Black Eye Friday

If you have been up since midnight today, you have my deepest sympathy.

There’s not one thing I want bad enough to trade sleep for. Neither is there a bargain so great that I’m willing to risk a black eye over it. It’s all yours.

But on my list for later is a lingerie shop. Somewhere in the back, between the perfume and the silk stockings, they must sell what I’m looking for: a hairnet.

Because nothing lights up my Hubby’s eyes like a fat lady in a hairnet handing out free samples.

I suppose you’re a fan of Costco too?

It’s the only place he goes on Black Friday. He could get any of this stuff online. And there’s always a line outside the door, not just today. They always have deals. In bulk.

Last year he filled a cart and two flats with stuff. Simply because he could. He was like a kid in a candy store. All the impulse shopping he could do and no regrets.

“This place is great!” he cries constantly, “You can return anything. Any time!”

And we did. Over the next few weeks, it almost all went back. But boy did he have fun.

Here’s my little rant, and feel free to disagree. Costco is ridiculous.

You will never walk out with just what was on your list. And what was on your list, you must buy in vast amounts. So your budget…yeah, creamed.

But if Costco sells it, Hubby will buy it. My only hope for ever getting new furniture or a blender or diamond jewelry is if they sell it. Vacations, clothing, tortillas and backpacks, you name it. Hubby is positive that Costco has done all his research on a product for him. Costco will add their own warranties to products and let you return that crusty used toaster for a full refund.

Even if you threw away all the packaging and you’re dragging it by its cord.

Even if the receipt is stuck to the bottom of your trashcan with maple syrup.

Even if the melted pop tart is still fused into a slot.

Because that’s the kind of customer service we’re talking about, by George, and that’s five stars by him.

I’m horrified. Straight up. That he would even try a stunt like that.

And Costco is enabling this behavior.

He loves to go there on his lunch break during the week. He feels like he gets a cheap meal that comes with a floor show. You can sit down and eat a hot dog with a Coke and watch the most random people buying the most random items.

But first, he works the building and visits the hairnet ladies.

There is stiff competition for the free samples around the store. He spars with an elderly man over a quarter of a cheeseburger. He pushes in front of a lady’s motorized shopping cart to get his taste of rolled taco bites.

When the family of four starts taking more than one sample each, he has to reach right between them and snatch his fair share of chocolate covered pretzels.

But when the bacon lady is ready to pull out her next batch of hickory smoked kibble, you’d better believe he maneuvers to be first in line. And even that isn’t a guarantee he’ll get one. Scalded fingers and burnt tongues are a small price to pay for your share of tasty goodness.

Sadly, our sons are also learning to love a lady in a hairnet.

I stand aloof, my back to the sock displays, and watch with unabated horror. I act like I don’t know my own family and only make eye contact to silently shame them into stopping.

“Don’t take the sample!” my eyes plead, “we aren’t going to buy that. It’s not right. Why are you fighting for something you don’t need?”

But the siren song of the hairnet ladies overrides my calls for composure and they flit helplessly from cart to cart, only bypassing the ones handing out Ensure and chia seeds.

It’s nice to know that Hubby would leap tall buildings in a single bound if only I wore a hairnet and was handing out bacon bits.

So I guess my shopping list is much smaller than yours. Wake me up when it’s noon.

Thankful for the Midgets

Here we are in the throes of Thanksgiving. I love this month. I love having everybody over and sampling their cooking and playing “Take 2” with scrabble tiles. I even love the dirty dishes, as you know. I love the weather and that we can go for a saunter in the sunshine and sit in the jacuzzi at night under the stars with just a little bit more pie.

That one is a new tradition. We put as many people as we can in the spa until there’s no more water in it.

“Why not?” is what you should be asking.

One year I was inspired to go a little bit outside the usual box for Thanksgiving. Normally when I suggest such a thing, my family responds with a great deal of eye rolling and long exasperated sighs.

“There goes Mom again,” they say sadly, “can’t just eat turkey and get on with it. Has to make a production out of stuff.”

This is why I’ve been serving spaghetti for twenty years instead of chicken cordon bleu and veal with wine reduction sauce and capers. Because they’re a lot of barbarians, that’s why. Not a grain of culture among them.

I snuck it in anyway by using a bribe they couldn’t resist: fire.

Even a caveman will hold still and stare at fire.

Our large group spread out in a circle in the living room and everyone held a candle with a drip catcher on it. I lit mine and said something I was thankful for. It could be anything large or small, personal or general. No pressure. Just mention something and we’ll give you an ‘amen’.

It so happened we had been in a major car crash that year and although our car had been totaled from three directions, all five of us basically walked away untouched. So I started us off with something obvious.

The flame was passed around the room, each person lighting his candle from the previous one, mentioning his gratitude and passing the torch, so to speak.

I gave myself a mental pat on the back. Just once I had finally managed to implement one of those cool ideas from Martha Stewart, Pinterest, or the glossy magazine articles that tell you how to make family memories.

**sigh** said the cockles of my heart. They were toasty.

The flame had almost completed the circle when it was tiny Tim’s turn. I could see he’d been thinking deeply about his moment of fame and when the spotlight finally landed at his feet, he took a deep breath and enthusiastically blurted out,

“I’m thankful for the midgets!”

Hey, there’s no judging here.

Even the midgets got a hearty ‘amen’ and smiling contentedly, he lit the next guy’s candle.

This was not my personal tiny Tim, this was someone else’s, but he’s going down in our own family history as the kid who reminded us to think outside the box.

Especially if there might be midgets involved.

I’d like to leave you with a last thought as you work your way through your next piece of pie.

One of my favorite books is “The Hiding Place” by Corrie ten Boom.

It’s a tale of her family during Nazi occupation and her experiences in the prisons as a 52 year old woman.

Her elder, frail sister is leading a prayer circle deep in the rotting barracks and tells Corrie to be thankful for everything, even the fleas that are tormenting them at the moment.

Corrie scoffs at the idea. How can she be thankful for what seems like a horrible thing?

She finds out later that the reason their nightly prayer circles go unhindered and unpunished is specifically because their brutal captors can’t stand the fleas.

The fleas were allowing their thanksgiving to occur.

Here’s to an abundant and overflowing year.

May you pause once in a while to be thankful for it all.

May you have bounty enough to share with the next guy, whether its midgets or fleas or simply the flame of inspiration.

Introvert, Party of One

Generally, people are “innies” or “outies”. Your happy place would be either in your favorite chair with a cup of tea or out wandering Comic Con, dressed as Harry Potter.

Like your belly button, introverts and extroverts are equally common and equally fun to poke.

Let’s ponder the facts for a moment. Introverts are not shy, socially awkward or Tibetan monks any more than extroverts are party animals, public speakers or Jim Carrey.

Introverts get their energy from within. They re-charge their batteries with alone time. They thrive in peace and quiet and delight in solitude. If they get their regular down time, they will be charged for anything, including being leaders of the free world.

Many presidents were introverts.

Extroverts get energized by other people. Their batteries recharge by rubbing elbows with crowds and having lots of action around them. If they get their regular “peeps” time, they are refueled to go out there and work in a cubicle 9 to 5 or stay home with the children all day.

Many nuns are extroverts.

Opposites attract as they say, so, naturally, I’m the introverted wife of an extroverted hubby. He still wonders how I can spend all day with a good book, and I can never figure out what spending hours at Costco does for him. What drains me, fuels him. What I consider the best day ever, he would think a complete waste of time.

Utterly boring.

However.

We have learned to use our individuality to the team advantage: he does the grocery shopping, I do the dishes. He circulates when we throw big house parties, and…I do the dishes. He chats with ten people at once and I will chat with the person next to me.

But only for a few minutes. Then I go find some dishes to wash.

It’s just enough of a re-boot to jump back into the party.

He knows everybody. Probably in the whole world.

I do too. It’s just easier to know them one at a time, spread out over the week, as opposed to a stadium full simultaneously.

I have to say, though, when all is said and done, introverts have more fun. An introvert will have more parties going on in her head on any given day than an extrovert will attend in his lifetime.

And they will be polite parties involving the maintaining of personal space.

You will know who is which at the extrovert’s party because one will be shrieking and hugging and smiling and talking mile a minute with the entire group while the other will be ducking, wincing, and thinking to herself, “If she gets any louder, dogs will hear her in the next county.”

The extrovert will wonder what’s wrong with her introvert friend and give her extra hugs in case it’s something so bad, her girlfriend can’t even talk about it.

That’s what friends are for.

Extroverts have external voices. Everything is verbalized at the moment it’s thought. You can’t put too much weight into it. A problem shared is a problem halved. Silence is threatening. If you are quiet around them, they will pursue you relentlessly trying to decide if you’re hiding something.

Introverts have internal voices. Silence is golden. I work things out in my head and then say just what I need to say, if something indeed, needs saying. My problem shared would be a problem doubled.

I’m not hiding anything except an excess of verbiage.

“I love you,” says the extrovert, “talk to me!”

“I love you too,” says the introvert, “please shut up!”

If only one of these statements poked you, you just found out who you are. Neither are threats and both are revelations about the speaker’s needs.

Maybe innies collect a little dust, and maybe outies are more easily accessorized.

But now that we know who is whom, we can celebrate it with a nice cup of tea.

Um, in a flash mob.

If you need to.

I’ll understand.

Talking Turkey

What will be on your Thanksgiving table? I am more grateful for the people around it than for what lands on it. Rich is the man with a simple meal surrounded by great love. It took me years to understand this.

Which makes every day Thanksgiving.

Traditions are lovely, if they add to the love, so if some secret modifications occur, hey, who needs to know?

I am about to blab all of my turkey day short-cuts. I will understand if you decide not to eat the apple pie after all, but I have learned the hard way that life is too short for a great many things. And making your own pie crust is one of them.

I somehow always end up making the turkey. Early in my marriage I was asked to do it and there are few things more intimidating. You’re wrestling with a 25 pound naked headless bird that is supposed to feed your in-laws in just a few short hours while six other dishes need to be started.

The anxiety levels alone radiating off me should have cooked the thing.

All you know is that if you screw up, not only will we all have food poisoning but I will go down in family history…probably legend…as the one who ruined Thanksgiving.

Is there a Girl Scout Badge for suffering? No. There isn’t. Listen up.

I cook my thawed turkey (yes, I pulled all the bits out of the middle first) breast down in a plastic oven bag in a tray. I throw garlic and rosemary and thyme from the garden in it and on it. I cook it on 350* somewhere between 2 and 3 hours, depending on it’s weight. The bag directions will tell you.

But I will tell you to do this the day before Thanksgiving.

Yep. It’s wonderful. I take my time, no party pressure to hurry. When the bird’s done just right, I leisurely carve it. I take my largest metal pan, lined with foil, and arrange slices and wing joints in it and then seal it all up. I pop it into the fridge.

I pour the juices into a large tupperware and refrigerate.

The next day, I will take both items out. I put the fat chunks that have floated to the top of the tupperware and spoon them inside my turkey pan. Use some dripping juice if you think you want a little more moisture, just don’t end up making soup in there.

Pop the turkey pan, all sealed back up with foil, into the oven at 300* for about an hour and a half from when you want to eat. The fat will melt as the turkey warms and your house will smell amazing.

Polite guests will wonder why you’re sitting around chatting and drinking Pinot Grigio instead of fighting the turkey in the kitchen.

Because you worked smarter, not harder, that’s why.

If you wanted to pull out your Martha Stewart, that was yesterday. When you took the turkey carcass left over and put it into a stock pot and made broth for the freezer. And when you simmered the giblets in a pan and then saved the chopped up bits and the broth to make gravy. Which I didn’t make. Because enough years of trying went by before I decided to cheat on that one, too.

I set up two big crockpots.

One holds a twin-pack of ready made gravy from Costco, up to 1 and 1/2 cups of the turkey juices from that tupperware we used, and the giblet bits. People who wanted giblets are satisfied and people who don’t, won’t know they’re in there.

The other crockpot holds boxed stuffing mix made with the giblet broth. To this you could have added literally anything to make it more realistic. Chopped apple, celery, dried cranberries, whatever your great Aunt Mable insisted on.

She will never know the difference.

To cheat or not to cheat…that is the question.

To tell or not to tell…that’s a no brainer.

Sitting at the Kid Table

Does anyone out there know the feeling of being the oldest child? The firstborn, not only of your own siblings, but of a whopping 25 grandchildren?

It came with a whole other level of expectations, one of which was: you’ll never be old enough to sit at the adult table for Thanksgiving.

Ever.

Your job is to stay outside with the other 24 kids and babysit. But it was couched under, “There just aren’t enough chairs to go ‘round, dear.”

The kid table was always outside and the adult table was always inside.

The concept of “separate but equal” was proclaimed yearly and with heart-felt emotion by the parents, who insisted we would lack nothing of the culinary delights piled high in the kitchen.

I do believe they thought I believed them.

That somehow, I wouldn’t notice that the table indoors was laid with fine china, gold forks, fancy linens and wine glasses. That I actually enjoyed sitting in the yard with paper plates, lots of napkins, and little JimBob throwing his mashed potatoes at little Thelma Lou.

Understand, that if they let you move, a precedent will be set in which eventually all 25 “children” will end up sitting with the adults.

We can’t have that now can we? There wouldn’t be enough chocolate cream pie.

There’s just enough for the adult table.

But not if we have to share with everyone.

And you have to draw the line somewhere.

This is just one of the treasured conspiracy theories that we pass around today, some 25 years or so later, at the “not kid table”. My cousins and I get together once in a while and play, “Do you remember?” and surprisingly, we do.

Not that I’m bitter.

It’s one of the great many things I promised myself I wouldn’t be carrying over into the next generation.

At least not at my house.

Oh yes, commence the “I have a dream” speech please, and add some “When I’M a grown-up….” Put plenty of “always” and “never”s in it.

And then come over for Thanksgiving, which happens to be my favorite holiday.

We run with a “the more, the merrier” motto and if you show up with a covered dish of some kind, you’re welcome to sit anywhere you please.

I encourage my kids to sit with me.

You’ll find them over there, at a table they proclaim to be strictly “kids only”.

They’re laughing and carrying on and only occasionally throwing the mashed potatoes.

Pass me that chocolate pie.

ADHD for the Gold

Next year my youngest son will begin high school. It signals a fresh start in academics, athletics and social connections. He will be joining his older brother there and frankly, there is only one thing on my mind.

Doritos.

I have been waiting patiently his whole little life for this moment in time. My long-legged long-winded child caused many moments of long-suffering over the years, but it’s about to all pay off.

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure…and so we plan to take this kid’s ADHD and cash in.

We never had a teacher call him out on his excitability. His report card notes include “A joy to have in class” right next to “Needs to work on focus.” They are always torn: yes, he speaks out before raising his hand, but also he sits in front and is actually happy to be there.

He was never actually “diagnosed”. I think a growing boy is naturally full of jumping beans.

This one just came with extras, is all.

He can control them if he limits his sweet tooth. We don’t keep sodas, chips, candy, etc stocked in the kitchen. We stick to meat and potatoes with occasional sides of pintos and whatever a family of seven can afford that doesn’t include Pop Tarts.

However, there is never a lack of sweets and artificial substances when you’re a man about town. He can swap for them during school lunchtime or chow down during a church potluck or casually join in the Cola Brigade at a friend’s house.

We never made a big deal out of it for fear it would actually become a big deal.

But surely there is a time to educate a child on his strengths and weaknesses.

“Son, you can’t eat a huge piece of chocolate layer cake right before church and expect to stay in your seat for the next hour. It’s not physically possible. I know little Billy can, but your body is unique and that’s how it responds when you eat certain things. Pay attention. Your teacher called me in to discuss your complete abandon of focus during her social studies class. That class is right after lunch. What are you packing in your lunch?”

Only four packs of gummy fruit snacks, a fist full of tortilla chips, juice boxes, and a chocolate chip granola bar.

“Where are the yogurt, cheese, sandwich, peanut butter and veggie bits?”

“Mom, nobody will trade for those.”

He was on a road trip with a favorite aunt. She gave him a generous bag of Doritos.

Ten minutes later, she pulled into a rest stop and waited while he ran laps around the facilities for a half hour until they wore off.

I say things to him like, “What in the world was that all about?

What did you eat?

Gasp!

Did you actually just drink a Mountain Dew?!”

“Mom,” he says, shaking his head sadly, “I just do what the soda tells me to.”

Well, we are done fighting it. Done. We are about to turn a weak spot into his secret weapon.

He will finally be joining his big brother’s high school cross country team. His big brother runs like a well oiled machine. He runs with his head. He uses strategy and training and discipline.

But this other kid of mine…he runs like a wild animal. He has something that simply picks him up and flings him forward into the universe. It may not be pretty, it may not be kosher, and there will be many people watching and just shaking their heads over it…but now this kid has a secret accelerator.

The Olympic judges a few years from now will demand drug testing.

The other runners will insist they smell something fishy.

Or is it cheesy?

The results will come in….

“Sir, there appears to be extremely high levels of…Doritos dust…in his system.”

No laws against that, eh?

The Nuts on my Family Tree

Over the years I’ve worked on our family tree project. Each fall, I bring out the boxes and try to add a little more to our story. A large paper tree is tacked up on the wall and it has names spreading out through generations.

Although the names are on leaves, I can tell you which ones should be nuts.

It’s a fascinating hobby and a grounding experience to see the comings, goings, and doings of strangers who once in a while, jump out of the pages as yourSELF.

It explains a lot.

My kids already have an idea of which side of the family tree to blame for big feet, lack of musical ability or the tendency to sleep walk.

It’s real handy to have a great great great pirate-y grandfather to blame when you’re caught stealing cookies.

Can you help it if you’re just following your genetic code?

On the other hand, it can be encouraging to know that your artistic talents flowed down an entire family tree branch and passed the painting baton to you.

“Make us proud,” the ancestors whisper, “now it’s your turn.”

We have a beautiful pedigree: we’re mutts.

Makes for a complex and healthy physique.

On any given day we can claim to be Irish, German, Native American, or our all time favorite: Viking. Our Norwegian roots go deep on my dad’s side and he loves to remind us so.

When he was ten, my father was forced to take accordion lessons to please his grandparents. They taught him words in the “old language” that he has since forgotten, to his regret.

I have census documents, bent photos, faded letters, report cards, navy records.

We can follow one tree root all the way to the Mayflower. Yep, John Alden and Peter Browne are on our list, right there on Plymouth Rock.

One root goes back to 1903 and stops where my great grandmother was adopted. She and her little brother were picked up on the streets of New York, somehow separated from their parents. She’s fairly certain about her name, but there were so many immigrants pouring into Ellis Island in that decade that reuniting the family was impossible.

Someday, I would like to find them for her.

Like most Americans, our forefathers were the pioneering sort who weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty or try Plan B. Sometimes they went as far as Plan G.

Whatever it took.

But the ones I most shake my head over are the illusive millionaires.

The ones who could have made our family fortunes.

Take my relatives on my mother’s side. Please.

If my great great grandfather had owned up to having married a beautiful yet authentic Cherokee woman in the great state of Oklahoma, the oil rights handed out shortly thereafter would have made us oil tycoons.

One man’s scandal could have been our making. If he had owned up to it.

If my great great great and so forth ancestors on my father’s side had only stashed away some of that Viking loot they went around pillaging…and left us a treasure map…we could have done some pillaging of our own and had great rejoicing in the land.

Those lousy pirates kept it all for themselves and spent it on akevitt, don’t you know.

Hubby’s mother’s great to the power of three grandfather had acres of wild and windblown California property. If it had not ended up in the hands of land developers and tax collectors, we could all have beachfront mansions today.

I encourage you to shake your own family tree and see who falls out of it.

You may be related to former Presidents or arctic explorers.

Perhaps your son takes after his great-uncle who was a real live rootin’ tootin’ cowboy. Or a cattle rustler. Or the sheriff. Possibly the new dentist in town.

Perhaps your daughter takes after her great great alligator wrestling grandma down in Louisiana. It would explain her taste for gumbo.

But if you suddenly discover that you’re a millionaire, drop me a line.

I’m pretty sure we’re related.

New Zealand Round 3

When I read a map, everything on it seems so accessible. Things are quite close to each other and the roads are nicely connected. When you see a map of New Zealand, it’s quite natural to assume that the two islands that comprise the country are practically connected.

There’s only a tiny bit of blue between them.

The beautiful day was sunny and calm. Hubby and I ate salty fresh fish n chips from greasy newspaper packets on the waterfront in Picton and said goodbye to the south island.

When we drove our camper van into the ferry that takes you to the north island, I was surprised to see personnel chaining the tires to the lower deck. With a shrug we went upstairs.

Once the ferry was under way, we paced the observation deck with our camera. The harbor wanders around islands and past glassy inlets and countless bays.

But.

The minute you exit the Marlborough Sounds you have entered the Cook Strait.

Make no mistake: this is open ocean.

Massive waves began to swamp our huge ferry. Suddenly everyone was in the top glass enclosed cabin, hanging onto brass pillars and trying to brace.

You could not see land in any direction.

You had just enough time to catch your breath and watch the next trough coming.

The ferry surged forward over the trough, dipped straight down into it, and was pushed back skyward, through a white water wall. This lasted almost two hours. Hubby and I were the last men standing, if you know what I mean.

Not that we got our sea legs, but we get a medal for keeping our fish n chips down.

Finally we pulled into the Wellington Harbor. Things were just stabilizing when we got a good look at the town.

Wellington is the capital of New Zealand. Looks benign on the map.

It is, in actual fact, a town built straight up the side of mountains.

We got jelly legs all over again. Because we had been invited this very evening to dine at the home of a lovely couple who lived…we suddenly realized…at the top of this town.

We retrieved our camper van from the bowels of the ferry and began navigating the tiny twisting roads. It was no longer enough to chant, “stay left, stay left”. Now we remained entirely silent as Hubby climbed streets that went almost vertical. Each time we arrived at a level intersection, we took another breath.

And then it happened.

We approached an intersection that had a stop sign. Clinging to the side of the hill, face up to the sky, waiting for the other car to drive through, we could hear our heartbeats.

There was a small car waiting directly behind us, an uphill acceleration to push our camper van through and a clutch to manipulate. Didn’t I mention the van was a manual?

It felt like asking an elephant to climb a tree. And not fall backwards onto the mouse sitting below it.

Our gracious hosts greeted us with wine. I guess they knew.

We went through Wanganui and up through the island center passing Lake Taupo up to Rotorua. The areas here are full of geothermal activity, with geysers and bubbling black mud pits. Lime green and vivid orange and milky blue-yellows marble in steaming flat liquid sheets that you walk over on boardwalks.

They call it Te Whakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao.

Whaka for short.

You can soak in your own personal hot springs tub, but you will smell like rotten eggs for hours afterward.

We hiked Mount Maunganui the next day. Driving on to Whitianga and Hahei, we camped at Hot Water Beach. There, you can dig a hole in the powdery sand and hot spring water will fill it. We tramped to Cathedral Cove and saw stunning ocean carved cliffs and ancient twisted trees that stretched over our path.

We ended in Auckland and stayed with a lovely family that toured us around and introduced us to Piha, their own little slice of heaven. They keep a bach there with a long drop, but there was no time left to explore it.

Three patient children were waiting for us at home, cared for by a truly amazing mother-in-law.

And as I felt a bit weepy and homesick it dawned on me.

We were going home with an undeclared customs item.

I was pregnant.