men of a different era.

To be perfectly honest, I bought the book of old photos for the NASA pictures. Josh loves spacey stuff. We went to a fantabulous space museum in the middle of Kansas where he saw some astronaut jackets. He really wanted one, but they were ridiculously expensive. So he only bought some patches, which were still pretty pricey for what they were. Then when he got home, he went to the Army surplus store and bought a blue flight jacket for $40. He sewed the patches on himself, which I think is pretty cute. Maybe I'm just a sucker for his charms. Luckily, he seems to be a sucker for my charms, which even I have to admit have a limitied audience appeal. I only hope that everyone else in the world can find a sucker for their charms.

Anyway, I bought the photo album because there were some pictures of people in front of a NASA bus. I hoped that some of those people might be astronauts, but even if they were just engineers or administrators, that would be okay, too. Since I actually have no idea who they are, I can pretend whatever. What I like about this picture is how indicative of the time it is. Photos like this (and like all of them in the album) are like unintentional historical artifacts. There was still a space race going on. The general public was still interested in what might be up in the sky.

And the men! Men don't look like this anymore. They don't wear their pants like that, they don't stand that way, they don't ask for those haircuts, and they don't smoke cigarettes in pictures. These were men of a different era. I mean, probably, they acted just like men act now. Except they stub out their cigarettes before someone takes their picture.


hospital song.

Lying awake in my hospital room
Silas Creek Parkway is my only view.

-Ben Folds Five, "Hospital Song"

When I was a sophomore in high school, our boys' basketball team went to the state championship. This is not to be confused with our girls' basketball team, of which I was a member, which won maybe one game all year. I don't remember how many games, but I know there was at least one. It was my freshman year where we didn't win any. But that's a whole different story.

But the boys' team was good, and they were fun to watch. There was the serious point guard, the long-limbed center, the hot-shot three point shooter, the reliable power forward, and the scrappy guy who could play any position by force of sheer hustle. I remember them all now, even though it's been over a decade since I've seen most of them. Everyone knew who they were. I remember being sort of shy and flattered when any of them talked to me, a lowly sophomore on the second-worst girls' basketball team in the history of our school.

Their post-season stretched out long after we had been eliminated from the first round of the conference tournament, and my mom and I went to their games. Since the boys had played right after us all year long, she had seen most of their games, maybe a reward for sitting through another crushing defeat for her daughter. And then they were going to be in the state finals in Chapel Hill, three hours away. Of course, we would go. What could be better than watching a good team full of people you knew (or at least felt like you knew) play at the Dean Dome?

The evening before the Saturday afternoon game, we got a phone call from my brother, an hour away, saying that his pregnant wife's water had broken, still several weeks shy of her due date. It was already getting sort of late, but we got in the car and drove to Wilkesboro. As we pulled into the parking lot of the tiny rural hospital, we saw an ambulance leave, followed by the familiar silhouette of my brother's car. We managed to flag him down, and he told us that they were taking my sister-in-law to the hospital in Winston-Salem.

So we drove yet another hour to Forsyth Medical Center on Silas Creek Parkway. And nothing much happened all night. We stayed in the waiting room. I pushed two stiff armed chairs together front-to-front and curled up in an attempt to sleep. At some point, I think it must have been in the morning because I remember the curtains being closed to block the sunlight, we went in to see my sister-in-law. It's probably obvious for me to even mention it, but she seemed to be in pain, like it was taking all her concentration to just get through it. My brother sat anxiously beside her bed, holding her hand and stroking her hair. I don't think I'd ever seen such tenderness. I felt sort of irrelevant, just standing there, sixteen years old and not a clue in the world.

And then we left, to drive one more hour. From the dim and quiet tension of a hospital room to the bright and loud, yet also irrelevant, tension of a state basketball championship in the Dean Dome.

We lost the game. It wasn't even close.

By the time we got back to the hospital, more of my siblings were there. The baby was born, but so tiny and with a pair of lungs that were not formed enough to do the job of keeping even so small a thing alive. They put him in a special little incubator to keep the world out and give God a chance to finish knitting him outside the womb. Another brother embraced and consoled the man whose son had arrived but whose stay wasn't yet certain. Again, I saw tenderness, a side to my big brothers that I had never seen before, or maybe just had never noticed. Years later, I would listen to a coworker tell about when his son was born premature. Though it was never stated outright, the sense of utter helplessness was clear to me and to the other men who listened with complete understanding on their faces. I thought about my brother and the other side of each birth story.

A couple of weekends ago, the boys' basketball team from my old high school went to the state championship. They lost; it was even less close than before. I did not know any of their names, and I was not at the game. Instead, I was at my brother's house to celebrate my nephew's eleventh birthday. He was cute and robust and tan and also kind of a smart-aleck. He played with the little kids, and then sat with the adults. His little sister gave him a tooth in a jam jar, for which he thanked her sweetly, though he clearly thought it was pretty weird. My mom and I reminisced about spending the night at the hospital before going to the basketball game.

I knew then that there was a story to write here, but I wasn't sure what it would be about: the Dean Dome, unfinished lungs, Silas Creek Parkway, fatherhood, a tooth in a jar. Now I've written it and some themes came out that I wasn't expecting, but I'm still not sure what the point is. So take what you want. But Happy Birthday, Sidney. Keep that jar in a safe place.


beouf le noir.

Josh's mom used to be a French teacher and is otherwise a bonafide francophile. I'm used to hanging around people who are enthusiastic about knowledge in some way or another (i.e. dorks), but this fascination with a whole country is sort of new to me. She often uses something from the language or history of France to illustrate a point. There are smatterings of French words spoken in her house. When he was growing up, if ever a curse word slipped through his lips, she would admonish him "En Français!" Remember, kids, cursing is okay when it's in a pretty language. And if ever you say a French or French-derived word in front of her, she will repeat it quietly, with the correct pronunciation, all the while encouraging you to please go on. I have chosen not to be irritated by this habit (and it was a conscious choice), because I am not convinced that she even realizes she's doing it. It feels like being corrected to me, but I think she's probably just enthusiastic. We should all be so enthusiastic about learning.

She also apparently did a lot of French cooking when Josh was growing up. Once, when we were there for just a regular weekend dinner, nothing special, we had duck à l'orange. I thought that was just something made-up that sounded French that they served in Daffy Duck cartoons. But no, it's a real thing. I'm not sure that he really appreciated the cultural aspect of his childhood dinners. You can try to feed a kid duck à l'orange, but he's just going to ask for les saucisses de Vienna.

Once, Josh mentioned that he thought I made an effort to make French food because I thought he craved it as a result of his childhood. He used the quiche Lorraine as an example. He further stated that I shouldn't try to cook like his mother, that I should develop my own style. Considering I hadn't really been trying to make French-style dishes, I wasn't sure how to take this comment. Perhaps it was a slam on my quiche. He's very well-versed in subtlety, while I often don't even realize that he might have meant something deeper until weeks later (like when I happen to use it in a blog entry). He better learn to speak more plainly, or he'll be getting quiche for a long time.

All that being said, here is something that I have been approved to make again and again. It's beouf bourguignon. It is probably nothing like real beouf bourguignon for many reasons, one of which is that it is made in the crock pot. In recognition of that and in honor of my hometown of Lenoir, we call it beouf le noir. That phrase probably makes no sense in French, but there's been no one to correct me. It's delicious and fancy, so you could serve this to your boyfriend's mother. Just be sure to transfer it from the crock pot into a Dutch oven made by a French company before you serve it.

Beouf Le Noir


first round.

Several times Thursday night, I almost went to bed before the basketball was over. But I stayed up, though my eyelids grew droopy, because Wake Forest needed me to. They never seemed to be quite able to pull away from Texas. They got ahead for a while, but then the Longhorns rallied and made it a close game again. Though I try to soak up as much March Madness as possible every year, I was sleepy. If it hadn't been an ACC team, one that was in a town where I lived for two years, one that was the hometown team of the man I love, I would have called it a night before halftime.

If you haven't caught on yet, this is my annual post about sports. Even though I feel like there is really nothing left for me to say about the NCAA tournament, I feel compelled to write about it every year. Maybe because it so thoroughly engages me for several weekends in a row. To not write about it would be denying the part of me that truly loves college basketball. So while I usually put off mentioning it for days, even weeks, because I am sure I haven't any words left, I'm going to go ahead and get this out of the way.

There is a special place in my heart for the first weekend of the tournament. It's a weird kind of thing to keep in your heart, and there are many other, more deserving things which occupy greater areas. But there it is, maybe in a little out of the way corner next to a valve, that place where I keep my love for things like very specific parts of sporting events.

I love the first weekend, because of the palpable excitement. There's been mounting anticipation all week, from the conference tournaments the previous weekend, to when they announce the pairings on Sunday, through the three and a half days of speculation and trash talk and bracket-filling, and then FINALLY! It's here! It's noon on Thursday and it's started and everyone is bursting with energy. The players seem like those Spanish bulls that have just been let out of the gate, here they come!

I love the first weekend, because of the underdogs. Next weekend, after two rounds, there will likely still be a couple of low-ranked teams hanging around. Some of them make it through the first round, and some of those fall in the second. By the fourth round, there's usually only one left, and they get called the season's Cinderella. But in this first two days of non-stop basketball, there are many little guys to root for. They seem so happy to be there at all, playing against guys they've been watching on TV all season. You admire their pluck, their courage, their audacity to dare pose a threat to some nationally ranked team. And unless they are taking on your team, you really really want them to win. They seem to deserve it for sheer gumption.

I love the first weekend, because there are just so many games. From noon to midnight, there are games, sixteen in one day. When I tune in (God bless cbssports.com), maybe I've never even heard of one of the teams, but a few minutes later, I am inexplicably pulling for them as if they were my own hometown heroes. I'll tell you a secret: I watched the Villanova/Robert Morris game from my cubicle. It was so exciting: double overtime! I might have been more secretive about it if half the office wasn't blatantly doing the same thing.

And so Thursday night, the very first night of this year's big dance, I made myself stay up, because the first round of the NCAA tournament only happens two days a year. Even as midnight passed and I really wanted to just go upstairs to bed, I stayed next to my laptop. Even as Wake Forest pulled ahead by twelve points, I stayed, and it was again a one point game within a couple of minutes. I thought of my mom, whose devotion to the Atlantic Coast Converence could never be questioned, but who has a hard time making it through any game that extends into the nine o'clock hour. I am only twenty-seven years old, and I don't care if I did give up caffeine this week (again), I am still too young to give up on watching an exciting ball game with a team that I do care about just because I have to go to work in the morning.

And then Ishmael Smith, who I had never heard of before but who got me thinking that Ishmael is really kind of a cool name, made that shot with a couple seconds to go. And I was very awake and screaming. It was all over, they won, and I thought hard about watching the end of the Montana/New Mexico game. But I went up to bed, later than usual, but totally, totally worth it.


making work pay.

Josh should just fire his accountant.

He received a letter from the IRS yesterday. While he's been gone, I've been saving all his mail in a special place or maybe wherever it lands when I come in the door. I haven't been opening it, because I was taught that opening other people's mail is a federal offense. But when I saw the IRS letter, I opened it. Which is funny, because that rule about not opening the mail of others was probably intended to protect things like sensitive communications from government agencies, rather than pleas for him to come back to AllState, which I do not open. I could have called him first to verify whether it was okay for me to open his IRS letter, but instead I asked his accountant, and she said it was totally fine.

The IRS wrote him to say that they have amended his 2009 return. To give him more money. Yes, they noticed in their careful analysis of his return that he was eligible for the Making Work Pay tax credit, which, when applied, will nearly double his refund this year. If in the future he wishes to claim the Making Work Pay tax credit, he'll want to attach Schedule M and enter the resulting amount on line 63 of Form 1040. Thank you and have a nice day, from your friends at the Internal Revenue Service, a kinder and gentler agency.

As soon as I read this bit of another person's mail, I headed to the internet to find more about this Schedule M. It's apparently part of the recovery act. I then checked his Form 1040, line 63 and verified that it did say something about a credit and I had entered a nice, round zero on that line. I know that I did not even look up what that line was talking about in the instructions. Why? Because I had looked up half a dozen other possible credits and they had been about farming or displaced persons or being blind. In other words, they had nothing to do with him. And so when I saw "Making Work Pay," I assumed that was one of those things that was for Other People.

As an aside, what kind of stupid name is "Making Work Pay?" I mean, doesn't work already pay? Isn't that why we do it? Isn't that why we have to pay taxes, because we did work and then got paid for it?

Okay, I'm only griping because I'm feeling a little embarrassed at missing the credit in the first place. This happened last year, too, when I managed to miss the fact that he qualified for the Earned Income Credit (as opposed to the Stolen Income Credit, I guess). And the IRS sent him a letter and some more money. I am grateful that the IRS knows what it's doing, that it's nice enough to correct mistakes in our favor that we didn't know we'd made. It could just keep our money and we'd never know the difference. But it takes the high road, sends us our money, and makes our accountants look foolish.

As it happens, I am also eligible for the Making Work Pay tax credit, and I am quite sure that I did not claim it on my return. I should fire my accountant as well.


popper time.

There are certain things that I make that Josh loves so much he requests the recipe. Which is sort of odd, really. Perhaps he is plotting to leave me, but he can't bear to live without, for example, chocolate pie, so he has to be able to make it for himself while he waits for the next poor sucker to fall for his blue-gray eyes, dazzling smile, and impressive command of the English language. Each time he gets ready to go, his duffel bag all packed for the road, a note telling me where I can send his books, I go and make one more dish that he can't live without now that I've brought it into his life.

He is generally interested in the cooking process. Sometimes he helps, sometimes he does most of the work while I direct, sometimes he asks what's in it while he eats it. But then there are times when he wants to see the actual recipe, wants to do all the leg-work, making mental notes about baking times and measurements. It would be easy for me to just make it, but he is there, insisting, like a little kid who is aching to be in control of his own milk-pouring destiny. I've not figured out the difference between the things he wants to be able to make for himself and the things that he wants me to make for him over and over again. There is something special about his I-do-it recipes, something to do with the crossroads of yumminess and snackiness. The good thing is that once a recipe goes into that category, it is his forever. He is in charge of pizzas and french fried potatoes in our house. I could still make those things, of course, but he's got the steps all memorized. I'd have to go look it up, and the cookbook is all the way across the room, and honey, why don't you just do it?

All this brings me to a couple of weeks ago, when I called him after work. The band was in Kentucky, staying at a friend's house while in between shows in Knoxville and Cincinnati. At some point, he said he had to get off the phone, because he had to "go make more poppers."

"Poppers? Like we make here?"


"You made them for everybody?"


"You are so cute." I mean, really, isn't that kind of adorable? Am I the only sucker in the room?

Poppers are the most recent of the I-do-it recipes. It is a Pioneer Woman recipe, and it has three ingredients. The recipe in her cookbook is different from the one on her website. She adds cheddar and barbeque sauce and suggests some other variations. I'm going to make them that way one day, I promise. Out of respect for the Pioneer Woman, I will try each and every variation. But when we decide that we want poppers, that all seems like too much work when the recipe we know is so simple and so good. The first time we made them, it was as an appetizer to a bigger meal. But then we ate all the poppers and none of the meal. Then there were tummyaches. Delicious, bacon-wrapped tummyaches. Since then, we have managed to make them and resist the urge to eat them all. They store well in the fridge and are good cold the next day. If ever I am invited somewhere where I might be required to bring an appetizer, then, my friends, it will be Popper Time, which is like Hammer Time, but stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon and without parachute pants. Okay, fine, it's nothing like Hammer Time at all. But it could be.

Obviously, there is a hotness factor, what with the jalapenos. But you can find mild peppers. We get ours in a big pack at Aldi, where the hotness varies wildly from one pepper to the next. When I eat one, I first take a tiny lick on the pepper part to verify the spicy level. If it's too hot, I put it back on the plate, say it's for him, and then try the next one. He must really love me, because he's bringing his blue-gray eyes and dazzling smile, and I'm making him eat things that I have pre-licked. He's probably not planning to leave me. Phew!

I do not like the name "poppers." Even the Pioneer Woman doesn't seem to know what to call them, referring to them as Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeno Thingies. Surely we can find something better, something that doesn't take longer to say than to make the dish and yet doesn't sound like something that might be brought to you by a guy wearing 37 pieces of flare. I am open for suggestions.

But for now, here is the recipe. Now go make yourself a tummyache. Then teach a man to do it, so he can be in charge of his own tummyache destiny.



I will tell anyone that will listen that my very favorite kind of yard sale is a church yard sale in an established, wealthy neighborhood. It's all about the stuff. Church sales are the best anyway, because it combines the stuff from lots of different families, which means greater volume of stuff. Wealthy neighborhoods are going to have higher-quality (and more) stuff. Older, established neighborhoods have older and more interesting stuff, because the people didn't just move in the year before. Also, the prices are usually good, because chances are that someone there has been to a yard sale or held one before, so they what to charge for the stuff. Plus, there is that grand time when they tell you to just stuff a bag for a dollar.

Stuff stuff stuff. The word has lost all meaning.

Anyway, while I still scour the papers for church sale ads, I am developing a growing appreciation for estate sales. They are getting me through the cold, hard winter, like the Regimental Camp Followers at Valley Forge. Indeed, there is often a lot of stuff at an estate sale, since you're selling most everything that a person owned at time of death. Sure, there is antique furniture and china sets and heirloom jewelry. It's frequently beautiful and I enjoy having the opportunity to see valuable and expensive things that I don't ordinarily come across. But the real appeal to me is that they're selling things that most people wouldn't ever think to sell.

Old stationery is a favorite of mine, as I'm sure you're sick of hearing. I can imagine a meeting of the estate sale companies of Raleigh, where they discussed what was worth selling. Someone keeps coming across boxes of old note cards in attics of dead grandmothers and wonders whether it's even worth slapping a price tag on them. The others tell him the fabled tale of Stationery Lady, who will come to your sale, pick out less than $10 worth of stuff, and then inquire about any stationery, if she hasn't found it already.

You will also all know by now that I am a big fan of owning your own crazy, for instance by imagining that competing estate sale companies not only have meetings, they talk about who buys the cheap items and give them nicknames.

Aside from stationery, there are old calenders, the daily dishes, the framed cross-stitch that hung in the bathroom. They are the things that children of the deceased remember fondly and associate with that house, but they are too inexpensive and everyday to be considered heirlooms. They are detritus, the things that humans buy and use and discard without really noticing. I love these things. I love their everyday-ness, their inconspicuous-ness, their history. These are the things that will tell future archeologists more about how people lived than the silver tea sets that only the rich people could afford to buy but not ever use.

Anyway, I am writing all this because I came across some really great examples of detritus at an estate sale recently. While someone else was dickering over the price of the mid-century modern black leather sofa set (which was gorgeous), I was spending two dollars on a cheap photo album full of black and white 8x10s. I've scanned some of the pictures in to share with you guys(one at a time so that I can stretch it out over lots of posts so that I look more prolific). None of the pictures are labelled, so what I know about them is only what I can guess from looking at them. Let's all imagine stories about them together, shall we?

This is the very first picture in the album. The cover actually came off and so this lady stares up at me from the coffee table.
click to embiggen
Who is she? Is this shot posed or candid? A lot of the shots in the books appear to be publicity shots of models, but then there are some that are obviously family photos. Maybe this was taken for use in a gardening calendar sponsored by the local Jaycees. Yup, that's it. I've decided.


inconvenience foods.

There was a question on a frugality/cooking blog, asking when convenience foods were worth the money.

And I've thought about this.

And thought some more.

Really, I'm struggling here.

Thinking hard. Got a headache.

Now, what constitutes as a convenience food is a sliding scale. There are some things which most everyone can agree are convenience foods, like frozen pizzas or Hot Pockets. Most people think of things that are easy to prepare and nutritionally bankrupt. But you could argue that canned vegetables, Wonderbread, and sausage fall in that category, too. After all, you can make all of those things yourself - can your own veggies, bake your own bread, grind your own sausage. I suppose any time the ingredients could possibly be more raw, then you are working with a convenience food. For instance, my sisters mill their own wheat. They must think I'm a sucker every time I buy a bag of flour. That's me, always taking the easy way out.

I find that the more I cook, the more raw my food starts out. I used to eat a lot of frozen pizza. Sometimes, on special occasions, I would splurge on a take-and-bake pizza, which are those doughy ones with big vegetable pieces that you find in the deli department. They actually have expiration dates. Somewhere along the line, I started making my own pizzas, and I haven't gone back. I could feel good about myself for that - I'm saving money and eating something much better for me. And yet, I'm putting prepackaged pepperoni on my homemade pizza. You know what? It's not even kept in the refrigerated section of the store. It's not much different from Vienna sausages.

So after the homemade pizza, I started cutting my own french fries from potatoes, then pie crusts, then it was hamburger and hot dog buns (and bread in general), and recently spaghetti sauce. Discovering that you can roll your own can be liberating, but also a little sad, because you can't go back. You are a changed person, and the person you used to be, who was happy buying Ragu, is dead and gone.

I miss that old me sometimes. My laziness kicks in, and I decide that I just want hot dogs and fries for dinner. Well, it's forty minutes bake time for the fries. Oh, and whoops, no buns, so that's an extra hour I have to factor in making the buns, and really they should go in the oven before the fries so the potatoes will be hot. True, it's only like fifteen minutes of actual work, the rest is baking or rising time. But it is delayed gratification, and I want it now. But then I think about driving to the store to pay money to get something that won't taste as good, and I get out the flour. It's the same with pie crusts. I hate rolling out pie crust. If Hell is tailored to each individual, then mine would be endlessly rolling out pie crusts. I keep waiting for the day when I will be good at it, when I won't want to cry in frustration as the darn thing rips again. And they sell these crusts in the dairy section that are all rolled up, ready to just unwrap into your pie plate and bake. But I can't buy them, because I know that mine tastes better. Perhaps it is the flavor of my tears.

Or maybe not, because I can't handle salt the way I used to; making my own food has ruined my taste it. You may not have noticed, but most processed foods contain a lot of salt. Check out a nutrition label here or there, or don't, if you don't want to know. When you make things from scratch, you don't add that salt. When you eat that same scratch food every day, your tolerance for salt goes down. Then you eat some canned soup, your tongue swells up and you die of thirst. This happened first with Josh, who told me to cut the salt in everything I made. I thought he was being a salt sissy. Then one day, I ate at someone's house, who served soup, and the salt was the only thing I could taste. Everyone else ate it up and thought it was awesome. I felt like I was tasting one of those brown salt licks we had in the goat pen at my parents' house (not that I ever, ever licked one of those as a child, no sir). I am not anti-salt. God bless salt, I say. There are times when a little salt makes a world of difference. But it's not all the time. Just think: if we had discovered that nutmeg, rather than salt, was a great preservative, then Hot Pockets would taste like pumpkin pie.

I am not immune to the lure of convenience. I, too, am lazy. I sit back and reflect on the good ole days, when I just unwrapped a pie crust, shoved it in the oven, and then went to play with my belly button for an hour. But these kinds of foods have their consequences, and it's in two areas that hit me really, really hard: cost and taste. They're expensive, and they don't taste as good. My mother trained me to always look for the cheaper option, and my tongue tells me that tastier is better. There's some sort of health aspect, I've heard, but to be honest, I don't care. Maybe I will someday, and I surely will use that as an argument when trying to convince someone that they should really try making their own soup rather than opening that there can. But truly, it's not something that would convince me. If convenience foods all tasted better and were cheaper than their homemade counterparts, then I'd ask you to please pass the french toast sticks.

There are ways to make inconvenient foods less so. That CraigsList freezer was one of the best things I've ever bought. If I wanted to make hot dogs for dinner tonight, I would have the rolls all ready, because I made a double batch last time. I'd even have homemade chili to go on top, frozen in one and a half cup servings (which is about right for a pack of 8 dogs). Or if I wanted the ease of a can of soup, I have five different varieties in freezer bags, ready to be unthawed. It's not that homemade food is really all that inconvenient, they just take a little more thinking ahead. It's easy for me to say that, of course, I don't have kids. Hopefully by the time I do, I'll have all this stuff down to a science. Or I'll just come back and delete this post after I'm done putting 30 boxes of Hot Pockets in the freezer.

I really and truly believe that the big selling point of convenience foods is intimidation. I think that if more people realized how easy it is to prepare food that tastes that much better, costs less, and is better for them, the Hot Pocket company would go out of business. People think it's hard to do it yourself. Sometimes, it is. There are some things that I will likely never make from scratch. I tried making pasta once and it was a fiasco. I've cooked dried beans rather than used cans, and I'm not sure it was worth it (planning on trying again, though). But some things should be made from actual ingredients: mashed potato flakes are a sacrilege. Homemade soup is only a crockpot, half a dozen canned goods, and eight hours away. You decide where your own line is.

I am advocating the middle path. Convenience foods are a good idea. Even a Hot Pocket every once in a while is not going to kill you. It will remind you why you don't eat them more often. And some things which could be called convenience foods are actually pretty good. They allow people without gardens to have vegetables out of season and people who want a sandwich to use mayonnaise without breaking out the blender or knowing what "emulsifying" means. But when you start sacrificing all the taste and nutrition for convenience, that's a problem. It defeats the purpose of food. Guys, food is awesome. It tastes really super good, and, get this, it keeps you alive. Josh said once that making food delicious was part of God's plan to give us free will. Animals eat because their most innate drive is to survive. Humans have higher thinking, which means we can just decide to starve ourselves (and we sometimes do). And I was just about to starve myself, but, hold on, is that pie?

So really, what I'm saying here is: Food good. Here's to food, both convenient and not.


ginger, soy sauce, and ketchup.

Josh has mentioned several times that he would like me to make more Chinese food. He even bought me a cookbook once at a yard sale, The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook. I think I've made one thing out of, egg drop soup (which I did because I truly love egg drop soup, another exception to my overall ho-hum attitude about eggs). Mostly, I'm resistant to this idea. For one thing, I'm pretty ambivalent to Chinese food as I know it. It's alright once in a while, but I don't go out of my way for it. Secondly, I associate it with Josh's Chinese ex-girlfriend.

Jealousy is one of the stupidest emotions I've ever known. When you start getting mad at your boyfriend for using chopsticks, then you know you're dealing with something that can't be fought with logic. Thankfully, I am mostly passed all that. Chopsticks do not bother me. In fact, I even have a set of them that did not come from a take-out place; they're very useful for poking blue cheese dressing through a funnel. Despite this great personal progress, during those times when he requests Chinese food, I still sometimes hear that small voice inside me that wonders if he thinks having a half-Kansan girlfriend isn't very exotic.

But sometimes I get over myself and I make Chinese food, or at least American food with ginger and soy sauce. Because then his gratitude is such that it seems silly to ever worry about some other girl.

Last week, I made Szechwan Shrimp. He ate his helping in about thirty seconds, and it only took that long because he stopped three times to tell me how awesome it was. Aw, shucks. Then he went and got more. He would have eaten the whole thing, except that he thought that I needed some to take to work the next day. So this one is going straight into the regular rotation. I doubt it has much to do with acutal Szechwan cuisine, what with the presence of ketchup, but who cares? What is a cultural melting pot for if not to add ketchup to ethnic food?

Szechwan Shrimp
Adapted from Allrecipes
  • 1 onion, chopped into square inch pieces

  • 3 celery stalks, chopped into inch-long pieces

  • 3 carrots, cut into long, thin pieces (1.5 in x 1/8 in)

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (optional)

  • 1 lb. raw shrimp, peeled with tails removed

  • cajun seasoning (optional)

  • soy sauce (optional)

  • olive oil

  • 3/4 c water

  • 3/8 c ketchup

  • 3 T soy sauce

  • 1/8 c cornstarch

  • 3 t honey

  • 1 1/4 t crushed red pepper

  • 3/4 t ground ginger

Sprinkle cajun seasoning and soy sauce on shrimp, stir to coat. Mix up sauce, set aside.

Cook vegetables and garlic in olive oil until tender on the outside, but firm on the inside. Add shrimp to skillet. Add sauce to skillet and mix to coat. Continue cooking until sauce is thickened and shrimp are cooked through. Serve over rice.

Notes: You could make this with chicken, I bet. For those of you who don't like a meal to clear your sinuses, then cut down on the red pepper. This is what I would call very spicy, on the verge of too spicy. Josh's tolerance is much higher than mine, but he didn't add any hot sauce, which indicates that he thinks it's about right. You'll notice that this is reasonably healthy, which was a total accident, I promise. It's also quick. The whole thing took me forty-five minutes, and that's just because I'm a slow vegetable chopper.

I marked the soy sauce and cajun seasoning as optional because I just added those things on a whim because I knew the shrimp would have to sit in a bowl in the fridge for a while. I have no idea how much they actually added. Also, the garlic is optional because I forgot to add it. But you should add it, because garlic is delicious. You should always add things which are delicious.


compassion at the farmhouse.

I invited some people from work to Josh's show last week. I try to do that from time to time so I look like a supportive girlfriend. Whether or not any of them show up, I did my part. The show was at the Farmhouse, and so in my invitation, I wanted to be sure that they knew what they were getting into before they signed up to come. Some of Josh's coworkers came to a show at the Farmhouse once and then left within ten minutes or so. It's not for everyone.

My email invitation included the following disclaimer:

WARNING: the Farmhouse is a dive. It will be crowded and full of drunk people, some of them homeless. The floor will be sticky. If you're cool with that, then come on down. The beer is bad and cheap and plentiful.

I can't imagine why they didn't show.

Some people love the Farmhouse, and I don't get it. I don't mind that it's a dive; I can enjoy a little bohemian (in other words, poor) chic. The sticky floors are gross, but that never kept me away from the $1.50 theatre. No, the Farmhouse makes me profoundly sad. Not just because there are homeless drunks in there, but because a lot of the other people seem to be on various stages of their own downward spirals. Too many regulars seem determined to drink themselves to death or die trying.

But I didn't come here today to talk about the deadened stares of the patrons sitting at the bar. I came here to tell a heartwarming story. No, really.

At the Farmhouse Friday night, I saw an old man selling Girl Scout cookies. I didn't recognize the guy exactly. He looked like a lot of Farmhouse regulars, old and weathered, aged by something other than time. Whether I'd seen him before, I couldn't say. He pulled out a huge cardboard box full of smaller, cookie-filled boxes, each brightly-colored and covered in slogans about building self-esteem and positive role models. He gave a box of thin mints to a friend of mine, who gave him $3.50. It was so surreal that I wasn't even sure that I'd seen it. I swear, I'd only had one PBR.

I asked the girl about it, and she told me about this man. He was, as she put it, "borderline homeless." I'm not sure what that means, it seems like you either have a home or you don't. Maybe that's a common misconception of the homed. I think that it means that he does not have a home, but that he knows a lot of people who will let him crash on the couch or he has a car where he can sleep. It means that he is not sleeping on the pavement. He manages to earn a little money doing odd jobs. Apparently, he is a hard worker. And a hard drinker. I suppose there is something to be said for giving everything you do your all.

Whatever his home or drinking status, he does have a family, a daughter who also has a daughter. He carries pictures of them both in his pocket and pulls them out to show around to people he meets at the Farmhouse. Personally, I admire his daughter. No one would blame her if she shielded her kids from her father. But she lets them have a relationship with him, because he is family, even if he has made (and continues to make) bad decisions. Done right, there is a strong lesson in compassion in having a homeless grandfather. A few weeks ago, about the time that one of my coworkers left a cookie sales sheet in the break room, this old guy mentioned to his friends at the bar that his granddaughter was a Girl Scout. It bothered him that he couldn't do much for his family, particularly this sweet little girl who loved him even though he was, well, a bum.

It started with one person, maybe the bartender, maybe someone sitting a few feet away. They told him they would buy a box of cookies. Maybe he even had the official Girls Scout Cookie Sales Sheet, or maybe he borrowed a sheet of notebook paper from behind the bar. Someone else signed up for two boxes of the peanut butter ones, and another asked for those stripey ones with the coconut. By the end of the evening, he had sold nearly fifty boxes of cookies for his granddaughter, and he was crying.

Isn't that the most beautiful story of a homeless guy selling Girl Scout cookies in a bar that you've ever heard?

Maybe this is the lesson of the Farmhouse. It makes people like me, who didn't even know there were shades of gray between having a home and not, have a relationship with cookie-selling drunks. Him and the other regulars, like the guy who sells wire sculptures or that other one who has a bicycle. They are not merely homeless alcoholics, but somehow they have lives. If they actually did nothing but drink on the street all the time, they'd be dead. Even if the things they do are done to raise money to buy booze, well, it's something. It's hard to see it, but somehow, there's hope in that. It's little and kind of beat-up, but hope nonetheless. And if there is hope for the old guys, then there is hope for the young ones who still have smooth faces and apartments but that same focusless gaze as they order another round. If I can see them all as just people, then the Farmhouse won't seem like a parade of horrors. They're just people.

I am not condoning uncontrolled drinking, I'm really really not. But no one has a monopoly on bad choices. Even if my flaws and weaknesses are unlikely to ever leave me on the streets, that's only my good fortune. Having a home doesn't mean you can't be miserable and alone.

Somehow, the Farmhouse, with its sticky floors and burned-out toilet seats, is teaching me compassion. It is a strange, strange world.



I am not close to Dave's girlfriend. I like her a lot, and I enjoy her company, but we are not close. Maybe because the only times we ever see each other are at bars where our boyfriends are playing music. It's a little loud for heart-to-hearts. Perhaps we should take this up with the band.

So I was a little surprised when she pulled me aside with a conspiratorial whisper. It must have been in the break between a song, or maybe she was actually shouting, but it just seemed like a whisper, as if she were embarrassed to have to discuss a personal topic.

"Hey, do you, like, ever worry when they leave?"

This was last Friday, at the local show meant to send the band on their national tour. Two nights later, I made granola bars and wrapped them each in plastic wrap. I think I put too many chocolate chips in, but my tester disagreed. And then the afternoon after that, he took his bag of granola bars, his phone charger, and probably a bunch of other things, too, and headed toward the first stop, Knoxville, Tennessee. I did not cry when we said goodbye. I did not grumble about the eight weeks that would pass before I saw him again. I was an excellent imitation of a supportive girlfriend. And it came mostly naturally.

But back to last Friday, when they were very much still here, evidence of which was blaring into my ears. While I might have accepted the idea of his upcoming absence and was even dealing with it like a mature adult, it was still at the forefront of my mind. And so I knew exactly what she was asking.

"Of course." Are you kidding me? My boyfriend is leaving for two months to go to bars all over the country and meet girls with low self-esteem and high blood alcohol levels. I'd have to be stupid not to realize that many men would be singing "I've Got a Golden Ticket" as they waved goodbye, eating my chocolatey granola bars. I trust him, but sometimes a little voice tells me that I'm incredibly naive to believe any man, no matter how wonderful I think this particular one is, can resist that kind of temptation. But these are just silly nagging doubts that I shoo away. If you shoo something away enough, eventually it stops coming back.

"Oh thank goodness." Her relief was visible. She may have been scared to ask me, in case I reported that it had never even occurred to me that my boyfriend could hook up with girls in a variety of cities across the midwest and along the west coast and probably never get caught. I wondered if she saw me and Josh as a model couple, an example of a stable relationship where both parties were always confident in the other's love and fidelity. Maybe she trusted Josh when she wasn't so sure she trusted Dave. If even Sandra worried about Josh, then hers were not an indication of her own insanity, or worse, her boyfriend's guilt. They were just silly nagging doubts that she could shoo away until they stopped coming back.

The funny thing is, as my young man and I said our goodbyes before he headed west, he reminded me to be good. I think this is absolute madness. I'm going to be going to the same job I always go to, at a software company, working with married men. It's not like I have to hold myself back or anything. Being a faithful programmer is pretty darn easy. I know that my rock star boyfriend has nothing to worry about and in my reasonable moments, I know that I don't either. Jealousy does not listen to reason. Instead, it interrupts and says, "Yeah, but..." Thus the shooing.

But if he is trying to get to sleep in that smelly van somewhere near Wichita and is kept awake by thoughts of me straying into the arms of someone else, he'll remember that I love him and I don't cheat on him. He can shoo that silly nagging doubt away. Or he can call me up, even in the middle of the night, and we'll shoo it away together.