Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ho, Ho (Really?), Ho

The 2010 holidays find the Universe, in Her infinite, unfathomable wisdom, sorely testing my will to optimism.

First, ¾ of our kids were away for Christmas. I frequently joke about how much I adore the “empty nest,” but I must fess up--I missed the Christmas morning chaos. There’s something just so wrong about a quiet Christmas. If I’m half the domineering, controlling, guilt-dishing mother I think I am, this will never happen again.

Then, on Christmas day, my back went out. No, I don’t think it was a psychosomatic attempt to rally the troops. I think it was the culmination of physical self-abuse that started with careless interpretive dance at my friend’s October wedding that resulted in a slipped hip, then a complete lack of exercise and the internalizing of mountains of end-of-semester stress, then a marathon 5 days hunched over a table grading final papers, then 2 days of leaning over the dining room table with a hot iron pressing haiku transfers onto t-shirts for Christmas presents. So by early this week, I was no longer able to pick the dog dishes up off the floor. And I have a healthy new appreciation for the muscle groups involved in wiping one’s own arse. I made it in to the chiropractor yesterday, and I had her give me acupuncture for anxiety & stress, just for good measure. I expect to be flexible and euphoric any minute now…
Early this week, because I wasn’t having ENOUGH fun, our kitchen drains stopped draining. Ray spent two days on plungers & Drano, and $40 on various length snakes, all to no avail. So today we gave in and called the plumber, who, after several hours, declared the problem a “mystery” and said he’d have to consult his boss. He assured me a fix was possible but would likely involve tearing stuff up, re-routing, cutting into old pipes, installing new pipes, etc. It was, of course, impossible to estimate the costs, he said. So I’ve been doing dishes all day (because dishwashers/drains only stop working once every dish in the house is dirty), one bowlful at a time, then I shuffle, stooped over like some old Grimm Brothers hag, to the bathroom to dump the used dishwater in the toilet (which IS still draining, because the Universe knows better than to REALLY test me).

Did I mention the ice maker stopped working? And I was so counting on the medicinal properties of Bailey’s & eggnog to help straighten up my spine and my sense of humour...

And now Jack Blizzard threatens to blast us with another round of ice, snow and gale-force winds--our third blizzard of the winter so far. If I get snowed in, disrupting my plans to celebrate New Year’s Eve listening to Ray’s band & kissing this foul year good riddance with a pint of Guinness, things could get ugly. But for now, I’m still my usual effervescent Pollyanna self, still filled to brimming with holiday cheer & good will, dammit.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Blizzard Survival Kit

Jack Blizzard had his first major tantrum of the season yesterday. It hit South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. It’s a gen-you-whine snow-in on the Row, with an impossible 7’ drift running the length of our long driveway. While we’re waiting for a kind-hearted tractor neighbor and/or county road crew, I thought I’d offer my essential Blizzard Survival Kit…
1. Coffee. You’ll need a couple pounds stored in an opaque, airtight container in the fridge. Then you’ll need another couple pounds stored in airtight bags in the freezer. You might consider ½-decaf if you’ll be snowed in with another human; you wouldn’t want to be too jumpy. But even worse—for all concerned—would be running out.

2. A larder. Out here on the prairie, you want a fully-stocked pantry at all times. Some people, I won’t mention names, have a pantry full of rice noodles, canned oysters, maple syrup, palm fruit pulp, pad thai sauce, canned tomatoes, refried beans, six kinds of crackers, microwave popcorn, and enough pickled jalapenos to stock every Taco Bell in the U.S. So maybe they don’t think in practical, menu-driven terms, but don’t judge; have you ever tried rice noodles with maple syrup and jalapenos? Yeah, I didn’t think so. They might also have a roasting hen, 5 lbs of tilapia, two boxes of henna, a bazillion wonton skins, a dozen candles, half a carrot cake, 3 lbs of coffee (see #1), an old bag of tater tots, 25 lbs of parrot food, a pound of dried parsley and 25 lbs of venison in the freezer.

3. Woolies. You may think you’re too cool for long underwear, but when the snow blows horizontally in a 50 mph wind, you’ll think again. Without the woolies, pale pink prairie skin looks like red cellophane after a 3-minute walk to the loafing shed.

4. A loafing shed. This is for your peacocks. They’ll want somewhere to roost out of the wind, preferably with a snow-free dirt floor below, where you can leave them cat food and black oil sunflower seeds, daily, at 10 a.m. sharp. A flock of 18 hungry peacocks marching toward your back door at 10:05 is a scary sight. Imagine the Skeksies in Dark Crystal, only leaner & meaner.

5. Chocolate. Four kinds of dark chocolate – with ginger, panko breadcrumbs, sea salt, and cayenne. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine, which causes the brain to release dopamine and oxytocin – chemicals involved in falling in love, relaxation, nurturing and orgasm. Avoid chocolate if you’re snowed in with relatives and/or ex’es.

6. Empty carbs. You’ll need Doritos, mashed potatoes, white bread with butter & sugar, and plenty of pasta with butter and parmie. These become especially important from Day 3 on in the event of a snow-in. The semi-comatose carb sedation will help prevent domestic unrest once the chocolate runs out.

7. Layered outerwear. You’ll want flannel-lined jeans and a sweatshirt, insulated coveralls, parka with a fur-lined hood, knee-high snow boots, a wool hat, insulated waterproof gloves, and a wool scarf to wrap around your face. You won’t be able to breathe, see or move, so you may as well stay inside…skip #7.

8. Dish TV. In the midst of a blizzard, all of your self-righteous pontificating about the evils of Bridezillas, Hell’s Kitchen, the golf channel and Nick Jr. goes out the window along with your heat. Trust me – you’ll be happy to stumble across that Petticoat Junction marathon.

9. Paper books and flashlights with fresh batteries. Your power WILL eventually go out. Books will help you survive the TV/Internet DT’s, which set in about 20 minutes after your power goes out.

10. Knitting. A good yarn stash and a 4-day snow-in could net you at least half a dozen adorable Christmas presents. Search the Web for fast, easy knitting patterns on Day 1, before you lose power. Remember, knitting needles are NOT weapons.

11. A wood stove. Have an ample supply of cut wood, dry and in the house. Have a folding Army cot or two near the stove. When the power goes out, pretend you’re camping in the Himalayas, on your way to meet the Dalai Lama. Chanting ohm nama shivaya ohm helps with the shivering.

12. Wine & Bailey’s. Ditto the importance of the semi-coma mentioned in #6.

13. Board/Bored games. On Days 1-2, these will help pass the time and create the illusion of an old-fashioned farm holiday season. On Days 3-4, they come in handy as non-lethal projectiles.

14. Binoculars. From Day 3 on, you’ll need these in order to stare longingly at the Interstate traffic ½-mile away. This will remind you to keep bathing, shaving your legs, and getting dressed in the morning—life is going on somewhere, and someday, you’ll be part of it again.

15. A comfy bed (if the heat is still on). If you’re not dug out by Day 4, take to your bed. Load up with carbs first for heavy, uninterrupted sleep. Pile on the down quilts. Know that when they dig you out, a kindly social worker will arrive to do a “well person” check called in by your mother. She will wake you to make sure you’re still breathing. Tell her you’ll get up as soon as the coffee’s ready.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Slow Slide into Winter

It’s early December on the Row, which means I’ve been sucked into the Cluster of Doom—that convergence of Winter’s onset, the end of the semester at Little Town U, and the holidays.

I’m currently mired in the grading swamp—60+ literary research essays, Icy Hot neck patches, avoidance blogging, and a bottomless pot of French Roast. It’s a special level of Dante’s Hell for people who won’t give up the delusion that teaching is “noble.”

Meanwhile, the landscape has taken on an unbroken beige pallor, the prairie wind and morning frost turn prayer flags into ice sculptures, and the peas honk at the back porch for She Who Brings Corn. We know it’s coming, but it still takes us by surprise. For a while, we walk around with a stunned raccoon-in-the-headlights look, mouths agape, hauling in pots of basil or geraniums that only froze “a little” in the bone-chilling 20-below wind chill. Some of us, in spite of massive Vitamin D supplements, slide into a blue funk we won’t pull out of until late March. We watch CNN, wear Snuggies, drink too much eggnog and brandy, sleep a lot, and hoard Puffs tissues. Some of us lose our summer freckles and binge on empty carbs, until cheeks inflate around dark, beady eyes. By mid-December, we look like Stay-Puft Marshmallow men.

There are occasional reprieves from the oppression, though. Ray’s 1970’s band, Little Henry, played in the Big City in November, so I got in a much-needed dose of vibrational healing—relaxing with good friends and doing some “chick-singer” therapy.

We had a pre-Thanksgiving gathering with Ray’s family, always a warm, welcome treat, with a bonus visit from old family friends and the arrival of Ray’s sister & BIL from Tennessee.

Then, we were absolutely blessed to host my extended family of 21+ at the Row on Thanksgiving day: Mom, all 4 siblings and 4 sib-spouses (coming from Kansas, Texas, and Mexico), all 4 of our kids, 2 kid-spouses, 3 grandkids, a niece & nephew, a good friend, and 4 dogs. It was a grand potluck buffet, including a turkey finished with a coffee-ginger glaze. I adore our frenetic, loud, laughing, yelling family gatherings, and at this one, we also celebrated 5 December birthdays, including the new baby grandson’s 1st. The next night, Ray’s band played at our fave Little Town watering hole, so many of us from both families went out for a night of exceptional music, more chick-singer therapy, and hip-slipping interpretive dance.

On Friday this week, our family welcomed its newest member, Khloe. She's my niece's first, making my baby bro a first-time grandpa. We're calling him Grandpa Thunder after his "Trailer-Trash Jell-O Salad" shopping debacle over Thanksgiving (Dr. Thunder is NOT the same as Dr. Pepper).

Today, as Winter cracks the tree branches outside, I’m headed back to the greenhouse for another round of grading. But it’s okay. I have my full-spectrum lamp, my space heater, and a bottle of Bailey’s for my bottomless cup ‘o joe.