Author Archives: Kathleen Fox

Cool Dudes and Cooler Dads

A quiet summer evening, the Safeway parking lot, a family heading to their car with a few groceries. Mom was walking beside a child who looked about five, holding the hand of another little one who might have been two or three. Dad, behind them, had an even littler kid up on his shoulders.

And Dad was skipping. The toddler, held safely on top of the world in his father’s firm hands, with his own fists full of Dad’s hair by way of insurance, bounced high with every skip and giggled with glee. No one, seeing this, could help but smile.

Well, almost no one. Coming after this happy pair was one more child, a boy of around ten. He was slouching along several steps behind, looking down, with his cap pulled down over his face. Everything about his posture said he was doing his best to pretend the rest of the family had nothing to do with him. You could practically hear him thinking, “I can’t believe this. My dad is skipping. In the parking lot at Safeway, in front of everybody in the whole wide world. Please, please, please, don’t let any of my friends see this.”

Back when Dad was 19 or 20, he might have felt the same way. He probably couldn’t imagine his future self doing something so undignified and so uncool.

Several children later, he knows better. It will be a while yet before the embarrassed older brother appreciates the value of the lesson his dad was demonstrating there in the parking lot. That good fathers care more about getting shrieks of delight from their children than about whether they look cool to strangers.

Categories: Family | 1 Comment

Just Don’t Call Me Late for Dinner

“You were born just in time for supper, and you haven’t missed a meal since.”

My mother told me that once, when we were talking about the births of our children and I asked her what time I had arrived.

I assumed the “haven’t missed a meal” part referred to my appetite. I am neither a glutton nor a gourmand, but I do like to know where my next meal is coming from. I much prefer my meals to show up reliably and regularly, even when I provide them myself. The people around me prefer this, too, since I tend to get just a teeny, tiny bit irritable if it’s 15 minutes or so past mealtime and I haven’t been fed yet. By 30 minutes or so past mealtime, I develop a headache and get shaky, and the people around me tend to get nervous. I would blame this on hypoglycemia if I were more sure of how to spell it.

It makes no sense to me that some people routinely skip breakfast or get so busy that they forget to eat. I never miss a meal myself except in extreme circumstances, such as serious illness or the unreasonable demands of medical professionals.

I was not happy this morning, for instance, that my blood work—my fasting blood work—for a routine checkup was scheduled at the outrageous hour of 8:30 a.m. When you regularly wake up at 5:00 or 5:30, that’s practically the middle of the morning. By the time I got out of the clinic at 8:52, I had a serious headache. My hand was shaking so much that I had trouble peeling the banana I had stashed in my purse. On the bright side, at least I had neither passed out nor been actively rude to anybody.

Back in my own kitchen a few minutes later, savoring the aroma of brewing coffee and waiting for the toast to pop up, I summoned up enough grace for gratitude. Gratitude that, in my world, hunger is an occasional inconvenience and not a chronic condition. Gratitude that I consistently know where my next meal is coming from. Gratitude that I have the means not only to feed myself but to give to those who can’t.

And gratitude for my mother, whose teasing about my “never missing a meal” I suddenly understood in a different way. Members of my family didn’t miss meals. We didn’t have to, because of her. She put nutritious, tasty food on the table three times a day, every day. Even though she didn’t especially enjoy cooking. Even when there wasn’t much to cook with. Even though cooking “from scratch” often included canning or freezing the vegetables, gathering the eggs (after raising the hens who laid them), and butchering the chickens. She did this, day in and day out, for decades.

No wonder I developed the habit of relying on regular meals. It’s the way I was raised.

Categories: Family, Food and Drink | Leave a comment

Regular or Extra Steamy?

Warning: You may find some material in this post tacky and inappropriate. However, it would be unfair to label it as poor taste.
Apparently this is not a joke from KFC. A spoof, maybe, but according to a story in USA Today, it’s a genuine marketing gimmick. You might even call it a bodice ripoff. Colonel Sanders, the white-bearded icon of fried chicken, is the newly-muscled hero of a romance novella that the restaurant chain is giving away as a promotion for Mother’s Day.

How nice. There’s no sweeter way for a mother to be honored on her special day than to be presented with a racy book while having dinner with her children.

All that aside, what caught my attention was the title of this book: Tender Wings of Desire. It’s romantic and sensual, delicately evoking both the erotic and the culinary. If this is successful, it surely will inspire other fast-food restaurants to serve up their own sizzling sides of romance. Their various specialties and slogans offer a broad menu of alluring potential for delicious titles.

 

McDonalds: Love with a Side of Fries. Supersized With Special Sauce. A series featuring “Big Mac” is just waiting to be written.

Dairy Queen: Love in the Heart of a Blizzard, Soft Servings of Desire, Parfait Love.

Burger King: Whopping Love. Even better, if the King and the Queen got together, you could have possibilities like Frozen Flaming Love and Crowned With Delight.

Taco Bell: A Double Wrap of Delight. Sorry, but the protective people at PETA wouldn’t like What the Chihuahua Saw.

Little Caesars: Hot and Ready for Love.

Subway: Foot Long, Fast and Fresh.

Of course, once the imagination starts mixing racy romance and fast food, it doesn’t take long to venture into a kitchen that’s much too hot. Some restaurant names need no embellishment at all: Hardees, for example. Long John Silver’s. In-N-Out Burger.

Once you have possibilities like that handed to you on a steamy platter, there is simply nothing more to say. Except possibly, “Would you like fries with that?”

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

DIY Distressed Denim

Of the many oddities of fashion that make no sense to me, one of the most bizarre—right up there with four-inch stiletto heels and neckties—is ripped jeans. Not the grubby old ones you wear for cleaning the garage or gardening, but the oh-so-fashionable ones you can buy already strategically shredded.

Even though they may look like they came from the “Free” bin at the thrift store, these pre-torn jeans actually cost more than ordinary jeans with all their parts intact. If you want fashionably ventilated bottoms, it’s going to cost you top dollar.

No worries, though. You can save a bundle by distressing your denim yourself. I know this, because the other day I noticed a video on “how to rip your jeans yourself.”

I saw no need to watch the video, not having any interest in deliberately causing harm to a perfectly good pair of pants. Besides, I have years of experience in ripping my own jeans and observing the ways other people rip theirs. Here are some of the proven methods you might try:

1. Climb through a barbed-wire fence that is just a little higher than your legs are long or just a little narrower than other parts of your anatomy are wide.

2. Catch the pocket or belt loop on a door handle or some other protruding object.

3. Have an unexpected encounter with a fish hook. (Note: it’s not strictly necessary for the hook to be attached to a line or in use for actual fishing at the time.)

4. Trip over a sharp-ended stick that was hidden in the grass.

5. Wreck your bicycle.

6. Stumble, fall, and slide down a steep rocky hiking trail. Depending on the sharpness of the rocks, ten to twenty feet ought to do it.

7. Annoy the cat once too often.

8. Play a little too energetically with the puppy.

9. Spend a summer afternoon sliding down the concrete spillway at Canyon Lake Dam. This is especially effective for cut-off jeans. Hint: it’s a good idea to wear underwear that is decent but not necessarily your favorite.

10. Have an “oops” moment with the hedge trimmer, or for real efficiency, the chainsaw.

Just like other instructions, these do come with some warnings about care, maintenance, and safety:

A. Don’t take the mangled jeans to your mother or wife and ask her plaintively if she can fix them so the tear won’t show. Especially if the jeans are ones she bought for you within, say, the past week.

B. Before wearing the self-shredded jeans, soak and then wash them in cold water to remove any blood.

C. It may be wise to delay wearing the newly fashionable jeans until any incidental distress to your skin has healed, depending on the location and extent of any bandages, scabs, or stitches.

If all this seems like too much trouble, you might try another time-tested method. It takes longer but is guaranteed to get results. It’s simple:

Wear jeans. Work in jeans. Play in jeans. Wash jeans. Repeat as needed.

Categories: Fashion | 2 Comments

Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet

I blew up the planet today. Twice, actually.

Oh, wait—maybe I’m not supposed to say things like that on the Internet? Let me clarify.

For the past couple of years the shower curtain in our main bathroom has been a world map. It’s been quite useful for things like finding Madagascar, checking the spelling of Namibia, or looking up answers to crossword puzzle clues like “the capital of Eritrea.” But it has its limitations.

For one thing, it’s flat, which means the sizes of land masses near the top and bottom are distorted. I don’t mind Canada or Greenland seeming bigger than they really are, but I’m not sure the wide expanse of Russia needs to loom any larger than it is in reality. And if Antarctica is really the size the shower curtain seems to think it is, I’m not sure why we need to be concerned about global warming.

Besides, the printing on the shower curtain isn’t precisely aligned, which can be disorienting. I do know that the U.S. state labeled “Kansas” is really Oklahoma, but I’m a little confused to see that Cape Town appears to be located out in the ocean about half an inch southwest of the coast of Africa.

What I really wanted was a globe. But not, cool as it might be, a traditional classroom type spin-with-your-finger globe on a stand. It would take up too much space, for one thing. And it would be too permanent. Stuff happens: nations rename themselves, divided countries reunite, united countries separate, national borders change. For someone who ignored geography in school because it was so boring, I’m already confused enough without relying on an out-of-date globe.

The solution, found after a quick online search, was a relatively cheap, readily replaceable, and reliably spherical inflatable globe. Sixteen inches in diameter—big enough to be readable but small enough not to need its own room. I ordered several. Pre-inflation, they would be easy to mail to distant grandkids who might be more geographically curious than I was at their ages.

The trouble with an inflatable globe, of course, is that you have to inflate it. Here are some of the things one can learn in that process.

1. Read the directions carefully. Otherwise you might not know to “blow into valve with mouth only.”

2. There’s nothing quite like the smell of a freshly-unpackaged plastic object. Except the taste of a freshly-unpackaged plastic object.

3. If, theoretically speaking, you’re blowing into the valve of a big plastic ball and you happen to lose your grip on the stem, a partially inflated globe jet-propelled by escaping air might shoot around the room in an erratic frenzy until it collapses. This is not necessarily to be taken as a commentary on the current state of world affairs.

4. When, after industrious effort, you hold the world in both hands, with your left thumb on California and your right thumb on Zambia, you realize it’s smaller than you expected and looks to be in need of respectful handling.

Fortunately, this globe came with instructions for proper care and maintenance. Such as: Avoid contact with hot or sharp objects. Do not attempt to remove every wrinkle. And be aware that, with too much hot air, it “can become defect.”

Not bad advice for a small and fragile planet.

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Adventure Travel

Last month I spent two delightful weeks in New Zealand. One of things I discovered is that tourism there is designed for the adventurous. You’re invited to roar along rivers in jet boats, bicycle up and down mountains, climb mountains, leap off of mountaintops with a parachute, bungee jump, ice-climb on glaciers, and hike on trails where signs warn you that rocks might fall down upon you at any moment.

I’d like to tell you more about one of those adrenaline-boosting choices. Join me in your imagination, and let me take you on an adventure.

First picture a deep, narrow gorge with a cold, fast-moving river at the bottom. Scared to death, you’re standing at one end of a bridge that spans this gorge. You take a deep breath and start walking onto the bridge. You glance down at the water—a big mistake, because you can see just how far down it is. You could change your mind and go back, but your friends are cheering you on and you don’t want them to think you’re a chicken.

At the middle of the bridge you are met by an athletic guy who, in an annoyingly cheerful and encouraging manner, fastens a harness around your ankles. You just hope all the cords and fasteners are as secure as he reassures you they are. You do your best to listen carefully to his instructions, but you’re so nervous you can hardly comprehend them.

Finally, when he seems to think you’re ready and you can’t think of any reason you aren’t, he opens a gate. You step out onto a platform at the edge of the bridge. You gulp. You gasp in one last deep breath and squeeze your eyes shut. Just before the annoying guy has to push you off, you jump.

You plunge headfirst toward the water. You’re falling so fast you can’t breathe, and at the same time everything is in slow motion so it feels as if you fall, and fall, and fall for a long, long time.

At last you hit the end of the bungee cord. It isn’t the whiplash jerk you were expecting, but your head feels thumped, and your stomach tries to push itself into your throat, and there’s an endless spine-stretching moment when the rope starts pulling you up while gravity is still pulling you down.

You bounce back up, then down again, then back up and down, at the same time swinging forward and backward like a human pendulum. You open your eyes, then quickly shut them again because the upside-down view of the world makes you dizzy. Your heart is pounding so hard you can feel it in your ears. Your upended lungs feel so squashed that you can’t get enough air.

What seems like hours later, the swinging slows and stops, leaving you dangling at the end of the line with your arms hanging. The blood rushing toward your head makes your brain feel too big for your skull.

Then something grabs one of your limp arms. The pickup team in their little inflatable boat has reached you. They haul you in and undo your harness. You collapse in the bottom of the boat, shaking all over. You feel a strong urge to curl up into a ball and burst into tears.

From what sounds like a long ways away, you can hear your friends cheering. You’ve done a bungee jump, and you might even live to tell the tale.

That’s our adventure. It’s finished; please take a deep breath. We’re all okay, except that I need to explain something.

I have no idea if this description is accurate, because I made it up. I didn’t—wouldn’t—couldn’t—ever jump off of that bridge. Just watching other people bungee jump was more than enough adrenaline rush for me. I don’t have the kind of physical daring for stuff like that. Or the disregard for my well-being. In fact, I secretly suspect that bungee jumping was invented by a cabal of chiropractors and massage therapists as a way to increase their clientele.

I didn’t try parasailing, either. Mountain climbing? Forget it. Glacier climbing? Not a chance. Jet boats? No, thanks. Though I did hike a couple of trails where signs warned me that rocks might fall down upon me at any moment.

I also stood with one foot on each side of a spot that is adventurous in a way that thrilled the geologists in our group: the Alpine Fault. The Pacific and Australian tectonic plates meet and slide past each other at this fault, which extends through much of New Zealand and where earthquakes can and do happen regularly. None did while we were on the spot. I was grateful.

Otherwise, our group explored spectacular landscapes: Sharp-edged young mountains carved by glaciers. Dry rocky hills pockmarked with old gold mines. Thriving farmlands fenced with trees sharply trimmed into tall hedges. Rain forests so green and lush that it felt as if lingering over a picnic would put you at risk of being covered with moss like everything else in sight.

We also learned a bit about the history and culture of this fascinating land, from the Maori who arrived first to the various Europeans who came later. We discovered why flightless birds probably evolved that way (predators in the sky but not on the ground) and that several of them, including the country’s iconic kiwi, had to be brought back from near extinction after predators like the stoat were introduced. I learned that the New Zealand accent is much easier to appreciate than to imitate.

Along the way, I was reminded that for me, the adventure of travel isn’t a physical one. I don’t need the adrenaline rush of stepping out of my physical comfort zone. It’s more interesting—and quite exciting enough, thank you—to venture out of my emotional comfort zone.

That kind of adventure travel involves having the conversations that help me learn a little bit about other places, other cultures, and other people. It requires me to be both a curious and a courteous visitor. And perhaps most important, it means keeping one thing in mind: I’m among people whose landscapes seem exotic and whose pronunciation seems strange to me. At the same time, they might be seeing me as someone who comes from an odd place and talks funny.

Categories: Living Consciously, Travel | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Digesting Everything I Needed To Know

Robert Fulghum may have learned everything he needed to know in kindergarten, but I didn’t. Possibly because I never went to kindergarten.

But I did learn, not quite everything I needed to know, but a lot of useful and interesting stuff from Reader’s Digest.

In a household where both parents and all four daughters were avid readers, there was a lot of competition for the fat little magazine when it showed up in the mail every month. My memory is that it often had the bad timing to arrive on housecleaning days, which meant Mother would stash it somewhere until the work was done. There it sat on top of the fridge, out of sight but not out of mind, its unread jokes and stories a distracting temptation while we vacuumed and dusted. It was a strong incentive to be the first one to finish, of course—though, oddly enough, quite often the person who got to it first was Mother.

Reader’s Digest was a predictable mix of material that was mostly condensed and republished: a long excerpt from a nonfiction book, at least one story of a dramatic rescue or recovery, short pieces of insight and observation, and, of course, the jokes scattered throughout the pages like chocolate chips in the cookie.

I read the whole thing. It’s a bit surprising, all these years later, how many things I remember. (None of which I can think of right this minute, but I could call you later when they surface in my brain. Would two a.m. be convenient?)

I do recall the awfulness of one story about a girl who was about 11 or 12 (close to my own age at the time) and dying of leukemia. During her last days in the hospital, her parents told her if there was anything she wanted, they would do whatever they could to get it for her. She had just one wish: to see her brothers and sisters one last time. But hospitals then didn’t allow kids under the age of 14 to visit, and rules were rules. As I remember it, the parents didn’t even ask. The best they could do was sneak the oldest sister in for an illicit visit. The unkindness and unfairness of that sad story made me angry at the time. It still does.

As an adult, I continued to subscribe to Reader’s Digest for years. While its formula didn’t vary much, the content did evolve over the years as society changed. This was brought home to me once when I bought a box of books at a garage sale. In it was an aging little paperback of “Playboy Party Jokes.” I opened it, prepared to be suitably shocked. But the book was even older than it looked; I had already read most of the jokes in Reader’s Digest.

One of my high school teachers warned us not to use Reader’s Digest as a source for any assignments. Always go back to the full version of an article wherever it was originally published, he said, because “they chop off the ending to make room for all the jokes at the bottom of the pages.”

This was sound enough advice as far as it went, but even as a teenager I knew he was mistaken about the editing process. The Reader’s Digest editors may have made lots of cuts, but they used their red pencils more like scalpels than hatchets. It’s an example I try to follow as an editor myself. Possibly some of my current or former clients may disagree. Unfortunately, their comments had to be deleted due to lack of space.

Categories: Just For Fun, Living Consciously | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Lighting Up the Neighborhood

Christmas lights, for me, are like beautifully wrapped gifts or elaborate holiday cookies and meals: I’m not up for doing them myself, but I’m happy to enjoy the results of other people’s labors. After all, somebody has to be the appreciative audience.

The lights on some houses in our neighborhood are familiar year after year. There’s the one with a waterfall of tiny white lights along the eaves, the one with a little train that appears to be moving, and the one with several lighted reindeer who often provide a glowing backdrop to evening meals for their living cousins.

One nearby house on a major street used to get more elaborate every year, highlighting every horizontal or vertical line on their house, draping lights over every tree and shrub, stringing lights and ribbon the length of the fence, and filling the large yard with lighted reindeer and artificial trees. Then one fall the yard was decorated with a “For Sale” sign, and now the new owners merely put one line of lights along the roof. My theory is that the previous owners decided to sell because they just couldn’t keep up with their own Christmas-lighting reputation. I imagine them now, having sold all their decorations at a garage sale, living happily on a dark, inconspicuous dead-end street.

One yard features a small light-draped bush and a slender sapling with lights wrapped around its trunk and several large flashing snowflakes in its dainty branches. This is quite attractive from one direction. If you approach from the other side, though, an unfortunate alignment of shrubbery means you see what appears to be a lighted reindeer whose head, no doubt whirling with the pressure of getting all around the globe in one night, is about to explode.

My favorite light display, however, isn’t the most spectacular or elaborate, but the one that makes me chuckle every year. Two thick bushes in the yard are simply decorated with strings of colored lights—arranged horizontally in precise, perfectly spaced, perfectly straight rows. I always imagine the homeowners out there doing their decorating with the help of a couple of rulers and a level. My inner perfectionist approves of the symmetry; my inner anarchist wants to sneak over there and impose some randomness.

And my inner underachiever is just grateful that our house isn’t very visible from the street, so we have a perfect excuse not to put up Christmas lights at all.

Categories: Odds and Ends | Tags: | 2 Comments

Thankful for Small Things

When it comes to being thankful, of course what matters most is family and friends—those wonderful (well, most of the time) people who make life such a joy (well, most of the time).

But I’m grateful for plenty of minor things, too. Such as:

Bathrobes. On a cold morning, nothing quite matches the cozy pleasure of slipping into a soft, fleecy robe that wraps you in warmth from chin to ankles. Then there are luxurious silky robes that make you feel like a Hollywood star from a lavishly costumed 1950’s movie. Cool cotton robes just right for summer mornings. Practical terrycloth robes. Given enough cash and closet space, I could easily become the Imelda Marcos of bathrobes.

The taste of a crisp slice of apple with peanut butter on it. And the fact that grocery stores now have so many scrumptious varieties of apples—Gala and Fuji and Honeycrisp and more—besides the Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and Granny Smiths I remember from childhood.

Peanut butter itself, for that matter. (Hint—try it in oatmeal.) Thank you, George Washington Carver.

Seeing deer in our yard. Sometimes, like this morning, it’s the flash of a white tail disappearing into the trees. Sometimes it’s a browsing mule deer that acknowledges us with the twitch of a big ear as we walk past, but who isn’t even concerned enough by our presence to stop chewing.

My African violets that bloom so beautifully year-round, in spite of the haphazard care that they get.

Colored pencils and calligraphy markers.

The washer and dryer right there in our very own laundry room.

Bad puns and wordplay. Such as the editor’s favorite breakfast, synonym rolls. Or the fish in schools who sometimes take debate. Or, perhaps appropriately to the season, the fact that the roundest knight at King Arthur’s round table was Sir Cumference. Who got that way, of course, from too much Pi.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Too Much Reality for Reality TV

What might happen if a TV reality show followed you around for a few weeks and filmed everything you did? Could your life compete for viewers with the lives of celebrities like the Kardashians?

If a reality show camera crew visited our house, here is what I imagine they might report back to the producer:

Do we have to follow her every day when she takes a walk? How come a woman with 17 grandchildren walks so fast? Easy for her to go marching along like she has a drill instructor inside her head—she doesn’t have to carry a camera. It’s a lot of work to lug this thing back and forth to get different shots. Not that there’s anything much different to film—once you’ve seen one deer or one flock of turkeys, you’ve pretty much seen them all.

And why do these people get up so early? He’s supposed to be retired, and she works at home, which as far as I can see means she sits in front of her computer and writes a few words now and then, in between playing solitaire and checking Facebook. It’s not like they have to beat rush hour traffic and get to work by 8:00 a.m. But there they are, all bright-eyed at 5:30 in the flipping morning. Today, I kid you not, they were lying in bed at 6:00 a.m. talking about what Shakespeare sounds like in the original Klingon! I mean, you can’t make this stuff up.

And the way they spend their evenings. Boooring. Mostly, he sits in his chair with his book and she sits on the couch with hers. Once in a while he reads bits out loud about people nobody’s ever heard of, like some old general named Marshall, I think it was. So that gives us five minutes of sound, at least. Otherwise, whoop-di-do. We’ve had to resort to close-ups of how fast her eyeballs move back and forth across the pages—I’ve never seen anybody read that fast. Sometimes they play some domino game called Mexican Train. But nobody cheats, nobody argues, nobody throws dominos when they lose. Where’s the conflict? Where’s the drama? Where’s the viewer interest?

When a couple of the grandkids came over, we thought we might have a chance for some conflict and maybe a temper tantrum or two. Not so much. Where’s the drama when she never tells them no? And let’s face it—little kids are cute, but you can only use so many shots of the expression on a one-year-old’s face when he eats a dill pickle. Besides pickles right out of the jar, she fed them peanut butter by the spoonful, so that at least gave us a little bit of “yuck factor” footage. But aren’t grandmas supposed to bake cookies? And if I have to listen to Hop on Pop one more time, I swear I’m going to throw this camera through the nearest window.

Last week they took a road trip. Hallelujah, we thought—finally, something to see. Fat chance. You know what passes for scenery across the whole western half of South Dakota? (We’re in South Dakota, right, not North Dakota?) Anyway, the “scenery” is prairie. All the way to the horizon. With pretty much nothing on it but cows. There’s a tree every mile or so, and you have to drive for miles and miles before you see what they call a “town.” What if you had car trouble out there? Who would you call? Ghost Town Busters?

But today was the last straw. She was actually cooking for a change, but at the same time she was dancing in the kitchen to Johnny Cash, twirling around and waving a sharp knife in time to the music. I think she was doing a polka. The Kardashians never did anything that embarrassing.

This is way too much reality to ever attract any viewers. Let’s go with Plan B. Have you heard back yet from that woman who trains boa constrictors as service animals?

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