Monthly Archives: August 2010

Half-baked

I love clams. To the point of being dysfunctional, most might say. Those warm and wonderful little nuggets of fleshy goodness have been the object of my affection for longer than I’d care to admit. But here I am, telling all about my pitiful obsession with little neck clams.

They’re best bathed in butter. Plucked hot and steamy from a monstrous pot on the stove or from a metal garbage can resting atop a wood-fired pit—which is how my friends from Canton cook ‘em. Almost every summer. It’s tradition to gather there amidst family, friends and mosquitoes in their sprawling backyard, whacking at whiffle balls, tossing Frisbees and crowding around that glorious can, the one that also houses corn-on-the-cob, foil-wrapped potatoes and other picnic-ish items that really don’t matter much when clams are part of the meal. In my mind, clams ARE the meal.

The other stuff is just peripheral. A perfunctory afterthought designed to woo non-serious clam eaters there, or to serve as a cover for people like me who plan to gorge exclusively on those brackish bits of joy with wild abandon. I’ve found that it’s surprisingly easy to mask such gluttonous behavior. A carefully placed wedge of watermelon or scoop of potato salad can hide a mountain of clams and a vat of butter. Bouncing around from table to table with a fresh plate throws the casual observer off, too, especially when coupled with idle chitchat. Gluttony becomes all too conspicuous, however, if you wear a path to the same spot to devour those delectable little indulgences, pausing only to breathe and to mop the embarrassment of schmutz from your chin. Apparently, I am not alone in my thinking. Others agree that clams are downright slurpable. Swines—every last one of us.

My friend Pat has admitted to consuming 22 dozen in one sitting and estimates his lifetime consumption of the lovely little gems as “incalculable.”  From other accounts, that may well be a conservative approximation. Some other friends have been known to refrain from eating ALL DAY, right up until the time of the big event, in order to arrive primed for epic feasting of all-things-clamish. Of course, I admire these folks beyond compare and recognize that I simply don’t possess that level of commitment. Not yet anyway. But there’s always hope. And always another clambake to pencil in on the calendar.

My husband said he once saw a guy eat 32 dozen at the Wheel Inn. Throngs of people gathered around to watch as if he were some sort of sideshow freak. It’s no wonder. The man recklessly scooped them out of their shells, dumped them a dozen at a time into a Styrofoam cup brimming with melted butter and chugged ‘em down like raw eggs. I don’t get it. Where’s the joy in that? Where’s the romance? It’s too rushed, dispassionate and superficial. Quite frankly, I think it smacks of casual dining. Gasp!

By contrast, I’ve been known to become thoroughly engrossed while eating the silly things, one sensual bite at a time. Admittedly, the world around me melts away and I become completely enraptured by the whole experience—weak with pleasure. So much so that I can block out the maddening blares of my dryer, insisting that I fold the laundry NOW. I can also silence the persistent demands and the relentless bickering of my children, waging war over Mrs. Smith’s fish sticks or over a stupid yellow cup into which I have been instructed to pour milk. What’s more, I’ve nearly perfected the art of appearing interested in discussions that float over the dinner table, nodding my head and contributing appropriately to conversations without ever really being present mentally. Of course, this frees all my senses for more important matters—like savoring my beloved clams.

One time I just stood at the counter, blissfully slurping the freshly steamed batch my husband had so lovingly prepared for me. I never once gave a thought to moving to the table like a civilized individual might be inclined to do. Nor did I share, except maybe one or two. I can’t remember such details. Fifty or sixty clams later I came up for air and slipped back into consciousness. Back into being a mommy and a wife.

Apparently, the appeal of clams is not a new thing. A Cnn.com article I read last week (“Study: Early humans threw clambakes”) certainly adds credence and validation to my obsession. A new archeological find in South Africa (author of the study: Curtis Marean, ASU) revealed evidence suggesting that humans living 164,000 years ago harvested seafood (including clams), cooked them over hot rocks and then perhaps gathered together to eat them. This is in fact about 40,000 years earlier than previously thought. News like this makes my heart glad.

As does learning that we’ll be having clams for dinner. I get giddy just thinking about it.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2007 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Me Myself and I, Meat & Potatoes, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

The Learning Curve

Of course, the days of kindergarten are no more. My wily charges are soon-to-be fourth graders, bigger fish in the proverbial pond. But I remember well their grand entry into the Land of Books and Pencils…

Well, we made it through those first crucial weeks of kindergarten. Ten days. Two hours. And sixteen minutes. But who’s counting? No one was abandoned on the bus, abducted by aliens, locked in a closet or swallowed by a third grader. By all accounts, the transition proceeded quite smoothly (aside from our collective exhaustion). Although it could just be that their tiny bodies are still in a state of shock and their brains haven’t fully processed the information. Had the proper processing occurred, they might then realize that THEY SHOULD BE MISSING MOMMY MORE. Way more. Instead, they’re off each day merrily making friends, kibitzing in the hallways and doing all sorts of fun stuff with scissors, glue and “smelling-good markers”—three things I’d have banished from the curriculum till Jr. High if it were up to me.

In essence, I’m the one who has an array of adjustment issues. At times, I’m a pitiful creature who suffers needlessly and miserably with the pangs of separation—the I-miss-my-kids-even-though-they-make-me-crazy sort of malady. But I expected as much. At least in the beginning. I worry about this and that and the other stupid thing, driving myself batty in the process. My husband can readily attest. “Hey, don’t pack that hot dog in her lunch! Don’t you know one of her friends will make her laugh and she’ll choke to death!?” Like I said, he can attest to the ridiculous nature of my concerns.

Maybe the term ridiculous doesn’t quite cover it. I watch the clock more than I’d care to admit, flip through the television channels pausing wistfully on their favorite programs and wonder what they’re doing at noon and at one o’clock and again at two-thirty. Okay, I wonder what my little urchins are doing from the instant the bus rounds the bend and fades from view in the morning until it reappears in the afternoon with dozens of tiny faces pressed against the glass, wordlessly revealing what the day had brought to each and every rider.

Quite frankly, my curiosity gets the best of me. More than once I have fought the urge to stuff myself inside a backpack and tag along for the day. Safely tucked away, I could spy without ever being discovered—shamelessly satisfying my desire to know what really goes on in the life of a kindergartener. Oh, to eavesdrop on their conversations over the course of a day…. I can’t imagine anything more telling—or delicious. Of course, imagining is about all I can do at this point—because thus far they’ve been less than cooperative in the information sharing arena.

Maybe it’s because I’m viewed as an outsider now—a meddlesome mommy with a hidden agenda. Or maybe it’s because they’re veritable zombies when they first get home, stunned by the tsunami-sized day they probably had. “Mommy, you ask too many questions. I just don’t want to talk right now.” So we empty backpacks in the middle of the kitchen floor, together sifting through the day’s artifacts—my only clues as to what went on there in the Land of Kindergarten. And from what I can gather, most of it is good—which makes me feel good.

There are half-eaten lunches and prized drawings, books and crafty things galore “…that we made all by ourselves!” and strange-looking tidbits of memorabilia stashed away for keeps—like the pebble “…I tucked inside my sock so I could add it to my collection, Mommy” and “…the penny I found on the floor today!”

But there are tears, too, in the telling of “Mommy, I missed you so I cried a little bit,” and the bumps and bruises and behemoth-sized band-aids with which skinned knees were patched—lovingly, I might add. “The nurse is really nice and she gave me this be-U-tiful brown band-aid! I’m leaving it on for-EVER!” Three days certainly came close.

And there are warm remembrances too. “I love my bus driver…and the girl in the yellow shirt with blonde hair helped me find the nurse’s office…and the tall girl with purple butterflies on her shirt hugged me so I’d stop missing you at lunchtime…and my teacher always makes me feel all better, Mommy.”

Maybe this transition thing is going even better than I thought. As for me, I’m still on the learning curve wagon, trying to figure it all out and get over myself besides. What a sissy.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2006 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Free to a Good Home…Or to a Mediocre Home in Which an Idiot Who Is Incapable of Saying “No” Resides

So there’s this guy. He will remain nameless in order to protect and preserve his stupidity. And I will remain clueless as to why he chose me as the supposed answer to his prayers late one afternoon several years ago. Perhaps it’s because I exude ignorance and vulnerability much of the time. Eh, maybe. Or maybe it’s because I’m just so gosh darned kind and compassionate.

But I digress. The event unfolded thusly.

My telephone rang and on the other end of the line was a man who was anxious. A man who was fraught with despair. A man who was woefully desperate to unload a cat that he would later INSIST was mine.

“Hello?”

“Hello, yes I believe I have your cat. She’s been here at my house for days and days and simply won’t leave. Could I swing by—say in about 10 minutes—so you could take a look to be sure? Otherwise I’ll have to take her to the SPCA—tonight—because I just can’t have this cat here anymore. It’s got to go.”

“You say you have my cat? MY cat? How on earth did you come to the (grandly erroneous and completely irrational) conclusion that it’s my cat you have?” I queried, curious as to how this man’s brain even functioned well enough to pluck ear hairs. What’s more, how did he know I even owned a cat? Maybe I had a pet hamster. Or a goat or something gerbil-ish lurking about.

“Well, your cat is black, right?” he quizzed.

“Right,” I answered, wondering how he knew that, too. I’d never met the man. How could he possibly know me—or my cat!?

“And he has a touch of white on his chest and belly,” I added like a fool. All the while I spoke, I had the stupid phone wedged under my chin and was running around the house like a madwoman lifting blankets and pillows, crawling around on all fours to peer beneath cabinets and couches, tearing apart the little cardboard nest my kids had built for him…frantically scanning the cluttered world in which I live for that fuzzy-headed nitwit of mine with chipmunk breath and a king-sized swagger. Had he escaped into the great outdoors? Again!? Of course, I felt horrible—like a slipshod mother who possessed not one stinking clue regarding the whereabouts of her whiskered and wayward son. Grok!

“Quick! Help me find Mr. Binks!” I shrieked to my kids, burying the receiver in an armpit—calling in the cavalry to help with the search and recovery effort.

“With white paws, too?” he asked. “This cat has white paws.”

“No. Binks’ paws are black. PLAIN BLACK. He has a bit of white on his chest and belly. Just a bit. But mostly he’s BLACK,” I clarified. Again.

“Well she’s a black and white cat and she’s a reeeeeally nice kitty, but I can’t keep her—like I said. I have other cats you know. She’ll definitely have to go to the SPCA,” he repeated emphatically—as if his insistence and caked on layers of guilt would suddenly make me realize, “Yes, come to think of it, my cat does have white paws! I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking! I must have imagined they were completely and entirely BLACK. Silly me.”

And so the debate continued over the black/white issue—ad nauseam, until I happened to think of another inconsistency in his story.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “My cat’s male. And neutered at that. You keep saying ‘she.’ Are you sure the cat you have is female? Because the one I have isn’t. He’s definitely a he. Not a she.”

He paused briefly, but the wheels were turning. Perhaps that strange little man thought that by saying it enough times and by closing his mind to the undeniable facts, he could actually WILL his cat into being mine—convincing not only himself in the process, but whoever happened to be on the receiving end of his spiel.

“Good grief!” I thought. “If only I could FIND the furry little shit! Then the ugliness would simply go away and I wouldn’t have to deal with this delusional individual anymore or with his silly stray. I could show him Mr. Binks, inky paws and all, and prove that HE DIDN’T HAVE MY FRICKING CAT—I DID!” Wishful thinking. Binks was nowhere to be found.

“We can’t find him, Mommy,” my incompetent progenies announced. “Maybe the nice man really does have Mr. Binks.”

“No he doesn’t, you inane twerps,” I muttered through clenched teeth, again with the receiver jammed under an armpit. “He’s around here SOMEWHERE!” I insisted. “Keep looking! KEEP LOOOOOOKING!!”

“Well, I guess you could come by,” I offered (to placate the crowd). “But just for a minute.” Since I can’t seem to locate my moronic ball of fluff at the moment! So he put Her Furriness in a cardboard box poked full of air holes and proceeded to shatter the land speed world record—racing to my home in six minutes flat. Lovely. Just lovely. A delusional man who is also punctual.

Fortunately, my charges found our cat in the mean time—mercilessly torturing something mole-ish in the back yard. “Look, Mommy! Binksy’s playing with his food!” they reported with glee. I marched out the door, cleverly scooped up the unwilling participant and locked him in the basement—proof positive that the numbskull was, in fact, in my care. Now I could deal more effectively with Mister I’ve-Got-Your-Cat—I-Know-I’ve-Got-Your-Cat!

After coming to an abrupt stop and an even more abrupt “hello,” the man leapt from his car and scurried around to the passenger side where the box lay in the back seat. “Here she is!” he announced, giddy with the prospect of unloading that which he longed to unload.

“Well, actually…I found my cat. He’s in the cellar. Really, he is. I’m so sorry, but this is not my cat.” I took a peek anyway. Naturally, I tried to be sensitive and to carefully explain what had happened without gloating or gushing over the glorious news that I (apparently) had been right. I. WAS. SO. RIGHT! Yes I was! Not surprisingly, the hapless cat in question looked almost nothing like Mr. Binks. She was enormous in comparison, much much older than our fuzzy feline and had HUGE patches of white all over her body—more like a Holstein than anything. And she happened to be long-haired—a detail that somehow never made it into our conversation.

At any rate, the man and his cat finally went away, tails dragging and heads hung low. I felt completely awful. Honest, I did. Like a despicable creature devoid of remorse or compassion. A shameless schmuck who failed to rise to the occasion and offer a helping hand. Like someone who under ordinary circumstances is virtually incapable of saying “no.”

But who managed this time.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Cat Chronicles, Daily Chaos, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Rantings & Ravings, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Small Potatoes

My husband and I argue over some of the most inane things on the planet—like the cubic circumference of vegetable chunks I add to meatloaf. Like whether or not ketchup ruins said meatloaf. Like whether to twirl or cut (Gasp!) linguini. How to open an envelope. Seriously. To tuck (or not tuck) sheets. How the bills ought to be arranged in one’s wallet. Whether one should carry a wallet at all. How the lawn ought to be mowed. The laundry, folded. The driveway, shoveled. Whether it’s eggshell or ecru. Let or leave.

It’s small potatoes really. All of it. So is the idiocy at the very core of our latest and greatest debate—the matter of dealing with poo. More specifically, dog poo. Round and round we go each day—wrangling over the wisdom of carrying a trusty Ziploc bag, a wad of Kleenexes and a teensy-weensy bottle of Purell on our jaunts with Jack, “just in case” he makes a deposit where he ought not to make a deposit (i.e. in someone’s lawn, driveway or smack in the middle of our heavily-trodden street).

I, for one, think it’s ludicrous to lug said poopie paraphernalia around. It’s entirely unnecessary, completely assumptive and downright spineless to plan for the disaster that may, in fact, never occur. The Boy Scout I married, however, begs to differ. Mister Preparedforanythingandeverything insists that traveling with hand sanitizer and a sandwich baggie (turned inside-out for added convenience) is one of the most sensible and socially responsible things a dog owner can do. So much for living on the edge, throwing caution to the wind and prudence under the bus. And never mind the off chance that Mister Fuzzypants could indeed do his business right where we want him to—making the whole blasted issue a nonissue.

Unlike the man who could likely produce anything in an instant (from biodegradable camouflage toilet paper to a fingernail file), I’d like to think I identify more closely with the rebels of the world—like the cool jocks in tenth grade who never wore coats, brown-bagged it or carried an extra pencil to class. They traveled light to and from their celebrated lockers. So do I—at least when I walk the dang dog. No namby-pamby foolishness encumbers me. Nope. What’s more, I refuse to be hampered by a pooper-scooper device (i.e. a glorified burger flipper in which the “gift” can be both housed and transported efficiently). Besides, I’m resourceful—some would even argue eco-friendly—when it comes to dealing with poo, and I don’t need some fancy-schmancy gizmo to master the mess my dog makes. Not when perfectly good oak and maple leaves are at my disposal.

At least that’s what I used to think—before disaster rained down on me like a scourge during one of those merry excursions around the block late last fall. As luck would have it, Jack felt compelled to unload in someone’s immaculately manicured lawn; and despite my insistence that that was not an especially good idea, the little miscreant did it anyway. I was then faced with a supreme challenge: to somehow scoop it up (with leaves that were nowhere to be found), move it across the street (careful not to drop it or the leash which was tethered to the dog, now wild with delirium over his recent doo-doo success) and fling it deep into the brush—where no one, ostensibly, would trod upon it. It was a tall order, indeed. And although I doubt there was an audience, the scene had to have been indescribably amusing as it unfolded frame by humiliating frame.

Frantically I searched the vicinity for the leaves that were EVERYWHERE just days before, settling for what I could find—some pathetic-looking scraps of leafy matter with which I planned to wrap those nuggets of repulsiveness, still warm and disgustingly steamy. Of course, nothing went smoothly. The foul matter in question refused to cooperate, hideously fusing itself to the grass and failing to remain intact as I gathered and scraped in vain. Naturally, this necessitated that I shuffle across the road not once, but SEVERAL times, hunched over my stench-ridden prize as if it were the last lit candle on earth.

All the while, my silly dog danced and pranced alongside me, hopelessly entwining my legs with the leash, thoroughly convinced that I was playing some sort of twisted version of Keep-Away. Needless to say, pieces of poo kept dropping onto the pavement behind me—a Hansel and Gretel trail of repugnance that mocked my efforts, sorely lacking though they were. I had no choice but to painstakingly pick them up and hurl them into oblivion along with the rest of the gunk—all the while preventing the dog from snatching them out of my hand or chasing them into the brush. Eventually, the deed was done. There was but a tiny reminder of the episode lingering on my fingertips and aside from the humiliation I suffered, I had escaped relatively unscathed.

Indeed, small potatoes.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, Doggie Diamonds, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Rantings & Ravings, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Seize the Summer!

It’s summertime. A scrumptious slice of the calendar devoted to kicking back and drinking in all the goodness a slower pace has to offer. A time to reflect upon what has transpired in this harried life since the days of early September. A time to consume shameful quantities of sweet corn, to ogle tan lines and to permanently etch upon our minds the abundance of produce, the warmth of the sun and the sea of green now present at our doorstep. Come January, we’ll doubt it will ever return.

Aah, dear summer—for you I have waited so long. And I shall savor every drop of laid-back-ness you exude. And yet, there is more—your season represents a grand and glorious opportunity for getting things done. Things we wouldn’t normally pencil into a maxed out schedule. Throughout the year we gather and garner a host of hopeful projects, solemnly promising to paint this, sell that, visit here, organize and clean there—banking on the completion of virtually everything we set out to do. In a word, we’ll get it done. This summer.

As a kid, I remember thinking that the delicious months of June, July and August were roughly equivalent to the Paleozoic Era, generously supplying my cronies and me with a wealth of endless days for building forts, orchestrating baseball games and designing rafts for numerous (and sadly, futile) attempts at creek crossings. September seemed so very far away.

Since then, decades have come and gone. I now recognize that summer is, indeed, a finite chunk of time capable of slipping through one’s fingers like grains of sand. Occasions for doing and seeing that which I deem worthy (to include lazy afternoons spent in the sandbox with my kids) are perhaps not quite as plentiful as I once thought. That said, I’ve endeavored to seize what is left of summer by compiling a list of the ordinary and not so ordinary things I’d like to accomplish on or before September 1st.

1)    Finally, FINALLY take my heathens to Knoebels at least once before they head back to school (inspired, of course, by the incessant whining to which I’ve been subjected since the first week of June). “Mom, my ENTIRE CLASS has already been to Knoebels—that’s 22 families, you know!” Note to self: Guilt is an extremely effective motivator.

2)    Learn a new language—more specifically, Pokemon. The driving force behind this particular goal is so that I might communicate with my Pokemon-obsessed children. “Mom, I got Zigzagoon, Pidgeotto, Zubat and Voltorb and all I had to do was trade my Grimer! Isn’t that entirely AWESOME?!!” Sadly, I don’t get it. But I’m hopeful that by September, I will.

3)    Convince my brood that certain things in life are of vital importance (especially as it relates to living with me)—like remembering to flush the toilet, to brush that shock of hair once in a great while and to fight the urge to litter the earth (or my floors and furniture) with wet suits and towels. Ugh.

4)    Actually FINISH something I’ve started—like a book, any number of projects, a purging mission from hell (i.e. an enormously cathartic event in which I chuck various items with wild abandon—most efficiently completed sans children).

5)    Arrive somewhere ON TIME—parties, picnics, assorted camps and swimming lessons, church—you name it. Admittedly, I am severely deficient in the realm of time management. Even my kids know the score. “Daddy always gets us places early, Mom. Why can’t you?”

6)    Train my brood to at least tolerate the ritualistic slathering-of-sunscreen (i.e. to stop hiding behind the couch and screaming, “I HATE sunscreen and I HATE how it tastes! Do you want me to eat it and DIE?!”). Likewise, it would be a welcome change if one or both progenies could perhaps consider said lotions and sprays as something other than pure and unadulterated horribleness in a can.

It’s summertime! Be sure to seize what remains!

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Daily Chaos, Kid-Speak