Monday, December 6, 2010

FOAMHENGE

The following is a treatise on the merits of the prehistoric English monument known to tourists worldwide as Stonehenge, juxtaposed with those of its American emulator, Foamhenge.

As any Anglophile, Neo-Pagan, middle-Neolithic scholar, or person who's ever flipped on the Discovery Channel even once can tell you, no one quite knows how or why Stonehenge was erected in the middle-of-nowhere (Salisbury), England. Fortunately, this is not the case for Foamhenge, located in the middle-of-nowhere (Natural Bridge), Virginia. Mark Cline built Foamhenge in 2004 because, presumably, he knew what a kick-ass project it would be.

Stonehenge's placement on earth may be astronomically precise and line up with the sun during solstice or whatever, but Foamhenge is only a few feet off and YOU CAN ACTUALLY TOUCH THE THING. At Stonehenge, if you were to set foot over the rope circling it, the Royal Army would likely descend on horseback from behind the surrounding burial mounds, seize you, and lock you in the Tower of London. There are no such guards at Foamhenge. Little did I know, when I pulled off on exit 180 from 81N for some gas, that such a wonder even existed in the New World. But when I drove by a seemingly abandoned clearing with only an open gate and a FOAMHENGE sign, you better believe I whipped the car around. I thought, "I have found a gold mine, and it doesn't even matter that I'm stuck in Sunday-after-Thanksgiving traffic. There is no way I'm going to miss out on Foamhenge." Best decision I made that day.

Now, in England, the weather is perpetually disgusting. (This fact is also known to Anglophiles and tourists worldwide.) At Stonehenge, you have to squint to differentiate the dark gray stones from the dark gray sky surrounding them. Foamhenge, however, sits on a woodsy mountaintop enveloped by the azure Appalachian sky. And while I found no evidence of civilian life off of exit 180 save for an Exxon station, it turns out that Foamhenge sits in a three-mile cluster of other astonishing attractions courtesy of Mark Cline:

-Enchanted Castle Studios
-Dinosaur Kingdom
-Professor Cline's Haunted Monster Museum
-The actual Natural Bridge of Natural Bridge, VA. Cline can't take credit for this one. It's advertised on billboards for miles as the "Rock of Ages," and every summer it serves as the backdrop for a music and laser show entitled The Drama of Creation*.

Stonehenge sits off of a highway trafficked only by tour busses, surrounded by sheep.

Foamhenge's major selling point is its giant floating statue of Merlin, with an explanatory plaque detailing how he levitated the stones to form Stonehenge. Remarkably, Stonehenge covers this mystical element even more sensationally, albeit unintentionally and begrudgingly: this self-proclaimed reincarnation of King Arthur illegally squats at Stonehenge, bedecked in a white robe and brandishing a petition on behalf of the Druids to reclaim Stonehenge from the English Heritage Commission. King Arthur "stands up for the people, Dark Ages style." (Thank God he overcame his youthful identity crisis in which he mistakenly thought he was King John.) If I could witness the meeting of any two people on earth, it would be that of King Arthur and Mark Cline.

My visit to Stonehenge left me marveling at the enduring weirdness of the Brits. My visit to Foamhenge left me marveling at why I ever left the USA in the first place. I bid farewell to Merlin, jumped down from the sacrificial altar, and headed back to I-81. I was hungry and determined to hit up a Chick-Fil-A before they disappeared north of the Mason Dixon line.

*The one from Genesis.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hey There, Chicken Neck

School photographers like to shoot kids in order from tallest to shortest, so they don't have to readjust the stool for every single weirdly-shaped fourth grader in the class. By the time it was my turn at the end of the line, they'd always have raised the stool completely and slapped down a phone book for me to perch on so the camera could capture my face in front of the woodsy or graffitied brick wall backdrop. Going last meant several things. I had more time to practice my smile, decide whether to take my glasses off like my mom told me to, read a Babysitters Club book, etc. Most significantly, I got to hear the photographer cajoling all of my classmates, particularly the girls, into smiling for their yearbook picture:

"Well, hey there Miss America!"

"Look-y here, it's Cinderella!"

"Aw, hi Ladybug!"

"Well, I'll be! It's Princess Jasmine!" (This was to Meenal Patel.)

"You must be a fairy princess!"

"Come on Sweetheart, big smile!"

I couldn't wait for him to liken me to a Disney role model or complement my jumper or ask me if I'd skipped a grade because I was so tiny. But fourth grade dramatically altered my future school picture day experiences and here's why: When I slid onto my booster seat in the library-turned-portrait studio, the photographer glanced at me and said, "Hey there, Chicken Neck." He proceeded to prod at my head until it was stuck at that terrible angle so popular in school photos, where my chin, forehead, and eyes were all pointing in different directions. His only cajoling was, "Yeah, you got a real long neck, Chicken Neck."

I didn't say much of anything, because I had to run catch up with my class as they trailed out of the library. Although if I could do it again, I certainly would make a point of asking that particular school photographer why he possessed only three fingers on his left hand.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Norman the Retard, Connie the Fake Whore

I called Norman, my landlord, to thank him for repairing the hot water and for fixing up the deck. I didn't ask him, "Norman, what on earth made you think that nailing a poorly measured piece of plywood to the uneven floorboards then painting the whole rotting thing blue was actually going to improve the deck in any way?" Instead, I said, "Norman, when are you coming back to remove the grill, busted chairs, card table, can of gasoline, etc. that you stored in my kitchen back to their home on the deck, or better yet, to a landfill where they belong?"

To which he replied, "Uhhhhh. Not today. Maybe in a couple of days. Today my face... it's swollen. Swollen twice the regular size."

I reminded him as kindly as possible about the shattered window in my living room and hung up.

The thing about Norman, and his wife Dalia, and their son Mike, is that they are retarded. Landlording, for them, is a family business. And it's a good thing, too, because none can complete a sentence without muttering incoherently, furrowing their eyebrows, repeating their previous asinine comment, and unloading unsolicited and irrelevant information on the listener. Such as the time Norman informed me he would be replacing our front door to comply with the city's fire code regulations. I was just getting to know him at the time and casually asked why exactly the door needed to be replaced.

"Because they're ballbusters," he replied, eyes wide with disbelief.

"Excuse me?"

"The inspector. For years it was a man. He never had no problems with me; I never had no problems with him. Now it's a lady inspector, she's bustin' my balls."

"Oh. What's wrong with the door?"

"All these doors, old doors. They're great doors. Had this house 12 years, never had a problem with the door. I got 9 other properties, all of 'em got good doors. Now this lady inspector's tellin' me it ain't 'fire resistant,' I gotta change it."

He sighed. "It's not easy being a landlord."

To brighten up our dismal, dirt-caked, decaying house, Anna and I bought some plants. I started out with an indoor vegetable garden, because I'm really only interested in growing things I can eat. The corner of our bedroom gets full sun, due to our south-facing windows which don't have blinds. I've got several pots full of basil, stringbeans, collard greens, mustard greens, and arugula. I call the basil and arugula simply Basil and Arugula, but I christened the stringbeans Bonnie and Her Babies and the collards Aimless Amos. Anna selected some lovely tropical plants for the kitchen windowsill. However, Home Depot neglected to identify these pretty little things. They were labeled only "house plants- decorative" and aside from the obvious aloe (named Burnheart) and the African violet (Esmerelda), we had no way of knowing what other colorful species we were purchasing.

Esmerelda, Burnheart, Tereza, and Sabina are pretty enough but the real star of our kitchen windowsill was Connie. Four brilliant yellow blossoms crowned her regal cactus stature, lighting up our dour kitchen like a candlelight vigil. So you can imagine our shock and disappointment when Anna went to water Connie one morning and discovered clear, plastic-y gobs beneath those luminescent blooms. It was HOT GLUE. Connie's blossoms were FAKE, glued onto her natural cactus flesh by the garden department at Home Depot in order to sell her as a "houseplant- decorative." Who even knows if Connie is real at all.

But we all have our crosses to bear. Obviously, Connie's is vanity and artifice. For Norman, Dalia, and their spawn, it's utter uselessness. For Anna and me, it's another year of living in New Brunswick. But things could be worse. We could be in Newark.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Foodie

I loved having journals when I was little but I didn't write in them very often. I'd pen a couple of rants at my parents, maybe record some made-up encounters between me and the boy I was obsessed with, and if I felt really inspired, I'd write some acrostics. Then I'd abandon my little diary with the roses and ballet slippers on the cover in favor of something new and Lisa Frank.

The only journal I've been able to consistently maintain, ever, in my 22 years of wannabe journaling, is a busted spiral notebook where I write stuff about food. It used to be my mom's notebook but she tore out her lesson plans from eight years ago and gave the remnants to me. It's incredibly practical. The entries are brief and the sparse narrative is limited to things like "Tonight I put Coors Light and five squirts of ketchup in the chili and it was AWESOME." It's full of wisdom gleaned from my own culinary experiences, such as, "If you plan to watch TV in bed all day you better make these chicken wings!" And it's a lovely chronicle of my life abroad:

"Are you cold all the time? Can you only afford £3 supermarket wine? Dump whatever white wine you have left but can't quite stomach in a pot, heat on the LOWEST possible setting (or the alcohol will evaporate and you'll feel like an idiot), add some honey, vanilla, and cinnamon. Delicious! Curl up and watch American TV online!"

Truth be told, I am excellent cook. My culinary inventiveness emerged early- before I could read I was preparing delicacies like Strawberry Juice for my family. To make Strawberry Juice:

-Get some little paper Dixie cups. Your grandparents probably have some in a dispenser next to their bathroom sink.
-Get your mom to cut the stems off some strawberries and put 2-3 of them in each little cup.
-Mash with a fork.
-Dump in some sugar and add some water.
-Mix all that up and serve to your family members!

As soon as I could hold a wooden spoon I was making Kraft macaroni and cheese. With Gramma's help I mastered dump cake, and with Mom's help I mastered Mexican. To make Mexican:

-Layer refried beans, ground beef, and Frito-Lay canned cheese in a baking dish.
-Put a bunch of black olives on top.
-Bake or microwave until nice and melty, and serve with tortilla chips and canned pears.

My parents had no choice but to buy me an Easy-Bake Oven. I lovingly concocted angel food cake and devil's food cake in that thing until the heat lamp busted from over-use. I also began to stray from those prepackaged mixes and create my own recipes. My cocoa-honey-cinnamon cake was weird, but it looked and smelled just like a real cake!

Now quite seasoned in the kitchen*, I make as much from scratch as time will allow. My favorite things to cook depend on the ingredient, method, or gadget I'm currently obsessed with. Past fixations include cheese making, sourdough baking, the crockpot, the Magic Bullet, Asian soups, stock making, crème brûlée torching, and the George Foreman grill. One of the main reasons I look forward to returning to NJ this year is the hand-me-down pasta maker sitting in my basement with my name on it. And I have big plans for an indoor vegetable garden!

I like to cook because I like to make stuff. But unlike papier-mâché, knitting, or collaging projects (other former and ongoing pursuits), the results are comparatively speedy and edible. Except my first sourdough loaf, which "rose" for 8749583 hours but still tasted like a wet brick. I like cooking for myself and I like cooking for others, although I no longer bring plates of magic cookie bars to college parties, as I mistakenly thought was custom when I was 18.

But mostly I like to cook because I'm good at it. And because apparently, it's the only thing worth writing about.

*PUN INTENDED!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Rainbow Trout

If you are elderly, overweight, disabled, or a member of my family, you know it's just not a summer until you pay a visit to Dollywood. Growing up, my obsession with Dolly Parton waned to a healthy, fascinated respect, but the wonders of her theme park continued to delight and entertain. Dollywood is part amusement park, part county fair, and part tent revival. I loved the logging-themed Log Flume, the American eagle exhibit, the fancy dresses at Lid'l Dolly's, and the gospel/clogging shows. I loved the woman in period dress sweating over a kettle of boiling lye soap in 96° heat. I loved the Birdsong Family. The Birdsongs were a mom, a dad, and a slew of young'uns who wore gingham and played instruments. Needless to say, those were some homeschooled kids if I ever saw any. Each year they'd have yet another infant on the stage playing a fiddle.

In addition to theme park thrills, Gatlinburg boasts the Smoky Mountain Arts and Crafts Community. Looping around a mountain, a two-lane highway connects the cabins/studios of these local artists. It's hard to pick a favorite amongst the potters, whittlers, macrame-ers, Indian jewelery makers, quilters, dream catcher weavers, and those people who melt colored candles over glass bottles. But certainly the most memorable of these Smoky Mountain traditional artisans is Stephen Sawyer, painter of the Art for God masterpieces. Sawyer portrays Jesus as a contemporary hero- a shirtless, ripped, tanned, glistening hero in a contemporary setting such as a boxing ring. A viewer might think she was looking at a country album cover or a naughty firemen calendar, if it weren't for the halo frequently hovering over Jesus, the only Byzantine relic of this flashy new religious iconography. Sawyer invokes Thomas Kinkade's skilled use of light in weird places to create a general celestial glow around all his muscle-y Jesuses.

Now if you think Gatlinburg is just a bunch of rednecks sweating and throwing their money away on hillbilly souvenirs, you'd be forgetting the hordes of dilettante outdoor enthusiasts like my mom, Jaci, and me. When we're not driving around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park looking for black bears, we are tubing down a river somewhere. Tubing is just like rafting except 329043 times slower. You don't have to wear a life jacket, and you can sleep and tube at the same time. Tubing is relaxing and heavenly.

So you can imagine everyone in the river's surprise when my mother, lazily floating on her stomach, plunged her arm into the water and yanked out a great big rainbow trout!!! We all thought the only aquatic life in that segment of the river was minnows, salamanders, and Coke bottles. But here, plucked from the muddy water without bait or dynamite was a humongous rainbow trout. We were elated. The little kids behind us were elated, as were their grandparents. Mom was elated because she'd just started the Eat Right for your Blood Type diet, which required her to eat loads of rainbow trout!

Mom stored the thing in the Wal-Mart bag we'd packed our lunch in. For the remainder of that victorious trip down the river, she dangled the bagged fish off of her wrist in the cool water. Back at the hotel she cleaned and cooked it, and we rounded off our locally-sourced supper with some of the addictive cinnamon sugar bread we'd bought at Dollywood (which wasn't on the Highly Beneficial list for Mom's blood type, but didn't appear on the Avoid list, either). During dinner I tried for the billionth time to convince Mom to take us to see The Miracle, but she said no, we had to go outlet shopping. That was ok; by the end of the week I'd scored some good discount school clothes, a new pair of moccasins, a miniature crock pot, and a season pass to Dollywood. By that time Jaci couldn't wait to get home where she already knew all the channels on TV, Mom couldn't wait to share the rainbow trout triumph with all our friends, neighbors, and relatives, and I just couldn't wait to return to the Smokies next year.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dear Abby

Some obnoxious kids compulsively tap their pencils (future drummers), and some obnoxious kids compulsively read (future bloggers). For me, learning to read was akin to acquiring a super power and my prowling little eyes devoured every word in their path. No billboard, TV Guide, or back of a cereal box was safe. The first thing I remember learning to read was The Cat in the Hat and the second thing was Dear Abby. I discovered Dear Abby early in my elementary school career because the first part of the Greenville News my mom always opened in the morning was the crossword and comics page, and she left it on the kitchen table for my consumption along with my honeybun. Abby's column floated imperially over the horoscopes and word jumble- she owned page 6D of the Lifestyle section. And I read her EVERY MORNING.

Dear Abby had a profoundly formative influence on my budding literacy and social awareness. I vicariously learned the ways of the world through the familial, marital, professional, and etiquette-related dilemmas of others. I also learned about Alcoholics Anonymous, 10 Signs of Domestic Abuse, and all sorts of holidays I never knew existed. On any random day Abby would close her column with a direct address to a specific population that went like this:

"Confidential to my Jewish readers: Happy Purim!"
"Confidential to my AARP readers: Happy Armistice Day!"
"Confidential to my Christian readers: Happy Easter! Remember, it is unwise to give small animals (bunnies, chicks, etc.) to your children as presents. Pets require an investment of time, attention, and money, and unless you can fully care for this new member of your family, it's advisable to just visit your local zoo."

In retrospect I should have clipped that last directive upon each reprinting, highlighted it, and glitter-glued it to my parents' bathroom mirror because this important message obviously escaped them. This oversight resulted in our possession of an immortal rabbit called Pepper. Any takers?

I had a friend in third or fourth grade and her house had a laundry chute! At my behest, we used the chute to rig up our own version of Dear Abby. We tied some sheets together and tied a bucket to one end. From my station in her bedroom, I would lower the bucket through the laundry chute to my friend, stationed in the basement. From there I instructed her to write me, Dear Abby, a letter, which I would answer and return via laundry chute express mail. She was ok at playing Dear Abby, but had trouble coming up with any interesting problems beyond "Dear Abby, what color nail polish should I choose? Pink or red?*"

One early school morning I sat down with my toaster strudel and reached for the paper only to find one of the Dear Abby letters neatly clipped out of the page. My mom had cut out half the column before I had a chance to read it!!! Her reasoning? "It was totally inappropriate. I can't believe Abby would print something like that." I was enraged at my mother's censorship. Almost as enraged as I felt (and continue to feel) every time Abby wasted valuable column inches by printing a stupid-ass letter saying something smug and stupid in response to some of her advice. Such as:

"Dear Abby,

When Birthday On A Budget In Boise wrote you in search of thrifty ideas for her 5-year-old's birthday party, you forgot to mention Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey! Duh, Abby! Kids and parents these days just forget all about the good old-fashioned games that used to make America great. Do you think teenagers would be dying their hair blue and getting pregnant out of wedlock if they'd had some good old common-sense fun at their birthday parties? Well I'm here to tell you they wouldn't, mark my words.

-Remembers the "Small" Things In Wapakoneta"

All that's missing from this example is a Paul Harvey quote. Even at seven years old, these types of letters infuriated me because of their blatant irrelevance, clueless self-righteousness, and worst of all, the obligatory failed pun in the signature. I LOVE puns and loathe to see them done badly. Moreover, letters like this one, with no problem of any consequence, defile the very intent of an advice column while cheating a truly needy letter-writer out of his or her rightful space in the column. If I'd wanted to read something boring and short-sighted over breakfast, I would have turned to the Greenville News editorials page.

And so, Dear Readers, to honor my first favorite writer and to make reparations for her occasionally misguided printings, I would like to officially open up Hungry Lion to all you advice-seeking folks out there. This means you. Wondering what to do about an office romance? Want to quit smoking or manage your anger or come out to your parents? Or maybe get rid of your neighbor's yappy dog once and for all? Hit me up! Be warned, my guiding principal for future advice-giving will probably be "If this were a movie, what should happen next? What would provide the most interesting conflict for me, the viewer?"

But really, what do you have to lose? Here's some advice: For a truly multi-faceted approach to a situation, write to me AND Dear Abby. You'll be the judge of whose advice is superior, but both points of view will come from an opinionated individual with your best interests at heart. And you can take comfort knowing at least one of them has great hair.

*Even in the imaginary world, she was limited by her parents' "pink or red nail polish ONLY, until you're 16!" rule.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hey Oregon!

This summer I packed all my worldly possessions in a covered wagon and headed out West. Actually, I flew Continental, who charged me $35 to check a bag. If that's not highway robbery I don't know what is. But when I alighted in Ashland, OR, I discovered not a Deadwood-style camp, but an impossibly lovely town of coffee shops, farmers' markets, mountains, and, of course, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The wildest features of this Western town are the lush gardens surrounding every house and quaint bed-and-breakfast. And, I suppose, the senior citizens Shawn and I spied dancing to the beatboxing of a white, dreadlocked performer called Cornflower at a a local art festival last week.

South Carolinians don't really think about Oregon, or believe it actually exists. When I informed my family of my summer plans, they said, "Wow! Well, have fun in Washington state!" I don't know if this is proof of OR's existence, but here's a sampling of local Ashland businesses. You may notice a theme:

Salon Juliet
All's Well Vitamins
As-U-Stor-It
CD or Not CD
Anne Hathaway's House
Shakespeare's Sister Moon Boutique

Last night I attended a "community, all-levels" yoga class. In any other locale, this would have been called a "VERY STRENUOUS, even if you're a running/cycling/sprouted-grains-eating type" yoga class. Which, for the record, I am not. Granted, after the class I could have walked off some excess tension in the rock garden labyrinth on the studio's front lawn. Instead I chose to walk home (because everyone walks everywhere around here) and dive into some huckleberry ice cream.

I spent my first week in Ashland pestering small businesses with desperate requests for employment. All of them, from the brewery to the shoe store to the grocery co-op, included, "socially responsible," "organic," or "hemp" in the title. Finally I landed a position at Noble Coffee Roasting, where the sustainably-sourced coffee is roasted on the premises and then French-pressed. It turns out my position is more bus-boy than barista but it's a start. I plan to spend all my earnings at the 8728345 used book stores and the 9478274 precious little bakeries in town.

I asked Shawn if he wanted to attend the above-mentioned yoga studio's "Celebration of the Sacred Tantric Dance of the Divine Feminine" workshop with me. This caused him to look up from his iPad for the first time in days and say, "No. Haven't you seen enough middle-aged women with hairy armpits in this town already?"

I said, "Want to go to Yogurt Hut?"

So we did. Yogurt Hut is an amplified version of the kids' dessert section at Ryans, but with frozen yogurt instead of soft-serve ice cream. So it's healthy! After you pump yourself as much fro-yo as you could possibly want, you load it with candy and fruity toppings from the buffet. A cashier then weighs your creation and charges you accordingly. Mine cost as much as a steak dinner and was just as satisfying. I proposed a toast: "To a wonderful summer in your home town!" Shawn and I clinked our massive bowls of yogurt and headed home on foot, sidestepping a barefoot, pony-tailed backpacker gawking at the sunset.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Trash

My sister said it best when, at the learned age of five, she informed our grandmother that "Some people's trash is other people's treasures." These wise words convinced Gramma to U-turn the pickup, head back to the dump and collect that football-shaped plastic trunk Jaci had fallen in love with. To this day it sits in our basement, housing pipe cleaners and broken camcorders. The point is, Jaci nailed the central tenet of my favorite suburban institution, the Yard Sale. Trash, treasures, and more importantly, the prospect of getting rich make yard sales every crafty kid's dream.

For starters, there's the sheer popularity factor of yard sales. For that one special Saturday, between the hours of 7:00am-noon, your house is the buzzing social capital of the neighborhood. Friends, family, neighbors, and hungry-looking strangers flock to your lawn and admiringly paw through your belongings. As a child I would, of course, hawk lemonade, luring in customers with my hand-painted signs and my "I'm the Big Sister!" t-shirt. I would also display my artwork, which included woven potholders, Jazzy Jewelry, and construction paper cut into snowflakes. I charged people coins for lemonade and bills for artwork.

And my enterprising little self didn't stop there. As I grew older and more persuasive, I commandeered the kids in the neighborhood to aid me in planning carnivals, plays, and concerts for profit. These events rarely panned out, because some people don't understand the necessity of rehearsal and can't take direction to save their lives. But my venturesome spirit lives on: when entertaining, I always set up a Bargain Table and cover it with household stuff I don't want any more. I charge party guests 50 cents for each item they take, thereby effortlessly (and shamelessly) ridding my house of unnecessary debris and making enough extra money to cover my library fines.

Visiting yard sales was equally thrilling in a less-entrepreneur, more-voyeur kind of way. I loved sifting through old toy collections, drawing conclusions from them about the sullen teenager inevitably peering out onto the lawn from her bedroom window. Play-Doh Spaghetti Factory- hardly touched, I would observe. But the Suzie-Pees-A-Lot doll was missing an eye and a clump of blonde curls from so much handling. I would don discarded dance recital costumes and test-drive Barbie cars while my parents weighed the merits of a chipped vanity versus an air hockey table.

Yardsales are totally kid-friendly because it is every kid's dream to run around a stranger's property and touch all their stuff. However, the yardsale's uppity cousin, the Estate Sale, is definitively NOT. While I would leap out of bed at 6:00am, wake my parents, and demand we set out for a yard sale on any given Saturday, I would throw a shit-fit at the mention of an estate sale. Unlike my parents, I had no interest in "finally seeing the inside of that big old farmhouse with all the land at the edge of town." The hosts of estate sales hate children and want to cut off their fingers even before they reach for Grandma's diamond clip-on earrings. And try hosting a mini-tea party with Aunt Edna's carnival glass china, just to see how it feels, before you start convincing your parents to buy it. Never have I been thrown out of a stranger's dining room so quickly. The words "silent auction" still make sweat with boredom.

Look, if you're into old-looking junk (and believe me, I am), skip the estate sale and head to the Pickens County Flea Market. On Wednesday mornings in the summer this place becomes a veritable nation of goods and services. In addition to estate sale-type crap, you might just leave the flea market with a clap-on, clap-off dolphin lamp, a peach tree, five pounds of okra, a handmade bird house-mailbox-sprinkler, some Third Reich paraphernalia, and a large Styrofoam cup of boiled peanuts! Livestock available includes free kittens, cockatiels, bunnies, rottweiler puppies, and peacocks, and most vendors accept Confederate money.

The real lesson to be gleaned from yard sales, estate sales, and flea markets is that most of the time, some people's trash is just destined to become other people's trash. When it's acquired in style, though- say, with a reluctant offering of petty cash, outdoors, on a 90° summer morning- I'd definitely qualify that as treasure material.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Stranger Things That Happen

Despite my most diligent efforts to the contrary, when traveling alone I appear friendly, gentle, kind-hearted, and eager to converse and perhaps make long-term plans with whoever targets me for small talk. This could be because I look like an unaccompanied minor. It could be because I carry a Petal Pink Vera Bradley duffel bag, which, outside of the Southeast, must scream, "Hey! I'm sociable! Let's chat!" Maybe it's a combination of the two, which perhaps gives strangers the impression I'm running away from home.

According to what I'm sure is sound scientific research, if a man approaches a woman and asks her for directions, she is more likely to talk to him. Oh, the pretense! I felt like a saint recently when a confused gentleman asked me if I knew when the next train was due at the NJ Transit New Brunswick station. "8:15!" I replied charitably, and assured him he was indeed on the New York-bound platform. Then, sensing the impending Talk With A Stranger, I turned away and commenced all the faux phone-checking, ticket-shuffling, eyebrow-furrowing avoidance tactics. But, queen of misleading signals that I apparently am, he took my behavior as an invitation to sit next to me and chat.

After a brief version of this conversation, and with no prompting on my part, he told me his entire educational background which involved lots of engineering, computer science, several countries, and an oil rig. And now he is the Venezuelan ambassador to the US. And also a banker. In the banking-oil company. Well, maybe, maybe not, I thought. One thing I ascertained for damn sure was that he did NOT need my helpful directions; he takes the same train every week night! As I attempted to move towards the approaching train, he managed to work in his theory of how "time... it isn't actually REAL!"

I thought, here is where I'm supposed to connect with an interesting stranger whose experiences and points of view are worlds different from my own. I could hear every acting teacher ever harping in my head about the vitality of people-watching, urging me to observe this man's dialect and mannerisms to reprise in a character some day. I'm sure I stood to learn a life lesson at the very least. But I did not wish to. At all. Is it wrong to desire a peaceful train ride? Perhaps my complete disinterest in his life story and bullshit theory was standoffish, but his assumption that I wanted to hear it all in the first place was presumptuous. I don't need to hear crazy from passing strangers; that's what talking to my relatives is for. For true stories of demons, recovered homosexuals, the socialist state of China and the like, I need only have lunch with my grandparents.

I always prefer eavesdropping on strangers instead of interacting with them. Which is exactly what I was doing at the Philadelphia airport when an Auntie Anne's employee approached me, having just finished his shift, and asked where I worked. I answered:

ME- I'm a student. (Defaulted to above-mentioned avoidance behavior.)
HIM- You do not work at airport?
ME- No. (HOW did Vera not tip him off?)
HIM- Where you are from? (Ok, limited English. Good sign. I figured he wanted to practice the few phrases he knew, and that's cool with me. Also, it guaranteed a quick and content-less interchange.)
ME- South Carolina.
HIM- Are you married?

What? And these odd, unsolicited encounters are not limited to public transport hubs in seedy Northeast cities. Once while waiting on an oil change* (before my social reticence set in), a fellow patron and I critically discussed every advertisement in that day's Greenville News. When we landed on Fred Astaire Dance Studio's Discount Ballroom Dancing Lessons, he earnestly suggested we take a class together! Is committing to a six-week course the next step after a harmless conversation about newspaper ads, even if the one proposing it is three times your age? I don't know. I don't know!

Remarkably, my recent twelve-hour stint on a China Town bus from NYC to Greenville, SC, resulted in no such perplexing interactions. The only English I heard during the entire trip was "TEN MINUTES," bellowed by the driver upon careening off I-95 somewhere in Virginia. Groggily I bolted into what I hoped was one of those fancy gas stations with a beer cave. Instead I gazed through bloodshot eyes at a truck stop. Truck stops are part general store, part diner, part strip joint, and part locker room. The only women's bathroom stall was locked and for once I thought better of just popping into the men's. In that moment, however fleeting, I wished for an ally to exchange bewildered glances and forgettable comments with. Instead, I vowed to hold my bladder until the next morning and made a beeline for the bus with four minutes to spare. The man sitting behind me had just purchased a bucket of fried chicken, and the smell reminded me of home.

*Not the oil change when they carded me to settle a bet with the boys in the back, who thought I looked too young to drive.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Who Really Knows What a Communications Major Actually Entails?

I suppose all early 20-somethings are used to having the same conversation over and over with perfect strangers regarding their educational choices and future career plans. These perfect strangers (referred to hereafter as PS) include, but are not limited to, doctors, dentists, receptionists, bank tellers, parents' friends and co-workers, and distant relatives. My version of this conversation invariably goes like this:

PS- So what are you studying way up there in the North?
ME- Acting.
PS- Ooooooooh! How exciting! Following your dreams! That's just great!
ME- Thank you! I really enjoy it.
PS- Now, I didn't realize acting was something you had to go to school for. I thought if you were good at it you just went on and did it.
ME- Well, there's actually a lot to learn and a lot to get better at.
PS- Huh. I never would have guessed. How do I know you're not acting now!?
ME- I'm not. Haha.
PS- Hey, do you know [random high school student whom PS knows peripherally through church]?
ME- No, I'm sorry, that name doesn't ring any bells.
PS- Are you sure? Because [said random high school student] does a bunch of drama and acting. S/he's REAL talented. I bet you know him/her.
ME- Hmmm.
PS- You're planning on teaching, then?
ME- No, I'm planning on acting. You know, in plays and stuff, and possibly films and commercials, depending on what I get cast in. Although I enjoy teaching and will probably do that at some point, too.
PS- Oooooh. Now, when you graduate from this program of yours, are you guaranteed a job?
ME- Hahahahaha!

Then I realize the PS is asking a serious question, not demonstrating a malicious but welcome sense of humor and wit for the first time since we began speaking.

ME- Oh. No, of course not. No one is guaranteed a job when they graduate these days. Unless they get recruited by the NFL, I guess, but I gave up on that a long time ago.
PS- Haha! Hey, do you know [alas, another random young person to whom I have no connection]? He's REAL good at playing football. We're all thinking he'll go pro. You ever seen him play?
ME- No. Um, I mean, yeah, maybe I have!

At this point I am terribly relieved the focus has shifted from my career ambitions to high school football, a safe subject which, like the weather, is always acceptable and interesting to discuss!

ME- You know, my sister's a cheerleader!
PS- Oh, that's just great! Now, when you start this acting business, will you make a bunch of money?

I'm thinking yet again how funny such a remark would be if it was made in jest, but sadly I understand that it, too, is a sincere albeit ludicrous question.

ME- No, almost certainly not. It's an extremely competitive industry and the popularity of live theater continues to decline. Not to mention that I'll work from job to job- getting cast in one show and immediately scrambling to land the next thing. Which is why I want to join or maybe start an independent theater company.
PS- Well, I'm sure you'll be rich and famous. And one day, when you're on TV accepting your big award, you'll have to remember little me, who gave you your first __________ [teeth x-ray, flu shot, pelvic exam, checking account, etc.]!

Since these conversations inevitably occur while I'm undergoing a medical procedure or at the very least while I'm running an errand, sometimes I lie when asked about my field of study and say "elementary education," which is met with a knowing smile and an approving nod. Not because the perfect stranger in question understands any more about the trials and tribulations of a professional educator than they do about those of a professional actor, but because elementary education is a college major that seems to make sense for a girl like me. It doesn't raise any questions and it doesn't sound suspicious, the very things people wish to avoid when making small talk. Oddly, I get the same response when I lie and say I'm a communications major. As if that's a lucid discipline that obviously translates to a 9-5 job upon graduation. I mean, what?

Fortunately for my peace of mind and for perfect strangers everywhere, I've outgrown my righteous indignation phase where theater is concerned (I AM IN CLASS AND REHEARSAL 14 HOURS A DAY, 6 DAYS A WEEK! THIS DISCIPLINE DEMANDS INHUMAN PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL FITNESS! I AM A CREATIVE ARTIST SHEDDING LIGHT ON THE HUMAN CONDITION!), because everyone works hard and no one likes listening to mission statements. Instead of indignant, when I find myself having the above conversation, I simply feel baffled at the bizarre assumptions of those kind or curious enough to ask me what I'm all about.

It could be worse. Like Shawn, I could graduate with a degree in philosophy*. Then I'd have to grin and bear it as perfect strangers unloaded their unsolicited "philosophies" on me, confusing a few generic world views with a critical, systematic method.

The point is, I wish just as much as any normal person that my professional aspirations fit into a familiar category. Namely, the category known as "Easily Explainable, Even During a Teeth Cleaning." I wish my career had a steady path and a certain outcome. I wish I could count on health insurance and an income large enough to repay my student loans and cover rent. While I'm at it, I wish success in the entertainment industry hinged more on skill and less on networking, and that Art would always triumph over Commercialism. Hahaha!

But I refuse to let the bleakness of my professional future get me down. If theater doesn't work out, I'll likely take up goat herding. I'll homeschool my children and employ them like elves to help me spin and dye yarn and produce award-winning chevre. I'll regale them at bedtime with stories of my Drama School days, imparting the same paramount Life Lesson every time: "Major in business, children. Major in business."

*Shawn wishes it to be known, however, that with his BA in philosophy he intends to pursue a perfectly acceptable and legitimate career in law. Because philosophers are no fun at parties.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Needle in a Hairstack

My first occupational goal wasn't actually paleontology. At least two aspirations of similar fervor preceded my dinosaurs obsession. They were a hair dresser and a country singer, respectively. I don't remember when or why my country singer dream dissipated- I certainly viewed myself as a young Dolly Parton for at least my first seven years. But I renounced hair dressing for good one Saturday morning in front of the television. My eyes glued to Tom and Jerry. My mouth chattering away about my future salon. My hands leafing through the brides' and débutantes' pictures in the Greenville News. My parents informed me that sometimes hair dressers have to WORK on Saturday mornings and can't watch cartoons. Appalled, I abandoned that plan and never looked back.

If only I could have made such a clean break. I nearly swore off haircuts myself, maintaining a 12-inch mane and primly insisting "just a trim" each time I found myself at Cut Ups (or the Hair Cuttery, or Cost Cutters) until I was 18. Not only did I swear off haircuts, I swore off style, too (albeit unintentionally and unwittingly). As soon as pink foam-roller curls, huge barrettes, and French braids went out of fashion (which is universally fourth grade), I was done. Now I have short-ish hair, because that way it's less noticeable when I don't dry it or brush it. It's hard for me to even articulate the kind of haircut I want when I do get one, so I always take a magazine clipping of a supermodel and hand it to Kiki*, my stylist. Then we have the same conversation we've had twice a year for the past five years:

KIKI- This would look good on you. But you can't just wake up and have it look like that. You have to use product you know, for the bangs, or they will fall in your eyes.

ME- Yeah, I can do that!

When actually I'm thinking, "I'll just wear my glasses and like a shield, they will keep my bangs from falling in my eyes."

KIKI- Ok, look at this picture of my son!

All of this is glaring evidence I am not meant to be trusted with styling my own hair, much less anybody else's, much less with actual scissors. Which is why it baffles me that I frequently find myself in situations with someone insisting I cut his or her hair.

Soon after I learned to use scissors on paper and stuffed animals, my mom would "let" me trim her hair each time she got angry at it (hence the numerous photos from my childhood in which my mom sports an uneven bob with varying degrees of volume and layers on top of her head). This became more and more of a habit. One Sunday morning as we should have been walking out the door for church (in order to arrive reasonably late instead of cause-a-scene late), she beckoned me to the bathroom. All dressed and ready, brandishing the tiny sewing scissors at me. "I need a trim! We can't leave until you trim my hair! Hurry up, it's just a trim!"

Similarly, Shawn has asked me twice to cut his hair. The first time it was on the assumption that I was skilled at it because his ex-girlfriend was. Unlike my mother, Shawn could break up with me if he didn't like the results. Instead, he just buzzed his hair after I'd finished with it. This instance apparantly faded from his memory, and a year and a half later Shawn asked me again to help cut his hair. At least this time it was only to "help." Armed with the fine-motor coordination and attention span of a golden retriever, I did some haphazard snipping punctuated by checking my email and roasting a chicken. And Shawn looked fabulous afterwards!**

One day I will work up the skills to maintain to Good Hair, or work up the courage to shave it all off. Until then, I'm thinking I'll pick up a Jazzy Jewelry kit and make myself some nice big shiny barettes.

*Kiki is Greek and her son was my boyfriend in second grade. We go way back.

**FULL DISCLOSURE: Shawn cut most of his hair himself this time.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Frugal Alcohol Consumption in Foreign Countries

At any given moment, you can bet that 60% of the UK is drunk. If it's after 8:00pm, that percentage doubles. Out of all the Anglo/American cultural differences*, Alcohol as an English Institution is by far the awesomest. Wine at every school or professional function. Pints cheaper than soft drinks. Store-brand gin. Cider sold in two-liter plastic bottles, presumably for serving at 7-year-olds' birthday parties just like the similarly packaged Fanta. Come Christmas, mulled wine and whiskey hot chocolate for sale in street markets and on street corners. Once my friends and I went to an American-themed diner/bowling alley, and there were alcoholic milkshakes!

I jumped right on this cultural bandwagon (can one fall off the wagon and concurrently jump on a bandwagon?). Idiom confusion notwithstanding, my only fear of embracing this English tradition was the cost. Financially-speaking, not liver damage-speaking. Despite worldwide economic crisis, Great Britain is doing JUST FINE, in my humble American opinion, with a ruthless currency exchange rate of £1.00 = $1.70. I resolved to test the hospitality of this Christian nation and only drink when someone else was picking up the tab.

The months that followed were a shameless shitshow of crashing staff parties (PITCHERS! DANCING!), lingering at wine and cheese receptions (EXAGGERATED INTEREST IN THEATER-RELATED ACADEMIA!), befriending barmen at local pubs (FREE AND FREE-POUR! AND SOMETIMES FREE CHEESECAKE!), and sneaking home as many Globe Education wine bottles as I could fit in my bookbag (REASON #87897 NOT TO CARRY A TINY PURSE!).

Of course I broke my own rule pretty frequently, me being a sucker for supermarket 3 bottles of wine for £10 sales and all. On more than one occasion I walked into a bar or pub carrying my own drinks for the night in the deep pockets of my Lands End Kids coat, having just finished one off on the walk over (NO OPEN CONTAINER LAWS!). The only time this got me in trouble was when I set down my off-brand cider so I could dance with my friends, and a surly bartender snatched it right up and confronted me:

SURLY BARTENDER- Is this yours?
ME- Nope! I've never seen that before!
SURLY BARTENDER- How come I saw you drinking it?
ME- Oh, I'll drink anything!

Surlily, he confiscated my drink-not-purchased-on-the-premises. It was fine, there were only a couple of swallows left. Although I should have answered his first question with "I don't know, let me taste it and see." The moral of this story is, for safety reasons, just hang on to your drink when dancing.

Ever the desperate spendthrift, when I traveled abroad I couchsurfed. This meant I got in touch with people via internet who agreed to let me crash at their places during my visits to their cities. My mom still thinks couchsurfing is a school-sponsored study-abroad organization. When I emailed her from Berlin, she responded with hopes that I was "having fun and that my teachers were nice." The point is, although England can drink any EU country under the table, I had some equally memorable alcoholic experiences on the Continent.

On a horse farm in Tuscany, I bottled the local wine my host, Nicola, purchased in tanks for about €2 a liter. He took it for granted that I, like all Italians, drink half a bottle of wine with every meal, and I didn't have the heart to prove him wrong. Nicola also introduced me to grappa and, on the opposite end of the adult beverage spectrum, Italian coffee.

When Mom, Jaci (my delightful 16-year-old sister) and I visited Rome together**, we shared the most fantastic bottle of chianti at a small, gaudy little restaurant whose décor is best described as "stone archways, Christmas lights, and a roaming Nigerian immigrant selling African handicrafts". Our kind of place! I say "we" because our waiter served Jaci without batting an eye. That act alone made her a little drunk. When she bravely brought the wine to her lips, her whole face immediately turned red as a Roma tomato. Hahahaha! Mom and I split her glass. We all scored a free limoncello for dessert, Mom taking care of Jaci's because she'd sworn off alcohol by then.

I had Guinness in Ireland, Leffe in France (it's actually Belgian, I KNOW), and Becks and Helles in Germany, all enjoyed with generous couchsurfing hosts. But my favorite beverage (and drinking experience) during my seven-month stint across the pond was in fact English: Brothers toffee apple cider. I discovered this candy apple gem of a drink at this knitting shop my friend Maura and I frequented. They had community knit-and-drink nights!!!

I bet by now you're thinking, "Breanna, how on earth are you holding up back in the US? You and your freeloading skills seem so well-suited to life abroad!" Oh, don't worry about me. I've been successfully reacclimating myself with the one thing available in the US and nowhere else (outside of North and South America, that is): delicious, cheap Mexican food.

*Fries are chips and chips are crisps, underwear is pants and pants are trousers, bumming a fag is acceptable in polite conversation but DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES jump the queue. Or order an 'Irish Car Bomb'. Just, don't.

**We did not couchsurf. We did stay in a dive-y motel. But il Colosseo, la Basilica di San Pietro, and this dinner totally made up for it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Things I Hate

My dear sweet fourth grade teacher greeted us, her class of little angels, every morning with a fun and interesting journal topic for us to respond to in the three ring binders she personalized for us with paint pens. Although I usually chose to ignore the prompts and make up my own (usually resulting in acrostic poems of my name), this one was too good to pass up:

"A pet peeve is a little something that annoys you, like faculty meetings, snotty noses, or when misbehaving kids sit at the teacher's table in the cafeteria. What are some of YOUR pet peeves?"

I responded with a list of all the boys in my class. Except Sam, of course. Now, however, I've decided to readdress this prompt from a broader, more adult perspective. THINGS I HATE:

astrology
mispronunciations
potato salad
email forwards*
Gwilym
the utilization of FAKE LARGE WORDS
detox products
Pat Robertson
the smell of Bath & Body Works
gauchos**

Given my penchant for comprehensive list making, you can look forward to these gripping pieces of work on Hungry Lion in the future, for your blog reading pleasure: my favorite childhood books, funny acapella group names, famous people I've seen, my favorite kitchen gadgets (with commentary), fun things to do when stuck at an airport, winning screen names, theme party ideas, and notable illnesses of my childhood!

*With the exception of that really useful one about how to unstick a zipper with a bar of soap. And the one informing me I'm a genius because I can raed wrdos lkie tihs, and the one with those amazing 3D chalk murals.

**These gauchos, not these gauchos.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Yeast

Most women who blog spend 78% of their entries chronicling their cats. Today I'll follow in that vein and write about a pet that is precious, keeps me company, craves my love and attention but can also survive without me for weeks: my sourdough starter.

A sourdough starter is a colony of live yeast that that live in a jar in the back left corner of your fridge. You use some of it in place of (or in addition to, YOU WIMP) commercial yeast when baking bread. Depending on how old your starter is, it gives your bread a distinctive sourdough flavor.

I bet you are still thinking about cats. Like a cat, you have to feed a sourdough starter every now and then. You feed it flour so the bacteria (lactobacilli) have something to munch on, and water so they have something to swim around and multiply in. Like sea monkeys, but with a much higher purpose. Unlike a cat, you can dehydrate your starter, grind it to a powder, and keep it in a Ziploc bag for easy storage and mobility, which is exactly what I did recently when I moved to London for several months. (My first exercise in starter transportation resulted in a yeasty pool in Shawn's floorboard during one hot, lengthy drive to SC. To this day I regret sopping it up with his copy of Green Mars. Darling, I'm so sorry.)

I'll spare you the details of how to start a starter, how to use it*, what to name it, etc., because there are multitudes of internet resources on these very topics, and I'd hate to cheat you out of that Google search. Though most instructions are incredibly specific and involve weighing your ingredients on a digital scale, resting your creation on the top shelf of your attic by the window, and stirring it counter-clockwise every nine hours, really all you need is flour and water. And your starter will consume pretty much whatever starchy matter you put in it, bubble up in satiated gratitude, and excrete a thick layer of grain alcohol for you. Just ask mine, who loves mashed potatoes and even disgusting whole-wheat flour. Next I plan to feed it crunched-up spaghetti noodles.

If you're wondering if the history of sourdough starters extends any farther back than the 70s when your aunt Judy kept one, it does. (My aunt Judy quit sourdough because the stuff was taking over her house, and it's safe to assume yours did the same.) According to online lore, sourdough was the earliest form of leavened bread, accidentally discovered by ancient Egyptians. Accomplished brewers, they were probably drunk when it happened. And (fast forwarding a bit) apparently it was a staple during the California Gold Rush. This raises the question, why wasn't "sourdough starter" one of the items you packed in your covered wagon along with bullets, wagon axles, and spare parts purchased at the General Store when playing Oregon Trail?

By the way, my sister's cat just had kittens so if you want something to cuddle while watching your starter activate, let me know. They are adorable and free for the taking.

*Though I will say sourdough starter makes a SUPERB onion ring batter. Just saying.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Indian Hop

You might think I achieved this graceful, coordinated physique from a childhood and adolescence of playing organized sports, but you'd be wrong. Despite growing up in the South where college and high school football dominates the local news, children grow up thinking the four seasons are baseball, football, basketball, and golf (or, in my house, Nascar), and ALL the other kids in your neighborhood do either church basketball, Little League, or YMCA soccer, I have never played a legitimate team sport. I don't know why. I was a spaz (glad those days are over!), but I figure most kids are and that didn't stop them.

I took things quite literally as a child. Once I was at my cousins' (two boys who have since grown into stellar college athletes) house. My mother, aunt, and grandma carefully explained the rules of baseball to me so I could play with the boys in the yard:

"You have to keep your eye on the ball and when Stephen throws it at you, SWING THE BAT."

I should clarify that this, our version of the Great American Pastime, took place in the front yard. The swingset was located in the backyard. After I wrenched the baseball from Stephen's fingers and held it up against my eye (yes, that's how my four-year-old self interpreted "keep your eye on the ball"), when the poor kid was finally able to pitch it to me, I took off running to the backyard where I proceeded to "swing the bat" in one of those old rusty swings. I would rather have been swinging there myself, or floating in my cousins' new above-ground pool, not playing baseball. It had to have been 987498 degrees outside.

And thus began my absolutely bewildered relationship with baseball. Not understanding the game, I rarely understood baseball metaphors (and American English is FULL of them!). I didn't know what the "bases" meant, for example, until well after I grand slammed my way through them all.

I did do other normal kid stuff- Vacation Bible School, ice skating lessons, Zoo Camp, modern dance class, Space Camp, babysitting your sister, Church Camp. My fondest memories of forced participation in organized athletics (sparse though they are) take place at Church Camp, AKA The Middle of Nowhere. At Camp we had Olympics. My favorite part of the whole enterprise was decorating my team t-shirt in the arts'n'crafts cabin. But though I dreaded the games, this was the only time I ever remember when the rules of the "sports" we had to play were slightly skewed in favor of wiry, timid little kids like myself.

For example, baseball at Camp went like this: there was no limit to the number of people on the bases, no limit to the number of strikes you could get when batting, and best of all, you could hit the ball in any direction you wanted! I liked to bat into the woods, away from the field, so the other team would have to run through trees, briars, poison oak, and hornets' nests in order to retrieve the ball and carry on with the game. Hahahaha!

And I don't know if this counts, but I was particularly skilled at a game called Indian Hop. In Indian Hop, everyone had a balloon tied to one foot, and you had to hop on that foot with your other foot held high off the ground, and stomp on and pop the balloons on the opposing team's feet. I wonder if they've changed the name of Indian Hop in the past fifteen years. Come to think of it, I also wonder if they've changed the name of Kill the President, another terrific Camp game.

My moment of glory, as far as Olympics were concerned, was always during the epic relay race that ended the games. I would start in the cartwheel race, then bolt across the field in time for the wheelbarrow race, then dash to race's final segment where I would sit upon a twin mattress, clutching it for dear life with my sweaty little fingers as my teammates lifted me above their heads and shot full speed ahead towards the finish line, smirking at the other teams who had normal sized kids on top of their mattresses, not scrawny little midgets like me.

I remained a scrawny little midget right up through high school gym class, where I spent a good amount of time amusing my friends by fitting my whole self into a locker. And I was one of the most athletic girls in the class, unencumbered by pregnancy, a heart transplant, or a flat to refusal dress out.

The moral of this story is if you are a non-athletic child like I used to be, but still feel compelled to run around making a fool of yourself, do what I did. Go to drama school. There your physical education will be gruelling but will likely involve swords. I may be hopeless at shooting a lay-up, but if you attack me with a rapier and dagger (provided I'm also armed with a rapier and dagger), I WILL CUT YOU DOWN.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Breast of Chicken Kiev

Since sitting down to write I have:

-Donned my NEW VINTAGE RAY BANS that were my FATHER'S. Over my own prescription glasses of course.
-Found a pair of tweezers in my backyard (thanks, New Brunswick)
-Considered going back inside because this picnic table, in addition to hosting a nation of termites, is so evenly splattered with bird shit that finding a clean space the size of my notebook and my elbows is nigh impossible
-Used my new tweezers to dislodge some bird shit! Then I carved my initials onto the table.

I'm outside because Shawn is in the process of cleaning out his iTunes, which is what organized people with new Macs tend to do. Really it just means listening to everything awful before deciding to go ahead and keep it. The following exchange occurred during one of Matchbox 20's most darkly intense power ballads:

SHAWN- Hmmm, when does it get to the good part?
ME- That is an EXCELLENT question.
SHAWN- I meant in our relationship.
ME- Excuse me, I think I see a perfectly good pair of tweezers glinting in the sunlight in our backyard!

Although I came out here under the pretense of working*, really I plan to spend some time perusing a cook book I found called Cooking With Audrey. This is one of those zillion recipe collections like your mom probably has. Flipping through the 762345 chicken recipes, most of them calling for a cream of __________ soup, I wasn't very impressed. That's when I landed on Breast of Chicken Kiev. Now here, I thought, is an authentic Eastern European recipe for what promises to be a hearty, stick-to-your-bones-even-in-this-harshest-of-winters dish. The name showcased its authenticity- in an otherwise exclusively English language cookbook, employing all conventional English grammatical structures, this ethnic gem is titled not "Kiev Chicken Breast," but "Breast of Chicken Kiev." Hahaha! Take that, all y'all who expect adjectives to come first!

Turns out Breast of Chicken Kiev is an almost unthinkable concoction involving flattened chicken breasts rolled tightly around logs [read: LOGS] of mushroom herb butter, doused in vodka, coated in breadcrumbs, and deep fried. In butter. Serve with more butter and a pitcher of vodka. Perfect for your next Serfs & Babushkas-themed dinner party.

Now, as I do hail from the deep South and am a passionate connoisseur of the region's cuisine, perhaps you are thinking, "Now ain't that the pot calling the kettle black." To which I reply: Yeah, I'm curious. I might very well try Breast of Chicken Kiev at some point, perhaps in the dead of winter when I feel there's nothing to live for. The only substitutions I might make are moonshine instead of vodka, and probably some ranch dressing seasoning in place of the mushroom and herbs in the butter.

*planning my summer geology camp, writing lists, thinking up ways to get really rich really fast

Title Search

When Shawn says, "Let me help you think of something," it typically yields terrific results with minimal effort on my part. So of course I accepted his input regarding the title of my brand new blog. He suggested the following:

Shortcomings
Southern Comfort
Bugger
Peanut Butter Jelly Time
You Care What I Think?!
Silly Face
Loudmouth
Monkey Fart

I decided to consider other options, drawing primarily from Things My Friend Tom Always Says. Including, but not limited to:

Truly Something
WORK and LIFE
Emotional
Your Gay Ass
STREEP
I'll Save You, Brea Foister!
Hungry Lion... Hungry Lion... HUNGRY LION!!!

Hungry Lion it is, folks.