Things Not to Do in Your Skinny Jeans

There are obvious health and social risks associated with skinny jeans. The chance of injuring delicate body parts as you zip up, even though you hold your breath and suck in till you turn purple. The inconvenience and potential embarrassment of struggling to peel the jeans down, millimeter by millimeter, in the confines of a public restroom stall while nature is calling with increasing urgency. The risk of losing essential objects like your wallet, keys, or cell phone because you can’t put them into your skintight pockets. And, of course, the ever-present fear that if you bend over you might hear a ripping sound and feel a sudden breeze.

Not to mention the risk—especially significant for those who live alone—of getting stuck in your jeans while you’re getting dressed. If you don’t bend your foot precisely the right way while you’re trying to slide it through that teeny little opening at the bottom of the jeans, your heel gets caught and there you are, like Cinderella’s stepsister trying to squeeze into that little glass slipper. You can’t push your foot on through, and with the jeans halfway up your thighs you can’t exactly bend over to tug the jeans back down off your foot, and you’re torn between desperately hoping someone will come in and rescue you and desperately hoping no one sees you till you manage to extricate yourself.

But it turns out there is an even greater danger than any of these: nerve and muscle damage that can land you in the hospital. Seriously. A woman in Australia, helping someone move, spent a great deal of time squatting while she emptied cupboards. Her skinny jeans compressed nerves and blocked circulation in her lower legs. By the end of the day when she walked home, her feet were so numb she fell down and couldn’t get up until someone found her. Her jeans had to be cut off in the emergency room and she spent four days in the hospital.

The moral to the story, according to doctors who published a report in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, is not to squat in your skinny jeans.

There actually could be an upside to this, I suppose. For example:

Friend to friend: “You know how much I admire your collection of salt and pepper shakers, but I just can’t pack them for you. The doctor says it would be dangerous to spend that much time reaching into the bottom cupboards.”

Teenage girl to parent: “Weed the garden? But you can’t make me do that—I could be crippled for life!

Mom or grandma to toddler: “Sorry, sweetheart, I’d love to get down on the floor and play eleventeen games of Candyland with you, but it wouldn’t be safe.”

Of course, there is one simple and sensible way to avoid all of these potential problems: choose jeans that aren’t quite so skinny, or at least ones that stretch. But of course, we’re not talking about sense here; we’re talking about style.

I would, however, offer just one small piece of advice: if you must squat in your skinny jeans, at least don’t do it with your spurs on.

 

Categories: Fashion | Tags: | Leave a comment

The Green Grass of Home

“Green,” “lush,” and “western South Dakota prairies” are not words you’ll often find in the same sentence, unless there’s a “not” in there somewhere. This year is an exception.

We’ve had thunderstorm after thunderstorm this spring and early summer. Every little stock dam is full to the brim, every little creek and gully has flowing water, and the pastures are thick with rich green grass that ripples temptingly in the wind. It’s enough to make even someone who works at a desk and hasn’t been on a horse in decades indulge in brief wistful thoughts about going into the cow business.

Driving west a few days ago, with the long shadows of early evening showing the prairie at its loveliest, I was simultaneously enjoying the beauty of the present and indulging in thoughts about the past. My nostalgic mood came from the family reunion I had just attended, and it was further fueled by the “classic country” oldies radio station I was listening to.

Somewhere between Kadoka and Wall, a familiar song with an especially apt title came on: “Green, Green Grass of Home.”

The song is a tearjerker that starts with a man going back to his old home to see his parents and his sweetheart Mary, with her “hair of gold and lips like cherries.” Then he wakes up, in his cell on death row, and we realize the only time he’ll “touch the green, green grass of home” is when he’s buried under it. It’s the kind of song you are irresistibly drawn to sing along to, even while you hope no one catches you doing it.

Written by Claude “Curly” Putman, Jr., the song was recorded in the 1960’s by performers as diverse as Porter Wagoner, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Joan Baez. Tom Jones’s version became an international hit.

Hearing it this week, I was instantly transported in both time and place. It sent me to 1972 and a location far removed from both green grass and anything that meant home to me: an underground railway car in London.

My then-husband and I were part of a trip to Great Britain organized by the English and drama departments at our small college. The idea was to allow students to experience the culture of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Oscar Wilde, and Sir Laurence Olivier.

Late one night, heading home from an evening at the theatre, our group got onto the tube (the subway to us) and found ourselves in a car crowded with fans heading home from a football match (a soccer game to us).

These fans were a group of Welsh guys whose team had won. They had obviously been celebrating earlier with alcohol, and now they were celebrating with song: “Green, Green Grass of Home.” Just the rousing ditty anyone would choose for an occasion that called for jollity and rejoicing.

One of the singers, spotting me standing with the rest of our group in the crowded car, staggered to his feet. He waved me to his seat with an expansive gesture that almost sent him sprawling.

It was the first time a gentleman had ever made a point of giving me his seat. So I sat. It seemed only polite, even though it felt awkward to take a seat in the middle of someone else’s drunken party. I was much too uncomfortable to join in the singing, even though I did know all the words.

After a few minutes, my husband, who had somewhat more experience with drunken young men than I did, suggested quietly but with a certain urgency that I get up. I stood, with relief, and we sidled a few feet away through the crowd.

Just in time, too. The gallant who had so graciously given up his seat threw up right in front of it. Fortunately, on his own shoes and those of his friends instead of on mine.

To this day, it only takes a few bars of “Green, Green Grass of Home” to take me right back to that London tube car. I realize the melodic voices of drunken football fans and the aroma of regurgitated ale may not be exactly the atmosphere that Curley Putman intended to evoke when he wrote the song. But I can’t help myself. Sometimes you just have to take your nostalgia where you find it.

Categories: Remembering When, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Pepperoni in the Rain

If you’re having a tough day, there’s nothing like listening to sad country music to make you feel better. All your real-life troubles take on a new perspective after 15 or 10 minutes of listening to variations of, “You’re gone, and I’ll never get over it, and I’ve been here in the bar drowning my sorrows for 13 years now, but I still can’t understand why you left me.”

Then there are the times when real life just begs to be a sad country song. The other night, for example, I got a phone call from a family member while she was “delivering pizzas in the rain.”

With a line like that to start with, the rest of the song practically writes itself:

Since you left with all our money
All my luck went down the drain.
Now I’m out in my old pickup
Delivering pizzas in the rain.

My only hope is that one evening
When that phone begins to ring,
I will hear you ask me sweetly
For “a large with everything.”

With my heart as extra topping,
I will rush it to your door.
And the only tip I’ll ask for
Is to see your face once more.

Now, that’s extra cheese.

I don’t know about you, but I feel better already. Except for a slight craving for Canadian bacon and black olives.

Categories: Food and Drink, Just For Fun | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Oh, To Be a Child Again–Or Not

One of the many humorous/inspiring/possibly fake/probably plagiarized emails that periodically circulates around the Internet is about “resigning from adulthood.” It talks about turning in your driver’s license and becoming a kid again. In honor of its most recent appearance, here’s an update of a response I wrote to it several years ago.

Are you kidding? Who would ever want to be a kid again? True, adults have more responsibility: we’re expected to do grownup-type things like hold down real jobs and pay bills. But I’ll accept that responsibility any day in return for all the benefits of being an adult. Here are just a few of them:

• No algebra homework.

• You get to choose your own bedtime.

• You get to plan your own menus and decide for yourself whether to finish your vegetables.

• In the car, you almost always get to sit in the front by a window.

• You can paint your room whatever color you want.

• You can eat watermelon just before bedtime if you want to.

• If a telemarketer calls and asks “Is your mother home?” you can say something smart-alecky like, “I don’t know; I haven’t talked to her since Tuesday.”

• You can decide for yourself whether you’re cold and should put on a sweater.

• Nobody says you can only read one more chapter before you go to bed.

• You can pick out your own clothes.

• If you take a nap, it’s because you want to, not because someone says you have to.

• If you drop a glass and it shatters all over the sink, and you say a four-letter word, nobody threatens to wash your mouth out with soap.

• You can call teachers and principals by their first names.

• You get to do anything your older siblings get to do.

• If you want a puppy or a kitten, you don’t have to settle for a goldfish or a hamster.

Yep, I’ve been a child and I’ve been an adult. Trust me: adulthood is better.

Categories: Odds and Ends | 2 Comments

“Just Like My Mama Used to Make”

Biscuits for breakfast. Light, flaky, and fresh from the oven. Covered with sausage gravy. Paired with scrambled eggs. With butter and honey melted deliciously into them. Or even—my personal favorite—with peanut butter and homemade chokecherry jelly.

It’s a great idea. So great that, visiting my parents this week, I decided to surprise them one morning with baking powder biscuits. They would go perfectly with the leftover sausage gravy, made for supper a few days earlier by my sister the excellent cook.

In my somewhat misplaced enthusiasm, I overlooked one inconvenient detail: baking powder biscuits are not one of my kitchen accomplishments. Mine tend to melt in the mouth like, say, week-old sourdough bread. Or hockey pucks.

Up early in the quiet of my parents’ kitchen, I browsed through the recipe books. I found the perfect biscuit recipe, taped inside the back cover of one of the books. It was in the handwriting of my sister the excellent cook. How could I go wrong?

I mixed up the biscuits, following the recipe precisely. I spaced the biscuits far enough apart on the pan so they had room to rise. I preheated the oven and put them in.

When I took them out, they were only a little larger than they had started. They were slightly brown on top and very brown on the bottom. Their texture might politely have been described as “firm.” The only thing “flaky” about them was my unreasonable optimism that this time would be different from all the other times I’ve ever made baking powder biscuits.

My parents ate the biscuits and politely said they tasted good. Which, actually, with the sausage gravy, they did. No surprise there. The gravy, remember, had been made by my sister the excellent cook.

We agreed—my parents out of polite pity and me out of desperate grasping for excuses—that the problem had to be the baking powder. Sure enough, the expiration date on the can turned out to be six months ago. That was close enough to plausible excusability for me. At least this time; it didn’t necessarily explain why I never can seem to make baking powder biscuits as well as my sisters, my father, or my mother.

Then my mother said, “But why didn’t you just use Bisquick? That’s what I always do.”

Categories: Food and Drink | Tags: , | 6 Comments

You Never Miss the Water Till the Well Runs Dry

There’s nothing like knowing the water is shut off to make you immediately thirsty. Fortunately, today’s shutoff wasn’t an emergency, so we were prepared. The full pitcher, kettle, and assortment of water bottles on the kitchen counter ought to give us more than enough water to drink until the well is back in operation. (Of course, drinking all that water has inevitable consequences, but no worries—we have containers of water for flushing, too.)

Actually, the well hasn’t run dry. The pump has run out of oomph. Not surprising, when you consider that it’s been working away quietly and reliably for four decades. This morning, in a scheduled end-of-life intervention, it pumped its last drop. The well guys are out there right now, pulling pipe and checking for leaks and redoing wiring and whatever else goes along with replacing a pump in a well that nobody has paid much attention to for forty years.

This morning, in the shower where I usually think most of my great thoughts, I was thinking grateful thoughts about the luxury of having water that pours lavishly over my head at the turn of a faucet. Washing the breakfast dishes while the water was still running, I couldn’t help but notice how many times I turned the faucet on and off to rinse each plate and cup and handful of utensils.

I like to think I’m not a water waster. When I was growing up (fair warning: here comes a “walking to school in the snow, uphill, both ways” moment), scrimping on water was a necessary habit. Our farm had plenty of well water, but it was both destructive to pipes and dreadful to taste buds. I used to feel sorry for the cows, who had no choice but to drink the stuff.

In the house, we had water of excellent quality but limited quantity. It was hauled from the town of Winner, 20-odd miles away over first dirt, then gravel, and eventually partly paved roads. As far as I know, the man who delivered it made his living with his water truck. Every so often he would drive into the yard and back up beside the house to refill the cistern.

That cistern was absolutely forbidden territory to us kids. Its round steel top, maybe eight or ten feet in diameter, stuck up a few inches out of the ground, just right for sitting on or walking around the edge of. We were not allowed to do either. This rule was strictly enforced, as we were quick to explain to cousins and other visitors. I remember occasional reminders to “Stay off the cistern!” being shouted out the kitchen window. I don’t think any of us ever even thought about going so far as trying to open the lid.

I found it fascinating, then, that the water guy was so nonchalant about doing exactly that. The lid was a round metal cap perhaps 18 inches across, in the center of the cistern. He would pry it open, plop the end of his hose into it, and open the valve of his water tank. We weren’t allowed close enough to see it—to this day I have no idea how deep that cistern was—but from a safe distance we could hear the water gushing.

While I assume the water guy made deliveries on a regular schedule, every now and then we would run out of water. This meant a phone call and a dry wait until he could make it out with a load. It was always a relief to see his truck coming up the lane.

All these years later, I suppose I take for granted the fresh, pure water that pours out whenever we want it. Today, though, I certainly don’t. With the faucets all dry, and people I don’t know doing things I don’t understand out at the well, it’s a good day to stop and think about what a luxury that water really is.

Categories: Food and Drink, Remembering When | Tags: | 3 Comments

Everyday Earth Days

Did you do anything special in honor of Earth Day this week? I didn’t, really, unless you count having leftovers for lunch.

I never even thought of this habit as environmentally friendly, until after lunch when I heard a radio interview about wasting food. So now I can pat myself on the back for avoiding food waste, when all this time I thought I was merely avoiding cooking. I can even feel proud of my extra commitment to saving energy. Not only do I practice efficiency by cooking once and eating twice (or three times or sometimes even four), but sometimes I save even more energy by refrigerating, microwaving, and eating the leftovers in the same bowl.

Overall, I do live a fairly “green” lifestyle. Almost every week, for example, I dutifully haul my reusable bags off to the grocery store. And at least, oh, half the time, I even remember to take them into the store with me instead of realizing when I get to the checkout that the bags are still in the back seat of the car.

I don’t buy snacks in single-serving packages. You can’t imagine how eco-friendly and virtuous it feels to buy M&M’s by the large 12-ounce bag instead of in those plastic-wasting little bags.

I don’t pollute the environment with toxic cleaning products, because I hardly ever do any cleaning. And when I do, I generally use plain water, because either I can’t find any cleaning products, I’ve forgotten to buy cleaning products, or it’s been so long since I did any cleaning that the cleaning products in the cupboard have all evaporated.

I don’t waste resources on lawn care. First of all, I generally don’t apply fertilizers and weed-killers. Second, I do very little watering. This approach not only conserves water and keeps potentially harmful chemicals out of the environment, it also means the grass doesn’t grow very well. As a result, I save even more energy (my own and the planet’s) because I only need to mow the yard about once a month.

I don’t buy bottled water. With rare exceptions; I have to admit we did buy a case of 24 bottles back in February. We were traveling, forgot to fill our reusable water bottles, and stopped at a store to buy a gallon. We found that a) they didn’t have water by the gallon and b) buying the 24 bottles on sale was by far the cheapest option unless we wanted to consider getting lite beer. I’ve felt guilty ever since we walked out of the store with them. This week, thank goodness, we used the last bottle. It was a weight off my environmentally-conscious conscience.

And that reminds me of an environmental irony I noticed recently. That icon of green living, a little hybrid car, was parked in front of an office building. The back cargo area was filled with cases of bottled water.

I bet there was a single-serving bag of M&M’s in the glove compartment, too.

Categories: Food and Drink, Living Consciously | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Discounted Seniority

Last week I heard a talk about “how not to grow old.” The speaker did a nice job of presenting a lot of the standard advice: stay active, eat well, continue to learn and keep your brain busy, enjoy the moment, and so on.

I have to admit, though, that I listened with a somewhat cynical ear. As several older members of my extended family have discovered over the past few years, some of the not-so-great aspects of aging tend to whack you upside the head regardless of your best efforts with yoga, vitamins, or positive thinking. Besides, the speaker seemed two or three decades too young to be an authority on the topic. Either that, or the advice she gave was really working well for her.

One tip she offered did catch my attention. Never ask for the senior discount, because it means you’re thinking of yourself as old.

What she didn’t say was how to respond if someone else, who apparently thinks of you as old, offers you the senior discount.

I do know one response that, based on personal experience, is probably not recommended. I was traveling with my daughter and her friend, who were both 20 at the time. We stopped at a motel in Dillon, Montana. When I raised an eyebrow at the room rate quoted by the nice young man behind the desk, he quickly added, “Of course, you might qualify for a discount. Do you belong to AAA? Or AARP?”

Shocking myself as much as I did him, I slammed my hand down on the counter. “That’s an insult! Do I look old enough to be a member of AARP?” And I went off on a rant about senior discounts, and how rude it was to assume that people qualified for them, and I’m not sure what all else. In my defense, it had been a long day of driving and I was tired. Besides, I was joking—mostly. Meanwhile, the two pretty young women with me were cracking up in a way guaranteed to embarrass any nice young man who just might have been hoping to impress them. When the poor guy gave me the final room rate, he was very careful to explain, “And this is the Triple-A discount.”

Perhaps it wasn’t one of my finer moments. Especially since nowhere in my rant did I reveal that, as a matter of fact, I was 52 and thereby officially old enough to join AARP had I cared to. If, by chance, you are reading this and you are a man in his early 30’s who worked at a motel in Dillon, Montana, 12 years ago, please consider it my public apology.

In the decade since, I’ve become a little more relaxed on the topic of senior discounts. I have even—please don’t tell anyone—occasionally gone so far as to order a meal from the senior menu. I don’t do it easily, though; there’s always an inner dialog first. It goes something like this:

Inner Voice A (the frugal one): “The senior menu is cheaper.”
Inner Voice B (the health-conscious one): “The smaller portion on the senior menu has fewer calories.”
Inner Voice C (the logical, practical one): “Why don’t they just include those smaller-portion meals on the regular menu? Lots of younger people would probably like to order them.”
Inner Voice D (the one who’s the real me): “Chronological age be damned. I am not now, I never have been, and I never, ever, ever will be old enough to order off the senior menu.”

Most of the time, I end up listening to Inner Voice D. But at least I don’t let her slam her hand on the table and shout at the waitress.

Categories: Food and Drink | Tags: , | 3 Comments

And the Beet Goes On . . .

Last month, on the NPR program “Here and Now,” a chef named Kathy Gunst gave one of the most effective sales presentations I’ve ever heard. About beets. I was listening in the car, and by the time she was finished with a 10-minute interview, I was ready to drive straight to Safeway, buy a bunch of beets, take them home and cook them.

In spite of two facts: a), I’m really not excited about beets, and b), I’m definitely not excited about cooking.

How did she get me so excited about a fat red vegetable I don’t even care about? She used six tools to create an unbeetable way to sell an idea. Here’s how she did it:

Stay UpBeet. I don’t care much for beets, but Kathy obviously does. Her enthusiasm about them was genuine. The energy she gave off was contagious and let even a lukewarm beet-eater like me “Catch the Beet.”

Beet Your Own Drum. Not once during the program did I hear Kathy say “you should” or “you need.” She didn’t tell us that we ought to like beets or why; she just talked about what she liked about them.

Lay Down a Beautiful Beet. This was radio, remember. All she had to work with was words. And yet she used words to appeal not just to our ears, but to all our senses. She described the flavor and texture of beets in specific terms and made them sound delicious. She talked about the different colors of beets—not just red, but orange and yellow and white. She described slices of the different colors arranged on a platter so vividly that I could see it.

Don’t Beet Around the Bush. Kathy was direct and clear when she talked about the nutritional value of beets. They contain B vitamins, fiber, folates, anti-oxidants, and all sorts of other stuff that’s good for us. She gave us the basics in a way that was easy to understand and remember.

Keep a Simple Beet. On the rare occasions that I catch part of a cooking show, I am usually daunted by their elaborate recipes and complicated processes. Half the time they use ingredients I’ve never heard of, can’t spell, or have no idea how to pronounce. Instead, Kathy made cooking beets seem easy. Just roast them—which is simple and also keeps in the nutrients and enhances the flavor. Even better, it makes them easy to peel. Just put on disposable plastic gloves or stick your hand inside a plastic bag and rub the skin off. No mess, no staining, no sweat. She made it sound so easy even I could do it.

Know How Long to Let the Beet Go On. Kathy was brisk and packed a lot of information into her presentation. She focused on the right sized bite for the time she had. She said her say and then Beat It. She didn’t let the Beet Go On, and On, and On.

Since this presentation was so effective, did it work for me? Well, sort of. Even though I was tempted, I didn’t drive to the grocery store and buy some beets. However, I did get excited enough to look them up.

And Kathy wasn’t kidding about the health benefits. Beets are great food. In fact, according to one account I found, they might even be great medicine.

In a small rural hospital in Siberia, during a blizzard, a doctor had to do emergency open-heart surgery on a middle-aged man. The surgery went well, but the man needed blood transfusions and the hospital’s supply of blood was gone. Blood donors couldn’t get to the hospital because of the storm. The doctor took blood from every possible donor on the hospital staff, including himself. It still wasn’t enough. At last, in desperation, the doctor caught sight of an orderly going past the OR with a food cart. On it were bowls of borscht—beet soup. The doctor knew his patient was close to death. There was nothing to lose. He grabbed the food cart, hooked up an IV, and transfused the patient with borscht.

Miraculously, the man started to recover. After a week in the hospital, he went home, and he has gone on to lead a healthy, active life. He has just one small problem.

Every now and then, his heart skips a beet.

Categories: Food and Drink | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Missing the Point

Maybe I’m merely grumpy, or out of touch with mainstream reality, but sometimes I just don’t get the point. Things that seem to make sense to the majority of people just don’t make sense to me. Such as:

Deliberately enhancing bookshelves with careful arrangements of books in which some are standing upright, some are lying flat, and some are merely props for other decorative objects. Our bookshelves pretty much always look like that, but somehow the overall effect is crammed instead of ornamental. Possibly that’s because random rocks, misplaced pens, or dangerous items temporarily placed out of reach of toddlers don’t qualify as “decorative objects.”

Appetizers. I’ve never seen the logic of inviting people over for a special meal, which someone goes to considerable trouble to plan and shop for and prepare, and then filling them up with something generic like crackers or chips and dip before they even get to the table. It seems almost insulting to the cook. Unless the whole point is to dull the guests’ appetites. Maybe the host hopes to get by with smaller servings of an expensive main course, or hopes guests might be too full for dessert so there will be some leftover pie for breakfast the next day. But in that case, shouldn’t they really be called “disappetizers” or “unappetizers?”

White chocolate. True, it has cocoa butter in it. But that just means it contains all of the fat from the cocoa bean but none of the good stuff that makes chocolate taste so delicious. And, even more important, it doesn’t have any of the antioxidant ingredients that allow chocolate lovers to claim that eating the stuff is good for us. Besides, it doesn’t look like chocolate or taste like chocolate. Adding cocoa butter to a piece of white candy doesn’t make it chocolate, any more than putting butter on a piece of toast makes it a milk shake.

Formal wear. Why is the appropriate attire for formal occasions shoulder-baring dresses for women but long-sleeved jackets over long-sleeved shirts for men? It only makes sense if you think like a slightly warped statistician. If half the people in a room are too hot and the other half are too cold, then I guess that averages out to “comfortable.”

Piles of pillows on beds or couches. If you’re spending the night in a friend’s nice guest room—one where everything actually matches and no odd piles of random stuff are stored under the bed—it doesn’t feel right to dump the extra seven color-coordinated pillows on the floor in the corner. But what else are you supposed to do with them in order to clear enough space so you can actually sleep in the bed? As for couches, a couple of pillows on your own couch may be handy to loll on while you read or to prop up your tired feet. A carefully arranged collection of them in someone else’s living room is a different story. There you’re left little choice but to perch on the edge of the couch like an eager proselytizing missionary or a patient waiting in the dentist’s office who is ready to bolt.

High-heeled shoes with long, pointy toes that: a) were designed with no reference whatsoever to the actual shape of the human foot; b) can only be walked in by trained athletes with good health insurance; and c) make your feet look three sizes larger.

Sometimes, I feel like the philosophy student who sat down to take a final exam, only to discover his No. 2 pencil was broken. He said, “Now I understand–there is no point!”

Categories: Odds and Ends | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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