted and Lou who, along with Rhoda, are my favorite of Mary’s supporting characters.

The only aspect of “Bob Newhart” that I’ve re-evaluated is Bob’s daft neighbor, Howard. According to my research, Howard works as a navigator for an airline. From the way he’s presented, however, he doesn’t have enough sense to navigate himself into and out of an elevator.

Otherwise, I have no complaints about the show. From low-key psychiatrist Bob to his sarcastic wife Emily (the criminally underappreciated Suzanne Pleshette) to Bob’s dern-near perfect receptionist, Carol, to his rude patient, Mr. Carlin, I love this show.

My feelings for both “The Bob Newhart Show” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” go deeper than mere nostalgia, though. I frequently find myself laughing out loud whilst watching the shows. Or in the case of my morning routine, laughing out loud whilst listening to them as I get ready for work.

Unfortunately, I can’t sit in front of the TV all morning catching up on the shenanigans at WJM or the anxieties of Bob’s therapy group. So, I record one episode of each show every week. Spending time with Mary and Bob and their sidekicks can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Count your blessings

Around this time each year, my Facebook friends share posts about money challenges. Although the details of individual money challenges vary, the gist is similar. You challenge yourself to save money all year so that by the time the ball drops, you’ll be rolling in cash.

A couple years ago, I decided to participate in the 52-week money challenge, which meant I would save one dollar the first week of the year, two dollars the second week, three dollars the third week, etc. According to a chart I found on the Internets, the money challenge would help me put back a whopping $1,378 throughout the year.

Yeah, I felt really good about stepping up to the challenge. That is, I did until I asked myself, “Self, how are you going to get your hands on fifty-two bucks in cash during week 52?”

I couldn’t argue with myself. Indeed, I wasn’t even sure I could come up with twenty bucks in cash. (Or 19, or 18, or 17…) So, I concluded that the money challenge wasn’t for me, and last year I ignored the oodles of money-challenge posts that popped up in my newsfeed.

I’ve been doing the same this year, which is how I almost missed a post about a blessings jar. But the picture of a Mason jar filled with colorful slips of paper caught my eye, so I stopped scrolling long enough to read the post. I learned that the objective is to write down something good that happens to you each week and to place the blessing in a jar. At the end of the year or the beginning of next year or whenever you want, you can empty the jar and read about the “amazing” year you had.

This is a splendid idea. Of course, I think already categorizing the coming year as “amazing” might fall under the category of counting unhatched chickens. And my positive feelings about a blessings jar do not negate my belief that it’s okay to complain. Well, as long as you don’t complain so much that you get on your own nerves or annoy folks so much that they avoid you. As with everything, complaining should be done in moderation.

Anyway, unlike that pesky money challenge, I think I can complete a blessings jar. My jar, however, probably won’t be as colorful as the one that caught my eye. Instead of writing my blessings on a vividly-hued notepad, I’ll jot them on scraps of discarded paper and on the backs of receipts and envelopes.

Recycling paper. There’s my week-one blessing.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.