Everything But the Kitchen Sink

17 07 2010

My son knows how to travel light.

He went to Disney World for five days with nothing but a back pack.  That’s a book-bag back pack, not a camping back pack.

He traveled over 3000 miles with two other guys in a Prius and they had enough space such that the guy in the back seat could catch a few zzz’s in a (sort of) reclining position.

He plans to move cross-country this fall carrying one—maybe two—suitcases.

So when he and I decided to drive south to visit my parents for two and a half days, when all we were going to do was sit around and talk and eat and talk some more, I certainly didn’t expect much in the way of luggage from him.

But when I came downstairs I was surprised to see a duffel bag and a back pack, in addition to assorted other stand alone items.

And then he asked if Grandma would have an iron he could use.

I may be slow, but I’m not stupid.  It finally dawned on me that this about-face with regard to packing strategy might be related to the fact that after the trip to see the grandparents he would be spending a weekend with a friend from school, a friend who is a girl,  a girl friend perhaps?, a friend for whom it is apparently worth hauling a bunch of stuff along.


Working for Peanuts

10 07 2010

If I hadn’t investigated, I suppose that bag of bite-sized Reese’s cups would have sat in the trunk of the car for months.  Who but the mom would make the effort to determine the identity of the bag crammed behind the spare blanket?

We think the still-sealed bag had been there for quite some time, and based on the temperature readings we’ve been experiencing, the quality of the product was severely in question.

But, you must understand, Reese’s peanut butter cups are my second favorite candy in the world, behind Lindt truffles.  Maybe third, as I’m also pretty partial to Ghirardelli squares.  (Hmm, it definitely sounds like I’m going upscale.  Getting some at-ti-tude.)

In any case, I hated to just throw the bag away, given my fondness for its contents.  So I tossed the whole thing into the refrigerator for a while and then opened it.

I found the quality of the chocolate and peanut butter to be quite good.  The problem was that unwrapping each little piece had become very labor intensive, as they were all squished and misshapen.  Peeling off the foil resulted in many little pieces, some of which were half buried in the chocolate.  And then there was the brown cup to deal with.  By the time I had successfully isolated the candy from the wrapping, my fingers were a gooey mess.  If I hadn’t been such a fan, I wouldn’t have bothered.

The situation had a plus side.  Instead of eating half a dozen of those delectable delights before I knew what had happened, I’d struggle to unwrap a couple and then decide the cost versus benefit analysis had swung towards “this is too much work.”  So I was able to walk away rather than devouring half the bag.

Speaking of peanuts…

Hubby and I have always enjoyed sitting around shelling and eating peanuts, but decided early on that some restraint would be a good thing.  So we established a policy whereby we only ate what he could shell.  It basically cut our intake in half.  There were some initial issues, mostly centered around the fact that he eats that little red coating on each peanut, but I like to take it off.  So I had to convince him to go the extra mile on the ones he opened for me.  What a nice guy!

Fireworks Fiasco

7 07 2010

On the Independence Day hubby and I decided to forgo the fireworks down on the mall.  We just didn’t feel like braving both the heat and the crowds.  (Is this proof positive that we’re officially old farts now?)  But as darkness began to fall I sensed he was feeling that a Fourth without fireworks was somehow incomplete.

So we hopped in the car to head to the Fairfax fireworks.  It’s just a few miles from our house, easily viewed from the parking lot of the Home Depot, all in all a simple endeavor.  Plus, for local fireworks, they ain’t half bad.

Actually, I was more pumped for stopping for soft ice cream afterwards.  We thought we’d go to Woody’s, a barebones ice cream stand owned by a chap who retired from his work, but wasn’t ready to quit working.  He hires local kids to run the establishment.  Grabbing a cone there feels like helping the locals.

The first sign that something was amiss came when we turned in at the Home Depot and saw only one other car awaiting the evening spectacle.  By this time the sun was pretty low in the sky and we were expecting to see the masses gathering.

We drove a bit further to the high school which is ground zero for the fireworks and saw the sign. Fireworks, June 3.  We missed the show by 24 hours.

Since when are the Fourth of July fireworks on the Third of July?

But, a soft ice cream cone was just the ticket to boost our sagging spirits.

Strike two.  When we pulled up to wet our whistles we discovered that not only was Woody’s no longer in business, the building was entirely gone.

Joni Mitchell’s classic song came true.  They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.  Which we used for turning around.

But the evening wasn’t a total bust.  We found a Wendy’s and I suggested we get a couple of the 99 cent Frosty’s I’d seen advertised on television.  Except in the overpriced DC market they cost $1.39.  Even more surprising was the size cup they used.  A mere four ounces.  I’ve had ice cream samples bigger than that.  Shame on you, Wendy’s.

But as we drove home downing our mini-Frosty’s we could see just above the horizon in the distance the fireworks from the next community over.  I guess the folks in Vienna checked their calendars a little more carefully.

Little ice cream and little fireworks.

Required Reading

29 06 2010

Remember when “text” was not a verb?

This week my son and I are all worked up over college textbooks.  But we’re coming at our issues from different sides.

In the process of sorting through some stuff in the basement, I ran across a box of old college textbooks.  I found volumes on math, chemistry, sociology, accounting, and education.  You don’t get out of William and Mary without being liberally educated.

But there’s one book I can’t remember at all.  It’s by Arthur Schlesinger and it’s on “The Newspaper War on Britain: 1764-1776.”  I can tell from the price tag that it’s from the college bookstore and that it’s VERY old–$4.98 for 318 pages!  My immediate assumption was that it must have been my husband’s because if it had been mine I would have highlighted it (not those awful pastel markers; I always underlined in pencil, neatly, using a flexible plastic six-inch ruler.)  Plus, he was a history major who became a newspaper reporter when he graduated.

But he looked at the book and noted that it was published the year he graduated.  So I don’t know; either way, it’s going in the DONATE pile.  I’m sure somebody wants to learn about the newspaper war on Britain, but they don’t live in this house.

My son, on the other hand, is looking to acquire a college text.  He decided to take Spanish I this summer at the community college.  The required textbook goes for $150 new.  For a Spanish textbook?!?  I can barely fathom that for an art history book, with all those photographs, or an organic chemistry book; that weighs a ton.  But for first year Spanish?  Perhaps equally astounding, he found it online for $15.  How can a $150 book be selling for $15?  Is it missing, say for instance, all the pages?

Anyway, after four years of exploring all the angles, my son is the expert on minimizing textbook costs, though sometimes my husband and I do have to insist that when taking a course it is expected that he actually have access to the reading material.  So I trust he’ll figure this out as well.

Buenos Dias!  (Did I say that right?)

When History Happens in Your Front Yard

21 06 2010

I’m beginning to think my nephew is a real-life Forrest Gump, the original right place/right time guy.

Then again, he may be an undercover CIA operative.

(Photograph, quotations from Forrest Gump.)

When Adam was a little tyke we called him WW.   It stood for WhirlWind.  A typical afternoon?  His mother put him down for a nap during a visit to grandmommy’s house.  An hour later we discovered that he had found a lipstick and used it to cover every square inch of his face in bright pink (except possibly his lips.)  And when he finished with that he shredded a window shade into lots and lots of long skinny pieces.

“For no particular reason, I just kept on going.”

Baseball and Boy Scouts were his two main childhood interests.  His dad couldn’t see why anyone would voluntarily spend a weekend every month camping out, particularly during New England winters.  But Adam loved it; I think getting away from the day-to-day provided him with much-needed physical and mental release.

“When I got tired, I slept.  When I got hungry, I ate.  When I had to go, you know, I went.”

On the other hand, the rest of the world may think he, his dad, and his older brother are nuts in their infatuation with all things baseball, but they understand each other perfectly.  Whether played or watched, baseball continues to be not just a hobby, but an obsession.

“That’s all I have to say about that.”

Tragedy struck when Adam was a high school student.  He was a passenger in the back seat of a car.  A sharp corner, too much speed, a tree.  Three people in the vehicle died.  Adam and one other friend survived.  (Seat belts save lives!)

“Mama always said dying was a part of life.”

In the aftermath, he had to deal with the physical pain of his injuries as well as the emotional loss of three of his closest buddies.

“My Mama always said you’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on.”

His survival of that horrific accident may have been a clue that interesting things lay ahead for Adam.

“What’s my destiny, Mama?”  “You’re gonna have to figure that out for yourself.”

Academics didn’t come easily for Adam.  While some kids breezed through school, he learned to study.  Either in spite of, or perhaps because of, this effort he put into his lessons, he came to love his scholarly pursuits.

“You have to do the best with what God gave you.”

So it was not terribly surprising that after graduating from college with a history degree, he went on to earn a masters in religion and eventually ended up with an education degree from Columbia University.

The spark that academia lit within him worked both ways; he discovered that not only did he like to learn, but he also liked to teach.

“Have you given any thought to your future, Son?”

So now we come to the part of the story where Adam finds himself smack dab in the middle of two truly significant occurrences in recent history.  Which both involve revolutionary power shifts.

In 2004 Adam was teaching English to Ukrainians during a stint in the Peace Corps.  Living in Kiev, he had a front row seat to the Orange Revolution that was sparked by a runoff election between Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych.  Numerous news sources as well as public opinion reported that the election was marred by corruption and fraud, favoring Yanukovych.  After days of protests, a new election was held under close scrutiny and Yushchenko was declared the victor.  Adam saw it all, and lived it all.

“Well, now we ain’t strangers anymore.”

After the Peace Corps, Adam taught English to foreign students at a Boston area college for a while, and then he headed overseas again last year.  This time his destination was Osh, the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan.

“Mama always said, God is mysterious.”

In April violent protests led to the departure of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.  Provisional leaders took control.  During this unrest, Adam was briefly pulled away from his home base, but then allowed to return.

A couple of weeks ago, violence erupted again, this time centered on Osh.  Clashes between the two main ethnic groups, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz people, led to a state of emergency and fears of a civil war.  Adam packed what he could fit in his backpack and headed to a safer spot.  Now he’s out of the country and out of harm’s way, but filled with some sad stories about people in a place where education has taken a back seat to survival.

“I’m pretty tired…I think I’ll go home now.”

Life With Father

18 06 2010

It’s hard to imagine that my mother could ever tire of spending unending hours with my sister and I, model children that we were.  But nonetheless, Saturday afternoons frequently found us in the company of my father, visiting the Charlotte Nature Museum.  We watched lots of nature movies there.  This was long before Animal Planet existed.

And Sunday afternoons we often ice skated at the public skating sessions at the Coliseum where the hockey team played.  I didn’t realize at the time how self-centered I was, but now as I think back on it I can’t remember if my Dad skated or if he just watched us.  I never had lessons and never mastered much beyond skating forward, but skating endless loops around the rink could entertain me for hours on end.  By the time we packed up to go home my feet would be aching.  (And hopefully Mom, after two kid-free afternoons, would be fully recovered and ready to face another week of stay-at-home parenting.)

Dad always liked to stop for a doughnut.  No matter where we’d been, it seemed like our route home always wound past the Krispy Kreme on Independence Boulevard.  Once he didn’t realize till after we’d snacked that he had no cash.  He went out to the car to see if he could find some change in the seats, but the staff came running after him.  They knew him well enough (and knew he’d be back soon enough) to trust him to the honor system.

When I was little he worked as an engineer for Douglas Aircraft.  What he actually did during the day was a big mystery to me, but in my mind having heard he was an engineer I thought he drove trains around.

His lifelong hobby was astronomy.  He was probably right near the top of the list of people with the longest Sky and Telescope magazine subscriptions.  I think the first time he got his hands on some money for discretionary spending he used it to buy a telescope, which served him well for MANY years.  Friday nights he headed out to the observatory maintained by the Charlotte Amateur Astronomer’s Club.  On numerous occasions during my growing up years he would awaken my sister and me in the middle of the night and usher us out to the front yard, or occasionally up to the school, to observe something in the night-time sky.  A comet.  Or an asteroid.  Maybe a super-nova.  Some shooting stars.

The most exciting outing happened in the middle of the day.  Charlotte was situated in the path of a partial solar eclipse.  But by driving a few hours we could position ourselves in the region that would experience a total eclipse.  So that’s what we did.  We were in a rural area where lots of astronomer type people had set-ups allowing us to watch the reflection of the sun as it was gradually covered by the moon’s shadow.  It wasn’t safe to look directly into the sun!  At least not until the process was complete and the sun was completely covered, except for a ring around the outside.  Then it got dark.  The chickens went to roost.  For three or four minutes it was distinctly other-worldly.

Our house had a basement workshop that was only accessible from a door to the back yard.  If he was working down there and it was time for me to go to bed, I would go to the heating duct and holler GOOD NIGHT, which always got a similar reply from him.  I thought that was about the neatest thing in the world.  A magic communication port.

(My delight was possibly superseded by the  time we were between kitchen tables so we temporarily used the round outdoor table right there in the kitchen, I guess with a tablecloth thrown over it.  There was a hole in the middle for an umbrella.  Depending on what food item was sitting at the table center, you could stick your toe up through the hole and make the dish jump around.  Which would immediately be followed by howls of laughter.  Oh, but we were easy to please!)

When Mom and Dad visited us in New Jersey after we had kids, they’d stay for a week or so.  While Mom could be entertained endlessly with the grandchildren, Dad needed a project to work on.  On various visits, he installed shelving in one of the bedrooms, added crown molding to the dining room, built a structure to enable us to reach the light fixture installed in a very awkward position in the stairwell, added insulation to the attic, and built a geodesic dome for the kids.

Dad doesn’t remember any of that stuff now.  Alzheimer’s has robbed him of his memories, one by one.  But they live on in a cherished corner of my mind.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

Flashback in the Sandwich Meat Aisle

16 06 2010

As far as I know, we were never seriously hurting for money when I was growing up.  We never did without necessities.  There was always food on the table.  Warm clothes in winter.  A car in the driveway.

So I certainly wouldn’t suggest that we were strapped.  But, probably because my parents were children of the depression, we, like everyone else I knew, lived rather frugally.  It wasn’t something we thought about.  It’s just how life was, in “the good old days.”

We always owned a television, but for many years we settled for black and white.

Our telephone service was a party line.

We took regular vacations, but not every year and we always traveled by car.

We got an air conditioner while I was growing up, but it was a window unit and it didn’t do much for the bedrooms.

Coats lasted three years.  A little big the first year, just right the second year, a little tight the third year.

Mom made lots of our clothes, and she often made matching outfits for my older sister and me.  So by the time I had worn my version of the clothes and then my sister’s, I felt like I was living in a broken record.

For a long time we managed with one car, and when we got a second one it was a VW bug.  (My mom had never driven a stick shift before.  We watched her drive up the street and just stop.  We waited and waited.  There was a bit of a learning curve.)

We regularly ate out after church on Sunday, but often it was a trip to McDonald’s.

We had store-bought cookies for snacks, though I’m told that on occasion those were actually crackers standing in for cookies.

For sandwiches, we didn’t have meat and cheese, but rather meat or cheese.  And if it was meat, it was the thin sliced stuff, and we only had two or three slices.

Except when it came to Lebanon bologna.  (Why is it called that?  “It is named for the Lebanon Valley of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania where it is most commonly produced.”  Thanks, Wikipedia!)  Mom must have had a real soft spot for the stuff.  She bought it regularly, and it only came in nice thick slices so there was no way to skimp.

I didn’t even know my local Safeway even carried the stuff, but then I saw it on the shelf yesterday.  I know, I know.  It’s loaded with fat and salt and preservatives and lots of other things that are going to kill me.  But I couldn’t resist.