Kitchen Mishaps

I blame my mother. I’ve written before about this truly amazing yet possibly deceptive chef I have for a mother. Trying desperately to duplicate her mouth-watering recipes is what surely brought the demon spawn down (or is that up?) into my humble abode. It’s okay though, he’s not so bad as far as demons go, and the cats seem to like him. I can’t quite catch what they’re saying, since they’ve been commiserating quietly in the corner since he poofed in (seemingly quite confused at this turn of events, I might add), but from the looks of it, he might be a long-lost relative.

And while I haven’t yet caught Mom out in her kitchen-y lies, I will. Oh, you can be sure, I will. Eventually.

 

 

Hacked… Like a Hairball

I don’t want to incriminate myself, but as someone of the feline persuasion, I can’t help but brag that this human is only here by the grace of… well, me. She doesn’t realize it yet, but she was thiisss close to, ahem, you know. But if she weren’t here, who would open the cans of tuna I so dearly love for snack time? Damn it all to hell. I tell you what though… as soon as I figure out the can opener, this servant is history. Hisssstory, I tell you!

 

Games and Thangs

As we continue to wallow in the joys of sheltering-in-place, many are turning to board games and the like to keep boredom at bay. Board games are a fantastic, usually low-tech solution to keeping us on our toes while having a little fun. Which got me thinking about board games past and present and in the end, I decided I had some thoughts to add to my previous Game Night. So here we are… lucky you.

Chemistry sets nowadays are cool, there’s no two ways about it. I’m pretty sure there isn’t a kid around who wouldn’t be stoked to receive a chemistry set for their birthday or as another holiday surprise. Even if it wasn’t their cup of tea, a rainy day a few months down the road would inevitably end up with the child popping open the box and seeing what crazy experiments await them. Even to this day, chemistry sets are a very unique gift. There is even one that you can purchase a subscription for, where you receive a package every month that comes with a variety of different experiments. It’s marketed to kids, but if I had the money, I’d totally be down for getting one for myself!

But if we’re talking phenomenal ways to maybe lose an eye… or a layer of skin, let’s discuss the chemistry sets that were around when I was a kid. Those were awesome, hands down.  Looking back, we just didn’t realize it at the time. No safety standards, protective eyewear, or warning labels in sight. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some plutonium, lithium, or uranium in there. But hey, you’re 10, No problem!  Here you go, just do your best to not set the house on fire or blow up the neighborhood please!

While on the topic of chemistry sets, I also remember an edible chemistry lab. My kids at one time or another have had this set. Probably not of their own devices, but as gifts. I believe it was called something like Dr. Dreadful’s lab. It was set up like the other, more traditional science experiment stations, but instead gave kids the means to mix weird fizzy green-color drinks and other gooey confections, that were 100% edible. Needless to say, speaking as an adult, the ingredients were incredibly disgusting, and if I remember correctly, the kids weren’t all that impressed either.

Now, Battleship was a game my brother and I played often. I’m not saying he cheated, but he did win an inordinate amount of times. We… I mean, he, cause it was his game and don’t you forget it, had the original game that came with two separate gaming stations that stored all of the respective pieces when they were closed. No computer to keep score, no electronics to add to the thrill, just us, the honor system (ha!), and our own special effects. I understand that the electronic version calls out, “You Sank My Battleship!” and it’s all fun and games.  All I had was my brother yelling: “I sank your battleship! Again! AGAIN! That’s the five hundredth time in a row now! Battleship… SUNK!” Oh yeah. Fun and games.

While both of my kids were living at home, we loved to play the card game UNO, and it was always a blast. We had (still have, in fact) the version that includes a machine that spits out a random number of cards – or none at all – when it’s your turn to push the button. It added to the heat of the game. I mean, you’d think you were just about to win and wham! Now you suddenly have 50 cards in your hand.

Like with most of our games, we never really played UNO by the rules, but instead we adopted our own series of house rules that we’d use.  Although technically you’re supposed to keep score over several sets of play, our style would be playing a hand and that was a game. Whoever went out first was the winner. It made it more exciting and fun, and boy did we have fun. There’s a running joke in our house about my son winning a game in under a minute via skips, reverses, draw fours, and the like, that he laid down on my daughter and me, but mostly me. That’s why I refuse to sit beside him when we play the game, but it’s tough because there’s only the three of us.  I sure do miss those days.

Games like Monopoly, checkers, hearts, rummy and others, were always a staple for game night growing up before smart phones took over. Even back when video game consoles first hit their stride, there was still a healthy mix of board gamers and video gamers. Hell, I remember when Dungeons and Dragons came out…  yes, I’m that old.  It combined the familiar board game platform with the rich backstories reminiscent of video games to attract a new audience. D & D came out like gangbusters and just like that, a whole new genre of board games was born.  It’s garnered renewed interest in recent years, and I can understand why.  It’s a thinking person’s board game and those who believe it’s just for “nerds,” have obviously never played. Sure, nerds just happen to be better at it, but you shouldn’t be underestimating nerds in the first place. So there.

I’d be curious to hear about what kinds of games you remember playing as a kid, or which ones you still play today. Maybe with your kids or grandkids. Or hell, maybe just for fun. Spill the beans!  (Ha! See what I did there? Cause, Don’t Spill the Beans is a game too. But I turned it around as a way to get you to tell me what games you play… get it?  Oh, never mind.)

Social Distancing – Appalachia Style

With the COVID-19 pandemic steadily growing, many states, my own included, have initiated a stay-at-home order.  The introvert that I am, this hasn’t been too hard for me, with the exception of eating out and library runs. While not minding the lack of social interaction, I do miss food that isn’t cooked by me, and I miss my frequent trips to the local library. What can I say, I love being surrounded by books.  Oh, and being temporarily furloughed (I’m nonessential… who knew?) is also an issue, but to curb my ever-increasing anxiety, I’m ignoring that problem, you know, as one does.

As most of you may know from past entries, my parents were born and raised in the mountains of West Virginia as were their parents before them. Great-Grandma Mooney of Vinegar Valentines fame – among other stories and her husband were also Appalachian born and bred. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here or not while discussing my family, but my mother’s father died in the coal mines when my grandmother was very pregnant with my mom… so she and the kids (my mom and her brother) lived with Grandma Mooney in her house in the ‘holler’. For those of you who aren’t from the south, a holler is a small valley between mountains. Some people would say it’s a hollow, but they would be wrong. There was only one way in and one way out of the holler, and traversing that road was, well, let’s just say that it wasn’t for the faint of heart.  Now you know what all those country songs are talking about. You’re welcome.

I can’t help but think that they would do better at this sheltering-in-place gig than the rest of us.  I mean, they were nothing if not self-sufficient. Grocery store runs? Nonexistent. Mostly because grocery stores themselves were nonexistent. I was talking to my mother the other day about this very thing and she said that once a month, this one gentleman (the son of a preacher man… hmmm, sounds like a song, if you ask me) would come around to all the houses in their mountain community, which in and of itself was a trek, because it’s not like these were neighborhoods, these folks were spread out – which takes me to the point of social distancing. Since you had to walk a mile or more to see a neighbor, social distancing wasn’t an issue, but I digress.  This one gentleman would come around once a month and take your order for items like flour, corn meal, sugar, powdered milk, maybe cereal (puffed wheat) and a pound of bologna if you were lucky. A couple of weeks later, he’d bring the items to you.  Where he got them is a mystery, but got them, he did. The flour and cornmeal were always bought in bulk – 50-pound sacks, because everyone made bread, biscuits, and/or cornbread every day. When the stash was gone, it was gone. Then you’d have to wait until the next time he came around. If you wanted eggs or milk, but didn’t have chickens or a cow, you traded or bartered with a neighbor. In most cases, you could simply just ask nicely, and you’d find yourself heading home with a quart of milk and a couple of eggs. If you’ve even glanced at the news the past few days, you’d see that today’s masses are hoarding toilet paper, bread, Excedrin, and frozen vegetables. We’re a narcissistic society born of selfishness and greed. But back in the day, people shared what they had, at least in the hills where my parents grew up.

Throughout my mother’s childhood, my family raised chickens, pigs, and what my mother calls a vegetable garden, but was actually more like a mini-farm. Along with burying certain harvested vegetables like potatoes and cabbage (I found out recently from my mother, that this was a thing, and not only that, it worked perfectly to preserve these provisions), my grandmother canned vegetables, fruit, and homemade soup to put up in the root cellar. In addition to canning fruit of all kinds, she dried apples too, since that kept well.  She did this all summer long to ensure they had food through the fall and winter when the growing season was long over.  Since they didn’t live on veggies alone, my grandmother also put up canned beef, homemade sausage, and salted-down bacon… it was their only source of meat in the winter.

Quarantine?  Hell, it would just be like December for them, only warmer.

 

Breaking News… of a Sort

Labor Day, generally speaking, isn’t usually equated with a day of peace… it’s just not the theme for the holiday. But, still, miracles happen, and one such miracle happened in Maryland today. In fact, it’s a day that will go down in history.

Let it be known, that on Labor Day 2019, after a long-standing feud of 10 odd years, hostilities came to a halt, as peace talks, successful at last, brought about a temporary truce between two bitter foes. Weary from battle, these faithful warriors laid down their arms… umm, teeth… and sheathed their claws to meet, on common ground, for a well-deserved nap.

Will this newfound (dare we even say it!?) friendship last once these lifelong enemies have awoken? Or is this truce truly temporary? No-one in either camp is willing to end their slumber prematurely, so the future is uncertain.

For now, let’s simply revel in the unexpected tranquility and contentment reigning over the realm.

Tomorrow, as they say, is another day.

Remembering When…

Nostalgia can be a bitch. I’ll just get that out there right now. Memories, especially those from childhood, can play with our minds.

Take Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia for example. Wow, what a segue, right? But it makes sense, trust me.

When I was a kid, my family visited Harper’s Ferry a few times. We liked it so much, we even took extended family members when they visited us.

Harper’s Ferry, for those who don’t know, is where John Brown had his fort and it was a key site in an 1859 abolitionist raid. It’s a historic park and while I haven’t been there recently to know if they still do this or not, back in the day, people could stroll through the town, visit decorated “shops” and businesses and homes that hearkened back to the town’s heyday, and watch reenactments of blacksmiths in historic garb fashioning something awesome, soap-makers/story-tellers creating soap in the same way they would in the 1800’s all while discussing the history of soap and the town, and people roasting peanuts.

My favorite was the freshly roasted peanuts. I remember burning my fingers on them because I had no patience whatsoever and wanted to eat them straight away.  You could have your picture taken in old-fashioned dress, with the picture itself made to look antique. There was even a nifty wax museum about John Brown.

In addition, and this part is spectacular, it’s home to The Point, a place where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet, and while standing in West Virginia, you can see – quite clearly – Maryland and Virginia.

View of Harper’s Ferry (photo credit: Harper’s Ferry National Park) 

When I was a kid, there was a picnic area down by the river that ran through the town. My mother always brought fried chicken (and sandwiches, I think) and snacks and we’d go down there to have our lunch. While wading out into the water one time – I was young, that’s important to know – I walked into an unexpected dip in the riverbed and ended up in water up to my neck. Fun and games. Made my family laugh though as I spent the rest of the afternoon soaking wet.  Nowadays, that part is blocked off. I can’t imagine why. But you can’t get to the river from the public portion of the town anymore, and I found that disappointing.

Too many years ago, I took a trip to Harper’s Ferry with my kids. In my excited state of nostalgia, I reminisced and told them about some of my favorite memories there and all the cool things they were about to experience. I probably built it up more than I should have, but then again, in my mind, it couldn’t be built up enough… if that makes sense.

When we made it to the town proper, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t nearly as “grand” as I had remembered. It seemed “smaller” if that makes sense. Maybe that’s because I was “bigger.” It was certainly not the bustling hub of activity it had once been.  Whether due to budget cuts or lack of volunteers, there were no reenactors dressed in historical garb, there were no blacksmiths or storytellers.  It was too quiet. Too still.  History had come alive in Harper’s Ferry when I was a kid, and when I visited with my own children, it was a ghost town.

All I knew was that the view in my mind’s eye was at odds with my current surroundings. And I realized my mistake almost immediately… I had waited too long to bring my kids. This was confirmed by my children’s reaction – an utter lack of enthusiasm in the place I had talked up so much.

I started to ask myself a few of the more complex questions. Have times really changed that much over the years? Was I only in such awe of Harper’s Ferry as a child because we were simply more easily impressed then?

Oh, it’s easy to blame video games and a generation that favors a computer screen to The Point, but let’s be clear, society helped speed them on that path. Our society panders to the Gods of Technology and then has the audacity to complain when our kids are overly involved with electronics.

I’m not sure where I’m going with all this except to say once again, nostalgia is a bitch. But what do we do about that?

Maybe another visit to Harper’s Ferry is in order. It’s high time I gather my kids back home for a road trip. They can even drive so I can be the one to sit back and enjoy the ride. Maybe now the view in my mind’s eye will win out. Or better yet, maybe there will be a new view altogether.