Sunday, September 29, 2013

I Think I May Have a Plan...

Transformation. Re-creation. Ch-ch-ch-Changes...

I find myself in the throws of a reinvention and thus, unable to actually concentrate. Who am I reinventing myself into? Well, pretty much, best as I can tell, I am reinventing myself into a stress eating gerbil with ADHD who suffers from an emotional disorder that triggers uncontrollable crying when exposed to precious commercials for Cheerios. I believe this is somewhere between the caterpillar and pupa stages. Those stages of feeding and then cocooning of a butterfly.

Our oldest is moving to his first apartment. Our youngest is working towards her first job in her chosen field. Bart is working out the details of his retirement next year. It's all part of evolution. And things around here have been evolving so quickly that the Darwin Society has asked for a study grant. And me?

I have loved being Mommy to small children but I am ready to move towards the person I have dreamed of being since I was sixteen. That person who exercises every day, writes every day, looks totally put together in every situation, has sparkling conversations and can truthfully say "the other evening, while preparing dinner, I caught myself humming along to Vivaldi". This woman lives in a spotless turn of the century apartment or cottage within walking distance of her favorite cafe and the beach. She has just returned from a three month stay along a lovely river in Spain where her husband fished and she wrote and each evening they drank Rioja with the locals. (Oh wait, that's Hemingway and one of his wives. Whatever. I don't think there are copy write laws governing lifestyle.)

How is this reinvention going? Well, according to what I have read about reinvention the first step is to make a decision. Unfortunately my first decision is to move down the path of least resistance. This pretty much involves eating an entire bag of OkeyDokey Styrofoam popcorn with a carton of New York Fudge Chunk Ice Cream and inventing devastating scenarios of my poor parenting worthy of a Lifetime movie. When I am not imaginary-ruining my children's' lives I am feeling guilty. Not about anything in particular, just a world encompassing guilt. This ends with me lying in bed at 2AM, flat on my back, poking my Michelin man belly and contemplating just where it was that I went wrong. (Never mind that our two kids seem to be quite happy, well adjusted adults who routinely do nice things and like hanging out with us. Of course, that is probably due to me smothering them which probably stunted some inter-personal skills...Oops. Sorry. Guilt could be an Olympic event in my head.)

For a real transformation, change must begin within, like that pupa inside its cocoon. I have to report that as of today, I have accomplished three days of abdominal exercising. I get home from work, close and lock the bedroom door and do planks and crunches. I can't risk anyone seeing this spectacle. What muscles I have are attempting to contact their embassy as this is clearly an all out terrorist attack. I have also taken to eating oatmeal. Which makes me feel better about the junk food graze that will inevitably occur later in the day. And my intestines have never been happier. Which is about as 'inside' as it gets, I suppose.

I did put on some classical music while preparing lunch the other day. It was quite enjoyable. Until I nearly cut my pinky finger off and exploded a can of roasted red peppers all down my t-shirt. Suddenly I was Dudley Moore. Because Dudley Moore is the first person who comes to mind when I hear classical music. I can't explain it.

The intention of reinvention is important. Having a mission reinforces all those difficult changes. It is easier to make specific sacrifices or changes to long instilled habits if the goal is concrete. My intention? My mission? I wish I could put it in concrete terms. Its more of a feeling than an actual goal. I get brief glimmers of it – the mornings when I get up early, go for breakfast and stop at the farmer's market; the afternoons when I sit quietly and write, the evenings spent on the deck or at a favorite restaurant with family or friends. If only I could just roll each of these vignettes into one full twenty-four hour span. And then roll that span into a week and then a month. Lets be honest. I want to Ponzi my life into one enormous pyramid scheme of creativeness. But with more happy, spread the wealth fun and less bankruptcy and jail time.

Which brings me to the SUPPORT portion of my reinvention. Its very difficult to maintain change without support. My family is very supportive. They tolerated the classical music all through lunch without saying a word. But when I turned the radio off in favor of ANACONDA, one of my favorite bad scy-fy movies, they gave a collective cheer. And they collectively mock my love of bad scy-fy. Except for Sharknado, which I predicted to be a HUGE hit. Which it was. They never say a word about my vacuum cleaner style of grazing, although there was delicious, healthy soup waiting for me when I got home from work the other night. No one laughs when I say I actually worked on the novel I have been working on for nearly three years now.

They do not know about the secret ab exercises. So please don't say anything.

But at the end of the day, even with all that support, the only thing holding me back is me. I am watching my son and daughter let go of their carefree childhoods and move forward to the independence and excitement of adulthood. I am the sounding board for my husband as he makes decisions regarding retirement which will ultimately move us both towards our goals of comfortable living and travel. And you know what? I have begun to let go of some of those habits which masquerade as excuses but are actually enormous walls confining me from the discomfort, fear and adventure of something new and challenging.

I have been writing every day.

I can now hold my plank for thirty-five seconds.

My shirt actually matched my skirt last night when I went out.

I am not quite ready to give up the New York Fudge Chunk and I haven't turned to the classical station in a week but as David Bowie says:

Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can't trace time*

Okay, I don't really get that last line but you get the gist...

Not used with permission as I don't know Mr. Bowie, but included with the utmost respect. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

As God is My Witness, I Will Never Go Camping Again...probably. Except for next year. Or if we sail to the Keyes...

Hello Civilization!

It has taken a week, but I think I have finally recovered from my camping trip. As discussed in the previous post, I have not camped in twenty years. But its just like falling off a bike, you remember the pain.

Here are some highlights:
  1. I can not sleep in a sleeping bag. If God had meant us to sleep in a sausage casing he would not have given us four appendages. I gave it my best shot but around 3AM, after sliding off the air mattress for the fifth time my other personality woke up, kicked its way out of the flannel lined sack and let go with a string of expletives that silenced those annoying cicadas. The following night I unzipped the blanket and used it like an enormous blanket. Better but not the deliciously soft cocoon of bedding at the Holiday Inn Express.
  2. Two tents are more than enough for 90 college students. Right?
    Of course that's enough because if you are not going to sleep, why waste time putting up a tent. Around 5PM on Saturday we noticed a growing mass of twenty-somethings wandering the campground. Turns out they were planning to go spelunking on Sunday. Plans for Saturday seemed to include walking the campground while eating Doritos, playing Frisbee and congregating in herds of ten to fifteen.
  3. If you give left over chicken drummies to a pack of feral students they will love you more than Twitter.
  4. Nothing brings out the Old Fart Sweatshirt like a car stereo blasting music at 2AM and nothing stuffs it back into the bag like the conversation of the kids not sleeping five feet from my tent. Seems Becky is willing to try a three-way, but only if she finds the other girl attractive. Good to know, Becky. Now GO TO SLEEP!
  5. French Press coffee is delish anywhere and makes you look extra sophisticated. Especially when surrounded by college students drinking Mountain Dew. Sunday morning, the campground resembled a mass casualty drill. Body bags littered the lawn. (There were no tents – see #2) Thank heaven I cooked the bacon on Saturday. I am pretty sure the scent of frying pork fat would have turned my cast iron skillet into ground zero of the Zombie Apocalypse.
  6. Clean up and unpacking time from a camping trip is 2:1. For every one day of camping it takes two days to do the laundry and wash up the supplies.
  7. I really did have a good time. But I am pretty sure I would have had just as much fun if my tent were more like the Four Seasons. I am willing to seek grant money for the research. 
The real reason for the trip was actually a sailing event – the Lake Monroe Small Boat Messabout. Our fifteen foot sloop handled like a dream. We had great wind on Friday and looked like total professionals. Saturday was pleasant and calmer which was fun for playing chicken with the other sailors. Sunday was calm which made leaving the lake a little easier as it looked like no one was getting the good wind. And like everything...

Here are some of the Sailing Highlights:
  1. If I can get hit with the equivalent of a bucket of water I will get hit with the equivalent of a bucket of water. It doesn't matter how fast we are going, how windy it is or how calm the lake is. I still get off the boat looking like the Gorton's Fisherman, without the yellow slicker.
  2. Sailing brings out my inner Evil Knievel. I am normally not a thrill seeker but there is something about climbing out onto the bow of the boat that makes me want to go fast. Fast. FAST! I can not begin to describe the sensation of flying across the water, powered silently by the wind in the sheets, the thrill of coming about as the boat dips port or starboard into the water then righting and flying off once again.
  3. John Cougar does not appreciate the pop in. (Mr. Cougar has a house right on the banks of Lake Monroe. We sailed back and forth a number of times, shouting and waving. I even sang a chorus of Hurts So Good. But no one ever acknowledged us. Maybe they weren't home.

Even with all the camping. I met some delightful new friends, became reacquainted with some old ones and saw such a sky full of stars that there were no words. Bart and I spent as much time as we could on the water and at the end of the weekend we were planning the next trip out. I guess Rat was right:

Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."
"Simply messing...about in boats -- or with boats... In or out of 'em it doesn't matter. Nothing seems to matter, that's the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don't; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you're always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you've done it there's always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you'd much better not." ~The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

The possibilities are endless...

If you enjoy sailing, have a small boat, are interested in building your own boat or just want to hang with people who know way too much about epoxy then I encourage you to check out the Messabout:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

This is Why God Invented the Four Seasons

It's that time again. This weekend will be our second outing to the Small Boat Messabout at Lake Monroe, Indiana. Last year we stayed in a 'kitche' motel. This year we are camping.

I have not camped in 20 years.

We camped a lot when I was a kid. We had a pop-up camper which gave us a place to play Crazy Eights when it rained. I loved walking in the woods, alone, daydreaming about all sorts of romantic adventures while listening to the Commodores on my Sony Twist. As I recall, the only job I had back then was gathering firewood. Which usually ended with me dragging half a tree into the campsite and being informed that it was too wet.

I still can't build a fire.

My husband - BART*- was one of those tent campers. The hardcore, no electricity, brush your teeth with water you squeezed from wet tree limbs sort of camper. This is our first attempt at camping as a couple:
If this tent's a rockin' it's because it's about to collapse. Please call 911 or

If you haven't noticed, the tent is supported by rope over tree branches. Why would this be? Well, it seems we forgot the tent poles. We seemed to remember the rope. We had been married about three months.

It is a wonder we are still speaking.

Our last camping trip was with our children and our beagle. It was dark when we got to the campground. The kids wanted to sleep. The beagle wanted to smell everything within a five mile radius. The campground attendant wanted to run us out of town as – in the dark – we had set up camp in the CLOSED part of the campground. I don't know what his problem was. It wasn't as if he had to vacuum the dirt or rewash the bugs.

So, it is now 20 years later. My list of things to take is three full legal pad pages long, Front and Back. We have discussed the merits of air mattresses. I spent all of last weekend obsessing over what food we would take. I settled on cheese, salami, fruit and veggies for lunches, a hearty soup for dinner #1 and a hearty salsa and jerk chicken for our potluck contribution for dinner #2. I am on the culinary fence for breakfasts. Bart will want to be out in the boat ASAP both days. I will want to enjoy a nice cup of coffee and I will be sad if I get up on Sunday to the smells bacon and pancakes and all I get is a crappy granola bar and some withered up grapes.

As always, Bart was very helpful. He asked, "But don't you want to write a blog called Other People's Bacon?"

I asked him if he packed the tent poles.

Stay tuned for Camping – the sequel.

*BART –  not his real name, is one of the many almost correct but not quite names my Grandpa called my husband whenever they were together. Names have been changed to protect...well, no one really.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Or maybe not...

Ordinarily, I carry a small notebook with me for the safe keeping of random thoughts and observations. From time to time I will work on ideas for novels. On the rare occasion that I don't have the notebook I jot things down on napkins, receipts, business cards – which is pretty tricky as they are quite small and sometimes the same color as my pen. Of course, none of these work without the pen. Which is attached to the notebook. Which was in the trunk of our car on Friday when we went out for dinner. Which was too bad as the observations were running rampant.

At least, if the texts from my husband can be believed:

Whole Milk
Got Legs
With tennis balls.
Delmar Gardens
Don't say butterscotch in here.

This particular restaurant is in a neighborhood of the Coast that feels more like New Orleans than the Midwest. Customers and residents alike are a mix of twenty and up year olds; employed, not employed; more hippie than hipster. There was a ballgame in town on Friday so there was a fair share of Redbird fans grabbing a local beer and some ettouffee before taking the shuttle to the ballpark. Our food was delish – of course. But as we finished our meal and the waiter refilled our wine glasses we noticed a higher ratio of polyester and sensible shoes.

Which explains the Delmar Gardens reference.That and the fact that the patio now has a metal sign which says 'GARDEN' hanging on a fence which I can only assume is to remind the more drunk patrons where they actually are. And you can't say GARDEN in the vicinity of my husband and polyester without the addition of DELMAR. (Delmar Gardens is a well known retirement/nursing home here on the Coast.)*

It gets a little fuzzy from here. Probably in direct relation to the wine. Which, naturally, led to the vision of a Milk tasting at the nursing home:

Ooo, Milk.
swirl milk in wine glass
Great legs. Has to be Whole Milk.
sip, swish, inhale through mouth full of milk
Mmmmm, Legs so long they are gonna need those little tennis balls...

And this, naturally led to the creation of Kinky Bingo. Which I am refraining from discussing here as I feel this may be my golden ticket to those precious retirement dollars which will land me in a primo room at the aforementioned Gardens. I will mention that as we were discussing said game, we both raised our hands and whispered BINGO! at which point a waitress walking past us raised her hands in response.

I have no idea where Butterscotch entered the playing field. So I will leave you with this thought:

Would you be charged with disturbing the peace if you were to shout, in a crowded nursing home dining room, "Look! A bag of unattended Butterscotch Candies!"?

*Delmar Gardens is a lovely and well respected retirement/nursing center and in no way is it being suggested that the people that live there only wear polyester, drink milk or play Kinky Bingo. There is some research that does point to an increased interest in Butterscotch Candies after the age of sixty. Butterscotch Candies and Butter Brickle ice cream. (It was a pretty extensive research project.)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Hairnets and Taxes

As those who live here on the Coast with me know, it is property tax season. Ugh. I guess I wouldn't mind so much if I could dole out the dollars to exactly who and what I wanted to benefit. 
Or not.
But, I am nothing if not law-abiding so my taxes are paid. On time. No matter the personal sacrifice.Its just that I could really find so many fabulous ways to use all that overtime I had to work. And I could seriously use a nice vacation.


An alert Coaster sent me this photo:

Clearly, no fears of the metal detector.

Yup. That's a hairnet. At the courthouse.
It seems that Ben Franklin was correct. "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." 
Apparently even Hairnets must pay. 

In unrelated news - Periodically, I check to see just who is reading Coast of Illinois. I love seeing new locations and recently Latvia and China! have been added to the list. I have no idea if these are the result of some seriously misguided searches or actual visitors who are looking for news from the Midwest. And to that end - send me a comment and let me know who you are! Is there anything you would like to see here at  the Coast? You can comment below. At present, comments must go through an approval process so comments won't appear immediately. I haven't yet figured out how to change that setting but I promise that all comments will be posted, unless requested otherwise. 

Even comments from Hairnets. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Happy Labor Day! Let's Eat Some Deep Fried Noodles!

I have a friend who is always wondering about her family’s traditions. She speaks of these ‘traditions’ in the italicized words of someone that wants her holidays to sparkle in the memory of her children. Well, who can blame her…don’t we all want that? Funny thing about family traditions – we really have no control over what our family chooses as those most memorable things…

Back in the 1970’s…you remember the ‘70’s – white guy afros, bell bottom pants, people bursting into song in praise of cola drinks as they profess to bringing peace to the entire world? Well, way back in the 1970’s, there was a program called The Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon.

In my well protected world of Cornfield, Illinois, The Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon was a HUGE deal. Here was the opportunity to see that legendary funny man – star of such movies as Who’s Minding the Store and The Nutty Professor, the opportunity to see famous pop singing groups (Bay City Rollers, Lena Zavaroni), old school comics (Rich Little, Jerry Stiller) and mime acts (Shields and Yarnell) perform LIVE. Maybe Cory from Three Dog Night would make a surprise appearance! Maybe the Osmonds would sing! Maybe Ed McMahon would crack Jerry up! Maybe something would break! It was LIVE! And clearly, we were starved for entertainment!

And in the interest of not missing anything we stayed up ALL NIGHT LONG. The opportunity to stay up ALL NIGHT LONG was rare and completely dependent on the whims of Mom and Dad. There was no sneaking downstairs to watch late night TV in our house. My parents had the hearing of the greater wax moth.*

You see, once upon a time, in a land without TIVO, DVR or even VCRs, there was only one chance to catch a show live. And that was at its scheduled time as listed in the TV Guide. (Aaaaaa – TV Guide – AAAaaaaa) You missed a scheduled TV program? Well, you missed it. If you were extremely lucky, you might see it in rerun but chances were you were just out of luck. The opportunity to watch a TV show live – where anything could happen - made people put down the crocheting and checkers, light up a few more lanterns and take notice.

And don’t forget the chance to watch television ALL NIGHT LONG! Way back then, before cable and those 157 channels with nothing on the, TV actually went to black sometime around midnight or one A.M. (Around two on the Weekends.) But, by black I mean grey fuzzy snow, the type which harbors poltergeists and creepy little children. If you were lucky enough to get to stay up to watch the end of Midnight Special on Friday night you got to see the sacred stars and stripes begin to flutter as Rosemary Clooney (of the George Clooney’s) sing God Bless America or some such patriotic song and then the station would give it’s call letters, wish its viewers a pleasant evening and the screen would begin to hum with the snow of empty airways.

Anyway, back then, let's say 1972-77, my best girlfriend and I would get the coveted parental permission to stay up and watch The Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. We alternated houses each year. We studied Tiger Beat and Teen magazine for potential guest stars. We planned our food. Usually the food choices were simple, deviled ham and cream cheese spread, olives and popcorn – popped on top of the stove in oil with melted butter poured over the top and served in a special bowl reserved for such a reverent treat.(Remember, this was also long before microwave ovens and Orville Redenbacher.) Beverages included Shasta soda in a wide variety of flavors and probably milk or lemonade. The food was much easier to predict than the talent slated for appearance on the ‘big show’.

One year, however, our food choice made a dramatic turn. I could cook a little – gingerbread for the 4H fair, chocolate chip cookies, eggs ala goldenrod – ala our 8th grade home-ec teacher. But this year, thanks to a recipe in 17 magazine I made Scroodles. Or, more accurately, my Mom helped me and we recreated what would become the consummate Labor Day treat. I am sure that Scroodles were the invention of a frustrated fireman and an empty burn unit. The snack consisted of Rotini noodles, boiled to just before al dente, drained and then deep fried. Once the noodles appeared tan and crisp, they were drained and salted. And WaLa**… Scroodles. A crunchy, salty, deep fried carbohydrate treat.

And, they were a hit. Which stands to reason as they were also a tremendous mess to prepare. If the noodles were not drained enough before frying they would cause a spray of hot oil to fly from the FryBaby. (A fancy, modern deep fryer for the health conscious chef.) Put too many noodles in the oil and they would foam over in a molten lava river of oil which threatened to stain the Olive green carpet that matched the Olive green stove. (Yes, we were classy. We had carpet in the kitchen.)

You knew the snack was dangerous when you cooked it.

We ate Scroodles once a year at Labor Day as sure as Rosemary sang God Bless America at midnight or one AM on Saturdays.

Time passed. Fast forward to the mid-1990s. Staying up late lost its appeal. Blame it on maturity. Blame it on tiny babies. Blame it on VCR’s. Mostly blame it on-call, that extraordinary chance to WORK ALL NIGHT! I no longer stayed up all night voluntarily. In fact, I did everything I could think of to avoid it.

It was about this time, maybe 1993 or 4 that my brother – 10 years my junior – choose to follow his dream and move to New York City. He had a diploma telling everyone that would read it that he had a degree in Jazz performance guitar and he was not afraid to use it. He was staying in the Chelsea Hotel, working odd jobs and wondering when he would get his big break.

Labor Day weekend was upon us and I got the urge to make Scroodles. We had not had these tasty treats in years. My children were entirely too young to eat anything so crunchy and salty. But, I could not deny the desire to deep fry some twisty pasta. I spent an entire grease spattered afternoon boiling and frying noodles. Oil coated the cupboard doors, the counter top, the kitchen floor and my glasses. I had several small burns on my fingers and one significant burn on my left forearm. And, I had four bags of Scroodles. I gave one to my Mom and Dad, one to my sister and I kept one. The fourth bag was packed along with some pumpkin bread and sent to my little brother in the big city.

A week later I got the call. The box had arrived. The doorman held it, commenting on how wonderful it smelled when he handed the paper grocery-bag wrapped parcel to my brother. As independent as my brother was, he was still that kid from that small town in the Cornfield, Illinois. He opened the box and the lobby filled with the earthy smell of cinnamon from the pumpkin bread. He broke a piece of the bread off right there, passing it to the doorman. Then he took the box to his room. Hidden inside, under the bread and the local newspapers and the letter full of family updates and long distance hugs was a plastic bag of Scroodles. We talked about those late nights, family vacations all those silly things that only siblings understand. It seemed that Scroodles were a tradition that had been missing for a very long time.

It’s funny how family traditions happen. Sometimes it is those things that are carried over from people long past and connect us to our heritage – religious, nationality, local. But sometimes, if you’re lucky, your get to start the tradition with a recipe from a teen magazine and TheJerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon.

I can feel the salt puffing up my  finger from here.

*(It is a recent discovery that this moth can actually hear bats plotting with one another to eat the moths. And apparently the moths are able to communicate with other moths outside of the bat's hearing frequency. Most likely as a way to rat them out to their bat parents when they try to watch Crypt Keeper at one in the morning.)
**WaLa is the Cornfield, Illinois pronunciation of VoilĂ . Keep in mind, this is the state where Cairo is pronounced Kay-row, Vienna is pronounced Viy-enna and Pekin was suppose to be Peking.
***Cairo, Vienna and Pekin are actual towns in Illinois. Pronunciation of the names may be influenced by region and are in no way meant to be disrespectful of their much fancier European/Asian/African counterparts. 

For those of you in the USA - Have a Safe and Happy Labor Day!  
For those of you not in the USA - Labor Day is a holiday dedicated to the celebration of the American Worker and is the unofficial end of Summer. 

(This post - in a much rougher form - originally appeared in a writing group cookbook: Pious Kitchen Lady presents Vicious Recipes. Sadly, the original group and the book are no longer around.)