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.