The Monster in Our House


 

I am alert, awaiting the Monster.

I am alert, awaiting the Monster.

There is a Monster at our house.

On cold, dark winter nights, he pounces and the deck BOOMs and the foundation shakes. He must have enormous jaws because sometimes I feel them snap so hard that I’m pretty sure the walls are going to crack.

I do not know where he lurks in the warmer months. I assume he hibernates in the woods. Maybe he moves to Canada.

But as the temperatures fall and the ice threatens, the Boom Monster emerges.  I can sense him.  I can smell him in the dark.

I am a good dog, as you know.

I am loyal, and obedient.  When I sense the approach of the Boom Monster, I do my best to protect my Master and Mistress.  I try to warn them of the danger.

Usually they are sound asleep when the Evil One approaches.  So I know that it is my duty to alert them.

I do this by panting as loudly as possible from the safety of my nice warm doggy bed.  Alas, the Master and Mistress are aging.  (I can tell this from the graying of the fur around their heads).  They do not hear as well as they once did.

They usually just keep snoring.

I raise the volume of my panting.  I rise from my cozy bed to stand over them. Sometimes the Master wakes up when I pant 500 breaths a minute into his face.  The Mistress usually just rolls over.

If the panting has not woken them, I move to step two.

I am a good dog.  I desperately want to protect my humans.

I add some drooling to my panting.  I make sure that it drips directly onto the Master’s nose.

At this point, the Master usually reaches out one arm to pat me.  I shudder and shake violently, determined to arouse him.  He mumbles, “Good girl, good dog.”

I know I am a good dog. I get it. Now get up!!

I begin to panic.  The Monster pounces, the house shakes, I continue to pant, drool, shake.

Nothing. They sleep.

My heart is racing.  The roof may fall in any minute!

“Alert! Alert! The Monster is coming!”

I decide to dig frantically at the door to the closet.  The cheap metal door.  It clangs, it bangs, it slowly creaks open with the sound of a haunted house.  This will surely send my message!!!!!

I turn to look back at the bed where the Master and Mistress continue to snore. Seriously? What does a good dog have to do to save these people?

I shove myself into the closet, continuing to pant, drool and shake.  I start digging, throwing shoes and boots and slippers out of the closet toward the bed.

Still nothing.

Back to the bed. I go around to the side where the Mistress sleeps.  Shake, shake, pant, pant, drool on her face.

She pulls the covers up.

“BOOM!!!!!”  

At last, the Monster attacks with enough force to wake the humans up. The Master sits up, groggy.  He reaches for his phone.  At last!   Is he calling the police?  The National Guard?  Homeland Security?

He turns on the flashlight app, and shines it on my face.  I let my eyes bulge.  I pant with even more force and let the drool flow.

He flops back down, pulls the pillow over his head.

“Lie down,” he says faintly, “You’re a good dog.”

I give up.  I shove myself into the back of the closet, where I have dug myself a safe little cave of shoes and old sweaters.  I turn in a circle, panting and drooling and shaking.

Dear Humans,

I am a good dog.  I am a very good dog.

But the Boom Monster is out there.

You guys are on your own.

Brain Freeze


To begin with, its been wicked, wicked cold out.  For weeks.  Like, really cold. So cold that your nose can’t run, but you can experience snotsickles.

I woke up yesterday and looked out my kitchen window.

Holy Hell Frozen Over!   -20 degrees!!?

I could hardly believe it. I didn’t want to believe it!

But I live in the age of Facebook, so I grabbed my phone and took a picture. I wanted to show everybody how stoic I am, how strong and brave!  I snapped the photo, I posted it, I went to work.

And I decided to share my awesome photo with the kids.  So I put this up on my Smartboard:
1908293_10205648301544331_2526677894090993749_nAnd the kids walked in.

And started laughing and pointing.

“Oh, my God!”, they crowed, “Where did you get this picture of a witch?”

Yup.

They completely ignored the low temp, which was all I saw.

They were totally caught by my scary reflection, which I never noticed.

Goes to show you: kids always see the world in new and exciting ways. They find a way to laugh, and to make me laugh.

Even when its twenty below, and the scary old witch is me.

 

 

Even the worms hate it.


 

Bleh

Bleh

Yeah. I know.

I keep writing about food.

But its been snowing for the past month and there are five feet of frozen disgustingness outside my window.

Of course I’m preoccupied with food.

So today I want to write about one of the great food cons of all time.  Today I want to expose the misleading information being spread around about kale.

“Kale is a superfood!”

“Kale makes a delicious shake!”

“Kale will cure your high blood pressure/heart disease/sagging butt/bad breath/crappy mood.”

Ha.  What they fail to tell you about this superfood is that it tastes like the smell of skunk and is just about as digestible as a pile of brillo pads.

I have tried it in shakes. I have tried it steamed.  Sauteéd. Raw in a salad. I have even tried kale chips.  R-r-r-rr-r-r-r-rowf. NO.

I recently cleaned out the veggie drawer in my fridge.  I pulled out the aging lemons, the shrunken radish and the mystery slime.  What was left?

Three old leaves of curly kale.

What the hell is that stuff made of? It had been in there for at least two months.  It was still crisp.

I scooped those old leaves up with everything else, ignoring my “don’t waste it” instinct, and I threw it into the compost bin that I have going in my basement.

Let me take a moment to describe this compost system.  I collect all kinds of fruit and veggie parts, along with coffee grounds, bread, tea bags, napkins, egg shells and paper towels in a small bucket next to the sink. When the bucket is full,  I dump all of it into a big plastic box that is home to a pile of “worm castings” and roughly 2,000 wriggly little red worms.  These guys are voracious and indescriminate.  They eat anything they find, and transform it into compost. I once dropped a face cloth in there by accident and two days later it was in shreds. They will turn a banana peel into rich, dark soil in about 20 days.  Orange peels? Maybe four days.

So I dumped in the lemons, the radish, the mystery slime and the three leaves of kale.  I dug in with my trowel, turning the compost and making sure that everything was buried.  The next day, I turned it again, and up popped the kale, untouched by a single worm nibble.  I turned the compost again the next day, and the next.  Kale leaves kept coming to the surface, looking as green and crisp as the day I bought them.

“What the hell?”, I had to ask myself, “Have a really been eating this stuff?”  I poked the leaves with the tip of trowel, tearing them into smaller bits.  I thought maybe smaller pieces would be less intimidating for the worms.

No such luck.

It is now one full week since I dumped everything into the compost.  I’ve added another small bucketful since then.  I turned the pile today, and saw half of an eggshell that I threw in yesterday, and part of an apple core.

And 9 pieces of crisp, green curly kale.

I looked at the worms.  One of them seemed to approaching a kale leaf, so I grabbed a magnifier and looked closer.  I saw a tiny worm mouth open and take a teensy nibble of kale leaf.  Then I watched in amazement as the minute little guy pulled his head back and made a perfect miniscule grimace of distaste.  He turned around, slid of the kale and buried himself in a pile of potato peels.

Even the worms can’t seem to digest it!

I guess the explains all the gaseousness that came along with those healthy kale shakes.

 

Chaos on the door


  Buttermilk and Sriracha?                   Really?

Buttermilk and Sriracha?
Really?

The funny thing about vacations is the way they bring out my inner neat freak.  I mean, the luxury of all this time around the house inevitably has me cleaning closets, bleaching the under-the-sink cabinet, and scrubbing out the fridge.

And all this cleaning and organizing can lead to some interesting self-reflection.

For example, earlier this morning I found myself contemplating the door to my fridge.

Wow.  You wanna talk Chaos Theory?  Here it is in all its glory.

I think that the door of my fridge is like the junk drawer of my inner life.

All the important stuff (milk, chicken, cold cuts, goat cheese, apples, eggs…..) is in the main part of the fridge.  Some of them (like the fruits and veggies) even get their own special drawers and shelves.  I know where to go when I need to grab the yogurt or the bread or the salad ingredients.

The same can be said for the rest of my kitchen. I know exactly where to go to locate the flour, the sugar, the paprika.  I know where the bags of rice are stored (arborio, jasmine, brown).  I can find the peanut butter, the Nutella, the tea and coffee and the chocolate chips.  There is a set place for the pasta (spaghetti, rotini, ditalini, farfalle,orzo,lasagna,ziti, mostaccioli). There is a shelf for the canned foods (crabmeat, clams, tomato paste and beans) and a shelf for the snacks (cookies, crackers, rice cakes, popcorn).

Don’t even get me started on the spices.  Grouped by type, arranged on tiered shelves.  A place for everything, and everything in its place.

Until I look at the door of my refrigerator, and all bets are off.

What does it say about me that the bottom shelf of the fridge door contains a bottle of white wine, a half full quart of buttermilk, a jar of martini olives and three kinds of mustard? Move up a shelf, and you’ll find a squeeze bottle of Sriracha, a jar of pickled ginger, some hoisin sauce, a tube of harissa sauce and sweetened lime juice.  There is small jar of olive tapenade, a plastic bottle of horseradish, real maple syrup, two jars of yeast and a quarter bottle of Worcestershire sauce.  There’s butter (salted and sweet) and jars of strawberry, raspberry and apple jam.  A rolled up, halfway dried out cream cheese packet and three kinds of pickles.

As I looked it all over, I decided that I should throw some of it away.  So I spent the next hour taking things out and putting them back.  Blue cheese stuffed olives? You never know when I might crave a dirty Vodka martini!  Hot mustard, sweet mustard, horseradish mustard?  Well, we do have sandwiches for lunch most days.  Harissa…I hardly ever use it, but it reminds me of Tunisia. I want it!

Eventually, everything was cleaned up, the shelves were wiped and cleared and it was all put back.

So.

Does this…….creative display of oddball food items mean that I am an exciting chef?  Or a food hoarder?  Does it mean that I hate to waste or that I love to be adventurous in my eating?

Am I a slob, or a bon vivant?

I don’t know!  But as I make myself a lovely snack of olive tapenade with cream cheese on rye bread, I’d invite you to check out your own fridge door.  If everything is up to date and enormously useful in your daily life, please don’t tell me.  But if you find an interesting combination of pickled onions and maraschino cherries, drop me a note, will you please?

 

I have met “The Enemy” and he is adorable.


When I was little, I heard about the horrors of Pearl Harbor.  I watched movies about the “bad guys” from World War II.

Of course I did.

My father and some of his brothers fought in that war.  I read “The Diary of Anna Frank”.  I read Elie Weisel. I learned all that I could learn about the Nazi’s.

I grew up thinking of the Germans, and to a lesser extent, the Japanese, as “our enemies.”  They were the “bad guys”.  Pure and simple. We were good, they were bad. I was the biggest supporter of the Jewish homeland that you could imagine. I thought at one point that I’d like to move to Israel, to experience this wonderful righting of such terrible wrong.

Then I graduated from High School, and went on an exchange program to Tunisia, where I learned that Moslems are sweet, gentle, funny, kind, loving and so so much like my Italian family that it was hilarious.  At that time in my life, at the tender age of 17, I began to wonder about my country’s unshakable support for Israel.  I began to wonder about those Palestinians who were unceremoniously booted off of their land so that Europe could make amends for its crimes.  I started to wonder about “good guys and bad guys” at that point.

When I got to college, it was the middle of the Cold War.  The Germans were now our Allies, but we still thought of them with a good deal of caution.  The Soviets were the “real” enemy now.  Israel was our ally, the Palestinians were suspect.  I was confused and frustrated when I recognized that my beloved Tunisian family were seen by my countrymen as “the opposition.”  The bad guys.

This didn’t make a whole lot of sense, knowing what I knew about Tunisia, but I was intrigued by international relations in 1974.

I decided to major in both Political Science and Soviet Studies.  I wanted to become an expert on “the enemy”.  I learned to speak Russian, I read all about the Russian Revolution, I learned a LOT about the workings of the Soviet Union.

It was easy to identify the “Soviets” as the bad guys, but most of my college professors were from the Soviet Union.  They were sweet, gentle, funny, kind, loving and smart. They were Russians and Serbs, and Ukranians and Czechs.  They were my friends.They didn’t really feel like “the enemy”.

And so here I am, in the winter of 2015.  I am watching the news, and seeing that “Muslims” are the new Germans.  They are our new “bad guy”.  I hear my President trying to explain why he needs War Powers to fight this “existential and ideological threat.”

I’ve heard little children in my classroom talking about “Muslim terrorists”, and I remember when we used to play “Nazi’s” in the backyard.

I am sitting in my living room, waiting for my German student, my German “son”, to come home for dinner.  I think about him for a minute. He is sweet, gentle, funny, kind, loving and smart.  He is everything you would want your child to be.

I look up at the German flag that is hanging in my living room.

IMG_1477

It was a lovely gift from Lucas’ mother, my new friend from “across the water”.  She is wonderful! She is absolutely everything I’d ever want from a friend.  I am so excited that I’ll get to meet her and her husband next fall, when they come to Boston for a visit. I’m even more excited that they have invited us to visit them in Berlin!  I can’t wait to go!

And this all makes me wonder: why do we feel such a need to identify and label an “enemy”?  Why can’t we just step back and realize that there are wonderful, phenomenal Germans/Russians/Poles/Serbs/Japanese/Chinese/Islamic/Israeli/African humans?

And that there are horrible, despicable, violent, bitter, crazy Germans/Russians/Poles/Serbs/Japanese/Chinese/Islamic/Israeli/African humans?

I am happy to have my German flag, my Russian dolls, my Italian food, and my Islamic jewelry in my home.  I am happy to have my Jewish friends and relatives, my Muslim family and friends, and my wonderful, sweet German “son”, all a big part of what makes my life meaningful.

The enemy keeps changing, the enemy keeps moving, the enemy keeps giving the US Government a reason to spend money on more war.

I have met the enemy.  And he is us.

When I am a Grandmother


When I am a grandmother, I will be called “Nonni”.  I will make delicious pizza for my grandchildren. I will make them pancakes, and let them pour the syrup. I will be the Nonni who lets them stay up late on sleepovers.  I’ll be the one who helps them make gingerbread houses at Christmas.

When I am a grandmother, I will go on the swings, even if it makes me dizzy.  I’ll go down the slide, and I’ll laugh out loud.  I’ll watch endless repeats of children’s television, even if it means that a sickeningly cloying song will dance through my head for two weeks.

When I am a grandmother, I will baby sit whenever I’m needed. I’ll arrive with warm cookies and a warmer smile.  I’ll hold babies in my arms until they fall soundly asleep, even if it takes all night.

I’ll sing lullabies, right into their ears, and I’ll croon Italian love songs until they drift away to sleep.  I’ll read to them; “Goodnight Moon” and “Love You Forever”.  “Mike Mulligan” and “Make Way for Ducklings”.  I’ll read “The Night Before Christmas” by the light of a window candle, and I’ll tuck them in and whisper “Merry Christmas” in their ears.

When I am a grandmother, I’ll step back and watch as my children pass on lessons learned at my knee.  I’ll watch and I’ll nod as they pass on lessons I have never dreamed of.  I’ll feel such pride as I watch my children with their children.

When I am a grandmother, I will feel immortal. I will feel secure.  When I am a grandmother, I will know what it is to see my father’s eyes, three generations after his birth.

When I become a grandmother, and put on my “Nonni” shirt, I will hold my grandchild close to my heart. I will look at my daughter and I will say, “Now, at last, you know how much I love you.”

When I become a grandmother, next August, I will take the next great step on my life’s incredible journey.

I cannot wait!

283277_2228273743846_2055927_n

Hope I’ll be as good at the Grandma gig as my Mom is!

Living in the moment


I bet you’ve heard the term “Mindfulness” by now, right?  Its a way of thinking that helps people to tune out all the static in our heads, and to simply savor the present moment.

I heard about the idea from a wonderful therapist, who suggested that I try to practice this gentle form of semi-meditation every day.  It sounded fabulous to me!  I would learn to feel the beauty in every day. I would learn to feel the air, to smell the earth, to see the blue, blue sky.  I embraced the concept!

Because it was June.

It was easy to live in the moment when the moment was 70 degrees and smelled like lilac blossoms.

Its not so easy right now.

Right now, if I “breathe deeply and draw the air slowly into my lungs”, I’ll have an asthma attack.  Right now, if I try to smell the earth, the hair in my nose will turn into tiny icicles that threaten to pierce my brain.  And as for that blue sky?  HA! If I try to gaze up at it, snowflakes will coat my eyeballs in an instant.

Right now, my world looks like this:

Mailbox

I do NOT want to live in this moment.  Nuh, uh.

But the funny thing is, I think that most of actually do tend to believe that the present is forever. Right now, summer seems impossible.  I don’t believe that it really exists, or that it will ever come back. And I bet that a year from now I’ll have a conversation with someone about snow, and we’ll try to remember how bad this winter was.  And we’ll have to go look it up, because we won’t remember the details.

And I bet that on a steamy night in July, when the air is so thick you can see it, I won’t be able to envision the icy feel of this morning, when it is 8 below zero.

So maybe I am “mindful” after all.

Which is kind of a pain in February.

It’s all in how you look at it.


 

When I was a little girl, my sister and I watched a Disney movie called “Polyanna”.  In the movie, a little girl (played by Hayley Mills, how’s that for a good memory?) comes to live with a grumpy old lady.  I don’t remember much about the story, except that there was a scene where Polyanna notices a prism hanging in the old lady’s window, and makes a big deal of the beautiful rainbow and all the colors.  The old lady notices the beauty for the first time, and the two of them take apart all of her lamps and hang prisms all around the house.

Not the most subtle of metaphors, but it stuck with me.

This morning I woke up to yet another school cancellation day. I have nothing to do, having prepared my lessons and done my corrections yesterday.  I have baked brownies, made meatballs and sauce, walked the dogs, done laundry, read a kids book for the class.  I am bored. And cold. And crabby.

I want sun!  I want warm breezes!  I want to barbecue, but the grill is buried in four feet of snow.

I look out my living room window, and see nothing but white.  I’m sick of watching snow fall; its making me dizzy.  The garden fence is almost buried.  My walk is only a foot wide, with five foot walls on either side.

The window is filled with icicles, handing down from every inch of the gutter.  Sharp, jagged, icy teeth, making me shiver just looking at them.

I decided to lie down on the sofa so I could fully indulge in my misery.  I wanted to look at the icicles, those threatening, terrifying blades clustered together, reminding me that I am falling farther and farther behind in the curriculum, and that the kids will be distracted little cyclones tomorrow.  I wanted to use the image of the ever growing ice daggers to help me enhance my total crabbiness.

But guess what? When I laid myself back on the pillow and looked out the window, I found myself looking through the beautiful fused glass wind-chime that my son and his girlfriend gave me for Christmas.  All of a sudden, the icicles were shining through the brilliant colors of the glass, and the little bit of sunlight that was leaking through made them gleam like rainbows.

My plan was thwarted; my crankiness went away.

I felt like Pollyanna!

SONY DSC

A Dog and His Boy


photo 5

There is just something about a dog and his boy.  My dogs just love our boys.  In fact, they love pretty much any boys.

Now that our sons are grown and gone, we can get the same squeals of delight from our dogs when our nephews, cousins, neighbors or any other boys come to the house.

There’s just something about a dog and his boys.

So I’m sure that my dogs will be very happy to hear that we have a boy, an honest-to-God boy, coming to live with us for the rest of the school year.  He is a sixteen year old German exchange student.  He was in need of a home, and this nest was in need of some life.

I’m sure that Tucker and Sadie will be almost as happy as I will be to have him here.

I hear that he likes to eat.  And as you may know, I like to cook.  Perfect.

Of course, I’m pretty nervous tonight.  He arrives tomorrow.  I have baked chocolate chip bars.  There’s chicken brining for dinner.  His room is clean, his bed is made, and I have mopped the floor.

I want him to be happy here. I want him to be comfortable.  I want him to feel that he is welcome.

When I was his age, I was the student, far away from home, looking for acceptance and love in a new family.  I was lucky.  I found both.  My Tunisian family took me in, fed me delicious meals, entertained me, laughed with me, took me to see the sights. I remember the meals, the conversations, the music. I remember the smell of the summery air, and the sound of the wooden carriage wheels on the cobbled streets outside my window.

I don’t remember noticing whether or not the house was clean.

Still, tonight I am cleaning and organizing and scrubbing.  I have even brushed the dogs.

I know I’m being silly.  He won’t care if there is dust.  But another woman’s son will be coming here, to our house. Another woman, far away, will be trusting me to care for her boy.  She doesn’t know me. She doesn’t know that I’ll be kind.  She doesn’t know that the dogs will be here to greet him, with wagging tails and doggy smiles.

So as I wait for the bars to cool and the laundry to finish drying, I think back to my arrival in Kairouan, so long ago.  I think about how easy it was for me to settle into my Tunisian home, with my wonderful family. I want that experience for our guest!

And I look at the dogs, snoozing on the nice clean floor at my feet. I reach down to pat their soft heads, listening to the comforting sound of their snores.

“Guys”, I say, although neither of them moves, “I have great news.  Dad and I have decided to get you a boy.”

 

Shots and Shots


Wow.

The entire country is up in arms about the recent measles outbreak.  And for good reason, too!  This disease is a threat to the children of our country, and it can be easily prevented.

We are all absolutely (and justifiably) horrified to think that our fellow Americans would put their own perceived individual rights ahead of the safety of our children.  I mean, really! Who do these people think they are, insisting that they have the right to put our children at risk just because they choose to engage in dangerous behavior! ?

The vast majority of the politicians speaking out about this issue are adamant that a parent does NOT have the right to endanger their own children, much less the right to endanger the rest of society.  I’ve been watching CNN, NBC, ABC and CBS.  I’ve read the Boston Globe, the New York Times, the Washington Post.  Everyone out there is shaking their head in dismissive agreement: if you want to take an action or engage in a behavior that puts people at risk, you should be isolated from the rest of us.  No public school for you!  No daycare!

Hillary Clinton spoke out loudly and clearly on this whole thing, did you see it? “The Earth is round, the sky is blue and vaccines work”

Wow.

I get it.  Even though I actually had measles when I was little.  As well as rubella, chicken pox and mumps. I had ‘em all.  They were not fun.  I didn’t die, but I know that I was lucky to walk away from all of those diseases unscathed.  And I know that these illnesses should no longer be a threat to our children.

So I say, “You go, media! You go, Hillary!  You go, politicians!”  Way to protect the average American from the threats of those who believe that their individual rights trump our rights to live our lives in relative safety.

Obviously the vast majority of Americans, the media and the political elite are ready to stand up and declare: “Your right to act like a selfish, self serving idiot, your right to behave in a way that is dangerous to the rest of us, is limited by the fact that you are a member of a society!  You have to help keep us ALL safe!”

I can’t wait to see them take on the NRA.