Sunday, January 31, 2010

My friend Bertha and Amish Friendship Bread

Many years ago in the height of Martha Stewart’s ride to fame, I was fortunate to meet her sister, Bertha, at a church in Fair Oaks. She had all of Martha’s good looks, although slightly older, I guessed, since her grey hair fell in curly wisps around her sour Martha-face. And perhaps she didn’t share Martha’s sense of style, given the red striped socks peaking out from the top of a pair of Sorrel boots. And okay, maybe she didn’t have Martha’s polished vocabulary either or her gift of communication, even though she did have the same monotonous tone of voice, although it was punctuated with a heavy, dull southern drawl. She was speaking to a group of women on the horrors of Friendship Bread, and it was in this presentation that I came to believe that she was probably lying about her identity, but I no longer cared – she was delightfully irreverent, witty and no-nonsense. I contacted her recently and she agreed to be a guest writer on my blog, since I aspire to have those same qualities. So here is a reprint of her talk on Amish Friendship Bread:

Good morning, ladies. I am here to warn you about an evil terrorist plot against America – a plot so insidious, it strikes at the very heart of the American home and threatens the very core and sanctity of that home – the American Housewife. The horror that I am speaking about is Amish Friendship Bread (AFB). Oh, it looks innocent enough, and it’s pretty tasty – it has a starter batter that you keep addin’ flour and sugar to for a period of ten days, then you pass it off on a friend.

Here’s how it starts: your friend just “drops by” one morning with a loaf of Friendship Bread just out of her oven – it smells heavenly and you are feeling all blessed by her act of friendship. But she can’t stay and visit as 'she has a root canal scheduled'. And as she is going (more like bolting)out the door, she quickly thrusts a plastic zip-lock baggy of some pasty goo-like batter into your hand, and a recipe to make more of the bread. You’re startled, but you thank her warmly. Wasn’t that sweet?! But unbeknownst to you, the AFB terrorist plot has already begun:
1) First, you can’t accept the bread without the bag of batter and the recipe. That’s the rule…evidently…cuz I tried to give it back and she wouldn’t take it.
2) AFB tastes good, so you go for it. But dang'd if it doesn’t start multiplying! At the end of 10 days, one bag of batter makes 2 fresh loaves of AFB and 4 new bags of batter to unload on your friends, and still leaving you with one bag to start all over again. Usin' your math skills, you figure out that 4 bags turn into 16, then 265, then 65,000 cute little zip-lock bags full of pasty batter.
3) AFB never ends. You will be baking that (*@&%#^@ bread until the Rapture. You will run out of friends to give it to after the first few batches. I know a widow woman who hasn’t had a date in 3 years cuz she’s always making AFB, and word spread quickly that she would even try to pass it off on dates.
4) AFB saps you of your time and money. Tendin’ that first little bag isn’t bad (you have to “mush” the batter around in the bag daily), but mushin’ 65,000 bags is a little tough. And if that’s not bad enough, you starting passing bad checks at the Piggly-Wiggly just to buy more flour and sugar…heck, some folks have had to quit their jobs!
5) It makes you crazy. The stress of having to mush them bags every day will drive a woman to drink. And if you look around, you will see crazed women all over American neighborhoods with trunk loads of zip-lock bags. You gotta watch out for ‘em – they come up to your door all huggy and friendly, then POW, there’s a baggy thrust into your hands and they run off laughing hysterically. I lost a friend last week – she forgot to mush her baggy and her batter “died”. She was devastated – they found her face down in a bowl of batter.
6) AFB piles up on your counters, freezer, storage lockers – you can’t get rid of it. You run out of friends. Your real friends won’t come over any more, cuz they’re afraid you’re gonna give them a baggy.

And the worst, most insidious part of this plot is

7.) FRIENDSHIP BREAD WILL MAKE YOU FAT. Women develop Friendship Bread thighs. They forget how to really cook, as an endless stream of Friendship Bread “variety meals” grace American tables – turkey with Friendship Bread Stuffing, Meatloaf and Scalloped Friendship Bread Pudding. Their husbands leave them in favor of AFB "Non-Friends".

But, I tell you girlfriends, what’s really pathetic about this whole plot is that is robs women like you and me of our intelligence and cognitive thinking abilities - why in God’s name don’t we just throw it out in the first place???? My advice to all of you is slam the door on anyone carrying a loaf of fresh bread – she has a zip-lock bag in her purse and she is the Antichrist!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ssk,*(yo,ssk) K3 (K2tog,yo) and Other Forms of Masochism

Knitting is supposed to be a relaxing experience, especially for those who are regularly stressed out. I took up the "sport" many years ago, but it hasn't been until the last few years that I have actually made something that I could wear. So with the onslaught of rain and wind for the third straight day, I found some old yarn and decided to make something for summer - a nice tank top or a shell.

I browsed the Internet for free knitting patterns, not wanting to brave the weather to the yarn shop. I found an adorable little number that needed the exact number of skeins that I happened to have on hand, and I even had the correct circular needles. Bonus! Okay, they were a little small (US4) and the pattern did look like it might be a slight challenge, but after all, Laurel, what else do you have to do?

Choosing the correct size in a knitted pattern is always a challenge, especially if you are in-between sizes and/or you've been doing Jenny...let's face it, I didn't know what size I should make, so I just cast on the 100 million stitches for a "large" tank. The first row is usually a knit or pearl row to set the stage for the pattern - in this case it was pearl....easy enough. Then the fun began. I could hardly read the directions for Row 2, let alone figure out what the symbols meant. I wrestled my way through the row by trial and error, finally remembering the words of my knitting friend Peg:'always keep a little notepad so you can keep a tally of your stitches', which I did, dutifully checking them off as I went.

Life does not stop while knitting...the phone rings, the microwave goes off, etc., so to say I became distracted easily is a gross understatement. After ripping Row 2 out three times, I finally got to the end only to find later that I pearled 150 gazillion stitches on my needle on Row 3...did they mention that in the pattern? Oh well, on to Row 4. More of the same gobbledygook, add a few extra knits here and there so it will cover the mistakes you made on Row 2...Needless to say by the time I got to Row 8, it didn't look anything like a "cute pineapple and trellis" pattern, and I swear it would have fit a large cow. What tension???

Well, I have ripped the whole sucker apart again, and I am not sure my nerves can handle all those holes and chains, so I just stared at the pattern for a reality check. Actually, I think I might look like a cow in it even if I could do it...think I'll just make a scarf.

Ahhh...I feel better now.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

'I Have to', 'I Need to', 'I Should', 'I Ought to' and other forms of False Guilt

Somewhere in the middle of another sleepless night I started fixating on things I could do when the sun finally came up. A whirlwind of possibilities flowed freely around in my brain...fixing that piece of ugly jewelry, practicing that complex measure in my Sonata, going up to visit my mother, eating another chocolate chip cookie, cleaning the toilet in the guest room, calling a friend for lunch, writing on my blog... As important as all of these exciting options might be, I realized that many of them are not necessarily things that I really "want to" do, but things that I have to, need to, should or ought to do...although probably only in my brain.

I did a study on emotional fitness last year with some girlfriends, and we learned that most of us do things we every day largely out of false guilt. False guilt is a response to things and events in our lives that we take responsibility for when we are not actually at fault. Real guilt is the result of doing something wrong that hurts others, and unless you are a perpetual jerk, you should not constantly be in a state of real guilt.

So let's look at some the possibilities of things to do today and decide if I just "feel" guilty and should do it or if I am indeed just a self-centered jerk:

1) Clean the toilet - False Guilt: DUH!!! What person in their right mind likes to clean a toilet? Toilets don't have feelings and they have not been hurt by grime, so therefore, why feel guilty about leaving them to their own devices?

2) Call a friend for lunch - False Guilt: When was the last time she called you and invited you out? And didn't she make you pay???

3) Fix that ugly piece of jewelry - Real Guilt: You created it in the first place, so you have only yourself to blame. It will never be truly healed until you say you're sorry and give it a decent burial.

4) Practice that hard section in my Sonata - Both: It's Real Guilt because you haven't practiced in two days and False Guilt because you think your teacher will be furious with you if you come back again and still sound like a non-talented, fat-fingered idiot.

5) Writing on my blog - Neither: I don't feel guilty about this at all....who says you need to be dressed by 9:30??

6) Visiting my mother - Decline to State: I'm not Emotionally Fit yet.

7) Eat another chocolate chip cookie - Can't be Classified: Eating is a life function so how can there be any guilt at all?

So amongst all of these wonderful possibilities, I think I will eat another chocolate chip cookie and go see my Mom.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Top Ten Reasons for Insomnia

I'm not sure why I don't use sleep aids, but it may have something to do with the morning after effects. Ever try to get on an escalator at Macy's with an Ambien hangover? But I didn't sleep again last night. Okay maybe I got a couple of hours, but clearly, not enough to last all day on a bus, then all night partying with friends.
Why don't women sleep, or am I the only one? I have a number of friends who are sleep deprived and after some research I have extracted some valuable reasons as to the major factors causing insomnia in women:
1) You haven't shaved your legs in three days. Those prickly little stubbles get caught in your pajama legs causing an irritating, annoying sensation like hearing fingernails on a chalkboard.
2) You ate a huge chocolate chip cookie before bed. That big chewy choco chip delight is the same one that gives you the migraine headache, so why would you not think it might keep you awake as well?
3) You are worried about tomorrow's colonoscopy, because you didn't drink the entire gallon of that "gentle" cleansing agent with the "pleasant" taste.
4) You are excited about your vacation and want to be sure you wake up in time to shave your legs.
5) You decided to paint your fingernails at 9:45 and they are still not totally dry at your usual bedtime of 10:00, so you need to keep your hands out from underneath the covers so they don't get muffed.
6) You had a slight marital disagreement with your husband, who is snoring contentedly.
7) You let your cat sleep with you, and she loves to knead your down comforter. And she loves you best, so she is always on your side, and she must be "touching" you at all times while your husband is snoring contentedly.
8) You sweat on your down comforter.....HEL-LO!!!!!
9) You need to figure out what to do with those pretty new red beads...mix it with sterling or gold? wire-wrapped or hand knotted???
10) God created you in HIS image, and HE NEVER SLEEPS....so what are you whining about??

Sleepless in Fair Oaks

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"Sound like Life to Me..."

She often forgets that her life is blessed. She doesn't have to worry about her job because she doesn't have one. She doesn't really have to worry about money coming in because the checks arrive on schedule, month after month. She doesn't have to fret about her house going into foreclosure or her car breaking down or having enough food on the table. Her health is good, she has wonderful friends and a beautiful piano. But yet, she is a worrier...a "make a mountain out of a molehill" kind of woman. In the space of 5 minutes or less, she can turn a wart into a massive case of melanoma, a marital disagreement into a divorce, and a radiator leak into a complete engine overhaul. She worries about her kids and she worries about her grand kids. She frets about the economy, global warming, and other life conditions that she can do nothing about.

They say that worriers don't trust God or don't have faith. I think worriers just like to control life and life's situations, which of course, is a ridiculous aspiration that can never be attained. Life happens. It is meant to be lived by those who are in it. God never intended that it would always be peaches and cream after that Adam guy blew it. Life is hard, spontaneous, unpredictable, joyous and scary, all wrapped up into a tidy little box that just needs to be opened and lived. There are certainly enough issues in my own life to be worried about that woman up there...she needs to get a grip!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Rejected Christmas Letter Vignettes

I have published two of the vignettes in a Christmas Letter that was never mailed. All three of these were dreamed up in the middle of the night, a time when I do my best thinking...I usually have to get up and start typing.
III. They had it all worked out before the time arrived. Careful planning with their financial advisor, a list of priorities and pitfalls arduously debated, penned and edited time and time again, and the melding of two calendars into one. A case of wine added interest to the long discussions of how it was going to be and how it was NOT going to be. He would do the yard, and she would "take back" the house which he had run for the past five years. He would fish and golf at least twice a week and she would have coffee with her daughter. She fained a weak back, so he agreed to continue to push the vacuum. They would travel when the stock market treated them well and they would huddle by the fire (providing it was a low particulate day) when the bear reared it's ugly head that year. She would paint, sew, design jewelry...dust off that keyboard. 'Maybe I'll write a book' she mused...but then, what to write? 'I need to finish my Christmas shopping and order those adorable shoes I saw in the Internet...and I should finish designing my blog'. But it was a low particulate day, so she sat by the fire and sipped a nice cab. Ahhhh...retirement.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Rejected Christmas Letters

I have been writing Christmas letters for over 10 years. The first couple of letters were the typical newsy diatribes detailing our activities over the course of the year, kid's stuff and major events. After yawning through many letters of the same caliber from our friends and family, I decided to take a different tack and insert some humor into our letters. Often times, the humor got a little jaded, as sarcasm and irreverence took over, depending on my mood. I would still communicate snippets from our lives, but you really had to read between the lines to figure out what we did that year.

I have written a few letters that never made it to the mailbox, due perhaps to their unhealthy tone, or pure uninspiring drivel...I can't be funny all the time. And sometimes, though I thought I had created "genius", Dave hated it, so it was trashed in favor of a more inspirational message. My favorite rejected Christmas letter of all time is a Trio of Christmas Letter "Vignettes" that I wrote...pure fantasy with a mere hint of reality. Alas,the Trio Letter was never mailed, but I submit the first in my fictional vignettes today for your reading pleasure.

I. With eager anticipation, she opened the crisp white envelope, embellished with the delicate curves of letters that sweetly formed her name. Years had passed since she last enjoyed the holiday musings of her oldest and dearest friend...letters laced with bittersweet yarns of days gone by and raucous tales of children and grandchildren. Opening the letter, she thought she heard the vacant white linen groan as she carefully pushed by the shimmering foil to the neatly folded paper inside. The note was uncharacteristically short, she mused, lost on a sea of white linen, the customary flowing descriptions noticeably absent. The festive scenes of Christmases gone by...the snow drenched tree providing rest for the lonely red cardinal...all missing. Just a white sheet of paper and a very vanilla "Happy Holidays" carelessly scribbled across the middle of the page. 'It's not even in calligraphy', she whined, unable to hide her disappointment. Her own meager existence was so dull, the spirited stories of her friend's life made her feel like she was part of a great adventure. But this year, like last year, nothing. Happy Holidays. Whoopee. 'I think she used that fancy new computer, for God's sake. Isn't she retired now??? And what's up with the pre-printed name at the bottom?? And it isn't even on 40 lb. paper! She could have at least made something up....what a loser!'

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Writing..because I have to...

There are few things in life that mean more than self-expression -whether through the beauty of music, the lens of a camera, the paint on a canvas, the stitch on fine silk, the twisting of sterling silver wire on a glass pendant or the swirl of dark chocolate ganache on a fresh cake. Though all of these creative forms come in and out of my life on a regular basis, writing is a passion that I have largely kept to myself. True, I write an occasional article for the women's newsletter at church, an annual Christmas letter which is often "over the top" and sometimes slightly irreverant, and a not so daily journal to God.

My piano teacher once told me that we play a musical instrument to be heard...when we have music in our hearts we HAVE TO SHARE IT. Thus, writers write to be read. Why I think that anyone will read my musings is noteworthy..it says something of my level of self-doubt and fear. In fact, I don't consider myself an avid reader - I get bored with certain writing styles and will drop a book on the floor if it doesn't hold my interest in the first five pages. And I rarely read blogs as most are very self-involved and trite. But if I'm going to criticize, then I should only be allowed to do so if I myself become the dreaded blogger.

So....on this second day of January, 2010, I begin to write. I write because I have to, whether anyone trips over my blog or not. Just do it, Laurel...just do it.
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