Friday, November 28, 2014

Leftover Turkey

          It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and folks are whipping up the leftovers from yesterday’s feast into turkey sandwiches, turkey pasta, and turkey casseroles.
          But they have forgotten about the real leftover turkeys, and they are roaming my suburb of Rocklin.  Sacramento is blessed (some would say cursed) with a growing population of wild turkeys, and I have to admit I rather love them.
          Maybe it’s the wobbly way they strut down the street, like little kids in their mom’s high heels.  And they look sort of prehistoric, with their heads down, as if they’re really just common geese who happened upon some dinosaur costumes and now they’re trying to look menacing.  They zigzag and bump into each other as if they’re honestly confused.  Or maybe they really are little dinosaurs who’ve fallen through a wormhole from the Jurassic era.
I went to visit a woman in my church who lives in an apartment complex, and found half a dozen of these goofy creatures in the parking lot.
When we lived in the Sacramento city limits, clusters of these funny birds would fly up onto a neighbor’s garden shed, and squawk and fight over about six square feet of roof space, seemingly unaware of a dozen other nearby rooftops and gazebos where there was much more roosting space.  And I have a soft spot for lovably low IQ animals.
 Gobblers and hens can weigh more than 20 pounds, and though you’re not supposed to feed them and encourage them to invade “people space,” folks can’t resist.  As a result, there have been complaints about turkeys kicking bark mulch about, destroying gardens, leaving droppings on people’s patios, and roosting on cars, where they scratch the paint.  I read a report that said these Meleagris gallopavo even gobble at people.  Not quite the same as gobbling people, that little at making all the difference.  And, you have to admit, it’s a lot less serious than what we do to them.

          And so I cheer them on, rolling down my car window and making gobbling noises that I like to think they understand.  You’ve survived another Thanksgiving, I am telling my feathered friends, and you’ve lived to strut another day.
Your Thanksgiving holiday would not be complete without visiting my YouTube Mom channel, and browsing through hundreds of short videos that teach you all kinds of life skill tricks and tips.  Check it out here!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Department of Redundancy Department

                St. Bob and I were on an airplane a couple of weeks ago, and when the flight attendant told me to put my handbag on the floor, she said, “I have to see it visually.”  Now, I ask you:  How else could she see it?
          Indeed.  I’m a writer, and I always try to edit my work to the sparest, most economical wording possible (with varying degrees of success).  So it seems I am always noticing unnecessary repetition except, of course, when I do it.  And there it is.  Like so many things, we notice it in others, but not in ourselves.
You’ve had this same experience.  You’re talking to someone, they tell you a story, you agree with them, and then they re-tell the story. Possibly several times.  Or, they can’t move on once a point is made.  For example, a friend once heard me incorrectly, forcing me to explain what I had actually said (the word semester).  “Oh,” she laughed. “Because I thought you said Sylvester.”  Nope, semester.  “Yeah, but I thought you said Sylvester.”  Nope, semester.  “That is so funny—I really thought you said Sylvester.”  No, it was semester.  Like an endless game of Pong, right?
(This is also why writers shouldn’t use verbatim dialogue and why 911 recordings are so choppy.  Actual conversation is often dreadful.)
But it isn’t just those other people who do it.  Without thinking, we also repeat ourselves .  I am particularly guilty of rephrasing something I’m saying to St. Bob because he doesn’t answer statements, only questions.  Call me sexist, but I think this is true of many male/female relationships.  We women are used to girlfriends who make comments punctuating our chatter, responding whether asked or not.  Men listen but feel no pressure to encourage us to continue or to affirm what we’ve said, so they silently tread water beside us until asked a pointed question.  Thus, when I explain something, if Bob doesn’t interject with an “uh-huh” or “Oh, I know!” the way a woman would, I think he didn’t understand me and I must need to put it another way, so that he’ll get it.  And, possibly, that last sentence was redundant.
It doesn’t take a genius to see the mutual frustration that grows when a guy feels you have hit that nail on the head plenty of times, and when a woman thinks, “How on earth can I rephrase this for the sixth time so you’ll respond?”
So I’m guilty.  But we all might benefit from a quick glance at common redundant phrases. See if you’ve used any of my top 15:

1.   Written down.  The down is implied, isn’t it?
2.   Usual custom.  Customs are implicitly what is usually done.
3.   Plan ahead.  Just plan is enough.
4.   Might possibly.  You don’t need both.
5.   Added bonus.  Ditto.
6.   End result. Ditto
7.   Protest against.  Ditto
8.   Repeat again.  Ditto
9.   Filled to capacity.  If it’s filled, it’s to capacity.
10.         At the present time.  “Time” is redundant.  The same goes for “came at a time when.”  You just say, “Came when.”
11.         Foreign imports.  There is no other kind, so just “imports” will do.
12.         Where something is at.  This is probably my biggest peeve.  Just say where something is, and don’t tack on the “at.”
13.         Reach a consensus of opinion.  A consensus is already about opinions, so “reach a consensus” is plenty.
14.         False pretense.  A pretense is false.
15.         PIN number.  The N stands for number, so you’re saying “Personal Identification Number Number.”
          Like I say, I catch myself using these and others all the time, but they say admitting the problem is half the solution, right?  I mean, if you can admit your mistake, then that’s a big step on the road to--- uh, nevermind.

Surely you’ve subscribed in the little box on this page, right?  And you’ve urged your friends to do it, right?  Just so you know, that is not being redundant; it’s being helpful.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Sugar Wars

Yes, I have seen all those TED talks about sugar.  Yes, I know corn syrup is a cheaper sweetener than sugar, and thus finds its way into seemingly every product known to man, except possibly broccoli. 
          But it’s doggone hard to give it up.  I have a sweet tooth, as opposed to my friends with salty/spicy teeth, so I know these poisons are in much of what I love.  But sweeteners are also in all the savory stuff you’d never expect, like spaghetti sauce, ketchup, garlic bread, yogurts, and salad dressing.
          I remember enjoying a breakfast with my son, Cassidy, when he was in high school.  Well, that enjoyment was short-lived, because, good mother that I am, I mentioned that my granola was a much healthier choice than his Cap’n Crunch Cereal.
          I offered proof.  I would read the contents of my granola box, and he would read the contents of his blue-hatted friend’s box.  We went right down the list—fat, sugars, carbs, protein.  And in every single case, his cereal beat mine!  I was flabbergasted.
          It’s like that incredibly delicious Cracklin’ Oat Bran that Kellogg’s makes, bursting with sweetness, coconut, and cinnamon.  And it’s like 200 calories a bowl!  Assuming you pour ¾ of a cup into your breakfast bowl.  You see “bran” on the label and assume healthy, then you taste it and you might as well be eating a cookie.
          So the smart thing to do is to read the labels, not simply glance at a hideous cereal that resembles dog kibble and assume that just because it doesn’t have little heart-shaped pieces it must therefore be healthy. 
Or, you can get around this whole problem by using St. Bob’s pronunciation technique.  I saw him devouring a bag of sugar-coated almonds recently and he proudly held up the bag with a “Gluten Free” banner across the top.  “See?  Glutton Free.  That means I can have as many as I want.”  And there you have it.

Another good way to lose weight is to get so engrossed in a great book that you forget to eat lunch.  Might I recommend mine at this link?  Although  Sisters in the Mix is about a crazy lady with a cooking show, so you might want to read that one while on the treadmill.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Tiny Thanksgiving Idea

          I love tiny things—tiny kitten noses, tiny paw prints, tiny little compartments that hold tiny little treasures.  I think it’s my childlike (not childish, mind you) outlook.  Whatever.
          One of my most popular YouTube Mom videos is about my fairy garden, here, again loaded with miniature things a tiny fairy would love.  Maybe I read the children’s book series,The Littles, at an impressionable age.
          And so I am sharing an original idea of mine that won the Grand Prize in a huge, national cooking contest.  It’s a miniature Thanksgiving cornucopia, entirely edible, and exactly the size for one serving. Notice, in the picture, that it's on a dinner plate.
This is perfect for folks who don’t want to cook a whole turkey, but it’s also great for entertaining house guests before and after the actual holiday, when you still need a main course.        
          I came up with the concept based on another idea of mine.  For years I’ve been wrapping bread dough around a greased cone of aluminum foil, then brushing it with egg yolk, and baking it to make a wonderful, edible cornucopia centerpiece.  After it baked, I would remove the scrunched up foil that held it in the cone shape, and fill it with sugar-glazed grapes, apples, and persimmons, and it was always a fun tradition.
          Then I got the idea to make tiny, individual ones.  Only instead of using bread dough, I’d use strips of turkey meat, and then make the filling out of savory stuffing and little veggies cut to look like fruit.  Tell me this is not a knock-out idea.  Okay, do not tell me that because I won’t listen; I know it’s a knock-out idea.
          You can see, in the top photo, that I used a melon baller to make ball shapes from cooked yams and purple potatoes, and threw in some cranberries and blueberries as well.  Totally edible, totally darling.  Just cut strips of turkey breast, wrap them around a small cone of foil, hold them in place with toothpicks, and bake until golden brown.  (I first wrap the foil with parchment paper to prevent the meat from sticking to the foil.) The complete recipe is here.         
          Tiny is a wonderful thing.  Except when it comes to desserts.  Pies should be cut into quarters, cakes into thick slabs, and cookies should always come in threes.

If you’ve never visited my website or bought my books, now is the time!  All your Christmas shopping can be done in just a few clicks!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tribute to Sherri Hilton

          Today I mourn the loss of my only sister-in-law, Sherri Hilton.  Only in her early 50s, this comes as a complete shock to the entire family.  Her husband, Ken, is Bob’s only brother.
          I know there will be amazing stories told at her funeral.  How she was the Director of Communications working with the Governor of Mississippi, and spokeswoman for the State Office of the Treasury before that.
          But long before she was famous for her government work, she was famous for being a gorgeous model, a popular TV news anchor, and for starting up the incredible multi-million-dollar  home accent store, Persnickety: Home Accents with an Attitude in Madison, Mississippi.  (She won the equivalent of an Oscar at a national awards ceremony for the best store of its kind.)  Everything Sherri touched turned to gold.  People will undoubtedly remember her incredible homes, her tasteful decorating, her incredible parties, and her endless hours volunteering for the community, especially for animals.  Sherri was the go-to gal for anyone and everyone—relentlessly reliable, creative, and filled with energy.
          But I will remember a sister-in-law who was also my friend.  A woman who laughed easily and heartily, who shared countless asides with me, a woman who fed baby deer with a bottle, and wiped their butts when they lost their mamas.  A woman who took on snakes, llamas, and whatever else wound up on her property.  A woman whose five dogs were the loves of her life, after her devotion to her husband, Ken.  A woman who loved her family dearly, and lost her own parents far too young.  A woman who has been the caregiver for her husband after a near-fatal accident almost two years ago, and whose unending courage is an example to us all.

          Sherri was blessed, and she was beautiful.  But what I will remember is the Sherri inside that gorgeous package.  That one was most beautiful of all.  And every person who knew her was greatly blessed.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sign Here

           Once again I’ve been driving around greater Sacramento, noticing signs that make you look twice.  And maybe that’s the idea—if you really want to get someone’s attention, post something so outrageous that they not only look, but look again and take a picture of it.
            Here’s one on the door of a large business with several offices:
            I can only assume the writer of this sign is a Francophile and wishes they were in Paris or Provence at the moment.  And don’t we all?  Maybe if we go inside that room they’ll have little Eiffel Tower lamps, poodles, and a table laden with escargot and maracons.
            The next one was no accident.  Apparently I’ve been out of the loop on burglary matters (those careless burglars, not utilizing social media or newsletters to educate the rest of us!) and I didn’t know this was a thing.  But it is.  Turns out the police put a dummy car (I’ve had a few of those in my lifetime, by the way) in a parking structure, and then when someone steals it, whammo—they catch ‘em.
            It puzzles me.  Of the hundreds of cars that park in that downtown garage, what are the odds that a thief will choose the one and only car placed there by the police?  Even if the officers have picked a popular model among car thieves, aren’t the odds of it being stolen incredibly slim?  Or am I just in a bad neighborhood where five or six cars disappear from this building every day?  And wouldn’t video cameras be a cheaper, more efficient way to catch car thieves?  I mean, what if they pick a car other than the decoy duck?  These things get reported, I do believe.  And then the cops can scroll through the day’s footage and see exactly what happened.  Of course, they cannot always trace the car to the chop shop where organized criminals (but not organized enough to have a newsletter, mind you) have stashed it.
            Some might claim that the sign, alone, will discourage theft.  But, assuming you’re a thief, what if you don’t speak English, don’t read, or don’t happen to go through that entrance where the sign is posted?  What if you’re too short to see the sign?  What if you sneeze and blink as you’re hurrying in, and you miss it?  What if you have an accomplice, and they block your view of the sign?  What if you’re wearing burglar attire (hoodie and sunglasses) and can’t see it?  Maybe they should post one of those scrolling light boards at the exit, where everyone has to read it upon leaving.
            Speaking of driving, this last sign is my favorite.  It’s one of three that look pretty much the same, and are posted under the counters at my local Department of Motor Vehicles.  Next time you’re waiting at the DMV, you can conduct a party game, asking everyone to guess what these signs originally said.
            Spoiler alert: I’m going to tell you.  They say, “Please Do Not Leave Children Unattended.”  Don’t you just want to write, underneath, “because this is what will happen”?   Obviously kids have picked off the lettering, placed perfectly at their height, while their parents have stood at the counters, oblivious, talking with DMV clerks.  Seriously, these signs look like unsolved Wheel of Fortune puzzles.  I asked one clerk if I could buy a vowel and told him I’d like to solve the puzzle, but he wasn’t amused.
            Think about it.  What would it cost to fix those signs and then just put a square of plexiglass over them?  Or paint the signs, instead of using removable letters?  Wait—I have it!  Maybe those letters are rigged by the police, and once stolen, can be traced to the pre-school where the culprit is hiding.  Although I didn’t see a warning sign about that.

            Have you subscribed to my YouTube Mom videos, yet?  I can help you with everything imaginable, just like your actual mom.  One of the latest ones is about nagging (ahem). Check ‘em out!  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Holy Moldy

          How does your home smell?  Right now my home smells faintly of bacon, with hints of the apple cinnamon room freshener I have plugged into an electrical outlet. 
          But the entire city of Seattle thinks my house is a musty, moldy cacophony of odors.  Okay, not the entire city.  Just enough people to make me cringe with embarrassment.
          In all fairness, they’ve probably forgotten.  But I will never forget the moment when I was tried and convicted in the court of public opinion, thanks to my eldest scalawag sons.  We had gone to Seattle to visit my longtime childhood pal, Nan Slaughter.  Her name is highlighted so you will visit her amazing cooking and quilting blog, Pots & Pins.
          And she told us about a tour beneath Seattle’s streets, where you could see the shops and cobblestones of a bygone era.  We signed right up.
          But before I tell you what happened, you need a weensy bit of information.  Our home at the time, in Woodland Hills, California, had a kitchen that was tilting and sinking due to dry rot.  The builder had monkeyed the papers, walking them through for signatures on a home that was totally not to code, without proper ventilation under the floors.  And, as anyone could have predicted, a few years were all it took for the thing to start collapsing.  You could roll a marble down our floor at a pretty brisk pace, and the grout was widening and splitting as the counter top pulled away from the back splash.
          Long story endless, we hired a guy to jack up the house and fix it.  But during this adventure, the boys wanted to crawl under there and see for themselves what ooby gooby things there are under houses in the scary, mildewy dark.  Parkas and boots on, they went traipsing off to explore the spidery depths.  And, not surprisingly, it smelled musty and dank.
          Weeks later we left for Seattle.  The older boys, 9 and 11, ran ahead, down the stairs to join the tour group.  I had a younger son and an 18-month old baby with a stroller to maneuver, so I came behind them, just as Richie shouted, “Hey, this smells like our house!”  and Brandon, in a rare moment of delighted agreement with his brother, said, “Yeah, it does!”  at which point every head of every tourist in the shadowy depths whipped around to stare at me as if I had just been pronounced Worst Housekeeper in the Universe. 
          They glared at me, then glared at my four children (how could I keep cranking out babies in such squalor and filth?)  You could almost read their thoughts:  If my house smelled like this putrid, malodorous tour, it should be condemned and I should be evicted.  After all, not one but two witnesses had corroborated the information.
          Why couldn’t my boisterous boys be more specific?  Why couldn’t they say, “I mean the space under our house”?  And, of course, the tour guide was talking away, so I couldn’t interrupt to clarify.  I just had to limp along with the crowd and catch occasional glances in my direction, as if to memorize my face for future FBI identification.
          I couldn’t wait to get away from the group once the tour ended, at which point I sat the boys down for a lecture about clear communication.  They, of course, thought it was hilarious and one of the highlights of the trip.  Naturally, this was communicated to me over and over, with absolute clarity.  
          And so if you happen to be one of those horrified travelers, please know that you could visit my home today without suing me for black mold poisoning.  I might even fix you some bacon.

          And you do know that my YouTube Mom videos include housekeeping tips, right?  Just  nothing about placing duct tape over the mouths of one’s children.  Not yet, anyway.