Kitchen Adventures

March 10th, 2012

John’s cooking is improving.  It really is!  He made chicken and noodles the other night and it was, dare I say it, almost as good as mine.  Since he used chicken, rather than pork, in his entree, I have tangible evidence that he can learn from past mistakes (Men Are from Mars, John Is from OGLE-TR-56b).  However, he still experiences a misstep from time to time.  In fact, every time he cooks the potential exists for an unexpected adventure.

For the last few weeks, he has been fixated on finding uses for the various bags of dried beans we have on hand that do not include meat in the recipe.  He certainly is no vegetarian so I had no explanation for his obsession to eschew meat in this instance.  In fact, ham and beans and red beans and rice with sausage are two of his favorite meals.  When I asked him to explain why the recipe had to be devoid of meat, all he would say was that he wanted the beans as a side dish, not the main course.  I told him beans could be the side dish even with meat in the recipe.  With great aggravation in his voice he said, “I don’t want it to have meat in it.  I want it to be a simple side dish like a can of pork and beans.”  I paused for a moment, but he didn’t realize what he had said so I slowly repeated it.  “…a simple side dish like PORK and beans.  I think the message here is that beans don’t have a distinct taste of their own so they need meat of some sort to add flavor.”  I could hear the defeat in his voice as he said, “Shut up.”

Despite my objections, he found a recipe for Cajun beans, put the beans in a large bowl to soak overnight, and transferred them to the crockpot the next morning.  When I got home from work and saw the amount of beans he had cooked that night, I started to ask him if the Duggars were coming over for supper, but we don’t watch “19 Kids and Counting,” and most popular culture references are lost on him anyway.  Instead I took a small helping, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best.  Unlike the pork and noodles he once fixed, the beans were edible.  Unfortunately, when he asked what I thought about them, the kindest thing I could think to say was that they were tender.  They weren’t unpleasant, but they were definitely bland and fairly tasteless, at least in my opinion.  He professed to love them.  That’s a good thing because he’s going to be eating them for a LONG time.

As I said, his cooking is improving, but I think he needs to perfect the basics before he gets too adventurous.  I do appreciate his efforts and the increased free time I have now that I don’t do all the cooking.  In fact, it is so nice to share that task that I will happily follow along on his kitchen misadventures.

Clear Conscience

February 29th, 2012

John’s grandfather, also named John, was legendary for his ability to fall asleep the instant his head hit the pillow.  On hot summer days, Grandpa John would often take a short nap after lunch so I have heard many anecdotal accounts of his extraordinary ability. When people would ask how he could fall asleep so quickly he would give the simple response, “That’s the sign of a clear conscience.”  Unfortunately, he passed the trait on to his grandson.  I don’t mean that it’s unfortunate because I want John to toss and turn for hours every night before falling asleep, but occasionally it would be nice if he were available to help out after 9:00 p.m. Ultimately, this begs the question, “Can your conscience be too clear?”

For example, about a month ago I agreed to watch all 5 of the grandchildren so when John said he would help out, I was very appreciative.  I was especially thankful that I didn’t have to take 2 six-year-olds, 2 four-year-olds, and 1 twenty-one-month old to the grocery store because I needed to get the ingredients to make pies for a belated family Christmas gathering the next day.  When I got back from the store, he was already on the couch watching television but still awake.  Nonetheless, since he was horizontal, I knew he was on his way to Slumberland despite the fact that it was still early, none of the girls were ready for bed, and I had 5 pies to make for the next day.

Since John typically goes to bed early, this wouldn’t have been a noteworthy evening if not for the fact that 1 of the six-year-olds started vomiting around 9:00 p.m. just as I was in the middle of making my first pie.  I won’t go into graphic detail, but the poor girl was sick at least once every hour until 11:00 the next morning.  Around midnight I helped her make a dash to the bathroom, and I was standing in the doorway ready to offer support when John got up from the couch, wandered down the hallway, and stopped just a couple of steps away.  He listened to the pitiful retching for a moment and said, “Is someone taking a bath?”  A bit stunned by his question I replied, “It’s midnight.  Who do you think would be taking a bath at this hour?  Did you forget that Azbey is sick?”  When he indicated that he also needed the bathroom, I suggested that he try one of the other two in the house because this one was going to be occupied for a while.  In short order he was in bed sound asleep.  I shook my head in disbelief as I knew there was no way I could sleep while any of the grandchildren were sick.  Azbey was incredibly brave through the ordeal proving that she is, indeed, tough like a toad.  Somehow in between caring for her and making pies, I got the other 4 children into bed and took my last pie out of the oven at 1:00 a.m.

Over the course of the next few days, everyone in the house that evening succumbed to the illness so John didn’t escape unscathed.  In his defense, I never asked for any help once I got back from the store.  John is good at many things, but doing anything after 9:00 p.m., especially caring for a sick child, is outside his area of expertise so I guess there was no point in both of us losing sleep.  Upon reflection, I think his ability to sleep through chaos and turmoil has more to do with his hearing deficit and less to do with a mind free from guilt.  Nobody’s conscience is that clear.




It Can Always Get Worse, Part II

February 21st, 2012

John has been cutting a lot of wood lately, and I generally help him split the bigger pieces using a hydraulic powered splitter when I am home.  I’ve split enough wood with a sledge hammer and wedges to realize this device is worth its weight in gold.  Since John worked last week getting the skinned steer cut, wrapped, and in the freezer as he promised, I felt motivated to help him split wood Saturday morning when he asked.  I could hear the tractor running as I exited the house so I expected to see it in place beside the splitter.  What I wasn’t prepared to see was the spectacle hanging from the front loader bucket of the tractor, a spectacle that reinforced my belief that things can always get worse.

I vaguely remember John saying something about not having room in the freezer for the two hind quarters of the steer, but if he mentioned his solution to the problem, I either didn’t hear it or failed to comprehend what he said.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear him because if I had, I wouldn’t have been so horrified when I walked around the corner of the garage and saw both hind quarters swaying in the breeze held by chains attached to the raised bucket of the tractor.  When John saw my expression he quickly began to do damage control.

John: Sorry about that hanging there.  I didn’t have room in the freezer, and I didn’t know what else to do with it.

Terri: That is really disgusting.

John:  It’s actually pretty handy to be able to walk over and cut off a slice for the dogs.

Terri:  You CAN’T have rotting meat hanging from the tractor.

John:  I know.  I’ll figure something out.

Somehow I didn’t feel reassured.

After splitting the wood, I went back in the house.  Even though the smell wasn’t too bad, a couple of 50 degree days had started the carcass remnants on their malodorous journey so after an hour’s exposure, I’d had enough.  I didn’t see much of John for the next two hours.  When he came in the house, he asked me to go outside to see his latest handiwork.  As is usually the case, his latest rendition of “where’s the beef” didn’t strike me as much of a solution to the problem.  He, on the other hand, seemed to think that slicing the meat and placing it on drying racks was a stroke of genius.

John:  Let me know if that bothers you, and I can try something else.

Terri:  (Internal monologue: Is it too soon to say that it bothers me since you just did it?)  Don’t you think it will smell bad that close to the house?

John:  I think the outside of the meat will dry quickly and seal it up.  It shouldn’t be a problem.

Terri:  I guess we can give it a try.

Fortunately, his dogs came through for me on this one.  By the next morning, they had carried off over half the meat and buried it.  I’m sure it won’t be long before it’s all gone.  That gives me some hope that maybe I’ve seen the worst unless a deliveryman reports a strange odor coming from the woods around our house.  I hope the CSI guys they send are cute!

It Can Always Get Worse

February 14th, 2012

I have learned over they years, at least where John is concerned, to never give ultimatums or speak in absolutes because he will undoubtedly prove me wrong.  For example, I once said we will never have 9 dogs.  A few short months after I made that vow, one of his females gave birth, and we had 11 dogs.  Now technically what I said was true.  We never had 9 dogs, but the meaning of my statement had definitely been subverted.  After many similar experiences, I should know better than to complain about a cow leg bone in the yard because it can always get worse.

John had been calling the local feedlot regularly looking for another bovine fatality to use as a food supplement for the pack.  When he finally got a call last Friday, he didn’t want to pass on the opportunity even though his schedule wouldn’t allow him to process the meat that day.  The weather turned much colder that night, and by the time he got started on Saturday, the steer was frozen solid so he made little progress other than skinning it.  Sunday was just as cold with a brisk south wind so he didn’t even make an attempt at carving the beast.

As with the leg bone, the cold weather made odor and pests a moot point.  However, a more discreet location for the carcass could also have solved the aesthetic issue.  Did the trailer really need to be parked in the driveway right in front of the house the entire weekend?  We have enough mounted heads, antlers, hides, and feathers to give our place a distinct Lord of the Flies atmosphere.  The only thing missing is a sign that says “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.”  Leaving the steer any distance from the house undoubtedly would have attracted coyotes and bobcats, but since it weighed 1300 pounds, I think we could share.  He did finally move the trailer over by the garage on Monday which made it about 20 feet further from the house.  Maybe he sensed my displeasure because I didn’t say a word about it.

The good news is that the weather is supposed to warm up over the next few days, and the steer will thaw enough to be cut into dog-sized portions.  I guess he could just leave it on the trailer and let the dogs eat what they want until it’s all gone.  Wait, I can’t believe I just said that.  It can’t get any worse than that, right?


January 31st, 2012

Good communication is the cornerstone of every successful marriage.  I think the fact that John and I make time to talk on a daily basis has helped us weather storms that capsize many marriages.  Unfortunately, the simple act of talking doesn’t insure good communication especially if you don’t speak the same language.  Just as Newspeak slowly replaced English in George Orwell’s novel 1984, my darling husband abandoned English in favor of Johnspeak many years ago.  I certainly don’t mean to imply that this was a diabolical plan to seize control of our marriage, at least I don’t think so.  However, he has such a unique way of expressing ideas that it has taken me almost 40 years to understand what he means.

Example #1:  Lack of Specificity

John: What are we doing this weekend?

Terri:  (Internal monologue: I just told him 20 minutes ago what we were doing this weekend.  Is this early onset Alzheimer’s?  Is he having mild strokes?) Are you serious?  I just told you a little while ago what was going on this weekend.

John:  I know but I wasn’t paying attention.  You don’t have to be nasty about it.  Just tell me again.

Terri:  When you don’t pay attention, could you start your sentences with, “I know you just told me but…”  Then I won’t have to worry that your brain is turning to mashed potatoes.

Example #2:  Lack of Focus

John:  Hey, you’ll never guess what happened today…(sentence trails off as he turns to look at something out the car window.)

Terri:  (Long pause) Well, what happened?

John:  When?

Terri:  Today!

John:  What happened today?

Terri:  I don’t know.  You said, “Hey, you’ll never guess what happened today,” so I want to know what happened.

John:  I wonder what I was going to say?

(I think this was the closest we ever got to an Abbott and Costello routine!)

Example #3:  Poor Word Choice

I helped John split wood for over an hour yesterday, and this was the ensuing conversation.

John:  You’re not planning on living anywhere else are you?

Terri: What?

John:  You’re not going to go off and leave me are you?

Terri:  That depends.  What have you done?

John:  Well, about the time the kids got big enough to be good help, they left.  You’re turning into pretty good help so I wanted to make sure you weren’t going to leave, too.

Terri:  Thanks, I think.

After all these year’s, I can finally translate Johnspeak.  What he meant was, “Thanks for helping with this task.  You are a great partner, and the love of my life.”  If you plan on living with the natives, you have to learn the language.

Old Dogs

January 24th, 2012

When Champ, my Yorkie, made it to the ripe old age of 15, he became the oldest house dog we’ve ever had by a wide margin so this is my first experience dealing with the issues inherent in an aging pet.  When John, my darling spouse, made it to the ripe old age of 58, he became the oldest husband I’ve ever had by an even wider margin so this is my first experience dealing with the issues inherent in an aging mate.  Oddly enough, there are a lot of similarities between the two.

Digestion:  Champ has been on a special diet for a number of years due to his delicate digestive system and two attacks of pancreatitis.  If someone mistakenly gives him table scraps, the results aren’t pretty.  Fortunately, if he stays on his special diet, he gets along fine.  John started using antacids about 10 years ago graduating to Prilosec OTC and most recently prescription Nexium for heartburn and acid reflux.  If he eats something he knows he shouldn’t, the results aren’t pretty.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t stay on any special diet so from time to time, he needs some TLC.

Sleep:  Champ rarely sleeps through the night anymore.  On a good night, I only have to put him outside once, and he goes right back to sleep.  On a bad night he might be up 4 or 5 times, and he occasionally demands attention by whining until I hold him.  John rarely sleeps through the night anymore.  On a good night he only gets up once.  On a bad night he snores nonstop so I can’t get back to sleep after I am up with Champ.  Between the two of them, I am sleep deprived most of the time.

Infirmities:  Champ has cataracts and profound hearing loss.  This makes going outside an adventure because he can’t find the door to come back in or hear me call.  Fortunately, he can still see movement so when I see him scratching at the window rather than the door, I wave my arms and kick my legs until he notices the activity and wanders over.  He can still navigate around furniture, but occasionally he will walk into a corner and struggle to find his way out.  John has glasses and annoying hearing loss.  He refuses to wear the glasses all the time because he only needs them for reading.  That means they are constantly misplaced which of course means he is always asking me where his glasses are.  He doesn’t think his hearing loss is bad enough for medical intervention, but I often have to serve as his interpreter when he misses a line from a television show or a bit of conversation in a crowded room.  I have even threatened to start recording our conversations when we argue about whether or not I told him something.  Fortunately, he hasn’t gotten stuck in any corners yet.

Comfort: Champ knows when I’m having a bad day, and he will curl up in my lap to let me know everything will be okay.  He still gets excited every time I come home and dances around in circles to let me know he’s happy to see me.  John knows when I’m having a bad day, and he will take me for a walk or hold me in his arms to let me know everything will be okay.  He still gets excited every time I come home, but I haven’t been able to get him to dance in years.

Despite some of the challenges, having an old dog has its advantages.  They are familiar with your routine and they know the rules even if they don’t always follow them.  One thing is certain, I’m sticking with what I have because I don’t have the patience to house break another one.


Tough Like a Toad

January 18th, 2012

I have always had an interest in the etymology of words and phrases.  Whether they are well documented and straightforward like “flavor of the month,” used in ice cream company advertisements in the 1930s and 1940s, or obscure and ambiguous like “hunky dory,” first used in print in 1862 with various explanations for its possible origin, the metamorphosis of language is fascinating.  That’s why I want to document for future generations where the phrase “tough like a toad” originated because I’m sure it will catch on and become an integral part of our lexicon.

When she was about 3 years old, our granddaughter, Azbey, visited us one weekend, and she found a toad just outside the back door.  She asked John to pick it up so she could get a closer look.  The toad kicked and squirmed vigorously in an effort to get free and Azbey said, “Stop, Grandpa.  You’re hurting him.”  John replied, “I’m not hurting him.  He just doesn’t want to be held.  Toads are actually pretty tough.”

Later that day, Azbey skinned her knees when she fell down in the driveway.  As John picked her up, he asked if she was okay.  She answered, “I’m fine, Grandpa.  I’m tough like a toad.”  Since she coined that phrase 3 years ago, several members of our family now use it to describe individuals showing courage and fortitude in the face of adversity.  I’m sure the expression “tough like a toad” will catch on, and if it doesn’t, then people are just crazy like a caterpillar!

We Are NOT the Clampetts

January 4th, 2012

Because many of the events we experience relate directly to John’s love of hunting, his dogs, and life in the country, a few of my co-workers think we are somewhat of a present day anomaly.  In other words, they think we are hillbillies, red-necks, and/or throwbacks to an earlier, simpler way of life.  I find myself constantly trying to explain how our adventures are not that different from other people who embrace the rural lifestyle, and we really do have a modicum of sophistication and refinement.  Unfortunately, two recent events have made me re-evaluate my claims.

The first incident was the discovery of a cow leg bone in my yard.  Apparently John didn’t do a very thorough job of burying the remnants of his most recent acquisition from the local feedlot, and the dogs thought it was more convenient to have part of the carcass outside the back door.  That alone wouldn’t have been a big deal, but his lack of concern regarding the removal of said leg bone was the clincher.

“Did you notice the dogs dragged a leg bone from that cow into the yard?” I asked.

“Yes, I didn’t do a very good job disposing of that last one,” John replied.

“So do you have a plan for getting rid of it?” I continued.

“As long as it’s this cold, I didn’t think it would be a problem.  It doesn’t stink and it’s not drawing flies.”

I tried to explain to him that that while eliminating stench and pests were important aspects of the quality of life I wanted to maintain, aesthetics also played an important role.  My complaints weren’t completely ignored, but it still took two days for the leg bone to disappear.

The second event occurred on the way to work this morning.  About 2 miles from the house I saw a dead raccoon on the road.  I immediately called John to tell him the location and condition, and he drove over to pick it up.  As I hung up from the call, I suddenly realized that living around a hillbilly is a lot like living with zombies.  Sooner or later you will become one.  That revelation caused me to reflect on the qualities that defined the most famous hillbilly family, the Clampetts.  Jed, Granny, Jethro, and Elly May might have been naive, but they were also honest, industrious, compassionate, loving, and dependable.  Their word was their bond, and they usually got the better of the greedy, self-centered, sophisticates they encountered each week.

I guess if I had to choose between simple and sophisticated, the decision would be a fairly easy one to make.  Don’t get me wrong, I will never ignore cow carcasses in the yard, but there are definitely worse things to be than the Clampetts.

Caveat Viator Meets High Maintenance

December 14th, 2011

When John left for his Chicago trip at 1:00 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving, I knew I would miss him eventually, but my first thought was that I had five days where the only things I had to maintain were me and the 8 dogs.  That thought quickly left my mind when my phone rang at 1:10 a.m., and I saw the caller was John.  I feared he was calling to tell me he had provided some vehicular venison for the family as the deer are plentiful and active this time of year.  Instead, he was calling to tell me that he had fallen victim once again to our ongoing nemesis:  Rice County Commissioners’ road maintenance.

The bright spot was his location less than 3 miles from the house.  The downside was a 45 minute drive ahead of him and 50 minutes to do it.  He actually didn’t have to catch the train until 2:20, but the website urged travelers to arrive 30 minutes early so we had to figure out a plan quickly.  I slipped on my coat and hurried out the door thinking John could bring me home and head out again in my vehicle, and I could walk to the pickup in the morning, change the tire, and drive home.  When I got there, John said he was afraid he would be cutting it too close if he took me home so he was just going on from there, and I should drive the pickup home with a flat tire. Normally I would have walked home and dealt with things in the morning, but the temperature was about 30 degrees and the wind was blowing about 40 miles an hour so I decided that his suggestion was the best option even though it would ruin the tire.

Driving on a completely flat tire was a new experience, and not one I would recommend.  I bounced along at a brisk 5-10 miles an hour making the normally short drive last over 30 minutes.  I was absolutely exhausted but too agitated to sleep when I got home so I called John at 2:00 to check on his progress.  He wasn’t at the train station yet, but he said he was only a few blocks away.  Reassured, I finally went to bed, but looking at the ruined tire the next day reminded me of two things.  Traveling the unpaved county roads in Rice County is expensive and potentially dangerous, and I should turn my cell phone off after 10:00 p.m.

High Maintenance

December 8th, 2011

I have often heard men use the phrase “high maintenance” when describing a woman who needs a lot of care and attention, in other words, a princess.  However, I have rarely heard the phrase used to describe a man, but recent events have lead me to believe that some men deserve that moniker just as much as women.  It’s not necessarily a derogatory term.  Instead, it just describes an attitude and a way of life that has become the status quo for them as well as those of us who have to maintain them.

A perfect example of my high maintenance mate occurred this year on Thanksgiving.  Preparing the Thanksgiving dinner wasn’t any more work than normal, but it was a bit more stressful because I had to cook most of the food at my daughter’s house because she was on call at the hospital and couldn’t leave town.  Her kitchen is well stocked, and my son-in-law was very helpful when I couldn’t find something, but if you’ve ever prepared a big meal away from home, you understand the feeling of being outside your comfort zone.

I decided to make the pies and the sweet potatoes at home on Wednesday to reduce the workload on Thanksgiving Day.  John came into the kitchen to chat while I was working, and he mentioned that one of the neighbors who lets him hunt on his land had asked about going with him on a coon hunt.  He suggested that they go that night, and the neighbor said he couldn’t because they were busy getting ready for Thanksgiving.

After a thoughtful pause I said, “I didn’t realize he cooked.”

John said, “I don’t think he cooks at all.  Why would you say that?”

“Well, what on earth could he possibly be doing to help ‘get ready’ if he doesn’t cook?”

“Maybe he just provides moral support,” John suggested.

“Hmm…wonder what that’s like?” I replied.

John feigned offense at that comment, but I didn’t mean it as a slam.  I was really curious.  Do some men wander through the kitchen during meal preparation saying things like, “Great job on that turkey.”  Or “Nobody glazes a ham quite like you do, Honey.”  I imagine most couples play the same meal preparation game that we do where John offers to help, and I say I have everything under control even if I don’t.  Sometimes, just for fun, I ask him to do something like mash the potatoes or stir the gravy just to see the look of shock and dismay on his face.

The meal turned out great, and we had a lovely time, but I was pretty tired by the time we got home that evening.  I had one more load of laundry to do so John would have all the clothes he needed for the next five days when he caught the train to Chicago at 2:20 a.m. the next day.  I was loading the washer when John asked, “Can you throw a few things in a suitcase for me and wake me up about 1:00?  I’m going to try to get some sleep.”  Did he really think that making it sound like an inconsequential, five minute task would fool me?  He was asking me to pack his suitcase for his trip!!  Had he missed the fact that I’d spent the better part of the last two days cooking a big family meal with no help from him at all?  I just smiled and said, “Sure, I can do that.”  He’s definitely a throwback to an earlier generation, and sometimes I wonder if it’s worth all the work, but if you really love the classic models, you don’t mind the high maintenance.

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