Some days there are no new words.

Nothing original to say. No insights, musings or ruminations. This is different than writers block which, for me, is not being able to decide how to say what I want to say. “No new words” is more specific.

When you make colored icing for cookies or a cake, there is moment when you add the drops of food coloring to the bowl of snowy white icing and draw the knife through. The color swirls and spreads creating a fascinating and beautiful design. And when you are done – it is all one color.

Some days thoughts and ideas are stirred too thoroughly, and its all one color.

No new words.

Found out I am getting another dozen organic, free range, grass-fed brown eggs in my CSA bag this week. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture – I buy a farm share and then get a bag of local produce & veg from May to October. My CSA plan includes cheese, eggs and bread/pasta from local vendors. It quite nice until zucchini fatigue sets in and I have to start giving it away.

Why do people plant so much zucchini? Continue reading

Yesterday my daughter starts complaining that her stomach aches and she doesn’t feel well. No other symptoms, no nausea, no gastric distress, no tender places, no fever, nothing. So I give her some honey chamomile tea and then we lay on my bed with a heating pad on her stomach watching Mary Poppins. Miraculously this cure worked, the stomach ache disappeared and she was back outside playing with her friends. Tea and sympathy – I should send it to Dr. Roizen for his wellness institute.

I have to admit my husbands influence in the adoption of the sympathy cure. He comes from people who know from heating pads. His response to illness is to stay home, get in bed within reach of tissues, thermometer, books and lozenges and watch TV. Its sensible. Its rational. Its what you are supposed to do in order to recover. This was all news to me.

Illness was another form of weakness to my parents, especially my father who never took a sick day in his life until he was dying of cancer. A combination of depression-era frugality and superstitious fear (“people go to hospitals to die”) meant that you had to prove you were sick. Being unconscious or having bone break the skin were legitimate, as was bleeding that my father could not stop with a butterfly bandage. (He fancied himself Baden-Powell and would have secretly loved an invasion of some kind so he could use all his deep woods, survivalist skills.) Flu didn’t get sympathy unless the fever was over 101, and any cold without fever was whining. A physical complaint registered, that did not meet the above criteria, was invariably met with “Qwitcher fakin”.

Hard to argue with that. My mother had a secondary approach when she thought you might actually be ill or in pain, and that was “offer it up to Jesus.” You sometimes hear people say things like this in movies, but trust me they really do say it in real life. “Jesus suffered on the cross for you, you can put up with a little headache.”

I wish I were making it up. My mother continued to “offer it up” even after her mastectomy. She came home from her surgery with no pain killers because she didn’t want to get addicted (or give her sons the opportunity to lift them.) She spent several dreadful hours at home, praying in her bed before she allowed my sister to run to the drug store and fill her prescription. I hope at least several unbaptized babies made it out of limbo on that bit of suffering.

My husband cannot believe some of the stories I tell because they are so radically different than his experience. And they will never be a part of my tender-hearted daughter’s reality. She will continue to have attention paid and sympathy provided and visit doctors regularly whether she is bleeding or not.

As I was making my grocery list, noting which items I had coupons for and which ones needed to be organic, I remembered how my Dad always called lunch dinner, and dinner supper as in “Siddown, it’s suppertime, we don’t answer the phone.” What ever you called it, it was generally a time that tested your patience, reflexes and digestive skills.

My mother was not an interesting cook. Her goal was quantity, not quality with a minimum of 8 people at the table each night and she did her best to stretch a very thin paycheck over 7 days. She rarely made it through 6.

Friday nights were generally abysmal and a good day to get yourself invited over to a friends house where there were fewer kids. Fridays meant culinary delights like potatoes and eggs. Doesn’t sound too bad except my mother, stretching 6 eggs, fried up the potatoes and cooked the eggs on top. The essential ingredient was the leftover bacon grease used to fry the potatoes.

She wasted nothing. My mother’s kitchen set (Flour, Sugar, Coffee etc.) had an additional jar for Grease. She (and many other frugal housewives) would pour the fat from fried bacon or ham into this container which had a sieve on the top to strain the crunchy bits. Then they would use this to cook with for that extra flavor. Bacon grease turned fried potatoes a grayish brown and crisped the egg whites until they crunched.

Bacon was the first food I stopped eating as soon as I could express a preference and get away with it. My “No bacon” was acceptable because everyone coveted an extra slice. My sister’s intense dislike of eggs was not allowed because “that is what everyone else is eating.” She learned to eat her Sunday morning fried egg in two swallows, no chewing, no gagging.

Eating was simple in my parents house. You eat what is served and you finish what is on your plate. If my mother thought you needed seconds, you eat seconds. Complaining about food was not an option. You could try to gauge the mood and say you had enough, but the odds were against getting out of eating anything (see above re: starving children in China.) My mom equated feeding with expressing love, so her refusing seconds was rejecting her – “What’s wrong, don’t you like it?!?”.

Supper time was complex family time.

Now when I make dinner, not supper, my husband and I often prepare three separate versions of our meal – the way I like it, the way he likes it and the way my daughter likes it. I lose my temper occasionally when she refuses grapes that are “perfectly good” because she deems them too squishy, but I try to reel it back in quickly. Food should be enjoyable. Eating with your family should be pleasant. And you should be able to stop when you are full.

Off to Whole Foods now, to further betray my class.

The Christmas in July sales, attempting to stimulate our lousy economy, have instead stimulated my (usually) once-yearly holiday trauma flashback memories. This unusually rich vein of blog fodder is the result of a simple equation – number of holidays I have experienced in my life, plus the number of siblings and their assorted spouses(s) and children, multiplied by both my parents or [H + S(sp+ch)] X P = ho ho ho.

Holidays were schizophrenic because my Dad had a “Who” mentality which meant there could never be enough tinsel, decorations or carols, and my Mom had a bare bones, Jesus-was-born-in-a-manger-why-do-we-need-all-this-crap approach. And theirs was a marriage very much about taking sides and scoring points so, child pawns were useful.

My Dad insisted on putting up the live tree Thanksgiving weekend even though he knew my mother would be sick of the messy needles long before Christmas, and he wouldn’t take it down until New Years day. A major problem with this plan was that there was no place in my parents tiny house to put the tree. Each year one of my brothers would wrestle an easy chair from the living room up to the boys bedroom for the duration. This reduced the seating in the living room to a couch and a chair (4 seats) and my dads chair, which no one sat in even when he wasn’t home. A festive and cheerful atmosphere was thus created.

My Dad died slowly, and at home, just a few weeks before Christmas so my mother went all out and decorated the whole house the way he liked, tinsel and all. Then on Christmas eve, 15 days after we buried him, she gave all her children a special present and had us all open them at the same time. Imagine our surprise when it was a framed picture of dead Daddy! I went into the kitchen and did shots of whiskey with my brother. A much more appropriate tribute to my father, who really knew how to drink.

The next year my mother put out a ceramic, table top Christmas tree with blue lights, put her crèche on the mantle and we never saw the tinsel in that house again. Ho ho ho.

Today’s Croan is “It still looks good to me – you don’t need a new one.”

Went pillow shopping today even though the old pillows are not worn out, they’re just uncomfortable. But they are still good.  This is actually a knotty little problem given I just threw out my childhood pillow last year. I’m over 40. Martha Stewart would be having kittens. She recommends new pillows every three years. As if.

Waste not, want not drives me to keep the old (not quite garbage yet) pillows and use them on the attic guest bed for kid sleepovers. The attic is the repository for many “it’s-not-broken-enough-to-get-rid-of it-yet” items because they are still good. For something. To someone. Eventually.

I am far from turning into a hoarder but my parents relentless “Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without” crap is not terribly in sync with my now middle-class suburban existence. So I recycle & re-purpose. 21st century consciousness rather than depression-era reflex, but I still know which charities take donations of wire hangers & want the plastic bags from Target.

Many of my impulses in this area are furtive, because, like I said, the suburban landscape is not one of need. So I have a rain barrel and grow my own tomatoes, and then buy my suits at Nordstrom. Thats a long way from the sale rack at Zayre’s.

And the pillows feel great.

Todays Croan is “You wanna cry? I’ll give you something to cry about.”

An old friend from the neighborhood mentioned how she knew peri-menopause was really messing with her because she cries now if someone yells at her. We both laughed because we were raised in a “No Cry Zone” section of the city. Crying = weakness and crying from emotional pain meant you should move on to another neighborhood and school system quick. The only person who got respect while crying was a drunk man because if his fuse was that lit, crazy violence couldn’t be far behind.

It’s funny now as I think of the ridiculous lengths the boys and men would go to prove they were tough. I’m talking pre-Scarface and the advent of Crips & Bloods, so the imaginative ways to express ones machismo included things like riding one’s motorcycle without a shirt or a helmet.

One summer afternoon when I was around 10 years old an impromptu tough-man contest started when my mother took a bite of a Hungarian hot pepper and said “Boy thats hot!” My older brother took a bite of the same pepper and said “That ain’t hot.” And they were off.

My brothers and the five or six neighborhood guys sitting around my mother’s kitchen wanted to see who could eat the biggest hottest pepper. No water. No bread. Eating bread to dull the burn meant the other guys would call you a pussy, so tears streaming down their faces they kept eating those banana peppers until finally one guy ran out the kitchen door and puked in my mothers roses.

They all must have needed something to cry for that day.

Today’s Croan (crappy koan, or words to live by, miserably) is courtesy of my mother. “Who said work should make you happy?”,  was often followed by  “That’s why they call it work and not play! Now get to work.” Equally charming and motivating.

This popped into my mind as I sat at work today endlessly reformatting a report and pasting email addresses into an excel file. The boredom of these tasks makes me want to look at job listings even though I know that fantasizing about more interesting work is really “job porn” when you already have a job. Then I feel guilty. Which brings me back to my mother.

I am ungrateful. I have a job. “Some people don’t have any legs” (a Croan for another post).

The emotional whiplash from ‘This job is a boring right now’ to ‘You are an ungrateful whiner’ is automatic and as violent as a car crash. My mother has been dead for 10 years and her voice in my head is still crackin’ that whip. Makes me wonder how I have seeped into my kid’s head.

So I paste emails (and I write my blog), and I try to figure out how to be grateful for what I have, while still wanting something else.

So I have been toying with the idea of starting a blog if only to spare my husband listening to my daily rants. So lets give it a whirl.

This blog is anonymous, or semi I guess since you know my name is Amanda, for a reason. The “Croans” that swirl around all my rational thinking are the words of wisdom passed down to me from my parents. They are both deceased (my dad 18 years ago and my mom 10), but there are the siblings to consider. 

In the hours after each of my parents died some of my siblings erased from their minds all the crappy, mean and outrageously insane things that my parents did or said to any of us. My parents became saints.  So to avoid any confrontations about disputed facts or loyalty to clan, the names and identities will be changed. 

Its funny how people think blog writing is about them anyway. People I describe may sound exactly like your brother-in-law, the stories may seem like they are about your family, a motherly turn of phrase may cause reflexive tensing, but really, its not your family I am writing about. 

Or maybe I am.