Stick Chick was right about the Monday thing and the Brainiacs

It’s the season once again when Loverboy finds himself incensed and dismayed, the result of the neighboring property owner’s choice to rely upon a questionable landscaping company hired to maintain the adjacent greenery.

As you may recall, Stick Chick has observed that Loverboy has a thing (read: “twisted thing”) about the lawn. The day after so much as a drop of rain falls, a neurosis compels him to get out there and mow the grass before it becomes uncontrollable (read: “visible.”) But, that’s okay. Most years nature strikes a balance between days of rain and sun, so their lawn tends toward the enviable.

In seasons past, at 7:00 AM each Monday morning, the lawn maintenance team (whom we’ll hereinafter refer to as ACME Contracting) would show up with their staff of three, a zero turn mower and two weed whackers to commence blasting across the 1,600 SF of macadam parking lot/dumpster station, shaded picnic nook (read: “place where kids hide from their parents to smoke”), dog business spot and lawn. Apparently on a strict schedule, if they missed the usual Monday, well, bummer (read: “foiled again.”)

During the winter, to his credit, the neighbor erected stylized apartments to replace the former historic (read: leaning, crumbing and long-neglected) buildings that once claimed the space. These featured early 1900s era outbuildings including a commercial storage barn, sheds and a farmhouse that had, probably in the 1950s, been converted into apartments and rented garages. Until their demolition, no visible updates appeared save for a celebratory piece of oriented strand board nailed haphazardly covering a hole in the sagging roof (read: or to protect against probable Y2K fallout) —she was never sure which.

The new construction included hand placed sod lawn surrounding the buildings and parking lot, and a modest attempt at shrubbery and mulch along the street facing façade. Sadly, it appeared that lawn maintenance for the summer season would be postponed likely a result of pinching of construction pennies in the final days. But the balance of scorching sunny days and trickles of rain interspersed one another with just enough nourishment to keep the dying sod alive.

Stick Chick Lawnmower

This year when spring arrived, Loverboy and Stick Chick (lacking the talent of a drummer playing Wipeout) waited with hopeful anticipation for the neighboring lawn maintenance team to arrive. Despite evidence to the contrary, Stick Chick said, “I’m sure they’ll do a better job this year,” when Loverboy gruxed about the inconsiderate and shoddy nature of the neighbor’s attempt at upkeep.

This Monday morning, on schedule at 7:00 AM in the pouring rain, Stick Chick stifled both a laugh and gasp of amazement to see that the Brainiacs had indeed sent a replacement “crew” of one with an aging push mower that sent clumps of sod flying through blades set a full two inches higher than Loverboy’s preferred blade height setting. Stick Chick recommends that the new landscape company (read: “sod butcher”) consider a name that seems par for the course: Take It Off my Rent Thanks.

Good help is hard to find.

 

Treasure in the Kitchen

 

Not long ago, I opened one of my mother’s often used Culinary Art Institute’s Encyclopedic Cookbook. In it are plenty of recipes that our family enjoyed over the years, some with hand-written modifications of measurements or ingredients that made a recipe either more palatable or economical to make. A handful of duds which failed to please anyone secured notes in the margins like “Yuk!” or “Too spicy.”

The cookbook includes a number of my favorites that I’ll have to hunt for when conjuring up ideas for meals that I’ve forgotten I liked.

The treasure exists in the meal planning section.

Weekly meal plans delineated by age group stun by today’s standards. Looking at them now brings me to hysterics.

I’m talking the sort of laughter that can be described as hearty guffaws, tears-streaming-down-the-face, side aching, belly laughing, gasping for air, wheezing and unable to breathe for fifteen minutes solid. I cannot imagine trying to tempt today’s preschool child with Thursday’s menu.

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So how did we collectively drift so far away from eating the variety of foods that help our bodies to be well-nourished? Why were we asleep at the wheel as food production morphed from fresh, locally sourced meats, legumes, and fruits into prepackaged, processed globs served up in rectangular containers?

Our quest for variety caused us to stretch globally, so much so that the local sources once well-known to us became replaced by barely identifiable, sugared, salted, genetically altered food, covered in corn syrup and poisoned with insecticides, or as Stick Chick once put it:

What the hell happened to my watermelon seeds?

Where are the vibrant red tomatoes in sizes varying from a child’s fist to a softball, dripping with juices and meaty, sweet and delicious even without refrigeration?  Why, in stores the size of football fields can one locate scant selections of high-priced organic, non-GMO foods where biodegradable package designs trump the standard?

The drift began sometime during the late 1960s and early 1970s. I think it coincided with the change and expansion of women’s roles; those who added “career in industry or business” to their list of accomplishments along with raising children, cooking, cleaning and coordinating all of the things that make a home function successfully. Some women felt their skills and intelligence were underutilized and held aspirations beyond the home. Most were disproportionately dependent on men for financial support.

I don’t see the changes as places upon which to assign blame; rather they resulted in unintended consequences and probably hastened innovation.

With television finding mainstream popularity, TV dinners allowed people to enjoy complete meals. Cooked and served in divided pewter trays, the dinners allowed a convenient way for people to take food directly from freezer to oven and to have a hot meal on the table in short order.

As it became more the norm for women to work outside the home, the food industry responded accordingly. Convenience compensated for lost meal preparation time. The introduction of the kitchen microwave dramatically reduced meal cooking time and “they” assured that microwave operation (with certain caveats) posed no danger to us.

Metals such as tin foil create a fire hazard (to wit, another story but I’ll not digress) and potential for electrical short, so the introduction of plastics provided an alternative. The average user  never questioned the use of plastic, or if they did, their inquiries were either dismissed or squelched in favor of convenience.

If the collective “we” had given it serious thought, we might have asked whether off gasses from heated plastics might create new  hazards in our homes each and every day. To shed a little light on any complex subject, I look to a simplistic description. I learned that a 1951 innovation, the creation of polypropylene and polyethylene AKA plastic, changed the world as I knew it.

According to www.reachoutmichigan.org, the route taken in the petroleum-to-plastics process goes like this:

Petroleum -> refined -> ethane and propane -> apply high temp -> ethylene and propylene -> combine with catalyst resulting in “fluff,” a powdered polymer -> additives -> extruded and melted -> cooled and made into pellets -> shipped to manufacturers -> produce plastic products using processes such as extrusion, injection molding, blow molding, etc.

There are so many variables within this process that it seems impossible and implausible to definitively declare all plastics “safe” for human use.

While I’ll shy from venturing wild guesses, it would not surprise me in the least if “we” found at least some causality in cases of autism, cancer or other physical ills. I’d be curious to know if anyone ever studied whether the increased incidences of any of these diseases in the general population coincide with microwave use specifically as it relates to plastics when compared with persons who have little or no access to them (assuming there were few enough variables to isolate them as potential causes.)

Anyway, if (and this is a BIG if) we gradually shifted to a diet of only homemade meals from menus like those included in the cookbook in order to achieve a conversion to a permanent diet of unprocessed, home-cooked meals instead of processed chicken nuggets, corn syrup laden breads, high sodium microwave meals, and iceberg lettuce salads, would we be better served?

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If you can successfully convince any 4-year-old that you know to have Tuesday’s Liver and Potato Pie, well, please accept my deepest of curtsies and hat’s off to you.

Wrecking Books and other Blasphemy

I always subscribed to the notion that books ought to be treated with near reverence.

“Careful not to bend a page my dear.”

“Do not set that cup of milk on the cover, it will make a ring my dear.”

“The jacket stays on to protect it my dear.”

Books, I believed, must be guarded from harm. A certain hierarchy existed. The Bible in any size, edition or cover held the position of literally sacred and most carefully guarded. Next in order of importance were: the dictionary, encyclopedias and other reference books along with library books and school textbooks.

Beneath them came hardcover books then paperbacks (which when using utmost caution to avoid dropping them directly into the ocean, could be brought to the beach.)

Yes, books required care or so I thought until one particular day in church when the preacher asked each member of our congregation to get out a pen.

“For this project,” he said, “the mini-golf pencils will not do.”

He instructed us to open our Bibles to a specific passage in the New Testament.

“We’re going to find a path to salvation,” he said.

Hesitant though I was, he suggested we created a trail of verses much like a treasure hunt. He read the passage and instructed everyone to write the next address (chapter and verse) in the margin. We proceeded to find that address, read the next passage, write a new address on that page and so on until we reached an end.

IMG_1225There it was—blue ink in the most revered book. The exercise changed my perspective on books and on faith.

I think I had always confused protection with abuse.

“Let’s not throw the book during an argument my dear.”

“Let’s not burn the books my dear.”

“Your books are not to be strapped to your feet and used to ski down the steps to the basement, my dear.”

Books are meant to be read, their pages marked with faint ovals from fingers turning one after the other. Dog ears, highlights or underlines should delineate words worth remembering and paths worth pursuing.

No matter the religion, faith is a journey from one chapter and verse to another.

The Bicentennial and the Epic Failure of the Two-Dollar Bill

Celebration of the U.S. Bicentennial on July 4, 1976 included: parades, fireworks, flags, hats, money and all manner of cheesy collectibles.

It was a time of extra pride that we (meaning a rag-tag bunch of farmers to whom many of us are not related, but with whom we stand proudly) had beaten the British. Those orderly-fight-by-the-rules types did not even live in America but nonetheless showed up in their fancy, schmancy uniforms to collect because they had the audacity to think we owed them tax money for the tea.

I suspect that today, any American household with an adult old enough to have celebrated the bicentennial, has some memorabilia lurking under the dust.

If I search hard enough in my house, I can probably find a bicentennial commemorative quarter.  This particular   commemoration for investment’s sake would have made sense except that they minted a billion of the copper-nickel ones and 45 million in “part-silver” for collectors.  Better yet, the government proceeded to sell them for ten more years.

Aside from its Colonial drummer design, the bicentennial quarter is the same as any other American quarter in both physical size and spending power.  The common understanding was that if we saved them, “They’ll be worth something someday.”

Photo Courtesy http://www.garagesalesally.com

My friends and I in our teens at the time, were perhaps the most unlikely group to be avid coin collectors; neither were we informed that “someday” would not likely be in our lifetime.

Today, bicentennial quarters are worth…wait for it…

about twenty-five cents (unless you have an uncirculated one in mint condition, then it might fetch $5 or so on eBay®.) So I asked around to see who might have a stash of them squirreled away.  Result: nada. Even if you had a stash, you’d need someone willing to buy.

Another relic from 1976 that made as little sense then as it does now, is the two dollar bill.  Forget that there was no justifiable need for it, but it appears that no one gave any consideration to the idea that if people began to actually use two dollar bills to pay for everyday commodities, they’d unwittingly bollix a cashier’s job.  And heaven help the dyslexics among us.  That two looks a lot like a five.

Stop the Madness

Cash registers are designed with a money organizer insert containing ten slots in two rows; five long sections to the rear for bills and five short to the front for coins.

At first glance it would seem that the $2 bills would have fit quite nicely.   Not so.

Normally, the $20 bills belong second to the left.  From there are gradually decreasing increments from left to right: $10, $5 and finally one dollar bills.  The reserved space to the far left, or the fifth slot as it were, held personal checks and any bills larger than $20.

Credit card slips and coupons easily slipped in the drawer under the insert until the day’s close of business when counting the day’s receipts.  Not much has changed, except that today, few people pay with cash and fewer with a check.

No big deal you say?  Try this…

The next time you shop and the amount you owe is $5, hand your cashier a roll of pennies, three half-dollar coins, a Susan B. Anthony dollar, and a two dollar bill.  Just be prepared to duck when the roll of pennies comes hurling at your temple.

Two hundred years of not paying taxes for our afternoon tea casually replaced by the coffee-consuming-to-satisfy-the-shareholders that we are today is an interesting trade-off.  Don’t you think?

For more digression, click here.