Breaking Bread

I’ve never been one to follow fad diets. I like food too much to limit my choices to cabbage, grapefruit and a toxic drink of lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. I’m pretty sure that’s a mixture they use to waterproof asphalt.

So when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in 2016, the idea of taking my favorite foods off the table was . . . well . . . off the table.bake-bakery-baking-5765

My doctor insisted I’d feel better if I stopped eating gluten. I laughed and told him I’d never be one of those people who badger waiters about menu ingredients, scour Pinterest for gluten-free cookie recipes or bore friends to tears with a recap of my gluten-induced misery.

I was in denial for several weeks but after a trip to New York where I gorged on pizza, bagels and, basically, bushels of gluten, I ended up in a bread coma. I went off gluten cold turkey, which is pretty much the only thing I can eat now.

My husband has been super helpful as I’ve transitioned to a life of wheat-less sadness. He chokes down gluten-free pizza and cookies without acting like I’m poisoning him (usually), but when I suggested making gluten-free onion rings, he clenched his jaw so tight his ears started bleeding. I heard him sobbing later in the bathroom.

Changing my own diet is one thing. Changing my family’s traditional Thanksgiving favorites is another. Everything about this holiday is a freakin’ gluten fest. You have dinner rolls, gravy, pie crust, carrot cake, Ritz crackers with spray cheese, and stuffing (which I don’t mind skipping because it’s a disgusting garbage of a food).

I experimented with gluten-free pumpkin muffins that had the consistency of ground up snails. Even my dog wouldn’t eat them. Well, he ate them because he’s a Lab and he eats everything; but he whined the whole time.

Researching gluten-free Thanksgiving Day recipes, I found a plethora of tasteless fare. Brussels sprouts in mustard sauce, quinoa stuffing with zucchini and cranberries, and a wheat-free, egg-free, dairy-free, taste-free pumpkin pie headlined my options. I tried making the organic, gluten-free, high-protein breadsticks. Yeah, they’re basically jerky.

And what do you call gluten-free brownies? Mud.

Why is gluten only found in foods that are delicious, like waffles and cinnamon rolls? It would be so much easier to avoid gluten if it was just in cottage cheese, foie gras or earthworms.

At least I live in a time where gluten-free products are available. Ten years ago, people going gluten-free could choose between kale chips or toasted particle board. Granted, most gluten-free products still taste like you’re chewing on a handful of toothpicks, but with new flours available, like amaranth, chickpea and cricket . . . never mind. It’s still terrible.blur-close-up-environment-289417

I could have gone my whole life without knowing things like kelp noodles existed. Which brings me back to Thanksgiving.

I realize the irony of me whining about what to eat on Thanksgiving—a day dedicated to gratitude and abundance. So as I’m sitting at the table, nibbling on dry turkey breast and jerky breadsticks, I promise to be grateful for all the things I CAN eat, like cabbage and grapefruit, and even lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. Just not mixed together.

Originally published in Iron County Todayhttp://ironcountytoday.com/columns/life-laughter/breaking-bread/

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Table Talk

Thanksgiving Turkey dinnerThanksgiving is a day of stress, even in the best of times, but Thanksgiving 2018 could take the cake. . . er . . pie. Dinner conversations have become landmines. Relationships are as strained as my jeans after five helpings of mashed potatoes. Families haven’t been this divided since the great Toilet Paper Orientation debate of 1954.

Here are just a few topics that could escalate your meal from a civil discussion to Grandpa throwing cranberry sauce into the ceiling fan: The national anthem–Kneeling v. standing; The Presidency–Trump v. a sane person; Women’s rights v. Rich White Men; Nazis v. Not Nazis; and the most contentious subject, Marvel v. DC.

Things are ugly, folks. People are tense.

There are marches and demonstrations covering every perceivable issue. Even asking someone their view on mayonnaise could spark a worldwide protest. So, what can we possibly talk about around the Thanksgiving table so we can still get presents on Christmas?

I gathered a group of unsuspecting family members to practice possible discussion topics. It didn’t go well.

Me to Grandson: Tell me about Fortnite.

Great Uncle Jack: What’s Fortnite?

Grandson: It’s an awesome video game!

Great Uncle Jack: That’s stupid, you namby-pamby! Do you know what my video game was? World War II!

So, I tried again.

Me: Elon Musk plans to take humans to the moon in 2023.

Second Cousin: The moon landing never happened. It’s a conspiracy to keep us docile.

Me: I don’t think it’s working.

Another effort.

Me: How about those sports?

Hubbie: Agents have ruined professional sports! Back in the day, athletes played the damn game. Now, it’s, “Oh, I need an extra $20 million before I can throw a pitch.”

Okay then. Next.

Me: What fun things should we do for Christmas?

Brother-in-law: We should stop pandering to the commercialism of a pagan holiday that has no foundation of truth. Might as well celebrate rocks.

I tried a different tactic.

Me: A delicious roast turkey sure sounds good.

Daughter: Do you know how turkeys are raised? It’s disgusting and inhuman.

Me: Turkeys aren’t human.

Daughter: You are dead to me.

I was almost out of ideas.

Me: What do you think about sweater vests?

Everyone: We hate them!

Well, that’s a start.

I’m worried most families will end up sitting quietly, heads down, creating volcanoes with the mashed potatoes and gravy, and making NO eye contact for the entirety of the meal. At least dessert shouldn’t be contentious. (Dessert: Hold my beer.)

There was a time when conversation was an art, a civilized form of speech. Someone started talking, then others respectfully chimed in with their opinions. Sometimes, discussions got heated, but it rarely became a knife fight. Or maybe I’ve just read to many Jane Austen novels where you had to actually pay attention to realize you’d been insulted.

Now everyone is insulted. All the time.

So. On Thanksgiving, let’s practice not being insulted. Let’s try hearing other people’s views without writing them out of the will. We don’t have to agree, but can we be kind?

And the correct answer is Marvel. It’s always Marvel.

Originally published in Iron County Today – http://ironcountytoday.com/columns/life-and-laughter-table-talk/

Junk in the Trunk

arrangement-blackboard-candle-1449058Trunks are super useful. If you’re an elephant, they’re a necessity. If you want to change a tire, hide Christmas gifts or transport a body, trunks are invaluable. But I don’t understand the connection between trunks and Halloween. Why is trunk-or-treating a thing?

In the U.S., trick-or-treating started after WWII when children went door to door begging for food on Thanksgiving (not joking). Then they continued begging through Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and so on—so I guess someone decided to create a national begging celebration on Halloween.

This mass candy solicitation certainly worked for me for many years. Part of the thrill of trick-or-treating was leaving the familiar neighborhoods, searching for the families handing out full-size Butterfingers. We’d come home with pillowcases full of candy, after walking miles and miles through Murray, Utah.

Now, in our heavily-sanitized society, parents want to make sure their kids won’t be handed anything with sugar, soy, peanuts or gluten, or have to interact with neighbors they’ve never met—so trunk-or-treating was introduced.

I know some churches feel trunk-or-treating (Halloween tailgating) is a way to watch over kids while keeping demonic costumes to a minimum. In fact, kids are often encouraged to dress as bible characters.

(Side note: If I was forced to dress as a woman from the bible, I’d be Jael and I’d carry Sisera’s head with a nail shoved through his temple. But that’s just me. The Book of Revelations also has some pretty messed-up oddities. My daughters could easily have passed for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse on any given day.)

blurred-background-bokeh-celebration-1426705Anyway. Part of growing up is being terrified all the time. Kids have so little control over their lives and, unfortunately, they learn early on that life can be scary and unpredictable.

As kids on Halloween, we got super scared, but we also knew that, deep down, we truly were safe. Visiting haunted houses made us feel brave. In our minds, going from house to house, asking strangers for candy, was akin to walking down a dark alley in New York City.

There was always one house on the block you were afraid to visit because it had strobe lights, shrieking screams, ghoulish laughter when you rang the bell and an unidentifiable zombie handing out treats with his bloody hands.

Even scarier was the house where the neighborhood witch resided. Lights turned off. No jack o’ lantern. You knew she was sitting in the dark, staring out her window, ready to cast spells on children who came to her door.

Additionally, my mom had me paranoid about eating any unwrapped candy, convinced my friend’s mom had dipped the open jawbreaker in bleach several times before handing it to me.

But really? How many people did you know that found a razor blade in their apple or received temporary tattoos laced with acid?

On November 1, when we woke up with piles of candy, stomach aches and Halloween make-up smeared on our pillows, we also felt we had survived something frightening—and imagined ourselves a little bit braver as we faced our lives.

But trunk-or-treating is not remotely scary, unless your trunk is part of a 1950s Cadillac hearse, complete with creaky coffin and a driver named Lurch. Maybe instead of meeting in church parking lots, we can stay in our homes and hand out candy as kids go door-to-door. I think that idea might just catch on.

Originally published in The Davis Clipper–Oct. 2015

 

Dressed to Kill

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Every autumn, as I reconstructed our home after three months of child infestation, my daughters settled into their school classes and thoughts turned to Halloween. More specifically, thoughts turned to Halloween costumes.

I’d load my girls into the minivan and we’d attack the pattern books at Joann fabric, looking for the perfect costumes. (These pattern books weighed approximately 450 lbs. and had to be moved carefully or they would fall off the narrow perch and crush your hip bones.)

Costumes ranged from Disney princesses to Death, and each outfit had to last for decades because they were worn all the time and handed down for generations. (For example, one daughter, dressed as Snow White, shredded the hem of her gown under the plastic tires of her Big Wheel. Her dress looked like Snow White had been attacked by a pack of very short raccoons. She still wore it every day.)

After finding the right pattern, we’d roam the aisles, looking for fabric that didn’t cost the equivalent of an actual Disney movie.

During my costume-making tenure, I created all of the Disney princesses, a cheerleader, Super Girl, a lion, a pumpkin and several witches. (Sidenote: A witch costume in 1990 consisted of a long black dress, a long black cape, long black hair, a black hat and a broomstick. Now a witch costume is a black miniskirt, fishnet stockings and a push-up bra. I have no idea how to fly a broom in that outfit.)

Speaking of slutty clothes, my daughters were often pushing the envelope when it came to modesty. According to my daughter, her belly dancer’s shirt was too long, so (when I wasn’t around) she rolled it up several times to display her 10-year-old abs, and the gypsy Esmeralda’s blouse kept “accidentally” falling off her shoulders.

Daughter number three used her Cinderella costume as a method of seduction as she walked up and down our driveway in her slappy plastic high heels, flirting with the men building the garage. Did I mention she was four?

During another Halloween, she wanted to be Darth Maul. I made her costume, painted her face, but refused to put horns on her head. She grew her own devil horns a few years later.

By Oct. 20, all my intentions to create the perfect Halloween costume for each daughter devolved into madness as I frantically sewed to have everything done for the school’s Halloween parade (which is now the Fall Festival).

My Singer sewing machine would be thrumming 24-hours a day as I slowly lost my mind. I’d throw boxes of cold cereal at them for dinner, while I shrieked, “I’m making these costumes because I love you. Now shut the hell up!”

Once Halloween was over, costumes went into a big box and were worn by my daughters and their friends all year. At any given moment, a girl wearing Beauty’s voluminous yellow ball gown would be chasing Super Girl through the living room, with a toddler-sized Jack-o’-lantern nipping at their heels.

My daughters have carried on the costume tradition. My grandchildren have been garden gnomes, Austin Powers, a unicorn, and even an 18-month-old Betty Boop. It makes my black Halloween heart smile.

Now, my Singer gathers dust and I haven’t looked through pattern books for years, but every October my fingers twitch and I fight the urge to take my girls to browse fabric aisles. I wonder what my husband is doing this weekend. He’d make a beautiful Disney princess.

 

Things We Forget

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There was a time, before we got all jaded and grumpy, that our main purpose was to have fun. As kids, we jumped out of bed every morning, eager to find the best ways to a) get candy, b) meet friends, c) watch cartoons and d) avoid chores at all costs.

We had it all figured out. Why did grown-ups make everything so difficult? Politics, manipulation and sociopathic behaviors were things we didn’t understand. (I still don’t understand.)

After life punches us in the face for several decades, we get out of bed a little slower and rarely find time for cartoons or candy. Friends become precious. Chores increase exponentially.

But maybe those 10-year-old versions of ourselves were right all along. Maybe we need to remember some basic rules about life that were totally obvious to us before we finished elementary school. These things are truths at any age.

  • Going to the bank is boring—unless there are those chain-attached pens you can play with
  • If you’re good at the store, you might get a Butterfinger
  • Going to the zoo sounds like a good idea, but it’s actually exhausting
  • Visiting grandma gets you spoiled
  • Sometimes you need to stay in bed all day reading a good book
  • Making friends is easy
  • Going to bed early is a punishment
  • It’s okay to cry when your feelings are hurt
  • Saturday morning cartoons are awesome
  • Spending an afternoon in the park is the best use of your time
  • A $20 bill makes you rich
  • When your friend is mean, it’s okay to tell them that wasn’t nice
  • It’s fun to be excited for birthdays and Christmas
  • Eating cold cereal for dinner is the best
  • Throwing a water balloon at your sister is thrilling
  • You never have to watch your carbs
  • Shoes aren’t always necessary
  • Cloud watching is not a waste of time

So how did we go from being fun-loving kidlets to cranky adults? When did we decide it was better to be busy than to have fun?

As with most terrible things, I blame the teenage years. Being 13 years old can be devastating. If you watch the movie Eighth Grade, be prepared for some serious junior high PTSD as a beautiful young girl destroys her own self-esteem with anxiety, junior high romance and pool parties. Seriously triggering.

Once we drag ourselves out of the primordial swamp of high school, we’ve become a little less trusting and optimistic. Then we double-down on our cynicism as we enter the workforce.

When you were in elementary school, dreaming about the time you’d be a grown up with your own car and the ability to eat ice cream after midnight, you never considered the possibility that working sucks. Sure, we saw our parents come home from work, down a bottle of gin and collapse on the couch like a bag of old pudding, but that was because they’d had SO MUCH FUN at work!

Something needs to change.

If you find yourself scowling at happiness, it’s time to check back with your inner fourth-grader and do something fun. Skip work and go hiking. Have an ice-cream sundae, without promising to jog later (because 10-year-olds don’t jog). Start a conversation with a stranger. Spend $20 on something entirely useless. Have Lucky Charms for dinner.

We need to remember, it’s fun to a) get candy, b) meet friends, c) watch cartoons and d) avoid chores at all costs. Life’s too short to grow old.

Originally published in Iron County Today–http://ironcountytoday.com/columns/life-laughter/things-we-forget/

Darth Vader/Donald Trump

I’ve sensed a disturbance in society. A dark shadowy figure looms across the country, demanding loyalty from all those around him. A powerful force instigates unrest, encourages outrage and hate, and challenges his followers to embrace their inner rage to find their true destiny.

This person could be Darth Vader. This person could be Donald Trump. The similarities are eerie. Ever since Trump assigned Jar Jar Binks to take over the Office of Silly Walks, I’ve noticed his connection to the Star Wars universe and his uncanny resemblance to Darth Vader.

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I’ll present the facts. You decide.

  • They both have helmet head
  • They both have a thing for the Space Force
  • They are both seduced by power
  • They both lead a staff of brainless clones
  • Both try to destroy those who rebel against them
  • They both surround themselves with wacky characters
  • They consider themselves the center of the universe

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(If you look very closely, you’ll see a black hole at the center of the universe. That’s Trump’s soul.)

  • They both love the sound of their own voice
  • They’ve either tried to boink or kill their daughters
  • They have a love for long, flowing capes and ties
  • Neither of them give a shit about endangered species
  • They both answer to a bigger bad guy
  • Neither understands sarcasm
  • They wear suits that demonstrate their inability to fit in with society
  • They both demonstrate personality disorders
  • They’re both proficient at swinging a lightsaber/golf club
  • The Death Star is powered with coal and is coated in Russian asbestos.
  • They both reconnected to their inner goodness and light. Wait. Only Vader has done that.  I guess Trump still has time. . .

Uncommon Courtesy

adult-bar-beer-1267244We’ve become an unpleasant people. All the commons, like courtesy, sense, knowledge and good, aren’t nearly as prevalent as they should be. But we’re Americans! We’re resilient! We survived New Coke and the Sony Betamax. We can definitely start using old-fashioned common courtesy. Making America Great Again should include some of the following:

Be Thoughtful

Being thoughtful doesn’t have to be inconvenient, like throwing your jacket on top of a mud puddle so I can cross without getting my dainty feet wet. (Disclaimer: I’ve never had dainty feet). Even small actions amp up your kindness cred.

Open doors, smile, give up your seat, wipe down the machines at the gym (you know who you are!!) or offer to carry a bag of groceries. Maybe thoughtfulness means doing something you’d rather not do, like play Yahtzee with your grandson 327 times in a row, watch golf with your husband or help a friend move.

Offer to buy a stranger’s coffee, remember important dates, use manners, write thank you cards and let someone go in front of you at Walmart. Watching their wary acceptance is pretty hilarious.

Shut up and Listen

Have you ever talked to someone and realized their eyes were more glazed than a Krispy Kreme conveyer belt? That means you’ve monopolized the conversation and it’s someone else’s turn to talk. (“Conversation” means two or more people exchanging ideas.)

We’re horrible listeners. We interrupt, interject with personal stories, refuse to make eye contact and try to keep that supercool thought in our brain so we can jump right in as soon as the speaker takes a breath.

Calm yourself. Listen to learn. If we already know everything, there’s absolutely no reason to pay attention to someone who’s talking to us. If you agreed with that last sentence, your wife is slowly poisoning you.

Put Down Your Damn Phone

We are WAY too invested in our cell phones. I’m not excluding myself. My husband and I often have this conversation:

Tom: Can you put down your phone and watch TV?

Me: I’m watching.

Tom: What just happened?

Me: The guy did that one thing to that other guy.

Tom: Hand me your phone.

Me: [Eye roll] Gees, you don’t understand.

Our discourteous cell phone behavior made headlines this spring after a cast member of Hamilton called out audience members in Salt Lake because they wouldn’t turn their phones off during the performance. Good grief! We’ve even irritated the Founding Fathers (again).

Leave your phone in your car, on your shelf or in your fish tank if you’re in a situation that requires decent human behavior.

Be Generous

Utahns are notoriously cheap. I mean seriously-perhaps-we-should-be-in-therapy cheap. I’ve had two daughters who worked in food services. They’ve shared horror stories of impolite guests, demanding drunks and overall poorly behaved people.

Come on, everyone. The wait staff survives off your chintzy tips. They usually make less than $3 an hour and when you tip $2.75 on a bill of $100, you are a villain.

Don’t be afraid to pry open that creaky, dusty wallet and tip your restaurant servers, hair stylists, pizza guy, Uber driver or dog walker.

 Let Drivers Merge for Cryin’ Out Loud

Nothing more needs to be said about this one. (You know who you are!!)

Every action we take builds or destroys a community. I don’t want to see common courtesy go the way of Freshen Up gum, dodo birds and our democracy. Let’s Make America Pleasant Again.

Originally published in Iron County Today–http://ironcountytoday.com/columns/life-laughter/life-and-laughter-uncommon-courtesy/