Thursday, December 29, 2011

A New Chapter

As this is the week for New Year’s resolutions, I think I should put “read more” on my list.

I admire people who can read a whole book in one sitting. These folks always make it sound so delicious: curling up in a comfy chair with a blankie and a cup of tea, where they will savor a good novel for an afternoon, maybe stretching it into the evening. Some get under the covers. Some can stay up all night with a book. While laundry piles up and dirty dishes wait in the sink. No matter. Their book is their total focus until “The End.”

I’ve never done it.

Why? Because, to my deep embarrassment, I am the world’s slowest reader. There is no point in me even trying. If I were to sit down to read a book all the way through, I’d still be plugging away this time next year.

Ken gave me a book for Christmas and wrote on the tag: “Here is your investment gift for this year.”  He’s a funny guy. But the truth is I still haven’t finished a book he gave me for Christmas two years ago. And it’s a book of short stories! I’ve had to restart at least two of the stories a couple of times because it takes so long for me to read a few pages that I totally forget what happened at the beginning of the story.

Ken got three books for Christmas. He’s already read one and is half way through the second – and it has 683 pages! I haven’t a hope of ever getting through a book that size! Not in my lifetime anyway.

But yesterday afternoon, with nothing particularly pressing on my calendar, having already poured a cup of tea and the dog having already snuggled up beside me on the couch, I thought, “I’m going to read for a half an hour!” I picked up my investment gift and opened the cover. Riley hopped off the couch and went to the door with that look on his face that translates to, “Gotta go out this minute!” I didn’t get up right away. He circled around the hall and came back to look at me. “Now?” he said with his eyes. Circle again. “Now?” I put my book down. I let him out. He didn’t need to go out. He wanted to play.

By the time I came indoors again, it was time to think about dinner. Dinner rolled into kitchen clean-up. Kitchen clean-up rolled into family dog walk. Family dog walk rolled into favorite shows on TV. Check email and Facebook. Fill in my Weight Watchers points for the day. Start this blog. Put Riley out for the last time for the day. Get into bed. Ah, maybe a chance to read.

But then, reading at bed time is hopeless for me. I’m not so much a person known for having her nose in a book. More like, I’m a person with a book on my nose (from falling asleep after reading two paragraphs, just in case you didn’t catch my drift there.) It can take a long time to get through a book that way.

(Ironically, I have a degree in English. It’s a miracle that I got it. In undergrad, I did try to read “Moby Dick” in one night; the night before my American Literature exam. I fought sleep until 2 in the morning and then finally gave up. There wasn’t any chance I was going to get through that book, even if I had started it well in advance of the final. It turned out to be my albatross.  I got a humiliating “D” for that course, which seriously affected my grade point average and any chance at grad school. Fortunately, I got through undergrad on the comparatively easy reading of Shakespeare, the Iliad and the Romantic poets, plus Film 101 which required no reading at all.)

When someone asks me if I’ve read the latest best seller, I usually say, “No, not yet!” all the while thinking to myself, “Whether or not I ever do is doubtful.”

But “reading” does sound so nice, doesn’t it?

So, here it is: I resolve to read more in 2012. I could manage something in the 250-300 page range. I could let laundry pile up and dirty dishes wait in the sink if I really put my mind to it.  I could teach Riley to play fetch by himself (he’s a smart dog!) I could try to read during daylight hours. Sure I could!


Monday, December 19, 2011

Another Christmas Story

If you are a fan of the movie “A Christmas Story” you know that it has developed almost a cult-like following since it was first produced in 1983. I belong to this cult. I simply have to see this movie every year. (Although we don’t have a leg lamp, we do like to sing a chorus or two of “Fa-Ra-Ra-Ra” and refer to fragile parcels as “fra-gee-lay.”)

So when Ken said that a musical version of “A Christmas Story” was playing on stage in Chicago and would I like to go to see it, I was raring to go. We went this past weekend.

The movie is set in 1940 in Indiana. For me, it renders my childhood in the 1950s in Manitoba pretty much right on the money. Those of you who have seen the movie, know these scenes well.

The movie, and the musical, open with department store windows with animated toy displays that whole families would come downtown to see.  In my home town, these wonders were at Eaton’s department store – a dazzling display every year that would make a kid’s eyes grow as big as saucers. (My Canadian friends will also remember that you’d reach the verge of heat stroke shopping in the big store wearing your heavy winter coat, boots, gloves, hat and scarf. You’d have to carry them because you’d expire otherwise, but once you added in some parcels, you’d overheat for sure. On the way out, you’d stop at the giant bronze statue of Timothy Eaton at the entrance of the store to pull all your stuff on again and then you'd embrace the welcome blast of minus 30 degree frigid cold when you walked out again into the wind howling down Portage Avenue. Good times.)

Waiting in line to see Santa was both excruciatingly exciting and nerve wracking. I was one of those kids who was nervous about the whole episode and my childhood photos are testament to that fact. In one of them I’m looking sideways at Santa like I’m thinking he might be a mass murderer.

Just like in “A Christmas Story”, my Old Man battled “clinkers” in our cranky coal furnace. Up through the registers it sent groans and creaks and Dad’s cursing along with sudden blasts of black soot that settled throughout the house.

Every year Dad would bring home a tree so big that it needed to be hauled up and down from the basement a half-dozen times where, cursing, he would saw chunks off the top and bottom until he got it to fit the height of the living room (it never occurred to anyone that he might have measured it.) We never had a tree that looked quite symmetrical. He’d plug the lights into an outlet extension that had so many cords running into it that it looked like a plate of spaghetti. Every year the first lighting of the tree would blow a fuse, eliciting more curses and a search for a flashlight and a new fuse – or a penny to pop into the fuse circuit. (How did he not ever burn the house down? Maybe this is when I learned to spend sleepless nights imagining untold calamities.)

That was me, like the kid in the movie, wearing the snowsuit in which I could barely move, with the long scarf wound around and around my forehead, nose and mouth so that only my eyes would be showing.  (My grade one teacher had a deft hand with this technique. She used to hold one end of your scarf against your forehead and then spin you around holding the scarf out until the ends met and she could tuck the loose end in. You’d be dizzy for a few minutes, but the scarf was insurance against getting frostbite somewhere on your face on the walk home from school. It might be 30 below but, by God, we walked!)

And of course, like Ralphie in the show, I worked every angle to make sure Mum and Dad knew what I longed to get for Christmas. (You didn’t want to chance the whole thing to Santa alone. I mean, what if….?)

The musical version of the movie we saw in Chicago turned out to be funny and warm-hearted the highlight being a dance number featuring The Old Man and chorus doing a kick-line with leg lamps.

One sweet and sentimental song came at the end when the mother sings about all the crazy things that have happened, all the disasters that have befallen the family this Christmas, but it is their Christmas story, after all, theirs alone and totally to be cherished.

After the show, Ken and I wandered out of the theatre onto the busy, dazzling streets of Chicago. We went to look at Macy’s animated windows decorated with silver-glittered fairy tale creatures commanding dancing, twirling toys. We hurried along brightly lit, sparkling, Michigan Avenue's “Magnificent Mile” with our collars turned up and our gloved hands holding on tight to each other’s. We returned to our hotel in time for the Friday night chocolate buffet oh, heaven. As if on cue, a light snow began to transform the city into a giant snow globe.

There were tons of people on the street, imaginative animated figures in shop windows, Salvation Army bell-ringers on every corner, a brass quartet playing Christmas carols. We pinched ourselves to make sure we hadn’t time traveled back to the 1950s.

There is truth in art – and even in musicals. Maybe something magical happened while we were in the theatre. This is our Christmas story - and we're sticking to it.

(And if you have never seen the movie, “A Christmas Story”, you will surely get your chance because it runs for 24 hours from 8:00 pm on December 24th through to 8:00 pm on December 25th, check your local listings.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Good Old Days

When I mentioned to Ken the other day that I hadn’t thought of a blog topic for this week, he said, “Uh, Christmas?!?” in that tone that suggested that I was, as usual, tragically unaware of an elephant sitting on the couch.

“Everything that could possibly be said about Christmas, I’m sure has already been said,” I replied.

“Nobody does Christmas like you, dear,” he said. I can never tell if he is just being droll.  

Anyway, I’m not sure I have anything original or relevant to add to the subject.  I could say, “And to all a good night!” at this point and let you get on with your baking, wrapping, newsletter writing or Menorah lighting for that matter but two things come to mind that I thought I would share with you, dear friends, which you might find enjoyable, regardless of your ethnicity, belief system or disposition toward the season.

I was in the car yesterday when the radio station I was listening to played that classic holiday favorite, “Christmas, Don’t Delay” by Alvin and the Chipmunks. I thought, “Ugh!” and turned it off. But then, I thought, “Oh, heck,” and turned it back on. It was curiously satisfying to hear it.

What is it about the Chipmunks that they have endured all these years? The first Alvin and the Chipmunks song came out in 1958 (by the same songwriter, Ross Bagdasarian, who gave us “The Witch Doctor” with those unforgettable lyrics, “Oo, Eee, Oo, Ah, Ah, Bing-bang, Walla-walla, Bing-bang.” Those were simpler times, weren’t they?)

I loved the Chipmunks when I was a kid. I was five when they arrived on the scene not too young to appreciate, with my attention deficit disordered brain, that Alvin was a great role model.  I loved that Alvin was always goofing off, totally distracted, until the guy screams, “Alvin. ALVIN! ALLLL-VIN!!!!”  I thought that was hilarious when I was a kid. And at five, you are totally in on the joke that if chipmunks could sing, they’d sound just like a speeded up record.

Not sure how that part plays for kids today who have never heard a speeded up record, but apparently whole new generations of five year olds who go to the Chipmunks movies appreciate the humor. There is now on a third iteration of “new” chipmunks updated with hoodies and bling who sing popular rap and rock songs. A girl trio, the “Chipettes,” have been added to represent the female population in a spirit of equality, presumably, or as seems to be demonstrated in the trailers shown on TV, they’re there to shake their little chipmunk booties to inject a little sex into the formula so that Hollywood once again can inculcate kids with adult themes.

Still, although I haven’t actually seen a chipmunk movie, I like to imagine that kids think it’s hilarious that the human screams, “ALLLL-VIN!!!!” to get the little guy’s attention.


This nostalgic bent lingered until dinner time when I was cutting up celery for a salad. I walked into the living room with a celery stick for Ken, and said, “Hors d’oeuvre?”

“Thanks, sweetie,” he said. “Hey, remember when we used to have Cheez-Whiz on these?”

“Oh, yeah, Cheez-Whiz was good!” I replied. “Or we had Velveeta at our house when I was a kid.”

Those made me think that I’d love to do a dinner party sometime for friends who have similar nostalgia for childhood foods.  If I followed the prescription for entertaining that my mother set out, we’d start with celery sticks with Velveeta cheese on top, a jar of pimento-stuffed Manzanita olives, and smoked oysters, from a can, served on crackers. Dad drank Scotch and my mother had Rye and 7-Up, so we’d have to go with hard liquor instead of wine.

First course: shrimp cocktail served over shredded lettuce in a fancy cocktail glass with red, horseradishy sauce on the side.

Main course:  a roast of beef accompanied by the ultimate potato – roasted around the meat (the rest of the week we ate mashed.)  Maybe a jellied salad – a shimmering hill of lime green with bits of cucumber, carrot, celery and green onion floating within its transparent glow. Likely some cauliflower with Velveeta sauce.  

Wine: Mateus. In that flat, green lantern of a bottle. Or maybe some nice Canadian Baby Duck. (Seriously. Andre’s Baby Duck, a rather sweet, sparkling white wine, was the most popular wine in Canada right up to 1973.)

Dessert?  Ambrosia. A recipe that I think must have come straight out of one of those Kraft Foods commercials:  red Jell-O mashed up and mixed with whipped cream, canned fruit cocktail, marshmallows and coconut. Who could have imagined this? It was such an improbable concoction.

At Christmas there was always turkey with mashed potatoes and all the veggies you can imagine. Dessert was an extravaganza of traditional plum pudding with rum sauce along with my mother’s Christmas cake and shortbread, mincemeat pie, Icelandic vinarterta and peppermint stick ice cream served at the kid’s table. The folks had a bit of a sweet tooth!

Well, I’m back to living in the present today. But this time of year conjures childhood memories no matter how much you might wish to suppress them.  Once you start, many more flood in. Maybe I’ll have some more to share next week!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sunk by a Sink?

Do you watch those shows on TV where a real estate agent takes prospective buyers around to three houses and then, once they’ve picked one, you get to see how hideously they’ve decorated it? Ken and I love those shows. They are our “default” programming, meaning that if there is nothing on that we want to watch, we’ll switch to House Hunters and yell at the TV, “You bought House number three! You’re idiots!” Or, “Are you kidding with that color on the walls?” We are not proud of ourselves.

There are a few versions of these programs. There is “House Hunters”, which is the original. Then there is “House Hunters International”, as well as “My First Place” and “Property Virgins”. And more recently, “Selling New York” and “Selling L.A.”, both of which fall into my “house porn” category because, with jaw-dropping, drool-inducing, properties on view, at obscene prices over $2 million, these two shows are strictly for voyeurs who can too easily find themselves lustfully using self-abusive mental messages like, “Why aren’t I a billionaire?”

The producers of House Hunters know exactly why the show has such appeal. An ad they has a couple driving around a neighborhood of craftsman houses at dusk. They glance into living rooms where the drapes are not yet drawn until they’re spotted by a homeowner and they speed away. The voice over says, “Go ahead! You know you want to look!” We all want to be Looky-Loos. It is curiously satisfying to see inside someone’s home. Or to imagine what you might do to make a place your own.  But I fear that these programs have begun to set the standards to which America thinks it should aspire.
A theory I’m working on is that shows of this ilk might actually be responsible for the housing crisis! Here’s what I’m thinking:

In one sense, they are aspirational – and this is the positive side. They play into dreams of finding the perfect home where love and contentment reign because there are double vanities in the bathroom to ensure domestic harmony. The concluding moments on House Hunters always feature the new homeowners declaring to the camera that they have made the perfect choice and they will live happily ever after until the day someone carries them out in a pine box.  

We cheer when we like the people. When you spend a half hour with someone, you get to know them.  Especially as you see them react to the houses they inspect. If the most intelligent thing they can say throughout their house tour is, “Oh, this room is a good size!” we are done with them. And then there is the lame attempt at humor we hear frequently when a woman encounters a walk-in closet and tells her husband, “Oh, honey, I’ll take all of this space! Ha, Ha! You can have the tiny closet in the guest room!”  This became a tired joke a long time ago.

But other people, the ones to whom we take an instant liking, have compelling stories, or they avoid those tired clichés or they demonstrate some awareness of their surroundings – or that they’re conscious, at least.  We feel good that they find their forever home.
But I digress. My point is that the positive and the negative sides of these programs are too closely alligned. I mean, first we need to acknowledge that there are so many people for whom home ownership is a dream way beyond grasp – both here in North America and around the world. So, that fact makes the following observation that much more jarring.

So many participants we see on these shows are viewing houses in the half-million-and-up price ranges. Many of them look as though they can’t afford a half-million and up. What the heck do they do for a living? Are they the ones who get no-down-payment mortgages that they can’t possibly afford?

And what propels them in their quest for the perfect domicile? A wish list that they surely must have developed out of watching these shows in the first place because EVERYONE wants the same things! Suddenly it seems there is high demand in the world that we MUST ALL HAVE and you hear this almost every episode hardwood floors, crown molding, two vanities in the master bath, stainless steel kitchen appliances, granite counter tops, walk-in closets, a “good space for entertaining” and the guys want a “man cave” because presumably they don’t intend to interact with the rest of the family on any kind of regular arrangement unless they come out of their lair to slay a mastodon and get a beer.
We watched one show with newbie home owners for whom black glass-front appliances were a deal-breaker. The appliances appeared to me to be o.k., but the wife said, “Those would have to go right away so I could get my stainless steel.”  HER stainless steel? It’s a birthright? She HAS to have it? They passed on this house, which had every other feature they desired except those steel appliances!

Another young couple we saw rejected a fine-looking house they loved with the historic character they were seeking because they couldn’t get their heads around a closet that had been converted to provide a main floor powder room which had a tiny sink. They actually made the sink their rallying cry for why they wouldn’t buy that house! They actually said, “Yuck!” Yuck? As if a tiny sink is somehow disgusting!?!

I yelled at them, “You Brats! Get over yourselves! WE have a tiny closet renovation with a tiny sink! Because the 1925 house we bought only had one upstairs bathroom! That’s what you get with an old house! Our guests think it’s adorable!”  Sheesh! What version of reality are they dealing with? As if that tiny bathroom should somehow have been bigger? How? If you’re converting a closet into a bathroom it’s because that’s your only option!

I can’t believe my parents’ “life lessons” echo in my head: “In our day,” they’d bellow, “we saved up to get what we wanted!”  I hate to admit it, but I think they were right! What happened to making do? Or working toward your goal a little bit at a time? Or accepting limitations?
So as I said, I think I see where the crisis occurred: everyone has developed five star tastes on two star incomes.

But, anyway, thanks for listening. I should go now and tidy up around here. My granite counter tops need wiping and my hardwood floors need to be swept. And that tiny sink… well, yuck!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Cuddling, and Other Winter Sports

We had our first snowfall of the season in Dayton this week – a ½ inch overnight.  Some schools announced two hour delays in opening the next morning. The newspaper ran a story headlined: “Residents should prepare winter survival kits.”

Alright, let’s all just calm down a bit. There was no cause for wide spread panic. Let me tell you about real winters and how to manage them!

People here in the U.S. frequently ask Ken and me about Canadian winters. The common misconception seems to be that temps in the Frozen North dip below freezing year round and that perpetual winter exists just as soon as you step across the 49th parallel. It’s true! Ha, Ha! A little Canadian humour there!

Mind you, many Canadian locales have had snow already. But, in these days of global climate change, even some wintery bad boys, like Winnipeg and Edmonton, can expect a thaw or two before the season is over.

Now, in my day…ahem (old fogey throat-clearing sound)… winters were winters.  Growing up in Winnipeg, if we didn’t get a major snowstorm on Halloween, for sure we’d get one by mid-November and could count on the white stuff sticking around until April.  We could also count on good solid stretches of minus 30 degree temperatures. Weeks of it. Fahrenheit or Celsius – doesn’t matter. When it’s that cold, it’s real cold!

Real cold is when your nostrils freeze shut when you walk out the door and take your first breath of sub-Arctic air. Real cold is when your eyes tear up from the biting cold and the moisture instantly freezes on your face (when your mother says things like, “For heaven’s sakes, will you stop crying, your face is going to freeze!”)  

Real cold is when snow banks plowed up along roadways get taller than your averaged-height adult.  And when the tires on your parked car actually freeze square with one flat surface at the bottom and you ka-thunk, ka-thunk down the street for several miles before they thaw and round out again.  And when a three inch thick layer of frost builds up on the inside of your windows and you can draw pictures in it.

Real cold is when you know, from an early age, that there is a strong probability you could freeze to death while waiting for a bus.

My Canadian readers are thinking, “Mm-hmm. So?”

So, don’t we all feel silly when the evening news gives us winter weather warnings for a ½ inch of snow?

But, you know, Canadian winters aren’t all bad. We Canadians know how to have fun when the days get long and the snow crunches underfoot. We watch Hockey Night in Canada. We go to the theatre or the symphony. We engage in winter sports: hockey, skating, tobogganing...

…which reminds me of a conversation I had once with an elderly Winnipegger. The gentleman was in his 80s, the father of my mother’s friend, one of the many Scots who made up the population of old codgers in my neighborhood.  I was in my 20s, recently married, out of work, with a car, which made me vulnerable to requests to drive elderly relatives to various appointments or what-not. I have no recall of where I was taking the old man, but I remember it was January.  His opening remarks, in a thick Scottish burr, were, “Do ye cuddle, lass?”

“Uh,” I replied, “Well, now and again, yes… with my husband, anyway” (thinking, you old coot!)

“Aye, thas good!” he continued, encouraged.  “Lads and lassies cuddlin’ together…thas good!”

“Um, yeah.” (O.K., what’s the old fool after?)

“I used to love cuddlin’ w’ the lassies!”

(Now thinking, am I going to have to turn this car around and take you home?)

“Cuddlin’ makes the winter gae faster, dunna ye’ think, lass? Keeps ye’ war-rrrdd-m”

“Oh, yeah…???”

“Aye, throwin’ and sweepin’ …”

(Huh?) “Oh, CURLING!”

“Aye! Cuddlin’!” he said as if I hadn’t understood a word he’d said.

 “Yes, yes, definitely! Curling! Yup, sure does keep you warm alright!”

Whew! From there, the conversation took a brighter turn.

 For my American readers who aren’t so familiar with the sport, curling is the national sport of Winnipeg, especially among the descendants of the Scots who brought it there. The heaving of a granite stone and the vigorous sweeping that follows can definitely warm you up! So do the shots of Scotch afterward.

Yes, curling really does make the winter go faster.

So can cuddling.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Tips

One of the beautiful things about being Canadians living in America is that we get to celebrate two Thanksgivings! One on our Canadian holiday on the second Monday in October (see my Canadian Thanksgiving blog, “Vegetables are a Side Dish”; October 5th) and again in November on the big American holiday. Two days set aside for quietly expressed gratitude.

For anyone who is a turkey fan, this might seem like gobbler heaven. Or if you are on Weight Watchers, it might seem like havoc to be played with your points; whichever way you want to look at it.

I opened my email this morning to find a clever message from Weight Watchers. It contains an interactive “points calculator” which includes an illustration of a dinner plate along with a chart of very yummy-looking photos of everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving dishes. The idea is to drag and drop the food photos onto the plate. The computer then adds up the points you’ve just “served” yourself so that you are duly forewarned about the imminent caloric ruin of your diet. My first reaction was, “Buzz Kills!” And then I relented, thinking, “Oh, why not?”, much as you do when faced with your own obvious weakness and a feast with all the trimmings.

So I plunked down a turkey leg on my “plate”, poured on some gravy, added stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and a honking slice of pumpkin pie. 54 points! Ouch!

Close to two days-worth of points spent on just one meal!

Suddenly I found myself appreciating those monotonous magazine articles I generally hate about how to get through the holidays without gaining 20 pounds! (Well, maybe I won’t go that far. Those smug, self-satisfied how-to authors still give me the heartburn.) For the first time in my life, however, I have to admit that they might just have a point.  And this is saying a lot for someone who, when the calendar turns to November, looks forward to any opportunity for a holiday party where they might be serving phyllo pastry appetizers filled with cream cheese and other savory bites.  

Weight Watchers actually has some particularly helpful hints – not like those lame-o tips in magazines about filling your plate with selections from the crudité platter and skipping the dip. I mean have you ever seen one of those platefuls of veggies actually disappear at a party? No, you have not. The cream cheese and phyllo appetizers? Gone in an instant.

Anyway, I hope you don’t mind me sharing some hints with you. I’m sure Weight Watchers won’t mind if it means healthier eating for the American public.  But as copyright laws probably prohibit me from sharing them verbatim, I will paraphrase some of their best tips.

Here’s one: if you taste a dab of something, or a smidge of something else, you need to count it as one point. Tasting the gravy? One point. Sampling the stuffing? One point. Licking the cookie dough out of the bowl? One point (well, maybe 10.) I could easily rack up a day’s points just nibbling, which as we all know is the best part about cooking a Thanksgiving meal. Who wants to give that up? So, I say samples don’t count.

Here’s another: eat the filling of your pie, but skip the crust. O.K., if you do that your guests will wonder if they should have left it on their plates, too. They’ll go home wondering if they are in for a night of food poisoning. If you are at someone else’s home, you risk your hosts wondering if you think their crust is inferior in some way. Not worth insulting your friends or in-laws. Unless you don’t want to be invited back. Or worse: they come to your place next year and eat only the crudités out of spite.

This my favorite:  make it a rule of thumb to take two spoons full of veggie side dishes for every spoonful of starch-based ones you take. Apparently potatoes don’t count as veggies, they are in the starch family. So, how many other starches are there that can you think of still remaining on the Thanksgiving menu? The stuffing! They mean the stuffing!  I don’t know about you, but for me, a turkey dinner is ALL ABOUT the stuffing. Using this Weight Watchers’ formula those two servings of veggies are going to be mighty hefty if they are meant to counter balance that loaf-sized single helping of stuffing that I’m no doubt going to eat!  

So there you have it. Weight Watchers’ advice on how to handle the holidays.
Buzz Kill, right?

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone. Whether you are American and celebrating the holiday this week or Canadian and crossing the border for the sales, we hope you are filled with turkey (or veg, or starch) and the spirit of thankfulness.

Ken and I are enormously thankful for the job that he loves that brought us to Dayton where we have met so many wonderful new friends. We are also grateful for our home and our health, our families, our dear friends in other places, our pooch, Riley, and our Thanksgiving meal this year, which will be points-friendly.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

So Sick of It!

Back in April when I invited you, dear friends, to read my blog, I promised that I wouldn’t subject you to weekly rants.  However, there are just times when a person needs to get some things off her chest.  Am I right?

This is one of those times. It’s been coming on for now for a while now, so please bear with me.

Have you seen the TV commercial where the Dad is dipping his kid’s feet in white plaster, and the Mom comes home and says, “What are you doing? What is this?” and the Dad explains that he’s invented an alternative to white gym socks because the ones they’ve been wearing just don’t stay up, and apparently he’s, “Sick of it!” And the kids, says, “Yeah, sick of it!”  And of course the Mom, smarter by half than the both of them together, has bought them a brand of never-fail gym socks and all will be well.  

Well, Ken and I have been saying, “Sick of it!” as a running gag for weeks now.  Mostly, it’s about minor irritations. Like Standard Time. When we turned the clocks back last week, we experienced the inevitable readjustment period for, oh, I’d say, a day and a half, when Ken said, “I’m sick of it!”  And I said, “Yeah, Sick of it!” We actually weren’t fed up with Standard Time, but it made us giggle to say it anyway.

Not all irritations in life are minor as we all know.  But as positive as I try to stay about things like socks that don’t stay up and political ads on TV, they can get on your nerves. So, here we go.

The Top 5 Things I’m Sick Of:

5.            Those tiny scan code stickers stuck onto fruits and vegetables. I hate them!  Just try to pick one off your apple or your pear or your tomato. If you wash your piece of fruit first, the glue sets up and rrriiippppps the skin right off your apple – or worse, the glue leaves sticky residue and you have to cut that bit off. Or maybe you always remember to peel your code stickers off before washing your fruit?  They’re still a total nuisance.  Why?  Because one of those annoying little labels isn’t worth the effort of opening the kitchen trash container to toss it out.  So what do you do with it? You stick it on the side of the kitchen sink until you have a big enough collection of them to justify opening the trash. Or maybe you have a small sticker graveyard behind your flour canister. Either way, those labels are irritating and I'm sick of them.

4.            Flossing. I am so sick of flossing. I have been flossing once a day, every day, for maybe 30 years.  I committed to flossing in early adulthood out of fear of dentistry.  Since then, sure, I’ve come to feel good about the health benefits  of keeping food bits out of dental crevices and I don't mind being my hygienist’s “Mouth of the Month” for two years running.  But there are times after a big night of falling asleep in front of the TV when I just want to get to bed.  Flossing just seems like way too much trouble. 28 teeth?All four surfaces? Really?

3.            Plastic bags that won’t open. You know the ones. Doesn’t matter how many times you turn these bags in all four directions, you just can’t figure out which is the edge that opens. You can rub the plastic between your finger tips or you can blow on a rim hoping that you might find the sweet spot. But by the time you get it open, you’ve wasted a significant chunk of a perfectly good day.

2.            And while we’re talking plastic, has anyone out there figured out which plastic “numbers” can go in the recycle bin? I haven’t.  I toss them all in and let somebody else sort it out at the recycle depot. Frankly, I’m pretty sick of recycling altogether. We have been dedicated recyclers for 25 years or more. I swear we put out more recyclable materials out to the curb than anybody else in the neighborhood.  It feels virtuous. But sometimes I throw a piece of paper in the trash, just in an act of total rebellion.

1.            I reserve my number one spot, biggest “Sick of It!” for writers of newspaper and magazine articles that tell me how to do all things better.  All of these experts expounding on how to do things better than anyone has ever told us how to do these things ever before.  As if we are all in training to perform everything at an Olympian level.  Better eating. Better exercise. Better financial planning. Better nose picking. Better. Better. Better. Surely it must be because we are all such miserable slubs at everything we do.  It’s totally exhausting!

My favorite in the paper this morning is the annual, “How to Avoid Holiday Pounds” which is about how to be behave better at a party at not failing on your diet.  More on this one next week – this deserves its very own blog.

Oh, look, here’s another article in today’s paper that tells you how to use recycled materials to make holiday decorations! Hooray!  Two “Sick of Its” for the price of one!  Maybe it has an idea for using those fruit labels.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Excuse Me, Weren't You Once a Noun?

A new food store opened recently in a community very near our home.  Being a cross between a gourmet grocery and a health food store, it caused quite a sensation in the first couple of weeks after opening.  I went to check it out, along with hundreds of other people.  Not being in the mood that day to line up with those hundred or so people who waited at the check-out, I chose only a few items and was diverted from the express lane by a staffer who sent me to the sandwich/juice bar for ringing up.  A woman standing beside me was picking up her juice order (it was a verdant concoction of herbs and green veggies, no doubt healthful, but which looked like blenderized grass clippings – it made me shudder, let me tell you see my blog from October 5/11.)  

She was sharing her personal history with the juice barista, you know, as one does. 

“I used to juice at home all the time,” she said, “but I don’t juice anymore.”

Really? I thought. So, now “juice” is a verb?

Is this part of some plot being promulgated by a cult bent on verbinating nouns?  Like those users of the former noun, “impact”?  Is it a media conspiracy? I mean, I do find myself yelling at the television every time a reporter announces that traffic has been impacted by a stalled vehicle on Interstate 75.  “Impact is not a verb,” I’ll shout! 

Has it been so onerous over the years to use the word properly that we had to find a shortcut?  Were we looking for a convenient way out of using a sentence like, “A vehicle, stalled in the left lane on I-75, has had a negative impact on traffic this morning”?

Has the specious verb “to impact” become accepted into common grammar – or is it actually just verbiage; in other words, nonsense, verbosity in the guise of sophisticated, bombastic media vocabulary?

I found an entire blog on the topic. It started off with reasonably argued, and humorous, positions on how language has been impacted by this phenomenon.  One blogger stated that “impacted” is only for bowels and teeth.  Someone wrote back that they thought they’d like to date that person.  I assumed that was sarcasm. After that the blog deteriorated into sniping, one-liner comments between the two writers who started the discussion.  It got tiresome. In other words, it had a negative impact on me.

I then turned to Merriam-Webster online for answers.  Egad!  According to this respected source, “impact” is indeed both a noun and a verb – has been since 1635! Not only that, but it is both a transitive and an intransitive verb (look it up.) Zounds!  I guess I should stop yelling at the TV.  Ken would probably appreciate it.

I looked up some other words that have been troubling me. “Scrapbook” is apparently not yet a verb, but is used that way by ladies at the Hobby Lobby, as in, “I’m scrapbooking my daughter’s wedding photos.”

“Google” is a verb, and apparently not yet a noun, according to the M-W dictionary.

All of this got me thinking that maybe other words in our recent past might have sounded odd to someone’s ears when they heard them make the leap from noun to verb. Take the word, “phone” for example.  Was it weird when the former noun, short for “telephone” of course, started to show up in conversation to describe the action of making the call? At one time did it sound really dumb to hear someone say, “Phone me later!”  Was it critical to find a shortcut from the more grammatical, but utterly cumbersome and vexatious, “Call me on the phone later”? 

So, in that same vein, will “juice” soon become an action word?  Will we soon be saying, “I juiced for breakfast today”? How about, “I egged”?  Or, “I coffeed”?

I went back to Merriam-Webster.  OMG!  They say “juice” can be a verb!

Good grief!  Did it get in there between the time that I went to the health food store and the time I’ve sat down here to write?  Was that juice- drinker smarter than me?  I’ll have to remember the new smart terminology when next I order juice!

This blog is dedicated to Zach and Ryan, proprietors of the  Juice Truck in Vancouver, BC., who, not even once, use the word “juice” as a verb on their web site.  You can find out about them at . (Zach is the son of our good friends, Joel Berman and Sandy Postl. Cheers, you guys!)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Right to Bear Glue Guns

Now that Halloween is over, our community shifts into Holiday Craft season at neighborhood churches, seniors’ centers and high schools. Signs on major roadways have been springing up for Craft Sales for the last couple of weeks. These are sweet events featuring all manner of handmade items created by crafty people who make things for you to hang on your Christmas tree, or decorate your home, or set your holiday table, or dress up your toddler or cat.

I haven’t a crafty bone in my body, so these events astonish me.

I imagine that crafters have been working like Santa’s elves for months now.  All summer long probably. This must surely be a necessity in order to produce enough multiples of each specialized item to make sales and the crafters’ efforts worthwhile.  Crafters obviously must commit to plying their craft over and over again until a respectable number of crafts come into existence to warrant a sale.  

Herein lays the catch for me.  I lack “follow through.”

Also patience.

And manual dexterity.

And a glue gun.

I did try craft once.  O.K., twice.

When I was in university, I ventured that knitting might make a nice relaxing pastime.  I learned the basic “stitch” (is “stitch” the right word?) and embarked on making a scarf for Ken.  As I knit, the stitches became tighter and tighter; the rows got closer and closer together.  By the time the scarf was 4 inches long, I had used up an entire skein of wool.  The loops were so tightly wrapped around the knitting needles I could barely pry a stitch loose off of them without bending them in two. They vibrated with the tension.  Everyone agreed that maybe it was me who was wound just a little too tightly.  Knitting, as it turned out, was not that good for my stress level after all.

Many years later I decided to jump back onto the hobby horse (pause for reader eye roll.)

By this time, we had discovered something quite beneficial to our stress level wine. The relics of our wine drinking eventually stockpiled into an impressive cork collection.  “Why not make those into attractive cork wreaths?” I thought, “Sure! Now there’s a craft that is right up my alley!”

I mentioned that I don’t own a glue gun. I did not regard this as a disadvantage – at first. In fact I took it as an opportunity to work au naturel no, not naked! I mean: I intended to work only with natural materials. Instead of hot glue, I self-righteously used raffia to tie each cork onto a grapevine frame which I thought was a most suitable choice. The advantages of glue gunning soon became apparent.  Corks are slippery little bastards.  Pardon my French, but reliving the vexation caused by corks continuously slipping out of their raffia bindings irritates me all over again!  

Neither did I think about following some kind of pattern in tying them on (that was another pun if you were paying attention.)  Or following some kind of instructions from Martha Stewart or other craft maven. There was neither rhyme nor reason to my corks. They were tied randomly; all higgledy-piggledy; sticking out at funny angles, some drooping, some upright, some comin’ at ‘ya like Sarah Palin’s rifles.  I tried stuffing little tufts of dried flowers into gaps between corks to see if that improved it. Nothing would – short of a different craftsperson. It was a mess.  And the worst part was thinking I’d have to make more of them.  I couldn’t imagine why I would want to do this AGAIN!

I abandoned all craft aspirations that day.  I decided to accept my limitations. I learned an important lesson: it's the second amendment from the Craft Constitution. Real crafters have glue guns. And they know how to use them.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


In the last few days, I’ve read a couple of newspaper columns and a blog or two in which the writers have observed how Halloween has been appropriated by adults. It has gone, they say, from being a fun night for little kids to being an excuse for grown-ups to put on costumes and act like kids.  Ken and I have never really followed this trend nor taken part because, as Ken maintains, when you work in the theatre, putting on costumes isn’t much of a novelty. I don’t know whether other theatre people disdain Halloween for this same reason, but that’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

Neither have we ever created a stage set on our front steps with ghouls and ghosts and skeletons. For someone who found “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” to be the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, I find the graveyards on neighborhood lawns a bit unnerving. I try not to look.

However, the Halloween blogs got me thinking about “dressing-up.”   We haven’t been to a costume party in 35 years. But when I was a kid it was planning my Halloween costume that thrilled me the most.

First, I should say that I was one of those weird kids who didn’t care much for candy.  I was so indifferent to the loot we collected that it would roll around to Easter by the time my mother would finally hold up the bag full of Nibs, Bazooka bubble gum, candy bracelets and jaw breakers that had been stuffed to the back of the kitchen cupboard and say, “I’m throwing this junk out now!” Fine with me. 

My childhood pal and Halloween planning partner, Cora Lynne, who lived five doors away from our house, was all about the candy.  She was one of those kids who pinched spare change from her mother’s purse so we could go to “Sam the Cheat’s,” as all the kids in the neighborhood called our corner store.  She would spend fifteen minutes or more reviewing the open bins of penny candy to pick out her favorites, while Sam grumbled behind the counter, “I’m watching you kids. Don’t even think about stealing from me.”  I was never interested, especially as I was afraid of Sam and had heard the terrible tales told by my parents of bugs having been found in the raisin nut chocolate bars. But for Cora Lynne, candy represented the supreme goal of childhood and Halloween candy the climax of her entire sugary year.

Nope, for me it was the costume.  We would start planning what to wear in August.  My mind would race with ideas and I could think of nothing else until I had nailed down the details.  One year we went as exotic gypsies. Another year, as cool beatniks. I was 11 when the Beatles first came to North America, so I think we might have even gone as Beatles, maybe it was on our last year of trick or treating.  It occurs to me now that we were working through our alter egos – trying on characters we would never be, but making visible statements about what we thought of ourselves, or how we wanted adults to see us. We secretly hoped to shock and dismay.

Of course, this was when we were old enough to not need adult help. At this stage, the only intervention they’d offer was, “You’re not going anywhere dressed like that, missy!” or, “Are you sure you’re going to be warm enough?” 

But of course, the costume you wear for Halloween when you are a little kid is chosen by your parents.

When I first went out for Halloween, I got to be a princess! But as every kid who grew up on the Canadian prairies in the 1950s knows, this meant wearing your costume over your snow suit. And if your mother didn’t have a talent for sewing, it also meant that you were taken to the drug store to pick out a paper costume. This happened to me several years in a row. Once the paper sack got pulled over the snow suit, I looked more like a troll than a princess. Mom would wedge the tiara down over my toque (American translation: wool hat.) Once I had run with my pillow case full of candy up one side of your street and down the other, up and down front steps, shouting “Halloweeeen AAAPPPLes!” (American translation: “Trick or Treat!”) the princess dress was thoroughly torn and tattered. It was kind of a reverse Cinderella effect.  

When I got to elementary school, my non-sewing mother relied on purchasing more resilient costumes.  I became either a cowgirl or a Chinese farm laborer the latter thanks to my aunt who traveled to the west coast annually and always brought back Chinese pajamas and a broad straw hat from Vancouver’s Chinatown, such as the ones worn by rice farmers or the laborers conscripted to build the Canadian railways in the 1800s.  I preferred the cowgirl outfit because, even at that young age, I had a sense there might be some impropriety about wearing the Chinese pj’s.

But at a costume parade in grade 2, one of the years that I went as a cowgirl, I wore a red cowboy hat, a red and white checked shirt, a denim skirt and a brown fake leather vest with white whip-stitching, and I remember watching a girl in my class who wore a floor length pink dress with puffy sleeves and tied in back with a lovely satin sash.  She had one of those tall pointed hats that her mom had made for her that had a flowy veil of pink chiffon streaming down to her shoulders. She was every inch a beautiful princess. And I remember thinking to myself, “Nuts! I want to be a princess!”

Wait a sec! Maybe this year! Anyone having a party?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Kabin Karma

Ken and I went on a three day excursion this past weekend.  Leaf-peeping was the excuse. Some R&R Relationship and Reconnection was the actual goal, although Rest and Relaxation sounded good, too.

We love staying at country inn-style B&BS and have made it a quest over the years to find especially nice places. Good mattress. Down quilt. Two-person hot tub. Fireplace. Happy Hour. Lavish breakfast.  Scenic setting.  Peace and quiet.  That’s what we look for.  Fortunately there are numerous places that offer these amenities and some are even affordable.  But the way we look at it, we aren’t putting kids through college, so we treat ourselves now and again.

On Saturday we stayed at an inn tucked away along a back road in southern Ohio Amish Country. It has a charming 1800s farm house where dinner and breakfast are served, and Amish-built log cabins nestled into a forested portion of the innkeepers’ considerable rural acreage.  It was a gorgeous day and we had taken our time driving country roads and enjoying the fall color. Once we checked in, we went for a woodland walk and returned to sit on our porch for a snack of cheese from the Amish farm next door and a glass of the wine we brought from home.  Ken went for a nap, and I stayed on the little porch, sitting in an Adirondack chair to read, to watch the sunlight on yellow leaves, and let my mind drift.

As I always do when we stay in these places, I begin to imagine how nice it would be to do this every weekend.  How relaxing! How restorative!  I’ll fantasize about a cabin of our own.  Soon, I’ll be designing a cottage in my head – just like this one!  Except, with a kitchen. And a satellite dish. And a guest room with ensuite.  And a better view. Waterfront, I think.  Oh, well.  It’s kind of an impossible dream, but lovely to think about.  Who can afford waterfront these days anyway?

After dinner, we joined a group of guests who were sitting around a fire pit that had a wonderful blaze going. Being in such a remote location, we could see stars again and listen to crickets chirp and owls hoot. We sat there contemplating the vastness of the universe warmed by the primeval appeal of the fire.  When we toddled off to bed, we were transformed individuals.

Until I tried to get to sleep.  In the quiet and the inky darkness, the day’s magic dissolved into terrible thoughts. First, my mind wandered to imagining a bear sniffing out the banana bread we had packed in the picnic hamper (it isn’t likely there are bears there at all – but still...)  She would tear the door off the cabin to find it and eat banana bread along with us as a side dish.

Next, my brain concocted a crazed group of hillbillies, buzzed-up on Mountain Dew caffeine mega-watts, rampaging around in a pick-up truck and causing no end of violence and mayhem.  They would think that at least one of us was “purty.”  I worried that I should have closed and locked the windows.  What was that noise?  Why is it so dag-nabbed dark in here? It was a miracle I got to sleep at all.

But, in the morning, all seemed well.  Silly to have worried!  Clear blue sky. Birds chirping. Leaves fluttering. Our breakfast was indeed lavish and delicious. We thanked the innkeepers and went on our way to the next locale, stopping to hike into a State Park geological site that has the most amazing cave and rock formations.

Sunday night we stayed at a different inn deep in Ohio’s absolutely beautiful Hocking Hills area.  We drove to what seemed like the end of nowhere and it was past that.  The appeal of this inn is its situation on a gorge a gorgeous gorgewith walking trails practically right out the front door of our darling cottage.  We had a screened-in porch where we could sit with our afternoon quaff of wine and right on cue, a family of deer walked by, stopping to flex their ears at us and gaze over to see if we were any danger to them.  Idyllic.

After dinner we played Gin Rummy until bedtime.  I fell asleep right away.

At 2:00 in the morning, a huge clap of thunder woke us both.  I awoke with such a start that my heart pounded.  Ken fell back to sleep, but I was so wide awake that I got up to sit in our tiny living room to read and hopefully calm down.  Thunder and lightning continued. The wind picked up. The curtains fluttered inward at the open windows. I sat in a wingback chair with a single light shining on my book a collection of short stories by my favorite Canadian author, Alice Munro.  The story started out to tell about a woman in her seventies whose husband had died and she was living alone in her tiny farmhouse.  One day a young man comes to her door claiming to be from a utility company. She lets him in, but he doesn’t leave right away. He claims he is diabetic and could she please fix him something to eat. He sits down at the kitchen table.  But when he breaks the tea cup she passes him and threatens her with a shard of china, I stopped reading! Ack! I don’t like where this is going!  I jumped back into bed and stared out into the darkness for hours. It was too quiet.  My heart was still pounding so loud I swear an intruder would hear it. I fell asleep at some point. But I’m not sure what time it had not been a restful night.

The morning dawned crisp and clear not a cloud in the sky. Sunlight shining through yellow leaves.  Deer strolling past our dear little cottage. A lavish breakfast waiting. All was well. Silly to have worried!

It was just a great weekend all in all. But there’s a good reason why we don’t own a cottage or a cabin. I couldn’t take the stress.  


Friday, October 14, 2011


Don’t you think it would have prevented a lot of anxiety in our youth if we could have glimpsed our adult selves through some kind of crystal ball?  I mean, dating in high school, for example, would have been a lot less fraught with melodrama if I had only known that one day I would be living every woman’s dream yes, me, though I could never have imagined it at the time.  For, you see, I go out on date night every weekend – sometimes on Friday AND Saturday!  How has this happened to a formerly shy, 95-pound, flat-chested, braces-toothed, arts-nerd in glasses such as I was in high school?

I married a man in show biz!  You can’t get luckier than that.  Dinner and a show? Darn near standard fare for us!  Broadway musical? By all means!  A play? Play on!  Philharmonic?  Phabulous!  Opera?  Oh, we’re there!  Comedy and concerts?  Can’t miss ‘em!  Ballet? I married a man who likes ballet!

For us, it’s nice to stay home once in a while for heaven’s sake!

A far cry from my teenage years, let me tell you, when staying home was monotonously the norm!  I longed to go out. My parents kept saying things like, “These are the best years of your life!” And I was thinking, “Oh, my God! You mean it gets worse?”

From grades 7 to 9 I had a steady boyfriend, but our dates were limited, well, by being 13 and 14 years old, as well as by a lack of transportation and cash. He had a paper route but his earning power wasn’t great enough to take me to the movies. Sometimes we’d ride a bus to the end of its run and back again just for something to do.  When he broke up with me, I was heartbroken and went into deep introspection, getting my hair cut as short as a nun’s (if I hadn’t been brought up Protestant I would have taken vows right then and there.) I stayed home every weekend to watch TV with the folks.  This was not the Seventeen magazine recommended way to get into the “A” group.  

I accepted the odd date (odd being the operative word) from guys who needed to practice dating pretty much pity dates on both our parts like the sweet, but overly-serious guy who sang to me all through West Side Story, and the kid who sat in front of me in home room who sniffed his armpits during class. My self-banishment lasted until grade 12 when I got my braces off.  I decided to face the world again.

It took a few months before I got the hang of going out with boys again, but I did crawl my way back to social acceptability, eventually, mostly with the help of my best friend who was beautiful, charming and popular, and who mentored me out of exile.

I met the man of my dreams in university.  He was cute, funny, easy to be with, in the theatre program, played the guitar (he had me at “You’ve Got a Friend”) and was totally into the arts. It was love. The rest is history.

So, 40 years later, he and I were in the audience last Friday night when the Flying Karamazov Brothers performed at the Victoria Theatre here in Dayton.  The Vic is a beautifully restored vaudeville/movie house that is part of the complex that Ken heads, and makes the perfect venue for a show like the FKB’s which is mostly juggling, but also old fashioned, silly vaudevillian schtick.  In one of their routines, the four guys juggled those things that look like bowling pins, three against one, in different patterns and rhythms, for a very long time mesmerizing to watch all the while keeping up a patter of conversation and jokes.  They peppered in some local references and riffed on what a citizen of Dayton is called.

A “Daytonian”?  No, they said, sounds too much like Daytona Beach.

(This was followed by a few more that I don’t remember.)

And finally, a “Daytonite”?  No, sounds too much like Date Night.
That’s when it hit me.  I’m the luckiest girl in the world!  Why?  Because every weekend is Date Night for

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Vegetables are a Side Dish

In 1957, Canada proclaimed the second Monday of October to be a day of Thanksgiving for the year’s bountiful harvest. The tradition of a thanksgiving feast dates back thousands of years among Canada’s Frist Nations, and history records that there were feasts to give thanks in the early French settlements, beginning in 1604. Thanksgiving in Canada has followed European and American traditions, most notably making turkey the key culinary feature in many homes.  The holiday occurs on October 10 this year when families will gather, feasts will be prepared and consumed. My blog this week is written with deep gratitude for the food on our table and for our many blessings of employment, a home, friends and family, and in the knowledge that so many people are not blessed with our bounty.

Nevertheless….as I peel Brussels sprouts….

Vegetables and I have a tenuous relationship. In this age of enlightened eating, obesity awareness and Saturday morning farm markets, I remain on shaky ground with produce.

You know all those magazine articles and diet tips you read about reducing calories by snacking on carrot sticks or celery stalks? That holds no appeal for me whatsoever.  Unless we’re talking about adding ranch dressing, a carrot stick is last on the list of my preferred snack foods. We once witnessed with horror the dietary habits of a woman who worked with Ken some years ago.  She snacked on baby carrots all day long.  She became a one-bag-a-day addict! Her skin turned orange right before our eyes!  The revulsion of it is indelibly etched on my mind.

As a kid, I struggled to choke down the vegetables my mother put in front of me.

Growing up in Winnipeg, out there on the wintery Canadian Prairie in the 1950s and 60s, the vegetables added to dinner plates at our house came in cans. They consisted of greyish peas, corn in gunky cream sauce, wax beans that may have actually been wax, beets (oh, the humanity!) and if we were being punished for some reason, lima beans.  Except for Thanksgiving, Easter or Christmas when a cauliflower would put in an appearance or perhaps some hateful Brussels sprouts, the only “fresh” vegetables came from the tuber family: carrots, turnips, and potatoes. The latter were mashed.  Every night.  Not being allowed to leave the table until I had cleaned my plate, I would push cold corn and potatoes around to make patterns and roads, imagining that the corn fairy would magically appear to get me out of there, or at least bring dessert.

Summer was a different story. My parents would drive out into the country to seek out farmers’ roadside stalls. We would then feast with glee on juicy sweet green peas, crisp carrots, radishes, green onions, snappy snap beans, and golden sweet corn cobs.  During asparagus season we’d eat the pungent stringy stalks for days on end; on toast with cream sauce for lunch, napped in butter for dinner.  In this act of true appreciation for the short harvest season, mother fed us such quantities of fresh produce that we’d all come down with what my parents euphemistically called “summer complaint.”

Truly, it was meat and bread that got me through my childhood. I feel quite attached to them.

Broccoli, peppers, avocados, and other exotic fare arrived on the scene when I was around 17. Things looked up from there. Now, as a grown up with a fairly sophisticated palate, I do love a lot of veggies, but I can barely make it through a salad at lunch without thinking that it might have been really good if it had had a yummy protein – like breaded chicken fingers, or thin slices of steak, or that dietary bad boy, bacon!

This makes a weight loss program like Weight Watchers a bit tricky.  Vegetables and fruits are, for the most part, assigned zero points. This means that you can eat all you want and it will have no effect on your daily points allowance. Adding the proteins and starches I love puts me well along the way to using up my total of 29 points before lunch is over.

Now, I’m not trying to make a case against eating veggies.  I recognize their healthful benefits.  I totally respect the vegetarian ethic.  I even like a good number of them – vegetables, that is, (vegetarians are o.k. too.) They’re wonderful – in their proper place – on the plate playing second banana, (pardon the fruit pun) to the main event: fish, meat or poultry. 

And while we’re at it, let’s acknowledge that veggies are way better if they are “dressed” in something from the other food groups – mostly dairy.  Spinach is a lot tastier folded into Boursin cream cheese with a touch of garlic and parmesan.  Sweet potatoes are to die for when pureed with honey, cream and sage.  Cauliflower is heaven in a bowl as a soup made with Stilton cheese. Broccoli is really only tolerable with a cheddar sauce. Or, as a friend in Buffalo says, “Veggies are really just an excuse for butter.”

So, maybe I’ve never really become a grown-up who eats her vegetable without complaint.  Still waiting for the corn fairy, I guess.