Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Swap Meat

     It’s my mom’s fault, really.  She started my intense love of cooking by telling me everything she knew about food, by giving me a step stool to be at her elbow, but mostly by plunking me down next to her in front of Saturday cooking shows.  I was enthralled by the miracles I saw on screen.  Egg whites became a fluffy meringue in a fascinating, blinding white sheen.  Raw, milky chicken became a spicy cacciatore.  It was magical for me. 

      In keeping with that tradition, I spent a few hours last Saturday watching cooking shows.  The old magic still captivated me and I was proud to share the tradition with Buttercup.  As I made a snack, a show came on promise to help me enjoy my favorite foods without the hours of requisite guilt. 


      I may experience a myriad of emotions when I eat, but I can safely say “guilt” is not one of them.  Except for the time I took the “not ugly” pancake for myself, I have never experienced any flavor of guilt or buyer’s remorse when it comes to food.  I don’t understand it, to be honest.  I eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full, choose a wide variety of colors, flavors, textures, and tastes, and move around as much as I can in between.  Despite my lack of empathy for the guilt-laden eater, I decided to watch anyway. 

      This hyper, chipper woman, who really needs to consider decaf, bounced onto the screen, 2-pound weights in hand.  As she pumped her weights up and down, she shrieked her plans for the show’s menu.  First she intended to create a “mouth-watering plate of crispy nuggets!!”  Second, she planned a “stir fry so amazing you’ll never eat out again!!!!!!”  Last (thank goodness) came a “picnic-worthy tray of deviled eggs.”  The preview shots of the food were only minimally nauseating thanks to the genius of a food stylist, who could probably turn a sow’s ear into a literal silk purse.  As I snarfed down a basin of cheese popcorn, I pointed an orange finger at the screen and chuckled at the theme song, pitifully rivaling my snack for cheesiness. 

      Madame Spazz-Attack, now devoid of workout equipment, took her position in front of the camera and explained her food philosophy: most foods are terrible for your health but we can take bits of other substances (plants, beans, yard work) and create alternatives that are marginally healthier when eaten in tightly controlled, mimsy portions.  It basically boils down to what you swap or “exchange”, as she put it.  I was intrigued and a bit curious topped with a garnish of lightly sarcastic incredulity.

      As Miss Energy Bar did a bouncy jig at the thoughts of crispy nuggets, she nearly wept for the joy of replacing horrible old chicken for (pause for dramatic emphasis ...) firm tofu!  Couldn’t you just die for a plate of firm tofu rolled in plastic egg substitute, coated in whole grain cereal crumbs, and baked to perfection?!  A light dip of the corner in a 1/16 teaspoon serving of mustard may require an extra set of sit-ups, but oh isn’t it worth it?  I licked my orange fingers and laughed as the “stir fry so amazing you’ll never eat out again” turned out to be little more than pre-packaged frozen stir fry mix tossed with a drop of sodium-free soy sauce and served over some mushy, unpronounceable ancient grain.  As I scrubbed my face, trying to rid myself of orange staining, I was rendered motionless as Senorita Caffeine threw out perfectly good egg yolks and replaced them with (again, pause for dramatic emphasis ...) silken tofu!  She shrieked at the sheer wonder of a miracle product capable of producing non-lethal deviled eggs worthy of any gathering. 

      The smell of cheese popcorn lingered in the air as I pondered what I had just witnessed.  How is it that “exchanging” real food for what amounts to solidified air with an odd aftertaste is somehow supposed to free me from feelings of guilt?  I don’t eat tofu on moral grounds.  I mean, come on — what did those poor helpless soybeans do to you?  All they ever wanted was air, light, water, and a foundation named in their honor, ready and willing to take our money at the behest of a celebrity spokesman.  It’s cruel, really.  So utterly unfair that it brings tears.  How can we look ourselves in the mirror knowing we have forced a poor dead soybean to masquerade as a crispy nugget in its final moments on earth? 

      I extend my orange fingers to answer the ringing phone.  It is my mom and she sounds appalled.  “Are you watching this?”  “Watching what?” I ask.  “That actress from the 70’s!” she gasps.  “She thinks some peroxide and concealer is going to make people think she's a blonde bombshell!” 

      I brush the last orange remnants from my T-shirt and laugh softly to myself.  “Yeah, something like that.”

© Bertha Grizzly 2012.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Bertha’s Bakers Dozen ™: Holiday Traditions I Just Don’t Get

     I love holidays.  Any excuse to throw a party, have people over, or celebrate something is OK by me.  I love our traditions and the silly personalized bits we have added to them over the years.  But have you ever stopped to ponder the origins of our traditions?  I have.  I never thought about how silly some of this seems until I sat down and pondered.  (I use my time wisely.)  

     Well, Letterman has his ten; Bertha has her Bakers Dozen … and this time, it’s the Holiday Traditions I Just Don’t Get list:

13) “Happy New Year!  Let’s get plastered while we watch every goober in Times Square drop to one knee and propose.”     

12) “Happy St. Valentine’s Day!  Here’s some overpriced flowers and a box of stale chocolate because I need a greeting card company to remind me that I love you.”   

11) “St. Patrick’s Day.  Why bother remembering a sainted missionary when we can all pretend to be Irish and get plastered on green beer?!  Blarney!”      

10) “Happy Easter!  Let’s go to church for the first time since Christmas.  Then we can go to grandma’s house to eat ham and make total idiots of ourselves playing ‘Hide-n-Seek’ with empty plastic eggs.”

9) “We’re expecting triplets!  And I’m not sure if they belong to my husband.  And our house burned down.  And your shoe is untied.  April Fools!  Wait ... what’s with the gun?  I was just kidding!  I’m sorry!!”         

8) “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  Would you rather we destroy the kitchen making dinner so you can clean half the night, or would you rather stand in line for 2 hours waiting on a sub-par buffet that ran out of prime rib before we got here?  This is your day so we’ll let you decide.  Take your time.”       

7) “Happy Father’s Day, Dad!  I hope you can stay awake long enough to open this necktie.  It looks like the one we gave you last year except the stripe is diagonal instead of horizontal.  Dad?  Great.  He fell back asleep.”  

6) “Hey!  It’s your birthday!  Let’s embarrass you with a horrible, off-key song, set your dessert on fire, and clap while you blow on it!”         

5) “It’s the Fourth of July!  Let’s celebrate our independence!  We’ll cook meat outside then set stuff on fire.  But be sure to bring an umbrella ... it’s rained every single July Fourth since the twelfth century BC.”      

4) “It’s Labor Day.  Let’s celebrate our employment by not going.” 

3) “Boo!  Happy Halloween!  To celebrate spookiness and being scared, I’m going to dress up like a hooker ... or a nun with a ruler ... or a Trekkie ... That oughta scare the pants off anybody.”        

2) “It’s Thanksgiving, time to remember all we have and be grateful for it.  But if they make me eat dark meat, or sit next to Cousin Hester, or if they put garlic butter on those rolls again, I’m storming out.”         

1) “Merry Christmas!  I can’t quite remember your name, but I went into debt buying this pre-assembled gift basket of cheap chocolate and stinky bubble bath.  Wait ... your name is Pamela?  Oh that basket is for somebody else.  Here’s the plastic/vinyl picture frame I got for you.”      

© Bertha Grizzly 2012.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy St. Tuesday

He walked through the store with his eyes to the floor
The constant reminders, he couldn’t take anymore
The hearts and the roses and chocolates galore
She’s gonna be mad at me.

He doesn’t like being ordered about
Being told what to buy so she won’t feel “left out”
He keeps his heart guarded, he’d rather not shout
I hope she’s not mad at me.

He keeps his plan quiet, he keeps his head down
If she knew what was coming, she wouldn’t frown
He loves her and in his heart she wears a crown
Sure hope she’s not mad at me.

Without even a mention, he lets the day pass
Demands for affection seem shallow and crass
But with romantic gestures happening en masse
She might be mad at me.

Shamrocks replace pink hearts on the wall
His wife seems like the least loved of them all
But his love goes beyond the stores at the mall
Soon she’ll know what she means to me.

He chooses each blossom with careful attention
He bought the wine he once heard her mention
He rubs his neck, cursing the tension
She’s going to love this, wait and see.

She arrives at the church, not knowing he’s there
She thinks she’s attending a charity affair
At the thousands of candles, she can only stare
She’s definitely not mad at me.

“I don’t say what I feel, I’ll admit it’s a flaw
“That I don’t express love to the fairest of all
“This diamond is real, even though it is small.”
He drops to one knee, and takes her hand
He says, “My wife, my lover, my very best friend,
“Will you do me the honors of marrying me again?
“I hope you’re not mad at me.”

He knew by her tears the answer was “yes”
My, how he loved how she looked in that dress
As he vowed again to love her through worst and through best
He said, “Happy St. Tuesday, from me.”

© Bertha Grizzly 2012.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Friday, February 10, 2012


     Have you ever received a print ad in the mail, cordially addressed to “Current Resident”, that changed your life?  Me neither.  But I did receive one last week that made me stop and think.

     Did you know there is nothing that says “I love you” better than a new pair of shoes?!

      How did I survive this many years without such insightful wisdom?  All the Valentine’s Days I have suffered through without so much as a penny loafer?  I wanted to cry for the loss of what could have been.  I had no idea shoes were the traditional token of affection for a Valentine’s celebration.  I looked mournfully at the sad collection of basic footwear littering my closet floor.  They were not given in love — they were purchased at random from various clearance bins around town.  Had I disrespected the sacred sanctity of these precious emblems by carelessly tossing them aside as I walked through the door each evening?  It was a disturbing notion, but it caused me to pause and think further.

      What other holiday symbolism was I unknowingly desecrating in my daily living?!

      Not willing to live another day in fear of misusing the soap dish of “Back to School” celebrations, I started a frantic search for print ads of other holidays.  Stuffed in my Valentine’s clogs, I found a print ad declaring a bedspread the “perfect way to celebrate Presidents Day”.  Oh my gosh!  I once sat cross-legged on my bedspread and ate onion dip.  I am so, so sorry Mr. Washington.  (I cannot tell a lie, though: that onion dip was amazing.)  I found a paper in the kindling box informing me that new plates definitely honor our country’s freedom on the Fourth of July.  I closed my eyes in grief as I remembered the countless meals I had eaten on off those celebratory implements.  I cried for the Easter entryway rug I had mercilessly beaten during my last deep cleaning.  I mourned the Memorial Day ice cream scoop I had so carelessly lent to a friend.  My despondence was inconsolable as I remembered the Thanksgiving dish towels, now in the rag bag full of holes and bleach spots. 

      Why didn’t someone point this out to me sooner?!  I was feeling immense guilt and anguish for the holiday “keepsakery” I so callously mistreated every day.  All this time I had thought Christmas was a celebration of peace, goodwill, and the birth of our Savior, but I am just now discovering it was actually that hideous ceramic snowman soap pump that I let The Yankee use for target practice.  All these years I’ve wasted my time on creating the perfect lavish feast for Mom on Mother’s Day only to discover she really needed a fuchsia power suit from Ritzy Retailer.  The guilt was oppressive. 

      I heard The Yankee pull up in the driveway, his car hatefully crunching the “Happy Father’s Day” pea gravel under his selfish tires.  How could he stomp his Valentine’s boots, now irreparably filthy, across our Easter rug?  He semi-waved as he crossed to the kitchen and reached for the refrigerator.  “Hey!” I shrieked, mascara streaks standing as a scary tribute to my mournful afternoon.  “Don’t you touch that water bottle!  It’s part of ‘Spring Tune-Up’!  And where are my Valentine’s Day fur boots?  You owe me!” 

      You know, all in all, this straight jacket isn’t so bad until your nose starts itching. 

© Bertha Grizzly 2012.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Front Row Seat

     It was a normal, boring Saturday of laundry, mopping, and vacuuming.  Buttercup, in her autistic world, was entertaining herself with all manner of toys, dishes, and odds and ends.  As I began folding yet another load of clothes, she came to find me.  “Mama, come.”  She pulls my hand and beckons me to follow her.  Truth be told, I really wanted to finish the laundry, but she seemed so insistent that I obliged. 

      The living room was set up with a pretend microphone by the couch and an audience of dolls and toys lined up in the middle of the floor.  She pointed to a spot in the “audience” and pulled me to a seat.  With a huge smile on her tiny face, she made her way to the microphone and faced her crowd.  “Welcome to the singing church.  You need sing music.”  I noticed a slip of paper on the carpet next to me and picked it up.  I laughed softly at the squeezable cuteness of scrap paper, lovingly adorned with musical notes in bright crayon.  Evidently, this was the music du jour for services at “the singing church”.  She stared at me with a slight smile on her face, which I understood as non-verbal communication that now would be the time to start singing.

     Evidently, “Jimmy Crack Corn and I Don’t Care” wasn’t exactly what she had in mind.

     Before I could get halfway through my song, she put her hand up with a stern, yet polite, “OK, that’s ‘nuff.”  I bit my lip to keep from laughing.  This was, after all, a church service.  After putting a stop to “Jimmy Crack Corn”, she made an announcement.  “Now is time for get married.”  I couldn’t wait to see this.

      She quickly chose two audience members.  “Outdoorsman” became the groom and “Princess Purple Dress”, now adorned with a tissue for a veil, became the blushing bride.  I was enjoying the preparation process immensely, so I was surprised when she handed me a flashlight.  “What should I do with this?” I asked.  She took my hand and showed me how to use the flashlight as a spotlight on the happy couple.  This was just too funny.  She solemnly made her way to her pretend microphone.  “OK, time for get married,” she said slowly, deliberately, with due reverence for matrimonial pomp and circumstance. 

      She picked up an old novel she had discovered on the bottom of a book shelf and slowly opened its pages, spine creaking in protest.  “Ow-side man,” she began, “You takin’ kissin’ Pwincess Purple Dwess?”  She hastily squatted to make Outdoorsman nod his head.  “Pwincess Purple Dwess,  you takin’ kissin’ Ow-side man?”  Back down she squats to make Princess Purple Dress nod her veiled head.  The two lucky audience members shared their nuptial kiss in a shaky spotlight held by the officiant’s mother, barely containing her composure.  As the kiss ends, Buttercup throws the happy couple in the toy box, says, “Show’s over”, and leaves the room. 

      There I sat, “spotlight” in hand, laughing like a loon. 

      It was singlehandedly the best show I had seen in years.  Not only did I have a front row seat, I was invited to be a small part of the production crew.  Suddenly, folding The Yankee’s underwear seemed like the most trivial, unimportant task on earth.  I had attended a church service, witnessed a wedding, and helped out with a first-rate dramatic production, all in one sitting. 

      This little girl, this adorable, affectionate, artsy little miracle of mysteries had come bouncing into my life at just the right time.  She pays little attention to the societal parameters around her.  She plays without reservation, she improvises without irritation, and she loves without hesitation.  She had reminded me once again why she is the best sidekick a mother could ever ask for … and I nearly missed it for a load of laundry. 

      It was the best church service in history. 

© Bertha Grizzly 2012.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Friday, February 3, 2012

To the Trail

     Years ago, I lived in a subdivision promising “city conveniences with country views”.  Basically, that meant hastily slung-together houses on eighth-acre plots conveniently located a few miles from the world’s shortest strip mall.  If you wanted to escape Lake Wannaslitmuhwrists to reach actual civilization, or a store with more to offer than bologna and lottery tickets, there is but one road.   

      I hate that road.

      Twelve miles, a million trees, two lanes, and a ditch on each side all conspire to make a prescription for highway hypnosis.  Travelling this road of doom requires a firm determination to remain awake and alert despite overwhelming desires to drift to la-la land and ponder the great mysteries of jello and male sleep habits.  It was by sheer force of will that I was able to avoid slipping into the comatose comfort of highway hypnosis. 

      It was during one such trip of wills that I first encountered my nemesis.  They looked harmless enough.  Their shiny red, black, or orange outfits hugged every gross curve on their sweaty bodies.  Their “vehicles” looked like the mutant love child of a bicycle and an operating table.  As they reclined on this mobile surgical implement, oblivious to the fact they were travelling 45 miles an hour UNDER the posted speed, their legs were outstretched leisurely pedaling at a maddening, meandering crawl.  The first time I rounded a corner and stood on the brake pedal to avoid creating a medium-rare idiot burger, I blew the horn with my heart pounding in my throat and my knees turning to oatmeal.  This particular idiot decided to show me his IQ ... with one finger.

      Yep, thought so. 

      On and on, over and over, I ran across Idiot and his crony clones.  Sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in packs, but always in the middle of the road and always coasting at 20 feet per hour.  (Miles per hour is not applicable in this situation.)  The more I blew my horn to say, “This is dangerous!  Don’t you have a family member or at least a goldfish to consider?” the more Idiot and his posse proudly displayed their fingers as if to say, “I has one eye-cue point but I is berry proud for it.” 

      As spring dawned one breezy day, I was ecstatic to be released from the prison of my home after two weeks of battling Buttercup’s bronchitis.  Of course, the only way out of that subdivision was down “the road”, but I didn’t care at that point.  A view beyond that of my living room walls at lovely Lake Wannaslitmuhwrists was worth any treachery.  Singing along with Patsy Cline on the stereo system, I dreamed of a fabulous lunch out and marveled at the budding trees.  Life would be OK again.  I smiled and rounded the bend. 

      There he was.   

      This time, his orange and black suit didn’t quite meet so I could see a bit of back/love handle fat.  (It’s funny the quirky things you notice with both feet on the brake pedal and your life flashing before your eyes.) I was livid.  This inconsiderate dirtball had added a new embellishment to the back of his stupid-looking mobile operating table: a flaming yellow bumper sticker with black letters that said, “Share the Road” next to a picture of a real bicycle.  It was on.  I made sure no cars were coming, swerved to the opposite lane, and rolled down the window.  “You pompous nincompoop!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.  “I’ll share the freakin’ road with a Craftmatic Adjustable Bed if it’ll go 50 mph!  How would you like it if I showed up on your bike trail in a Panzer, huh?!!  Have some consideration for something bigger than your hideous, stupid-looking beverage cart on tires!!”  I sped away leaving him in a cloud of dust and road kill. 

      We moved away from Lake Wannaslitmuhwrists three months later and I never saw him again.  I often think about Idiot and his Band of Merry Morons.  I hope he’s still picking dead squirrel fur out of his teeth and looking over his shoulder for a 6-foot crazy woman in a Panzer.  Besides the one where I’m dancing with Cary Grant, it’s my favorite dream. 

 © Bertha Grizzly 2012.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Uphill, Both Ways

     The February that sticks in my mind as the most memorable would have to be the one where Wolverine, my long-awaited and much beloved baby brother, made his surprise entrance into the world a full two and a half months early.  After that, the second most memorable would have to be the Blizzard To End All Blizzards.  Before you land on me with stories of your childhood trips to school in six feet of snow with no shoes and your little sister on your back, please understand: I live in the South.  Snow, when it happens, is usually light, messy, and sticks around just long enough to be a pain before it melts away.  I loathe snow and everything about it, but thankfully, mercifully, I am not forced to endure very much of it.

      Except for that Blizzard To End All Blizzards.

      It was a rather cold February and my skin burned with a taunting reminder of why I don’t ski, snowboard, or ice skate.  The weather forecast called for heavy snowfall with “substantial accumulation”, but I rolled my eyes.  I’ve seen schools closed for two days waiting for “substantial accumulation” that amounted to little more than a half-dozen lonely flurries skittering across a dry, deserted parking lot.  It’s like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”.  How was I supposed to know this time it was for real?  Local Grocery was swarming with panicked doomsdayers hastily snatching up tiny bits of firewood at 10 bucks a bundle and milk at 8 bucks a gallon.  It was pandemonium, and I refused to take part.  By the time I got home, snow was falling at an alarming rate and the wind was starting to sound like an ominous background track to a horror movie.  I was beginning to realize that, though the last 600 warnings for “significant accumulation” were bunk, number 601 might have some merit. 

      My house is in the country.  It’s a nice house with all the modern conveniences, but it is rural.  As I saw the snow falling and heard the wind howling, I started making “just in case” preparations.  I filled the bathtub with water so we could still flush toilets, brought in a few logs of firewood, and closed off back rooms.  The Yankee looked at me with his eyebrows up to his former hairline.  “What are you doing?”  I dropped my load of firewood on the hearth and moved to the kitchen to fill bottles for drinking water.  “I’m preparing for a romantic interlude with Jamison, our butler.”  He rolled his eyes and went back to his TV show.  Moments after tucking Buttercup in for the night, the power went out. 

      Now, when I say, “The power went out,” I must tell you what this means:  No water.  No heat.  No means of food preparation.  No entertainment.  Nothing.  Nada.  And because of our rural location, the power company has put our house on the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the priority list.  We are about 47 steps down from the circuit that runs the nightlight in the outhouse at the bottom of the cow field on the other side of Farmer Peterson’s deer stand.  When the power goes out in our neck of the woods, it stays out.  I hate the fact that it is freezing cold and boring, but I choose to make the most of it.  The Yankee, being himself, is extraordinarily grouchy about the whole situation and resigns himself to hibernation and a diet of beef jerky while he waits for his beloved television to work again.  I decided that my child would NOT be living off potato chips so I pull out the trusty iron skillet collection.  “How do you want your eggs?” I ask The Yankee.  He opens one eye and stares at me.  “How are you planning to cook these?  Over a candle?”  I inhale deeply and count to 10 so I don’t say what is on my mind.  “No dear,” I drawl with saccharin sweetness, “I was planning on makin’ y’all some lil’ ole eggs in this here skillet over the fire.”  He turns over in his chair and snorts, “Yeah.  Good luck with that.”

      Ten minutes later, he awakens to the sizzling sound of fried eggs and poetic justice. 

      Three days later, we make it out of the house.  The snow has formed a barrier as far as the eye can see and the truck is barely able to make it over the frozen speed bumps of ice and snow.  Smelling like a fireplace and armpits, we make it to Mom and Dad’s for a hot shower and food that doesn’t taste like a smoke pit.  It is an amazing feeling and I vow to never again take the simple things for granted.  On our sad journey back to the Igloo (as we lovingly christened our house), we stopped by Save-More Club to pick up some supplies. 

     As I wander the aisles, I can not locate a single winter-related item.  No chem logs.  No firewood.  No ice melt.  After walking for a half hour, I finally find an employee.  “Excuse me,” I began, “Where would I find the winter supplies?”  She looks at me and over-enunciates like I’m a complete buffoon.  “Uhhh, this is Feb-yoo-wary.  We don’t HAVE winter crap anymore.  We cleared all that out six weeks ago to make room for pool chemicals.”  I was stunned.  “First of all, there is an ‘r’ in Feb-roo-wary.  Secondly, Spring is not officially here until the Vernal Equinox on March 20 so this is still, indeed, WINTER.  And Third, who on God’s green earth is worried about a swimming pool when there is three feet of snow on the ground?!”  She just smiled as if to say, “You poor dumb customer.  The whys and wherefores of merchandising are far above your meager understanding.”  I make it back out to the truck.  “Well,” said The Yankee, now sorry for rolling his eyes at me days earlier, “What did you find?”  I sighed, “A size-6 string bikini and chlorine shock treatment.”  Back we sauntered to the Igloo and waited for the storm to be over. 

      Our power came back on after 5 days.  The house smelled like a chimney, we were starting to smell like armpits again, and I longed for a meal cooked in a warm kitchen on a functioning stove with the strains of Dean Martin annoying The Yankee in the background.  Speaking of The Yankee, he got on board with the whole “ingenuity” thing.  We now have a camping stove so I don’t have to hover over the fire place with a skillet anymore.  He’s stocked up on firewood and bought a kerosene heater.  There will probably be another 600 forecasts for “significant accumulation” before we see another Blizzard To End All Blizzards, but I’ll trudge through ... uphill, both ways.  

© Bertha Grizzly 2012.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bertha’s Bakers Dozen ™: Dumb Things People Say When They Find Out I’m a Writer

     One of the first questions an acquaintance will usually ask is, “So what do you do?”  I usually assume they mean, “what do I do for a living” so I answer with, “I’m a writer”.  If I answered with, “I’m a world-renowned brain surgeon” or “I teach disabled children”, the response might be one of awe or admiration.  If I answered with, “I tame lions” or “I’m a candy taster”, the response might be one of extreme interest.  When I answer with, “I’m a writer”, I often wonder if I mistakenly said, “I sit on a park bench and stare at my thumb nail.”  People have no clue what to say, so they start to babble.  I think I’ve heard just about everything.

     Well, Letterman has his ten; Bertha has her Bakers Dozen … and this time, it’s the Dumb Things People Say  When They Find Out I’m a Writer list:

13) “You’re a writer?  Like, at a bookstore?”  No.  I’m a writer, like, at my computer in yoga pants and a Muppets T-shirt.     

12) “Do you have an assistant to write for you?”  What?!  I do my own writing, t hank you very much.  And if I did have an assistant, I think I would have that person clean my house so I could write more.   

11) “I bet you are rich since you’re famous!”  I started this column with nothing and I still have most of it left.  And if I’m famous, I really need to have a talk with the deli manager at Local Grocery for how long they make me wait for a half-pound of corned beef.    

10) “Can you introduce me to famous people?”  Part of me wants to answer with “for a fee”.  Another part of me wants to smack you across the forehead.  Do I look like Truman Capote?

9) “I be you get to travel a lot!”  Uhh, does a jaunt into town to buy dog food count as “travelling”?       

8) “I bet The Yankee is your biggest fan!”  Actually, no.  The Yankee is vaguely aware I have “a column thingy”, as he calls it, but he cannot locate it on the Internet nor is he even remotely interested in its content.       

7) “I bet you have crowds who want your autograph.”  Only when it’s time to sign the credit card receipt.  

6) “You’re a writer?!  Oh my gosh, do you get people sending bottles of wine to your table at restaurants?!”  I don’t think the drive-thru at the Sammich Hut is allowed to sell alcohol.       

5) “How do you come up with your characters?”  I live with these people.  No, I’m serious.      

4) “All this ridiculous stuff happens to you, I bet you laugh a lot!”   Guess again. 

3) “Do you really have an autistic daughter?”  Actually, I have a son named Filbert who’s been locked in his room playing Pogs since 1992.  I just thought an imaginary autistic daughter would make a fun pastime.      

2) “You’re a writer?  I’ve never heard of you.”  I said “writer” ... not Pulitzer Prize winning author.       

1) “I could never be a writer.  Nothing interesting ever happens to me.”  I have news for you.  “Interesting” depends entirely upon your perspective.  If you spend your life down in the dumps, staring at your feet, you will never see the interesting.  If you search for drama in every aspect of life like some redneck with trailer park hair, you run the risk of dramatizing every boring, minute detail of the excruciatingly mundane.  Look up, open your eyes, and don’t read into everything.  You may be shocked by how much “interesting” you really have around you.    

© Bertha Grizzly 2012.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ask Bertha

Dear Bertha,
            Are you really married to The Yankee?
             — Martin

Dear Martin,
             Thank you for asking.  No, I am not actually married to anyone.  I decided one day that I did not have enough turmoil in my life so I scoured the Internet for a remedy to this problem.  I found an overseas company specializing in television-addicted robots who prefer a lumpy recliner to an exciting evening out and can hibernate for an entire 3-day weekend.  I shopped the clearance page and got a discount for a discontinued model whose “Fine Arts” chip and hand-applied hair extension were missing, but had somehow ended up with two “stubbornness” routers.  He came with outdated clothes and plenty of baggage and I am so glad I decided not to get married.
             — Bertha

Dear Bertha,
            It sounds like you eavesdrop at restaurants.  Isn’t that rude?
             — Molly

Dear Molly,
            When I am dining alone, as I often do, I am not in a position to be distracted by conversation as my imaginary friend, Clovis, doesn’t like to talk in public.  If another diner is seated within earshot and insists on speaking at a decibel level similar to that of a gas-powered wood chipper, I find it difficult to ignore.  So the next time you are alone in your car at a stoplight and a kid in an $800 hatchback pulls alongside you blasting his $4,000 sound system, remember this: he is just trying to enjoy a good song.  You are eavesdropping.  How rude.
            — Bertha

Dear Bertha,
           I am a stay-at-home mom of three kids.  I cook, clean, and homeschool.  My husband says I don’t “work” because I don’t earn a paycheck.  How can I help him see me in a different light?
            — Kelly

Dear Kelly,
           Every time you do something, leave the jerk a bill.  As a paid employee (housekeeper, nanny, tutor, cook, laundress, seamstress, landscaper, referee, etc.) you are entitled to at least one day off per week.  Leave home at 6am and don’t return for 36 hours.  When you do come back, throw yourself in a recliner, screech “WHEW, WHAT A DAY!!” and go to sleep.  Yell at the kids if they breathe too loudly, then say, “What’s for dinner?”  If he doesn’t start seeing you in a “different light” after about a month, serve him lumpy oatmeal for dinner every night for the rest of his stupid life.  What’s he going to do?  Fire you?  If he tries, tell him you’re union and refuse to make his oatmeal.
            — Bertha 

Questions for Bertha?  E-mail with “Ask Bertha” in the subject line.  Be careful what you ask: good questions will be answered.  Stupid or negative questions may be deleted, ridiculed, or end up the un-credited, uncompensated, unwitting subject of a future blog post.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

© Bertha Grizzly 2012.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cake Is My Weakness: Part Two

     At 2am, I unmolded my second attempt at a giant cupcake for Buttercup’s birthday.  A beautifully formed confection waited for me to decorate it into a pink and white fantasy worthy of the fairiest of fairy princesses.  I was ecstatic that this cake looked like it might hold up, unlike its pitiful, gelatinous, gluey predecessor.  I dropped in the bed, exhausted but ready to give Buttercup a birthday to remember.  I got up the next morning and readied myself for a day of low-key, autism-friendly festivities, the highlight being my pink-sational centerpiece.  I rounded the corner to the kitchen and gasped at what lay before me.

     My naked cake had cracked.

     I don’t mean a hairline fracture or an unfortunate divot.  I mean a full-fledged, “watch your step please”, deep as the Grand Canyon, crackamundo crevice.  I decided right then that the god of crappy baking must be named Squidge-Bucket Jelly-Fart and he hates me.  I tried to apologize for whatever I had done to be so displeasing, but it was too late.  Squidge-Bucket Jelly-Fart had already cursed my cake with his lightning crack of fury.  As I surveyed the damage, The Yankee comes to the kitchen in search of something caffeinated.  “My cake!” I screeched, pointing at the chocolate disaster on the counter, “It’s ruined!”  He yawned, bleary-eyed and grumpy as ever.  “That’s nice.  Where’s the sugar spoon?”  I glared at him, “Don’t tempt me.”

     I stared at my disastrous, cracked cake, looking progressively sadder and more hideous by the minute.  I have no more boxes of cake mix.  I am out of eggs and cocoa powder so scratch baking is out of the question (not that I’m any good at it anyway).  We have to leave for Mom and Dad’s house in an hour.  I am out of options.  I plunk the lid on the cake carrier and grit my teeth.  I’ll think of something ... I have to. 

     We get to Mom and Dad’s, Buttercup blissfully unaware of the crackpot cake in the trunk and the crackpot mother in the front seat.  Dad, Moose and Red, Wolverine and Midge were already present and accounted for.  Mom would arrive later in the afternoon thanks to a no-husbands-allowed vacation she had enjoyed with a friend.  I left unpacking “Krakatoa” for last, and was not surprised to find Squidge-Bucket Jelly-Fart had deepened the Great Divide to the point the cake was now split in half.  Oh joy.  While Dad and The Yankee talked shop with Moose and Wolverine, Red and Midge tried not to laugh at my cursed attempt at baking.  I tried to laugh it off, “We shall overcome!  I have come armed with icing!”

     Why did I think this would work?

     Evidently, some bored person with a shrewd interest in making a fast buck off DIY bakers decided to sell squares of parchment paper as “easy to roll!” pastry bags in a box of 100.  I quickly discovered 100 is a requirement if you intend to be as tenacious as I am.  For almost an hour, I rolled, re-rolled, taped, glued, folded, wrinkled, and subsequently destroyed 95 squares of the slickest, most slippery paper ever marketed.  I would have had more success nailing cotton candy to a gelatin square.  Red waiting until she got outside before she laughed at me for calling parchment square #96 a “snortin sniveling frick turd moo moo head.” 

     I finally found one of Mom’s pastry bags, filled it with icing, and squeezed.  BOOM!!  The coupler gave way as icing and a decorating tip flew across the kitchen like a runaway balloon.

     I think I screamed a little.

     Finally, I managed to get a bit of cooperation from another one of Mom’s pastry bags.  I mixed electric pink and neon green icing to Buttercup’s exacting specifications.  With some creativity birthed from extreme desperation, I managed to turn the crackamundo cake of doom into a rock covered in a neon vine of electric pink flowers with a garden of beautiful flowers flowing from a crack in the “rock”.  I was sweaty, I had a headache, and I hoped I never saw another square of parchment as long as I lived.  Even so, I was thrilled at Buttercup’s smile and nearly wept as she said, “Oh Mama.  My flower so beautiful.”  Maybe it had been worth the effort after all.  I could breathe a sigh of relief. 

     “Hey Bert,” someone called out.  “How’d you get a pudding center in the middle of this cake?”

© Bertha Grizzly 2012.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cake Is My Weakness: Part One

     Any mother worth her weight in dust bunnies is going to make an effort to see that her child has a very happy birthday.  I don’t mean live zoo animals at lavishly catered affairs costing more than an Ivy League semester.  I mean the small touches that celebrate another year of life with a treasured loved one.  When Buttercup’s birthday rolls around, I look forward to the small ways I can show her I am happy she got to be my little sidekick one more year.  I love all of it: making a “Happy Birthday” sign, picking out pretty napkins I know she will love, wrapping a gift with a sparkly bow … it’s fabulous, every bit of it.  Except the cake.  I can admit it: cake is my weakness.  But not eating it. 

      Hi, my name is Bertha and I can’t bake a cake worth a darn.

      Let me make one thing quite clear before I go any further.  I can cook.  I am an accomplished cook with many a dinner party, wedding, and catered event to my credit.  Aptitude is not the issue here.  It just so happens I am not a cake baker.  And it’s not like I haven’t tried.  Take last year, for instance.

      With Buttercup’s autism, I have to be careful not to hang too many decorations in too many different colors because she finds the busy-ness distracting and says it makes her ears “loud”.  Last year, I decided I would keep the decorations minimal, the guests limited to family, and make the cake the focal point of the table.  After she went to bed the night before the party, I mixed up a box of allegedly idiot-proof cake mix and poured the chocolatey goo into an allegedly easy giant cupcake mold.  My oven thermostat and the thermometer I  had put inside the oven both registered the perfect temperature, so I slid my confection into the oven.  The Yankee sniffed the air, “I don’t even like cake but that smells good for a boxed mix.”  I smiled and dreamed of the flower and candy encrusted masterpiece I would present the next day.  The timer went off to tell me it was time to check the cake’s doneness.  The toothpick came out dripping to I slid the pan back in the oven, after all, the instructions had indicated a 40-50 minute window of time.  At the 50 minute mark, the toothpick (yes, a new clean one) came out dripping.  The Yankee hung over my shoulder.  “That’s weird, Bert.  Are you sure it said 40-50 minutes at 350?”  I huffed, exasperated.  “Yes, I’m sure.  Read for yourself.”  The new, clean toothpicks dripped at 60, 70, 80, 90, 100, 110, and 125 minutes.  At 130 minutes, the edges were beginning to turn an unattractive molasses hue. 

      I brought the heated pool of lava to the counter and let it cool the requisite hour.  As I warily unmolded my doubtful cake, the center jiggled like a nightmarish gelatin mold of childhood Christmas horror at my other grandma’s house.  I grit my teeth and said the dirtiest words I could muster.  “This frickin fruitin stupid pile of sugar-laden moo moo crud buckets!  You’re a flitter-flicker ninny-noodle chuckle snort!  Curse you oven of doom and double curse you snardin-gobble-dinger cake pile!!!”  The Yankee laughs, “Oh, my ears are burning.”  I flash him the eyes of death as he chuckles a hasty retreat to another part of the house. 

      My gelatinous flop of a cake, and the unfortunate fact that it’s now past midnight, are not going to deter me from making a beautiful dessert for my Buttercup, so I pull out the old cookbook and start mixing.  A few eggs, some flour and cocoa powder later, I had another cake in the oven.  I crossed my fingers and prayed it would work.  At the 50 minute mark, I checked with yet another toothpick and squinted my eyes.  It came out clean.  I did a happy dance and let the cake cool. 

      Tomorrow, I would decorate the cake of Buttercup’s dreams.  Tomorrow, I would present her with a sugared representation of the sheer depths of a mother’s love.  It would be perfection.  It would be an unparalleled culinary achievement.

      It would be a disaster.

© Bertha Grizzly 2012.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.