Monday, July 25, 2011

Of Friends, Food, Bullies, and Vita-Rays

Big week here at the Nest. As you may know from my other blog (click here), I have a friend who is going through some bad times just now, of the hospital variety.  Part of the way I dealt with the shock and sadness this last week involved developing a near automatic pilot path to the local Dairy Queen.  (No kidding - they know me now.)  So part of this week is devoted to getting back into the better habits I had been developing.  There are plenty of better and more productive things I can do for my friend instead of wallowing in the self-pitying Blizzard of Despair.  Besides, a few days of that sort of thing just doesn't feel as good as it used to.  Please keep my friend and her family in your thoughts - this is going to be rough road.

In other news, I finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and while I'm not quite ready to go as hard-core locavore as her family did, I'm thinking about trying a few things.  Putting up tomatoes, for example, and maybe (just maybe) trying my hand at making mozzarella.  We'll see.  Great book, by the way and it points up the hidden cost of buying out of season (like asparagus in July, which I am guilty of snatching up).

Have you seen Captain America yet?  If so, wasn't it great?  If not, why not?  Seriously - I've got my cred as a comic geek and this is quite likely the best superhero movie I've seen.  Period.  And I'll admit to going in with a few misgivings.  Cap is hard to get right - it's too easy to make him either too gung-ho, "my country right or wrong" or just pitifully naive - and if they get this wrong, next summer's Avengers movie is going to be hard to get right, since Cap is the heart of that team.  For me, they walked a fine line and balanced the story beautifully.  It's amazing what filmmakers can do once they understand that it's about the story, not the whizz-bang stuff.  It was a smart move to approach this as an origin story - you not only get great villains (who aren't Nazis, but are so evil that they believe that the Nazis are just wusses who refuse to aim high enough), but you get a "just war" against a clear-cut enemy.  This Cap is loaded with pluck, courage, and a finely-tuned moral compass - he's not out to "kill anybody.  I just don't like bullies."  It also comes with an amazing cast, including Hugo Weaving (who totally sells the Red Skull character) and Stanley Tucci.  There's even a woman (Peggy Carter, played by Hayley Atwell) who isn't flailing eye candy.  Go.  Be sure to stay through the very end of the credits - there's an "Easter egg" in there for you.

FryDaddy and I were part of a ceremony yesterday to officially become Ramona's god-parents.  Yep, when she gets a little older and thinks her parents, Victorian Marxist and Barefoot, just don't understand her and why it's so crucial to her high school career to pierce her nose or some other bit of teenage rebellion, she's supposed to come running to us.  We plan to offer a listening ear, an open door and a promise to never, ever take her parents' side "just because."  I further solemnly promise to never tell her how pretty she'd look "if only you'd get that hair out of your face."  But it's so much more than that - it's being there for her when she rubs up against the sharp edges of life and trying to set a good example by right living.  It's showing her how spirituality can make life's inevitable sharp edges more bearable and teaching her that not everyone walks the same path.  It's spending time with her and showing her that she's interesting and valuable and deserves respect and consideration.  (It's also sitting through iCarly re-runs and [this weekend] taking her to Winnie-the-Pooh).  It's meeting her for lunch at school and hearing about gymnastics practice.  It's a humbling experience to realize that we're being asked to take on such a role in a little girl's life and that her parents feel we're up to it.

Big week, as I said.  Oddly enough, I think it all ties back to Cap.  Yes, Captain America is a "super soldier" who's been altered by a top-secret serum.  But, as the film points out, really what that stuff does is just amplify what's already there.  A good man becomes great.  Whether we're trying to make sense of the random "gotchas" of the world or growing a garden or trying to help raise an amazing child - aren't we all just doing the best we can?  Or maybe we're not quite reaching that potential.  Cap knows what the right thing to do is - what separates him from most of us is that he then does it.  We don't have Vita-Rays to enhance our natural abilities or a fancy-schmancy vibranium shield, but we can write our representatives to say, "Hey, this is important to me and I'm watching."  We can speak up when we see unkindness.  We can take a few minutes to drop off used clothing to places that'll get it to those who need it.  Kids are going to dress up as Cap this Halloween, and that's good, but wouldn't it be great to start acting like him as well?

He's the Captain, but we're America.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Essay Writing Time!

There is a time-honored back-to-school writing assignment that involves students writing a stilted essay about "What I Did During My Summer Vacation."  Interestingly, I was never assigned this essay and I'm not sure how I missed it - probably the same way that I missed reading certain pieces of classic literature as part of the curriculum.  (Really, the holes in my "what I've read" list are pretty appalling.)  So since I'm wrapping up my summer vacation, I thought it might be interesting to sketch out what I might write about, in the event that I am assigned to do so.

Let's see . . .

1.  Strolling through downtown Charlotte on a Sunday afternoon and discovering a lovely green space smack-dab downtown that is just crammed with whimsical book themed decor.  It goes perfectly with the "Firebird" (not "Freebird") statue outside the Bechtler Museum.  I hope to return soon.
2.  I finished a frothy, brain-candy sort of book.  The Temptation of the Night Jasmine is a perfect "beach read."  Simple plot, easy to pick up and put down without getting muddled about who was doing what to whom.  Still, not a re-read and I'll soon pack it up to go to the used book store for a credit.  Speaking of which -
3.  Picking up "new" used books at our secret stash store.  Frank runs a combo used bookstore/movie rental joint down at the beach that we always hit.  Seriously - we included a line item called "Frank's" on our honeymoon budget.  Naturally, there are a lot of popular "beach read" paperbacks (Stephen King, J.D. Robb, etc.), but also some real gems, including some lovely leatherbounds.  If you're ever vacationing in the upper end of the Grand Strand (aka the "Redneck Riviera"), drop by.
4.  Movies!  I caught up on two classics - I hadn't seen Dr. Strangelove probably since my halcyon college days and I watched a Tracy/Hepburn I hadn't seen before.  Desk Set is cute enough, but not a must-see.  Fun office comedy about the early "computing machines" taking over the research department of some unnamed company.  IBM is mentioned both prominently and often.  Also saw Me and Orson Welles (excellent and be on the lookout for Christian McKay.  Oh, Orson - how hard you were on those who loved you) and Inside Joba documentary that will get you fired up about the Great Meltdown of 2008 and how business as usual continues to be business as usual.
5.  Being fired up and all, I wrote my Congressional representative (who often behaves as an illogical troll, but I have hope) and both Senators urging them to consider the big picture on the debt ceiling mess.  Just maybe it won't just be business as usual - and I raised my voice to make it known.
6.  Starting Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and getting some solid ideas about how to become a little bit more of a "locavore."  The Kingsolver family went hard-core, but smaller steps could be taken.  (I'm toying with the idea of making cheese.  Don't call me Heidi.)  And did you know that Federal standards are stricter for tap water than they are for bottled?  Hmmm.
7.  Taking another hike.  This time, I took a shorter trail (1.7 miles one way), but it's rated as being "strenuous."  You don't say!  I was sucking wind like - well, like something that sucks wind, but I made it up to the top!  The views were stupendous - and yes, the final climb is somewhat after the sign that's posted.  Idiots will insist on getting too close to sheer drops and ruining it for those of us with the sense God gave geese.
8.  Eating lots and lots of tempting (read "junk") food during this last week.  Yum, Krispy Kreme.  Yum, ice cream.  Repeat as needed.  It's back to the "good stuff" tomorrow (which isn't bad at all - I refuse to do some wacky diet of twigs and grubs), but it's been great fun to be off my leash for a bit.
9.  Seeing the pack after being away for a few days.  Spooky and Pip continue to get along beautifully, to the point of Spooky settling herself carefully down in her crate to avoid smushing the curled-up kitty who is contentedly snoring in the back of said crate.
10. Having Sunday brunch with my husband and mother-in-law.  Usually it's just FryDaddy and Mom Squared, but this time I got to join in.  It's lovely to be married into a family that you genuinely like and enjoy being around.
11. (Yes, this list goes to eleven. No exploding drummer, though, I promise)  Finally seeing what all the fuss about Breaking Bad is about.  Although I'm not caught up with the entire series (by a long shot!), I now better understand the buzz.  The characters are three-dimensional (and that goes for both the so-called good guys and bad guys - it quite possibly may be the greyest show I've ever seen), the storylines are darkly plausible, and the filming itself deserves the word "cinematic."  Check it out, if you haven't already - but make sure the kiddies are safely in bed.

It really was relaxing, although you might not think so after reading that list!  Back into the breach tomorrow!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Great Outdoors!

It may be hard to believe nowadays, but I grew up as a major-league tomboy.*  My family kept horses (and I have a very fuzzy memory of riding in a wagon pulled by a mule) and it was made clear early on that yes, ponies are just about the neatest thing ever, but they come with chores.  If you're as tall as the pitchfork, you can use it.  We had a huge garden and I was known to duck out of the chore of picking beans by running for the magnolia tree.  (There were cornstalks to hide in when I was quite small, but people always look for you there.)  My mother grew up surrounded by the gentle mountains of southwestern Virginia and she instilled a love of hiking in me.  (Note that reads "hiking," as in the day variety.  I'm not such a fan of hard-core camping.  As much as I like the idea of through hiking the Appalachian Trail, it's not going to happen.)  I was nine when I first hiked the Alum Cave Trail at Mt. LeConte which is the third-highest peak in the Smokies and one day I plan to go back.

Yesterday was the first day in well more than a year that I've felt up to a real hike.  Since I hurt my ankle a year ago, there's been very little of that.  Even on the rare occasion when I went to a state park (and yes, there's now an app for that!), I stayed on the flat.  FryDaddy had an appointment in Charlotte yesterday, so I had some free time and, with my recent forays into exercise of both the cardio and weight-bearing varieties, I thought I could handle a "moderate" trail.

Well, success is rarely ever total in science.  Or hiking.

As the picture at the top of the post indicates, I made it a mile and a half in (which means a mile and a half out, for a total of three miles) before I turned around.  Still, it was glorious.  Hot as blazes, with very little breeze, so I was soaked through.  There was no "glistening" or "glowing" which are the Southern euphemisms for female perspiration - I was a sweaty, happy mess.  But a few lessons are here to be learned - I got one and two right, but the rest - well, not so much:

  • Know your limits.  While I hated "giving up," I wasn't physically ready to handle the full length of that trail.  It's better to turn around than to be the focus of a search and rescue mission.
  • Take plenty of water and a few snacks.  You get hungry quickly and you sure don't want to drink from a trail stream in these days.
  • Don't hike alone.  Take a buddy - things happen out there.  Not often, but when they do being alone is a short cut to trouble.
  • If you're too stubborn to listen to Point Three, at least check in at the ranger station and tell them where you're going and how long you'll be out.  Then check back in when you return.
I'm back off to the gym today, but there's something about a gritty, uneven, roots-grabbing-at-your-shoes, Carolina-red-mud-covered trail that can't be duplicated in a shiny gym.  I'll be back!

*I still insist that I'm a low-maintenance woman.  It's perfectly okay in my book to own (and use!) both hiking boots and a decent moisturizer.  Hopefully, you'll never catch me hiking in flip-flops (yes, I saw it yesterday) and false eyelashes (which I've never worn and am pretty sure would make me look like a hungover lemur).

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Clattering in the Kitchen

Today, FryDaddy and I began tackling a project that we'd been guilty of Talking Big about for over a year.  While we're not quite done yet, we made a solid start and I'd say we're about halfway through the project.  It's his fault, really.  After all, he's a foot taller than I am and really - what am I supposed to do about that?  So we'd always said we'd rearrange the kitchen and get things better organized.  See, I enjoy cooking (and even baking, when that sugar-coated bug bites), but I've always been pretty indifferent about just where I put pots and pans and such things.  (Note to self - this is how you wind up with not one, but three pasta measuring thingies that you never, ever use.)  FryDaddy, on the other hand, takes cooking more seriously than I do - I'm one of those who has about a dozen recipes that I can whip up on short notice without a cookbook and thinks that cookbooks are, well, neat but hardly necessary while he can read over one and look up suddenly with a gleam in his eye and in two days, we're eating duck.  Or paella.  Or Cornish game hens.

It could have been a tedious chore.  We had a good idea of what was going where, but you still have to empty everything out, clean the shelf liner (which was beyond disreputable), then reassemble everything.  As is true in nearly everything short of a murder investigation, a sense of humor and a kickin' soundtrack helps.  Skillets, along with pans for both sauce and saute, now hang jauntily from a rack installed over the kitchen window. (Alas, we didn't have the right pots to make the good ship Serenity a la Dr. Horrible.)  We're halfway through the kitchen and have hauled one big box to Goodwill already, with another ready to go.  And let us not speak of the items that wound up in the trash.  Really - go through your kitchen junk drawer and I can almost guarantee you'll have at least two moments of "Why do we have this?"  "Dunno.  What is it, exactly?"  Take my word for it - smile at each other, shrug, and toss.

Tomorrow is Independence Day.  I won't make the tired joke about how we're "declaring our independence from kitchen clutter."  This is just a task that very much needed to be done and we're right pleased with the results so far.  But we will observe the holiday - I urge you to as well.  Fly the flag, go see a small-town parade, marvel at fireworks and, by all means, read the Declaration of Independence.  Good stuff there and most folks have never actually read the thing.  Some of the best minds of the Enlightenment had a hand in Jefferson's masterwork and they weren't slouches.  (By the way, Jefferson's grave marker mentions the Declaration, along with his work in founding the University of Virginia, but fails to mention his service as President.  Hmmm.)