Saturday, December 4, 2010

I am a Mongolian

I have given this a lot of thought. It would appear that I am secretly Mongolian. Lets review the facts.

1. I love things that are felted (who invented felt? The Mongolians)

2. I like goats milk (I am presuming here that Mongolians kept goats)

3. I lived in a tent for a year there (Mongolians did too!)

4. I appear to be living a nomadic existence (Mongolians, it is well know, were nomads)

5. I took a facebook quiz and it said so (Admittedly the Mongolians did not have facebook)

So, Mom and Dad, I am not Irish-Italian-German, as previously believed. Rather I am Mongolian, and this clearly explains why I have spent the past three years of my life moving. I am simply following the rootless ways of my people. I suppose a case could be made that I am a Gypsy too. A Mongolian Gypsy. If such a thing is possible.

There are days when I am happy I am a Mongolian (Gypsy). On these days I like to imagine where I am going to go next. Or how many places I will have lived before I finally settle down. Usually these are days when I feel like I could go anywhere and do anything. Perfect freedom. I think these days are also temperature dependent. There were quite a few of these days in August, September, even October. But it is December now, and it is cold. The glory of being a Mongolian dims in the cold.

More often I have noticed that I am not happy to be a Mongolian (Gypsy). I want to go back to being a nice settled Irish person. They liked for whole families to live in one house for hundreds of years, you know. They are a people who do not relish change. Can anyone imagine that? Having your kitchen table be exactly where your great-grandmother placed it? I don't even have the table.

Unfortunately I have chosen the life of a Mongolian. At least for right now. So I have given a lot of thought in order to decipher how to be happy with this path that I have chosen. What is it that we really miss when we move around? Security? A sense of place? Belonging? Probably all these things, and maybe even more. To sum it all up: "Home".

I have noticed a certain ambiguity amongst my friends when they refer to going "home". I am going "home" they might say, and you would still have no idea where they were going to be that weekend. So you are forced to ask "Home, like, home-home?" Meaning, obviously, to their parents house. "Or home, like home-here?" meaning where ever they happen to be that moment. Frighteningly enough I once heard a friend reply to this question with "No, like home-college", which brings another level to it that I refuse to contemplate.

Making a new home in the gray light of December is a much more daunting thought than making one in golden September. But I am going home-home in less than two weeks. And the one really nice thing about being a Mongolian is that the non-Mongolians in your life are always happy to see you.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

You Can Get Anything You Want...

"At Alice's Restaurant
(Excepting Alice)"
-- Arlo Guthrie "Alice's Restaurant"

This song, made my Arlo Guthrie as a protest against the Vietnam War, has been a part of my Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember. Quite possibly even at six months old, on my first thanksgiving, I lay in my crib and listened to Arlo Guthrie telling the draftees sitting on the Group W bench that he was a litterbug, and therefore was not moral enough to join the army.

As soon as conscious thought was possible this song became the official beginning to the holiday season. As soon as Arlo strummed the first few bars on his guitar it was truly Thanksgiving. Until that point the holidays were only a distant mirage.

In fact, as the years went on, Arlo Guthrie became a mythical figure in my mind, and came to reside on the same plane as Santa or the Easter bunny. I imagined them all living somewhere together, possibly on the moon. On November 25th Arlo would stand up and put on his fringe jacket and sling his guitar over his shoulder and say to Santa.
"Alright old man, I'll go open it up" and he would come down from the sky to play, thus officially beginning the season.

Anyway, every year at 12:25 pm EST the Philadelphia Oldies station plays Alice's Restaurant, the same recording that they have played every year since it was released. I am not in Philadelphia, and there for Oldies 98.9 is a little out of my broadcast range. But I planned ahead folks! Alice's Restaurant is on my iPod, and is right now playing through my speakers. Let the holidays begin!

Alice's Restaurant Massacree

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wal-Mart Told Me So

     Just the other day, dear readers, I made an unsuspecting trip to Wal-Mart. I try to avoid this as much as possible, but the simple truth is...I have a candle problem. I love candles. They are bright. They are warm. They give off a pleasant aroma (provided one has not done something foolish and purchased a "sandlewood" or "rose petal" candle. Ewuck).  Candles aside, once at the Wal-mart I noticed several strange things.

Why did those deer decorations all have their early autumn antlers, when the snow in the picture clearly indicated a winter scene?

Who was that strange portly man wearing his red pajamas, and why was he breaking and entering via that families chimney?

And why the hell was that snowman riding a sled and advertising Hershey's Cocoa?

And then it struck me with all the force with which that portly, snowy hair fellow was going to hit that family's smoldering Yule log.


Which, because this was a Wal-Mart, means of course that Thanksgiving, while in the offing, had not yet occurred.

     Now I knew that Thanksgiving was coming. My house gets poor cell phone reception, but it's not a cave. Charles and I even have invitations to one of our wonderful co-workers homes. So we get turkey AND I plan to make my famous (or soon-to-be-famous) cranberry sauce. But it didn't really sink in until I saw all those reindeer frolicking ambitiously around the Wal-Mart.

     I pretend (roughly about 335 days of the year) to be an even keeled, level headed individual. I like to pride myself on my good values, as I turn my nose up at commercialism and crunch my granola. I throw around words like "Global Citizen" , and publicly denounce coffee shop chains in favor of local variety, featuring all juice smoothie blends and Yerba Mate (although lets not get hasty about those Starbucks frappuccinos).  But Christmas always brings out the Norman Rockwell loving five year old in me. Probably this is because my own childhood Christmases (Christmasii?) were so good.

     Luckily, during that trip to Wal-Mart I was able to keep it together. I may or may not have purchased a gingerbread scented candle of somewhat unnecessary size. And I definitely bought the Hershey's cocoa, but it was on sale for 2.50 so how could I not? But on the whole, I remained clear in my purpose.

     That was some few days ago, and I am remaining calm, but I can sense the tide turning towards the holidays. The choir kids, whose practice room is next to mine, are singing "It's Christmas Charlie Brown", the stores are putting up their Christmas displays. And its becoming more difficult to turn on the radio and avoid the holiday station. Most importantly, in less than a month I will be home. With all you wonderful people. Which is, of course, what makes the holiday season great.

Well partly the food. But mostly the people.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In the Company of Soup and Tea

I have spent a great deal of time this weekend in the company of both,as I have made/eaten nothing by soup for the past three days. Mom's Chili, Butternut vegetable (with little turkey meatballs added....) and sausage lentil.  I drink tea every day, of course, but the soup is a new development.

Why so much soup you might ask?

Well, for one thing I had time to make it, since we've had a four day weekend. Also, now i have no less that 5 frozen containers of soup in the freezer, and tonights sausage lentil will bring that number up to 7 or 8. This will neatly eliminate the need to cook for eight whole meals. Eliminating the need to cook, while still providing home made food, has become my mission of late. Its like having a mom. Who mysteriously appears to cook and freeze your dinner before disappearing again. I call it "The Mom Fairy".

But lets think about soup for a minute. And at the same time, lets think about tea. I feel that both of these things are tragically underrated. They are the only thing that you can eat both when you are sick and when you are well. There are a hundred million different kinds of each of them. They can be served hot or cold. And they are universally made. No matter where you go, from America to any other continent on earth (with the possible exception of Antarctica. Although one must not discount the penguins) you will be able to go into a restaurant and (provided you speak the language or the menu comes with little tiny pictures) you will be able to order soup and tea. There are not many things about which this is true.

Additionally, soup and tea are things that carry a small, but serious level of respect.  If one has a day off and ones friend were to ask what one had done all day, it is not respectable to say that one has slept till noon and then watched shadows on the wall.  But one can say "I was making soup today" and one's friend will be obliged to look impressed, and then make comments about the soups that they themselves have made in the past, so as not to appear less worthy.  The same can be said of a cup of tea. With a cup of tea one CAN just watch shadows on the one, because they are not simply doing nothing. They are drinking tea. Presumably they have a pot of soup boiling about somewhere in the vicinity.

I think because of the great amount of time I have spent with soup this weekend, I am beginning to think they a pot of soup. There are lots of things in my head, but they don't really work too well together until they've bubbled for an hour or two within the confines of my skull. Before then, if I were to take them out, they were fall apart. I can't say that I have thought of anything with particular merit. My thought soup has been watered down.

A great many things can come from making soup. The very best of which is that you are not hungry when you are done. And, if you are like me and have decided that heat is for the weak, they can also make you warm. Last of all, if they are a recipe you stole from your mother, they can also, briefly, make you feel a little less far away. The same, of course, can be said of tea.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Saving Daylight

Just letting you know folks. It's saved, ok? We've got it covered.

I know this because, upon waking up yesterday morning, it was dark. But within 10 minutes, light, glorious light, had appeared. It was like a fleeting and beautiful return to summer. Only downside? It is now dark when I get off work. And because I don't work outside right now, I don't get the slow shift towards evening. It's just dark when I leave.


But I have taken steps to combat it, for those of you who suffer from SADD and worry that I, a humble fellow sufferer, will succumb. I joined a gym (for a very reasonable price a month) and this has done wonders to improve my mood. Additionally, I have been given permission from my supervisor to keep the kids outside until the temperature hits 29 degrees Fahrenheit. I expect this to help, not only my mood, but also discipline, as going outside can now be used as a form of punishment....

Really, in a lot of ways I feel like I've gone back to High School. Here are a few examples. It's dark when I go to school and evening when I leave. I never feel like I am wearing the right clothes. Math tests have the complete and total power to ruin a week. And no one wants to adopt my recycling program. Oh, and I usually fall asleep by 10 on Friday nights. My college-self just died a little inside, as back in the day 10 seemed like a perfectly reasonable time to go out.

What made me happy in High School? I feel like it is vital to remember this, on the off chance that it will continue to make me happy now. I know for sure that some things still apply. For instance, talking to KT and Mdubz. Baking cookies (preferably with the blessing of KT and Mdubz). Talking with my family.  Reading. Walking.

By that list I sound like an incredibly well adjusted High schooler. Lets just gloss over the fact that I wanted to marry Legolas from The Lord of the Rings, believed no outfit was complete without thick stockings and hippie clogs, and listened to absolutely no music produced after the 1960s. I also had a strange love of the saying "Entropy Rules", which KT and I both felt needed to be written on all all math notebooks. Along with the time honored (and still valid) "Boys may come and go, but cheeseburgers are forever." Which we later amended to  "...but veggie burgers are forever." when we all went through our vegetarian phase.

That's a scary walk down memory road.

I miss you all, and if it's no to painful or humiliating, post your own memories of High School (assuming you haven't blocked them). I want to know what other people besides me remember.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Riddle: What Does Bear Poo and Bad Plumbing Have in Common?

I encountered both on Saturday in an intimate and personal manner.

The Plumbing:

     On Thursday night Charles and I came home in the relative darkness of 6:00 pm EST. We had gone to the store and were laden with both milk AND bread.  Upon opening the door at 6:01 pm EST I inquired of Charles.
    "Hey, does our house smell kinda bad?"
To which he replied.
     By 6:05 EST it was apparent that the house did stink
     6:10 EST we opened the windows, the state in which they would remain for the next two days, through    
                    the first frost and a day of windy grayness.
     6:20 EST we found the three inches of water in the basement
Long story short, we called the emergency line, but no one came to fix it till Saturday afternoon, when it was dealt with, and we were informed that it was not rain water (as we had thought, nay, prayed) but a backed up sewer line. Miserable, no? The situation has been remedied, and with a good airing and a few candles the house smells positively lovely. In fact better than before, which raises a few very intriguing questions.

     Which brings me to the second kind of poo my day contained. That of a black bear. Are you ready for this? Because honestly this is a better story than the basement one.

The Bear Poo:

     On Saturday afternoon, as our basement was in the process of being saved from its terrible state, we went to our bosses house for a Halloween/Harvest party. Now, for those of you who think I lived remotely when I worked at Echo Hill...THINK AGAIN! I honestly thought we were going to perish valiantly on the way to her house. We just kept climbing into the Ozarks. Also, the roads kept getting worse and worse. Ironically though, the cell phone reception got better and better. Craziest thing.
     When we got there we decided to go hiking. We journeyed down a mountain and through a valley (all of this sounds idyllic, really it was a grueling and difficult traverse over questionable terrain). And in that valley we discovered a cave. And in that cave (could I really have NOT gone in it?) we found a small mound of scat, the sampling of which proved to have coarse black hairs. Since nothing eats black bears, the hairs were assumed to be deposited by the animal responsible for the scat. A suspicion later proven by measurable science. A word of comfort for those of you now picturing me huddled in the cramped darkness of a cave currently inhabited by a bear, don't worry. The scat was old, but well preserved.
     Our army crawling through the cave left us all exhausted and completely covered in clay. But our boss took it in stride and still let us inside her house. She is an understanding woman. A note about the cave: it was awesome and had both stalactites and stalagmites. We also turned off our lights for a moment in the very back and it was unbelievably dark and silent (see, further proof of the bear not being at home). I crawled out of that cave and I can safely say I have never been so glad to see the light of day. Especially since one of our co-hikers chose that moment to make some choice comments about caves and gateways to the underworld.

Thus concludes my weekend riddle. Love to all.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Guajira Guantanamera

Tonight Charles dared me to eat a jabanero pepper. I agreed, thinking it couldn't possibly be too bad. Right? RIGHT?!

Oh Holy #@$%! GOD #@$& IT!

It was possibly the most painful experience of my life. Apparently Mexican's used to use spicy peppers to actually de-worm themselves (parasites being what they are where hot weather prevails). Folks, let me tell you, as of tonight I am worm-free.  But as a direct side effect of the pepper I have been listening to Spanish music on YouTube for some time now. Hence the title of this blog. Interestingly enough Guajira is slang for "Woman" and Guantanamera is an area of Mexico.

Now, logically, more has been going on in my life than pepper related agony. Really it's been more of the same, except for an encounter that Charles and I had on Saturday that I think you'll all enjoy. I shall relate it as I did the story of Squeaky and the Trailer.

The Ozark Floats

     The day had dawned pale and wintry, the heavy, fresh water fog of the mountains rolling through the river valley like sea during a full moon tide. Ordinarily I would be up by this time, having awoken when only the light of the full moon would have revealed the clinging mist. But today was as Saturday, and so instead I missed the quicksilver change of winter, to early fall, to Indian summer, and by the time I got up the light was heavy and golden, redolent with motes of dust and dying leaves. It was my favorite kind of day.

    Charles and I decided to go on a walk before the day got too warm and lost all of its autumn texture, and so we walked over to the library and back. As we neared our house we happened to look at the front lawn of the next door school-turned-museum and see an old man bent over the weathered hull of a dark green boat, chattering animatedly to a man holding a camera. In the manner of all true North-easterners I was ready to keep walking and glancing furtively at this stranger out of the corner of my eye. He had downy white hair with a weathered canvas cap perched on top,  and he wore a button down red gingham shirt, and paint-spattered and thread bare overalls. But this man was looking for a crowd, and so he called us over.
     "Come on over," he said. "I'm building boats and telling tales."

     Well, we couldn't walk away from an invitation like that.  We headed over and this man continued his story as if he had never been interrupted.
      "My grandaddy used to float these boats here in the Ozarks, huntin fish."
He jabbed a long and menacingly pointed trident into the grass to demonstrate.
     "You'd have to be real careful too, on account of the light would bend in the water and fish would be in front of where it looked like it was. Yeah, took a good eye to fish here." He said, clearly proud of his Grandfather.
     He went to a basket of glossy wood planks, hanging midway down the boat. He took one from it's bobbing nest and held it out.
     "Smell this," he said. "And tell me what it is."
I took what I intended to be a serious naturalist sniff. "Cedar?"
     "Jack pine, taken right after the forests were burned. They all turned the forests, the settlers did, and all the way back to the Indians. We got good stands of Jack pine here'n the mountains. This'll burn real hot and bright. But puts out a lot a' black smoke."
     He walked to the front of the boat, a long narrow trip about the length of two grown men lying on the ground, but barely the length of my leg in width. He held up an oar, polished to a high shine with a beautiful wood grain with a ridged metal end. He held it out to me.
     "Feel it." He said.
I took it in my hand, expecting to feel the heavy weight of a boat oar, the kind kept of the Chesapeake Bay Dead Rise boats. But it was light, almost unnoticeable, even with the metal tip.
     "Guess this wood," he said, and shaved off a few tendrils from another, unfinished oar.
This one was unmistakable. Even without taking the wood I could smell root beer.
     "Sassafras!" I yelped, proudly reclaiming my naturalist training.
     "Right!" He replied. "Sassafras wood is real good and light, easy to work. Pretty too. And that metal tip on the end, well that's real good too. Gives you something to dig into the bottom, because otherwise you hit a slick rock and your oar slides off. Well, then you slide off too, and into the water."
     We all laughed accordingly, camera man included.
     "My Granddaddy, he used to work the oar on these boats. They'd sign songs to get into the rhythm, then they could pole for hours.  Long as they didn't hit any rocks."
     He showed us more of the boat, and eventually the camera man had to busy himself with something else and walked away. But the man kept working. He wasn't doing this for the publicity, evidently he really was just building a boat and telling stories.
     "It takes me about two, three days to make a boat in the shop, with electric saws and all. Reckon it takes about a month to make it like this, maybe more depending on how many stories I tell while doing it. But I like it better this way."
     I liked it better this way too, so I thanked him for his stories. And he pulled on the brim of his hat a little and nodded.
     "Thank you all for stopping by." And he went back to work.

Anywho, that's my story. I miss you all terribly, and I now have tickets to come home for Christmas, arriving on the 17th!  So I'll see you all in like two months!