Saturday, December 29, 2012


I am old enough to remember when a long distance phone call was a very big deal.

Maybe other families were cool about these calls. When I was a kid, my group just wasn’t. Calls were scarce from people living far away, so the occasion usually caused wide-spread panic in our house: “Everybody! Come quick! They’re calling LONG DISTANCE!!!” At Christmas and New Year, each member of the family would have a turn talking to whoever phoned – never mind that the conversation itself would be repeated in each telling: “What did Santa bring you? Who’s coming over for dinner? What will you do on your Christmas vacation?” But the calls had to be kept short, mostly because we were all acutely aware of the additional expense, “It’s LONG DISTANCE!!!!” but also because there was inevitably a “bad connection.” The crackly, tinny, echoey signal made communication difficult, at least it did at my house in spite of the fact that everyone talked at really high volume as if the person on the other end might actually hear us if we yelled loud enough. And because these calls were such a rarity, everyone forgot how to talk like normal people and the conversation got all awkwardly weird: “Oh, yup, yuh, yuh, everybody’s fine. And there? Oh! U-huh. Uh-huh. Oh, yup, yuh, yuh, that sounds good! Well, o.k.! I guess I should let you go now!” Hardly ever was there actual real news shared in these calls.

Over the years, telecommunications improved, of course, and long distance calls lost their curiosity. But even in fresh memory, maybe as recently as a few years ago, it was tough to “get through” on major holidays. The phone lines jammed with callers and you’d get a message from the telephone company saying, “I’m sorry. Your call cannot be completed at this time.” So you’d redial over and over hoping to catch a gap in the “call volume” or you’d wait until “later” when your family would inevitably translate the late hour as your uncaring attitude toward them. And even when long distance rates came down to infinitesimal amounts on calling plans, my mother would still say things like, “Well, I should let you go. This is costing you an arm and a leg. It’s LONG DISTANCE!”

That’s all history of course, but I had it in mind this holiday season when we chatted with friends and family via FaceTime on Ken’s iPhone – with video! Imagine! What a total miracle that is. Mind you, the conversations were pretty much the same as they have always been: “What did Santa bring you? Who’s coming over for dinner?” but now we could see each other! And we’d wave to one another! And show each other around the house: “Here’s the Christmas tree! Here’s the dog wearing his Christmas collar. Here’s what we got from Santa. Here’s the turkey carcass.” It was almost like being together! The technology isn’t perfect yet, though. We lost connection with friends in Vancouver every few minutes and we’d wait while FaceTime gave us a “Please wait while we reconnect you” message. But I thought it was a nice bit of symmetry with the past that the communications weren’t absolutely flawless. It was kind of fun that way.

One fly in the ointment, however. If we are on the edge of a future when our phone calls will be accompanied by video, it’s a bit like getting unexpected company. I’m not sure I’m prepared to be dressed and out of the jammies, hair washed and makeup on, just in case someone calls long distance on Skype or FaceTime. And the house is going to have to be kept tidy at all times! We walked into the kitchen during our call with our Vancouver friends and turned around at the doorway! “OOOPS! Yikes! Forgive the mess! We haven’t done the dishes yet!” Uh, call 'ya later!


Friday, December 21, 2012

That's a Wrap

When you’ve been married as long as we have, (35 years last May) you are often asked questions by young newlyweds seeking your wise counsel about how to ensure a successful marriage.

Here’s a tidbit of advice: try not to surprise your partner with three new food items in one meal.

A new recipe once in a while, O.K. Three or four over the course of a month or even a week, fine. But three in one meal? No fair.

Normally, I think I am on fairly solid ground around here as far as my cooking goes. In 35 years, I can only think of a handful of occasions when my cooking hasn’t been edible. I think that’s remarkable considering that dinners to date exceed 12 thousand, or so. I feel quite lucky that I married a man who appreciates my skills in the kitchen, especially as it is my absolute joy at the end of the day to make a nice meal. So what went wrong last night? I have no idea. The chicken in the ad on TV looked so good.

Have you seen this ad? A cheerful young mom wins smiles and admiration from her beautiful kids and handsome hubby for slathering mayonnaise over chicken breasts and sprinkling them with parmesan cheese, whereupon she sends them to the oven where they get bubbly and brown and juicy. Slam dunk, right? Wrong. They were terrible! They were totally gross.

For a side dish, I tried a new recipe featuring Butternut squash and Shitake mushrooms. I had seen it in a magazine that I picked up at the chiropractor’s and asked the receptionist to photocopy it for me, it looked that good! It wasn’t! It was terrible! Heavy and dense. Those mushrooms and that squash had no business being together in a dish. Neither of us found this one tasty and we held our ritual tearing up of the recipe after dinner.

I had high hopes for the oven-fried potatoes. They nearly jumped out of the freezer case at the grocery and hopped right into my cart! The packaging was so pretty! They looked positively gourmet. The label said, “Tossed Lightly in Olive Oil, Rosemary and Garlic.” I thought, “Yum.” Yum, right? Wrong! They were terrible! They were the driest old potato wedges ever eaten in the whole entire history of potato wedges. It was like biting into the cardboard box they came in. But, clearly batting 3 for 3, I wasn’t going to admit I didn’t like them.

You didn’t like your dinner, dear?” I asked, innocently.

“You know I love your cooking, but to be honest, tonight has not been one of your good ones,” replied the hubster.

“Didn’t you like the potatoes?”

“They’re ghastly.”

“Oh, you’re exaggerating! No they’re not!”

“Those potatoes are as dry as dust. They’re as arid as Arizona. They’re as dehydrated as dryer lint.  They’re like eating sheet rock.”

“But they’re gourmet! The packaging was so attractive! Well, I liked them.”

I was lying.

We both took solace for the bad meal in apples for dessert. Riley, our Golden Retriever, followed us to the kitchen after dinner when we cleaned up. He sat beside the dishwasher, hoping for a morsel of whatever left over he might get. I looked at him and hesitated for a second. I held out a potato wedge in front of his nose. He sniffed it and turned his head away. That tells you a lot.

So, tips to newlyweds: After you’ve been married 35 years, you can take some risks. But for now try to limit your impulses for “surprise-in-a-dish” to only  every once in a while. Take warning from a couple we knew when we first got married; divorced over refrigerator crescent roll wiener wraps. And that’s not a euphemism.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

OH! Christmas Tree!

They just don’t make Christmas trees like they used to. They’re hardly any fun anymore.

Ken brought a Noble Fir home from the St. Albert the Great Church parking and tree lot on Saturday. He put it into the tree stand in the garage and left it there until Sunday to let gravity loosen up the branches and rain drops fall off. He hauled it in the front door and it hardly dropped a single needle. It only took a couple of turns of the tree stand screws to get it standing straight. It’s very symmetrical — every side is a good side. It is now occupying a corner of the living room stoically waiting for lights and decorations. It hasn’t even fallen over.

As I say, hardly any fun.

When we were kids, now THAT’S when Christmas trees were fun. Not one of them was ever symmetrical. My Dad brought home some of the worst looking trees you’ve ever seen. Every last one would have a huge bald spot with no branches. That’s the side that got shoved into the corner. But if there was more than one bald spot, this required cutting a branch and tying it on so that it looked more as if it was filled out. You could only put light-weight ornaments on these cantilevered limbs because if it was going to start leaning under the weight, it might just take the whole tree down with it. Where did these trees come from? Was Christmas tree farming that primitive in my youth? Didn’t anyone know about leaving space around the trees for even growth?

Anyway, the trees my Dad bought were also, consistently, too tall for our living room. Maybe there weren’t many different height choices in those days. Anyway, he’d haul it down to the basement and saw off a chunk of the trunk and haul the thing back upstairs. Showers of pine needles rained on the floor behind it. Branches whacked him in the face. Still too tall. So he’d haul it back down again. And up again. And it would still scrape the ceiling. So, down he’d go again, cursing this time. Sounds of cursing and sawing from the basement — cutting the silence, because by now we all knew we needed to keep our mouths shut. Back up to the living room. Still no room for the angel at the top. “DAD! Do we not have a tape measure?” My mother would go to the kitchen and stay out of it. This time, he’d take the hedge clippers to the top branches, hacking wildly to make room for the “Blanket-blank, bless-ed angel!!”  See? Good times. Every year.

My parents never “sold out” and got an artificial tree, though. Our trees left a thick carpet of needles on the floor by January 1st and we lived in constant tension that the 30 degree slant on the things was a sure indicator that they'd fall down any second. But, every year my mother would say, “Oh, Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without a real tree!” And so, that fresh piney smell and the sound of cursing and needles dropping would fill our home once again.

The most fun Ken and I have had with a Christmas tree was in 1980, the year we moved to Vancouver. In that environmentally-conscious city, we decided the responsible choice for Christmas décor would be a “live tree” – i.e., one that was rooted in a pot and that could be released into the wild once we had our holiday fill of it. We lived in a small apartment. So, it wasn’t a large tree, and the pot took up a bit too much room. But we felt good about this act of ecological heroism. Until one night, a few days into its stay, we were watching TV, all aglow with Christmas cheer, when we heard,

“Did you hear that?”



“There it is again! Listen! A bzzing sound.”

“Bzz. Bzz. Bzz.”

“It’s coming from the tree.”


“Yes! The tree is bzzzing.”

We crept closer.

“Bzzzz. Bzzzzz. Bzzzzzzzzz.”

“It’s alive! There are bees! Dozens of them. They’re waking up!!!!”

You’ve never seen anyone get a pair of gloves so fast in your whole life! Ken had that tree chucked out onto the balcony in seconds! That cured us of environmentally-motivated greenery selections. But we did laugh ourselves silly.

It will take us all week to decorate the tree we have this year, there are so many ornaments we’ve collected over the years. Each year, it’s such a treat to become reacquainted with them all, like they’re old friends.

We hope you are enjoying your own special magical moments this season, whether Christmas or Hanukkah or Bah-humbug-ing. It’s all good!

                                              2011 Christmas Tree Canine Inspection

Monday, December 3, 2012

Christmas Lite

Dear Friends, I hope you like the new look of my blog page. I am very excited about the illustration by my dear friend, Bernie Lyon in Vancouver - thanks, B! Please check out more of her wonderful drawings at her web site - see link below. You might have noticed that I didn't post a blog last week. That was because I was fiddling with the Blogpsot templates to try to get even this far with this page design. It exhausted me. As some of you know, I am a techno feeb when it comes to computer fiddling. I still might opt for my own web site one of these days, but I'd have to hire a twelve-year old to help me. Your comments on design are welcome and in the meantime, please enjoy this week's blog!

It seems to me that when the calendar turns to the first of December it ought to be accompanied by the sound of pealing church bells, or maybe jingling sleigh bells. You can hear it, too, right? You know, like in old movies; the page tears away to DECEMBER 1 and the scene opens on the month of merriment.

Among my favorite things about this season are the lights. As soon as Halloween is over, I start looking for a house that has the outdoor lights ready to go. There’s one in every neighborhood. And although we’ll say, “OH, WAAAAY too early! What are they thinking?!?” I regard it as a herald of things to come and am secretly glad to see those little twinkles in the darkness.

Every weekend thereafter other houses will get decked out, especially if the weather is good (“Got to get those lights up before the weather turns bad.”) until December arrives, and houses throughout the neighborhood will sparkle with everyone’s personal interpretation of the holiday light display. Some are modest and polite, some ghastly and totally over the top, and everything in between. We once had across-the-street neighbors who draped their house in thousands of red lights. It was so glaringly red it seemed to throb like an infected wound. They had a tiny sound system that played “Jingle Bell Rock” until 3 am in kind of tinny, high-pitched “nee-nee-nee, nee-nee-nee, nee nee nee nee…” sounds that would hurt a dog’s ears and our power dimmed every time they put their lights on. It was tasteless, but you had to give them points for spirit.

I think there is something totally magical about illuminating the night at this cold, dark time of year. Ken and I usually go on a light tour one or two nights before Christmas. Up streets and down again, looking for the most spectacular display. It might be one of those houses with various figures of clashing scale – like a giant penguin beside a teeny-tiny Santa and reindeers beside a bunch of those half-sized, wire framed, animated deer beside those colossal blow-up Snoopies. Or a house with the giant fir tree out front decked from top to trunk in colored lights. Or a street where a dozen houses in a row are all lit up like, well, like a Christmas tree. We’ll go home again and make cocoa or pour a glass of Port feeling like we’ve had a great evening of cheap entertainment.

So now that December is upon us, we flipped the switch on the clear twinkle lights that trace our house outline. I hung the wreath on the door and stuck some greenery in the planters on the front steps. A lot of neighbors around us decorated their houses this weekend as well, just in time for our city of Oakwood’s charming tradition. Events like this always remind me how lucky we are to live here. I mean, you’ve got to love a place that holds a community festival in the park, including hay rides, music and Christmas tree lighting, and has City workers line the boulevards on two major streets with “luminaria.” Oakwood encourages residents to do likewise at curbsides in front of their houses and even hands out the white bags filled with sand to be lit from within by candles.  Every house on our entire street had “luminaria” out after dark last night. We stood back, our eyes all aglow. Our hearts as well.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fifty Shades of Schadenfreude

I heard a word the other day that was new to me; it was: “schadenfreude.” The word itself is delicious. Try saying it over and over. Now, try to stop saying it. It’s really addictive.

Schadenfruede was in an email story written to me by my dear friend, Bernie, who lives in Vancouver. She used it in the context of trying to thwart a squirrel from purloining seeds at the bird feeder. It was a very funny story and she agreed to let me share it with you. It follows at the end of this blog post.

Because I had never before heard the term schadenfreude, I looked it up online. Wikipedia defines it as a “loan word” borrowed into English usage from German and it means taking pleasure at the misfortune of others. I know what you’re thinking, “That’s not very nice.” That’s what I thought, too. But I also know that I would feel every little ounce of the same satisfaction as Bernie in winning a battle against a squirrel. So, that made me wonder, are there degrees of schadenfreude?

This philosophical question is somewhat akin to, “Is it ever O.K. to tell a lie?” That old chestnut has been discussed to death, of course, and everyone knows that the usual answer is, “No," except if it’s a tiny white lie, such as a small fib to spare your best friend’s feelings when, yes, those pants really do make her butt look big. In this spirit, I pondered, are there times when schadenfreude is O.K.? Can we find the good in schadenfreude?

My thoughts immediately went to Wile E. Coyote. As a kid, I didn’t just take pleasure at seeing this canis cartoonibus fall from mile-high mesa ledges with a dusty thud on the desert floor. I fell on the floor in hysterics. Growing up, my brother and I watched Saturday cartoons together and howled with laughter every time.  Maybe it was a slippery slope; I’ve loved physical comedy ever since.

I mean, would we find Lucy and Ethel stuffing their faces with chocolates funny without schadenfreude? I think not.

Would TV shows like “America’s Funniest Videos” even exist? O.K. bad example – it would surely be better for mankind if they didn’t.

Practical jokes depend on schandenfreude. Seeing a pompous ass taken down a peg or two is also always satisfying. Celebrity magazines depend on our worst schadenfreudian tendencies for their success. O.K. – again a bad example.

So, from here we get into some murky, grey territory where schadenfreude is concerned. None of it is pretty, but let’s acknowledge our human failings and admit we’ve all had these less than noble moments:

·         Smacking the heck out of a house fly exclaiming, “Got’ya, you little bugger!”

·         Not with glee, but at least with a sense of relief, thinking, “I’m glad it’s not me!” when we see TV news images of folks stuck in O’Hare airport for three days due to a snow storm.

·         When your team wins, and the other team LOSES!!!! Boo-ya!

·         Being the person to snag the last giant shrimp at the buffet. BOOM!

·         And my personal favorite, hiding the only garment in your size on the store rack so nobody else can find it while you decide if you are going to buy it or not. Schadenfreude.

So maybe you have other examples when schadenfreude seemed like a good idea. Please share. Maybe you’ve got a squirrel stealing bird seed in your backyard.

Here’s Bernie’s story. For those of you that don’t speak Canadian, please refer to the footnotes.

I put up a squirrel proof bird feeder this morning. This after several years of NOT feeding the birds and only affording them bathing facilities in the spring and summer months. I run hot and cold on the idea of bird feeding. The cold part includes attracting rats and having the ground under the feeder mushy with sprouts in the spring. I also think that my personal birds don't want the whole neighbourhood¹ over here. I have a darling Swainson's or Hermit Thrush that I just adore. The chickadees are cute but they are like the “neighbours kids,” cute for a while but then I wish they'd go home. The sparrows are hard to like but I keep trying. They always munch on my sprouted peas and beans in the spring…sometimes ruining the whole crop. They are pushy, too. Basically, Cockneys. Unlike Juncos, who are the Progressive Conservatives² of the yard. They’ll move when asked but feel they have a natural right to be here. I‘d like for them all to coexist on what remains of flower seeds and the plentiful insects on and around the cherry tree. I feel the diet is a healthy one. No one is overeating and the population is kept in check. So, why have I decided to put up a bird feeder again? The answer has to be schadenfreude. Quite simply I am looking forward to watching the squirrels thwarted. Especially the little black one that caused me to fall on my face three years ago. (I was chasing it with a broom.) Every time I see that squirrel I do a slow burn. Sometimes I gesture wildly at it and make as if I am going to give chase. It really doesn't care; makes my lawn lumpy with nuts every year. I need to be here the day, the hour and the minute that this squirrel tries to access the feeder. It was the YouTube video of a squirrel 'out of luck' on this feeder that had me in the car and driving directly to “Wild Birds Unlimited” last Sunday afternoon. Once I put the feeder up the word got out very quickly. They all showed up, plus the relatives!!! One adorable Red Breasted Nuthatch made me squeal. Still, they ate a lot. I'm starting them off with the uber deluxe mix. This will be the only time I ever purchase that. NO shells! So no mushy sprouts in the spring. But …I won't be affording them this luxury (or me!) much longer. They must think they are in Kitsilano!³ I expect even more will be here tomorrow. But you know who I am waiting for.


1.     Canadian spelling of “neighbors” following proper English (as in England) language.

2.     The Progressive Conservatives are the political party currently in power in Canada. They’ve been in for a long old while, hence their smug sense of entitlement.

3.     Kitsilano is a trendy, upscale, former-hippie/doper neighbourhood on the shores of English Bay in Vancouver. You can bet that birds in this neighbourhood get top grade seed, dude.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Boy in a Dog Suit

My fur son, Riley, goes to Club K-9 Doggy Day Care every Tuesday and Thursday. This gives me some time to do things. Don’t judge me. He has a lot of fun running around with the other dogs and comes home a very tired, happy dog. In the meantime, I get a few uninterrupted hours to write, shop, exercise, tidy up, have lunch out, or even have conversation with adult people!

Most other days, I am a full-time, stay-at-home dog mom. That’s because Riley is a full-time dog. And by 5:30 when Ken arrives home from work, I’m ready for a glass of wine. “You watch him! I need to go sit down!”

During the day, here is the conversation I have with my boy:

 “RILEY!! Will you PLEASE…..” (Check all that apply):

ü  Stop tearing up the lawn!

ü  Quit barking at that jogger!

ü  Get your face out of the dishwasher!

ü  Leave that squirrel alone!

ü  Stop chewing on your foot!

ü  Drop that plush toy/drop that stuffing!

ü  Quit pulling me!

ü  Get out of the Hostas!

ü  Not drool on my pants!

ü  Just give me 10 minutes of peace!

I don’t intend to be such a cranky mom, but Riley is not a dog that can go unsupervised for more than a minute or two. When he was a pup, we fenced the yard so that he could be outside by himself safely for at least short periods of time. Nope, not our Riley. He can get himself into trouble at the drop of a…well…how can I put it? Let’s just say that he likes to clean up after himself.

Now, I don’t want to hear, “You haven’t been tough enough on him!”  He isn’t an unruly, untrained brat! Not at all! Riley has had tons of training – all of it in today’s kinder, gentler method using rewards for “right” behaviors.  Even though we don’t use punishment or negative reinforcement, a choke chain or domination that would have us referring to ourselves as “Alpha,” positive training is supposed to be much more effective. Riley has learned basic good manners and impressive obedience skills. We praise him for his successes. And he has had many. He even has his Canine Good Citizen certificate.

He is certainly the apple of his Dad’s eye. This is a man whose face melted when he first held his new puppy in his arms. This is a dog dad who says things like, “Who’s the best boy in the world?” and “I don’t know what your problem is, dear, he walks fine with me.”

I do love the little guy. He can be such an angel especially when he’s sleeping. He does this thing that would break your heart. When Ken is leaving to go to work, Riley and I sit on the stairs and give Daddy a kiss good-bye at the same time, both of us laying a wet one on each of Ken’s cheek. Very sweet.

So, why do I nag and scold? Why do I feel like a total failure of a dog mother that Riley can chew on my last nerve? Is it because he’s a boy? If Riley were a human kid, he’d be Dennis  The Menace. He’d have a cowlick, dirty face and grass-stained knees. He is boisterous, mischievous, smart, agile and athletic. He is a bit of a goof. I think he might have ADD.

Our dog before Riley was a Golden Retriever girl. Sami was a dainty, darling dog whose mission in life was to be a gentle soul. She was patient and stoic when little kids asked if they could pat her. At age 15 when she passed on, she left behind a collection of unharmed plush toys that filled a bushel basket. She didn’t like to get her paws wet. She was “Sugar and spice, and all things nice.” When Riley came into our lives he demonstrated the other half of that old verse, “Snips and snails and puppy dog tails, that’s what little boys are made of.”

But that’s my Riley. Shredding a plush toy per week. Splashing through rain puddles. Bounding through leaf piles with a goofy grin on his face. Running full out across a field when his dad throws a ball for him. Emerging from underbrush covered in mud and burrs. Yanking the leash suddenly backwards knocking me nearly off my feet so he can sniff interesting “D-mail” messages from other dogs. Barking furiously at kids on skateboards. Digging craters the size of Texas. Sitting in the middle of the yard with a toy in his mouth staring at the door until I come out to play. And then running away as soon as I do.

He is such a boy. And such a great dog. We have to run now. We are off to his Games and Tricks class.


Friday, November 2, 2012

My Own Personal Horror Movie

Although Halloween is over, beware of monsters that walk among us all the rest of the year.

In fact, don’t they say that each of us harbors suppressed demons? Characteristics that, when unmasked, reveal our worst selves? Alter-egos that, if released to roam, could scare little trick or treaters who dare come to our door?

None of us is immune from goblins that lurk within. Isn’t Halloween all about confronting these nightmarish terrors and thereby banishing their devilish intrusion on our happiness and well-being?

In that Halloween spirit albeit a couple of days late, if you will indulge me, I will confront my inner fiends right here and now.

Warning, this blog may not be suitable for all readers.

First let me introduce, for your consideration, an ogre that has intruded upon my inner peace of late. Meet:

IRRITABILIANA. This fire-breathing, dagger-glaring gorgon has been coaxed out of her Cavern of Cranky by political campaign ads. She can be heard screaming from three blocks away, “I CAN’T STAND ANOTHER AD!!!! WHERE’S THE REMOTE? MUTE!!!!!! MUTE ALL ADS FROM NOW UNTIL NOVEMBER 6TH!! MUTE, I SAY! MUUUUUUTTE!!!”

Next, permit me to submit:

CATASTROPHENA. Whirlwinds of apprehensive energy and cyclones of anxiety blow in with this beast before she touches down to watch the Weather Channel unmoving, in zombie-like trance from dawn to dusk. Whether it be torrents of rain, deluges of snow, tidal waves, tree-toppling winds or fracturing fault lines, she will remind all who come near, “It’s Global Warming. I’m telling ‘ya. We’re all doomed.”

Or, one of the more heinous of creatures:

NAGULITA. You want to be reminded of something? BWAA-HA-HA-HA! You’re really asking for it, aren’t you? Wear your sun block! Drink more water! Turn the lights out! Put the milk away! Oh, there is no limit on how many nags this niggling, gnat-like, needling Nagulita can torment you with!

Next up is:

HISTRIONICA. OH-OOOoooo-oooowwwww!!! She’ll howl as though the moon is transmutating her into a hideous she-wolf creature. But it is only a surface scratch. A simple, “Owie!” would suffice. But Histrionica makes a big deal of EVERYTHING! She can be seen taking out the garbage or picking up socks with heavy sighs of forbearance as though to silently communicate, “My life is SO difficult!” But she never asks for help. Oh, no, that would ruin everything, because she HAS TO DO IT ALL!! Oww-oooo!

And one of the most insidious of inner devils:

DYSCALCULIA. Dyscalculia lurks in that shadowy realm where murky math muddles change from a twenty or confuses calculations for cooking a 14½ pound turkey at 20-25 minutes per pound.  Capable of draining the life-blood from a bank account in under a half hour, Dyscalcula swoops down over the internet to reign destruction over online shopping venues, but she is doomed for eternity to NEVER being able to balance a check book!

Hm. Oddly, I feel a little better. Thanks for listening. I really should get going now and wash some dishes, do some ironing, make the bed. You know, before HOUSEWORKPHOBIANA makes an appearance. Erk……erk……oh,'s...erk...too....LATE!!!!


Friday, October 26, 2012

Kale Konvert

I tend to come late to food fads. I have not been inclined to do “organic.” I’ve yet to try Thai food. I find little that is tasty in mesclun greens.

In fact, I was more than a little put out when iceberg lettuce disappeared from restaurant menus to be summarily replaced by the so-called “spring mix.”  It happened so quickly, didn’t it? One day we were happily munching on brisk, crunchy leaves of iceberg topped with zesty, creamy Thousand Islands dressing with a radish slice thrown in. And then what? Somebody in California put a plate of bitter, chewy, herbaceous, mesclun greens drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette in front of an impressionable herbivore diner who declared it, “Yummy! Healthy!” and suddenly every eatery in America adopted this vile mixture as if iceberg never existed. For years, I’ve avoided ordering salad, or I order a Caesar salad instead – another trendy menu item – probably there to placate those of us who eschew the bitter mesclun mix, the one food that not even the presence of bacon can improve. I see that “The Wedge Salad” is giving iceberg lettuce a second kick at the can in some dining establishments. I’m happy with this re-packaging even though it usually means a higher mark-up.

Goat cheese is another trend that I rail against. I know some people love it, but not me. We recently dined at a restaurant where three out of the six entrees included it.That meant that half of the menu held no appeal for me whatsoever.  When did goat cheese become such a staple?  Again, I suspect it started in California where a thriving portion of food production is “artisanal.”

That’s another craze: artisanal everything. Artisanal  cheese. Artisanal  bread. Artisanal olives. I think even the word “artisanal” is trendy enough to rate its own fad.

Whole wheat pasta is popular with the low-carb diet crowd. I refuse to convert, though. That snappy, gritty texture is just wrong in a noodle.

The “gluten-free” movement has followers even among people who don’t have celiac disease. Labels declaring “gluten-free” are showing up on all sorts of foods these days. News flash: apples have always been free of gluten.

Yogurt business is brisk these days especially if it claims to be Greek. Green tea isn’t just for Chinese food anymore. Food producers seem quick to jump on a bandwagon if it will sell more products. But, I believe these food trends gain momentum in part due to their inherent health benefits.

So, when Ken came home from a visit to New York last week, and told me that restaurants all over the city had kale on the menu, I wasn't that enthusiastic to follow suit. Fashionable diners everywhere might be scarfing extravagant platefuls of the stuff, but what, I wondered is the appeal? This prompted me to do a little research.

Kale is, by all accounts, a super veg. One cup of kale provides a powerhouse of fiber, calcium, potassium, magnesium, anti-oxidants, beta-carotene, vitamins A, B6, C and K, and even some carotenoids, whatever they are! Kale can help prevent heart disease, cancer, dementia, osteoporosis and cataracts. Wow!

Online recipe sites abound with kale koncoctions (sorry – had to do the aliteration.) Pasta with kale. Lentils with kale. Kale sautéed with shallots and balsamic vinegar. Roasted kale. Dried kale chips. Kale burgers.   

At first, I wasn't going to try it. I was determined to exercise my usual resistance to anything new. But I thought, “Oh, what the heck!” and sautéed some with garlic and lemon juice for dinner on Wednesday. I am now a Kale Konvert!

In fact, I have become such a fan that I propose kale make its way into all kinds of products. Think of the double whammy health benefits we’d get from these new ideas:

Kale Toothpaste – with such a high calcium content, brushing it directly onto your teeth could totally make up for all those years when you didn’t drink your milk - and get you a good report at the dentist.

Kale Body Lotion – beta-carotene and vitamin C are really good for the skin and that cabbage-y fragrance has a nice autumnal tang to it.

Kale Green Tea – well, it would be, wouldn’t it? Green, that is.

Kale Yogurt – pretty close to perfection in the fiber/pro-biotic interaction. Make sure you renew some magazine subscriptions for the loo.

Kale Room Deodorizer – everyone who walks into your house will know you mean business about healthy eating!

And finally, Kale Kapsules – concentrated and stuffed into an easy-to-swallow supplement, so that you actually won’t ever have to eat kale at all!

Dedicated to my dear friend, Bernie who gave me the idea for this blog. Way ahead of the curve, Bernie has been growing kale in her garden for at least 15 years.  Although her crops are organic, she insists her kale is not artisanal.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

An Open Plan

Do you have an open plan in your house? Before you answer, “Yes,” think about this: I just recently learned that today’s version of “open plan” is a single, multi-functional room containing living space, dining area and kitchen, all in one. Did you know this? If you did, you must be paying attention to domestic design trends more closely than I am!

I had not seen this type of floor plan until recently when we visited a Homearama here in Dayton. I’ve been under the impression for years that an “open plan” meant a free-flowing combination living and dining room, or it meant kitchen and family room arranged as a single open space. I wasn’t aware that “they” had done away with any enclosures around these rooms altogether. I also hadn’t realized that entire rooms had been eliminated in the process. I’m not sure I like where this is heading.  

In case Homearama is unfamiliar to you, this is a term coined (locally?) to describe a showcase of newly built developers’ homes, all  tarted up, excuse me, “STAGED” by decorators and ready for viewing and sale. Usually these exhibitions of the newest in home design, oversized furniture and excessive quantities of dried flowers, are set in new developments in remote, far-flung suburbs. This recent Homearama was unique because of its location in a more urban setting, i.e., a reclaimed tract of land in our very own neighborhood, a five minute drive from the city core. We HAD to go. It would have been un-neighborly not to.

We encountered “open plan” in the first house we viewed.  A large kitchen dominated the first floor, spatially defined by a substantial island with requisite granite counter top and stainless steel appliances. A zone containing couches, chairs, fireplace and flat screen TV flowed into kitchen and dining area in a zen-like confluence. A master bedroom opened almost directly from these spaces. I did a quick scan of the room and then it dawned: Wait a sec! Where’s the living room? Where’s the dining room? They don’t exist as separate entities! This isn’t the family room of old – this is IT! I surmised that this was what they call a “Great Room.”

It was then that I understood what I’ve seen time and time again on HGTV: homeowners seeking “nice big open plans for entertaining.”  They are apparently looking for this arrangement. They all seem to romanticize the notion of having guests gather around the granite island perched upon bar stools quaffing wine and laughing gaily while their host deftly tosses salad and plates dinners that look like they are prepared by a Michelin Star chef.

Now, I don’t mind the family room/kitchen combo, because “family room” implies that only the closest of relatives and dear friends are welcomed there. Or I can accept an open living/dining room arrangement. But I don’t think anyone is thinking clearly if they desire this exposed-to-company kitchen concept. I’m a reasonable cook, but I like my privacy.  I’ve had enough mishaps in the throes of preparing a meal that I’d just as soon keep that to myself, thank you very much! Give me a kitchen that’s off-limits to all non-essential personnel.

Don’t judge me! You can’t tell me that you haven’t had moments of sheer panic preparing a meal. Like when your roasted Brussels sprouts go just a bit too long at 400° and you catch their charred remains just before they burst into flame. Or a lemon sponge that falls so flat it becomes a sauce. I like a kitchen separated from guests who await the arrival of the meal at the table. I can take a deep breath, swing open my Hazel door¹ and calmly, with poise and quiet grace, never let on that I cut a corner off the roast where the dog licked it.  

No, I don’t approve of the open plan. And I hate to think what’s coming next. If you study the history of interior design², you will know that today’s open planning concepts (originated by Frank Lloyd Wright, by the way) derived as an antidote to tightly corseted Victorian parlors and subterranean kitchens, which developed out of room upon room manor houses, which, if you look far enough back, came out of the Middle Ages when dining, lounging and sleeping all took place in the same vast room. Now I ask you. Are we on our way to repeating history? If this open planning trend continues will we one day eat our meals, entertain our guests and then take to our beds all in one open room? Loft apartments are already there. I’m not sure I’m ready for this.

Although, breakfast in bed would take on whole new meaning.


² Home: A Short History of an Idea; Witold Rybczynski; Penguin Books, 1986.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ode on an LG Fridge

I am not generally given to being poetic about appliances. Well, I’m not especially poetic at all really. But our new LG refrigerator arrived yesterday. I am sitting a few feet away from it as it quietly makes ice cubes. It is a work of art.

You see, I’m excited because this is our first new fridge. In the 35 years we have been married and the four houses we have owned, we have always made do with refrigerators inherited from previous homeowners. None of them has been the latest in fridge technology, but all of them have been serviceable and none were too hideous, such as being avocado green or harvest gold. So we saved ourselves the expense of buying this major appliance and carried on.

We have been disappointed in the fridge that came with our house here in Dayton. I’m glad to say it is now past tense. It had no water dispenser and the ice maker had been broken for some years. The door wouldn’t stay open when I’d be carrying, say, a heavy casserole dish from counter to fridge. I would have just liked it to give me time enough to get that dish in there without having to perform elaborate ballet moves to hold the damn door open with a toe. I’m just not that limber anymore. And besides, this can be very annoying if you are like me and have very little patience with household appliances that don’t cooperate (remember the vacuum cleaner I kicked down the basement stairs.)

Also, the old fridge seemed to have so little room inside certainly not enough for 35 jars of partially consumed condiments that no one would ever finish. It was always a significant challenge to cram a turkey or oversized cauliflower in there. And it was just so noisy. It frequently erupted in monstrous spasms accompanied by loud “Ruuuur-ruuuuu-ruuuuur-ruuuuur” sounds. If I whacked it firmly on its side, it would pause for a few seconds but immediately start its dreadful rattle again. A hip check had no effect either. So, it was time.

We bought an LG with French doors that stay open, four produce bins, and a pull-out-drawer-type freezer at the bottom so that my Yeast Museum of frozen bread artifacts can be more easily rifled through when looking for rolls with no freezer burn. Plus, it has an ice maker and a water dispenser on the door that is wide enough for a pitcher. The light inside looks like it was intended for Starship Enterprise. This is what my new fridge looks like on the manufacturer’s web site.

I love my new fridge. A friend suggested that I fill it with fabulous fresh produce and take a picture. Unfortunately, once I got our half-empty jars back in, it didn’t look quite as glamorous as the web site.  One gallon of milk, one jug of o.j., three bottles of beer, two bottles of Chardonnay, a tub of whipped butter, eggs, some salad dressings, a bag of onions and a can of dog food later, it still looks pretty bare! But I’m not worried. I’ll be grocery shopping today. This whole event has made me wax poetic!

Ode on an LG Fridge

O rectangle shape! Fair fridge! With doors

That ope’ double wide to welcome deli meats and Tetrapaks with ease,

And ice maker that doth quietly not scare the dog;

Thou, slim form, with bottom freezer deep, doth harbor frozen peas.

And doth thy upper chamber shelter milk?

Aye, whole gallons by thy adjustable shelves and door holders!

And when old age shall this homeowner waste,

Thou shalt remain, scarce past your warranty.

Then, fridge, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,

“Beauty is fridge, fridge beauty, - that is all

In truth I pledged to this century!”

 (apologies to John Keats; Ode on a Grecian Urn)


Ken was in New York to see Broadway shows when the fridge arrived. But he called me on the night it was delivered and asked how I liked it. As I was describing its salient features, he suddenly interrupted to tell me that the giant digital “billboard” in Times Square had just flashed an advertisement for our LG fridge! I took it as a sign.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Neufs - The Sitcom - Episode Three

In Episode 3 of the Ridiculous Weekend, Ken and Lesley find themselves on a leaf-peeping outing that goes in the wrong direction!

Neufs the Sitcom

Episode Three: “The Road Less Traveled – or, That Simply Disappeared”

Sunday; 11:00 am

Neufeld residence; Front hall.

K: C’mon, let’s go! Leaf-peeping awaits! If we don’t go now, we’ll never make it back in time to meet the window estimator at 2:00!

L: (calling from upstairs) I’ll be there in a minute. I just need to wash my hair and put on some makeup and some decent shoes and figure out what to wear.

K: We’re going to be in the car. Why do you need makeup?

L: I’d scare the children looking like this! (Laugh track: Light chuckle)

K: There won’t be any children in the car!! (Laugh track: medium)

L: O.K. I’m coming. (Stomps downstairs) I’m still pretty peeved that we’re ruining a perfectly good leaf-peeping day for a window estimator.

K: Aw, it’s not ruined. Let’s go now and look at as many leaves as we can in under three hours. (Laugh track: light titter.)

L: Yeah, you’re right. (Gets into car) O.K. Where are we going?

K: I don’t know. Where do you want to go?

L: I don’t know. Where do you want to go? (Laugh track: chuckles of recognition)

K: Let’s not do that one, shall we? How about that sandwich place in Greenville? We’ll have lunch and get a country drive in all at the same time.

L: Maid-Rite? Oooh, goody! Good plan.

(Next scene: K&L at the Maid-Rite (since 1934) Drive Thru and Café in Greenville, OHIO)

Café server: What’ll ‘ya’ll have?

L: Um…. Is that a burger on the menu?

Server: No, it’s a loose meat sandwich.

L: A what?

Server: Loose meat.

L: Moose meat? Huh!

Server: No, MA’AM, LOOOOO-SE MEAT! (slowly, like she’s talking to a senior citizen) What…. would…. YOU… like….to …. OR-DER? (this last bit in sign language)

K: We’ll take 2 sandwiches and 2 Cokes. (To L:) Have you never ordered in a restaurant before?

L: I’ve never ordered a loose meat sandwich before. (Laugh track: medium) What the heck is that?

K: No idea. But they make them fast! Here’s our order now. (Laugh track: big laugh) (Server tosses two sandwiches wrapped in wax paper on the table.)

L: (unwrapping) Look at that! Its ground beef on a bun! Huh! It would have killed them to make a burger patty?!? (Laugh track: huge guffaw)

K: (finishing the sandwich and rolling up the wrapper) That didn’t take long.

L: Certainly didn’t. We won’t be late for the window guy at this rate.

K: Ah, but we aren’t there yet, my little peach. We still need to go outside and look at the chewing gum wall. (Laugh track: surprised “Huh?” kind of laugh)

L: You’re kidding. No you’re not! Oh my! Look at that! Hundreds of pieces of gum stuck to the wall! (Laugh track: light laugh) It looks like a flock of seagulls had target practice – all OOO-ver the walls! (Laugh track: loud snort) Oooh! Not nice.

(Next scene: K&L back in the car, heading for home)

L: Let’s take a different route home. We might find even better leaf-peeping opportunities.

(Driving along toward Piqua on Hwy 36; L at the wheel.)

L: See? Color!

K: Mm-hm.

L: And over there? Color!

K: Yuh.

L: And, ooo, look at that color!

K: Enough!

(Next scene – following Hwy 36 through Piqua to pick up Interstate 75 south for Dayton)

L: Detour! Rats. Now what?

K: Just follow the signs.

(Following signs, passing the turn-off to I-75, turning right and traveling parallel to the road that goes to the Interstate.)

L: One of these side streets must go back to the highway. But which one?

K: Just look for another detour sign.

L: I’m not seeing another detour sign.

K: There has to be another detour sign.

L: Not so much. We’ve run out of road. (Car comes to a stop in a parking lot) Where the hell is the detour? Who puts up signs for a detour and doesn’t give you an exit route to a major Interstate? That’s just nuts!  (Three other cars arrive in the parking lot looking for the detour.)  (Laugh track: acknowledging kind of “been there” laugh.) Where to now Cap’n?

K: Just pull up to the end of the lot and we’ll look to see if there’s a way out.

(K&L edge out over a curb, passed orange barrier cones and onto newly paved, fresh road toward the I-75. All the cars in the parking lot follow.)

L: Do you believe that? I’ve never seen just stupid signage in all my life!

(K&L continue on for Dayton southbound on I-75.)

K: Let’s take the Edwin C. Moses exit off 75 – all this construction is such a mess, we should get off it as soon as we can.

L: Good plan. Here’s Edwin C. Moses – huh – what is that? It says “Detour to I-75 North bound”. What the heck does that mean? (making the exit) Are you kidding me? They’re bringing traffic back onto 75? Where’s Edwin C. Moses? How do we get to our exit?  They’ve canceled our exit! We’re going back North again!!! That’s just nuts! AAAUUU-GGH!

K: (at home, a half hour later – on the phone) Hello. Department of Transportation?

Cue theme music.

 The gum wall at Maid-Rite Sandwich Cafe and Drive Thru, Greenville, Ohio





Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Neufs - The Sitcom; Episode Two

Neufs- the Sitcom

Previously on Neufs: Buying a fridge at a store that closes at 5:30 on Friday turns out to be a futile exercise.
Episode Two: “May I Speak to Customer Service, Please?”

Saturday; 1:00 pm

Neufeld residence; Kitchen.

(Ken and Lesley enter from a shopping trip and unload grocery bags)

L: I am very excited about the new fridge we ordered. All those new drawers and dispensers. I can’t wait. I’m giddy with excitement. (Laugh track: light chuckle)

K: I’m glad you’re excited. Want to go look at windows?

L: Hey, you’re on a home-repair roll!

K: I just want to see about replacing the storms and screens before winter. It’s got to save energy if the wind isn’t howling through the living room. (Laugh track: medium chuckle)

L: As exciting as that sounds, no, thanks, you go ahead.

(Some time later. Ken returns.)

K: I might be the best husband in the world.

L: Yes. You are. But what have you done to deserve the title this time?

K: I bought you a vacuum cleaner! (Ken produces the latest model small portable electric broom. Laugh track: light chuckle)

L: You bought ME a vacuum cleaner? I hate vacuuming. I kicked our last vacuum down the basement stairs. (Laugh track: light chortle.) You mean you bought yourself a vacuum cleaner. How does this make you the best husband in the world?

K: It isn’t your Christmas present. (Laugh track: big laughs)

L: Good point. How did you make out with windows?

K: Fine. An estimator is coming at 2:00 tomorrow.

L: Oh, nuts! On a Sunday? Can’t he come on Monday? I was hoping we could go on a Sunday drive to go leaf-peeping tomorrow. It’s going to be such a beautiful day.

K: (Sighs) O.K. Let me call and find out if I can change it.

L: I can be home Monday afternoon.

K: (On the phone with the dispatcher at the big box hardware store)  Yes, I have an appointment set up with someone to measure for storm windows on our house for tomorrow at 2:00. I’d like to change that please.

Can you Monday? (To L: ) Can you do Tuesday?

L: No

K: How about Wednesday?

L: No good.

K: Thursday?

L: Nah-uh. I can do Friday. I’ll be waiting for an electrician anyway. Can they come Friday?

K: (to dispatcher:) Friday? No.

L: Oh, fine, fine. Let him come tomorrow.

K: (to dispatcher:) Alright, let’s leave the appointment as it is. We’ll be here at 2:00.

(Next scene: Sunday; 2:30 pm)

K: O.K. Where is this guy? (Laugh track: light, knowing snort)

L: I know! We raced home from leaf-peeping for a window guy who hasn’t even shown up!

K: (on the phone to the window estimator) Yes, we were expecting you at 2:00 to measure for storm windows? Uh huh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. You don’t have us on your schedule AT ALL? No. Right. They never told you that you have an appointment this afternoon? For storm windows? Right. You’re a window estimator, right? Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Well, we made an appointment with the dispatcher for 2:00 for someone to measure for storm windows today. Yeah, we thought Sunday was weird, too. (Laugh track: guffaws.)


K: Yeah, O.K. 5:00 would be fine. You’re in Fayetteville, but you can be here by 5:00? O.K. Thanks. See you then.  (to L:) Well, that’s just ridiculous. They never told this guy he had an appointment!

L: We re-organized our whole day for this!

K: I know. I’m going for a nap. (Laugh track: medium laugh.)

Sunday; 5:00:

Estimator arrives.

E: So sir, what are we lookin’ at here?

K: Storms and screens. Replacing them.

E: Uh, yeah. We don’t do that.

K: What do you mean? You don’t do that.

E: Yeah. We don’t do that.

K: O.K. Why did they tell me at the store that you do?

E: I dunno. They messed up I guess.

K: Yeah, I guess they did. So, we reorganized our whole day, waited for you to come at 2:00 and then waited for you to come at 5:00. And you don’t do this. That’s just perfect.

E: What can I tell ‘ya, sir?

(Ken on the phone a few minutes later)

K: Yes, customer service, please…..

Cue theme music.