Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Finding consolation in a console

My parents have embarked on a major downsizing project, an exercise in sorting through both the tangible stuff and the memories that have accumulated in the house they’ve lived in for the past 45 years.

That house, a center-hall colonial, may seem like standard-issue suburbia– half-brick/half-siding with four bedrooms and two baths upstairs, family room, kitchen, living room, dining room and powder room on the main level, and a basement — but it’s really a family treasure chest in disguise. And boy, has that house worn some disguises.

Built in 1972, the house made its debut in Orange Hunt Estates clad in pale green siding with forest green shutters, its second-story overhang propped up with a set of square, pale green pillars. The front door opened into a foyer covered in whitish wallpaper with an ornate floral pattern in olive green and gold. If you left that jungle and headed to the left, you entered the family room, which welcomed you by rolling out the multi-colored shag carpet, with patches in various shades of brown, black, rust and mustard. That carpet not only camouflaged a multitude of spills but tolerated years of me and my siblings horsing around, playing board games with our friends, building card houses, watching sitcoms on our rabbit ear-antennae’d TV when we were allowed to (which was infrequently), and tearing open presents on Christmas morning.

A mustard-colored recliner Archie Bunker would have envied sat in one corner of the family room, complemented by a hanging lamp whose shade, as I recall, was white with multi-colored spots. Dad liked to read The Washington Post in that chair, and all of us liked to curl up there when it was vacant. The pièce de résistance in the family room, furniture-wise, was a sofa covered in an off-white nubby fabric patterned with vertical green stripes of varying widths. The sofa lent itself to naps, in part because it was the most comfortable piece of furniture in the history of furniture but also because the color scheme in that room made you want to lie down and close your eyes in self-defense. I don’t remember Mom spending a whole lot of quality time in either the recliner or on the sofa, probably because she was too busy making sure we kids didn’t kill ourselves or each other, but I digress.

If you’d headed right instead of left when you walked through the front door in 1972, you’d have found yourself in the living room. It also had a shaggy carpet, but in a neutral monochrome to let everybody know that it had some class. An octagonal wood combination table/cabinet sat on that carpet, flanked by two wingback chairs that, in a decorative leitmotif, bore the same green-and-gold floral pattern as the foyer wallpaper. In case you’re wondering what lived inside the octagon, Mom and Dad stored the liquor there. With four kids spanning eight years, I can understand their wanting ready access to booze.

The living room led to the dining room, whose early decor I don’t really remember because of a glorious console stereo that sat against one wall and stood out from everything else. Six feet of wooden chic, the console held a turntable, an AM/FM radio, and a whole lot more. That console was Christmas, giving us the smooth sounds of Johnny Mathis’s “Winter Wonderland” while we decorated a tree we’d cut down at a farm in the Virginia countryside. The console let our family follow Barry Manilow on countless musical trips to the hottest spot north of Havana and comforted us with the knowledge that Barry couldn’t smile without us. When Barry and Johnny weren’t hogging up the rotation, Simon and Garfunkel and Billy Joel made regular appearances on the turntable, too. Then the ’80s came and the console gave us Hooked On Classics, because it knew the only thing that could make Beethoven’s Fifth sound sound better was a disco beat.

 

The house changed disguises over time: wallpaper came down in favor of neutral paint, the incomparable green-striped couch was swapped for something bluer and prettier but not quite as comfortable, the shag carpet made way for plush brown in the family room and a nice Persian rug in the living room, and the square columns yielded to round white ones. We also got a piano, which meant the console stereo was stereo3relegated to the basement. But that didn’t stop it from cranking out the songs we lived by, songs that made us dance, sweat, swoon and laugh. Long after new-fangled technology like boomboxes, CD players and shelf systems had arrived and doomed the console to obsolescence, I still regarded it as a monument to my family’s happiness and never tired of seeing it.

The minute I realized Mom and Dad were serious about downsizing, I lay claim to that console, and I moved it into my house last weekend. It lives in the basement, just like it did my parents’ house, and it’s still home to songs by Sinatra, the Kingston Trio, and the Village People, as well as soundtracks from the Muppet Movie, Grease and Annie, and albums like Free to Be You and Me and The Stranger.

Sure, it needs a new needle and hasn’t cranked out any tunes in a while, but that console can still crank out dozens of happy memories just by keeping me company. If that’s not a family treasure, I don’t know what is.

I won’t judge you…unless you’re wearing a costume

I live in a cohesive community that reminds me in all the best ways of Orange Hunt, the neighborhood where I grew up. As in good ol’ O.H., neighbors here know one another and people take care of each other. But my current neighborhood has something O.H. didn’t: a community-owned park at the end of a street. That’s where I once again judged the annual Halloween costume contest, which took place today.

My neighborhood brought me back by popular demand, if we count as a demand last night’s neighborhood-wide email blast seeking people who are “interested and highly qualified. Or reasonably qualified.” I volunteered before they lowered their standards to “reasonably alive.” But I did it with some reluctance because my 13 year-old niece, Emily, couldn’t come. She had joined me last year in a zebra outfit and under the pretense of taking notes, but really, I wanted her there for backup in case things broke bad.

Though I didn’t have my backup zebra this year, I didn’t have to go it alone after all. As I was walking out the front door, I ran into Sue, my neighbor’s mom. She had come to town to see her granddaughter walk in the parade and nobly answered the call to the reasonably qualified. I was happy to see her. I like Sue a lot, but more importantly, she’s smaller than I am and was wearing a homemade ghost costume whose eye holes tended to rove. I felt certain I could outrun her if the crowd turned on us.

At 10 a.m., the parade got underway, led, as your better parades are, by a Jeep-driving Captain Hook. Behind him walked an inflated T-Rex, princesses, a ballot box with legs, Kraft Macaroni-n-Cheese, superheroes, a donut, George Washington, Greek goddesses, a punk rocker, french fries, a president, a farmer and his barnyard animals, Harry Potter and Hermione, a UPS crew, the entire cast of Toy Story, owls, a cheeseburger, and scores of other costume-clad revelers. The Arlington County police lent their support by dressing up as themselves and clearing traffic from the parade route. The parade culminated in the park, where the other judges and I circulated to get a closer look at the costumes that piqued our interest. Forty-five minutes later, the judges huddled to determine the winners.

As I’ve said before, wearing an inflatable shows extraordinary costume commitment.

As in Olympic figure skating, we scored based on presentation, required elements, and the ability to stay vertical while wearing an absurd outfit. After three minutes of agonizing deliberation–twenty seconds of which was spent rearranging Sue’s eyeholes–we had our winners

Captain Hook took to the dais (French for “unoccupied picnic table”) and silenced the crowd so the head judge could announce our results.

The winners I remember are:

  • Kraft Mac-n-Cheese: Were the creators going for irony with a homemade costume depicting America’s favorite processed powdered cheese side dish? We didn’t know and we didn’t care. Like most people, we love mac and cheese in any form.
  • The cast of Toy Story: they had it all, and it looked like they’d made it all. Or at least most of it. It’s hard to get close enough to inspect for “Made in China” labels without committing a serious personal space violation.
  • A family of monkeys: This looked to me like a faithful rendition of life in a zoo, or family mealtime. Either way, a few hurled bananas would have upped the authenticity.
  • The farm: We overlooked the fact that this farm’s chicken was strapped into a stroller –so much for free range eggs –because the cow and pig were so darned cute.
  • A graveyard bride: dressed all in grey and black, I imagine this is how I look when I haunt my ex-husband’s dreams. Mwahahaha.
  • The UPS crew: On person’s Amazon trash is another person’s UPS truck, loaded up with all kinds img_0161of cargo and a pig in the passenger seat. The driver, a toddler who lives on my street, refused to get into the truck. I don’t blame him; I’d be grumpy about working Saturdays, too.
  • The ballot box: By the time we announced the results, she was nowhere to be found. Either she’d gone off to stuff herself or she’d walked off with the election. We’ll never know.

And though he didn’t win, my personal favorite was this one:

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Yep, that’s an “A” that flashes on and off, making him…A-blinkin’.

I texted this pic to my family, eliciting responses that reflect the national mood right now.

L.J.: “Is he running for President? Because if he is, I’ll write him in!”

Lynne: “Me too! He has my vote!” She didn’t even ask about his email protocol.

Suzi: “At this point I would even vote for the UPS truck or the mac and cheese!!” Perhaps she thinks the mac and cheese would better represent us than the current orange candidate. I cannot disagree.

L.J.: “UPS delivers the goods!”

Like this annual event, that slogan is a real winner. Now if only we could find the ballot box.

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Me and Sue. She calls it a costume, I call it the Judge Protection Program.

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Like my creds?

Kentucky fried…rice?

Yesterday’s mail brought the exciting news that Good Luck With That Thing You’re Doing has been selected for inclusion in the 2015 Kentucky Book Fair.

If you’re asking, “Why Kentucky?” my reason is simple: how could I resist a state whose initials are the same as mine?

The KBF takes place on November 14 in Frankfort, a city I’ve never visited. In fact, I’ve set foot in Kentucky only once before. And when I say set foot, I mean it. While in Cincinnati years ago, I walked across the John A. Roebling Bridge that spans the Ohio River and connects Ohio to Kentucky, and then I promptly turned around. Thanks to the KBF, I’ll have a golden opportunity to expand on my one-step tour of the Commonwealth.

I perused TripAdvisor for things to do in Frankfort and saw that two of the top ten attractions are cemeteries. Because a death motif can be detrimental to tourism, there is also bourbon, and places where you can taste it. Add to that a candy museum, which creates the tantalizing possibility of combining bourbon and chocolate, and I’ve got pretty much everything I require in a destination.

I will also have everything I require in a travel partner, because Mom wants to come with me. I called my parents as soon as I got the letter yesterday afternoon, knowing their excitement would meet and possibly exceed mine. By the time I hung up with Mom, she had already scouted flight options.

The next person I told was my friend Angela, who hails from Kentucky. In addition to being a dear friend, Angela was my elementary school librarian. She helped nurture my love of books and, by teaching me to be a discerning reader, contributed to my writing. She could have considered her job done when I graduated from Orange Hunt Elementary, but instead, she has picked up the pompons and become a tireless cheerleader for my book. She even came to my event at Park Road Books in Charlotte a few months ago and watched me receive my temporary Jewish credentials. (I bet she couldn’t have seen that coming decades ago when I was sitting cross-legged on the floor of her library.)

I got so caught up in this surge of positive emotions that I lost track of time. I had invited my friend Dan over for dinner and I still needed to do a fair amount of prep work. Dan and I have known each other since high school–we worked on the newspaper together –and we have an easy friendship based on ample common ground, coupled with acceptance of and respect for our differences. For example, I’m an agnostic, but I admire Dan’s strong religious convictions and enjoy talking to him about his faith. Those conversations always make me think and never leave me feeling like I’ve been evangelized. My approach to religion doesn’t faze Dan, nor does my irreverence. In fact, he just returned from a faith-oriented trip to Fatima and would have been the first person to laugh had I said, “My friend went to Portugal and all he brought me was this lousy rosary.”

Because Dan is comfortable, fun company, he wouldn’t have cared one bit had I forgotten to cook dinner altogether, but I was determined to treat him to a nice evening. When he arrived, he found me and the kitchen in a state of mild disorder. Appetizers were on the table, chicken was ready to be grilled, and a honey cake sat cooling on the counter, but I still needed to roast the asparagus and cook the rice. I had also stranded all sorts of pots and pans on the stove, including a saucepan coated with a film of honey-based syrup.

As Dan and I caught up on our recent goings-on, including his trip to Portugal and my upcoming trip to Kentucky, the mild disorder in the kitchen upgraded itself to moderate chaos. I sent my pal outside to grill the chicken while I dealt with the sides. I dumped chicken broth in a pot and, while I waited for it to boil for the rice, put the asparagus in the oven. Fifteen minutes later, everything had finished but the allegedly quick-cooking rice. It had boiled over at one point, so I had lowered the heat, perhaps slowing the cooking in the process. As I stirred, I noticed it had taken on an unusual hue. I figured it had something to do with the boil-over and opted not to worry about it. With liquid still remaining in the pot after 20 minutes and our dinner rapidly cooling, I jacked up the heat, threw some parmesan cheese and basil into the pot with the rice, and declared it done.

Dan and I sat down and dug in. The chicken and asparagus had turned out perfectly. I put a forkful of rice in my mouth, expecting to taste chicken, cheese and basil. Instead I got honey. A second bite that was crunchier and more cloying than the first confirmed that I had somehow made honey rice and it was inedible.

“Don’t eat it,” I said to Dan, who was already eating it.

“It’s not bad,” he said, making me wonder if they’d confiscated his taste buds at Customs.

“It’s terrible,” I said, “And now I’m wondering what I put in that cake.” Dan said something nice about how, if my excitement caused some ingredient confusion, it was a small price to pay.

We agreed there was only one way to find out. I cut into the cake. It smelled promising from a socially acceptable distance, so I put two pieces on dessert plates. Dan took a big bite and looked thoughtful as he chewed.

“Tastes like chicken,” he said. I took a nervous bite. On tasting no poultry and just honey, I realized my friend is no slouch in the humor department.

I haven’t even booked a flight, but already this trip to Kentucky is proving pretty sweet.

Honey rice, or as I call it, Kentucky Fried Rice

Honey rice, or as I call it, Kentucky Fried Rice.