7.29.2011

Striking Out

by Jason Tudor

I called it a dent. By the sound of my grandparents howls, the noise was more like the government ripped the Medicaid from their wallets. Either way, that wallop in the side of my grandparents station wagon couldn't be covered up with mud, towels or delays. Let me explain.

A little past 12 years old, I'd been invited to summer trek across country with my grandparents following one of the myriad military moves we'd made during my childhood. My parents had forged ahead to the SoCal and I would follow behind with said elders and a pop-up trailer in tow.

Most of the journey from Little Rhody to Emerald Hills, California rolled along in a car cabin filled with the chain smoke of several cartons of Marlboro 100s, songs about driving across country and argument language that would have had the rowdiest members of the Navy's 6th Fleet blushing.

One of our stops? Cooperstown, New York. The Baseball Hall of Fame, where we spent the day. I was allowed one souvenir. I chose the small, wooden replica Louisville Slugger. Then, off we went.

Four days later, we pulled up to the two-story 1960s styled home my parents rented. With the wagon parked on the curb, my grandparents retreated inside while I stretched my legs in the yard. I took the little slugger along as something to do while running around on the grass.

As I pretended to be Greg Luzinski and Mike Schmidt (big Phillies fan at a young age), I took swings with my slugger sending 500-foot home runs over the Veterans' Stadium walls.

One one particular shot, I wound up and really let go. And by that, I mean I let go. OF. THE. BAT.

It spun like a helicopter about 60 feet and them smashed into the right rear door of my grandparents' wagon. From the size of the dent, you would have sworn I'd tossed a Steve Carlton curve ball into the thing. Either way, I panicked like an impala that just felt a cheetah's tongue lick its neck.

My first solution? Grab a ball of wet California mud and smash it onto the dented spot. My 12-year-old genius intellect figured if it stuck there for along enough, they wouldn't see it until they got back to Rhode Island. Unfortunately, the mud clung to the door for about three seconds and a new solution came into play.

The second solution? Drape a towel out of the window and onto the door. I don't remember the exact plausible explanation for this, however, at age 12, it made PERFECT SENSE AT THE TIME. However, there were no towels to be found within reason. So, I settled on my last tactic: stalling.

See, the inevitable was coming. I would be having my butt spanked. There was no getting out of that. However, I figured if I could butter up the more senior members of the fam, maybe I'd buy less strokes with the belt.

Not to be. As soon as I launched into my "Who wants to hear me do Abbott and Costello's 'Who's on First?' gag," my grandfather managed to get outside and see the dent.

I don't know if there' is a phenomenon where 'yell volume' transfers from one relative to the next, but it happened here. My grandfather, angry, said something vulgar and loud. That transferred exponentially to my grandmother, then my mother and then ultimately to my waiting stepfather who had the belt.

Before the butt whipping, I tried to explain that it could be easily repaired and that my $5 allowance that I got sometimes would fix the thing in no time (with 'no time' being about 76 weeks). After the butt whipping ... well, you know.

I never found that little slugger again. It's probably for the best.

Jason Tudor is a writer and illustrator originally from San Diego with a fondness for baseball and other things. You can catch him at his website, http://jasontudor.com

7.27.2011

Full Contact Cooking

by Patti Wigington

I didn’t try to become a good cook. I never sat perusing my mother’s cookbooks, thinking, “Golly, I’d love to learn to make a nice au jus sauce someday.” I don’t ever recall being at a restaurant and exclaiming, “I just MUST learn to make this!” It wasn’t intentional at all.
And yet, my kitchen evolution has gotten me to my early forties, where I can cook the heck out of just about anything. Give me five ingredients, and I’ll create a meal worthy of being photographed for a foodie magazine. Give me ten, and I’ll whip together something so good you’ll weep when you sit down and take a bite. How on earth did this happen?
The nearest I can determine, it comes from my ten years spent in the south, where cooking was truly an art form, and practically a cultural event. Dinner in a traditional southern family’s home – particularly in a coastal city -- is a mouth-watering and vibrant display of just-picked vegetables, greens, delicate meats, seafood so fresh that it was underwater yesterday, and fruit pies. I lived just fifteen minutes from the beach, and by default, the fishing docks. If I wanted fresh shrimp, I just got up on a Saturday morning and drove to the docks to get a back fresh off the boat. Likewise, oysters were there for the taking. Living there gave me an appreciation for seasonal, fresh food.
Then I returned to the Midwest, where food tastes are somewhat less fancified. Green bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup and canned fried onions is the typical potluck dish, everyone loads up on bratwurst and bagels, and meals are more focused on being comfort food than anything else. Living in one of the unhealthiest cities in America, I decided years ago that I didn’t want to be one of those people standing in the funnel cake line at the county fair. Instead, I wanted foods that tasted GOOD. I wanted to taste the flavors, and to do the meat or vegetable some justice. I wanted meals to be a celebration, rather than just the act of slopping ketchup on top of everything like my neighbors did.
And so I started experimenting. I’ve developed a pretty good idea of what flavors work well together, and I’ve also managed to learn that sometimes less can be more. Seasoning is crucial, and the right amount of salt can make or break a meal. I rarely measure anything, unless I’m baking, and I tell people, “You’ll know it’s done when it tastes right.” My table is always open, and no guest leaves my house hungry.
The downside, of course, is that sometimes my family eats things they’ve never heard of. But they’re good sports, and they consume my creations with a fair amount of enthusiasm. The upside is that they get home-cooked meals pretty regularly, pretty healthy ones at that, and they know that if they like something I’ve prepared, they’ll get it again.
Tonight’s dinner is Caribbean jerk chicken served over lemon and cilantro rice, with a side of mango salsa. I’m not using a recipe. But I guarantee it will be awesome. Stop by around seven if you’d like to load up a plate.

7.25.2011

Meatloaf Wars

by Jeanette Levellie

When we first married, I taught my husband how to create a meatloaf, from my mother’s recipe. Nothing fancy, but when it hits your tongue, you're happy to be alive.
I thought I was doing myself a favor by teaching him to cook more than pork chops and burgers. Aha.
Mr. makes his first meatloaf. We have friends over to share it. They mistakenly think it is his cooking expertise, not my teaching ability, that causes their taste buds to tango.  Hmmpphh.
Next time I need a break from cooking, the new food guru locks himself in the kitchen while he adds soy sauce and other secret condiments to “HIS” recipe. More applause from misled tasters disguised as friends.
The final coffin nail for Mom’s meatloaf occurs when my hero gets up at 5 a.m. on the morning he’s scheduled to cook, and hand-crumbs the bread as fine as a high note on the violin. That night he grins to the sides of his chef’s hat as my ex-friends help him devour his masterpiece. When they get home, they rush to their computers and write stunning reviews for "Meatloaf for the Stars" magazine, and email Mr., suggesting he start a restaurant.
It’s not that I mind never cooking a meatloaf again. The shocked stare from Mr. when I suggest making Mom’s recipe, the guests wondering why the secret spices disappeared, the falling of the sky—I can handle all that.
It’s the demise of Mom’s family formula that I grieve. Now it’s lost in that huge recipe box in the sky, among 297,685 others from unsuspecting wives who taught their husbands to cook. I hope the angel chefs can keep from embellishing it.
If not, Mom is going to have a thing or two to say when she gets there. 


A spunky, sometimes reluctant pastor’s wife of thirty-six years, Jeanette has published articles, greeting card verses, stories and calendar poems. She authors a bi-weekly humor/inspirational column in her local newspaper, and enjoys speaking to church and civic groups, offering hope and humor in every message. She is the mother of two, grandmother of three, and waitress to several cats. Find her blog, On Wings of Mirth and Worth, at http://jeanettelevellie.blogspot.com





7.22.2011

If Wishes Were Horses…

by Bill Mullis

As a kid, I always looked forward to our annual visit with Aunt Etta, mainly because her grandsons next door were pretty much of an age with me. And they had horses, and untold acres of fields and forest to ride on.

One summer, though, the horse had been, not supplanted, but supplemented by the latest rage to hit Marshville: motorcycles.

While the cousins checked the tanks and poked mysterious oddments and did other esoteric motorcycley stuff, I danced around nervously and tried to not lose face.

"OK," Randy said. "This handle controls the gas. Turn it this way to go."

I looked at the foot rests. Brakes?

"Uh-uh. This lever up here’s the brake."

What's the other lever?

"The clutch."

Clutch?

"So you can change gears."

Gears?

"Like on a ten-speed."

Ten-speed?

"A ten-speed bike. The foot switch down here’s the gear shifter."

I hadn't started learning to drive yet, but I'd watched Grandma drive the Rambler, and I knew that clutch, brake, and gas were all foot pedals, and the gear shift was up on the steering wheel. Besides, my bike had one speed: as fast as I could pedal it. And whoever heard of a hand brake? You pedaled one way to go, the other way to stop.

This was just plain wrong.

In mortal, hidden, fear, I listened intently and tried to take it in. Finally they put me on a motorcycle and let me crank it up. I can do this, I told myself. I can ride a bike. Same thing, right?

"OK, now put her in gear."

I put her in gear.

"Crank her back up, and hold the clutch in when you put her in gear."

I gained confidence with a few circles in the barnyard, getting a feel for the steering. Just like a bicycle. I was good to go.

There was a dirt trail that went straight for maybe half a mile before making a sharp turn to the right and winding off into the woods. We eased around the barn at a safe and reasonable speed and gathered at its head, revving our engines. I can do this, I thought. I can ride a motorcycle.

The cousins gunned their engines and took off ahead of me. I was a bit slower off the mark, but I eased up to speed pretty quickly, and when they made the turn I was ready to overtake them.

These are the lessons I learned in the next three seconds:

1. The difference between going straight and turning is not a matter of degree.

2. An accelerating motorcycle is not the place to start wondering how bicycle handlebars
work in terms of real-world physics.

3. Letting go of a throttle is not the same as applying a brake.

4. Braking a motorcycle by pedaling backwards is the same as breaking a motorcycle by pedaling backwards.

5. Always wear a helmet. It's not just the law. It's a good idea.

I was actually airborne for just a second, long enough to travel twenty or thirty yards into the forest. And the fallen tree only broke because it was rotten. There was no serious or permanent damage. The physical pain was minimal, though my pride suffered considerably.

After that I stuck to the horses, and followed the motorcycles as best I could. After all, a horse knows how to turn itself around. And that’s what it’s all about.

Bill Mullis, who writes from an urbanized area in the South Carolina Upstate, hopes the Harley Davidson Company forgives him for not being interested in purchasing one of their fine machines. You can keep up with him on The Captain's Log at www.mindovermullis.com.

7.20.2011

The Squirrel named Stew

by Pauline Campos

Every family has that story that, no matter how many times it’s told, @)never gets old b)always triggers debate on who’s side of the story is actual truth and c)reinforces the fact that it’s only safe to eat meat products at my in-law’s if I have actually seen them purchase it at the grocery store and take it out of the plastic-wrapped packaging upon arrival at home.

Okay, so the last one probably only pertains to me, but when The Father-in-Law is known for his fondness of rabbits and squirrels (keep up with me, class, ‘cuz I’m not talking about Let’s Name it Floppy here. It’s more like I think it Needs More Salt and Maybe Some More Pepper) it’s generally wiser to avoid blindly digging into an offered bowl of mystery stew meat while everyone else stares you down in a ridiculously failed attempt to look nonchalant.

But as a first-generation Mexican-American, I was raised to respect my elders at all costs. This translates into Never Talking Back, Always Calling Any Family Friend As Old As The Parents Tia or Tio, and Eating What’s Been Prepared Even if You Think What Was Prepared Had Probably Been Burying Some Acorns Out Back Before He Got, um…Prepared. 

“Have some more,” said The Father-in-Law jovially. “There’s plenty more where that came from.”

I know, I thought. I almost ran over a crazed squirrel trying to escape your yard before becoming the next recipe experiment. I think he was sending out warning squeaks to the neighbor’s squirrels. Out loud I only mm-hhmmed while silently cursing my Need to Please and took another dainty taste. It tasted…cute. I felt sick, but forced a smile. “It’s really good but I’m full right now. We just ate.”

I shot a warning glare at The Husband while The Father-in-Law’s eyes danced in silent victory as he cleared my bowl of It’s Not Squirrel Stew away. The Husband, smart man that he is, didn’t contradict me, saving me the hassle of having to contact a divorce lawyer later that afternoon.

Weeks went by. I stopped worrying about my eternal soul after avoiding enough squirrels in the road to figure my karmic energy had been cleansed, and was only reminded of The Stew I Did Not Actually Like when The Mother-in-Law called to speak to The Husband. It was time to let me in on The Joke.

“Remember that stew Dad had at the house?” The Husband asked me as I heard his mother laughing on the other end of the line. “You liked it, didn’t you?

“Depends,” I said, my arms crossed in front of my chest. Any hope I had that I had let my imagination get the best of me was now dashed. “What was it?”

“Squirrel,” said The Husband, his body doubling over in laughter. “And you liked it!”
“No I didn’t. I was just trying to not hurt his feelings,” I insisted. “I knew it tasted funny when I ate it. I just knew it.”

And this is where the parties involved take sides, leaving me standing alone while they all snicker about Pauline and The Day She Liked (Eating) A Squirrel. 



Pauline M. Campos is a former journalist-turned-stay-at-home-mom to Buttercup. She blogs at Aspiring Mama (Parental Advisory: Occasional F-Bombs Dropped) and can be found on Twitter as @aspiringmama. She has written a book and is currently looking for an agent in the hopes of convincing her mother-in-law that writing in her pajamas  is, in fact, an actual job.

7.18.2011

A Good Cooking Cycle - Tropical Jerk Chicken

by Tricia Gillespie


Either I’m a good cook or a bad cook, but never anything in between.  Tracking my cooking cycles is almost as difficult as tracking my hormonal cycles, maybe worse.  Unfortunately for our guests, I never know in advance whether I’ll be a good cook.

Eating at my house is much like playing Russian roulette with slightly less risk.  No one has died from my cooking. Yet.  A lack of organization and planning is my number one problem in the kitchen.  Being a positive person, I view myself as spontaneous.  Spontaneity doesn’t work in a kitchen unless your kitchen happens to be right smack in the center of a grocery store.

I often find myself scrounging through the kitchen cabinets around five-thirty wondering what in the world I’m going to create for dinner.  By then my kids have been feigning starvation and grumbling so loudly I pray the Lord will send manna from heaven and rescue me from wandering in the wilderness of domestication.

What does a person make with 3 cans of varied beans, pasta with no sauce, and salad dressing?  I always have salad dressing and not a person in my family uses it.  Other people tend to bless me with rather large bottles of Italian, Caesar, and if we’re all lucky, Ranch.

At times, I peruse cook books, gather delicious looking recipes (only ones with pictures) and make indulgent grocery lists; however, 3 aisles into shopping and realty strikes. I realize my budget is blown and I only have food for one meal.  I then abandon any ideas of feeding my family fancy food and reapply my lip-gloss just in-case the Take Home Chef happens to be in my store. 

If I am ever in the same supermarket as Curtis Stone, there’s no way he’s going home with anyone else.  My daughter thinks “he’s cute and may marry him when she grows up.” As his potential future mother-in-law, he’d have to pick me.  His marital happiness depends it.
Anyway, the whole point is that I’ve created a great recipe and I want to share it.  Don’t be scared, I’ve been having a few good cooking days. 

TROPICAL JERK CHICKEN

1 can papayas (don’t ask me what size can, I have no idea)
1 can Libby’s tropical papaya mix
3 large chicken breasts cutlets (you can cut in half to make 6 or use 6 individually frozen cutlets)
Jamaican Jerk Rub

Drizzle olive oil in an oven safe fry pan (I used a square griddle) and place chicken breasts in the hot pan. Generously sprinkle the chicken with Jamaican Jerk rub and sear.  After you have nice brown marks on either side of the chicken, dump both cans of fruit (with liquid) over the chicken and bake uncovered in oven at 375 degrees for about an hour or until your chicken is cooked.  Serve over rice.

I made this recipe up, but don’t let that stop you from trying it.  I promise I had an epiphany between defrosting cutlets and emptying the dishwasher.

Happy cooking!


Tricia Gillespie is a wife, mommy, and blogger who tries to stay out of the kitchen as much as possible.  Her husband eats most of her food, but banned fish-stick-casserole after only one taste.  Although she realizes her daughter will probably never marry Curtis Stone, she still hopes that she can take him home so he can cook dinner for her one day. If you want to chance trying more of her recipes, visit her on The Domestic Fringe and search the 'Food' category.

7.15.2011

Definitely NOT Kentucky Fried Chicken

by Melissa Hollern

I am going to throw caution to the wind and probably throw those of you who know me into helpless fits (possibly gales?) of laughter.  I am going to teach you how to cook something.

And it’s delicious, I swear!

Now, summer picnics are one of my favorite things about the season.  Finding a nice shady spot, spreading the blanket, drinking lemonade or iced tea, squashing ants by the millions… (HATE those things, but that’s a subject for another post).  Some of the best foods to take are those that are left over from a previous dinner. 

The following is one of the few recipes that I can actually cook and I have never (no, really: NEVER) had a complaint about it.  The secret is in the marinade, and though it sounds odd, it is very delicious.

You can either marinade the chicken the day before or right before you cook.  It depends upon how much flavor you want.  I try to do so at least 5 or 6 hours prior to cooking, but it does work even if you mix it right before you cook it.  I prefer to cut the chicken breasts in half, but you really don’t have to.  While were here, fresh chicken tastes better in my opinion, but you can use frozen chicken too.  Just increase the cook time.

Recipe: Catalina Chicken

Ingredients
  • 3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts. (You can use any part of a chicken really.  In fact, as I write this, I’m wondering how wings would taste—and now I’m hungry for them and it’s ten o’clock at night… but I digress as it’s really only important that you know this recipe will cover 1 package of chicken.)
  • 10 – 12 oz, or about 2/3 bottle, Catalina Dressing. (I recommend against using reduced fat or fat free, it just doesn’t taste the same.)
  • 10 – 12 oz, or about 2/3 jar, of Apricot Preserves or Jam. (Yes, you read that right.)
  • 1 packet dry Lipton Onion Soup mix.

With me so far?  Good.  Keep up.  Trust me, it’s worth it!

Mix the dressing, the jam or preserves, and the soup mix thoroughly in a large bowl.  It’s okay if the preserves don’t fully mix in.  Add the chicken and turn to coat all sides.  Cover and return to the refrigerator.  Preheat the oven to 350ยบ.  When the oven is ready, place the chicken and the remaining marinade into a 12 x 9 casserole dish.  Place in the oven and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour.  It’s not necessary to turn the chicken half way through, but again, it’s something I do to keep it moist.


I normally pair this with rice and green beans, because the marinade goes really well over top of them too.  But you can choose whatever side dish you like.  I use greens because I’m a visual person when I eat.  I like lots of different colors in my meals.  It’s the ADD in me.  If it isn’t colorful, I guess I’ll forget it’s there.  Who am I kidding?  I never forget where food is. 

This dish is fantastic hot or cold.  It’s why I love to use it as a picnic dish.  Reheating is not necessary, although it does reheat pretty well.  I’ve never tried to grill it, but I would imagine that would be very tasty too.  Even though it sounds like I’ve overdosed on my allergy meds, I promise you that I haven’t!  It’s one of those recipes that shouldn’t work, but really does. 

And now I’m hungry—again!


Melissa is a lover of life, the beach, and her boyfriend.  Currently residing in Delaware, ten miles away from where she's wanted to live since she was six, she now teaches two-year-olds the basics of how to get to be three-years-old.  It's a rough life... actually, she can assure you it isn't!

7.13.2011

Death Dust


“It tastes like pureed fire ants,” I said, dropping the pizza slice I had been trying to force myself to eat. “Just throw it away. You don’t have to eat it to make me feel better.”


He blinked, not unlike a deer looking into a fast approaching set of headlights. If he stayed still long enough would the car not see him? 


“Are you sure?” He was understandably hesitant. Who could blame him? Before him sat his new 20-something wife who had just spent hours in the kitchen working on a homemade pizza with a made from scratch sauce recipe that had gone horribly wrong. The look of doubt on his face when I told him he was off the hook told me he was pretty sure he had signed something legally obligating himself to pretending to like anything I set down in front of him…at least until I gained 10 pounds and the pressure was off. 


“Yes, I’m sure,” I said. I refused to let myself cry. Just because I had baked a pie so God-awful that I couldn’t even swallow a bite without wanting to vomit didn’t mean I couldn’t hold on to a bit of dignity, right? “It sucks. Just throw it away.”


He didn’t have to be asked a third time. The garbage disposal was erasing any remnants of the nightmare I had prepared and the plates washed before I could wipe away the tear that was dangling from my bottom lashes. Instead of breaking into hysterics, I threw back a glass of wine and poured another.


Seeing me visibly relaxed, my husband decided it was safe to speak. Specifically, he wanted to know what the hell had happened in the kitchen. I wasn’t in the running for my own cooking show based on my culinary talents, but I knew how to follow a recipe. 


I leaned back against the kitchen counter to think where I had gone wrong while sipping my wine. I compared my shopping list against the ingredients listed in the recipe. I went over my steps and the recipe directions. It all checked out.


Except…


“This is probably what did it,” I squeaked out, realizing my mistake.


“This” was my mother-in-law’s homemade dehydrated habanero peppers, more affectionately known as Death Dust. A little goes a long way in a stockpot full of chili and a lot makes a single batch of pizza sauce taste like, well, pureed fire ants.


“How much did you use?” He asked. “You know you’re only supposed to throw a pinch of that stuff into anything if you want to add some heat, right? A pinch.

He demonstrated for effect.


“Well, I started with a pinch. Then I thought a inch was for pansies so I added more,” my voice breaking. “And now I’m a horrible failure and can’t cook and please don’t tell anyone about this ever because Oh My God did that pizza taste like…like…”


“Pureed fire ants?”  What a good husband. Thanks for reminding me. 


“Yeah, that.”


He laughed. I cried. 


And then we called for take out.


Pauline M. Campos is a former journalist-turned-stay-at-home-mom to Buttercup. She blogs at Aspiring Mama (Parental Advisory: Occasional F-Bombs Dropped) and can be found on Twitter as @aspiringmama. She has written a book and is currently looking for an agent in the hopes of convincing her mother-in-law that writing in her pajamas  is, in fact, an actual job.

7.11.2011

It’s All Gravy . . .

by Terri Coop

It was the summer of 1965 in a small town in California. It was blistering hot, but I didn’t care. I was five years old and surrounded by cousins at a family picnic. I was young. I was happy. I was about to be betrayed in the cruelest way possible.
Yes, Mom. I’m talking to you!
How could you do such a thing?
The worst part is I should have known it was coming. I overheard my mom and my adult sister making a bet. It was simple enough. My dear sweet beloved mother had bet my dear sweet beloved big sister that a kid would eat anything if it had gravy on it.
I was sitting there, wide-eyed and innocent, eating a dill pickle (and probably scooping up gravy with it) while this diabolical plan was being hatched. But, being five, I had the attention span of a dragonfly and was soon off playing.
Until we were called for dinner and I walked right into their trap.
I took my plate from mom. A chicken leg (yummy and crusty, no “grilled with a bit of lemon zest” here). Some Jello (it my favorite flavor - red). A carrot stick (because you should). And a big fluffy mound of savory buttery mashed potatoes with just the right number of lumps, all smothered in brown gravy.
At least that’s what I thought. Until I took a bite.
Hiding under that brown gravy was boiled mashed cauliflower.
In her madness to win, my sainted mother had substituted boiled cauliflower for mashed potatoes on my plate. I was evidently the designated test case. All these years later I still remember the taste. The smell. The texture. When you expect mashed potatoes and get boiled cauliflower, it is indescribable and devastating.
I don’t remember much after that. I hope I spewed all over the table. And all over my clothes. And all over her apron. Because, mom, let’s face it, you deserved it. My only consolation is that she lost the bet.
Terri Lynn Coop is a lawyer by day and a writer by night. Some four decades later she tastes everything before she puts gravy on it and has never voluntarily eaten cauliflower in any way, shape or form.

7.08.2011

Zen and the Art of the Wheel Horse

by Nancy LaFever



That’s a riff on the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” written by Robert Pirsiq in 1974. Never read it, just love the title. It’s probably full of those deep, philosophical thoughts we had in the ‘70s. There was a lot going on besides really bad hair. 


“Mowing” probably doesn’t fit most people’s definition of summer fun, but I’ve found mowing my rural acreage an almost Zen-like experience. I let some of my lot go natural for the wildlife and to irritate my citified neighbors who go for a giant putting-green look on their property. 


So, while the rest of you are cracking a beer on the deck or heading to the pool, I’m firing up my rider mower and capturing many hours of uninterrupted mowing bliss. 


Mower DOA

Last summer my Craftsman rider mower died. My mechanic pronounced the engine DOA and said it would be $800 to replace. I could have flexed a credit card at Home Depot and replaced it for a few hundred dollars more. On my mechanic’s advice, I checked with a local guy that  rehabs mowers who had three to show me. 


I should explain my interest in mowers and other decidedly not girly things. As a kid, I loved going to the hardware store with my dad and I drive an F-150 (a full-size Ford pickup for you girlier types). But I don’t know much about mowers. The perfect person for a mower-scouting trip was my gearhead friend, Tony. I asked Tony and Vickie, his gearhead-by-proxy wife, to come and advise me. 


Love at First Sight

Outside his shop, Mower Guy showed me a Craftsman like my dead one but that didn’t excite me. He said there was an older one inside. There she was – a 1987 418-C Wheel Horse rider mower with retro panache and a fine patina of rust on just the right parts. He explained the Kohler engine would run forever. 


He fired her up and I was a goner - remember, 70’s girl here who grew up with muscle cars. When she idled, my friends exchanged a knowing look and said, “Harley!” at the same time. Even I recognized that distinctive sound. 


Hydraulic, Hydrostatic Fun

The Wheel Horse had a hydraulic lift deck and hydrostatic transmission. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it sounded cool. Okay, like my friend when I called to tell her about it, I can hear your eyes glazing over. My friends gave the mower their seal of approval and I told the guy I’d think about it. A couple days later, I negotiated a good price, throwing my dead mower in on the deal.


Crop Circles 

I took delivery of the mower a month ago, but until yesterday, I hadn’t mowed. I had just backed her out of the shed and admired her. But yesterday, as any writer on deadline would do, I decided it was time to mow. Kicked her up to full throttle and tried my hydraulic mowing deck at different cutting levels and did a few passes. Afterwards, looking out from the second floor, it appeared a drunken alien had created crop circles. Nice!

If you’re wondering if my first crush has faded, not only have I joined a Wheel Horse forum, I’ve asked Gary from Canada where I can get a copy of my baby’s out-of-print operator’s manual.




Full-time freelance writer Nancy LaFever has published hundreds of magazine articles, blog posts and does copywriting and web content on dozens of topics. LaFever draws on her corporate background and diverse careers as an advertising/marketing maven, graphic designer, fiber artist and hair salon receptionist to inform her writing. 


Also a Master’s level licensed psychotherapist and substance abuse counselor, LaFever is currently not practicing because after 20 years, she finally got it right. She tries really hard not to do more than one of the above at the same time - it confuses people.

7.06.2011

From Hair to Humidity

by Amy Mullis

So, what’s the best of fun that summer has to offer?

Picnics?

Nope.

The beach?

For wimps.

Blockbuster movies?

Theatrical entertainment is for the weak.

The ideal summer activity is planning an outdoor wedding.  In July. In the South. At the height of the season.  Kudzu season.  Red mud season.  Anybody outside boils like an egg in ten minutes season. And just to even the odds for the mosquitoes, let’s make it for the afternoon when the guests are too hot to swat.

July is also tops for sudden afternoon thunderstorms, tornadoes, and wandering bouts of hail.  But there’s not a natural disaster in the arsenal that can compare to a July Bride who can’t wiggle into her dress because sweat stains have created speed bumps in the satin.

14 years ago on July 12, I considered all the options and decided it was the perfect time to marry the Captain.  There was a time I thought sticking my hand in a frightened dog’s mouth was a good idea too, but hopefully this plan wouldn’t come back to bite me. Or require stitches.

Luckily I had sisters to help with the preparations, because the bulk of wedding planning always falls on the bride.  All the groom had to do was change jobs, pack up all his belongings, leave his friends behind, and move to another state. At least he didn’t have to find a size 12 dress that was cut like a 14. And shoes to match.  In the days when pantyhose still ruled the thighs.

Talk about super powers. The Green Lantern’s got nothing on a bride who has six weeks to plan the wedding of the certifiable, find a dress that doesn’t make her look like a dead ringer for the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and pumps that won’t leave her heels down in the cucumbers when she strolls out the back door and past the weedeater to get married in the shade of her Daddy’s historic “Does anybody know what that huge tree is?”  (Note to self:  don’t stand under a nest unless your dress blends with bird poop.)  And it would take more than Wonder Woman’s magic tiara to keep her hair from turning into a sea sponge when the humidity tops out at water skiing levels.

Superman thought he had it bad with the blue tights and the day job.  The Captain should count himself lucky.  At least he didn’t have to hoist me over his shoulder to fly off on our honeymoon, a move which could bring his insurance deductible into play and threaten any rigorous honeymoon activities.

All he had to do was pay.


Join Amy, the Captain, and the baggage they’ve collected in fourteen years of marital baloney at Mind Over Mullis.  Remember, do not try this at home. You, too, could end up with kids, Labradors, and bad hair!

7.04.2011

The Chocolate Cupcake Adventure

By Lisa Dovichi

I had a yen for chocolate, 3ft had a yen for chocolate, and the Grumpybutt ALWAYS has a yen for chocolate so we decided it’d be fun to bake some chocolate cupcakes. Normally, I do all my baking from scratch and by myself but the mini-me’s wanted to help so I chose to cheat and bought a box of chocolate cake mix and frosting. Shhh, don’t tell anyone. I thought I had an idea of what I was getting myself into (thus the box) but really I had NO idea!

3ft, my six-year-old, was in charge of cracking eggs. He did a great job, but I’m not going to lie, we had to play ‘fish the eggshell out of the batter’. In the future when 3ft tells me he’s an egg cracking professional I will have him show off his skills in a separate bowl and not straight into the other ingredients.

The Grumpybutt, my year-and-a-half-year-old was in charge of peeling the wrapper off the butter and putting it in the bowl for beating. Yes, there were a couple of bites missing out of the block by the time he was done but I swear the cake didn’t miss them. I had to fish out some butter wrapper too, but not out of the batter, out of the Grumpybutt’s mouth instead -- apparently his first bite was before he took off the wrapper.
 
On to the mixing. 3ft told me he was also a professional mixer so I let him hold the mixer. He cranked that puppy up to 12. And after we cleaned up the explosion of cake batter off the counters AND cupboards and salvaged what we could, he didn’t have any more problems. (Note to self: 3ft might be full of bologna when it comes to what he’s a pro at doing.)

At that point, I was just hoping we’d have enough batter to fill a cupcake pan so I gave each boy a beater so I could quickly fill the cups before anything else happened. As I’m filling the cups, I noticed that the Grumpybutt is emptying them as fast as I am filling them. He’d climbed back up onto the stool and was dipping his beater as fast as he could for more chocolate -- the little ingenious weasel. I pulled him off the stool and set him back on the floor when 3ft insisted the Grumpybutt had more batter than him so he climbed up and started dipping his beater into the bowl.

What could I do? That’s right, what anyone else would do: give up. I gave them the bowl, a spoon, and a spatula. Out of a mix that was supposed to make 24 cupcakes we only got 12. It was worth it though I’ve never laughed so hard or seen chocolate smiles so big. They had a chocolatey blast and I’ve got pictures to blackmail them with when they’re older.

7.01.2011

The sun, it burns!

by Adam Slade

In the summer time, when the weather is fine,
I step out the door, and catch on fire,
When the weather’s right,
I got burnin’, I got burnin’ on my mind.
(Mungo Jerry are suing as we speak.)

Back in the UK, ‘summer’ seems to translate into ‘slightly less rain, let’s go to the beach with half the population and ride donkeys’.

We do see some nice days, but given that most Brits consider a good summer to mean a fortnight of warm weather, don’t head over there expecting to top up your tan. (Or your car. You think you have it bad with your prices? Double it. Even the mayor of London rides a bicycle to work.)

Notice I said ‘back’ in the UK. I’m currently in Canada, living it up with my sweetie. Thing is, while it gets considerably colder over here during the winter, it also gets quite a bit warmer during the summer months.

Bugger.

Ignoring the ever-spreading grey, I am a brunette. I was born with bright ginger hair, though, and while that grew out, the fair skin remained. As such, if I see more than six seconds of mildly warm sunshine, my skin adopts the colour of molten lava and my eyes turn milky white from the glare.

Last year I spent a fortnight in Canada, and managed to arrive just before a heatwave. The resulting orgy of heat and humidity had me hiding indoors with a fan on bust 24 hours a day, hoping for either a quick death or an ice cream.
And now I’m back. And summer’s approaching.

So I have formulated a five step program for dealing with the oncoming solar apocalypse that is temperatures above 25C:


1.      Fans to remain on and pointed at my face at all times. If the fans should break, I will hire people to waft palm fronds at me.

2.      To further aid my temperature, I will wear light clothing, such as t-shirts, shorts, and baseball caps. If this does not work, I will move to a thong and sunhat.

3.      All keyboard keys will be replaced with carefully carved ice cubes. In the case of multiple electric shocks, I will start writing with pen and paper. Inside the refrigerator.

4.      When required to leave the house, I will strap ice-buckets to my feet, so as not to scorch my tootsies. If the water begins to boil, tea will be served wherever I happen to be at the time.

5.      Evenings will be spent immersed in jelly, as it retains its temperature for longer than water. For variety, I will use different flavours on different days of the week.

If these steps fail to work (I honestly don’t see how they could), I will fall upon my oft-used backup plan; whingeing and whining in the hope that someone will club me unconscious, thus rendering me immune to heat.

*Taps head.*

Not just a hat-rack.


The result of a caveman breeding with an ingot of un-distilled sarcasm, Adam Slade was always going to go places. Some days he even makes it as far as the kitchen. Adam is an author of fantasy and humour works, and when he's not writing, he's reading or goofing off on the internet. You can read about his exploits on his blog, Editing Hat, and on his Twitter.