Sunday, March 26, 2017

Foodie frenzy

It had been a lovely night. The invitation to a potluck meal hosted by a circle of friends I distantly orbit was a nice change of pace. 

I wasn't even nervous.

Food and drink folded readily into conversation and laughter. Even our children, who have begun to resemble the Narrowest of Hipsters, had tagged along and tucked themselves away in a far off bedroom, good-naturedly stabbing their flags into the hilltop where the most embarrassing mother gets ceremonially planted. 

I usually (and unapologetically) win that honor. But who doesn't wish to impress?

I'm not sure when it happened. But somewhere between the Salad Days and We're All Stocked Up on Dry Milk and Preserves, I lost enough of my social anxiety to accept an invitation to a foodie foray and not worry that I'll stand out like a sore thumb until, well, I inevitably end up standing out like a sore thumb.

It's a relief, honestly, not to worry what people must think. Not to twist yourself into knots trying to seem effortless and flexible.

Still, everything had gone smoothly.  As previously agreed, I had brought wine and dessert that I didn't agonize over too much.

Ok … well, maybe a little. 

The people at the wine store are knowledgeable and always point me in the direction of something that won't turn people's faces inside out if they manage to get it past their noses and into their gullets. I don't always take their advice if I'm distracted by an eye-catching label, but I've managed to curb those impulses. 

And I have, on several occasions, made desserts that didn't wind up spat into a wad of napkins and jammed into the neighbor's shrubbery. Although I'll be honest, I did attempt a scientific experiment with vanilla cake and limeade that got a thumbs-down from my test subjects, who implored me to use their tried and true favorite, which comes fully measured and packaged with easy-to-follow instructions.

Since I stirred in an egg and a half-cup of water, then poured the results into a pan and slid that pan into a 350 oven, I felt confident “homemade” wasn't a falsehood.

As my rich, decadent dessert started to get raves, my confidence wavered. 

My teeth set on edge, as I accepted praise. 

I changed the subject from dessert to politics hoping to avoid having to produce definitive information about my cake's origins.

I hold my breath as I pull the empty cake pan into my sternum as the night comes to an end. My daughter laughs as I exchanged pleasantries with our hosts and head for the door.  A mantra loops through my head as we make our escape: Please don't ask for the recipe. Please don't ask for the recipe. Please don't ask for the recipe. Please don't ask for the recipe. Please don't ask for the recipe. Please don't ask for the recipe. Please don't ask … 

We made it to the car, and I started to breathe again. Celebrate, almost.

Mt. She flopped herself down in the passenger seat and took a long breath as if she were savoring the taste of smoke in her mouth.

“Yeah … The idea of having to fess up to making a box cake terrified you, didn't it?”

It was true. And the words hung in the air of that car as rank as if they were clouds of toxic gas.

What happened? It was all going so well. I NEVER feel bad about making a boxed cake, or buying produce that is not only pre-washed but also pre-sliced and diced or even julienned.  

Why did I suddenly feel the need to hide my laissez-faire self?

I didn't sleep soundly. I tossed and turned until the smell of strong coffee, and the ding of my phone's message app drew me out of bed.

“Oh no!”

“Don't tell me,” my daughter laughed over her cereal bowl as I shuffled over to the coffee maker, my shoulders slumped in defeat. “Someone just asked for the recipe, didn't they?

“You're not going to tell her, are you?” 

“What choice do I have?”

“I'll tell you what choice you have. You will go online and find a recipe and give her that.”

But I can't do that. That would be a lie.

“I'll tell you what I CAN do. I will go online, find a recipe, go into the kitchen and not come out until my scratch cake tastes like the one from the box. THEN I can give her the recipe!”

“See, that's the mother I know and love.”

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Pancakes are good, the taper is better

My phone was vibrating on the nightstand. An almost silent alarm, it turns out, I didn't need. I was already awake and squeezing into a third skin-tight layer.

I had pulled back my hair, pulled on an extra pair of socks, and had tied one sneaker before hopping out of the bathroom holding the other by its dangling laces to finally make the infernal buzzing sound stop.

“You are not actually going out in this, right?”

My husband, still snoring away, wasn't the culprit.

I just snorted, unsure which part of my anatomy questioned my sanity, but I certainly wasn't going to reward such a rude question with an answer.

Of course, I was going out. It was Saturday, and I had 15 miles ahead of me.

Fifteen miles? In single-digit temperatures? With thirty-mile-an-hour winds?

Did I mention the hills?

At least it wasn't snowing. Or raining. Surely there would be places along the way that would be sheltered from the wind.

See … It's possible to have positive thoughts before you spend nearly three hours doing something you love to hate.

It's all part of the plan: A six-week training schedule designed (by someone else) to ensure readiness for an early spring half-marathon.

I was just following blindly and looking forward to the pancakes at the end of the road. Please let there be pancakes.

Eight miles here. Ten miles there. This run was overkill, but apparently necessary.

Half-marathon turned out to be the fastest growing distance among road racers. According to Runners World magazine, in 2014 there were more than 2 million finishers of the 13.1-mile distance in the United States.

Although complicated plans include intervals and tempos and carefully calculated pace targets, the purpose is pretty straightforward: Build up endurance slowly and try not to get hurt.

Go the distance and try not to break, snap or pull anything important. This tact seems to be wise advice because as hard as it is to run as fast as you can on race day, it's nearly impossible to get your race fees refunded.

Anyway, you can probably guess that I am stalling.

Pretty soon a small gathering of other half-crazed runners will gather in the town square. They will head off without me if I am not there. I will not be able to catch up, and I haven't memorized the route.

I know how to get where we're going by car. But I always take shortcuts. This will take us the longest way possible. One wrong turn could change the coordinates from only "half-crazy" to a full-on marathon-level insanity.

If I am to keep up, I have to leave now.

I have my balaclava, my mittens, my hat, my sunglasses. I strap water bottles around my waist, even though I know the liquid inside them will freeze.

I am ready. And even though the first five miles of windchill feels like being tortured with sharp knives, I don't entertain the notion of turning around and going home. In a few more miles I'll be more than half way there, anyway.

It's all downhill after here. Not literally, sadly. But figuratively.

The rewards will be self evident: This week there will be pancakes with real maple syrup, and next week there will be a taper.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

This will (probably not) make your hair curl

She was going on about something with the level of sustained excitement parents find easy to ignore.

I was folding laundry. And then I was emptying the dishwasher. My daughter's voice was in a constant state of uplift. It had a sing-song quality that put me at ease. She was happy. I continued to half-listen as I freed a clog in the stick vacuum's frozen beater-bar. The thing I pulled out looked like ...

Well … I'll let you imagine the complicated forms bits of detritus we shed from our scalps or track in on our shoes take on as they collect over time. Suffice it to say what I only partially sucked up in the Dustbuster may or may not have resembled a small rodent of a decidedly muskrat-coloring.

But that is not the point.

My daughter had gotten a small part in the school play and was twittering about all the things that go into to making the actual performance so wondrous. Most important of which was that Yours Truly would be doing her hair before each and every performance.

“They want us to look like we're from the 1930s.”

Honestly, I hadn't been paying attention. But something told me to stop wrestling the dust bunny in the Dustbuster and tune in.

“Wait? What? Back up a bit. What did you say about your hair?”

“We have to make it curl and do fancy things like people did in the olden days.”

The way she looked at me as I gripped the vacuum filter, clawing giant dust balls into the trash, it was as if she had all the faith in the world that I could actually do this thing call 'a hairdo.'

Who does she think I am? I mean, I am the person whose Twitter feed describes her thusly: “Still getting up in the morning, but have given up combing my hair.”

That is not a euphemism. That line is the unvarnished truth. If I rake my fingers through the conditioning process in the shower, I count it as combed.

I get my hair cut once every three years, and the extent of my styling skill is to sweep up my stringy locks into a ponytail, hoping to catch all the wispy-bits at the back of my neck (I often fail).

The more I think about it, the more I'm sure that this thing called haircare might not be in my DNA. Growing up, I recall the errant pink-foam hair rollers I'd find around the house. I'd assumed they were my mother's even though her hair was close-cropped – like a man's – for as long as I could remember. Certainly before close-cropped hair on a woman was ever fashionable.

I'm still standing in a cloud of dust over the garbage can when my daughter hands me a picture of Ginger Rogers in the precisely-lit grandeur of her Hollywood heyday.

“They want me to make your hair look like that?”

The coiffure to my eye was an incomprehensible mountain range. It kept its shape – foothills above the shoulders, sloping peaks at the crown – despite appearing as smooth and buttery as silk. It flowed in rivulets nature had no part in making.

I didn't know where to start.

“They said that hot curlers would work.”

This hot curler thing – turns out – is a fishing-tackle-type box you plug into a wall, which then heats up a couple of dozen foam-lined spools that one is then supposed to wind around individual strands of hair.

Don't laugh at me.

Thankfully, the box came with simple instructions.

Plug in
Let heat for 10 minutes
Make sure lid is open while heating (to keep stored hair clips from melting)
Roll hair
Leave in hair for 10 – 15 minutes

I tried it on my own hair first.

It did seem foolproof. Not even waiting the full ten minutes, the hair that released from the flocked spools bounced into a loose coil.

Excitement abounds as we realized hair styling success was within our reach.

After a 10-minute reheat, it was my daughter's turn. But her younger, thicker, more lustrous hair was ambivalent. Some tresses doubled over at awkward angles; others refused to bend at all to the curlers' whims.

“What do we do now?” she asked in a panic.

I had no answer. “Maybe the Dustbuster … the hair that comes out of that always curls. …”

I know. ... She looked at me with that same horror, too.

I know. I'll Google “How to use bobby pins” maybe there's still hope.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Dog, sitting

My dog isn't territorial. Or this is what I thought, anyway, when I fogged up the name on my virtual Dog Sitting shingle, burnished it with my shirtsleeve and hung it up in an online pet care site. Think 'Uber for pet sitters,' and you'll have the idea.

She barely registers a response when I walk through the door, let alone a stranger. She stays wherever she is – be it couch or bed or a sunny spot on the floor – unless there's something in it for her. Cookies, let's say, or a walk.

But she will greet other dogs playfully, roughhouse a bit if they are willing, and show them the sights: The couches, the beds; the sunny spots on the floors.

And honestly, the idea of having a second dog that we get paid to take care of – and who morphs from a Shih Tzu into a Jack Russell terrier and then into a giant Labrador retriever from one week to the next – is pretty cool.

Except that I've noticed my dog skulking about, watching me through lowered head and raised eyes, ready at the slightest bit of affection paid to a visiting pal to barrel in between the interloper and me, and reassert her place in the hierarchy: Top Dog.

There has been some snarling, some protecting of the very same cats that she, herself, would have otherwise chased into closets, and some separate corner moments.

Arguments happen. Growling and raised hackles circling. When tempers flair we all go for a walk. Walks are a great equalizer. There is no home territory on a walk. No toy that is hers and hers alone. There is only the outdoors. And there are squirrels. The only struggle is mine as my charges stretch as far forward as the end of a leash will allow. Tangles-be-damned.

Tire them out. It's a strategy that can work pretty well for animals of all species, even the human ones. Tucker them out, and they won't have the energy to fight. They might even forget they aren't life-long friends.

Although there's something about that idea gives me pause.

As I watched my daughter snuggle up on the couch – a buffer between our pooch and her visiting friend -- it occurred to me through squinted eye and magical thinking that we'd been here before. A wisp of a girl sandwiched between the affections of a dark pointed fawn-colored dog with floppy ears, and a lanky, pony-sized black Labrador mutt.

Ages ago.

I was thinking about our old dogs, Maggie and Maddy. The dogs my husband and had before we married, and who had greeted the advent of our first child with a mix of confusion and wonder, and, finally, joy. The dogs that mark our lives with their indelible ink of their canine simplicity; a combination we tend to think of as loyalty and devotion.

I dusted off my camera and took a picture.

My daughter's head tipped back, and her mouth wide-open in laughter. Her hand was kneading one dog's ear while the other dog shifted position. The moment before I snapped the picture our visitor was seated squarely on my daughter. A human pillow.

Dog, sitting.

It wasn't new territory; it was more than familiar.

It may have even been karma.