Thursday, January 17, 2013

Oddball Out

I sat near the top of the bleachers in the gym and waited for the next basketball game to start.  I watched all those around me stare at their phones.  Occasionally they pushed the phone with speedy rapid fire fingers.   Far too cheap and far too introverted to be a candidate for a seat on the cell phone party bus, I sat alone in the stands, the obvious oddball out.

I do have a cell phone.  In fact, the teenager received a new phone for Christmas and I am the new owner of her old phone.  I’m not sure I could tell you the number.  I use it occasionally- for calling.  It would take me half an hour to text you a sentence.  I rarely remember to charge it.  And that is why, when I finally decided to call the husband-to join the cell phone party in the bleachers-I pulled a useless dead phone out of my purse.

The teenager had given me her new cell phone to hold while she played her basketball game. I held her fully charged phone in my hand and pushed the on button.  It didn’t turn on.  I pushed the other on button.  It didn’t turn on.  I may have pushed a few more buttons, randomly, in my efforts to turn the phone on.  I did not push those buttons out of frustration. I pushed out of curiosity.  I wondered out loud to myself, “How hard could this be?” 


It wasn’t very hard for the boy.  The boy knew how to operate his new phone almost immediately, almost instinctively.  Now a teenager himself, the boy did not want a “stupid phone”.   The rest of the family owns cheap, pay as you go phones that, while rarely used, are still a significant upgrade from our fairly recent status of owning no cell phones at all.  The boy was not impressed with our progress. He was however impressed when a sympathetic Santa Claus gifted him the most advanced pay as you go phone on the market. His friends at school seemed impressed with the boy’s new $40.00 touch screen phone with camera, video recorder, MP3 player and Bluetooth, mobile web and app capabilities. They had never seen such a phone.  “It’s like an iPhone, but smaller!  It’s so cool. What kind of phone is that?”  The boy, ad libbing, told his friends it was a “Samsung Optimus LG Sierra Touch 4 “.  Without question, they nodded their approval and vowed that someday they would own one too.  The boy, a far more social being than the rest of the family, quickly became attached to his phone.  He is most certainly eligible to hitch a ride on the cell phone party bus.

It’s true, I lack the proper appreciation of this modern gadget-the cell phone.  And it's also true that I have made little effort to further my relationship with the cell phone.  As a result, I do not possess the same instinctive cell phone skills that the boy does.  I did finally, weeks later, learn how to operate the teenager’s phone.  I was not however, successful that night, sitting in the bleachers at the basketball game, pounding away on the buttons.   I never did get that thing to work.


After the game, the teenager asked for her phone back.  I gave her the phone and she turned it on immediately. 

She quickly turned to me, her face a bit paler than usual and calmly announced, “I’ve just called 911.

Given the seriousness of her announcement, I stared back, a bit surprised, for longer than I should have.  I wondered why she would do such a thing.  

“ Hang up!” I finally yelled, which suddenly seemed obvious to me. “I think you can go to jail for that!”

“Mom,” she said soberly and very deliberately, “What    have   you   done   to   my   phone?”


Check This Out!

Big Salad of the Week

1 corn tortilla
salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder

1 small head romaine, chopped

1-2 TBL green or red onions, chopped

1-2 TBL cilantro, chopped

1-2 TBL jack or pepper jack cheese, grated

1/4-1/3 cup frozen corn, defrosted.  Heated if you wish.   

1/4-1/3 cup black beans

1-2 TBL light Caesar dressing

A few shakes of cumin, garlic powder, salt and pepper. 

A squirt or two of lime juice (optional)

Cut corn tortilla into strips, toss with a bit of oil or cooking spray.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, garlic powder, cumin and a tiny bit of chili powder.  Bake on a cookie sheet, 400 degrees, until crispy…10 min??  Perhaps toss half way through.

Toss romaine, onions, cilantro, cheese, corn and black beans.

Stir dressing with remaining spices and lime juice.  Pour over lettuce mixture and toss.  Top with tortilla strips.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Guardian Angel

If you were to remind me that it’s been 5 years, 3 months and 3 days since my mother died, I would swear that somehow you were wrong.

 And then I would change the subject.

I wouldn’t tell you how I really feel about the whole thing.  I wouldn’t tell you about the good and the happy.  I wouldn’t tell you about the sad and the void.  I know I wouldn’t say much at all.  I’d keep it all inside.



But then along came Gracie.


She is beautiful and innocent and every part of her is good.  

Somehow fate has determined that my mother would never meet her 5th grandchild. Gracie would never sit in her arms, look up at her face and giggle.  Granny would have loved Gracie.

 It all seemed so incredibly unfair. 


I look at Gracie’s Facebook pictures and each one is cuter than the last.  I read the comments about how much she looks like her mom-and she does look like her mom.  But sometimes she looks like her dad.  Sometimes I’m staring at a baby that looks just like my brother did when he was a baby. 

It was either Thanksgiving or Christmas, 1975.  The picture was taken at the Bernice Street house.  We were all sitting on the orange and harvest gold flowered couch.  Grandpa had that thin short sleeve button up shirt on with those black rimmed glasses.  Uncle Steven had a freckled face and sat on Grandpa’s lap in wearing Toughskin jeans.  I was missing my front tooth and had hair that flipped up at the ends.  Great Grandma Titus sat on the edge wearing an oversized sweater draped over her best housecoat.  She crossed her hands across her chest in the same way I’ve seen every female in our family do.  And Granny sat on that couch, right in the middle, wearing a matching two piece black and white polka dot polyester ensemble.  Her hair was done. She was smiling.  On her lap was my brother, Gracie’s dad.   He was 7 or 8 months old.  He was wearing brown overalls and didn’t have any socks on.  His hand reached for the ribbon in my hair, his face full of concentration.  It is the same face of concentration I saw in Gracie’s Facebook video.

 My mother would have told Gracie she looks like her dad.  She would have showed her that picture.  She would have told her that story.



The chaos of the Christmas shopping crowds swirled around me as I looked at wrapping paper in Target a few weeks ago.  I mindlessly debated what I should buy when I was tapped on the shoulder.  I turned to find no one there.  I turned back to the wrapping paper.  There was yelling in my ear.  “I said turn around!”  But it was a quiet yell, somehow.  I knew it was only in my head.  I turned around to face the wall of Christmas ornaments behind me.  They were almost completely sold out.  There were 4 Disney ornaments off to the far left side.  And there was one ornament left smack dab in the middle of the display, all by itself.  It was an angel.  Carved into the ornament was, “Guardian Angel”.  


I don’t have any proof that I’m not crazy. 

I don’t have any proof that angels exist.

I can’t explain who spoke in my ear and said, “It’s for Gracie.”   But without one single ounce of doubt, I know I heard them. 

I have no way to explain how in an instant, in the midst of a crowd of Target Christmas shoppers, all was peaceful and all was good.  

But without one single ounce of doubt, I know that it was.




If you were to remind me that it’s been 5 years, 3 months and 3 days since my mother died, I would swear that somehow you were wrong.  And then I would tell you that it’s been over 3 months since my niece Gracie was born.  I’d tell you how sometimes she looks like my brother.  I’d show you the pictures to prove it.  I’d tell you how much my mom would have loved her.


And if you were lucky, I might even tell you a little story about a guardian angel.

Check This Out!

Of course, if you haven't seen one of the best angel movies ever, I strongly encourage you to watch It's a Wonderful Life.  With Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in the lead roles, it's a classic everyone should see at least once.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Call Me Jose

It was Cinco de Mayo when the drunk man handed the boy a small Mexican flag and asked him when the train was going to leave.  The boy took the flag, looked over at me nervously and then told the drunk man that the train had already started moving.  The drunk man looked outside the windows, confused, and said,”Nooo!  This train is NAAAWT moving.  It’s the people outside that are moving, not the train. Right?”  The drunk man then turned around suddenly and commanded all those who could hear him, “Hey!  Stop with the Mexican jokes!  This is no time for Mexican jokes!”


The boy and I were lucky to find empty seats on the loud and crowded commuter train that would take us home. We were surrounded by boisterous, mostly intoxicated, mostly harmless soccer fans celebrating a victory.  It was the drunk man however, who took the final empty seat beside me.

He looked to the boy, seated across from us, still holding the Mexican flag.  His face lit up. “Hey, buddy!  Where’d you get that Mexican flag?  Did you know today is Cinco de Mayo?  Do you know the real reason for Cinco de Mayo?  Well, really, it’s an excuse for Americans to drink.”    The drunk man then lectured the boy and I on the history of Cinco de Mayo.  We also learned about his wife and his kids and his job and the biggest regrets of his life.


Across the aisle, a group of young men were debating what to draw on their friend who was “resting” with his eyes closed.  One put down a Sharpie marker and reached in his backpack.  He announced, “ZONE Bars!  These are my victory ZONE Bars!”  ZONE Bars were passed out to all.  The loud, young men were overly polite and offered unrestrained hellos to all who passed through our train car.  The man closest to the door was even kind enough to secretly drop a piece of ZONE Bar in every bag or purse that passed in front of him.  One member of the group chastised 3 kids who ran through the train.  “Where are your parents?  You are disturbing the nice people on this train!  Sit down and put on your seat bolts.”  Someone else yelled out, “Seat BOLTS!  You said BOLTS!”  And all the men laughed.  Someone in the group opened a beer he had hidden in his coat.  And all the men cheered.

The least rambunctious of the young men looked across the aisle and saw the boy, the drunk man and I staring at his group of friends.   He tried to hush his them, “Hey guys, hey guys, calm down a bit.  That lady over there--she’s clearly with child. You should really calm down.”

I turned around to find the pregnant person behind me.  There was no one there but me.


The drunk man next to me began asking me questions.  Did you like the soccer game?  Is that boy holding that Mexican flag your kid?  Where are you from?  Are you married?  For how long?  What do you do? 

I told him that sometimes I write stories.

“Are you gonna write about this train?  Are you gonna write a story about ME?” he said with a smile.  “If you do, don’t use my real name.  Don’t call me Pete.”

There was a pause and then he requested proudly,

  “Call me, Jose.”

Drunk Jose then turned to the boy and with much surprise asked him, “Hey buddy!  Where’d you get that Mexican flag?  I used to have one just like it.”


When the train pulled into our station, the boy and I stood up to leave.  Drunk Jose said it had been a pleasure.    And then he grabbed the boy by the arm and looked him in the eye. “You’re a good kid.  I can see that.  Don’t ever change that.  Ever.”

And with that the boy and I and a small Mexican flag departed the train.

As we walked off the platform I wondered out loud to the boy if our train ride was awful or hilarious.  I wondered if he was scarred for life.  And then I remembered those young punks across the aisle.

“Those drunk Zone Bar guys who kept yelling ‘seat bolt’-- I didn’t like them at all.” 

The boy shook his head in confusion. “Why? What are you talking about?”

“They thought I was pregnant!   They said… ‘She is clearly with child.’”

The boy was dumbfounded. “They didn’t think you were pregnant!”  He said, shaking his head.  “They didn’t say ‘clearly with child’ they said you were, ‘here with her child’.  They were talking about me!”  The boy didn’t have much more to say to me after that.


The boy and I walked away from the train station in silence.  He waved his new Mexican flag.  I looked at my reflection in the store front windows trying to see if I really did look pregnant.  And somewhere further down the train tracks, drunk Jose, on his way home from a soccer game, was thoroughly enjoying a Zone Bar as he tried to remember where he left his Mexican flag.


Check This Out!

At a loss as to what to recommend to you this time, the teenager has submitted her new favorite lip balm.  She is quite taken with Nivea- A Kiss of Smoothness Hydrating Lip Care SPF 4.  She declares it "the best Chapstick ever!”.  I agree, since she stole it from my purse.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Microwave Vacation

The frozen blueberry muffin sat on the counter for 20 minutes before I realized I no longer needed to live this way.  My lengthy, first world hardship was over.  Nearly instant gastronomic gratification was mine again.  After 20 minutes of course, the muffin was just about defrosted.   I ate it standing up in my kitchen, staring at my brand new microwave oven and wondered how many days would go by before I’d start using it.



On the day the microwave blew up, the boy developed an uncontrollable craving for popcorn. 

Microwave popcorn.

We had none in the house.  We never had it in the house.  4 out of 4 family members preferred ice cream instead of popcorn.  There was plenty of ice cream in the freezer. Suddenly there was no ice cream love to be found. Without a microwave, 4 out of 4 family members now longed for microwave popcorn.


The microwave had been misbehaving for quite some time.  Arcing and sparking and randomly scaring the living daylights out of me with its loud, eruptive caterwauling.  Unpredictable and infrequent, this behavior was easily ignored.  Tired of not being taken seriously, the microwave, at last, angrily threw its biggest fit ever-an epic, raging tantrum, spewing forth the most unpleasant smell as a final, emphatic exclamation point.

The normally handy husband briefly feigned interest in fixing the microwave but ultimately announced it permanently disabled.   My normally frugal self refused to allocate funds to replace an item so many people in history had managed to live quite well without.   And so for nearly a year I poured the Beefaroni into a saucepan and placed it on top of the stove. Leftover enchiladas were reheated in a baking dish in the oven.  I set my frozen English muffin out an hour before breakfast to defrost.  I’ve eaten one frozen microwave meal in those long months-it took me 45 minutes to cook in the oven on a cookie sheet.

And nearly once a week, someone mentioned how nice a little microwave popcorn would taste.


Santa brought me a microwave this year.  The normally handy husband installed it.  My normally frugal self was pleased Santa found a good sale.  And then it sat.  Unused. I stared at it while I ate my defrosted blueberry muffin and for so many days after that.  Finally, on movie night, the boy suggested we get some microwave popcorn. 

We popped 4 bags of popcorn that night.  My new microwave and I, still unfamiliar with each other, managed to burn two of them to the point that not a single kernel was salvageable. The other two bags we shared.  4 out of 4 family members declared the popcorn “fine”.  There were leftovers.

The next morning I got up and set my frozen English muffin on the counter top to defrost. I told myself this would give me time to drink some coffee. I made oatmeal on the stove top.  I told myself it was almost as fast as the microwave and it was fun to stir.  For lunch I reheated leftover pizza in the oven.  I told myself I liked how the crust didn’t get soggy this way.  For dinner I baked potatoes for over an hour at 400 degrees.  I told myself I’d have plenty of time to prepare the toppings and help the kids with homework while they baked.  

 And that night I heard someone call out, “Hey, do we have any ice cream?”


Check This Out!

My new favorite cookbook is How to Cook Everything-the basics by Mark Bittman.  If you only wanted to own one cookbook, this would be a great candidate.  If you want to own more than one cookbook, check out Mark Bittman’s other cookbooks. They are all fantastic.