|Sans le Nom: Cookery, Rhetoric, and Other Forms of Pandering|
"Now I call this sort of thing pandering, and I declare that it is dishonorable."—Plato
"When a name comes, it immediately says more than the name." —Derrida
February 26, 2008: In Which I Am Crowned Queen
But my reign is also plagued by problems: I use FrontPage to create my pages (for the most part) which are hosted by Tripod; FeedBurner manages my RSS, which was created with VBA in FrontPage. And the upshot of it is I have spent the last two weeks trying to figure out why FeedBurner will not update e-mail subscriptions, why Google doesn't grab the latest feed, how VBA creates XML so I can isolate the problem if it is there, and whether or not Tripod supports RSS—among other things. I solved all but the first problem, and, since I couldn't find an answer to that, I innocently set about creating and maintaining my own e-mail subscriptions by putting a simple form on the home page. Suddenly, the file jumped to 16 kazillion megabytes and can't be opened with FrontPage. So I edited the code to remove the offending form. Nothing.
So I rebuilt it.
I got it to publish, but then I had the crazy idea that I needed to validate it and my other Web site with Google, so people could find me better. Then, suddenly, Tripod wouldn't accept my password for this site, but has no problem with the other site. I had to completely erase the site and re-publish it, among other things, to finally get it live again.
*sigh.* I will be bald within the week. Either say a prayer for my hair or pray that the Crown of Abstruseness will look really awesome on my bald head.
February 22, 2008: Don't Worry
Having done all the work I can manage to do from bed (tonsillitis), I had a little time and energy to surf Found Magazine. Posted on the Web site was this note, found in Maine. It says, "Message for / Mom the / toilet over / Flowed / Don't Worry."
A slight chuckle. Then, I read the message again. Giggle. I read the message again, out loud, like a poem. It has a certain cadence—try it. Pretty soon I was bowled over in tears and guffaws. I don't know why I still find it so funny.
Is it that the toilet overflowing is probably No. 3 (would that it were No. 2—ha, ha) on my top-ten list of things to worry about?
Is it the incongruity of toilet-overflowing reality intruding upon my recent morbid contemplation of dying (because I feel so close to it)?
Is it the implication of finding this message, which looks to have been written on paper manufactured in the 70s, somewhere in Maine? Where? Was it close to a sewer grate? Did that poor kid get sucked down the pipes butt first? Where is he now?
Or was it simply that, even though I have no children, I know the exact words that would have issued from my mouth had I been this kid's mom:
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE, NOW?"
I can picture my head exploding upon discovering a box of cherry bombs on the bathroom counter.
Not my kid, not my problem. But I thank him for the laugh. I needed it.
February 21, 2008: Sick Thoughts
I have tonsillitis. Having nothing better to do, I have been keeping a catalog of my strange thoughts:
I wish my nose would whistle a different tune.
How many paws have been in this tea?
Am I the only one who can make my congestion go from one nostril to the other simply by turning over? Is this a super power?
How can an animal 1/6 my size take up 3/4 of the bed?
They should put a prize in the bottom of the tissue box. I want to feel special when I've used an entire box in a single day.
Sheesh, every time I fall asleep someone starts snoring. Who is that?
They should put a warning label on orange juice: "If you have tonsillitis, this will hurt."
If the cats would just put their heads together, I'm sure they could bring me a glass of water.
Cat Central, again? Where's the remote?
Help, I'm becoming a cat!
The best part, though, are the crazy recurring dreams. It seems like every time I manage to fall asleep, I dream that it's time to get up and get the cats to school. This is followed by a moment between asleep and awake where I actually start to worry about the cats getting to school, which, in turn, is followed by a conversation in my head where my more-wakeful self tries to convince my more-asleep self that the "cats' education isn't in any danger from missing a day or two," which is true, but the point might be better conveyed as "Cats don't go to school, you moron! Go back to sleep."
Feb. 16, 2008: Tragedy to Turnips
Remember that scene from Gone with the Wind where Scarlett picks up a turnip and says, "As God is my witness, I will never be hungry again"? At one point, she bites into it and then spits it out. When I was young, someone, I can't remember who, told me that Southerners survived on turnips during the Civil War because Sherman's troops didn't know what they were and, thus, didn't bother destroying them as they burned a swath through the South. That turns out to be a load of hooey. They were first grown in this country in Massachusetts in 1622—well north of the Mason-Dixon line. As a matter of fact, Pliny the Elder sang their praises way, way back in the day, two millennia ago. And it is believed that the turnip can trace its roots (ha, ha) to China, where they are still an important ingredient. However, cooking up a mess of greens (turnip, collard, mustard, or poke) is probably no where more ritualized than in the American South, and that may be the reason why turnips are so often associated with Southern cooking.
When I first became interested in Asian cuisines, I thought I had to have the exact ingredients called for in the recipe or it wouldn't be authentic. Many of the dishes I wanted to try called for daikon radishes, which usually can't be purchased in Arkansas and, even when they can, aren't very fresh. I got my first clue when my friend Yuki taught me to make miso soup—using turnips. I got my second clue when I started purchasing Asian cook books that were originally published in the writer's native country and later published in English for the American market. Recipes for turnips far outnumber those for daikons. They are so similar in taste, texture, and color that it makes sense to substitute inexpensive turnips for overpriced daikons. Tragedy averted.
Here are two Asian recipes where you can use turnips. Scarlett might not have spat out that turnip, if she'd had these in her repertoire.
Bring the water to boil, add the dashi, and turn the burner to low. Using a long-handled spoon, scoop the miso from the bag or jar. Using the backside of another long-handled spoon, rub the the miso into the stock. This will ensure there are no lumps of miso in the soup (thanks, Yuki!). Add turnips and greens, tofu, and onion. Allow to warm through. Serve.
February 14, 2008: Fun with Dick and Jane
Every three years, I ritually entertain the thought of going back to graduate school, as happened, like clockwork, this past December. Part of the ritual includes spending a small fortune on GRE prep materials (they're currently collecting dust on a bookshelf) and cursing my mathematical incapacity and ETS for "fleecing America": They may be a non-profit, but someone in that organization is pulling down a huge salary. By the time an Arkansan will have graduated from college, she will have taken at least 19 standardized tests comparing her to every other student in Arkansas and the U.S., and many of them are ETS "products"—and, yes, that is how they refer to their tests and preparation materials. Their stated mission is to "advance learning." But learning isn't "advanced" by having students memorize a bunch of discrete facts or master disparate skills to spit back out on a test. And who do you think lobbied Congress and the White House for "more accountability" in the public schools through rigorous testing? It wasn't the National Education Association, I can tell you that.
But I digress.
The test-creators love a particular mathematical word problem—one that I can never seem to wrap my mind around, regardless of how many times I'm confronted with it. It goes something like this: Dick is driving an average speed of 50 m.p.h. east down I-40. Jane is driving an average of 65 m.p.h. heading west on I-40. In how many minutes will they meet? Okay, some facts have been omitted, but you get the idea.
Now, understand that this test is supposed to calculate and communicate (through numbers) my ability to reason. Being a good sport and all, I start out tackling these questions with patience and zest. I get my ratios going, scribble a bunch of figures out on a scrap sheet of paper...but something just keeps gnawing at me. And it goes something like this:
"Is this question asking me when Dick and Jane will actually 'meet' or when they will simply pass by each other? If it's the former rather than the latter, when should I consider them to actually have met? When they see each other's vehicles? Or when they actually say "hello" to one another? Should I consider strictly freeway miles? Or should I factor in on- and off-ramps and the streets they take to their destination? Do stoplights count? Are they meeting in Morrilton (oh, it's strictly business)? or Altus (wine country—you do the math, as it were)? Have they reserved a motel room? What if one of them gets into a wreck? Do they have cell phones? Why can't Dick pick up the phone and call Jane to tell her he's leaving so they can meet at the half-way point at about the same time? Did Jane remember her lipstick? Have the cats been fed? Who drives freaking 50 miles an hour on the freeway? I mean, really, Jane—he drives 50 in a 70; get a clue."
To me, all these questions are vital to figuring out just exactly when Dick and Jane will meet…or...more importantly...whether or not they actually should. But the test doesn't account for this in any way.
I guess my point here is that a multiple-choice test cannot measure anyone's ability to reason in a real-life situation. If the GRE actually did that (and it just might be that the only "product" which actually tests real-life human reasoning is the Darwin Awards), most of humanity would pass. The purpose of the GRE, and tests akin to it is much more specific: It is to weed out those who can't or refuse to play games with test-writers and testing conglomerates who market intelligence, logic, and reasoning as some sort of commodity. It's a kind of reasoning, all right. But it's not what we think of as common sense or even the kind of thinking we really, necessarily, want the people who take care of us (government employees, doctors, lawyers, teachers) to excel at.
And this isn't a case of sour grapes, either. I have scored fairly well (680 verbal, 580 quantitative, and 760 analytical) on the GRE—well enough to be accepted to IU, Purdue, Rensselaer, Vanderbilt, and I can't remember which others—every time I've taken it.
Which reminds me of another interesting rule ETS has implemented— your scores are only good for five years. Okay. So in five years' time there's a good possibility I've grown considerably stupider, so I need to take the test again to prove I don't have early-onset Alzheimer's? This rule has the taint of planned and programmed profit-making obsolescence, if you ask me.
Whatever. At the rate they're going, Dick and Jane will probably never meet. And at the rate the country's going, we'll be a nation full of people who are really good at taking tests and not much else.
February 2, 2008: Bananas
It's possible I have a mild case of OCD. I've never believed in having my failures as a human diagnosed, so I can't be completely sure. But if I do have it, I can say for certain that it started during the Great Blizzard of '78. I was ten and growing up in Indianapolis. The forecasters had been all over the TV and radio news during the hours leading up to it, predicting a huge snowfall and record lows. Everyone seemed to be battening down the hatches, preparing for the worst. Everyone. Except my mother. While all the other mothers were out getting milk and bread, my mother sat in the kitchen glibly smoking cigarettes: "They’re always exaggerating! After three days, it'll all be over."
One week of cancelled school, 157 dirty dishes, 512 pieces of dirty laundry, and three 20-foot mounds of trash burying the back porch later, our house was a pigsty. Temperatures outside had dipped to a sultry wind-chill of minus, that's minus, 60 degrees. Temperatures inside our 100-year-old house (read "no insulation") weren't much warmer. I remember being shocked that I could see my own breath right there in the middle of our living room. My mom and I didn't leave the pile of five blankets we were hunkered under except in the most dire of circumstances: to eat or use the loo. Cleaning of any sort—personal or household—would have meant slow suicide by hypothermia. To this day, there is nothing worse to me than a cold and filthy house. Cold and clean—okay. Hot and filthy—fine. But not cold and filthy together. Like oil and water, oil and water, I tell ya' (okay, that's a little OCD, I admit).
And then there was the brink of starvation. I'm not truly sure what we were eating that dirtied all those dishes; I just remember thinking, as we trudged through 15 inches of snow that crisp sunny day after the blizzard, on our way to the grocery store with a wagon and a sled in tow, that I could kill for a single Cheeto, and how disappointed I was when I realized the shelves were barren and the only thing Cheeto-like was a really off brand that tasted awful. (But, oh, yeah, you know I ate them, anyway.) I know we ran out of sodas early on—and those were a staple in our house—much more important than water or milk—at least to me—so we had to have been suffering.
My poor dad had, literally, weathered The Great It's-Not-Nice-to-Fool- Mother-Nature of '78…not to mention martial law...walking through the driving snow to get to the dry cleaners we owned so he could keep an eye on the equipment. I was sure he had been the one who made the foot-wide trail our street had become. I remember visiting him at the cleaners a day or two after the storm and seeing the folding plastic chaise lounge he had slept on with a single blanket and pillow and the little hot plate with an open can of Chunky warming on it. I'm sure it was akin to visiting your father in prison.
(I should probably disclose, at this point, that I scared the shit out of my mother by taking a leisurely stroll around the yard at the height of the blizzard's ferocity. When I came back in the house, she was on the phone with my dad (who was at the cleaners) crying, because I was probably dead—sorry, Mom.}
Needless to say, I've been a bit compulsive about following the Boy Scout motto "always be prepared" ever since. And I have this, hmm, I don't know what you would call it, superstition, maybe, that if you're ready for the snow, it will avoid you. But if, for some reason, I'm not prepared and it knows and tries to get me, you can rest assured (because I certainly won't) that I've got a freezer filled to overflowing, space heaters at the ready, paper plates for when it's too cold to do dishes, and plenty of clean, fresh laundry. (Down, OCD; down, boy; down!)
This memory was brought back to me when both Indiana and Arkansas (where I now live) experienced some strangely balmy weather toward the end of this January*. As one of my colleagues and I were leaving the building, she sort of sniffed at the air and pronounced, "This is tornado weather." Nothing happened in this section of the country (because I was ready for it, and you're welcome, y'all). A few days ago, however, I got an e-mail from my mother which began, "I had another exciting time Monday night."
My mother doesn't get excited, at least, that's not what I would call it. About anything. Except for my little outing in the blizzard, she's always remained calm, cool, and collected (which should be an example for me, but OCD, remember?). I mean, this is a woman who, in the face of impending doom, declared the whole thing a hoax not worthy of any further mention. "This can't be good," I thought as my eyes jumped to the next line. That Monday, thankfully three days past, she had not only seen that a tornado warning had been issued for Indianapolis while she was sitting at home watching TV, my dad had called her from work and told her it was headed her way. To quote her e-mail, "The weathermen always make a big deal about nothing." So she ignored the warning. And went to the store. To buy bananas. Oh, okay, I'm exaggerating just a little: bread was also on sale, so this was clearly an urgent trip—the kind of thing you'd weather a tornado for.
She gets to the store, and just as she enters the line to pay, the butcher walks out of the meat cooler and yells to no one in particular, I guess, because they all apparently ignored him, that the tornado sirens are going off. She remains in line (WTF? I would have headed for the cooler!) and watches as everyone, except for her, goes to the window to see what's happening. And this is her comment about that: "Dangerous!" I imagine her saying it in a sing-songy way, prolonging that last syllable: "Dane Ger Uuuuus!"
She would never have said it that way…but still. Dangerous? Really? If that tornado had hit while all those people had been standing at the window, they would have been dead and she…would have been dead, too!
Here's a Cosmo-style personality quiz for you. It'll take you 10 seconds, tops.
During a tornado warning, you...
A) go directly to the storm
cellar in your house.
If you answered A, you're a pragmatic sort, maybe even a little humdrum at times, who prefers to live cautiously when the chips are down. You should marry a Capricorn.
If you answered B, you don't need to go to the store to buy bananas because you ARE freakin' bananas!
And it's no wonder I am, too.
*Sadly, on February 6, 2008, another round of tornadoes ripped through the South. My superstitious preparedness did absolutely nothing to fend one off, which tore a path of destruction over 120 miles long from Ola, Arkansas up through Missouri. My thoughts are with those who lost friends, family, and property.
I teach; cook; write; hike; read; dally; canoe; eat; write; rock 'n roll; eat some more; tumble and fall; dawdle; complain; bento; write; organize; watch movies; ignore e-mail; renovate; write; curse computers; brew my tea dark and bitter; herd cats; live in Arkansas; Plato, Derrida, and rhetoric (yes, those are verbs); remain overly cautious; persuade; imbibe; GTD; and oh, yeah, I write a little.
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2004-2008 by Jennifer Deering. All rights