Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Good Old-Fashioned Up-to-the-Waist Pants

Today I am wearing pants that fit up around my waist. You can call it a Halloween costume if you want to.

I bought them a few weeks ago at Costco, where I buy all my clothes. At the time, I didn't realize they had an old-fashioned waistline. With my usual attention to detail while shopping for clothes, I just rifled through a pile until I found my size and then tossed them into my cart.

No, it wasn't until I got them home and went to try them on that I realized what I had. As I stepped into and then pulled them up, I thought:

"He-ey, these are going to fit around my waist."

I zipped and buttoned.

"Oooh, this feels good."

But at the same time, I immediately felt as if I now had something to hide. What would my daughter say? Or rather, how hard would she laugh?

It's been many years since I've worn a pair of pants that fits around that long-forgotten body part- the female waist. Hip-hugger pants have been the style for - what? - fifteen years? Maybe longer?

At one point during this more-than-a-fad, I conducted my own survey of young women. I had several deflector questions at the beginning so they wouldn't suspect my purpose.

"Where is your right leg?" I asked.

"How about your shoulders?"

"Left elbow?"

They got everything right until I asked the real question:

"Where is your waist?"

They invariably placed their hands on their hips.


A  generation or two of girls are walking around out there, completely unaware of their waists.

A few years ago, I was with a young mother as she changed her baby girl's diaper.  After she got the tapes in place, she folded down the top of the diaper.

"You fold down the top?" I asked with incredulity, thinking of the trend of rolling down the waistbands of sweat pants and shorts to... To what? Reveal a muffin top?

"I just think it must feel so terrible to her to have her diaper way up high like that," she replied. "I can' t believe they make them that way."

Which brings me to muffin tops. Women didn't used to have muffin tops. Well, they may have had the same roll of fat around their middles, but it was nicely held in and smoothed over by a pair of pants or a skirt that fit up around the waist. Nowadays, everyone but the skinniest of skinny ten-year-olds has a muffin top.

I am dating myself, aren't I? And now I'm going to date myself even further. When I was young, girls were taught to hold in their stomachs. All girls. Chubby girls, thin girls, medium girls. We were all taught to stand up straight and suck in our stomachs. It seems kind of sexist today, I admit. Why should girls have to hold their stomachs in? The boys don't. And look what's happened as a result. We're now wearing our pants around our hips and letting our bellies hang over the top, just like the men. And look what's happened to the guys as a result of women wearing their pants low. The guys are wearing theirs even lower!

"Okay, you're going to wear yours there? Well then, we're going to wear ours here!"

I know I'm going to take a lot of flak for this, but I have really enjoyed my high-rise pants today. They feel great. And having the waistband around my middle reminds me to suck in my tummy.

And I may not look it, but I feel thinner.

Of course I've got my shirt untucked so nobody can see that I'm wearing pants up around my waist. Halloween or not, I'm not quite ready for that.

Can't even tell, huh?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dish Towel vs. Dish Cloth - there is a difference

dish towel

dish cloth

I'm standing at the kitchen sink, my hands submerged in hot, soapy water. I'm using a dish cloth to wash my one-quart capacity measuring cup. I rinse it under hot water and then reach for a dish towel that's lying on the counter top a few feet away. I shake it open to begin to dry the measuring cup.

"Ugh!" This comes out somewhere between a groan and a yell and definitely expresses exasperation.

Hidden in the folds of the cloth I have found chunks of tomato, ground beef, and pasta. A large section of the center of the towel is red and stiff with what appears to be dried up lasagna soup from last night's dinner. Maybe half a bowlful.

This is gross.

"Who does stuff like this?" I holler although I'm the only one home.

Big sigh.

Now to deal with this. Half of the chunks of food have hardened and stuck to the towel. Half are loose and have fallen to my just-mopped kitchen floor. I clean up the floor and then shake and scrape what's left on the towel into the garbage. I submerge the towel in the hot soapy water of the sink, then I wring it out. I take it to the laundry room. Might as well put a load through.

Boys and Girls, there is a difference between a dish cloth and a dish towel.

Would you take a bath towel or even a hand towel into the shower with you, soap it up and scrub with it?

No, you wouldn't.

Because a towel is not meant for that. A towel is meant to dry stuff off that is wet. Stuff that's wet from water.

You might, however, use a wash cloth in the shower. Then you would dry the water off of yourself with a bath towel.

In the kitchen, it works the same way. We wash things with a dish cloth. Then we dry them with a dish towel.

Let's practice a bit, shall we?

Scenario #1

You're making mac and cheese from a box. Somehow (although I can't understand it) you miss the plate and dump mac and cheese from the pan onto the countertop. You really don't want to, but you know you should at least make an attempt to clean it up. You reach for a dish towel...


Now let's think this through. Remember, towels are for drying off things that are wet from water. Is the counter top wet from water? No, it is not. The counter top has chunks of food on it. You should go to the sink and find a dish cloth. Run the dish cloth under hot water and wring it out. Even better, you could make some hot, soapy water, submerge the dish cloth in it, and then wring it out. But I realize that's asking a lot.

Now, using the dish cloth, carefully wipe up the mac and cheese, gathering the pieces inside the cloth. Carry the enclosed pieces to the garbage and dump them in. Return to the sink with the dish cloth and run it under hot water again, rinsing it well. Take it back to the location of your spill. Wipe the spot thoroughly. Repeat until the counter top is clean. Give the dish cloth a final rinse and hang it somewhere to dry.

Scenario #2

You're making yourself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Somehow (although I can't understand it) grape jelly drops from the knife you are using onto the kitchen counter. It's just a little bit so you reach for a dish towel...


It doesn't matter that it's just a little bit. Is it water? No, it is grape jelly. You should go to the sink and find a dish cloth. Run the dish cloth under hot water (again, hot soapy water would be better but...) and wring it out. Wipe up the jelly with the damp dish cloth. Rinse under hot water. Wring it out again. Wipe the counter top until it is no longer sticky. Rinse and wring out the cloth one more time and hang it somewhere to dry.

Scenario #3

You're pouring yourself a glass of Sprite. Somehow (ahem...) you manage to spill it all over the counter. It runs down the fronts of the lower cabinets and onto the floor. You reach for a dish towel because this time it's clear like water...


Now, come on. Really?

First of all, get some paper towels and soak up what's on the floor. Throw them in the garbage. Get the mop. Mop the floor. It's the only way you're going to get it clean. (I hope you know how to mop.) Then get a dish cloth and run it under (this time you've got to do it)  HOT, SOAPY water. Wring it out. Wipe the counter top and the fronts of the cabinets. Better get the back splash too - the stuff probably went everywhere. Rinse the dish cloth in the hot, soapy water and wipe everything again. And one more time. Then give the dish cloth a final rinse and hang it somewhere to dry.  

Scenario #4

You are trying to pour water into your bowl of instant oatmeal. Somehow (sigh) you miss the bowl entirely and dump it all on the counter top. You know you should clean it up so you... Hey! This time it's just water! For once, it's just plain old water! You can reach for a dish towel and proceed to sop up the spilled water and feel perfectly good about it. Just remember to hang the towel when you're done so that it can dry.

Remember, just ask yourself:

 "Is it plain water?"

If yes, you can use a dish towel. If no, please use a dish cloth and follow the outlined steps above. Please don't leave surprises hidden in dish towels for unsuspecting mothers, wives, or other probably female people to discover. 

We will be happy. 

You like it when we're happy. 

We like it when we're happy.

 Win/ Win. 

Thanks for listening.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pumpkin Ice Cream

I love pumpkin treats. (See November 4, 2010 post.) I have always wanted to make pumpkin ice cream and I finally did. Mmmmmm. This could be the best ice cream I've ever made. I found a couple of recipes on the Internet, changed a few things to suit my own taste, and voila! Glad I took notes as I went because it's practically pumpkin perfection. We had it for dessert last night. I had it for lunch and dinner today. It's really good served with a couple of ginger snaps.

Pumpkin Ice Cream

3 cups cream
2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
10 large egg yolks
one cinnamon stick
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin

Place the pumpkin in a strainer over a bowl. Let stand while you proceed with the recipe. Some water will drain out.

In a medium saucepan, mix together cream, milk, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt.

Whisk the egg yolks in a separate bowl.

Heat the cream mixture until bubbles begin to form around the edges. Whisking quickly, add some of the cream mixture into the egg yolks. Continue to add cream mixture until half of it has been whisked into the egg yolks. Then whisk it back into what's left in the pan.

Cook over low heat (really important), stirring constantly for about five minutes.

Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. Strain a second time. Mix in the brown sugar. Add the cinnamon stick, and chill well. Overnight is good but not absolutely necessary.

Remove the cinnamon stick. Whisk in the vanilla and the pumpkin. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. Strain it again. And maybe once more. (Yes, lots of straining in this recipe.) Then freeze in ice cream freezer according to manufacturer's instructions. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Chicken Tortilla Soup

It's October and that means it's soup season. Not everyone around here is happy about that.

"Mom," my son Kurt has said to me many times since he became a legitimate eater at around age twelve, "soup is not a meal."

Too bad. I'm the cook and sometimes I like to make soup - as a meal.

Kent doesn't mind soup as a meal as long as I let him eat out of a big enough bowl.

On Sunday, I made Chicken Tortilla Soup. My friend Beckie is really good at creating copycat recipes. Several years ago, she copied Cafe Rio's Tortilla Soup and gave me her recipe. It's delicious. (I've probably changed it quite a bit over the years. I can't remember how much. Beckie might not even recognize it.) 

The following was just the right amount for a meal for eight people on Sunday.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
fajita seasoning mix
3 quarts canned chicken broth
chicken bouillon
fresh lime juice
chopped garlic (I use garlic-in-a-jar)
1 can refried beans
1 can pinto beans
taco seasoning
chili powder
more fresh lime juice
Monterrey jack, shredded
frozen sweet corn from Costco, cooked
tomatoes, chopped
green onions, chopped
cilantro, chopped
tortilla strips*

 Put fajita seasoning in a gallon-sized Ziploc with 1/2 cup vegetable oil and 1/2 cup vinegar. Mix well. Add chicken breasts and marinate for a couple of hours. Heat chicken broth. On Sunday, I thought the broth I used was a little weak so I added 3 Tablespoons of chicken bouillon. Add the juice of about 3 or 4 limes and maybe a tablespoon of garlic. Okay, I admit it. I didn't really measure. Taste it and see if you like it. Adjust as needed. Put the refried beans in a bowl. Mix in the pinto beans and doctor it up with a little salsa and some taco seasoning. You now have chunky refried beans. Make guacamole with avocados, lime juice, cumin, and chili powder. Leave some of the avocado chunky so you have a chunky guacamole.(You can buy the good kind of pre-made guacamole at Costco if you want to.) Preheat your grill on high. Place chicken on grill and immediately reduce heat to low and shut lid. Turn after about ten minutes. Shut lid and cook for about seven more minutes. Remove from grill and cover with aluminum foil. Let stand for ten to fifteen minutes, then slice into thin strips. Set out all ingredients in serving bowls. Get the broth really hot. Boiling is okay. Some of the other ingredients are cold and will bring down the temperature. Serve assembly-line style, letting diners fill their bowls with the ingredients they like. Ladle broth into bowls over other ingredients. Top with cilantro and fried tortilla strips.

*You can make your own fried tortilla strips by cutting corn tortillas into thin strips and frying in hot vegetable oil. Drain on paper towels. But - I just saw tortilla strips for sale in a bag at Walmart the other day. I haven't tried them yet, but it sure sounds easy. 

On Sunday, we skipped the fried tortilla strips and had flour tortillas alongside our soup instead. They were the good kind that you buy raw and cook on a griddle.

Yes, we had soup as a meal, and I don't think anybody went hungry.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Jury Duty

 So where have I been the last couple of weeks? I got selected for jury duty. It's been a full-time job. The following is a bit long, but I wanted to share a little about my experience. 

A few weeks back  I received a letter instructing me to report for jury selection. If chosen I would be required to sit on a jury for a trial that was projected to last the better part of two weeks. I cleared my calendar just in case and reported as instructed.

When I arrived at the courthouse, I was surprised to find that I was part of a pool of at least sixty potential jurors. We were each assigned a number and a corresponding chair to sit in and asked to fill out a preliminary survey. We watched a short video instructing us on the whole jury selection process. Then the judge began to question us as a group. If we had an issue with a question, we raised our hands and our numbers were recorded. When the judge had finished his questions, the attorneys for the plaintiff and the defendant each had a turn to pose questions. Again, if we had a problem, we raised our hands.

What kinds of questions did they ask? Did anyone have an undue hardship that they felt should excuse them from jury duty? Was anyone acquainted with any of the parties involved, or with anyone on the long list of potential witnesses? They wanted to know if we or anyone close to us had had any personal experiences of a similar nature to the case that was to be tried. They were trying to discover any potential biases we might have in favor of either the plaintiff or the defendant.

In the days leading up to this, plenty of people had offered me advice on how to get out of jury duty. I could try to come across as crazy or bigoted and they surely wouldn't choose me. Something that everybody jokes about in relation to jury duty, right? I had to admit that it would be nice to be dismissed from serving, go home and enjoy the next couple of weeks living my usual life. I was dying to get up in the mountains, view the fall foliage, and do some hiking. But somehow I didn't feel good about passing myself off as a crazy bigot!

After all questions had been posed, potential jurors who had raised a hand were called out one at a time for further questioning in the presence of the judge and both attorneys and their respective clients. Over the course of the process, some potential jurors were dismissed. After a lunch break and more individual interviews, we were ready for the final jury selection. Each side had the chance to strike three potential jurors as they worked together to agree on nine, one of whom would unknowingly serve as an alternate.

When the judge read the list of those selected, I was surprised to hear my name. Really, what were the chances? Slim, actually.

The nine of us, three women and six men, were immediately escorted to the jury room. We were given a few more instructions as well as a supply of snacks and drinks. This room would be ours alone for the next two weeks. Each morning we were to report between 8:15 and 8:45, depending on the day and the judge's docket. The trial would last each day until 5:00 or so. On the last day, it would last until we reached our verdict.

Then we were escorted back into the courtroom to begin the trial.

"All rise. Fourth District Court is now in session."

We filed in according to our numbers. I was juror number five.

It was a personal injury lawsuit. The plaintiff was suing the defendant for several million dollars, claiming to have sustained a mild traumatic brain injury after her automobile was struck by the defendant's. The defendant readily admitted that the accident was her fault, but denied that it possibly could have caused any harm to the plaintiff.  

Big breath out.

This was going to be interesting, I thought.

It was.

We listened to witness after witness, testifying in behalf of the plaintiff. We heard cross-examination by the defendant's counsel. We heard rebuttals. We were shown evidence. I was fascinated by a plastic model of a head with a removable brain that came apart in sections and fit together again like a puzzle. (I'm thinking of ordering one off the Internet.)

We received an extensive education on mild traumatic brain injury. We became familiar with a variety of complex medical terms and conditions. We had lessons on bio-mechanical engineering, complete with a computerized simulation of the car accident that had occurred between the parties.

We broke for lunch each day and were able to leave the courthouse. We'd meet again an hour later and  the bailiff would escort us back to the jury room.

On the second or third day, we were met instead by another court employee. As she escorted us onto the elevator, she said something like,

"Thanks for doing this. I know you all have better things to do."

It was kind of funny. As in strange or odd. We all just stood there. For a moment no one said a word. 

Then one of us said,

"Actually, this is a really good thing we're doing."  

Did we have better things to be doing? 

 By now all nine of us felt the importance of our job and it was sobering. I doubt that any of us will lightly joke about how to get out of jury duty again.  

We spent a lot of time together in the jury room as the lawyers and the judge worked things out that we weren't allowed to hear. I can't tell you how many times we filed in and out of that courtroom. ("All rise!") We weren't allowed to discuss the case with each other until after all the evidence had been given, so we had to talk about other things. As a result, we got to know each other pretty well.

After several days of testimony by the plaintiff's witnesses, it was time for the defense to present its case. More witnesses, more cross-examination, more rebuttals. It was all fascinating. I was never bored. We were constantly reminded by the judge to keep an open mind, not form any opinions until all the evidence had been presented, not to discuss the trial with anyone or let anyone talk about it with us. 

Every night I'd go home and say to a family member,

"Ask me how my day in court was."

"How was your day in court?"

"I can't talk about it."

(I think I'm so funny. I did get them to fall for it over and over though.)

Finally, on the last day, it was time to hear the closing arguments. The counsel for the plaintiff got to go first, then the counsel for the defense, and then the plaintiff's counsel got to have the last word. We were given instructions from the judge. We had to follow certain guidelines as we decided the case. The alternate was identified, thanked for his service, and excused. The rest of us felt bad for him. We had all invested so much in this trial. It would have been difficult to have been asked to leave at that point. We all felt we had earned our right to speak to the case.
Then we were dismissed to deliberate as a jury. We were escorted back to the jury room and allowed to make phone calls. Then our phones were taken, laptops were taken, and we were locked up together and would remain there until six out of the eight of us were in agreement.

We were finally allowed to talk about the case.

None of us had any idea as to how the others were thinking. We selected a foreman and began tentatively. It was soon evident that we were all pretty much on the same page, but had questions and concerns we wanted to discuss and be sure of. We proceeded cautiously. We covered everything and discussed every aspect of the case. We dissected our instructions and made sure we followed them minutely. We raised all possible questions and concerns that anyone had and discussed them thoroughly. 

After almost five hours of deliberating, we finally buzzed our bailiff. 

We were ready to re-enter the courtroom and deliver our verdict.

It was a tense moment. And a humbling one. We were affecting people's lives. Somebody had to win and somebody had to lose. We filed back in for the final time. The judge asked the foreman for the paper that contained our verdict. He asked the court clerk to read it aloud.

We had found the defendant not guilty. No money would be awarded to the plaintiff.

Before we knew it, the judge had thanked us for our service, informed us that we were now free to discuss the case with anyone, and we were whisked out of the courtroom.

Back in the jury room, we gathered up our belongings, thanked our bailiff for taking good care of us,  received our phones and laptops back, shook hands and said our good-byes.

As I drove home from the courthouse last night, I thought about the past two weeks. I thought about the trial process. I thought about all I had experienced and learned. I felt confident in our decision. It had been an amazing experience, start to finish.


You got a letter instructing you to report for jury selection?

Don't be tempted to act like a crazy bigot. 

It's an experience that you'll greatly benefit from. 

I hope you're lucky enough to get selected. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Where in the World is Burkina Faso?

After my husband and I put up his giant map of the world in the basement this summer (see July 24 post - How To Wallpaper Together and Stay Married), I found myself going down there several times a day just to stare at it. I'd be going about my daily routine and suddenly I'd realize I was going down the basement stairs again. Something was pulling me toward the map. Perhaps magnetic north? I don't think so. I think I was compelled to face a weakness. I've always been really bad at geography. Whenever a geography question came up on Jeopardy, I'd do that thing where you blow out air through loose lips and swat my hand in the direction of the TV. Geography? Really? Ask me something else.

Looking at the giant map was like looking into a mirror and seeing Ignorance stare back at me.

I decided to turn a weakness into a strength. I decided to study geography.

I found a geography game online . A pleasant female voice said the name of a country and I'd click on its location on the map. I started with Western Europe and moved my way east. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.  I studied for weeks, usually late at night, with a bag of chocolate chips at hand. (Did you know that chocolate stimulates brain function? Just a theory I have.) When I got to Africa, I initially felt overwhelmed. How am I going to do this? I thought. But the nice lady on the game had Africa broken down into small, manageable areas, and I got through it in a few nights. I have since gone all the way around the world. I still have to work on all the small island nations. There are so many of them and they all look the same - tiny specks in an ocean.

I told my family about my project. They immediately started throwing out names of countries to try and stump me.


"Up on the northeast coast of Africa," I confidently replied.


"In the eastern interior of South Africa."


"Next to Thailand."

Phew. I breathed a sigh of relief. I had passed.

"What do you do? Go down in the basement and stare at Dad's map?" they asked me.

"No. Well, sometimes," I admitted. "And I play geography games online."


"Right by Armenia."

I continued to study. I'd tell other people what I was doing and they'd also quiz me.


"East of Ethiopia, on the coast of Africa. Just south of Eritrea."

"Burkina Faso?" My neighbor Beth asked me.

"It's right above Ghana. How do you know about Burkina Faso?"

"All  my kids did Burkina Faso for their World Fair project at school."


I was doing really well. Nobody could stump me.

And then one day,

"Lizzy, Sister Gassman* is learning where all the countries in the world are. Ask her where something is."

Lizzy is eleven years old. She's a very smart eleven-year-old. She thought for a moment and then said,

"New Guinea?"

I immediately thought of Africa.

"Well, there's Guinea and Guinea Bissau on the northwest coast of Africa," I responded.

Lizzy got a confused look on her face.

"I was thinking of the island down by Australia."

Ha! I should have known that. It's not even a small island.

Well, I was humbled by a child. I still have a lot of work to do. And I'm going to have to constantly review what I've learned so far until it's really cemented in my brain. And borders will change. I'll probably never really be done. 

But I'm having fun and hopefully staving off Alzheimer's. 

My Jeopardy stats have improved. 

And I just feel like a better citizen of the world.

*This was a neighbor child who belongs to our church. In the church, we use Brother and Sister like Mr. and Mrs.