A Gross Halloween Tradition; The Big Things That Make Up Life

Folks’ll say that it’s the little things that make up life. Mostly the old folks say it. But there are also those folks who fancy themselves wise beyond their years and they’ll say it some.

I disagree with all of them.

My wife and I spent a couple of hours after breakfast cleaning house. We cleaned from top to bottom. We dusted, washed, straightened and sorted. We got rid of clutter. We swept, we mopped, we opened all the windows and scrubbed with such vigor that if you’d simply stepped in off the street you’d have sworn it was Spring and we’d just spent a long cold Winter hiding from the snow with all of the junk we’d accumulated by stopping to warm ourselves in dusty old secondhand stores after dreaded but necessary trips to the supermarket.

When there was finally nothing left to clean we went to town and killed an hour or two. Then we came home and instituted a new tradition.

I don’t remember exactly how it started. I’m not even sure it had a definable starting point. It just sort of coalesced like a sudden Summer thunderstorm as we were carving pumpkins. We were every one of us orange and stringy up to our elbows around the kitchen table. We were talking and laughing and, if I remember correctly, my kids began to dump their pumpkin guts into my pumpkin cavity. I then smeared a gooey orange line down my daughter’s cheek.

She looked horribly affronted and wiped her cheek clean just above the smile/sneer-of-disgust she wore on her lips. My son, standing in his chair, dumped another heap of midden into my gourd and I flung a slimy chunk right back at him. It plunked itself perfectly under his eye with a sick sounding splat, sat for a brief moment, then splatted again on the table.

And it was on. Pumpkin goop was flying all over the freshly cleaned and aired out kitchen followed soon by pumpkin chunks and, if I hadn’t put a stop to it I’m sure the pumpkins themselves would’ve been heaved across the table.

That little thing, the kind the old folks and the seemingly wise folks’ll say make up life, made a huge thing.

A slimy, goopy, stringy, huge orange mess.

Later, as I swept and scraped and vigorously scrubbed again, as I picked pumpkin seeds out of  one little head of red hair and two little heads of blonde hair, I remembered the way my son danced and cackled in his kitchen chair as he scraped together bigger and bigger globs to fling. I remembered a little red-head who can barely string a sentence together because her mouth runs faster than her mind giggling and stating loudly “Don’t get me with it! Actualty, I don’t wanna do pumpkin fight.” I remembered my oldest trying to look grown up, pretending she wasn’t enjoying it all but still letting a few smiles slip. I remembered the cold on my scalp as they, at my wife’s encouragement, fashioned me a glorious pumpkin spice toupee and the way it felt when cold, slimy seeds zig-zagged down my back under my shirt.

It wasn’t the little pumpkin fight that made up life today.

It was the huge mess that needed cleaning afterward that imprinted the memories permanently on my mind.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…savor the big things. They can be just as important as the little things.

A don’t…wear a pumpkin toupee if you can avoid it. It really isn’t all that pleasant.

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Bacon and Coffee; Wonderful Disappointments

It is our family tradition, every other Sunday, to make a breakfast so huge it’s ludicrous. Sometimes there are cinnamon rolls and pancakes. There might be bacon as well as sausage and ham steak. These items are interchangeable but there are several constants. There are always fried eggs, biscuits and gravy, hasbrowns (the rectangular patties that crisp up very nicely on the outside) and coffee.

We never stop to think that perhaps we are being gluttonous, or at least a trifle wasteful, we just cook breakfast and eat and then spend most of the mid-morning doing dishes. I know that today we are adding waffles to the menu (got a new iron, the first I’ve ever owned, last night) so there’s a dish I’m not even sure how to wash.

Anyway, all that was some sort of preamble to the point I want to make. Looking back, it seems a bit much to write all this when it barely connects to what I’m trying to convey. I guess it’s symbolic of our breakfasts. A big buffet of words that almost makes you feel a little guilty for laying it all out.

Maybe it was just my way of inviting you, in some verbal way, to share in our family tradition.

Whatever it was, on to the real idea behind this post.

Bacon and coffee smell amazing. Open a can of coffee and you (or at least I) nearly swoon with pleasure. Get some bacon frying and the smell draws the dogs and the kids and the wife out of their beds so we can all salivate together as a family. Sometimes we sit around the coffee table and link arms and sing a culinary version of Kumbaya as the bacon sizzles and the coffee pot hisses and gurgles and the aromas circulate through the house like some glorious weather front that brings not the promise of much needed rain but the guarantee of an impending party within the mouth.

And then, finally, you sip your coffee and you crunch your bacon and it is wonderful, but, somehow, with those two items something is lost in the frying and the brewing. Their respective tastes, when compared to their respective smells, just aren’t quite up to snuff.

They smell amazing but they taste merely…great. Which is still good. But, just imagine the world peace we might possibly have if coffee and bacon tasted every bit as wonderful as they smell.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…make time for breakfast. Enough said.

A don’t…submerge the waffle iron completely. I don’t know much about it yet, but I sense that a soapy baptism (the full immersion kind, not the sprinkling kind) is not the way to save a waffle iron.

 

Sheet Cake; What Even Is It?

Until my wife’s most recent birthday earlier this year, I thought I knew what sheet cake was. Apparently I’ve been right and wrong my entire life.

‘Tis a conundrum of paradoxical proportions.

Here’s what happened: My wife and I were discussing her birthday. As the very beginnings of the trip we took (which I blogged about exhaustively), began to emerge in our brains we somehow got on the topic of cake. She said she’d like a sheet cake. I said “Ok, what kind?” and she said;

“Sheet cake.” So I said:

“Yes. But what kind?”

“Sheeeet cake…?” She responded, thoroughly confusing the both of us.

“Ok, but chocolate or white or strawberry or what? What kind of sheet cake?” I asked with the innocent belief that sheet is a shape of cake and not a kind of cake. “What flavor of rectangular cake would you like? And do you think we need a half sheet or will a quarter sheet be big enough?”

“Sheet cake is chocolate.” She unhelpfully explained.

“No,” I corrected, “Sheet cake is rectangular. It’s a shape of cake. Not a kind of cake.”

We argued as I laughed. I repeated over and over that sheet is a shape of cake. She thought I was laughing at her, but I was really laughing at the idea of sheet being a shape of cake and not a kind of cake, even though a sheet isn’t really a shape in its own right, but the shape of a sheet is generally rectangular which is why rectangular cakes are called sheet cakes. They have them at every local supermarket bakery labelled “sheet cake”, and they come in quarter, half or full sheets.

Once my mirthful expressions began to lose their cacophonous quality my wife educated me on the fact that sheet cake is, in fact, a specific flavor of cake and it matters not what shape it takes.

We came to no accord on our own and had to consult the universally renowned internet search engine.

Sure enough, sheet cake is a kind of cake as well as a shape of cake. If you can believe the internet, anyway, which offered evidence to support my wife’s supposition in the form of links to recipes that produce a quite tasty and specifically flavored type of “sheet” cake.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…try the sheet flavored cake sometime, in whatever shape you prefer. It’s good. There are plenty of recipes available online.

A don’t…forget that “sheet” is a shape of cake as well as a flavor. Enjoy this mediocre paradox as you ingest cake of any shape or flavor.

Orion: A Constellation; A Memory Made; A Celestial Wonder With a Message for a Defective Man

When I woke up this morning it was still dark. I got the coffee going and woke up my kids. I stepped out the back door with my son with the dual intentions of feeding the dog and figuring out whether or not today was a short or long pants day (short pants were fine) and noticed that Orion was visible right over my garage.

I called for my daughters and, when they had stepped out and shut the back door (it was nearly dawn and the light from the laundry room was enough to blind us to the stars) I pointed out his belt and the four stars that insinuate his feet and hands. They couldn’t see it in its entirety. My middle child only saw his belt. I think they might have been having trouble connecting such unreachable dots. Either way, though, I was proud. It felt good to share something like that with them. I stood there staring at Orion long after they’d lost interest and I suddenly remembered that the North Star is part of one of the constellations. But which one? I simply cannot remember. Is it the bright star at the bottom of Orion that denotes his left foot? Or is it part of the Big Dipper?

Thinking about this took me back to basic training and all the times during our land navigation courses that I disappointed my Drill Sergeants (not to mention my Battle Buddies who trudged through the woods behind me in the exact wrong direction) to the point of nearly giving up on me. They never actually quit trying to teach me, but they were certainly frustrated that, hundreds of push-ups later, I still couldn’t sufficiently navigate my way out of an MRE bag when given a map, a compass and a block of instruction.

Then I thought about all the times in my civilian life when, trying to back-track some road-trip route, I swore up and down that I needed to go left when I actually should’ve gone right.  I don’t tend to give in to the fact that I’ve taken wrong turns, and, though suspicions are sneaking up on me, I continue making wrong turns until the web of wrong turns is so convoluted that I can’t even reverse the wrong turn route to get back to the first wrong turn I took. I’ve ended up turning around in so many private drives with no trespassing signs posted that I’m surprised my back bumper isn’t riddled with bird shot. I’m also surprised my wife has never actually thrown up all over the car. She gets car sick, especially when a twisty-turny route is combined with the stress of knowing she’s lost with an idiot who won’t admit he’s lost. She’s a real trooper. Thank God she didn’t know me in my Army days when my poor direction finding could’ve landed our necks under the blade of some radical’s machete. (They never gave me the map in a combat zone, by the way. I made it perfectly clear that doing so would mean certain death.)

As I thought about all these things this morning, staring up at the sky with my children chirping at the periphery of my hearing that we needed to go inside and eat breakfast, I realized I’m a defective man. I don’t have whatever it is they say men have that help them find directions. I don’t have a genetic compass, and for a moment I felt cheated. I mentally shook my fist at Orion for bringing on this realization.

We finally went inside to get ready for school and as my daughters ate granola bars and my son dumped peanuts from the jar to a bowl and back again for some reason, I realized, no matter what I may be missing in my own genes, I have my children. I have my wife. We have a house and food, jobs, cars, our vision and hearing and health. We have hope for the future and a contented complacency in the present.

I may be a defective man, I realized, but I’m perfectly OK with that. Thank you, Orion. Thank you for speaking to me simply by sitting in the morning sky. I mentally unshake my fist at you, you big celestial dude, you.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…step outside in the dark now and then and let the stars speak to you. You never know what they might say.

A don’t…forget what you do have when you’re bummed out by what you don’t have. What you do have is probably pretty great. You might just need to take a few quiet minutes to realize it.

Skeleton Dinosaurs, Sloths, Holsters and a Dead Doll; Deciphering the Ramblings of Youngsters.

A few months ago my son asserted, quite strongly, that he wished to “pout the skeleton dinosaur”. As one might expect I had no idea what this meant. I asked if he wanted to go to a museum? Perhaps he wanted a model dinosaur to put together or a new toy dinosaur? The answer to each of my queries was an increasingly frustrated “No, pout the skeleton dinosaur!” 

I’ll leave it at that for now. Let me know if you figure it out before I reveal the answer in the final paragraph, but for now I’ll move on to some things my daughters have said.

My oldest is nearly nine and is fairly eloquent in her pronunciations. This was not the case when I asked her about her favorite animal when she was three. Her answer was “I really like the slocks.” Looking back it shouldn’t have been that difficult for me to determine what this was. It is fairly similar phonetically to the actual word. We played the question and answer game for many minutes and I had exhausted nearly every line of inquiry I could think to devise without the emergence of any clarity. I nearly gave up but it was driving me crazy. Slocks? I had no clue. I knew it lived in the jungle. I knew it had, according to her, two legs and two arms. I knew it lived in trees. I was beginning to consider some sort of cryptid. A sasquatch variant I hadn’t heard of before or something. I still don’t know why, perhaps my subconscious had already worked it out, but I asked how many toes it had.

“Three, daddy. Three toes. I like the three toed slocks.”

“Oh, a sloth!” I was so relieved to have worked it out that I felt an unexpected relation as my brain began to relax.

“Yes, a three toed slocks is my favorite animal.”

My middle child, now seven, hasn’t been so hard to decipher, really, she just has unique ways of putting things. Until recently a trip to the bathroom was preceded by “Oh, I need ta ha’ ta go potty.” Stocking is stonking. Actually is actualty. I’ve daydreamed of hearing her say “Actualty, I need ta ha’ ta go potty before I hang my Christmas stonking.” But no such luck. She’s outgrown everything but the actualty.

A few years ago, though, she horrified me by running into the kitchen screaming “Can you help me? It’s killed!”

Obviously, I made haste to accompany her to the scene of the crime. She stood in her bedroom doorway and pointed across the room. “Can you fix it? It’s killed.”

“What’s killed? I probably can’t fix it if it’s killed.” I was calming down a little, having expected some horrific scene and finding nothing really but a few toys on the floor. No blood, thankfully. No dead mouse. A much less dramatic scene than her hysteria had indicated.

My daughter, very carefully, crept into her bedroom, crossed to the corner and gingerly scooped something up. She tiptoed back to me and dumped into my outstretched hands a headless doll and a doll head. “It’s killed, daddy. Can you please fix it? It’s gots killed.”

I fixed the doll but I still have no idea how she had a concept of removal of head equaling death or killing in general.

One last example before I reveal pout the skeleton dinosaur. Once when the kids’ great grandparents came to visit they began asking my oldest about a cowboy doll she had. She was probably almost five at the time. They would point to various components of the doll’s mode of dress and ask what they were. She knew hat and boots and belt. She didn’t know holster. But, somehow, she did know what a holster was. The doll didn’t have a gun, just an empty holster. My daughter named it “shoot pocket”. We had a good laugh and I worried myself sick wondering how my nearly five year old already knew what guns do and how they’re carried. As far as I knew, she hadn’t ever even seen a gun on t.v. or otherwise.

And now, the big reveal. Not long after my son wanted to “pout the skeleton dinosaur” we watched Jurassic World. I wasn’t paying too much attention to the movie and my son suddenly screamed “That’s pout the skeleton dinosaur!” He waggled his finger at the screen which showed some kids brushing dust from dinosaur bones in a simulated dig site. How or why he came to call that pout the skeleton dinosaur I’ll never know. I just devised theories and bought him one of those little kits where you can dig a plastic skeleton out of soft rock with a plastic scalpel.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…ask your kids any questions you can think of. Their answers might be surprising and fun to decipher.

A don’t…correct their pronunciation too soon. Some people will disagree with this but think of how many words we have that can be pronounced in multiple ways and still understood. This can only happen because it was allowed to. Perhaps your child is some syntax pioneer and it’s very cute while it lasts.

If you like my blog, feel free to visit my facebook page, @williamennisauthor. Likes, follows and of course book purchases are encouraged and greatly appreciated.

 

 

Evolution of a Living Language

My brothers and I used to make up words. Maybe all kids do this. It isn’t that the words we made up have been incorporated into the English language. I don’t claim that we have in any way contributed to its evolution. If nothing else our own private additions would devolve our ability to understand each other.

For example, we used to pronounce short vowel sounds as long ones. Hilarious with the first I long becomes a common greeting-larious. We didn’t stop there. We separated the syllables and added it’s. To me and my brothers if something was funny it was “Hi Larry, it’s us.” It wasn’t long before I decided there should be a formal version which is “Greetings Lawrence, it is we whom you have been expecting.” Using this statement in lieu of laughter made no sense to our parents no matter how many times we tried to explain it.

We used nasto the clown as a synonym for gross things and uggles the clown as a synonym for each other’s ugly faces. Somehow light was moasip and dark was soamip. There were others, I’m sure, but nothing comes readily to mind. These last few examples were the cream of a less than creamy crop, but they led into my desire to use actual words in such a way as to render a simple statement unintelligible to anyone too disinterested to bother deciphering his or her own language.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…know that I realize this whole post was a load of male bovine fecal matter.

A don’t…think that I don’t realize reading it is equivalent to a nocturnal equine female.

Happy Birthday Honey or Why Didn’t She Kill Me and How I Almost Got Us Killed; A Story in Seven Parts

Part 7

An Ending And Almost Many Endings

Finally!

I’m as ready for this recounting to be over as anyone who has been following the story. Let me tell you the story of how I almost died. And almost killed my wife. And our car. And possibly a few other people. And then drove well under the limit for about twenty miles so that any witnesses would pass me and put many miles between us.

We vacated our hotel room and found the outside ambience to be quite pleasant and we took comfort in that. We were hobbits (by this I mean we were “off home”) and if we had to go back home, me to my horrible job and her to having to live with me after coming home from my horrible job, at least we could drive home under partially cloudy skies with a beautiful breeze and no rainy looking stuff on the horizon.

We encountered something much worse than weather. Our gps. Apparently it had no idea there was construction going on and every time we turned off to follow the detours it would become huffy and demand that we turn left through those orange and white barrier things they set up to prevent you turning left. Then it would recalculate and order us to U-turn or perform some other illegal traffic maneuver. If you’ve ever used a gps you’ll likely understand. It just goes to reinforce my opinion that we’ve become too dependent upon technology, but I won’t preach about that.

When we finally got out onto a highway we remembered we just shut the thing off and drove. It was a repeat of the trip out with the radio and talking and pointing out things we’d missed on the initial trip. We stopped again in the town in which we’d encountered the country roughers from the first trip post. There was an intriguing sign we’d seen for a place called Hidden Hollow and we had determined to stop on the way back. So we did. And it was all we expected. A hollow not visible from the roadway, hence the name, with a gazebo and a statue carved from a standing tree stump and winding paths that led around these things and back into a wooded area that ended in a small pool that disappeared, or perhaps exuded from, underneath a large outcropping of rock. There were several fry visible in the water and a blue dragonfly seemed to be leading us to the end of the path. It would fly ahead of us, alight upon a branch and then take off again as we got closer. Just a bit of nature that happened to coincide with our approach, surely, but in the serene surroundings it felt like a bit more than it was. The photo attached is one my wife took and I’ve long held the belief that she should sell postcards. If you agree please let me know. I know this is a lot to ask, you not knowing of more than a single piece of her work, but if you at least like this one it’ll make her day to know about it.

We stayed for fifteen minutes or so, just long enough to break up any blood clots that may have been forming during our long sit in the car, then got back in the car and were once again hobbits. The gps tried to put us on a toll road and in the midst of our trying to avoid that we somehow missed a turn and ended up taking a very very back way home. At one point we were at a stop sign and the gps said slight left onto whatever road we needed to be on. I didn’t see that the slight left was across the highway. I also didn’t see the “DO NOT ENTER” and “ONE WAY” signs. The things were fifty feet down the highway! Not right at the intersection! I didn’t see the other roadway across from it! I turned the wrong way down a one way only 65 mph highway! And didn’t notice it until my wife began screaming and pounding the dashboard. I suddenly saw the signs, which by then were quite visible, and pulled off into the median. I considered just driving through it, but that’s illegal, so I just waited out the traffic and did a U-turn and performed the actions described in the first paragraph. I was paranoid the rest of the way home that the Highway Patrol was tracking me from town to town. I perspired from my arm pits the rest of the trip and again almost killed my wife with the foul odor of stress sweat.

Thankfully we made it home, alive and well-ish and our dogs were quite happy and so far we’ve lived happily ever after.

I bid you Adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…let me know if you like my wife’s picture.

A don’t…tell the Highway Patrol that it was me.