Monday, August 24, 2009

First Day of Sixth Grade

The following is a true account. I have permission from my daughter to post it. It's actually one of her favorites. I pulled it from the archives (a red binder I keep past essays in)and thought I'd post it for anyone who has a daughter starting sixth grade this year. And if that's you, good luck!

It’s the first day of sixth grade, a very important year for social development. My daughter brings home one of those getting-to-know-you questionnaires that a lot of teachers hand out at the beginning of a school year. You know, a page of questions about where you were born, whether or not you have pets, what’s your favorite this or that? She sits right down, fills it out, and leaves it lying on the kitchen table amongst a pile of back-to-school junk (backpack, sweatshirt, pencil box, and that perennial pink emergency form we fill out at the beginning of every school year and then fail to return to the school until we’ve been sufficiently harassed). Then she heads to the fridge for a snack.

Partly out of curiosity and also because I’m in the habit of checking over my children’s school work, I pick up the questionnaire and begin to read through it.

The first few questions are pretty simple. I read aloud, “What name do you prefer to be called?” I jokingly call to her, “Why didn’t you put down Sneaker?” (a pet name her father has had for her since babyhood)

“Oh yeah, right, Mom,” she says as she spreads refried beans on a flour tortilla.

I skip over a few questions such as When is your birthday? and How many brothers and sisters do you have?

“What’s your favorite t.v. show?” I read. I see that she has filled in the name of a popular sitcom.

“You’ve never seen that!” I exclaim. “Besides, you know you’re only allowed to watch PBS.”

“I saw it over at Brittany’s once. Anyway, what am I supposed to put? Barney?” She rolls her eyes as she grates some cheese onto the beans.

“No,” I advise her. “You should write ‘I really don’t watch very much t.v.’”

“Mom, that would be so dumb.”

“What do you like to do in your free time?” I read. “Watch t.v.!” What do you mean, watch t.v.? We hardly ever have the t.v. on!”

She sighs.

“I know, Mom, but if I could, that’s what I’d want to do. Besides, that’s what all my friends do.”

“You know,” I tell her, “this is not a test with right or wrong answers. The teacher wants to find out about you. Why don’t you put down what you really like to do in your spare time? You know how you play house with the boys and you guys pretend to be orphans?” (I can’t imagine why they pretend to be orphans…)

“MOM! No Way!” I am not putting that!” She is now dumping half a jar of salsa onto her burrito.

“What’s your favorite snack?” I read aloud. She has written Cheetos. I look up from the paper and stare at her. She smiles at me as she rolls up the tortilla and takes a big bite.

“Mom,” she says with her mouth full, “people might think a burrito is weird.”

It’s my turn to sigh, and then I resume.

“What’s your favorite thing to have for dinner?” Naturally she has written pizza. I look up at her.

“Mom, it’s my survey. There are no right or wrong answers, remember?”

“Honey, lots of people have heard of Fettucine Alfredo.” This is what she has recently chosen to have for her birthday dinner. I skip down to the last question. What are some of your talents and hobbies? She’s left this one blank.

“How about your talents and hobbies?” I ask.

“I couldn’t think of any.”

“Come on! You have tons of talents! There’s the piano. You can’t deny that. And lots of kids play an instrument.”

“Okay,” she concedes, “I’ll put piano, but nothing else. You want me to put all this nerdy stuff so people will think I’m weird.” She’s getting a little heated now.

“I don’t want people to think you’re weird. I just want you to put down the truth. I want the teacher to find out what a wonderful girl you are. And you’re really so creative,” I tell her. “Remember when you made the boys complete outfits out of plastic grocery bags? With those cute little aluminum foil shoes? You could put ‘My hobbies include fashioning articles of clothing out of common household items.’”

She’s really mad by this time. She screams that shrill sixth-grade girl scream, slams the rest of her burrito down, storms over to me, snatches the questionnaire out of my hand, and runs upstairs, crying. She’s actually crying.

“I was just kidding!” I holler after her, trying not to laugh. I can’t help it. I think it’s funny.

Well, she doesn’t end up changing her answers to suit me. And knowing how important it is to fit in in sixth grade, I lay off. I’m sure the teacher will receive twenty or so nearly identical papers. I think she should give them all an F.

Carolyn is twenty-three now and very comfortable in her own skin! She survived adolescence beautifully. She was a lot of fun then, and is still more fun and more creative than anyone I know. I am proud of the wonderful young woman she has become.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Driving Lessons

I’m teaching my last child to drive. It’s going remarkably well. I hardly ever gasp or shriek or slam my foot down on that imaginary brake on the passenger side. And we haven’t had a single fight over any of it. I can’t decide if he’s really that much better than his older siblings were or if I’ve mellowed over the years.

I think my mother mellowed with each of us. By the time my brother was learning to drive, she habitually slept in the passenger seat. I remember her telling me that she’d read somewhere that drunk people are so relaxed that they fare better in accidents than sober people. Since she doesn’t drink, she thought sleeping would be the next best protection.

I remember learning to drive a stick shift as a teenager. Both my mother and my sister tried to teach me.

Big sigh, then “Just take your foot off the clutch and step on the gas,” they repeatedly instructed me with much exasperation.

What happens when you “just take your foot off the clutch and step on the gas?” A big lurching jerk and then you stall. People honk at you and drive around your car. And just try starting out in first gear like this on a hill, terrified, knowing that you’re going to roll backward right into that very impatient guy who’s behind you, honking like a madman.

My mother and my sister gave up. One Sunday afternoon, my father took me to the empty K-Mart parking lot.

“Now,” he said, “just slowly ease up on the clutch until you start to feel a little tug.”

I slowly eased up, and I felt the little tug.

“When you feel the tug, gently start pressing the gas pedal and at the same time continue to ease up on the clutch.”

The car very smoothly began to creep forward. Success!

We have a little pickup truck with a standard transmission. I’ve taught my kids to drive it using my father’s teaching method, only we go over to the church parking lot on a weekday instead of K-Mart on a Sunday.

One difference I’ve noticed between my older kids and Joel is that he stays in the middle of the lane that he’s driving in. All the other kids had an irrational fear of the middle of the road. They stayed way to the right. It was like they wanted to take out everything parked along the right hand side. I guess having cars coming toward them in the other lane could have been a little daunting, but we live in Utah - home of the widest streets in America. It’s not like the cars coming toward them are really even that close.

My mother always comments on the wide streets when she comes out to visit:

“Brigham Young ordered the settlers to make the streets wide enough for him to turn his wagon around in.” I don’t know how she knows this. I’ve lived here for twenty-eight years and I’ve never heard anyone else say this.

In fact, they’re so wide that on most of the main roads, there’s room for a center lane, a kind of no man’s lane, for making left turns. We didn’t have these in Massachusetts – home of the narrowest streets in America - where I learned to drive. We had a rational fear of the middle of the road.

One time I was driving in Utah with a passenger visiting from New England. I pulled into the center turn lane to make a left turn.

“What are you doing?!” he shrieked as another car coming from the opposite direction also pulled into the turn lane. “Is this some kind of lane for playing chicken?”

It’s probably time to get Joel out and teach him to parallel park, a very important skill for a driver to master. Especially in our family. My mother once called off an engagement because the guy couldn’t parallel park. I’d hate for Joel to find himself dumped someday because he lacked this skill. In fact, I’d better make sure the other kids are proficient. And make sure my daughter knows what to look for in a husband.

I can just hear my mother now, when Carolyn someday announces her engagement:

“But does she know if he can parallel park?”

So have I mellowed or is Joel a better driver than the other kids? I think it’s a little of both. I’m a much calmer parent these days, with only one child under the age of eighteen. That makes a big difference. And I think he is naturally a pretty good driver. After all, he was in the car for most of their driving lessons. He should be better.

Now, as long as they don’t find out I let him have the radio on when he’s driving… Boy, I really have mellowed!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Zucchini Time

It's zucchini season. Good news for some. Bad news for others. I don't know if I've ever met a guy who loves zucchini. I know my husband and sons want nothing to do with it. Real men don't eat zucchini, right?

The most important thing about the zucchini is to pick it when it's small. No bigger around than a banana. This can be tricky because they grow so fast. It requires vigilance. Sometimes I see one in the morning that looks a little small and by mid-afternoon it's ready.

One summer when the kids were little, a zucchini got away from me. One day I found it under some huge leaves. It was big. I decided I might as well see just how big it could get. It got huge. The kids were thrilled. After we finally picked it, we painted a face on it, wrapped it in a receiving blanket, and left it on the neighbors' doorstep. They passed it on to some other neighbors. I don't know how far Baby Zoe got. I suspect that a practical cook somewhere down the street cut it up and made it into a casserole for her large family.

One of my favorite things to do with zucchini is to dehydrate it. I learned this from my friend Karla. She is the healthiest eater I know. One summer day we were on a hike. She whipped out a baggie and started snacking on something. It was a homemade trail mix that included stuff like flax seed crackers, nuts, sunflower seeds, and zucchini chips. Zucchini chips? Yes, she had made them herself. I tried some and was hooked. I've been making them the last few summers.

Here's how:

Slice small zucchini into thin round slices, maybe between an eighth and a sixteenth of an inch thick.

If you don't have a food dehydrator, you can dry them in the oven, door ajar, at the lowest temperature. Put the zucchini on cookie sheets lightly sprayed with non-stick spray.

Or, if you want to get earthy, you can dry them outside under a screen on a hot, dry, sunny day.

Or you can buy an inexpensive food dehydrator. Spray the racks lightly with non-stick spray and fill them up with zucchini slices. Plug it in.

Whichever method you use, make sure you get them good and dry. They should be brittle. Zucchini chips. Yum. The whole dehydratorful fits in a baggie. It's like a baggie of gold. Very valuable to me. I have to hide them when my daughter comes over. Sometimes I share.

I've sprinkled them with seasoning salt before drying. They're good, but I really just like them plain.

Kent and I were at his parents' house recently, comparing garden notes. My mother-in-law mentioned that she likes to grow her zucchini big so she can make zucchini cake with it. I mentioned that I always make sure I pick mine small. My father-in-law asked,

"But what if you want to make a cake?"

"Then I make a cake. You don't have to have zucchini to make a cake."

I hope they weren't offended.

My own mother makes really good zucchini bread. It might seem like I'm partial to my own bloodline, but I did grow up with this stuff. It's the only thing I'd eat with nuts in it as a child. It's really good with whipped cream cheese on it.

My Mother's Zucchini Bread

4 eggs, beaten
1 cup oil
2 cups sugar
2 cups grated zucchini
3 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup honey

Combine above ingredients. Mix well.

1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups white flour
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup chopped walnuts

Mix dry ingredients. Combine with zucchini mixture.

Sometimes my mother would bake this in loaf pans, but I know from personal experience (both eating it and making it) that it's hard to get it to bake evenly throughout. The center is often underdone. Which I actually kind of like sometimes. But you might not.

So, the very best way to go is in a Bundt(think "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"). Bake it at 325 degrees for one hour. It actually makes enough batter for a Bundt pan and then a few small loaves. Small loaf pans work.

As kids, we lived on this stuff in the summer. And into the fall, because it freezes well.

We belong to a church that emphasizes dressing modestly, avoiding revealing clothing. What does this have to do with zucchini? Our little niece, Annie, used to include in her prayers, to the wild delight of her older siblings,

"And please help me not to want to wear a zucchini."

And you definitely won't want to wear a zucchini after you eat this stuffed zucchini. So good, but not so good for you.

Stuffed Zucchini

(This makes enough for a crowd. A good way to get rid of your surplus. Just make it and serve it to them and they will eat it. And love it.)

8 small zucchini
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated Swiss cheese
1 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp paprika
1/4 cup chopped chives or green onions
1 cup stuffing cubes
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Wash zucchini. Cut off ends. Parboil for a couple of minutes. Plunge into cold water. Split in half lengthwise and scoop out a little bit. Arrange in baking dish. Melt butter. Mix in cheeses and sour cream, salt, paprika and chives. Spoon over zucchini. Mix stuffing cubes with Parmesan cheese. Distribute over zucchini. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly.

Everything I do with zucchini, I also do with yellow summer squash. I even make chips out of it. Over the last couple of weeks, I've been growing a very special yellow squash. Something evidently went wrong at the blossom end, because it was growing square. Yesterday was the big day. I harvested it. I immediately took it in the house and took a picture of it with my cell phone. I texted it to two of my kids with the caption

"Sponge Bob Square Squash."

I haven't heard a thing back from either of them.

We had a large group of B.Y.U. students over for a pizza party the other night. I made a salad to go with the pizza, and I cut up a bunch of zucchini into sticks and put them out in a dish.

"You're not putting those out, are you?" Kent asked me.

How I loved pointing out to him the empty bowl at the end of the night.

And a big thank you to whichever of the girls scarfed them down.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Half Marathon

Tomorrow is the Provo River Trail Half Marathon. I ran it seven years ago, and then wrote the following. I thought I'd post it in honor of tomorrow's race. It's pretty long for a blog post. Hope you'll read it anyway!


Okay, so what constitutes a real runner?

Even though I’ve been running on and off for exercise since college, I had never considered myself a real runner. Whenever anyone mistook me for a real runner, I’d protest.

“Oh, no,” I’d insist. I’m not a real runner. I just sort of jog along.” I had always done about four miles a day. More that four miles? I’d ask myself. Why?

I have a friend who’s been a real runner for years. Due to knee and hip problems, she’s begun having trouble with the longer runs.

“I really miss the long runs,” she started telling me, sounding like she actually meant it. “The fifteen milers or more.”

You’re kidding, right?With four miles a day, I’d always been able to maintain my weight and had always been a steady size six. But a strange and terrible thing happened after my thirty-sixth birthday; my body wanted to be bigger.

I’d always heard that the older you get, the harder it is to stay thin. I sheepishly admit that I’d never believed it. When other women would discuss this in front of me, I’d mentally roll my eyes.

Ladies, please accept my most humble apology.

Because suddenly I found myself at age thirty-nine, ten pounds heavier, and now a steady size eight. Yes, I know. A size eight is still small. But guess what? Nobody likes getting bigger. Thin people don’t like having to buy a bigger size any more than heavy people do. And what’s the outlook? A few more years, ten more pounds, and a steady size ten? A few years after that and a sturdy size twelve?

It was time to get serious.

I began to watch what I ate. I tried low fat. I tried low calorie. I gave up sugar for Lent.

I couldn’t lose a pound.

You know what they say about desperate times. I’d have to increase my running mileage. Four miles just wasn’t doing it anymore. I worked up to seven.

Seven miles a day, five or six days a week. My husband, a real runner, helped me buy better shoes, and bigger. My first seven-mile run killed off nearly all the toenails on both of my feet. It took eight months to grow them out.

Weeks went by. Thirty-five to forty-two mile weeks. My husband began to talk about the Provo River Trail Half Marathon, an annual race down Provo Canyon.

“You could do it,” he told me. “Forty-mile weeks – that’s marathon training. If you can run seven miles, you can run 13.1. Just start doing some longer runs on Saturdays.”

Longer runs? Longer than seven miles?

I did it. One Saturday I ran ten miles. Ten miles. Imagine!

“Okay,” I told Kent. “Sign me up.”

He did.

I started to go out with Kent and his real runner friends. I could keep up! Actually, I was probably slowing them down. But I was running faster than I ever had before. Good for me – not so good for them, maybe.

My longest training run before the half marathon was 11.5 miles. I knew I was ready.
Ready, but nervous. Nervous because even though I’d run down Provo Canyon several times now, it was hard to imagine what it would be like on race day. All those people! And what about the whole check-in procedure? Picking up my bib, boarding one of the buses that would take us to the starting line?

And what would end up being my biggest concern: What about the bathrooms?

Before we left the house early on the morning of the race, Kent got out the Gatorade.

“Drink plenty of this stuff. Your body’s going to need it.” I drank plenty of it. And by the time I had picked up my number (1402), my nervousness, combined with all that Gatorade, was making it imperative that I get in a bathroom line before boarding a bus for the ride up the canyon.

I have never seen such long lines. As I stood waiting, I heard one woman ask a friend, “Shall we consider the lilies of the field?” They wandered off to find an alternative to waiting in line.

My turn finally came, and in the nick of time. We had waited so long that we just made the last bus that was ferrying runners up to the starting line. We climbed aboard. I glanced around at the busload of real runners. Some of the women I had had plenty of time to observe in the bathroom line. They chatted casually in pairs or in small groups about their training and workout procedures, and about past race experiences. And they all looked the part. Most of them were very tan with alarmingly white teeth and costly running attire.

Professional, I though. Very intimidating.

They looked like they worked at Gold’s Gym.

“What am I doing?” I thought. I was wearing a cheap pair of running shorts, a t-shirt and running shoes I’d bought on sale for $39.99.

I was an impostor!

I began to feel slightly panicked. Mostly because I had to go to the bathroom again.

The bus pulled up to an area near the starting line.

“Don’t worry,” Kent assured me. “They have Port-A-Potties.” Indeed they did. A long row of eighteen or twenty or so. And in front of each was a line of eighteen or twenty or so people. Maybe more. And it was almost race time. The nearby trees and bushes were full of runners, both men and women, heading off to consider the lilies.

“You could use a bush,” Kent suggested, nodding in the direction of the sparsely growing vegetation. This is Utah, and even though we were in the mountains, there wasn’t much to hide behind in this particular area.

With all these people around? Umm, nope.

“No, you go on to the starting line,” I told him. “I’ll get in line and see how it goes.” We weren’t planning to run together anyway, so what difference did it make if we got separated now or a few minutes from now?

I got in a line. A few minutes later I heard the starting gun. Quite a lot of runners abandoned the Port-A-Potty lines in favor of starting the race on time. Not me. I knew it was pointless to even try to run in my condition. Others felt the same way. It was a good ten minutes before my turn came and I was able to begin the race.

And guess what? The moment my $39.99 shoes hit the pavement my nerves left me. I simply ran. I ran like everyone else. The crowd had thinned out by now, and I was actually able to pass a lot of runners. A mental advantage of starting at the back of the pack: to pass instead of being passed.

I felt pretty good.

In fact, I felt great. And I felt smug as I managed to get ahead of some of the Gold’s Gym employees.

The downhill part of the course was fast and fun. And it was true what they say about race day adrenaline: it kicked in! I loved every step of the first ten miles. My legs were performing a graceful, rhythmic dance. I was light and free. And the time went by so quickly. I could tell I was running a lot faster than I’d ever run before (which, let’s face it, isn’t really very fast). I almost felt like a real runner.

And then I reached the mouth of the canyon. The trail flattened out. Only three miles left, I told myself. But wait a minute. What was happening? As I ran, I began to feel like my body was performing a totally different act from what it had been doing during the previous miles. I was no longer being propelled downward, aided by some force other than my own. They ballet was over. My legs began to feel like they were cast in stone. The sun was up now, and the heat of the August day was setting in. I plodded along. The course seemed endless. They were running us through a residential area in a roundabout way to the finish line. I hadn’t familiarized myself with the exact route before race day and I now recognized that as a mistake. To know exactly what I had left to run past would have been a real mental asset.

And I should have worn a watch. I hadn’t worn one because I hadn’t wanted to put myself under any pressure to run this thing in a specific amount of time. I don’t like pressure, and I had fooled myself into thinking that if I didn’t wear a watch, I’d treat this race like any other run down the canyon, relaxed and enjoying the beauty of nature around me.

“I’ll probably be the last one to finish,” I had told friends and family. I was not setting myself up for failure. “They’ll probably ask me to pick up the cones on my way in,” I joked. But deep down inside I had a goal of finishing the race in under two hours, and as I ran, the competitive nature that really does exist within me (but is usually reserved for things like board games) had begun to emerge. Now I wondered how I was going to reach my goal, especially since I had spent the first ten minutes in the bathroom line. I wished I had worn a watch.

And then, with about one mile to go, there was Kent on the side of the road. He had already finished the race and had decided to backtrack and lend me moral support on my way to the finish line. He jumped in and ran alongside me. Only at this point, he really could have walked alongside me. I was hot. My legs ached. I was barely moving.

“You’re doing great!” he humored me. “Come on, you’re almost there. Push it!” Had I had the strength to turn my head, I would have glared at him.

“I am pushing it,” I panted. I really did appreciate his support, but man, I was almost dead! Other than childbirth (we always have to work that one in, don’t we, ladies?), this was the most physically grueling thing I’d ever been through.

“There it is,” I heard Kent say. I looked up and beheld a glorious sight. It was the finish line. One more guy comment from Kent:

“If you sprint, you’ll be able to beat that old man up ahead of you.”

“I am sprinting,” I informed him as he exited the racecourse.

I felt a smile begin to creep over my face. I kept my head up, my eyes on the banner strung above the finish line. The official clock read 1 hour 57 minutes. Yes! I was going to make it.

“And once you cross that finish line,” I told myself, “You’ll never have to run another step again if you don’t want to.” My foot hit the line and I all but came to a complete stop. I had reached my limit. But what a feeling! Pure joy.

I was proud of myself. Kent was proud of me. And later in the morning (was it really still morning?) when we returned home and I stuck my race bib to the fridge with a magnet, my kids were proud of me.

I hobbled around on sore legs for three or four days, and the bib stayed on the front of the fridge for three or four months. Every time I looked for something to eat, as I continued the quest for a size six body, I was reminded of my accomplishment. No, I haven’t yet made it back down to my former size. The increased mileage did help me to lose a few pounds, but not enough to fit into that old pair of jeans that hangs in the back of my closet.

And I’m still not sure I’m a real runner, but I am pretty sure I could pass myself off as one.

One day recently, as I moved the bib from the front to the side of the refrigerator, I noticed a typo. Instead of Provo River Trail Half Marathon, the text read Provo River Trial Half Marathon.

A trial run?

Oh well. I guess I’ll have to do it again.


So it's seven years later. I went on to run two full marathons after that. I did eventually make it back down to my former size, but I'm currently working on getting back up to where I was!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mississippi Mess-Up

We had a group of B.Y.U. students over for Family Night this week. I was in charge of treats. I decided to make Mississippi Mud in the Dutch oven out in the backyard. We got the charcoal going, I mixed it up, got it into the Dutch oven, put the briquettes under and on top, and went inside and set the timer. When the timer went off, I went out and removed the coals.

Mississippi Mud is supposed to be chocolate cake with its own built-in hot fudge topping. We were going to have ice cream, whipped cream, and maraschino cherries with it. Make sundaes out it it.

When it was time for the treats, I lifted the lid off the Dutch oven. I've probably made this twenty times over the years. I'm not sure what went wrong, but I think maybe the briquettes were old and didn't give off enough heat. In front of me was a big pot of chocolate soup.

Did this stop the B.Y.U. students? Heck, No! They were good sports. They spooned it over their ice cream, then added the whipped cream and the cherries. These are college students, and this is free food.

Later that evening, after everybody had left and I was cleaning up, I was contemplating the best way to get rid of the remaining soup. I decided to try to salvage it. I poured it into a 9 x 9 baking dish and put it in the oven. What came out of the oven was fabulous. This dense, moist, chocolate cakelike-but-not confection. I ate some that night. I had more for breakfast. And every time I passed through the kitchen, I was compelled to cut just a tiny square and pop it in my mouth. Okay, here's the real confession: cut a tiny square, squirt whipped cream on it, place one maraschino cherry on top, then pop it in your mouth. Repeat often throughout the day.

So here's the recipe for Mississippi Mess-Up. The ingredients are the same as for Mississippi Mud (Jolene Marshall's recipe), but the directions are different.

4 eggs, beaten
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup oil

Mix in a large bowl, beating vigorously by hand until smooth.

For the original recipe, you would now pour the above mixture into a well oiled or foil-lined Dutch oven. But we're not going to.

2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
3 1/2 cups hot tap water

Mix brown sugar and cocoa together. For the original recipe, you would sprinkle this mixture over the cake batter in the Dutch oven, and then slowly pour the water over the top. You don't mix it up at all. You would then put the lid on, put 24 coals on top and 6 coals underneath and let it bake for 30 minutes. But we're going to go ahead and mix the brown sugar and cocoa mixture and the hot water right into our cake batter. Mix it well. Soup. Then pour it into a 9 x 13 baking dish and put it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Maybe fifty. When it tried this again, the timer went off after 45 minutes but I missed it. I'm really not sure how long it was in there. Just check it. Mine cracked a little bit on top.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to make a quick run to the store. We're out of whipped cream and maraschino cherries.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What's In A Name?

Kent and I are coming up on our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Twenty-five years! It took me several of them to get used to my new last name. Gassman. You know I had to love him to take a last name like that. During the first few years, I secretly wished that the extended family would come to a consensus and have it legally changed to Grossman or Glassman or one of the other more normal names we frequently get called by strangers. But after being involved in family history work, I realized how messed up research gets when people go messing with last names.

Gassman is a Swiss name. It’s quite a common name in Switzerland and Germany. And it actually has nothing to do with gas. Gasse is a German word for a small street or alley. Street man. So I think my husband and children are actually descended from homeless people.

But try telling people this and they just smirk with a “we all know better” look on their faces. Gass is gas to them.

We’ve played a kind of game at our house for years. Whenever we hear a strange last name, we ask, for example, “Fillerup or Gassman? Which would you rather be?” Or “Which would you rather be, Wadzeck or Gassman?” “Bottom or Gassman?” “Hooker or Gassman?”

Some of Kent’s siblings were tormented as children.

“Hey, Gasser!”

Which is actually a last name I’ve seen in the phone book. Gassaway is also in there.

Gassman or Gassaway?

I don’t think it’s been too bad for our kids. I think a lot of it has to do with their attitude. Our kids all have a sense of humor and have been able to roll with it. When someone cracks a joke about their name, they join right in. Our daughter decided back in junior high that she had two choices: hate it or embrace it. She embraced it.

“Anyways, boys really think my name is cool,” she’d say. It didn’t hurt, I’m sure, that she’s a really cute girl.

And I think it helps that her first name is Carolyn. I think it’s a pretty name. It balances out her more unfortunate last name. I also think Melinda goes well with it. Melinda Gassman. Carolyn Gassman. Could be a lot worse. Pat Gassman, for instance. Not that there’s anything wrong with Pat.

Our son, Kurt Gassman, has been in Brazil for the past year and a half.

“One of the perks of being here,” he reports, “is that no one thinks my last name is weird.”

So, Lipschitz or Gassman? Balzly or Gassman? Belcher or Gassman? Knappenburger or Gassman? Macalupu or Gassman?

By now, we’ve all pretty much embraced it. We almost always pick Gassman.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Photogenic - NOT

I’ve joined the Facebook crowd. I thought it would be a good way to keep in touch with friends, renew old acquaintances, and most of all, keep up with my kids. The only thing I don’t like about it is all the pictures. I love looking at everyone else’s, but I hate posting my own. I take terrible pictures. Either that or I think I’m way better looking than I really am. In their August 2009 issue, Reader’s Digest published some tips on how to look good in photos. I took the magazine in the bathroom with me to practice in front of the mirror. Tip number one: “Focus your eyes just slightly above the camera lens, move your face forward a bit, and tip your chin down.” Sounds pretty simple, huh? Try it. I imagine myself thinking through these steps every time someone pulls out their camera to snap another potential wall posting. Focus up, face out, chin down. I look like a bird of prey. Tip number two: “Put your tongue behind your teeth and smile, which will relax your face.” Where else would you put your tongue? Tip number six: “Photos exaggerate everything, so go easy on the makeup.” Hmm. I’ve never worn a whole lot of makeup, mostly because I’m not very good at applying it. Tip number seven: “Practice the classic model pose” which is a three quarter turn toward the camera, one shoulder forward, one foot in front of the other. Just try adding these steps to the “focus up, face out, chin down.” Tip number eight: “For standing photos, belly in, buttocks tight, shoulders back, spine straight.” Tip number ten: “To feel at ease, try closing your eyes, then opening them slowly just before the photo is taken.” To feel at ease? They're kidding, right? How can I possibly feel at ease when I’m holding my face out, chin down, eyes up, body turned, shoulder forward, one foot out, belly in, buttocks tight, shoulders back, spine straight, and my tongue behind my teeth (which suddenly got hard to do)?
Add me as a friend on Facebook. I’d love to catch up, look at your pics. Just remember when you look at mine: I’m really a lot better looking in person. I'm just sure of it. :)