saturday soup.

On Sundays after church, Josh wants soup. Our church is across the street from Food Lion, so we used to just stop on the way home and pick up some Campbell's for lunch. I quickly got tired of this ritual, because as it turns out, canned soup is not very good. Has no one else has noticed? Also, we usually have perfectly good homemade leftovers at home. Why are we spending money on bad food when we have free, good food at home? That sounds like something my mother would've said to me twenty or so years ago, and she had a point.

The solution was for me to start making soup on Saturday night. Then the free, good leftovers would be soup, which was just what my sweet man wanted. Sometimes, they were even better Sunday afternoon, after the flavors had had a night to mingle and marry.

So now we go sailing on past the Food Lion, no need to stop and get oddly-metallic tasting soup filled with meat-like lumps. Except last Friday, I got a text in the middle of the day which pathetically said only "soup?" I had to inform him that there was no soup, there would be soup tomorrow, but not today because he already ate it all. However, I have yet another solution. Each week, I will take a couple of portions out of the soup pot and freeze them, such that my poor, darling husband need not suffer from a soup emergency.

Anyway, I have a lot of soup recipes.

Today, I'm sharing my chicken noodle soup recipe. It starts with "throw a chicken into a pot." I follow the recipe as-is, though I leave out the mushrooms because they are gross. It is a Paula Deen recipe, so it is a bit decadent. No butter, but there is parmesan cheese and heavy cream. But it makes a huge pot of soup, so I like to think that the unhealthy elements are only a small part of the whole.

Note that the recipe calls for a 2.5 - 3 lb chicken. Well, this must've been in the days before chicken growth hormone, because even the smallest birds at the grocery store are 5 pounds. So as a bonus, I am left with a couple of cups of already-cooked chicken meat that I can throw into some other recipe or even freeze and save for later use.

This soup tastes like someone loves you. Even though I make the soup, when I eat it, I feel loved. I'm pretty sure it's the fact that you're making homemade stock when you think you're just making soup. Homemade stock tastes like love, which is why the pioneers had much higher self-esteem (I made that up).

Make some for someone you love today (including yourself!): The Lady's Chicken Noodle Soup

Oh, and I have one more thing to say about soup. Once, when I was a kid, we were eating chicken noodle soup at the dinner table, and my dad sneezed a whole mouthful of it all over my face. It was truly spectacular and disgusting. That event finally taught a man in his 60s that he needs to turn away or cover his mouth when he sneezes, at least at the dinner table. Every time he sneezed at the table after that - he must use a lot of pepper - he would turn away, and then give me a Look.


romanian spy.

Last Sunday after church, there was a note stuck on our door when we got home. It was vague and odd.

"Does Sandra live here? If so, I have something that belongs to you."

Followed by an unfamiliar name and phone number.

I considered my options. The only thing that I had lost recently that would lead someone to my front door was my wallet, which I lost back in November at the Charlotte airport. It seemed unlikely that someone had found it and wanted to return it two months later and 165 miles away. Then again, I couldn't figure out what kind of scam someone could be running here. Had the note been composed of cut-out newspaper letters and made some demands, that would be different. Also, it seemed like a proper ransom note would at least tell me what they had, to make sure that I understood the urgency of the situation. It could be blackmail, like maybe they had evidence of my shady dealings. But I don't have any shady dealings. Possibly they were casing the joint? Well, I don't want to spread misinformation about the viciousness of pitbulls, but I really haven't worried about the safety of my home since I got one.

So I called the guy. No answer, and his voicemail was full. A minute later, he texted me to say that he'd call me back after his meeting. Alright, then. In the meantime, I googled the guy's name. I found a dude that used to live in Florida but now was in Charlotte. He used to be in TV, but now seemed to be in some kind of vague get-rich-by-doing-something-unstated business. Now my thought was that he was going to try and sell me something.

Enter my husband. Have I ever told you about his imagination? It's vivid. Our unknown visitor was in some kind of group of television professionals named TVR. As far as I could tell, it was a group specifically associated with the social media platform. But Josh googled it and came up with the Romanian state television. Ergo, this man was a Romanian spy. He wouldn't say why the Romanian government would be interested in me, but he felt that any association with a former Soviet satellite country was very fishy.

The Cold War was very formative on my husband.

Josh complains that I make him sound like an idiot on my blog. I am guilty of that, usually because making someone else sound like an idiot is funny. But he's not. He's brilliant. His curiosity is insatiable, and so he knows a lot about a lot of different subjects because he happened to have a question one day and then spent hours reading everything about it. He sees patterns and connections that I would never notice. I have a pretty high opinion of my own intelligence, and we are evenly matched when we debate (except for all that knowledge, he just has so much). But it's like he's seeing whole different layers of the world than I am.

It's just that sometimes those layers aren't really there, in a strictly objective sense. I think sometimes he looks at reality and then at the magical world painted inside his head, and I guess he concludes that the latter is more interesting and thus probably what's really going on. And so, I'm sorry, my sweet beloved man, but there is no way to say that you thought that guy was a Romanian spy without making you sound a little off.

Obviously, I find this trait of his frustrating and occasionally maddening, like when he's sternly telling me that I shouldn't have called that guy because something-something-Romania. There are times when I wonder if this is going to be something that gets worse with age, and I'm going to be sitting at the nursing home, too old and tired to argue anymore. And there are still other times when I grimly realize that I have married my own father, who also sees plots where the general chaos of the world and incompetance of the human race will do.

Like I said, a wonderful and brilliant man. His imagination is magical, and I love him for it. I am happily passing on his shimmering, multi-colored genes. It's just hard that the very things you adore about a person in some cases are the things that make you want to throttle them in others.

I have never been attracted to logical men. The computer science department was lousy with single men, but they just weren't interesting to me. The world was the world, and that was that. They had no imagination. Boooo-ring. Obviously, I'm into crazy painted brains. And Josh's dating history is a series of sensible women. Aside from the attraction, we're just good for each other. I assist him in navigating the world as it exists, and he keeps me from being mired in technicalities. I can be excruciatingly pedantic. I probably used to call it being precise (and RIGHT!), but really it's just being a jerk.

So he's crazy, and I'm a jerk. And somehow it turns out that crazy and jerk attract each other and help one another become a little less crazy and a bit less of a jerk.

ANYWAY. The note guy came by later and gave me my wallet. It had everything in it, all the cash, cards, gift cards, and even my used book store credit. Romanians are A-OK in my book.


how are you feeling?

When you are pregnant, people ask how you are feeling. Whereas normally, small talk would start with "How are you?," growing a baby means that suddenly everyone asks, "How are you feeling?" with a lot of emphasis poured into that last word. I was surprised when this started happening, and even more amazed to realize how universal it is. Everyone wants to know how I am feeling.

Sometimes, I pretend to not know what they are asking. Pleasant obliviousness is my favorite form of passive aggressive behavior. I brightly say, "Fine! How are you?" Most times they respond and we have a normal conversation. Sometimes they blink in confusion, say they are fine, then ask again about me, being more explicit that they want baby information.

Other times, I tell them how I am feeling. Usually, it's when I feel crappy. But no one likes this either. Just like when someone asks how you are, you're supposed to just say something short and generally positive, no one likes to hear a pregnant lady complain. They don't want to hear about nausea or back pain, much less some of the more, ahem, intimate symptoms of pregnancy.

Recently, I have hit upon the perfect answer. I just say I feel pregnant, with a touch of weariness. Pregnancy is a whole-body condition. Countless times in the last six months, I've googled a symptom, and the second auto-suggestion is always the symptom followed by the word "pregnancy." And then when I research further, the answer is always hormones. I've started to get used to this, but my sweet husband always wants to diagnose me with something else.

Gastrointestinal issues, including heartburn and any-time-of-day sickness, are caused by progesterone. See, my organs have got to move around a bit, so the hormones make them a bit more malleable. I haven't had problems with any of that for a few months, but I hear it can come back. I honestly don't even know where my stomach is at this point, as my innards are all rearranged. I've also had a stuffy nose for months, which is apparently estrogen's fault.

And the itching. I've had dry skin issues during the winter since I was a teenager, but this is a whole new level. It has to do with my skin stretching. So not only do I writhe around like a bear against a tree, I get to imagine that my scratch marks will eventually turn to stretch marks. I make Josh slather me up with moisturizer every night. The lotion I bought didn't seem to be helping, so we started using the Bag Balm we already had in the house, which was made to be used on cow udders. It helps, but I smell like bovine medicine.

And then there relaxin, which is a hormone and not some kind of OTC pain relief. See, normally, the bones in the pelvis are stable and all tightly connected. But at some point, I'm going to try and push a person through there, so relaxin loosens up my joints so they can open up to allow passage of a big-headed baby. I'm sure I'll appreciate the relaxin then, but for now, it sucks. It makes my crotch bones hurt, which is basically a new kind of pain for me. There are lots of positions that I can no longer be in without pain. The worst is trying to sleep. Sleeping on my stomach is right out, and sleeping on my back means the baby is cutting off blood vessels that bring blood...to the baby (way to go, Baby). But if I turn on my side, I have to have a pillow between my legs, because of the crotch bone pain. A night's rest is now waking up every couple of hours to roll over (increasingly difficult) while keeping the pillow. Also, I may have to blow my nose and apply some chapstick. Sometimes I go back to sleep, and sometimes I stay awake awhile and panic about the approaching end of my life as I know it.

Also, there is something in my body poking me. Sometimes it's a quick jab, like lunch returning on you. Other times, it is a punch to the bladder. Lately, it's been more like a push. It's uncomfortable, so I push back on the little foot or knee or whatever, and it will retreat. I feel a little guilty when I do this, because clearly someone is just running out of room in there, but seriously kid, that feels really weird. It's uncomfortable, but it does bring it home that there is an actual tiny person in there with actual tiny body parts. I can't compare this to getting some bad Taco Bell, unless you've ever had a gordita try to escape through your abdominal wall.

So that is how I am feeling. You didn't really want to know, did you?


birth center.

The sign directed us downstairs to the first floor. As we waited for the elevator, another young couple came up behind us, then another. I looked at the other ladies and smiled to myself. As we all got into the elevator, one of the other men said, "I reckon we're all going to the same place." We laughed. Three visibly pregnant women and their men.

We were told to schedule a tour of the birth center at our very first appointment. We finally got around to it this week. Judging by the conditions of the other women, we weren't the only ones to wait. I came late, but prepared. Earlier that day, I'd done some research on what questions to ask at a hospital tour. I'd found lots of lists prepared by what I can only assume are the super-prepared, super-involved type. These sorts of questions varied from basic (Where do we park?) to the possibly-confrontational, patient advocate type (Can we refuse an IV?). Josh, confused by my calling it a "birth center," only wanted to know how far it was from the hospital. It's in the hospital.

We arrived at Classroom I, at the far end of the main dining hall. We were given a folder full of materials and directed inside, where more pregnant ladies and their companions waited. It was a diverse crowd; everybody has babies. It was nice being there with them all, with our individual lives and backgrounds, yet sharing these same feelings of shy nervousness and excitement.

The nurse at the front went through a powerpoint presentation, referencing various forms in our packets. As the questions on my sheet were answered, I checked them off. I'd been concerned by reading the question lists, which gave the impression that giving birth is basically like being on an assembly line - go here, put this on, take this, don't do that, wear this, here's your baby, go home. But a lot of the things that the websites implied that we would have to demand with angry fists were standard practice here, or at least a common enough request that it's stated up front in the orientation. They seemed to be about providing us with options rather than directions.

Next, we split up into two groups to go on a tour of the center itself. The rooms were all private and spacious. The decor was a bit dated, but everything looked clean and reasonably comfortable (the beds looked good, the recliner for the husband not so much). This part of the tour was conducted by a different nurse, one with a thick Southern accent who obviously loved babies. She mentioned that they'd had a lot of especially cute babies there recently. The ward was mostly empty, but behind a door bedecked with a blue ribbon came a wail.

By the end of the tour, all my questions had been answered. I'm not particularly looking forward to giving birth, but I feel pretty good about doing it there.


december 2014 books.

The Sot-weed Factor
John Barth
The back cover uses the word "Rabelasian," and I groaned when I saw it. I got about one-fifth into Rebelais before the Rabelasianness just got to me. So much peeing and farting and eating and having sex. However, I found this to be acceptably Rabelasian. There was indeed a lot of bodily functions, and the plot turned on genitalia, but it was not so much that I couldn't finish it. There was also a lot of philosophy, wordplay, politics, and secret identities. There was even character development. Our protagonist starts off a directionless poet. He is forced to come to Maryland to take over his father's farm, but he gets himself commissioned as the Poet Laureate of Maryland, even though he hasn't actually written any poems. He just emotes a lot. He's a selfish, bumbling nitwit who composes odes to great Maryland before he ever gets there. Then he has a lot of terrible adventures, because colonial life is freaking rough. He writes an actual poem (not flattering to Maryland) and becomes a man (in every sense, because Rabelais).

This was not intentional, but this book was a good choice to read so soon after the book about the Pilgrims. Set in the late 17th century, John Smith's secret journal was a plot device, so the language and the setting and the colonial politics were all familiar. I can't imagine the amount of research that went into this, just to write using that sort of language.

The style is verbose and twisting. The main characters are going around having adventures, but there are lots and lots of tangential stories. I enjoy this style, though it was confusing in this case because a few of the characters kept popping up disguised as other characters. It really paid off in the end, though, when the main story came together with all the little side stories. It was all very neatly done. So neatly, in fact, that the protagonist remarks that "Fate is a shameless playwright." Heh.

I wrote down a quote to give an example of how filthy and yet literary this book is: "...whose astrolabe had already taken the alnicanter of her constellation." I don't even know what some of those words are, but I understood that it was about a man taking a lady's virginity. I looked up "alnicanter" and discovered that it was an archaic spelling of almucantar. The third search result was an excerpt from John Smith's actual writings. See? That's a lot of research for a dirty joke.

The Awakening
Kate Chopin
An upper class wife and mother realizes that she is unhappy in this life, stops doing the things expected of her role, takes a lover, dies sad.

Edna sort of looks around at her life and isn't all that sure how she got there or if it's what she wants. This book was written over 100 years ago, and this still happens. When I was growing up, life seemed like a set of checkmarks. Since I was a modern woman, these checkmarks included things like college and a job (though not necessarily a career), and then marriage and children. I like lists, and I like checking things off, so it didn't occur to me that I hadn't really made the list in the first place.

When I was about to graduate from college, I tried to bring up the subject of marriage to my long-term boyfriend. He was pretty uninterested in that, to the point where we were not able to even have a conversation about it. The subject itself became taboo. I felt pretty frustrated and thwarted by this, because what else were we supposed to do? That was clearly the next check. Of course, he was very right not to want to get married, because our relationship was pretty busted at that point, as you might have figured from us not being able to even talk about our future together.

After we broke up, I realized that I had this idea that there was exactly one path to a happy and fulfilled life. I still thought that I probably wanted to get married and have kids someday, but those options were not open right now, so I would need to figure something else out.

So Edna has this same sort of realization, except she has already gotten married and had children. It being the time that it is, though, she definitely did not have many other options. I had lots of options, I just didn't really consider them. Edna realizes that she does not love her husband, and while she loves her children, she doesn't seem all that attached to them. Being the wife of a rich man, they have a nanny that seems to do most of the motherly type things.

Of course, there was much outrage at the book and at the idea that women might have desires and ambitions that were not fulfilled by motherhood. At best, reviews said that it was beautifully written but immoral. The book is set in Louisiana, where women were still legal property at the time, so you can see how the establishment might have been threatened by the idea of the property getting ideas. Chopin's career collapsed after publication, and she herself died not long after. Her work was basically forgotten until it was rediscovered in the 1960s.

I heard someone say once that art should be "uplifting." I am not sure what an uplifting version of this story would be. Once you figure out that you're miserable, where do you go? The best I can get to is acceptance, which is also not uplifting and smacks of condescension. Chopin is not lifting Edna up to be idolized, but rather to put it out there that women want to and could do other things. Maybe not all women should be mothers. An etiquette book of the time says that "if she has the true mother-heart the companionship of her children will be the society which she will prefer above that of all others." And if she doesn't? That possibility doesn't seem to be considered.

I think non-uplifting art is important. It's important that other women who might recognize themselves in Edna be told that they are not alone or not real women. They might even be able to make real changes in the world. And it's important that men are able to see it from the other side. Art is not just to uplift, it is to enable one to empathize.

Robertson Davies
This was my second novel of Davies, which I did not enjoy as much as his other one. He seems to like to take little groups of people who are thrown together in small cultures. In this case, it was a community theatre troup putting on a Shakespeare play. I have some experience in local theatre, and the characters and little dramas in this story are bang-on. There are the scandalous affairs, those pining in the wings, the power plays, and of course, the show.

Not much to say. It was a fun read.

A Fan's Notes
Frederick Exley

So, there is a genre of books that I call Sad Man books. I can read them, I think I understand them, but I can never really get on board with them. Sad Men often have fraught relationships with their fathers. They like women, but do not understand them or even necessarily see them as people to be understood. They drink a lot, and they are very lonely. Josh says that Sad Men think their solitude is part of being a man. A man does not need other people, except for Jack Daniels.

Exley is a Sad Man. He is a drunk and is possibly suffering from mental illness. He has several stints in a mental institution, but his only goal while there is to get out, and he doesn't say whether he thinks anything is wrong with him. He lives in the shadow of his father, who was a high school football star before becoming an upstanding family man and hero of the community and then dying young. Exley spends the whole book coming to the terms that he will never be a hero, like Frank Gifford, or even his dad. Why he can't become a pillar of the community is unsaid, though maybe it has to do with his likely depression.

Exley writes very well. He paints vivid pictures of the kinds of interesting characters you meet as a drunk. It's funny and poignant and sad. But a few chapters in, he tells about his years of seduction. By seduction, he sometimes means rape. He is having a lot of sex with women he doesn't care about, sometimes against their will, and then he wonders why it doesn't make him happy. And that's the momentous realization he gets out of it - it doesn't make him happy. At no point does it occur to him to consider how anyone else who was involved might feel about it. Sad Men are self-absorbed.

I didn't get the impression that he thought of what he was doing as rape, possibly because that would mean looking at it from the woman's perspective. He seems to believe that the women gave consent by coming to his apartment, and the fact that they were crying and saying "no no no" later doesn't matter. I don't think he would be alone in those assumptions, particularly for his time (50s and 60s). Anyway, he lost me at that point. I understand that this is a person that exists in the world, and as a fellow human being, I owe him my empathy and compassion. We need people who are adept with words to put these experiences out there, as eloquently as possible. And the fact that there seem to be several writers like this out there indicates that he's not alone. I still believe in art as a path to empathy.

But I did not enjoy his company.