Sunday, April 22, 2007

Strawberry Picking

Slag and I made our annual strawberry picking trip. Aren't they lovely? They're just loaded with luscious strawberry essence. The berries are a lot smaller this year, but they taste better. I know because the eating started while we were washing them. Then I had an enormous celebratory bowl of berries with whipped cream. Now I'm almost too full to stay vertical. I want to lie on the couch and digest, but there are hundreds of berries left to be processed. Each berry must be individually examined to determine which category it goes into:

- Some sit out another day or two to ripen a little more.
- Some get eaten immediately.
- Some get refrigerated to be eaten over the next week and then frozen if we can't eat them all before they start getting old.
- Some get frozen immediately.

It's a very rigorous protocol and the subtle differences among the categories can be hard to master. Slag participates in the picking and washing, but he wisely leaves the classification step to me. He doesn't quite have the nuances among the categories down and puts berries in the wrong pile, which messes up everything.

(Don't worry. Slag will be in charge of the peaches when we pick those in July. I defer to him on peach categories, so it all evens out.)

It's a perfect excuse to make real pink lemonade. I just learned a few months ago that real pink lemonade is not lemonade with red food coloring in it. It's lemonade made with some kind of red berry.

It's really easy. Boil 2 cups of water, 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of chopped strawberries (fresh or frozen) just until the sugar is dissolved and the fruit is soft and loses its bright color. Strain the fruit out of the mixture and let it cool. Then add 1 cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice and 2 cups of cold water.

In light of the current strawberry abundance, I used more berries than the recipe calls for in this batch, so the lemonade came out a lot pinker than normal. I haven't tried it yet, but I think it would be really good with vodka. Yum.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I Am a Hypocrite

I dedicate this post to kara. Her comment on my previous post has made me aware of yet another flaw in my character. Thanks (I think).

I know I said in my last post that I think books shouldn't be banned. That's true. I do believe that. In principle.

In principle, I believe that anyone should be allowed to write and publish anything he/she wants and that anyone else should be allowed to buy it and read it.

But, in reality, there are books in the world wouldn't bother me if those books were banned. In fact, if I were queen, I would single-handedly ban entire categories of books:

- Diet books. We don't need any more diet books. We don't need the ones we have. Let me summarize them here and save all that paper: "Eat less. Exercise more." I also call for a double-strength ban on celebrity diet books.

- Books by a politicians or ex-politicians or aspiring politicians. We got enough of your hot air while you were running for and/or serving in office. We don't need you to tell us what you believe or share your struggles with us all over again in a book. Examples:
It Takes a Village
Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the Role of Faith in Our Nation's History
No Retreat, No Surrender: One American's Fight
Standing Firm: A Vice-Presidential Memoir
The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis

I could list more, but I'm starting to gag. Oh, and if you must publish such things, please, for the love of god, don't use a title so long that it needs a ":" in it.

- Books "written" by people who are famous for something besides writing books. Examples:
TekWar by William Shatner
Gettysburg by Newt Gingrich.
The Truth About Diamonds: A Novel by Nicole Richie

Just because people recognize your name doesn't mean you're a novelist. And it doesn't mean you're fooling us when you pay someone else to write a book so you can put your name on it and call yourself an author either.

- Books that tell you how to get rich. Here's how you get rich: You write a book telling gullible people how to get rich. Then you sell workbooks that explain what your book really said. Then you hold seminars on your book and charge admission to people so you can tell them what your book says in person. Then you sell DVDs of yourself presenting a seminar on your book.

- Anything by Ann Coulter. She deserves a category all her own. (Yeah, I totally stole this from kara's list. Sue me.)

I'm sorry. I know this makes me a hypocrite, but I can live with it. Feel free to add to the list if you'd like.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

So It Goes

We lost Kurt Vonnegut this week. He lived to the ripe old age of 84 and his sharp wit was with him until almost the end. I saw him on The Daily Show a year or so ago, swapping quips with Jon Stewart. His trademark "Einstein" hair had turned completely white and he was a little feeble, but the mind was still there.

I first discovered Vonnegut's writings during the summer before my senior year in high school. I first picked up one of his books because a guy I had a crush on really liked Vonnegut, and what better excuse to talk to a guy than to fake an interest in something he's interested in too? But after the first few pages of the first book, I liked Vonnegut for himself and not just because of some skinny teenaged boy whose name I can't even remember thought his books were cool. The first book I read (strictly by chance) was Breakfast of Champions. I knew I had found someone I could relate to when I saw Vonnegut's drawing of an asshole right there on the page in black and white. This was clearly a guy who had a sense of humor and did not take himself too seriously. (Does anybody besides me remember his cameo in Back to School?)

Vonnegut's most famous book is probably Slaughterhouse-Five. The novel is partially set during WWII in Dresden, during the Allied fire-bombing of the city. It is part sci-fi and part history, but the Dresden pieces are based on fact. Vonnegut was actually in Dresden during the fire-bombing and its aftermath. He was an American POW held by Germany. He, his fellow prisoners and their guards survived the bombing and resulting firestorm in an underground meat-packing cellar, hence the title of the book. After the destroyed city had cooled enough for them to come out of the cellar, the German guards put the American prisoners to work pulling corpses from the rubble. I'm sure he saw far worse things during that time than any of us can imagine.

Slaughterhouse-Five has been a frequently banned book in the years since it was published. Various groups of concerned citizens have tried to remove the book from library shelves and class curriculum for decades. Self-appointed do-gooders dislike the book for being "rife with profanity and explicit sex" and "vulgar and offensive" and for "depictions of torture, ethnic slurs, and negative portrayals of women." They don't think the book should be available for just anyone who wants to read it. They're sure that if it weren't for all those vile books, we could go on pretending that nothing "vulgar and offensive" exists, as the good lord intended us to do. They can't sit by and allow those depraved writers to corrupt the minds of American youth by telling them that there is more to the world than the street they live on or the church they attend. And they certainly can't have anyone hearing things that they don't agree with, or, god forbid, encouraging children to THINK. Civilization would surely crumble down around us.

In the couple of interviews I've heard with Vonnegut, he never seemed to be concerned about the book-banners. After all, Slaughterhouse-Five has probably received more press for being banned than it would have if the do-gooders had just ignored it. Sometimes do-gooders aren't very smart.

So long Mr. Vonnegut, and thanks for writing all that "vulgar and offensive" stuff. We'll miss you.

P.S. Read a banned book every chance you get. A little thinking never hurt anybody.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Due Credit

When I was a kid, my immediate family wasn’t particularly religious. We weren’t particularly unreligious either, more like religiously neutral. Except for the yearly encounter with that one aunt who was certain that we were all going straight to hell and felt it was her responsibility to verbally pummel us until we saw the error of our ways, it wasn’t much of an issue at all.

But then, after I left home, it seems like everybody got religion. OK, not everybody, but many of the key players did. And when I say “religion,” I don’t mean Buddhism or Judaism or Zoroastrianism. I mean that old-time Protestant religion, complete with old-fashioned choirs and full-emersion baptisms.

I don’t have a problem with that. I really don’t. I’m pretty much a live and let live person. As long as you’re not using your religion as an excuse to hurt other people, whatever you believe is fine with me. I’ll happily participate in any rituals where my presence is wanted. I’ll pray and sing and read along in any Holy book. Without straying too far from the point of this post, I’ll just say that I think we’re all trying to connect with the same thing and however you want to do that is OK with me.

But this shift in my family culture sort of left me feeling confused and out of place sometimes. Suddenly there were a new procedures. Like saying grace before eating dinner. I wasn’t trained to say grace as a child and it just doesn’t occur to me that it should be said. When Slag and I go visit my family and sit down to dinner, he and I have already finished our first helping of potatoes and are reaching for another roll when mom asks step-dad if he wants to say the blessing. Slag and I both drop our forks, swallow what’s in our mouths and look around guiltily while the blessing gets said, hoping we haven’t offended anyone by eating food that hasn’t been properly blessed. Then Slag gives me his sideways incredulous look, which silently says “Why didn’t you tell me?? It’s your responsibility to inform me of the proper procedures when we’re visiting your family!”

And then I look back at him apologetically, as if to say “Crap! I keep forgetting….”

It happens every single time we visit. If anyone has any suggestions about how I can remember that we have to say grace before we eat in certain places, please let me know. I’ll be eternally grateful.

The other thing that I don’t yet fully grasp is how the devil now gets credit for anything bad that happens and Jesus gets credit for the good stuff. It leaves me a little bewildered sometimes, but I’ve only had a problem with it once.

At my sister’s wedding reception, a family friend gave her handful of cash as a wedding gift. The gift was wonderful, but the wisdom of handing a large amount of cash to a woman who is wearing a strapless floor-length gown, with no obvious pockets of any kind, is questionable. She handed the cash off to my step-father who stuffed it in his pocket. Well, somewhere between the reception and arriving home, the cash disappeared. We all thought it probably fell out of his pocket in the large grassy parking lot when he pulled out his car keys.

The next day my mom and I had to go back out to the reception site to pick up a few final things and mom thought we should at least look around in the parking lot. I was sure it was a lost cause and didn’t want to waste the time, but after just a few seconds of driving around near the spot where their car had been parked, I spotted the wad of money.

“Stop! I see it!” I jumped out of the car and grabbed the money.

Woohoo! I was a hero! I was so proud of myself. I pranced into the house when we got home, waving the money over my head and obnoxiously singing “I-found-the-MO-ney-I found-the-MO-ney” and everybody was happy and relieved.

But then my mom piped up in the middle of my victory dance and said “Well, I said a little prayer to myself and I guess somebody was listening.”

Which left me standing there, all indignant, with my hands on my hips. WTF??

So that’s how things work now? Jesus gets credit for MY accomplishments?? *I* found the money, with my own two sharp eyes and she’s giving all the credit to somebody else?

That wasn’t right at all. I wanted the appreciation, the acclaim, the recognition. I spotted the cash, dammit, and I wanted ALL the credit for it. I was not interesting in sharing credit with Jesus for finding that money.

I made my displeasure known to everyone, as humorously as possible, and we all laughed. But I don’t think mom ever retracted the money-finding acclaim that she gave Jesus and bestowed it on me instead, as she should have. Nonetheless, Jesus and I both know who really found that money. It was me.

That’s the only major issue Jesus and I have had to date. As long as He is OK with not getting credit for my accomplishments and me sometimes eating unblessed food, I guess we’ll be able to co-exist peacefully in the family. But I was here first.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Hope and Pipe Dreams

It doesn't matter how large my closet is, I will expand to fill every spare cubic centimeter. I am not a fashionista. I don't live for shoes and hats and purses and belts. Yet my closet is full of stuff. Completely full. There isn't room for another item. My current closet is the size of a very small room, and it is packed.

The reason? I never get rid of anything. I've still got most of my wardrobe from the 90's, including those two funky hats from my single years that everyone said I looked just adorable in. So what if they're covered in a half-inch of dust? I might want to wear them again someday. It could happen. It could.

And the jeans. Oh god, the jeans. In sheer weight, denim is by far the most abundant substance in my closet. I bet there are three hundred pounds of jeans in there, enough to smother an intruder to death if he were stupid enough to go into my closet unescorted.

I can get rid of the occasional T-shirt or pair of shoes that have holes in the toes. Just last month I tossed at least 5 belts from the late-80's. One of them even had odd bits of metal randomly embedded in the leather. It was clearly a remnant of my "Madonna" phase, and I think I was very brave for letting it go.

But the jeans are different. The jeans are my life-blood, my impetus, my identity. I must keep them all.

Currently, they fall into these four categories:

A. The jeans that I wear daily. They fit comfortably. Nothing else to say.

B. The jeans that I can still get on if I lay down on the bed and suck in to zip them. These are only suitable for social occasions where there will be no sitting of any kind required. And I must be transported to the social event while lying flat in the back seat of a car or in the bed of a pick-up truck or in a livestock trailer that has been hosed out and no longer reeks of manure. There is horizontal and there is vertical and there is nothing in between with these jeans.

C. The jeans that I would fit into if I lost 10 or more pounds. These are the "hope" jeans. I hope that someday I will again fit into them again, but I know the odds aren't good. Only focused dieting or severe emotional trauma will ever render me small enough to fit into these jeans. I'm not good at dieting. Plus there's the whole "not wanting to" thing. That leaves severe emotional trauma. Maybe if Slag took a mistress, I might be able to wear them again, but I don't think it would be worth it. I've been emotionally stable for too long. It's all Slag's fault.

D. The "pipe dream" jeans. These jeans are at least ten years old and are so out of style that Goodwill probably wouldn't want them. They look like Barbie clothes to me now. I'm holding onto them in case I ever catch malaria, dengue fever, or some other disease so exotic that it takes the doctors weeks to figure out what I have. Before I finally get a diagnosis, I'll probably waste away to nothing and I'll need something wear. I can't be running around the hospital near death in baggy jeans. And I certainly won't have the strength to shop.

So there you have it. It's obvious. I have to keep them, if only to be prepared for life's uncertainies.