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 Рnot like those lame-o tips in magazines about filling your plate with selections from the crudit̩ 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 www.juicetruck.ca . (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.