Friday, April 29, 2016

Home Chef Meal Delivery: A Review for the Inept

I can't cook.  This is true to the extent that I didn't properly boil eggs to dye at Easter.  This is also true to the extent that this happened:

Art Installation 1:  Exploding Bowl from Burner Turned on in Error

But I want to be a person who cooks.  I want it so much that I purchase display food.  My small kitchen is packed with ingredients that I long to someday make into savory meals for my healthy, nourished family.

My mother tried to teach me to cook.  But apathy coupled with the fact that I've had access to a cafeteria for my entire adult life has lead me to a life of expectations exploded like so many Pyrex bowls.  Taking the kids to the cafeteria has its pros (unlimited vegetables from which to choose) and its cons (unlimited access to pizza).  It's hard to take them there by myself, as they move through life as if constantly frolicking though fields of daisies.  I just end up yelling as trays of hot food are not frolickable.

Thus, I decided I would try "cooking for dummies," with the Home Chef Meal Delivery Service.  I find Facebook ads very compelling and it won me over to Home Chef immediately.  I am writing this for other poor shmoes like me who are hopeless in the kitchen who are thinking about giving in the Facebook seduction.

First, the carbon footprint of this service is ridiculous.  The shipping box is layered to keep the food cold and loaded with ice packs.  There isn't really a way to send these back.  Then, since all of the individual meals are pre-measured, each item is packaged within an inch of its life.  Still, however, liquid egg managed to explode over several ingredients.  Otherwise, four meals of four servings look like this:

Art Installation 2:  At least I can find the bacon, what else really matters?

I set out to make spaghetti and meatballs because honestly how hard could it be? 

"Well," said the universe.  "I see your challenge and I raise you ground beef."

It's not that they didn't send instructions.  Following them was easy enough.  But I don't eat garlic, and the kids won't eat anything in meatballs other than ground beef, so I had to improvise two sets of meatballs.  Because this was fancy food and so help me I was going to use all of those ingredients.  

Because my kitchen is so small, I had to cook things in shifts.  This added a half an hour onto the cooking.  And at the end I had this left over:

It's like when you make something from Ikea and you have three nuts, two bolts, and a weird bar thingy called "sklur" that you know should have gone into chest of drawers, but for the life of you you can figure out where.  So you just leave your Fluvligg the way you made it and weigh it down with sweaters to combat the accusatory wobble.  That stuff there?  It's cheese.  And garlic.  It was supposed to be in the food someplace, but darned if I know where.

The food itself wasn't bad.  Kid #1 rated the meal "Ommy Nommy goodness" (and then proceeded to eat about half of her serving) and Kid # 2 said it was yummy (but then ate about three noodles and a meatball).

 Without the Facebook discount, this meal would have cost 40.00.    Had I just used the display food in my home, it would have been a fraction of the cost.

This means, in theory, it took me two hours and 40.00 to produce spaghetti and meatballs and toasted bread that the kids didn't really eat.  My husband thought the meat was a little salty, which in Home Chef's defense was likely the fault of my bitter tears and not that of Home Chef.

This recipe was marked for "beginners."  You know who is a beginner, Home Chef.  YOUR FACE.  HA!  TAKE THAT!

At the end of the day, if you are a true loser novice like myself, might I suggest investing in some cooking classes (you had to "mince" things for this dish . . . you do that to pie?  I think?  In Britain?) or maybe bribe a friend who knows what they are doing to boil your Easter eggs.

I have three other "moderate" to "advanced" meals to try.  I'll be sure to write about how they go, because if you can't get a meal out of the home delivery service, at least you can get a story out of it.

Art Installation 3: "Get it Together Woman, It's Freaking Spaghetti" 

Friday, April 22, 2016

The More You Know

"And then, on the way home from chaperoning the formal, I realized I was sitting in puke on the bus."

"What?  That's awful!"

"Nah.  Once my daughter threw up in my mouth.  And that was from a stomach virus, so of course I got it.  Since that happened, these things don't faze me much."

"I just can't even . . ."

"Remind me to tell you the poop-in-the-snack-cup story.  You know, when you aren't eating."

"You have just talked me out of every having children or working in residence life."

"Ah.  That's what makes this work so fulfilling.  Making a difference in the lives of others."


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Faith Formation: A Parable in Two Parts


Once there was a Little Girl who loved God.  She didn’t like sitting still, or using her indoor voice.  She also didn’t like to be touched because there were already so many messages coming into her clever mind that she couldn't cope with much more. 

The Little Girl’s parents took her to church because they wanted her to know more about God.  And everyone is welcome at church, no matter what!  So the Little Girl tried to sit still for an hour.  The wooden bench was hard and scratchy.  Ladies’ perfume smelled funny.  People talked and talked and the organ squawked and squawked.  And she was supposed to shake hands or hug—twice!  It was too much.  But still the Little Girl tried very hard because she knew that God loved her and this was God’s house.

After church the Little Girl had to go to a class for kids her age to learn about God.  She had to sit still for another hour!  But it was okay because there was a chair next to a pillar.  The pillar was cool and smooth against her cheek and it didn’t mind if she squeezed it.  When she squeezed it, all of her wiggles and worries came out and she felt calmer and safe. 

But one horrible day, there was another kid in the pillar seat.  In her pillar seat.  The Little Girl couldn’t take it.  She had been good through the long service and now she couldn’t hug her pillar.  So she tried to push the other kid out of her chair.  She forgot her indoor voice and indoor manners because her brain was on fire.  The Teachers didn’t know what to do.  So they made the Little Girl leave.

Later, the Grownup In Charge told the Little Girl’s Mother that the Little Girl was naughty.  That she had to leave because naughty Little Girls made the good little boys and girls “anxious.”  That maybe the Little Girl just needed some time away and could behave the next time she came back.  He said the Teachers never wanted the Little Girl to sit next to her pillar again because it was “distracting.”  The Mother tried to explain how the Little Girl needed her seat.  That she needed extra help to sit still.  The Grownup said all of the other good little boys and girls didn’t get special treatment and told the Mother again that the Little Girl wasn’t allowed to sit there in class again.  The Little Girl cried.  The Mother cried.  They’d both heard this before.  Everywhere except school where the teachers loved the Little Girl and worked as hard as she did to try to help her understand the world, in fact. 

But this was the first time they’d heard that they weren’t welcome in church just as they were.  So they cried and cried.   


            “So,” the Grownup In Charge told the Mother.  “We are a volunteer-run program.  And we couldn’t find an aide trained for your daughter.  The only para-professional we could find who would work for free is Jesus.”
            “Seriously?  Isn’t he gone?”
            “Well, no.  He rose from the dead, see,” the Grownup shook his head at the Mother as if this should be obvious.
            “Oh.  Okay.  Great.”  The Mother walked away to get a donut at coffee hour.
            “Excuse me, Mr. Grownup?” Jesus asked.
            “The Little Girl and I are going to need to sit by the pillar.”
            “But . . .”
            “Thanks, my good friend!”  Jesus clapped the Grownup in Charge on the back and led the Little Girl to her chair.
            “I can sit here?”  The Little Girl asked.
            “Well, yeah.  I mean, the pillar feels cool and smooth on your cheek.  You can hug it and it doesn’t even care!”  Jesus wrapped his arms around the pillar.  It seemed to glow a little.  “And watch this.  If you try, you can kind of climb it . . .”
            “Excuse me, Jesus?  Could you please take your seat?  We have to start our lesson about . . . um . . . You,” said the Teacher.
            “Yes!  Sorry!  Just had to get that out.  Go ahead,” Jesus said.  “Your Teachers are really nice.  They are good eggs, they just don’t know what to do with us pillar-huggers sometimes,” Jesus whispered to the Little Girl.
            “Jesus.  Hush.”  Said the Teachers.
            The Little Girl giggled.
            A few minutes passed and the Little Girl noticed a thread in her pants had come undone.  It looked messy on her neat, favorite leggings.  A tiny flame flicked in her brain.  She looked up at Jesus.
            Jesus raised his hand.
            “Excuse me, Teacher?  Hey, yeah, can all of the kids get out of their seats and maybe jump up and down for, like, a minute?  Yeah.  A minute should do it.” 
            The Teacher looked at Jesus as if he had three heads.  But He was the Son of Man so they had to listen. 
            After jumping, the Little Girl felt much better.  The thread had fallen off.  It must have just been from her coat. 
            After class the Little Girl needed to hug her pillar one more time.  “Did you ever get in trouble when you were a kid, Jesus?” she asked.
            “Oh man.  This one time, I snuck away from my mom and dad because I wanted to listen in the Temple.  And they thought I’d been saviornapped.  When they found me, I told them that obviously I would be learning about God.  That made them even more annoyed and I wasn’t allowed figs for dessert for, like, a month.”  Jesus shook his head and chuckled.  “It might not have been a sin, but my parents were still pretty miffed.” 
            “Hmmm.”  The Little Girl thought for a minute.  She was actually very good with words when her brain wasn’t on fire.  “Do you know what the spectrum is, Jesus?  Do you know what it means if you’re on it?”
            Jesus shrugged.  “When I hear spectrum, I just think of the rainbow.  All those beautiful colors.  Do you know the story of the rainbow?”
            “Yes!  With Noah!  I do hear everything in class even though it looks like I'm not paying attention!”
            “Yup.  It’s a sign’s of God’s love and promises.  Well, that and maybe evidence that my Dad might have overreacted with the whole world-ending natural disaster thing.  But that’s a discussion for eternity.”  Jesus rolled his eyes.  “Parents, amIright?”
            The Little Girl giggled. 
            “So I am allowed to be here?” she asked. 
            “Of course, my Precious One.  I promise that everyone is allowed to be here.  Just as they are.  Like I said, I think the spectrum is beautiful!” 

Jesus hugged the pillar one final time and everyone nearby laughed.  Perfection can appear pretty strange sometimes.

Friday, April 01, 2016

They Should Run Workshops

Arriving at ballet class for my son is a tricky act of timing.  Arrive too early, he risks his life climbing and doing flips on the barre.  Arrive too late, he yells at me for artlessly shoving him into his ballet shoes and bunching his socks. 

This last time we arrived on the early side.  Fortunately a group of girls in the yellow leotard group (or “butter” I believe is the technical hue) were already stretching on the barre.  It’s a woman’s world at ballet and my son wants no part of that.  Not a single one of them were trying to break their necks, so he ignored them and moved to the staircase to pass the time.

I blocked out his extreme sports enthusiasm on the steps and listened to the little girls in butter talk to one another.

“So, like, are you from China?” asks a first little girl of another.

“Um.  No.  I’m from Chicago.  My parents are from Korea," says the second little girl.

“Oh.  Yeah.  I saw your face and then I heard you say you moved here from Illinois and then I was like, what?”

"Yeah, me too.  I thought you were from China," says a third little girl.

The second little girl laughs.  “Where are you from?”

"I was born in New Jersey.  We had a dog there.  His name was Rusty,"  Says the third little girl.

“I’m from Boston.  I think.  Ma!  Ma!  Where was I born?”  Says the first little girl.

“Boston.  Please stop yelling.”  Says her mom.   

“Ma!  Ma!  Where were you born?’

“The Dominican Republic.”

“That is why your skin is brown?” the little girl from Chicago asked. 

"I don't know why my skin is kind of pink.  I'll ask my mom when she gets back.  I think it's because my Dad is from California," says the little girl from New Jersey.

“Ohhhhh, yeah.  Ma!”

“Good grief, yes this is why your skin is brown. You know that.  Stop yelling.” 

“Do you like your brown skin?”  asks the little girl from New Jersey.


“That’s awesome!"

And then all three of them started trying to break their necks by flipping on the bar together holding hands. 

Maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for the world.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award

There is an award from PEN New England called the Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award.  In years past when I have entered, I went searching the Internet for information about it because that is what I do.  I search the Internet for information.  It soothes me.  A few writers who won the award posted about it and I hung on those posts as if my life depended on it.  I used them to do mental calculations on what the timeline would be if I happened to be one of the winners.

For the record, I wasn’t one of the winners. 

This year, I almost didn’t enter and waited until the last possible second to do so.  Oh, I had a manuscript.  It’s called Dear Rachel Maddow.  It’s an homage to my beloved Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary, the book that inspired me to want to be a writer decades ago.  It’s about politics and a belief in the potential of our democratic process despite obvious reasons to be cynical.  It’s a filial and agapic thank you to Rachel Maddow whose show has kept me company and kept my brain from atrophying during my kids’ baby and toddlerhoods. 

It is my fourth novel. 

At the end of the day, in addition to being One Who Googles, I am also One Who Enters Things.  There is a writing thing I can enter?  There is a person to query?  On it.  Boom.  Mic drop.  So my One Who Enters Things tendencies overcame my One Who Is Convinced Submitting Things Leads to Inevitable Rejection tendencies and this year, the committee chose my book.

There is some irony in this.  I remember when I first started DRM I asked my friend Jen if I should change the fact that the entire thing is written in epistolary format to Rachel Maddow.  Like, the real living, breathing human being.  Mr. Henshaw, after all, was actually a fictional person.  Jen said,  “Write the story that inspires you most.”  So I did.  That story happens to have an MSNBC news personality as an off page character.  I took comfort in thinking no one would actually read it, ever.

Oh, universe.  You funny, funny gal. 

So there it is.  It took tens of thousands of words and more words and rejections in the triple digits to get here.  And it’s amazing to win the award and when I meet the committee I will probably drool my thanks all over them and then faint while trying to sneak a selfie with Lois Lowry.  But at the end of the day what means most to me about this book going anywhere is that it is a love letter to Beverly Cleary, Rachel Maddow, and all of those women who think and create and inspire.  They keep me going.  The least I can do for them is to keep writing books of my own.

If someone lands here looking for information about the Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award, this is my advice: keep writing the stories that inspire you most.  Keep submitting.  Keep submitting even when you are pretty sure it’s pointless. 

Oh, and also: if you live in a place where it is asked of you, vote in local and national elections.  That might not influence your craft, but it is essential to a healthy democracy.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Monday, March 14, 2016

Tell me, tell me, tell me, something I don't know.

Since I do not have a car, I spend a lot of time walking from place to place.  Often Pandora radio is my only companion.  Sometimes I think the universe is trying to communicate with me through Pandora.  Particularly because no matter what station I turn to, Selena Gomez sings to me. 

Celtic Woman radio?  Selena Gomez. 

Gregorian Chant radio?  Selena Gomez. 

Tom Clancy audiobook?  I don’t’ know if that is a thing, but if it is, you can bet Selena would be singing it. 

Eventually I find myself thinking, “You know what, who says I’m not beautiful?  Who says I can’t be in movies.  Oh my gosh, Selena, you are right!  The heart DOES want what it wants!” 

Similarly, Adele is trying to tell me something, though it’s harder to say what.  Though I respect her talent and will defend her melodious ways, I don’t usually understand her lyrics.  For example: 

Hello from the other side
I must have called a thousand times
To tell you I'm sorry for everything that I've done
But when I call you never seem to be home

Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I've tried
To tell you I'm sorry for breaking your heart
But it don't matter it clearly doesn't tear you apart anymore

Okay, Adele, from where are you calling?  Are you dead?  Presumably you are in California, but is that a metaphor?  Does this person have a landline?  Is that why you assume he or she is not home?  Because I think your wording would be different, as a person need not be “home” to answer on his or her cell.  And if this person hasn’t picked up the first twenty times or so, why did you keep trying?  At this point, it’s probably fair to think he or she has blocked you.  Or possibly gotten a restraining order.  You are calling from the “outside.”  Outside of what?  This mortal coil?  Outside of his or her new relationship?  Outside of his or her second floor apartment window while hanging from a branch that abuts the guest bedroom?  I think it’s healthy that whomever this individual is, he or she appears to have moved on.  You mention as much in the last line.  You’ve obviously made art from this experience.  Good for you.  Perhaps it’s time for the narrator of this song to get some therapy, maybe a puppy, and move on as well.  That could be the next single.  “Goodbye.” 

Of course, maybe the universe is just trying to say “hello” to me through Pandora, and this was the best way to do it.  Hello from the other side, even. 

So it’s probably best to not overthink it.  Maybe I’ll give Apple Music a try just in case I’m on to something otherworldly. 

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