The Rush of Creating Something New

September 15, 2018 3:37 PM

Earlier this month, I accomplished a goal that I’ve wanted for a very long time. I finished the rough draft of my book. When I typed the words, “The End”, I had written 297 pages, and 91,644 words.  I was very, very happy. For about three days.

After three days, I started missing my characters. I felt like I lost friends that I’d spent years with. Feeling this way makes absolutely no sense because even though the rough draft of my book is complete, the book is far from done. It’s a rough draft. Which means revision needs to happen, many times, probably, to get to the final draft. I am still spending plenty of time reading, editing, rewriting and tweaking my book. I’m with my characters almost every day because I am working on revisions almost every day.

But I’m not creating any more new content. I might add a little extra something to a scene, but the story line is done. I know how it ends. There’s nothing new left, and I miss the rush that comes from creating something new.

I talked with my writing coach about this yesterday, and she said it was common for writers to feel the way when they finish the rough draft. She also cautioned me about starting another book just for the rush of creating. She said that’s how books never truly get finished. They sit in rough draft form forever because the fun part is done.

I can see that, although, I really am itching to start on book 2 of the series. I wasn’t sure there would be a book 2 when I committed to completing the rough draft earlier this summer, but now I’m sure. There will absolutely be a book 2. Even if I write it just for myself. But I won’t start it now. My writing coach is an author who has published many books of her own. I trust her judgement so I’m delaying starting book 2 for now.

But I still have that itch to create. What to do? Make a new quilt? I could, but I have two unfinished quilts already that have been sitting while I dedicated the summer to writing. Write something else? A short story, perhaps? Maybe, but I have a writing submission due to my critique group on Sunday that I should work on first. How about cooking? I like to cook, but I haven’t done much out-of-the-ordinary cooking like recipe testing/creating since I dedicated the summer to writing.

Cooking it would be and I knew just what I wanted to try to make. Deep-fried Swiss and Rye on a stick that I get at State Fair. Earlier this summer, I wrote a post entitled To Fair or Not to Fair, That is the Question, where I discussed my love, no, not love, obsession with deep-fried Swiss and Rye. Us Wisconsin-ites are known for our deep fried, batter coated, heart-attack-inducing cheese treats, but the Swiss and Rye takes deep fried cheesy love to another level. The batter isn’t light and crisp like you normally find on a deep fried cheese curd. It’s thick and flavorful, kind of like the batter used on a corn dog, only rye-ier.

Often, as I said in my fair post, my husband and I go to the Wisconsin State Fair on multiple days and part of the reason is so I can get the Swiss and Rye more than once per season. For the same reason, we sometimes go to our local county fair, so I can get the Swiss and Rye. This year has been a busy one, and we did’t get multiple fair visits in. Nor did we go to multiple fairs. I got one, ONE, Swiss and Rye this year, which I shared with Dennis. (I rarely share my Swiss and Rye. I wait for it all year and when I finally get it, it’s mine, all mine and I’m not sharing.) I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m addicted to Swiss and Rye, but I’m walking a very fine line and I know it.

Today, I decided to try to recreate the Swiss and Rye at home. I do not have a recipe. I only have the memory of the taste and texture to go by. Since the batter is very corn dog-ish, I started with the corn dog recipe from Cook’s Country, my favorite cooking site.

I tweaked the recipe quite a bit, omitting some of the cornmeal and cayenne and adding more rye flour and some water to loosen the batter up. There wasn’t much counter space left by the time I gathered all the ingredients I needed.

prep

Unlike writing, you can see the tangible effort of creating something when you cook.

 

Swiss and Rye from the fair is huge. You are served a large block of crispy, batter coated cheese. It’s roughly the size of my hand as you can see below.

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The is a picture of Swiss and Rye from State Fair. It’s the pinnacle of fair-food, in my opinion. (picture from Shepard Express)

I decided that my version of Swiss and Rye would be smaller. They’d be nugget sized. So I diced my Swiss cheese into 1″ by 1 1/2″ blocks. I mixed and measured. I whisked and stirred. I carefully heated my oil to right temperature. Once it was there, I battered one nugget of cheese and dropped in the oil.

It immediately started to bubble and all the batter stayed on the cheese, which was a relief. I very rarely deep fry anything, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After just a few minutes, I pulled out a perfect miniature version of Swiss and Rye.

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It’s a little Swiss and Rye Nugget! Looks a little like a hushpuppy, doesn’t it?

I anxiously, and with much trepidation, took my little nugget of heaven over to the kitchen table to try it. Would it be close to the fair food perfection I know and love? Or did I just make a big mess in my kitchen for nothing? Only one way to find out. I cut it open.

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The gooey inside of my little Swiss Nugget

What was the verdict? Not bad. The cheese to batter ratio was a bit off. I now understood why the vendor uses big chunks of Swiss cheese in their Swiss and Rye. The batter is so thick, you need plenty of cheese to stand up to it.

The flavor was good. It had the hint of the Swiss and Rye flavor, but not the full on, in your face, rye pop that I love. In writing terms, the rough draft of the book was done, but it needed some revision.

I added more rye flour to amp up the rye flavor, and then a little more buttermilk and water, to thin it out. The ratio of cheese to batter was a problem since I’d already cut up all my Swiss cheese into chunks. I dug around in the kitchen drawers and came up with some nice wooden skewers. I have no idea why I have them, but I did.

I carefully stacked three chunks of cheese on the skewer. This worked for nine pieces of cheese. A lot of the cheese pieces broke and cracked when I tried to skewer them, so I needed another method to stick them back together to create a larger chunk of cheese. Enter the toothpicks. I was able to thread two chunks of cheese on one toothpick without the cheese disintegrating. It wouldn’t be as big as the skewered pieces, but they’d be better than frying them individually. I hoped.

I brought my oil back up to temp, battered all my cheesy morsels of various sizes, and plopped them into the oil. I’m not gonna lie, there were a few casualties. Some of the cheese broke away from the skewers which meant part of the cheesy nuggets weren’t battered as they bubbled away. They floated in my oil like naked, gooey orphans. I tried to salvage them, and let them cook, but they were messing up my oil too much. Eventually, they had to be plucked from the group and thrown away. That happens with writing, too. Sometimes characters that I really like won’t play well with the other characters, and I have to pluck them out from the story, and get rid of them, too. Being creative isn’t for the faint of heart.

After a few more minutes in the oil, the rest of the cheesy survivors were ready. I scooped them up and popped them on a paper towel.

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There are three chunks of cheese nestled under that crispy, golden batter. This looks exactly like the State Fair Swiss and Rye only a little smaller.

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Finally! The perfect cheese to batter ratio!

I called Dennis is to come and taste test with me. We each tried the skewered ones first. When I cut it open, I could’ve sworn I was at State Fair (minus the crowds, the heat and the juggling the hot cheese while I’m walking.) The cheese to batter ratio was perfect. And the taste? Spot on! I nailed it. It was as good, if not better, than State Fair Swiss and Rye. The breading was crispy but not greasy and with the perfect amount of Rye savory flavor to meld with the hot cheese.

The toothpick ones were good, too. So good that I forgot to take a picture of them. It wasn’t as fun to eat them, however, because they had to be cut open in order to extract the toothpick. It’s more fun to eat Swiss and Rye off the stick, like it’s meant to be done.

We slathered them in dipping sauces (mustard for me, marinara for Dennis) and ate all we could, which, honestly wasn’t that much. These suckers are filling! We have plenty for left overs, although, I have no idea if they’ll be good reheated. If not, that’s okay, we really shouldn’t eat two meals of Swiss and Rye anyway. Actually, this recipe isn’t something I will make very often. I’m thinking the next time will be in January or February, when it’s below zero outside and we need a taste of summer to perk us up.

It was fun to create something this morning. It didn’t stop me from missing my characters, but it was a good creative outlet, nonetheless.  There is one down side to being creative with cooking. Clean-up. When I’m done writing, it takes me about three seconds to close my laptop and put it away. Cleaning up this disaster of a kitchen took a lot longer than that. It was worth it, though, to bring a taste of State Fair home.

stove after

Glass cook tops are great in theory, but they’re a real pain in the butt to get oil off of.

4:34 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bucking the Universe – Part 3

September 13, 2018 12:40 PM

So far in my story, (read part 1 here and part 2 here)I have survived a claustrophobic flight in a small airplane to Philadelphia and I discovered that the swim spa I was convinced would work, would not. Dennis and I spent a lot of extra time trying out more expensive pools at the sales showroom, which meant we did not get to tour a defunct prison, try a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich or visit a Wa-Wa (a gas station/convenience store recommended to me by a nun I met on the shuttle to the rental car office.)

After a grabbing a hamburger at a drive thru, Dennis and I made our way back to the airport to drop off the rental car. Traffic wasn’t terrible, we breezed through security lines with our TSA PreCheck and our flight was still on time.  The weather was now partly cloudy and warm. Still good weather for flying. The day had been long, and disappointing in many ways, but it was almost over. All I had to do was fly home in a nice large plane, with normal sized aisles and bathrooms. I even had my aisle seat assigned. No extra leg room, which meant a bit more tight quarters than I’m comfortable with, but it’s only a 90 minute flight. I’d be fine.

I was concerned our flight could be delayed, because I know east coast airports are very busy and sometimes have more delays than we see in Milwaukee. I continued to check the status throughout the afternoon and it was not. This was great news. It was crucial that we leave on time, because I had the pet sitter scheduled to pick up the dogs from the kennel about the time we would be taking off.

Officially, I was paying for two nights of boarding at the kennel, because the dogs were being picked up 1/2 hour before they closed, so they charged me for an extra night whether I picked them up that day or the next morning. This was fine with me. It was a bit more expensive, but it also offered a buffer if my flight should be delayed. I could leave the dogs there an extra night and get them in the morning if our flight was late. We were supposed to leave around 5:10 PM, the pet sitter was scheduled to the pick them up around 5:30. Should there be a delay, surely, I’d know it in advance to her picking them up.

We were due to arrive back in Milwaukee around 6:50 PM, which meant we’d be home no later 7:30. The pet sitter was going to bring the dogs home from the kennel and give them dinner. This arrangement meant that the dogs would be alone for about an hour between the time the pet sitter left and we returned home. I knew that Sammy would probably bark the entire time. Not the greatest, but I figured the cats could deal with the barking for an hour, so the dogs didn’t have to spend another night in the kennel.

The time came to board our plane about twenty minutes before it was scheduled to take off. As we settled in, I noticed there were two babies sitting behind us with their parents. One was a toddler age, in the window seat, Mom sat in the middle seat and Dad was on the aisle. Mom and Dad were juggling the infant between them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-baby by any means.  I understand that families have to fly with babies and I understand babies cry. It was just unfortunate that I happened to be seated in front of babies on the one trip where I didn’t have my noise-canceling head phones. No matter how limited carry on space is, I will never, ever fly without them again.

While we waited to take off, the Mom of the babies realized that the lady across the aisle from her husband was traveling to the same funeral they were. Which she and the lady discussed at great length. Very loudly. Around this time, I also noticed that it was getting a bit cloudier outside. I started to get a little nervous. A storm could mess up my entire plan with the pet sitter, and the short window I had to contact to her to tell her to leave the dogs at the kennel instead of picking them up was rapidly ticking away.

The time to take off came and went. It got cloudier outside. The baby started to cry forcing the mom to talk even louder so the lady across the aisle to could hear her. I kept expecting Mom to change seats with Dad, who was on the aisle, so she could more easily talk to her new-found friend. It never happened.

At 5:20, ten minutes after we were supposed to take off, the captain came on over the intercom saying there was some rain in the area and our take off would be delayed for a short while.

I panicked. My carefully orchestrated schedule did not allow for a delay that I found out ten minutes after we were supposed to take off! Dennis and I quickly discussed our options. I decided that since it was so close to when the dogs would be picked up, I’d call the kennel and tell them they had to stay another night. I’d text the pet sitter once I reached the kennel.

I made the call, cupping my hand over my free ear to block the crying/loud talking behind me. When I reached the kennel, they told me I was too late. The pet sitter had picked up the dogs already. Okay, no problem, I can deal with this. I’ll have to ask the pet sitter to bring them back.  I confirmed with the kennel that the dogs could  have their room back, if I needed it, and I told them I would let them know in five minutes whether the dogs would be back. Then I called the pet sitter to discuss options. Around this time, the toddler started whining and crying which meant Mom needed to talk even louder to her new friend.

The pet sitter was already at our home with the dogs when I called her. We discussed options of her staying the night or bringing them back. Since she had other plans early the morning the next day, I opted to have her bring them back to kennel. At this point it started to rain. Torrents of rain, all at once. It literally went from a couple of rain drops to a deluge.

I called the kennel to confirm the dogs would be returning and they told me they now could not take them. What? I just called. I paid for two nights. What do you mean you can’t take them? I never did get an answer why and I didn’t have time to dig into at that point. I hung up and called the pet sitter again, and told her the dogs had to stay home. I was completely at a loss of what to do. Other than something happening to the people in my life, having my animals not cared for is my worst case scenario when traveling.

I have a really awesome pet sitter. She worked it out that she would spend the night if we needed her to, and would leave very early in the morning. I was so relieved. How wonderful to have someone to rely on like that who isn’t family. I promised her I would text her as soon as I knew anything since we were still hoping to fly home at some point that night. The dogs would be alone, worst case, for three or four hours that night until she returned. As long as we could get home by early morning, all would be fine.

The rain continued. And the winds came up. Hard enough to shake the plane. Afternoon showers don’t last long, right? They move through in twenty minutes or so? Wrong. This afternoon shower hung over Philadelphia for hours. We were watching the radar on our phone. One little storm cell, surrounded by many big storm cells, just sat, swirling around Philadelphia, not moving.

In addition to the rain and the wind, came the thunder and lightning. I wondered what happens if a plane gets struck by lightning? I decided not to ask Dennis. It didn’t really matter because I was stuck on the plane, no matter what. At some point in the storm, they made us taxi to a far part of the runway. I suppose to get out of the way of flights still trying to get in? I’m not sure. But I know we were in no-man’s land, and that’s not a good place to be when you’re stuck on a plane. I tried to count my blessings. At least the plane I was stuck on wasn’t the tiny one from earlier in the day. And the bathrooms were still working. I’ve heard horror stories about passengers being stuck on the tarmac with no bathrooms.

I have to say, after the initial crying for maybe ten minutes, the babies were really good.  They were quiet and seemed happy. Way happier than I was, by far. The Mom, however, continued her across the seat and aisle conversation with her new BFF for most of the three hours were stuck there. It was very unfortunate that the plane was not serving alcohol. We got water. Water does not help to calm nerves or sooth annoyances. I will never, ever, travel without my noise-cancelling head phones again. Did I say that already?

As we sat, with the plane rocking in the wind, Dennis and I began discussing worst-case scenarios. We’ve both been in situations where we’ve waited out a weather delay, only to find out the flight crew has been working too long, and the flight gets cancelled anyway because the crew can’t fly anymore that day. This doesn’t happen that often for early morning flights, but it’s a lot more common for evening ones, like ours.

We started researching driving home (assuming they ever let us off the plane). It’s thirteen hours from Philadelphia to Milwaukee, driving straight through. Assuming we didn’t sleep, and didn’t stop except for gas, that would put us home mid-morning (leaving an hour or so to get the rental car and leave the plane). Except it had already been a long day, we were both up at 4 AM. We’d need to sleep a few hours. This would put us home early afternoon. Not good, but it was the best we could do. We booked a rental car as our back-up plan and waited.

We started to get hungry but we hadn’t pack our usual snacks in our carry on because of the limited space.  Stupid, stupid, stupid. I did find a still wrapped blueberry muffin that was only kind of crushed that I bought in the Milwaukee airport that morning. We considered selling it to the other hungry passengers on the plane to pay for the rental car.

At the 2:25 minute mark, which was well past the time we should have been home, the Captain come on the intercom and said we were taxing back to the gate. We figured that was it. The flight is cancelled and we’re driving home.

Once we reached the gate, the Captain came on the intercom again and said that we still couldn’t deplane because the lightning was too bad to bring the bridges in to get us off. We’d have to wait until it died down. Oh, goody. I resisted the urge to Google what happens if a plane gets struck by lightning.

After another fifteen minutes or so, they finally decided we could deplane. As we got to the gate area, I noticed the Captain was at the check in kiosk talking to a customer service agent for the airlines. We stopped, and Dennis asked him how much longer he had in his shift before he wouldn’t be able to fly. Finally, we caught a break! He and the rest of the flight crew had just come on for this flight. They had thirteen hours left in their shift! Hooray!

We thought it was unlikely the storm would last for ten or eleven hours, which is what it would take before this crew couldn’t fly anymore. We canceled the rental car and I hung out close to the gate and listened for news, while Dennis ran to the closest fast food place and got us hamburgers. Really bad, cold airport hamburgers. They were a very poor substitute for the Philly Cheesesteak I’d been hoping for.

After only about twenty minutes at the gate, the crew said there was a break in the storm and they were going to try get us out. We quickly boarded and the crew did all the safety procedures super quick. No one wanted to lose the window to fly.

I composed a text to the pet sitter telling her we had taken off and she didn’t need to spend the night and I sat, with my finger on the send button, until I felt the wheels leave the ground. Given how the day had gone, I didn’t trust that we were really, and truly leaving Philadelphia until that point. Once I felt the wheels lift, I clicked send and turned my phone off.

Thankfully, the rest of the flight was smooth. If there were bumps flying up and over the storms, I didn’t feel them. I was too happy to be in the air and too anxious to get home to my animals.

We got home that night about 10:30, a little over three hours from when we planned. It seemed longer. Probably due to the stress. Sammy was barking and probably had been for quite some time, based on how the cats were acting. Everyone was back to normal the next morning, though, thankfully.

I debated calling the kennel to find out what the hell happened. Why, when I paid for two nights, did I lose my room because I chose to have my dogs picked up early? However, by Monday, when the kennel was open again, I calmed down and decided to let it go. My kennel is affiliated with my vet, and I like my vet. I also like the manager of the kennel who has gone out of her way help me in the past when my dogs stay there. I will never again tell them I am picking my dogs up in the afternoon, however. If I pay for two nights, I’ll tell them I’m picking them up the morning of the third day, even if I plan to get them earlier. Fool me once, and all that.

So, after all this, am I getting a pool? Maybe. I’m still not sure, and I’m waiting for a few weeks to see if the Universe cares to weigh in on the decision. This time, if it does, I’ll listen.

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I had these exact head phones at home, charged and ready to go. Why, oh why, didn’t I bring them?

1:42 PM

 

Bucking the Universe – Part 2

September 10, 2018 10:44 am

In my last post, Bucking the Universe – Part 1, I talked about the decision Dennis and I made to fly in and out of Philadelphia on the same day, against my better judgement, to try a swim spa that I’ve wanted to buy for our home.

When we last left off in the story, I thought the worst of the trip was over. Claustrophobic me had just completed my first (and last!) flight in a small, 50 seat airplane. Not without challenges, I might add, but I did make it.

Philadelphia weather was perfect when we landed. A little on the warm, muggy side, but sunny and calm, perfect flying weather. On the shuttle ride to the car rental counter, I had a lovely conversation with two nuns, one of which was proclaiming the virtues of Wa-Wa.

What’s a Wa-Wa, you may ask? I know I did. A Wa-Wa, according to the nun, is a convenience store/gas station where you can, and I quote, “Get your entire life there.” Wow. That’s quite a claim. I decided Dennis and I were going to have to fit a Wa-Wa visit in our short time in Philly.

Once we landed, we had about five hours before we needed to be back at the airport for our flight home. The pool showroom is twenty minutes from the airport. I expected the visit to be brief, no more than a half hour or forty-five minutes tops. Just enough time to change, try the pool I was sure would work, change back and be on our way.

I thought we might even have enough to time to check out a defunct prison nearby for forty-five minutes or so. (Some people would make a beeline for the Liberty Bell, but not me. Old defunct prison’s are more my style. Alcatraz is my favorite part of visiting San Francisco.)

I figured we’d grab an authentic Philly Cheesesteak on the way to the prison. On the way back to airport, we could stop at a Wa-Wa and gas up the car before dropping it off. According to the nun, there were many of them in the area. Our schedule was tight, but not impossible.

The car rental place was very busy, and it took a bit longer than we expected, However, they gave us free soft, authentic Philly Pretzels while we waiting, so all was good. Once we got the car, the next stop was the pool showroom. And I use the word “showroom” very loosely.

The entrance of the showroom was very nice and professional with a receptionist who called the salesman we’ve been working with for the past three months. He gave us a tour of the pools they had set up and available to try. I was expecting a normal pool showroom, where each pool is setup next to another pool in a large open area. Not in this case. Not even close.

The “showroom” was, in essence, a working warehouse, where they installed pools in various locations. They had, at most, two pools in the same location. The locations of the pools, while they were in the same general area, were connected with rickety, narrow, wooden construction-site style stairs. In some cases, we had to cross the warehouse floor to get to the next pool.

It wasn’t what I expected, but I didn’t care because I was only trying the one pool. The moderately-priced pool that was advertised to be perfect for the “casual swimmer.” I’m fifty-two, and I haven’t done any serious swimming, or any other kind of exercise for that matter, for six years. I figured I’d be lucky if I could keep up with the swim current at it lowest setting.

After changing in a tiny little bathroom, which seemed huge at that point after the whole Lilliputian bathroom I dealt with on the plane, I donned my swim suit, my flip-flops and headed out to try my pool. Note, that I refer to the pool as “my pool” at this point. I was already sold on it. I almost bought it sight unseen, but Dennis thought I should try it first. So, as far as I was concerned, testing it out was just doing my due diligence for a few minutes before I could go tour my prison.

After changing, Dennis and I followed the salesman up one rickety flight of stairs and down another to get to my pool. Stairs are not great for my bad knee, which is one of the main reasons I want the pool, so I can strengthen it. Stairs in flip-flops are even worse on my bad knee. But it didn’t matter, I reasoned. I’m only using the stairs once. I’ll try the pool out, and be done. Bring on the cheesesteak and the prison.

I make my way up another set of rickety stairs to get into my pool, and once I’m in, I notice that it feels much roomier that the other pools I’ve tried. Good sign. I ask the salesman to turn the pool current to low. (I know from past experiences in testing out swim spa pools that if you start the current too high, it spits you back into the end of the pool.)

I put on my hideous black swim cap, don my swim goggles, and take the plunge, literally, and start swimming. I promptly touch the front of the pool, where the machine that generates the current is located, with my fingertips. I’m out swimming the speed of the current.

Okay, the low setting is too low for me. I ask the salesman to turn up the current a bit (he assured us prior to visiting, that this pool had a fully configurable current, not just a “low or high” setting.) He switches the current to high and informs us any further configuration for current speed needs to be done manually by moving two plastic discs in the pool. Which he can only accomplish by climbing up his own set of rickety stairs, plunging his arm almost to his shoulder into the pool, and spinning the flat plastic discs.

I’m leery of the sales guy at this point. As far as I’m concerned, he blatantly lied to us about the variable swim current. But, okay. I’m here. I’ll try it. If moving these discs changes the resistance, fine. I can move the discs.

I plunge in again and start swimming. And I touch the current generator at the front of the pool again. The current is still too slow. Turn ‘er up again, I say. Which he does. I try it again and still hit the front of the pool. How is this possible? I’m not in shape. I’m no where near in shape. I had to decide whether there was room for me turn around in a micro aisle of the plane a few hours earlier. There is no way I’m going to out swim a current that is meant for a casual swimmer.

But I did. At top speed, with the resistance disc’s fully opened, I swam comfortably in the current. If I pushed myself, which is kind of the point of getting a swim spa, I out swam the current and hit the front of the pool. I’m not sure who the company considers a “casual swimmer” if not an out-of-shape, fifty-two year old woman who considers exercise walking the dog to the corner and back.

Obviously, the pool I was sold on, my pool, the one in my price range, wasn’t going to work. I was disappointed and relieved that Dennis was wise enough to insist I try it before we bought it.

Now what do we do? Give up on the idea all together? Try other pools that cost more than I want to spend? Since we were there, Dennis and I decided to try the other pools they had available.

I tried out a total of six pools. Which meant I did flights of rickety wooden stairs five times that day in slippery, wet flip-flops. (Two pools were in the same area). In addition to the wooden stairs, there were the stairs I navigated up and down into the pools. And the time spent swimming in the pools – a minimum of three or four minutes each to make sure I could stay in the current while I swam.

I should mention at this point, that getting in these pools is a bit tricky. They aren’t like getting into an in-ground pool where you just jump in, or even an above ground pool where there’s a ladder to climb in and out of it. Nope. These swim spa’s resemble really large bathtubs — each one came up to my neck or higher. They require steps to lead up to them and there is one seat, about four feet down in the pool to step on to enter it. Traversing the top step on the outside of the pool to the seat four feet below inside the pool, requires a certain amount of grace and finesse’. Of which I possess neither.

I finally figured out that the safest way for me to get in the pool was to sit and balance myself on the 9″ ledge of the pool and swing my legs into the water, one at a time, until I was sitting with my feet dangling into the pool, at which time, I could drop down into the water. This was not the fluid one-step movement that you might expect it to be. This was a multi-step process for me, with stops at each step to make sure I was still balancing my way-larger-than-9-inch butt on the tiny railing.

At one point in this choreographed sequence, I was sitting, straddling the 9 inch ledge with one leg on the top of the stairs and the other dangling in the pool while in my swimming suit, hideous black swim cap and goggles. It was at this point, when several male warehouse workers passed us, brown bags in hand, while they went to lunch. They glanced over at me, and to their credit they were kind enough not to laugh. But I’m sure they wanted to. I was a sight to see.

Let me point out that three months ago, when I first tested a swim spa, I was self-conscious and I wore a full length cover up the entire time I was in the showroom, right up to the point where I entered the pool. I put it back on immediately after I came back out.

However, after three months of hauling my ass and thighs in and out of all these pools, I’ve become desensitized to the point that I can sit in my swimming suit, straddling the thin ledge of a pool, and not be freaked out by two random warehouse workers looking at me. I actually thought it was kind of funny, in that bizarre, you-can’t-make-shit-like-this-up category. I bet they had a good laugh over lunch.

During another test swim, another warehouse worker approached our salesman and asked if we were done testing one of the pools. Apparently, he wanted to go for a swim on his lunch. Ack! I despise public pools. That’s another reason I want to get a swim spa. Up to that point, I’d been comforting myself with the thought that there aren’t that many people that try out these swim spas so they’re not really public pools. Especially considering one has to  to fly to Philly to try them. I didn’t consider that the workers at the warehouse/showroom used them themselves. Cue the germaphobe paranoia.

I tried one more pool after that, and I called it quits for the day.  At that point, we’d been there for a little over two hours. I was tired, hungry and my knee was sore. The prison idea was shot. Not enough time left to fit that in. I thought my Philly cheesesteak and Wa-Wa were still a go.

I did find a pool I really liked. It’s quite a bit more than the original pool I went there for, but it’s considerably less than the pools I’ve looked at in Wisconsin. So maybe we could still make the swim pool idea work.

After Dennis and I got changed, and were ready to leave, the salesman led us into a room where he insisted on pricing out the exact pool we wanted. Fine, I suppose, although I didn’t intend to buy anything on spot.

The salesman was very focused on colors. What color lining did I want? What color edging? And he talked a lot, without saying anything. And I was getting annoyed with him. Finally, I told him as politely as I could manage, considering I was hungry (didn’t have anything except for 1/2 of the Philly pretzel from the car rental place all day), tired and I really wanted to get out of there, that I wasn’t buying today, so just put in any color combination for the quote and I would figure it out later.

Which he did. And then he offered to take a thousand off, but any more he’d have to talk to his sales manager. Aha! Now I understood. We’re dickering. Apparently, you can dicker on the price of a pool. I didn’t know that. I’m a good dickerer. Dennis and I have the routine down. He’s the “good” guy and wants to do the sale, and I’m the “bad” guy who won’t budge on the dollars.

We dickered for a few minutes, and got another couple thousand off the pool. Am I ready to sign? the salesman asked. No. But I’m ready for my cheesesteak.

We left the warehouse/showroom, with directions to a cheesesteak place the receptionist recommended and a quote on the pool. However, when we got to the car, and googled how long it would take to get to the restaurant, and we noticed how the time to get to the airport was increasing as it grew later in the afternoon, we realized the cheesesteak wasn’t going to happen either. We needed enough time to drop off the car at the rental place and take the shuttle back to the airport, so we opted for a drive through hamburger at a chain restaurant. There were no Wa-Wa’s that we could find in the area, so Dennis topped off the tank at the nearest station near the car rental place.

No moderately priced pool. No prison visit. No Philly cheesesteak. No Wa-wa. At least we were going home and I’d see my animals and sleep in my own bed tonight.  The weather was still warm and mostly clear. Our flight was on time. Things could be worse.

And they would be.

To be continued

12:03 PM

Philly-Cheesesteak-Sandwich-5

I never did get my Philly Cheesesteak. That might not be such a bad thing considering I didn’t get my moderately priced pool, either.

 

 

 

 

Bucking the Universe – Part 1

September 8, 2018  4:42 PM

Have you ever had something you want to do, I mean really want to do, but problems keep cropping up that prevent you from doing it? It’s almost as if the Universe doesn’t want you to do whatever it is you want to do, so it throws one obstacle after another in your way?

After a couple of random, out-of-the-blue obstacles showing up and thwarting your plans, smart intuitive people take the hint the Universe is sending them, and make another plan.

Not-so-smart, clueless people say fuck you Universe, I want what I want, and they plod ahead anyway.  This was me yesterday and it wasn’t pretty. It’s kind of a long story, so I am going to break it up into two, possibly three posts.

If you’ve read this blog, you know I’ve been wanting to get a swim spa for my house. I’ve been testing pools in my area, but the one pool I really wanted to test is in Philadelphia. I’ve scheduled, and canceled for various reasons, two different trips to Philadelphia this summer. On Monday this week, my husband found super cheap tickets for us to fly there on Friday, Sept 7th.

I was leery to get the tickets for several reasons. First, the tickets required us to arrive in Philadelphia and leave Philadelphia the same day. We’d leave the house at 4 am and get back home by 8:00 pm. That is one hell of a long day.

The second reason is that Sammy, one of our dogs, is struggling with separation anxiety again. This means he barks non stop from the time we leave until we return back home. Not great for him, really not great for our cats. We’ve tried drugging him with Tramadol, but it makes him sick. This means, to do our day trip, the dogs would have to be kenneled for Thursday night before we leave, and Friday night, because we will get back too late to pick them up.

The third reason I was leery is that the plane we were to fly into Philadelphia on is small, it holds 50 people. One row of one seat on one side and one row of two seats on the other. Maybe this isn’t small to a lot of people, but by my standards it is.

I am claustrophobic. I do not like crowds. I do not like to sit in the middle of a row in a theater or concert. There are a few restaurants I cannot go to because the tables are close together and the ceilings are low. I do not like parking garages, because they back up after large events let out and I’m trapped in them. I’m not big fan of planes in general because once those doors close, you’re stuck at the mercy of whatever the airline wants to do to you. If I do fly, I have to be in an aisle seat, near the front, where I can focus on all the empty space between me and cockpit. Poor Dennis always ends up in the middle seat. I pay extra for the seats with extra leg room, not because I have long legs, but because extra leg room means there’s extra space in between me and the back of the seat in front of me. You get the idea. Traveling with me is not fun.

These super-cheap tickets did not come with extra leg room. They didn’t even come with assigned seats. We’d have to wait until 24 hours before the flight to check-in online and select our seats. There was a possibility I wouldn’t get my aisle seat.

I almost told Dennis no. Don’t buy the tickets. But I really want a swim spa and the one I want is a quarter of the price of the ones I’ve tested here. Even at a quarter of the price, it’s still a lot of money, so I really should try it before I buy it.

Against my better judgement, I agreed that Dennis should buy the tickets and I went about mitigating the problems where I could. I was able to get our pet-sitter to pick the dogs up Friday night for us while we flew home. They’d get home an hour or two before we would, but that would be okay.

Dennis logged into the airlines 24 hours before each flight and reserved us seats. They weren’t extra leg room seats, and they were definitely more in the middle of the plane than up front, but at least I scored an aisle seat each way.

Thursday night came, and I was starting to get nervous about the trip. I was dreading the day. That’s understandable, though, right? It was going to be long, with most of it going through airports and flying.

At least packing for the trip was easy. Since we could only bring bags that fit under our seats (we didn’t have access to overhead bins with our super-cheap seats) I threw in my swimsuit, flip flops and a little make up. That was it. I have audio books downloaded on my cell phone and I took small ipod earbuds instead of my noise cancelling headphones. The flights were short, only about an hour and half, and space was at a premium. I didn’t bother to pack any snacks on the plane for the same reason. This isn’t much different from driving to the casino in the Dells for the day, I told myself.

Holy Crap, was I wrong. So, so, wrong.

Friday morning started out fine. As fine as getting out of bed at 4 am can be. We have TSA pre-check, so we walk past the line at security at Mitchell Airport and get right through. Dennis didn’t get tagged for a TSA search this time, so that was a good omen. (You can read about Dennis’ experiences with TSA here.)

Then we board the plan. I have to bend down to not hit my head on the top of the door when I walk on to it, and I’m 5′ 3″. My chest constricts as soon as I look down the long narrow body of the plane with the low, low ceilings. The entire plane reminds me of being inside an MRI cylinder. I was thinking there is no fucking way can I do this as I look for my seat.

The aisle in between the rows of seats, is roughly the amount of space you get between your knees and the seat in front of you in a movie theater. No one, including the flight attendant, can get down that aisle without their hips slamming into the arms and elbows of the seated passengers trying to fold their own appendages into their allotted seat space, which is roughly the size of a small Amazon box.

There is no way to sit in the seats and not have some part of your body touching the other person next to you. Any hope of retaining any amount of personal space on this plane is gone.  Thankfully, Dennis and I are seated next to each other because otherwise a complete stranger and I would have gotten to know each other a whole better than either of us wanted.

There I sit, belted into my mini seat, trying to look down the micro aisle to quell the claustrophobia that is quickly closing in. If I reach up, I can easily touch the ceiling over me, and the ceiling over the micro aisle isn’t much taller. The windows look like little port holes you’d find on a submarine, which reminds me that this entire plane reminds me a bit of being on a submarine. I toured a submarine once. For about five minutes. And then I hightailed back up top and let the tour go on without out me. Not a helpful memory to conjure up in that moment.

The flight attendant closes the door to the plane and I can’t seem to get my breath. I regret not snagging a couple of the dog’s Tramadol before I got on this flight. I focus on telling myself, it’s fine, there’s plenty of air. I concentrate on listening to the emergency instructions, anything to take my mind off the fact that this plane is getting smaller every minute I sit here. Then I realize I have to go to the bathroom. I look around for the bathroom icon up front but there isn’t one. There is one bathroom on this flight, in the back, which means I will have to make my way down the micro aisle filled with people. Cue heart palpitations.

Back in the “old days”, Pre-9/11, I’d have gotten up before take off, ran to the bathroom and let the flight attendant grumble at me. But I’ve heard of people getting thrown off of planes for doing that now, and although getting thrown off this plane isn’t that terrible of an idea, I really do want to get to Philadelphia. So I wait.

I take out my phone and put on my ear buds and start playing my audio book. I find that closing my eyes, listening to the words helps the claustrophobia abate somewhat. If your eyes are closed, you don’t know that you’re sitting within an arm’s reach of four different strangers.

This works through take off. I find out that you feel the acceleration and the bumps in a small plane far more than you do in a bigger plane. Thank goodness I remembered to take Dramamine before we boarded.

Ten minutes into the flight, I really have to go to the bathroom. I stop the audio book, which isn’t holding my interest anyway, and I stare at the seat belt sign as if I can will it to go off so I can get up out of my seat. The flight attendant is starting the beverage service (how the hell is she going to get herself and a cart down that teeny tiny aisle, I wonder). Suddenly, I see the bathroom icon light up. Someone is using it! The seat belt sign is still lit, but someone behind me got up to use the bathroom anyway. There’s hope!

I secretly unbuckle my seat belt so I’m ready to make a run for it when the bathroom icon light goes dark again and the bathroom is free. The flight attendant is making her way down the aisle with her cart toward my seat. If she passes my seat with the cart, I’ll have to wait until she serves the entire plane before I can get the bathroom. She’s five seats away. Then four. The bathroom sign is still lit up as occupied and the seat belt sign is still lit, too. Flight attendant is at three seats. Then two. While she’s serving the seats in front of us, the bathroom light finally goes dark. The bathroom is free, but seat belt sign is still lit. There’s no time to waste, a decision needs to be made since the cart is almost blocking me in. Do I make a break for it and ignore the seat belt sign or wait until beverage service is through?

Seat belt sign be damned, I’m going for it! They can’t kick me off the plane at this point, right? I jump out of my seat right before the flight attendant can block me in with her cart and I bolt to the back the plane toward the bathroom. When I say bolt, I mean I walk as if I were on a boat, because unbeknownst to me, small planes aren’t as steady as large ones. You feel the sway of the air beneath and you get thrown side to side. I know for a fact my hips and butt banged into several fellow aisle seat passengers who didn’t have the good sense to lean in and clear the way for me to get through.

Finally, I make it to the bathroom. The bathroom, if you can it that, is roughly the size of a very narrow clothes closet with about the same depth. It has accordion doors that slide open, which was fine, until I tried to close them. Closing the door involved contorting my body over the sink and the toilet to make room for the door to shut properly. I’m pretty sure that sitting on the toilet itself would cause one’s knees to bang into the sink. Bumpy, unsteady plane or not, I wasn’t trying it.

The sink was doll-sized, small even by airline standards and the water trickled out. I mean literally trickled. There was no water pressure. Nor was there water pressure when the toilet flushed. It trickled blue water. I really tried to get the full swoosh flush thing going on, but it just never happened. Maybe small planes don’t have enough juice to swoosh? They have to channel all their energy into keeping the rubber band engines running?

All this futzing around with the water pressure in the bathroom took a few minutes, so when I finally emerged (I had to re-contort to break free), the flight attendant and her cart had maneuvered two seats past mine. As I made my way up the micro aisle, which was even harder than going down it because there was still a definite angle up (I guess we were still climbing altitude), the flight attendant glanced at me, gave me a don’t-expect-me-to-move-for-you look, and asked me sit in a vacant seat several rows back until she passed me. Seriously? She was two seats past my seat. Considering each seat gives you about three feet of space, that would have been at most two steps back for her. Maybe three including the cart.

Since I was naughty, and got up when the seat belt sign clearly told me not to, I smiled and told her of course I would do that. Unfortunately, the vacant seat was five rows back and I was faced with a conundrum. Do I try to turn around in the micro aisle and let my ass take out the innocent people sitting on the aisle next to me or do I walk backwards down the swaying, bumpy micro aisle for five rows and only nudge them again with my hips.

I opted for backwards and nudging. I held on to the seat backs for balance because walking backwards down a slope that’s going up when the plane is bouncing and swaying, isn’t all that easy. And I’m not graceful by nature. So it really wasn’t easy for me, but I made it. I resisted the urge to go “beep, beep” as I backed up, although I do think it would been funny in that I-really-need-to-buy-a-swim-spa-and-get-some-exercise kind of way. Eventually, I got there and I flopped down in the free seat (thankfully it was an aisle!) where my thighs made quick acquaintance with the nice lady sitting next to me.

I kid you not, I sat there for about fifteen seconds, when the flight attendant pulled the cart back a few feet and motioned for me to return to my seat. Apparently, she felt that I was sufficiently punished for breaking the rules. I got back up, sashayed my way down the same damn micro aisle, bumping and nudging the same poor people again and made my way back to my seat. I swore off all liquids for the remainder of the flight.

When I got settled back into my seat, and used two wet wipes to sterilize my hands, I checked my phone. Surely an hour must have gone by since this flight started. The whole bathroom fiasco had to take fifteen or twenty minutes at least. Right? Wrong. We’d been in the air for twenty minutes total. Bathroom fiasco included. Fuck.

So I sat. I tried not to think about the small windows, the narrow cabin, the low ceilings and all the people crammed in near me. I tried listening to the audio book but I couldn’t concentrate and the engines were loud and bleeding through into the story. Even with the volume on high, I could still hear the plane noises through the ear buds.

Finally, out of desperation and the very real concern that I was going to freak out completely and have  a panic attack right then and there, I searched for downloaded music on my phone. Normally, I don’t download music to my phone. I stream it. Thankfully, I found a handful of songs I downloaded at some point, probably accidentally. Included in them was a 4:49 second Whitney Houston song, I Have Nothing. I’m not a huge Whitney fan, but I like some of her songs and this is one of them. I started playing it, top volume through the ear buds. And it worked! Whitney can sing, and she’s LOUD. She completely drowned out of the airplane sounds.

I closed my eyes and tried to mentally go somewhere else. I don’t know how to meditate, but I do know how to visualize scenes for my book. So I did that. With Whitney’s I Have Nothing on repeat, I disappeared into Hawksville, North Carolina with the characters in my book. After a few minutes I felt the pressure in my chest abate. Air came easier.  I unclenched muscles I wasn’t aware I was clenching. And finally, I fell asleep.

When I woke up, Whitney was still playing and we were preparing for landing. I made it. I made it through flying in a little tin can of a plane. When we disembarked, I was relieved. The plane we fly home on much larger, a normal sized plane with three seats across on each side. The worst of the trip was over, I thought.

Boy, was I wrong.

To Be Continued

5:50 PM

airplane

This is the type of plane we flew out on. It looks a hell of a lot larger from the outside than it does from the inside!

Dear John Letters and Men I Have Enjoyed

8/20/18 10:50 AM

Since Friday afternoon, I’ve done nothing but lay on the couch and play video games or watch TV. While I enjoy doing both, normally it’s just for a two or three hours max at a time. Not an entire weekend.  Early last week, I started coming down with a cold. By Friday afternoon, I was miserable, with just enough energy to change the TV input from PS4 to Roku.  I tried to write, but my brain was too focused on trying to get air for me to produce anything decent.  Hence, the cold-medicine induced, slug-like existence for two and half days.

You might think that having an entire weekend to catch up on shows I’ve been wanting to watch isn’t such a bad thing. The problem was, I was finding it hard to concentrate on anything that remotely required thought. Which left me with movies that I’ve seen before and romance movies.

Don’t get me wrong, even though I’m not a big fan of romance movies now, I used to love them. A few still rank in my top movies of all time. The Way We Were, Officer and Gentlemen, Urban Cowboy, Say Anything and Moonstruck, just to name a few. You’ll notice that all of those were released at least thirty years ago. The only recent (as in the last fifteen years) romance movies I remember enjoying are Brokeback Mountain and Walk the Line. Dennis made me watch The Notebook by Nicolas Sparks when it came out. (Spoiler alert here) I think I’m the only person who saw that movie that was hoping for them to die already so the damn movie could be over.

Well, I was so sick this weekend, that I watched another Nicolas Sparks movie, Nights in Rodanthe. Voluntarily. To be fair, I only watched 3/4’s of it because I fell asleep. And I only chose it because it had Richard Gere and Viola Davis in it. (I found out it was a Nicolas Sparks story when I saw his name in the opening credits.)

I watched another romance movie on Netflix called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It’s a period piece, set in the English island of Guernsey, right after WWII. It had gorgeous scenery, excellent 1940’s fashion and it features Lady Rose, Lady Sybil and Mrs. Crowley from Downton Abbey. The plot is predictable, which is okay when you’re in a slug-like state. I actually enjoyed it.

Most of what I watched this weekend, however, were movies that I’ve already seen. I watched Walk the Line again, with Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix and enjoyed it. I watched Pulp Fiction with John Travolta, Uma Thurman and Bruce Willis (probably one of my all time favorite movies ever) and I still loved it. I watched Gross Point Blank with John Cusack (one of my favorite stars of all time) and Minnie Driver … and I thought it was stupid. I found John Cusack’s character, Martin, to be annoying and unsympathetic, not at all the lovable goof that he’s always been.

How can this be? I’ve seen that movie lots of times before and I always enjoyed it. I love dark humor. I love John Cusack.  I’ve always loved John Cusack ever since I saw him in Sure Thing back in my freshman year of college in 1985.  There’s a part in that movie where John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga are talking about potential names for their future children, and John says (paraphrasing here), “Nick is a kind of guy you can drink beers with and he doesn’t care if you puke in his truck…”. There was a guy in our group named Nick, and to our unsophisticated 18-year old brains, this was hilarious and we spent the next few weeks repeating the line to each other.

I’ve never been the type to get crushes on celebrities, even when I was young. John Cusack was the closest that I came to that, partly, because he comes from the Chicago area which is a few hours south from where I live. He was one of us. He came from the Midwest. My friend had friend who lived near Cusack’s childhood home, and when she visited her, my friend took a picture of his house for me. I have no idea if that’s actually his home, but I was thrilled to get it, just the same.

Cusack’s character, Gib, in Sure Thing is a quirky, awkward, big-hearted guy who fumbles his way through life and still ends up getting the girl in the end. Cusack reprises this character in many different roles (thank you IMDB): John Trager in Seredipity, Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, Martin Blank in Grosse Point Blank, and, my personal favorite, Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything. Who could resist broken-hearted John Cusack holding up a gigantic boom box outside of Ione Skye’s window at the crack of dawn, playing “their” song? Sigh. Not me, back in 1989 when the movie was released. Now, in 2018 with my new-found disdain for Grosse Point Blank, I’m not so sure.

I’m a little afraid to watch Say Anything again. What if I don’t like it either? Instead of Lloyd being adorably awkward, what if I think he’s a whiny freeloader with no future? That would be very sad. I’d feel like I lost an old friend.

I had a similar experience when I watched Urban Cowboy a few years ago. I loved John Travolta when I was young, almost as much as I loved John Cusack. Grease was the first movie of Travolta’s that I was allowed to see other than watching him on Welcome Back, Kotter. Grease was a favorite of mine for years, and I even had a comic book of the story made from screen shots of the movie.  

Then came Urban Cowboy in 1980. John Travolta was “good-guy”cowboy Bud, who was competing with “bad boy” Wes, (Scott Glenn) for the love of cowgirl, Sissy (Debra Winger).  There was lots of two-stepping, tight blue jeans and John Travolta dimples. I was fourteen when I saw it and I was smitten. I saw the movie with a group of girlfriends and I remember one of them said she liked bad-boy Wes better than John Travolta. How could this be?

I never considered that as a possibility until I watched Urban Cowboy again several years ago. I still enjoyed the movie, however, “good guy” Bud hits Sissy. So does “bad boy”, Wes. But “good guy” Bud hits Sissy less than “bad boy” Wes hits her, so I guess that made Bud the better choice in 1980.  John Travolta was still cute with his dimples, but Wes, oh my gosh. Wes was Hot (yes, that capitalization is intentional). I finally understood his appeal, if you ignore his propensity for beating women, that is. (As a side note, I was happy to see Scott Glenn reappar this weekend in Nights in Rodanthe as Robert Torrelson, the grieving widow. I’m also enjoying him in the Stephen King series, Castle Rock, on Hulu).

So, was it my drug-addled brain that caused me to dislike Martin in Grosse Point Blank or have my tastes changed to the point that old favorites aren’t favorites anymore? If I watch The Way we Were will Hubble come off as entitled and pretentious and Katie as opinionated and domineering? In Officer and a Gentleman, will Paula seem opportunistic and Zack self-absorbed? In Moonstruck, maybe Loretta and Ronny will seem selfish and kinda slutty instead of two souls destined to be together?

I’m a little afraid to find out. I don’t want to say good bye to the old favorites. What’s next? Will I start to dislike books I used to love? Will Gone With the Wind be tedious and Little Women be sappy? Perish the thought!

Both of the beloved Johns, Cusack and Travolta, went on to play other more well-developed characters in some really excellent movies. Cusack did a great job playing Richard Nixon in The Butler and Travolta’s hit-man, Vicent Vega in Pulp Fiction is my favorite character, ever, that Travolta has played.

I’m not quite ready to send Dear John letters to the famous Johns I’ve enjoyed. Nor am I ready to give up the less-noteworthy characters and stories from my youth that they portrayed. I just have to remember to view them with a younger set of eyes when I watch them.

12:10 (I gave myself extra time to write this one due to the the following: IMDB research for character names, coughing fits, and the doing and redoing of laundry –I washed my never-before-washed hot pink sweater with my white jeans. Although, I’m better, I think some slug-brain remnants still remain.

Bleach is a wonderful thing.

Emerald Green Leaves

Friday, August 10th 8:36 AM

The fabric of summer has changed for me. It used to mean flowers and birds singing,  days that lasted well into nights, and nights that still wore the glow of the sun long past the moment it dipped beneath the horizon.

It was a time for watching fireflies and enjoying the hum of cicada’s in the hot, sticky afternoons while the sun still hung high in the sky. Enjoying the late summer wildflowers blooming in a cacophony of colors. Colors that serve as a gentle reminder that summer is fleeting and fall is close at hand; golden yellow, dusky purple, deep chocolate brown, and antique white all set against a back drop of green. Rich, bold, luscious colors of green;  forest green, sage green and emerald green.  Deep, mature colors, coaxed out of the chartreuse and lime greens of spring, brought forth by living through the days of summer.

Those things are all still true, of course. Summer is still warm and sunny for the most part. Cicadas still sing and so do the birds.  Wildflowers bloom, and sun still hangs on to the last few precious weeks of soaring high this time of year.

None of the hallmarks of summer have changed. Instead, it’s me who’s changed. For most of my life, I’ve been the young chartreuse lime green leaf, enjoying all the bounties summer has to offer with very little consideration of fall. But now, I’m the forest green emerald leaf. My color has deepened, my leaves are more substantial. I’m aware of what went into the evolution of that leaf from a tender, spring shoot to a substantial leaf, capable of offering shelter from the sun and the rain. Now, fall doesn’t seem as far off as it used to.

Life colors the fabric we’re made of, whether it’s a leaf or a person. We absorb the climate we live in, and the experiences we’re given. We grow and we change and evolve. It’s not a bad thing, I don’t think. Nor is it a good thing. It simply is life; as the lime green shoots of spring evolve into the ripe emerald green of late summer, and, eventually, the vibrant reds and yellow of fall, so we grow and mature through stages in our lives.

This forest green stage of life isn’t bad. It’s a more reflective, more thoughtful stage where intentional deliberation rules the day. The careless choices of yesterday seem frivolous and immature; remnants of another time where summer seemed to last forever and fall was a time of enjoying the pretty leaves with no consideration of the decay inside that caused the vibrant display of color.

One upshot of this stage, for me, is a renewed focus on what I want to accomplish with my life. Perhaps I should say the rest of my life, because I certainly have goals that I accomplished up to this point. The focus of this summer, for me, has been to answer the question, “What comes next?”

Dennis has a job that he really enjoys and it’s given me the itch to return to work. I remember jobs I truly enjoyed and it’s a rewarding event when that happens.  I wouldn’t mind having that again, if I could find that kind of a situation. They’re not easy to come by. And, for me, I know that a job will take the majority of my energy which will leave little left for creating, which is my favorite thing in the world to do, whether it be writing, quilting or cooking. And therein, I found my answer.

The resounding truth, and the only goal I’m sure I want to accomplish, is to finish writing the book that I started back in 2001. I wasn’t quite a lime green shoot of spring when I started it, but I wasn’t the full-blown emerald green leaf I am today, either. I’ve started and stopped writing the book a dozen times, but this time is different. Even though I don’t know if it will ever be published, or read by anyone other than Dennis, I know it needs to be done.

That is what I’ve dedicated this summer to accomplishing. I packed away my quilting, which I do miss. I’m way behind on my tv shows and I haven’t played video games in two months. I hired a writing coach and I joined a critique group.  And I am creating. My goal is to be finished with the first draft by my birthday at the end of August. As of this week, I crossed the two hundred page mark, and I think I am on track to complete the first draft this month. My goal is to complete my first revision with my writing coach by the end of the year.

What happens after that? I don’t know and that’s okay. Maybe it will get published. Maybe not. But it will be done, finally, and I will once again consider, what’s next?

9:34 AM

 

We Found a First!

August 2, 2018 3:24 PM

A momentous event happened in our house last night. It was more than momentous, it was a first. When you’re fifty-one, it’s not easy to have a first of anything, or at least a first of anything you that haven’t already wanted to try.

What was the blessed event that moved to me write a blog post today, when I haven’t written one in the past week? (Sorry about the limited posts of late, but I’m spending all my spare time working on my novel, which is now at 56,800 words. My goal is to get the first draft done, which will be about 75,000 words, by the end of the month). Anyway, I digress. Back to the blessed, momentous, first-time event that rocked our world last night.

Here it is. Are you ready? Dennis ate this last night as part of his dinner.

coleslaw

Yes, it’s a bowl of coleslaw. Nothing special, just plain coleslaw with a few sunflower seeds, almonds and crunchy ramen noodles thrown in. This can’t be the momentous, first-time, earth-changing event, can it, you ask?  Well, no. I never said earth-changing. It was, however, a momentous, first-time event in our house because Dennis does not eat raw cabbage. Ever.

In fact, when I met Dennis back in 1995, he didn’t eat much of anything other than pepperoni pizza, grilled chicken breast sandwiches plain, sweet and sour chicken (but no peppers or pineapple) french fries and hamburgers with ketchup.  If he ate spaghetti, it was with a canned sauce with no hint of vegetables in it. Anything with an unidentified chunk of anything was dismissed an inedible and very likely to kill him if he tried it. Onions were, and still are, the bane of his existence.

Gradually, as the years passed, I noticed that Dennis was making an effort to expand his palate. He tried an egg roll when we were out for lunch at a Chinese restaurant, and he liked it. (I didn’t tell him there was cabbage in it for twenty years).

He began to accept chunks of tomato in his spaghetti sauce. He ate my Swedish meatballs with relish (there were tons of grated onion in them). Around the time we got married, Dennis warmed up to the idea of eating something green. We started with iceberg lettuce which is a very pale green. That went okay, so I tried Romaine. Still good. We’ve branched into all kinds of baby lettuce now, although purple lettuce and spinach are still verboten in our house. I can live with that.

Last night, as I was making the coleslaw salad for myself, Dennis saw the almonds and the sunflower seeds out on the counter. Dennis loves sunflower seeds. I tease him that he adds a little lettuce to his sunflower seed salads.

Sunflower seeds AND toasted almonds got his attention. How bad could coleslaw be, he asked, with those as the ingredients. I suggested he give the coleslaw a try. After all, I reasoned, he’s been eating cabbage in egg rolls for years. This isn’t much different. I even offered to make him his own salad sans the green onions. (I didn’t want to push my luck.)

To my utter shock, Dennis agreed. Dennis agreed to eat raw cabbage. And he liked it! The man who, twenty years ago, ate nothing but a five or six different foods, none of it green or raw or a vegetable, actually enjoyed a coleslaw salad.

Hurray! I thought. Now I have a reason to make it more often. The last time I made that recipe was around 1998, for an office party. It seems like a lot of work to make for just me. If we both enjoy it, however, it becomes much more feasible.

While it was only coleslaw, it was a momentous occasion in our house. (And it possibly illustrated the fact that Dennis and I need to get out more if his eating coleslaw is a momentous event. But that’s a whole other blog post.)

Unfortunately, the coleslaw-high was short-lived. Dennis woke up with a migraine this morning and his migraines are often triggered by food. The coleslaw was the only new thing Dennis ate yesterday, so he’s blaming the coleslaw for the migraine. I’m holding out hope that it was just a fluke.

Unfortunately, I expect it will take another twenty years before I can talk Dennis into trying coleslaw again.

3:56 PM

 

Making Lists

July 21, 2018 11:01 AM

I’m a big fan of people watching and eavesdropping in on conversations.  It’s honestly not that I’m nosy; I really don’t care how other people live their lives. But I do enjoy watching the interactions people have with each other and I often try to guess the nature of their relationships. They become characters in my own little story. I’ve seen a lot of interesting interactions over the years and I’ve even used some of them as inspiration to write actual stories. I’ve decided to set up a separate category on this blog where I can share the interactions I have observed that have touched me through the years. It’s called “Interesting Folks”. This will be the first entry.

Dennis and I went to the farmer’s market in Waukesha this morning and, afterward, we went to a local restaurant for breakfast. It was peak breakfast time and it was crowded, so we took the only open booth. This booth happened to be across from a booth where a woman, probably in her late thirties, sat with an elderly couple. I assumed they were her parents.

The elderly man sat on one side of the booth, the elderly woman shared the other side with her daughter.  Immediately, I was reminded of going out for a meal with my parents. This was always the seating arrangement for us, too.

The first thing I heard the daughter say, in tone that was slightly too enthusiastic to be entirely genuine, was how nice it was to see them once a week. She got no verbal response from her parents. The father smiled, the mother didn’t react — or she didn’t react enough that I could see it out of my peripheral vision.

There was silence until the daughter brought up an entirely new topic of conversation after twenty seconds or so had passed. She elicited a few words from each with that topic, but no real back and forth conversation ensued.

And so it went for their entire meal. The daughter tried various topics of conversation and the parents responded with a few words before the silence returned and the daughter introduced an entirely new topic. I wondered if the daughter had a list of topics stashed in her purse (like I used to have when I went out for a meal with my mom) where she could “check her phone” and glance at it if the conversation really hit a wall. I remember my mom used to carry a list of topics in her purse when her and my father took my grandma out for a meal.

Don’t get me wrong, the interactions of this family were not at all unpleasant. But they weren’t the effortless chatter that comes from a family that is truly comfortable together, either. I could feel all three of them trying, each parent spoke a little and asked the daughter an occasional question. The daughter was attentive and responsive to both her parents and remained upbeat and enthusiastic throughout the meal. It was the strained dynamic, though, of three people who love each other, but aren’t connected the way they once were and are struggling to find common ground.

As I sat there, I felt the daughter’s struggle; the attempt of an adult child trying to reach out to elderly parents to bridge the gap that has grown from passing years, and diverging lives. I felt the struggle of the parents, too; trying to connect with an adult child with whom there is little in common with now except for shared memories and shared DNA. There was probably a sense of relief for all three, and then a sense of guilt, when the meal was done and they could go their separate ways.

This family reminded me of my experiences with my own parents, especially my mom. After my dad died, I would take her out for a meal two or three times a week. Often, Dennis and my son would join us. Sometimes not. It was difficult to come up with conversation, especially since, if I didn’t see her, I would talk to her everyday on the phone.

Unlike the family next to me, my mom would come armed with her own topics to introduce when the silences fell heavy on the table. She probably had a list in her purse, too. I found a list of topics to discuss with me that my mom made and saved, next to her phone, when I was cleaning out her house.

Cats

Tony

The Americans (one of mom’s favorite shows)

What you made for dinner

I kept it, tucked away in a shoe box, along with her glasses and the small stack of recipes she still used.

Is it sad, that a mother/daughter relationship gets relegated to a list of topics of conversation on a piece of paper? It is. I know it doesn’t happen in all families, but it did in mine. And, I believe based on what I saw today, it does in others, too.

I wanted to reach out to the daughter and tell her I understood the struggle, the responsibility, and the loss, that she was probably feeling. Nothing underscores how far life has taken you from a parent than having to grasp for common ground in which to share.

I was reminded of my mom earlier, today, too, at the farmer’s market. I saw the beautiful bouquets of flowers that were for sale, and it reminded me of the times that I bought one for her. It made me miss her, even though our conversations didn’t come easy in the end.

Was I right about the interactions of this family at the restaurant? Maybe they were acquaintances and not even family at all. I’ll never know, but it doesn’t really matter. They touched me and made me remember my mom, so whatever the true relationship is, they’re a family to me now.

11:59 AM

 

To Fair or Not to Fair, That is the Question

July 19, 2018 10:39 AM

Have you noticed that I devote a lot of my posts to food? I think I need a new hobby. You may think, based on the title, that this post is not about food, but about a fair. You would be wrong. This post is about fair food; my very favorite fair food, the Swiss in Rye on a stick.

swiss and rye

The pinnacle of fair-food, in my opinion. (picture from Shepard Express)

The Swiss in Rye is a large chunk of Swiss cheese stuck on a skewer, dipped into a Rye batter and deep-fried until it reaches the temperature of hot, molten lava. It’s served with brown mustard and lots of napkins.

It is, and has been, my favorite fair treat for the last twenty years. It’s hot and crispy and gooey and salty and a wonderful mix of all things bad for you.  Cholesterol? Check. Fat? Check. Calories? I don’t even want to know.

The Swiss and Rye is found only at a food truck called Hot Wisconsin Cheese. It even has a cow print painted on the truck.

hot cheese booth

Of course, such a treat as a chuck of cheese, deep fried and battered, would come from a place with Wisconsin in it’s name. We do love our cheese!

The Hot Wisconsin Cheese food truck can be found at State and County fairs throughout the Midwest. Their Facebook page says they travel as far as Florida during the winter months. (Lucky them!)

Typically, I get my yearly cheese fix from them at the Wisconsin State Fair. It’s the first place I visit when we go to the fair. Often, it’s the only food place I visit, if I fail to control myself and consume the whole thing. That happens a lot. I can tell you from experience, that if you eat an entire Swiss and Rye, you will not be hungry for the next eight hours, at a minimum.

Dennis and I could share a Swiss and Rye. But, honestly, I really don’t like sharing my Swiss and Rye. I was an only child. That’s my excuse.

In order to enjoy all the other bad-for-me-treats that I like to sample at the State Fair, I have to either restrain myself and only eat a quarter of the Swiss and Rye (not likely), stay at the fair long enough to get hungry again (also, not likely. We’re done after 2 or 3 hours) or visit the State Fair on multiple days and only get the Swiss and Rye once. (For the record, if I do get Swiss and Rye on subsequent visits, I do share with Dennis. It’s just the first one that’s all mine.)

Option number three, visit the fair on multiple days, is what we’ve done most often in the past. It works well and it gives us a chance to see different bands throughout the run of the fair, too. When we get sick of the crowds after a few hours we can leave, knowing, we’ll see whatever we missed the next time we go.

Two years ago, I came up with a fourth option. Attend another event where the Swiss and Rye is served. This would allow me TWO opportunities to get it within the year. (We won’t go into the discussion as to whether I should be eating this twice a year. I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t even be eating them once a year, but that’s besides the point.)

This weekend, the Swiss and Rye opportunity is presenting itself in the form of the Waukesha County Fair. They’ve had a Hot Wisconsin Cheese Truck there the past two years. Although, I didn’t see it listed on their Facebook Page or on the Waukesha County Fair’s list of vendors, so I’m wondering if they’re there this year.

Waukesha County Fair is a fairly good-sized county fair and it had the usual local 4-H displays, some animals, a midway which we never go to, and a smattering of vendors selling windows and hot tubs. Occasionally, they have a band from the 80’s I’m interested in seeing, but they don’t this year. So, therein, lies the conundrum Dennis and I are facing.

Do we go to the Waukesha County Fair just to get the Swiss and Rye which may not even be there this year? That’s a lot of money to spend for admission and parking for a hunk of deep-fried cheese that I really shouldn’t be eating anyway.

On the other hand, there is a very small window in which I can get the cheese, and it’s supposed to be warm, and sunny this weekend. Walking around the fair, eating cheese and people-watching doesn’t sound like a bad way to kill a Saturday afternoon.

Back to the question I posed earlier. To Fair or Not to Fair? At this point, I think Not to Fair, but only because I’m not certain Hot Wisconsin Cheese is there. If anyone happens to attend the fair and sees the happy little food truck painted yellow with black cow markings, please comment and let me know. I will be forever grateful. My thighs, however, will not.

Did I mention we’re trying out another swim spa option this weekend?

11:07 AM

Who Says You Can’t Relive your Childhood?

July 15, 2018 6:35 PM

It’s been one of those days for the past two weeks. Whatever inconvenient, irritating, and unpleasant event that could occur did. None of it was a life-changing event, thankfully, but it hasn’t been the greatest month either.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, this is the around the time my mom died last year. She went into the hospital on June 25th and died July 10th. I handled the one year anniversary, okay, I think. I also know that it did cast a shadow on the last few weeks, which didn’t make them easier.

It all started about three weeks ago when one of my cats got a virus. Which he gave to one of our other cats. Who gave it back to him. On top of this I got sick, too. This caused the New Jersey trip to be cancelled for me and for Dennis, who had to stay home and take care of me.  That meant no testing out the swim spa, no Italian dinners and no uninterrupted writing time in the hotel for me. That also meant no cash back on my non-refundable plane ticket.

In addition to me and my and cats being sick, our appliances got sick, too. First, the hot water heater started leaking. Got that replaced just in time for the washing machine to break. And when I say break, I mean BREAK. As in the water shut off valve didn’t shut off and the washing machine flooded the laundry room, bathroom, hallway and half the kitchen.

flood kitchen

Kitchen during mid-clean-up. The water made it to the fridge. The soda on the counter was rescued from the flooded hall closet.

flood dennis

Dennis mopping up the mess. We have since invested in a wet/dry vac.

It only ran for 10 or 15 minutes before I noticed a pond of water in front of the kitchen sink, but it was enough time for the water to seep through the floor boards into the finished basement where it soaked ceiling tiles and carpet.

ceiling tiles 2

Bulging ceiling tile ready to dump water everywhere.

Unfortunately, the water didn’t impact the stove. It survived. The side counter took a hit, however, when Dennis was moving the stove out so we could dry the floor.

counter

Nothing a little super glue can’t fix.

We eventually got everything cleaned up but we’re now without a washing machine until the middle of this week. Great fun.

In the midst of the chaos, I was on Amazon searching for a book to download when Amazon suggested that I might like to buy some Chuckles. The candy. Remember Chuckles? The soft, chewy fruit candies that are crosses between Jujubee’s and gum drops?

I loved Chuckles as a kid. I didn’t know that they even made them anymore. Why, yes, Amazon. I would like to order Chuckles, thank you very much.

Since I liked Chuckles, Amazon then suggested I might like Brach’s Nougats with bits of gum drops in the them. OHMYGOD! I loved, loved, loved those as a kid! Even more than Chuckles. Yes, of course, Amazon. Send me those, too.

After the nougats, came the suggestion of Brach’s caramel chews. The flavored ones with vanilla, maple, orange and chocolate. Yum! Who doesn’t love those? Bring ’em on, Amazon.

I’m sure you can see where this is heading. Amazon suggested yet another favorite from my youth — although, this was more college years than pre-teen years. Sunkist fruit chews. The soft, gelatinous chews in raspberry, lime (my favorite), and grapefruit. Delectible! I remember driving to college munching those on a way there, listening to Bon Jovi. Gotta have those, too.

Isn’t Amazon’s One-Click ordering a wonderful thing? Okay, maybe it isn’t, but I thought it was at the time and I was in a very good mood when I was done. For the first time that week. And it’s not like I bought everything Amazon suggested. I turned down the Bit-O-Honeys and the Candy buttons (remember those? The dots you picked off the paper and ate. Except I always ended up eating some paper that got stuck on the candies, too).

After my little shopping spree was over I casually mentioned to Dennis over dinner that I ordered some candy from Amazon. I didn’t tell him how much I ordered.

The one downside to ordering candy that is hard to find in stores nowadays, is that it only comes in bulk on Amazon. As in three to five pound bags. At a minimum.  I kind of bought A LOT of candy.

Thanks to the magic of Amazon, three out of my four candies were delivered the next day. When Dennis went to pick up the box I warned him again that I ordered several kinds of candy and that they were all stuffed in one box.

It was a small, unassuming box. Maybe a little larger than a shoe box. But it was a densely packed box that had a fair amount of weight to it Dennis went to pick it up and I heard a distinctive, “oof” when he lifted it followed by a surprised look on his face. I reminded him that I told him I ordered several kinds of candy and three of the four were in that box.

He just nodded and dropped the box on the table with a thud.

I opened it up and it was glorious! I felt like a kid in Willie Wonka (the original with Gene Wilder, of course) who went into the room where everything was edible. All my childhood favorites were there in one sugar-laden, calorie-intensive, mood-altering box. It blasted me right back to my childhood where I was watching Happy Days and eating my allotted three pieces of candy a night.

That’s the good thing about being an adult and dealing with canceling trips, sick animals, and over-flowing appliances. You can eat more than your allotted three pieces of candy in a night.

And I did. For several days in a row. And it made me happy during a week when I wasn’t feeling very happy at all.

I hope that I am still as happy with my impulse purchases a year from now when we’re still working our way through twelve or so pounds of candy.

candy

Three of the four bags that I ordered. I ate the Chuckles first.

7:18  PM