Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Ham and beans recipe

For this recipe, you will need a sizable chunk of ham that someone gave you that you don't know what to do with.

1 ham chunk. About the size of a human head.
3 potatoes as big as your fist if you're not really mad
2  regular carrots or 1/2 a bag of baby carrots
1/4 a small head of cabbage unless you like cabbage and want to add more
3 cups of water
1 big onion
1 bell pepper (if it's a huge one)
Can of beans (not drained unless you use black beans) I used pinto and didn't drain them

(Chop the potatoes, carrots and cabbage into pieces that would reasonably fit in your mouth, and put the chunk of ham on top in a roasting pan. Add 1 cup of water and cover. Cook in the oven at 325 degrees for 20 minutes per pound of ham if the ham is already cooked. These directions were on the pre-cooked ham package.)
Try to feed this to your family as dinner with sweet rolls, while you plot how to "poison" them with the same ingredients the next day.)

The next day:
Remove the ham from its roasting pan, slice about a lb. or 2 thinly, and then dice (like they won't notice it's the same thing they hated yesterday.) You want about 3-4 cups worth. Set aside.

Remove the vegetables and juice that remain in the bottom of the roaster pan. Shove all that (but not the "poisonous" ham pieces) in a food processor or blender, preferably when it's not running. If it starts acting like play-doh, add more water. You're looking for slushy, not putty. People are expected to eat this when it's done. Set aside.

Meanwhile (like you have 8 arms):
Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a skillet, and add diced onion, and diced bell pepper. Saute that, or almost burn some of it, until the onion is clearish, then throw in the diced ham like you're putting out a fire.

Apologize to your housemate while they take the batteries out of the smoke detector.

Stir often, or do that cool pan-flip that the pros do on cooking shows. Clean up the mess if you miss like it never happened.

Open a can of beans and throw that in the crock-pot. Add the stuff from the skillet and the goo from the blender and 2 cups of water. Add garlic and pepper to taste. Put the salt on the table for anyone who needs more salt in a ham-based soup.

Leave it on low while you use "I'm cooking dinner!" as an excuse to have some down-time. It's already cooked, but you need the flavors to marry, let's say. Stir it every time someone comes into the kitchen. Announce "It's almost ready!" even though you know it's been ready for 30 minutes.

It was a hit with my picky family... I served it with sweet rolls, canned pineapple chunks, and fried cheese quesadillas.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

4:00am and Insomia

I don't know why I need to pee every night at 4 in the morning. Maybe years of tending bar until close, winding down after work, second-shift factory jobs, studying at the last minute in college, or cleaning up middle-of-the-night kid vomit messed me up. Maybe those things derailed my natural circadian rhythms. Whatever happened to my natural cycle (assuming I had one) I just thought you should know that if you want to break into my house at 4 in the morning, I'm wide awake and very likely to pee on you.

It becomes problematic when I can't get back to sleep. My brain is somehow hot-wired into this nonsensical overdrive of stupid ponderings: the etymology of cliches and figures of speech, designs for paintings or mechanical devices, manipulating the numbers of significant events to look for patterns... Sometimes I could swear that I'm certifiably insane every morning at 4am, but I'm just trying to go back to sleep. These crazy things zoom in and out, and like a bad 80's song, they get stuck in my head for hours.

The next day when I should be a productive human being I'm looking up how the phrase, "It's raining cat and dogs" became a common term. "Has an astronaut ever felt 'under the weather'?" or do people who live "down under" in Australia every use the term "feeling on top of the world"? Also, I've eaten raw oysters, and quite like them, but I've never inspected them for a heart or brain or guts or anything...how do they work? Where is an oyster's...you know...private parts? Even worms have hearts and anuses. Then maybe the oyster is more like coral, and considered an animal, but is more like a plant because it doesn't poop. Wait...I didn't want to post incorrect information and just looked it up. Oysters do poop. Googled it. Now I have to google whether coral poop or not.

Last night I woke up wondering why I know Ulysses S. Grant's middle initial. I don't know 9/10 of my friends' middle initials. What's with the "S?" I had to know this morning. Like, how many regular Ulysses Grants were running around at the time to make him feel so compelled to use his middle initial? Was he falsely humble about his middle name?
"What's your name soldier?"
"Uh, well, Sir, it's actually Ulysses Super-duper Grant, but I just go by Ulysses S. Grant so to not appear to be so ostentatious."
"Oh, very well then. Way to be humble, but why not drop the "S" all together?"
"Sir, there's so many Ulysses Grants running around doing great things, sir. I wanted to make sure they get credit also. These are confusing times."

Then, I find out that's not even his real name. His real first name was Hiram. That's another one you hear a lot, right?
You know, sometimes I privately dare the authorities to look up my search history...then I think about "big brother" and that reminds me of that movie "Conspiracy Theory" and the whole assassins (also a lot of "S's" in assassins) theory where they all have middle names. And then suddenly the track derails and I remember I have a chicken carcass cooking outside in a crockpot to make bone broth because otherwise it makes the house smell funky and Chris can't sleep. Suddenly it's 5:30 am and I'm standing outside in the driveway in my pajamas making sure the crockpot is turned off.

Anyway, sometimes people want me to describe myself or they ask what I'm into or how I "tick". I really don't know. I swear that I don't get it either. I feel like that TV you had when you were a kid where you messed with the aluminum-foiled, clothes-hangered, rabbit ears until you got something to watch and you just went with it. It was never questioned, really. Maybe a train car or semi truck on the highway or a UFO interfered with the reception. I remember getting a better radio signal from the antenna if I held the end in one hand and held my other arm up in the air. Maybe it was the salt and water in my blood conducting the signal...maybe I had special powers...maybe all that exposure to television-waves gave me a tendency to wake up every morning at 4am with my brain bollixed up about things that make no difference?

I'm not going to worry about it right now though. It's almost midnight, and I'm pretty tired. Go figure.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Don't actually touch me

I love you all as humans. Our fellowship and friendship, the whole idea that we are one sperm in a million that happened to come into being, and exist at this point in time on this planet together...it all gives me reason to love you. But, if you don't mind...please don't touch me with your body.

I'm cool to hug you if you're crying and stuff, in that "I'm-going-to-make-you-safe-from-everything-else" way, but really I'm not going to hear a thing that you blubber into my shoulder after that. If we make sustained eye-contact, or you touch my hand in that sympathy "I-understand" way, I won't hear a thing you say to reassure me. I might stop crying, but that's because I'm distracted by your body invading my bubble. REALLY.

I like people. I love people. I just don't want anyone close enough to smell what I had for lunch. You girls really need to bring it down a notch. (No offense, I know it's me and not you.) But fer realz, we don't need to hold each other if you live 10 minutes away and I'm going to probably see you in a week. Hugs are for people you've known for 20 years that you've not seen in 5 years. That's okay if you really miss one another....even then...

I guess some people are just more physical when it comes to their emotions. I'm trying to work with that. I'm more intellectual. A great intellectual conversation is better than physical contact to me. Hugs and hand-holding and kisses don't produce the same results as being inspired and driven by new ideas and shared interests.

People are great. And hugs are great. But don't hug me or touch me unless you really mean it and it means something at the moment, or you cheapen the gesture. Hold me if I'm dying or crying or something, but don't touch me with your body just because we're better friends than a handshake.

Also, don't sit so close to me that your thigh touches my thigh. It's seriously hard to listen to you when I'm concentrating on my butt-fluff not touching yours. If I don't have the room to scoot over and you keep talking, I'm probably going to say I need to use the bathroom even if I don't need to pee. There. I said it. ;)

Friday, June 16, 2017

Being "Poor"

About this time of year, back in 1998, I found myself living in an old house on Old St. Louis Road here in Jefferson City. The house, originally a chicken coupe, had been renovated to accommodate a small family back in perhaps the 1930s or 1940s, but no one remembers.
    The little house on the huge lot was where my father grew up, with uncomfortable darned socks, and patched blue jeans. Jeans were embarrassing to wear back then when people with money wore slacks and didn't have turned-out collars. He had a real pony and plastic army men and a BB gun and wooded acres behind the house to explore. After he left home in his Firebird and married my mother, I was born. The year was 1977, and my parents would drop me off at my grandmother's house, plaid bell-bottoms and all, so that Dad could go to work at the police station and mom could finish her RN degree at Lincoln University while she worked at St. Marys for $2.35 an hour.
I spent long happy days on Old St. Louis Road growing up. Grandma had a huge Concord grape vine,  cherry, peach and walnut trees, berry bushes, flowers, birds, watercolors, turtles, and every kind of vegetable in her garden anyone would want to eat.
     Grandma didn't have air conditioning or cable, so when it became too hot in the summer, she would fill up a spray bottle, and I would sit in front of the box fan in my underwear and one of Grandpa's big T-shirts. She would mist me as we watched "The Price is Right." We sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Jesus Loves Me" on the porch swing and snapped green beans in the evening. The mosquitoes were almost big enough to carry me away if they ever would have organized themselves. We dressed "doll-babies," walked to Daisy Delight for ice cream, and played wiffle ball. She would always save the cardboard that came under frozen pizzas for us to play Frisbee with, and she saved all her bread bags to braid into floor rugs or to put over my shoes if it rained. In the winter we drew pictures and read books in the kitchen by the old wood stove that heated the 5 livable rooms of the house. She taught me how to write my name in cursive when I was 3 years old. I didn't know we were poor. I was too young.
     I did know I was poor the year I turned 21. I had moved back into the old house while I worked as a delivery driver for Sub Shop and went to school full-time at Lincoln University. We had to move grandma to a nursing home because of her failing health, so, in time, I inherited the modest rent-free dwelling. It had been vacant long enough for all the potatoes to rot, and for a family of raccoons to move into the attic.
There were several special features that came with the house: independence, spiders, plenty of things in need of repair, mice, more spiders, and fond memories. I was thrilled to try to make my way in the world and welcomed the challenge of self-sufficiency. I slept on the fold-out "Devan" with a kitten that I adopted. I shared my nightly ramen noodles with Sketch the gray cat, and let him sleep with me until I ended up with fleas in the bed. I remember I was reading "Angela's Ashes" at the time. Thanks to Frank McCourt's book, I never felt sorry for myself. Not often anyway.
     The old bathtub came without a shower spout, so I found a hand-held attachment that went over the faucet like an external catheter. On one such sitting-to-spray-off occasion, as I was listening to the family of raccoons wrestling in the attic and eyeing a large wolf spider in the corner of the room, the water turned off. Hair fully lathered, no water. I sat there naked in the tub for awhile, trying to devise a solution, remembering that I had paid the bill, and that class started in an hour. I wasn't sure if I could bring myself to rinse my hair in the back of the toilet, but did I have any other options?
     Just in time, the sound of rushing water, barely audible, distracted me from my plan. I grabbed a robe and stuffed my soapy feet into my Keds and followed the noise around the house to the back. There, below the bathroom window, the main water pipe had burst and the pressure had blown a hole
clear through the newspaper-insulated, exterior wall. "So now what?" I pondered as I stared at the fire-hose gush spewing through the wall. The old adage, "Poor folks is got poor ways," came to my mind that day as I stood in my soaking-wet robe and squishy tennis shoes rinsing my hair in the sunny back yard. But I had realized something else about being poor as I waved to my puzzled neighbors from across the large yard.

There is a big difference between having next to no money and being poor.

That house has since been torn down. Apparently houses being partially held up by 1950's car jacks, which boast of black-garden-hose plumbing, aren't worth salvaging. It still makes me smile, however, that in a "worthless" old house, I learned something priceless. I learned about being resourceful, turning hardship into funny memories, being grateful, and the value of family and friends. We were rich back then with our fried baloney sandwiches and snow ice cream... we just didn't have a whole lot of money. We knew all our neighbors. Us kids ran around in unsupervised packs from sun up until the streetlights came on. People fed whatever kids happened to sit at their table in the summer as long as you asked permission and didn't expect anything fancy. If someone had something that your family didn't, it was always shared without hesitation. We didn't buy fancy Popsicles, we bought enough for the whole neighborhood.
     I remember how proud my dad was, when after years of push mowing my Grandma's acre of yard, she bought him a red, riding-lawnmower. I remember how proud I was of my dad for having the only one on our street at the time, and using it to mow not only her yard, but ours and three of the neighbor's on both sides. He used to mow that stretch of grass like a farmer on a combine. I'm so glad years later that now his younger neighbors mow his yard for him. That's how it should work. I think that's the kind of wealth people should work to accrue.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Our Circus

From the plaster corners of the house where the ceiling meets the wall seeps a tiny breeze of dry, chill air. I can feel it gently flowing down the walls and windows to pool like water around my bare feet. It oozes across the hardwood floors like a ghost. My monotonous paths across the floor are happily punctuated by the system of warm heat ducts that run just underneath. The linen closet where we keep the towels and try to hide the junk food is right over the gas furnace unit, and there is nothing better than warmed towels and the warmed potato chips hidden in them.

The children and I have unconsciously mapped out the arteries that run through the house, as these are the best places to play our board games or to change clothes. Tonight, however, the 3 year old is bidding time on the kitchen computer, building things and killing zombies in Minecraft after a vigorous game of "Throw the Ball Down the Stairs for Daddy to Catch and Return".

I'm cleaning the kitchen counter off while playing "Keep the Balloon off the Floor" with my oldest, trying to avoid the computer-playing preschooler in the center of the 12'x14' room. Daddy, on hand to help where ever needed, notices my distress while I'm cleaning.

"What's wrong?"
"There's a nasty spot here on the counter. It won't come off...I need a solvent, or baking soda. Do you have anything in the basement?"
"Is it sticky? Is it gooey? Is it greasy?"
"No, it's waxy."
"I have just the thing!" His eyes light up. "I'll go get my hand-plane."
"NO! I'll just get some baking soda or something out! You're going to take the veneer off the counter-top!"
I'm reminded of the time our first son had his first loose tooth, and he came up from the basement with pliers to help.

But alas, the husband who has a tendency to get monomaniacal about random interests has his mind set. He proceeds to run to the basement and come up to hand-plane the kitchen counter top. (He's starting to get into hand-planes, though he promised me he wasn't going to get "that" into them.) So far he's done bowling, Kirby vacuums, bicycles, tops, yo-yo's, aquariums, stunt kites, string-making, lathes, worm-farms, regular golf, disc golf, Plants vs. Zombies, Minecraft, fuel-efficient portable cooking devices...now it's hand-planes...of course.
I just kinda step back and stare at the wall while he hand-planes the kitchen counter clean.

"You just junked up my hand-planer," he says with a smile.
"It wasn't my idea! You do know we are the strangest family that exist in real life, right?"
"No way," he replies with a bigger grin.

And so it goes. Our circus of passions and hobbies seeping from every corner of the house like the cold air from the old plaster. Me with my passion for practical science regarding psychology, neuroscience, antique marbles, gardening and cooking, while trying to make a living as a painter -- and my husband tinkering with everything else while managing a cabinet shop to pay all the bills. We have two brilliant and unusual children and a dead pet cat buried in the backyard. It's a good life, but we wish the cat wasn't dead sometimes.

Anyway, I'm going to leave these reflections here for now as we're starting a game of Risk, and I need to get the baby into bed after a healthy session of killing zombies on the computer game. Take care, people. As always, thanks for reading The Brain Drain. ;)

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Thanks for understanding!

Dear people of the world:

I'm writing this letter to formally thank you for your patience and understanding. I will provide some examples of those who's thoughtfulness and incredible tolerance have made life much easier, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.

Most recently, I'd like to thank the very sweet women at Walmart's vision center. Your finding entertainment value and humor in my son licking the mirrors in your store lowered my stress level significantly. I hope that my other child breathing on the mirrors and writing smiling faces in the condensation cheers you while you clean them again. Also, I would like to congratulate you for keeping your vision center clean so that my young child doesn't end up in the hospital from licking something in Walmart. It looked immaculate when we first walked in...

I would like to praise my neighbors for allowing your children to play with mine. Thank you for looking the other way when my 3 year old drops trou and pees in our yard. Thank you for not calling the police when you hear bizarre yellings emitted from our open windows when I try to air out the house. When the light-up Spiderman shoes are drying out from puddle-jumping and they are the only ones he will put on, when I can't help that we don't have any chocolate cake, when I make the executive decision to disallow eating Nutella out of the container with a pair of scissors....thank you for understanding that this is all a work-in-progress.

Thank you to all of the little old men and women at the grocery store who answer to "Gam-ma" and "Papa". It's heartwarming when you take the time to flirt with my children, and when you gently touch my arm while reassuring me that your children "went through that stage, too". There's probably many people who would rather run over a screaming puddle of unmet demands with their shopping cart. I'd also like to congratulate you on your uncanny ability to peg these children as belonging to me when I'm doing my best to pretend they're someone else's. I find that both impressive and slightly irritating.

Thank you to the very sweet family that pulled over behind us to catch the weighted, mylar balloon that flew out of our car window. I'm sorry you assumed that the "Get Well Soon" on the balloon meant it would bring great cheer to a person in the hospital, and that you had performed a heroic deed. As it was, that balloon just happened to be the most appealing to the distinctive tastes of a young balloon connoisseur. It was heroic only to me, a perfectly well person. You may remember me as "that lady that who had managed to buckle Armageddon into a car seat and drive around town like that".

Thank you to our home-church pastor. Perhaps you were indulging me, but I'm glad you seemed to agree that sprinkling a little extra water on this one's head during his baptism wouldn't hurt anything.

Finally, thank you to all recent house-guests. Your comments that "the mess doesn't bother you" while you navigate your way over toys, books, games and laundry is very considerate. "It's not dirty it's just a little cluttered" is quite supportive. I hope to have you all over more often once I'm able to keep it more clean, and perhaps we can enjoy your company in brighter lighting.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Basics of Getting Dressed

A formal analysis of what I wear, by hierarchy:

My wedding (I just had my mom do most of it)
Prom (I again had my mom do most of it)
Church on Easter (I mostly got this one)
General weddings and funerals (I ask my mom)
Church in general (God doesn't care)
Award ceremonies (This can get tricky)
Luncheons that might have fancy little sandwiches or something I can't pronounce (No idea what I'm doing)
Shopping with my mom (She usually tells me I "look cute!" if I don't wear a ball cap)
Business meetings (I look like a dork)
School functions (I try. I really try)
Eating at a fancy restaurant where they have waitstaff (Something that matches, deodorant, maybe jewelry?)
Traveling (Ummm...shower, clean clothes, brush teeth)
Target (Jeans that fit well, T-shirt with no stains or holes)
Leaving the house in a car (Bra)
Walmart (Wipe the ketchup off the corners of my mouth)
Float trips (It doesn't matter what you wear after 3 days camping on a river)
Taking the trash out to the curb at the last minute (Pants?)
Saturday mornings