Flipping the Bird

My sister, one summer, in a burst of generosity and a rare fit of de-cluttering, gave me an antique birdcage on a stand. It was one of her many unique purchases (either at a garage sale or an auction, I don’t remember which), and it, along with about another 1000 square feet of crap, was cluttering up her garage. So, she gave it to me. I thanked her profusely (“Are you sure you don’t want it?”) and, at the same time, promptly shoved it into the back of my mini-van before she came to her senses. I am almost positive she regrets her altruism today.

Since I sometimes feel guilty over having such a rare and exceptional treasure , I make sure that I get as much out of this gift as I can. Oddly enough, I’ve had more fun with that birdcage than one could imagine, and I don’t even have a live bird inside of it. Instead, I purchased a little fake chickadee-like thing at some craft store and painstakingly affixed it to the trapeze within. I did not want to permanently glue it in there because you never know when I might want to switch him out, for, what–maybe a live one?

Because he is not glued in place, the little guy has a tendency, after I’ve squeezed his little wire feet onto the dowel of the trapeze, to hang upside down, bat-like. This gives the impression that the bird is dead. He stays like that most of the time, because, well, he is a fake bird after all. That, and I’m too lazy to really do anything to make him stay upright.

Thus begins my story.

Shortly after I acquired this treasure of mine (cage and bird), I had the floors in my dining room, kitchen, bathroom, and foyer replaced with hardwoods. The fellow who replaced the floors contracted a carpet installer to come by and finish off the carpeting in the living room—butting it up against the hardwoods in the dining room.

One Sunday afternoon, carpet dude shows up, his truck parked and still running with his girlfriend inside chewing her nails. He came in, I showed him the area that needed attending, and he set about his task. I left him there and returned to my laundry folding or whatever it was that I was doing when he came-a-calling.

Once his carpet magic was finished, he hollered, “Ma’am? I’m done.”

I walked into the living room-dining room area to survey his handiwork. Then I glanced up at the birdcage. I made the split second decision to seize the opportunity to have a little fun and said, “Oh, hey…hey! What did you do to my bird? What did you do to my bird?”

Horrified, the guy walked over to the birdcage and cried, “I swear, I didn’t touch him! He was chirping away just a minute ago! I never touched him! Honest!”

Chirping? Nice touch.

Alas, the Oscar goes to me, because I even started crying, saying things like, “I’ve had him for years! What will I tell the children?” and, even better, “How will I go on? How will I go on?”

Carpet guy looked like he was going to vomit all over the floor he had just finished up, and began backing out of the room, still maintaining his innocence in the sudden fatality of the bird. I continued my mournful keening and sobbing, and then suddenly, I smiled and admitted, “Just kidding. It’s a fake bird.”

Most of the time when I prank someone, they respond with a self-deprecating chuckle in a “Ya’ got me!” kind of way. Not carpet dude. I really pissed this guy off. Glaring at me in a most hateful manner, he stormed out of the house, slammed the door, and tore off down the street with his nail chewing girlfriend, and to this day I almost but not quite regret my little joke. Why not? Because I’ve repeated it over and over again every time someone comes into my house for the first time. Hilarious.

In the big scheme of things, my bird caper was, well, just a lark. Or a chickadee.

Fat Bottomed Girls You Make the Rockin’ World Go ‘Round

You know that disease where girls look at themselves in the mirror and see nothing but a fat blob when in reality they’re thin—sometimes too thin? Yeah, well I don’t have that disease; apparently, I have the opposite condition. I look at myself in the mirror and say, “Oh, okay. I’m good. I look all right. These jeans don’t make my butt look big.” I go out, I have a good time, dance a little, pose for pictures, and the next day when all those pictures show up on Facebook, I am horrified. Disgusted. Wishing I was Amish and couldn’t pose for graven images. Wishing I was Amish and had never drunk boxes and boxes of cheap wine. Wishing I was Amish and wasn’t on Facebook to see my fat ass because apparently the Amish are the only demographic missing from Facebook. Wishing I was Amish and had never made the poor choice to put on a pair of jeans in the first place.

The good news is that I have never been a skinny girl. As a former gymnast, I’ve always been referred to as “athletic” or “solid”. The bad news is that I have never been a skinny girl, will never be a skinny girl, and to be referred to as “athletic” or “solid” is just about as bad as having someone tell you “It’ll grow out.” after you’ve just spent a fortune to have your hair cut in an asymmetrical bob.

Oh, there was a sweet time when I was younger and teaching between eight and ten step aerobics classes a week when I was not only thin, but I was buff. That’s when I met my husband. Poor Tim, he bought a pig in a poke, because shortly after we were married, I fell pregnant (that’s what the Amish call it anyway), and not only was I pregnant, I was pregnant with twins. Of course, I didn’t know about the twin thing until I was four months along, but there I was into maternity clothes a week after I took the pee-n-see test. My sudden inability to button my jeans was somewhat puzzling, because I could barely keep down the four pretzels and half a cup of 7up I consumed each day. I didn’t know pretzels and 7up were so fattening.

At my first OB appointment, the doctor tsk-tsked my weight, telling me that just because I was pregnant it didn’t mean that I had carte blanche at the cafeteria—he warned me of all the horrible things that could go wrong if I gained too much weight. Little did he know that I was throwing up around the clock and that any mention of food sent my face straight into the nearest toilet. I was almost brave enough to ask him to check for a second heartbeat, but I didn’t think I could stand his eye rolling. Two months later the joke was on him.

Once the “morning” (ha!) sickness was over and I could eat again, I was so hungry that I made up for lost time and figured that Big Macs and Quarter Pounders were good for the baby because of all that protein. Imagine my delight when at 16 weeks along I found out that baby was plural. I wondered, “Should I be eating for three?” What do you think? Hells, yeah!

I didn’t eat because I was bored, and I didn’t eat because I was pregnant. I ate because I was ferociously hungry, like lumberjack or longshoreman hungry. I have never ever been as hungry as I was when I was pregnant—well during months four, and part of five. After five months, there was no more real estate left for any food, and even if I did try to eat, it remained lodged somewhere between my throat and my ribs. Not fun.

I gained a whopping 70 pounds with my twins, lost about 40 of it, and the balance remains. When I was pregnant with baby number three, I only gained the recommended 25 …okay, 38 pounds, but I took all of that off crying over Princess Diana’s untimely demise. Coupled with my grief over Di and running around after two preschoolers, I didn’t have much desire or much time to eat, so losing those extra pounds was a breeze. Sad that it took a princess’ death in a horrific car crash to get me back into my size 10 jeans.

Twenty years later, I’ve had my ups and downs with the pounds, and I had thought that I had finally come to terms with my ‘build’. I hesitate to use the word ‘size’, because for those of you who don’t know me or who haven’t seen me in a long time, I do not want to give you the false impression that I look like Jabba the Hutt. Or maybe I do. Damn! Anyway, I thought that I had made peace with my station in life, until I saw some recent pictures of me that my sister had taken. My brother and I were dancing up a storm, having a good ol’ time, and she was clicking away. In the back of my mind I’m thinking, “Good! I can put these up on Facebook! No one will ever accuse me of being Amish (even though I was dancing with my brother).”

Then I saw the pictures. Ugh. Chinny-chin-chins, and my arms! Ugh! Why did I think wearing a sleeveless dress was a good idea? Did no one love me enough to tell me to put on something else, like a burqa? Or a navy blue dress with no buttons? Lucky for me I have a good sister who knows that if she uploads unflattering photos of me onto her Facebook page and is dumb enough to tag me or any of my friends in them, that she, too, will find images of her equally impressive form gracing its pages.

In all seriousness, though, I have much to be thankful for with this bod of mine. No, I can no longer throw a side aerial nor execute a round off back handspring. I can, however (if I stretch) still do a cartwheel and a rather impressive handstand into a split. So, it’s not all that bad.

And every time I get really down on myself about these weighty issues, I have this recurring image of meeting up with a genie who grants me three wishes. My first wish is to lose those 30 pounds. Then I look down and my legs are gone.

Don’t Know Much About History

I don’t claim to be an historian, but I do like to study history. It is true what your teachers always told you: If you don’t study history, you’ll be doomed to repeat it. I only wish someone would have given me an equally strong argument for studying algebra, because to this day I can’t understand why I had to suffer through that particular indignity.

When I tell people that my grandparents were born in the 19th century and my father in 1918, they look at me very carefully wondering just how much work I’ve had done. The answer is none. Apparently, at age 45, my dad was still hip and virile enough to pull ‘er back and let ‘er rip, and, well, here I am. My father was one of Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation, World War II Purple Heart and all. The man had seen some stuff. So while most of my friends had dads who could actually do things with them like swimming, shooting hoops, or playing catch, my dad was good at telling me how to do those things while reminiscing about his days as a young athlete. It wasn’t all bad, though. Two distinct advantages of having an elderly father—wisdom and history.

I get my love of history from him, and though he himself was a Civil War aficionado, I claim to be the familial doyenne of the World War II era—specifically the European Theater. With that love of learning about the history of the Second World War, I have developed—through years of teaching—a fascination with the Holocaust.

I realize that the word ‘fascination’ has a rather light-hearted tone to it, but I’m at a loss to find a better way to describe my interest. It is not an obsession; more like a pursuit. If you truly study the Holocaust (like a real historian, not like an Indiana housewife), you really have to go all the way back to the Jewish Diaspora of the 6th century BC. I like history, but my knowledge of the Biblical era is pitiful if not downright shameful and is best left to my husband, the Bible scholar. That’s why my Holocaust history begins with the 1919 signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

In short, after World War I (my knowledge of which is limited to having read All Quiet on the Western Front and watching Downton Abbey) the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles left Germany with no economy, no military, and, most frightening of all, no stable government. With that dearth of structure and lack of confidence in the various political parties in the Fatherland, Germans were ready to listen to anyone, even an extremist like Adolf Hitler. Hitler essentially told the beleaguered Germans that if they simply put all of their faith and trust in him, he would solve all the complex problems of a post World War I Germany. When people are hungry, they’ll listen to just about anything.

Hitler found his whipping boy in the Jews. Contrary to what many may think, Hitler did not invent anti-Semitism. It’s been around for awhile. Thus, it was not difficult for him to spread his vitriol throughout Germany; the Jews were used to being picked last for teams. What was most frightening of all, though, and the thing to which we as Americans need to pay very close attention, was the insidious nature of the Nazi’s relentless gathering of information about the Jews. This by no means caught the Jews off guard, but they were somewhat surprised by the ferocity and assiduousness with which the Nazis pursued them.

When I taught my eighth grade students these facts (a necessary scaffolding of information prior to our reading the play The Diary of Anne Frank), their questions were predictable. “Why didn’t the Jews just leave?” Why should they? This was their home. They owned businesses in these towns and they worshipped and attended school there. “Why didn’t they just say they weren’t Jewish?” Some did deny their heritage, but many felt it was a betrayal of their culture to do so, and why should they? They weren’t doing anything wrong. And, the best question of all, “How did the Nazis know who the Jews were?”

My answer to that last question was that the Nazis made it their business to know everybody’s business. The Nazi’s ruthless pursuit of information, their subsequent Nuremburg Laws, and the resulting horror of the “Final Solution” manufactured a hell that is nearly impossible to comprehend. “However,” I calmly soothed my eighth graders, “nothing like this would ever happen here in the United States because we have laws protecting our civil liberties and our rights as citizens. We are blessed to live in a democracy.”

Don’t I feel like a fool today.

It begs the question, how many Americans actually comprehend the serious nature of our government’s escalating interest in and infringement upon our privacy, our rights as citizens to assemble peacefully, and our ability to make our own decisions when it comes to our health, our children, our collective livelihood, and our spirituality? This is it, my friends. Our government is, without apology, stealing our freedom.

My father has been gone for seventeen years. I often wonder what he and others of his generation and of his parents’ generation would think of our government’s flagrant disregard for the Constitution. My father and his parents suffered through some of the worst economic and most frightening eras our modern world has ever seen, so I can only imagine that an imaginary conversation with any of them about today’s federal government would contain portents of a catastrophic collapse of the United States of America.

Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.

Word.

Ina, Giada, Paula, and Me

I love cooking shows. They’re inspiring, they’re informational, and they’re so believable sometimes that I actually think that I, too, can have a hot body like Giada DeLaurentis and still eat like a truck driver at a Flying J. With this in mind, let’s examine, shall we, the various nuances of each of my favorite shows—past and present—then compare and contrast.

Ina Garten is The Barefoot Contessa, but let me tell you she bears absolutely no resemblance to sex kitten Ava Gardner, so I have no idea where she came up with that sobriquet. Maybe Ava Gardner’s fat aunt, but Ina’s definitely no Maria Vargas (subject of my next blog: My newfound respect for Wikipedia). Ina is, in a word, plump. I could say ‘fat’, but I’m trying to be gracious. She has a cute face, but she clearly has stuffed too much foie gras into her cake hole.  And cake.

Giada DeLaurentis, star of Everyday Italian, is the granddaughter of actual Italian Dino DeLaurentis, notable scary movie director. Giada is all of a buck fifteen soaking wet, and though she has a big ol’ head, I can only surmise that whatever she eats while she’s taping her show is all she eats—ever. I’ve always been jealous of skinny girls with big boobs, and Giada’s no exception. It also irritates me when she pronounces everyday Italian words like ‘spaghetti’ with an Italian accent (‘spi-GIT-tee’).

Paula Deen used to be everybody’s favorite southerner and used to be a real favorite of mine; that is, before she transformed herself into PuAula DuhEEn, the Scarlett O’Hara of the kitchen.  Poor Paula.  She no longer cooks for us on TV ever since it was revealed that she said a bad word about eleventy-thousand years ago while having a gun pointed to her head.  What was she thinking?  However, when she was still beloved enough to be on television, you’ll have noticed that in her earlier shows, she looks like someone’s mama or meemaw—down-to-earth, simple, comfortable; her later “look”, though, was reminiscent of someone 25 years younger with better hair. I don’t know what she looks like now because she’s not allowed to be on television. And just how does one’s accent become thicker with age? Is the accent commensurate with the amount of butter…no, bout-ter one ingests? Maybe she and Giada had the same diction coach, I don’t know.

Okay, so you’re saying, “But Kelly…you haven’t mentioned their actual talent for cooking! Who cares what they act or sound like?” Fine. As I’ve admitted, I have learned much and have been inspired by each of them. But really, if you want me to bore you with a litany of recipes, go to foodnetwork.com and have at it.  Geez. This is about the women, not the food.

Back to Ina. Ina is a Long Islander, and everything about her speaks to her East Hampton-ish lack of understanding of the reality of the everyday cook, like me. Ina’s always imploring us to use the good” olive oil, like we all have a pantry stocked with olive oil of varying quality. “Good” olive oil, to me, is the cheapest jug I can find at Sam’s Club. And she never fails to use fresh ingredients, as if we all have a freaking farmer’s market in our little village, where you grab a handmade basket upon entering the shop, a tinkling bell announcing your arrival to the proprietress, who, of course, is among Ina’s circle of merchants with whom she is on a first-name basis. She loads up her basket with “one of each”, and passes the proprietress a dollar bill that she’s had safely tucked in the palm of her hand.  Then it’s off to the florist’s shoppe.  With an ‘e’.  She’ll spend more on flowers for her tablescape than I would on an entire meal. If she were a real woman, she’d know that all of the ingredients for her esoteric menus and the flowers can be found at any Walmart. (Ina in Walmart. I just spit coffee all over my keyboard.) Invariably, she’s only cooking for herself (of course) and one other—her purse-holding, empty-sacked husband Jeffrey or some other Long Island lock-jawed acquaintance. Here’s another thing: Watch when she opens her oven. Spotless. The only other person with a cleaner oven than Ina’s is my mother-in-law. The difference? My mother-in-law actually cleans her own oven (daily, it seems). I can only guess that Ina has a new Viking installed after every taping.

She bugs me.

Giada, though, is a little more earthy, that is, until she starts in with that Italian accent. I’ll admit that I have copied her style, all the way down to the color of polish she uses on her fingernails, and she dresses well—as well as someone can with those big boobs and skinny arms, poor thing.  She also seems to eat outside a lot. Al fresco, I think they call it in everyday Italian.  I guess Id eat outside, too, if my house sat adjacent to the Pacific Ocean. There’s probably no bugs on her patio.  Oh, and she drinks a lot of alcohol, too. My kind of girl.

I just can’t get over the fake-ety-fake accent.

Then there’s Paula. Of the three, her recipes were possibly the most realistic. That Type II Diabetes thing? I could have called that one years ago. Paula’s a woman who knows how to eat; thus, I can’t believe anyone was remotely surprised when she revealed her A1C level. But aside from her affected Southern accent and her purple hair, I did so love  that she had a dirty oven. It wasn’t call-the-health-department dirty or anything, but she didn’t have a new one installed after every episode like Ina does. While it’s true that the original (read:  old) Paula was more authentic and believable, once she got wind that folks—and Oprah—thought her accent was cute, she really hammed it up (pun intended).

Obviously, there are more shows worthy of a look than these three. I like the Pioneer Woman, except that her oh-so-perfectly-polite and pleasingly compliant children set my teeth on edge. Her home-schooled git always bound in from their cattle rustling or sheep herding or whatever they do on a ranch raring to go and ready to devour, with gusto, anything she puts in front of them (including, it seems, the script from whence originates their witty banter). Prune cake? Really Rhee? My kid might eat my cooking if I wrapped it up and served it to him in a Jimmy John’s bag, but I can guaran-damn-tee you he wouldn’t go near anything with prunes.

I also used to like Down Home with the Neelys, but it practically turned into half hour of soft porn, and I get embarrassed watching people make love to each other during prime time…well, any time. They made fixin’ up a mess o’ barbecue nauseatingly blue with their constant PDA and television-inappropriate canoodling. Leave the jiggity out of the kitchen, for crying out loud.  Sadly, I hear that the canoodling and jiggity are no longer part of the Neely’s repertoire—they’ve apparently “divided their ingredients”, so to speak. Acting!

My sister Becky and I have come up with a great idea for an hour-long cooking show. It will be called Becky and Kelly Cook with Wine. We start off with two, three, or five bottles of wine, or, if it’s been a rough week, a box or two. We start drinking and cooking and see what we come up with at the end of the hour. Genius, huh? Maybe some of the wine goes into the dishes, maybe not—that’s the beauty of the cooking with wine concept. I plan to write to the producers of the Food Network and pitch my idea, so don’t be surprised if you see two Midwestern not-so-skinny girls with not-so-big boobs with no fake accents (just slurred words), and dirty ovens cooking up a mess o’ good food.

And no canoodling, I promise.