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.

Mothman: Another Misunderstood Monster

As far as I can tell from all the Mothman stories I’ve read and that one movie I watched, Mothman, although menacing in appearance, was after nothing so substantial as our very souls.

I’ll explain. I read no accounts of disemboweled animals. No eviscerated owls or exsanguinated cattle were ever found that I know of. Simply humans. Frightened horrified humans. And what is one thing that all humans, especially suburbanites in the 50’s, have in common?

They have clothes on. Right? No one that I read about was out for a nude stroll when Mothman confronted them. They were out with their families having completely G-rated (and in the case of the teens that saw him/her/it no more than PG, it was 50’s conservative suburbia, for crying out loud). They were wearing clothes!

Moths eat clothes. Men wear clothes. Mothman was either hungry or ashamed of his nudity. He didn’t want to horrify folks. He wanted to eat their Sunday best. He didn’t want to scare them. He couldn’t help that, by nature, he was scary. He wanted to either eat or wear their clothes and he hesitated. He never killed anyone because he just couldn’t decide which clothes looked tasty and which looked fashionable and I think, deep down, he didn’t want to kill anyone anyway. Otherwise, he would’ve.

Now, about that bridge collapse and the idea that Mothman prophesied it. Perhaps he truly did. But I think, in his innocent monster way, he didn’t show up to warn people about it. I don’t think he truly realized that people were dying. I think he simply thought “CLOTHES BUFFET!” And all the carnage was lost on him because it all had this decadent stagnant water sauce on it and he didn’t even stop to think about the terror that had been wrought on the small community he’d been terrorizing. He was, after all, a monster. A hungry, naked, confused monster.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…wear clothes, even though it might attract mothman.

A don’t…stroll nude to repel him. The police are much more prevalent than mothmen and much more likely to complicate your life should they find you unclothed in public.

School Breakfast: Scientific Miracle, Conspiracy, or Simply One Man’s Overactive Imagination?

I think it is worth noting that as I’m writing this, a cup of coffee (Cain’s; black, no sugar and steaming hot) is sitting next to me. I think this is worth noting because it is the first time I’ve ever written anything with a cup of coffee (as perfect as previously described) next to me and it somehow feels right. With that out of the way, let’s proceed:

I went to school with my kids this morning for breakfast. They invite the dads a few times a year for breakfast and guided conversation with their children. I’ve been to several of these but this morning, for some reason, I suddenly realized that it felt like neglect, if not outright abuse.

That last sentence probably begs some explanation. Here goes: We woke up at our usual time but, instead of fixing some pancakes or spreading Nutella on toast we simply watched cartoons and did a little work on the cardboard haunted houses we’ve been building. The kids kept telling me they were hungry and I kept reminding them that we were going to have breakfast together at school. They brushed their teeth, as usual, commenting on how weird it was to brush before breakfast, and we piled into the car. The trip to school was dark and wet and chilly. This morning was a real Halloweeny type of morning here where we live. I didn’t realize it was a fore-shadowing of what was to come. When we arrived at the school we hurried in before we got too rained on or shivered ourselves to death. Once in the cafeteria we lined up and the kids encouraged me to help myself to chocolate milk. I did. I didn’t regret it. We made our way to the end of the line where the trays sat ready to grab with a steaming breakfast (technically that’s exactly what it was; breakfast.) of a single biscuit, a slightly larger in circumference than a half-dollar yet wafer thin sausage patty and a small tub of apple juice. The biscuit looked like it was made of whole wheat flour, so there’s that, but…I hadn’t even fed them and now the school wasn’t feeding them either. We found a place to sit across from some other dads who didn’t have forlorn looks on their faces. They must’ve fed their kids before breakfast.

Maybe my kids eat more than usual. I sat looking at the barely breakfast before us thinking of how my kids usually eat like ravenous pigs in the morning. Two and sometimes three, pieces of toast or pancakes (whichever we’ve made) heavily laden with Nutella followed occasionally by, as my daughter calls them “Canola bars” (although when I call them canola bars she laughs and says “not canola bars, they’re canola bars”). I harassed them to eat it and eat it all so they wouldn’t get too hungry before the end of breakfast. They nibbled at bits and crumbs. My oldest daughter ate three small bites of her sausage patty and, after I’d harassed her sufficiently, tried enough of the biscuit to realize she didn’t like it. My middle child, canola bar girl, didn’t try any of it and got a tub of fruity cheerios, which I didn’t even know existed. My son ate all of his and I was relieved even though he made some sort of weird sausage-upside-down-biscuit by mashing the patty onto the top of the bread. He sat there chomping away with a disturbing ravenous carnivore sneer on his face, oblivious to anything but the dinosaur fantasy I’m sure he was having. I wolfed my own down and was surprised that the taste wasn’t all that unpleasant. I spent the rest of the breakfast ignoring the goings on the administrator initiated such as a video on respect and an opportunity for dads to stand and brag on their kids. I wasn’t disinterested. I was simply worried that their little tummies would be growling before they got to class.

That’s when the idea first crossed my mind that the school gets away with neglect. I understand that it is a parent’s responsibility to feed their children. I wasn’t worried about my own who, even if hungry this morning, wouldn’t have to worry about that tomorrow. But what about the kids whose families can’t afford to feed them and a free school breakfast and lunch are something they look forward to? I know some people have misgivings about the government being involved in welfare and such, but I don’t think kids should suffer hunger simply because their parents can’t afford enough food. I have no problem at all with my tax dollars going to fund free school meals for kids who truly need something to eat. But for crying out loud, I thought, give them something to eat!

As I sat there having these thoughts rather than paying attention to the goings on, I began to realize that I, a full grown man, felt satisfied in my belly. This was nearly three hours ago and I’m still not hungry! Now I’m thinking new thoughts. It seems school lunches are scientifically engineered to swell to the size of your stomach. Maybe my kids really did eat until they were full. Maybe now I should be worried that my son is going to founder rather than starve because he ate just as much as I did and he only has a flat, tiny five year old tummy. I only hope that this isn’t some make-them-feel-full conspiracy. I hope that the little bit of food provided had some disproportionate nutritional value. I hope it wasn’t that we were essentially filling our bellies with cardboard and, though feeling satisfied, were left lacking essential proteins and vitamins and such.

Or, as the title of this post suggests, perhaps my brain was bored and I’ve severely overthought this.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…spend your time with your children enjoying their company rather than letting your mind race to bizarre and distant places. After all, we spend a large portion of our lives hallucinating in the dark. Why do it in the daylight when you could be enjoying your family?

A don’t…let them eat too many school breakfasts if you can help it. I’m not completely convinced it’s real food. It certainly didn’t behave like real food this morning. But it did taste good.

The Venting: Some Illogical Ranting and Raving Inspired by Inconsequential Inconveniences

If you’d care to read on, I’d like to rant and rave wildly about a few things I find mildly irritating.

Let’s start with the two lane drive-thru and the myth that it is faster. The speed of this is a mere illusion. Yes, the lines seem shorter because they bifurcate but there is still only one window. Therefore, even though you may get to place your order faster you’ll still be stuck in the “it’s my turn why are they cutting me off I’m gonna nose in front of them and hope I don’t mash my car I know I finished ordering before them why are they so rude?” bottleneck. And then there’s the “cars are moving through faster than usual because we have two lines converging into one meaning double the orders in the same amount of time so most people are going to have to park and wait anyway” bottleneck. I just don’t get it. One line is just as slow. Two lines need two windows. Just a thought. It really doesn’t matter.

Next, how about the fact that Halloween is still nearly a month out and yet most stores have given valuable seasonal shelf space away to Christmas already? I wasn’t done shopping for Halloween. It isn’t selfish to demand that we finish one season before proceeding to the next is it? I don’t want to feel haunty and cheery at the same time. It ruins both seasons for me. I suppose I could just do a mash-up and craft some rabid reindeer pulling a zombie Santa in a coffin sleigh with fake-blood fountains spewing from the exhaust pipes. But then I’d feel I was ripping off a popular Halloween-Christmas movie mash-up I’m sure you’re familiar with. Oh well. So much for originality. Boo to early Christmas. If you love Christmas (I do too, but not when it detracts from Halloween) thanks for reading on anyway.

Finally, silly texting while driving deterrents. The science behind the danger involves driver distraction. I guess, then, it only makes sense to distract people from texting and driving by littering the highways with flashing billboards shining quirky mantras about the dangers of distracted driving straight into the “let’s forget what we’re doing and look at the shiny thing” centers of drivers’ brains. Granted, it is a momentary distraction and not a “Gotta-let-the-significant-other-know-about-that funny-slogan-I just-read-right-this-instant” temptation sitting right in the lap or center console. But have you ever been behind someone who suddenly screeched to a near stop to get a better look at something? I think those signs are just as dangerous as the act of texting while driving. Ultimately it comes down to personal responsibility and consideration for the safety of others.  No flashing, distractive sign can instill that. If it wouldn’t further contribute to the problem I’m ranting against I’d print and sell a bunch of bumper stickers that say things like “Quit reading my bumper sticker and drive!” or “I was involved in a near fatal accident because I was paying attention to the humorous slogan plastered on another drivers car instead of the road.”  That’s a good one because the print would have to be really small and drivers would have to get dangerously close  to read it. I sarcastically proclaim that we can only fix the problem by first making it worse. Envision a man shaking his fist at the sky as he stands on a hill overlooking a highway awash in the glow of flashy signs begging people to watch the road and not the signs. And then, as the crashes pile up, clogging the roadway and causing further collisions, picture him laughing maniacally as lightning flashes around him. Probably he drools a little bit. Perhaps he falls to his knees at some point.

I now concede my soap box. Feel free to climb on up and shake your own fist if you’d like.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…forgive my sarcasm and negativity. Ranting and raving is a hobby of mine and I enjoy doing it at the slightest provocation.

A don’t…text and drive, drink and drive, read bumper stickers and drive, read billboards and road signs (other than the ones that advise you of road conditions and traffic rules, of course) and drive, or read this blog post and drive. Just drive. If not for your own safety, do it for the safety of your fellow man