Sunday, October 30, 2011

"Man, so cheap!"

Some things shouldn't be worn in public. Except on Halloween. For example: those black tights thingies that lots of people in Rhode Island think are pants. I found a pair in my closet (thanks Mom!) and wondered what would be more ghastly than parading around in them at our church Halloween party. Jesse advised me to wear shorts over them though. Good idea. We didn’t want to make Halloween extra memorable by shocking the geriatric crowd into myocardial infarction. 

The last time I dressed up was in 2007. Up to that point I remember most of my Halloween costumes. 

Age 5: Sleeveless polyester Tinkerbell smock thing that looked like a skin-toned and light green rain coat with matching plastic shell of a mask with eye holes and a coiffure of hard, yellow hair. 

Age 6: Homemade clown costumes for Merella, Landon, and me, sewn by my mom. Full body suits that slipped on over our snowsuits and sown in vertical halves with one half of the costume light blue and the other a bold pattern of yellow, orange and green stripes. Matching pointy cloth hats that tied under our chins and framed our faces in ruffles. Mom used lipstick to paint our noses and a round circle on each of our cheeks.

Age 7: Bouncing blob of orange. Orange shirt with black jack-o-lantern face and orange pants. Orange. Pants.

Age 8: Cowgirl outfit from the Philippines.

Age 9-10: ?? At some point Grandma sent me a pre-packaged store-bought angel costume—with wings!—for my birthday. It was my favorite. But it was ruined by a temperature of 20 below (with windchill), and after tugging it on over my snow pants and jacket, I just looked like an obese fairy.

Age 11: I was a witch. Or something. I found an old black dress in the house and fashioned a loose skirt out of it. The skirt was held up by a piece of dental floss that had to be readjusted every five minutes. I spent most of the day sitting at my desk and avoided standing or moving if at all possible.

Ages 12-18: ??? No recollection whatsoever. Although I did dress up for “Quadrilateral Day” for geometry class. I came to school as a “parallelogram” and stayed up until 2 a.m. baking three-dozen rhomboid-shaped cookies. I got five points extra credit.

Age 19: Freshman year at BYU, our whole apartment felt obligated to attend the ward Halloween party. The dollar racks at DI came through for us: my roommates were rice farmers, a Wyoming native, Sheri (what costume did you wear?!), and I was supposed to be Anne’s “bosom friend” from Anne of Green Gables. I think I won the fifth place prize in the costume contest: an orange. The same one used in that stupid game where you pass the orange to the person next to you in line using your only your neck and chin.

Age 21: I had long hair and a psychedelic blue and green shirt. Somehow I persuaded Jesse to wear a cow suit, complete with rubbery 3D udders. Maybe this why we didn’t dress up after that? 

Age 27: These outfits are a result of five seconds’ worth of thought, plus a summer of playing Angry Birds with Evan. If the costumes weren’t identifiable, the matching cupcakes removed all doubt. 

I take it back. There are unflattering pictures of me...
 Jesse kept in character all evening by walking behind me and 
tapping my ankles with his blind cane.
The red 40 and crunchy sprinkles will give you a headache.
The cupcakes lasted about 2.5 seconds at the party, and now 
people don't know our names. They just call us "Angry Birds." 

Our plan was to show up, make our appearance, get our free food, and go home. We were mobbed in the hall by kids who stared, slack-jawed, sucking in the drool from the edges of their plastic vampire teeth. They followed us around, pulling my tail and asking Jesse if they could “try” his blind cane.   

A few words spoken with an under bite in the “village English” accent (sorry, only Dad/Jesse/ BYU roommates know what this sounds like) of rural, Inupiaq Eskimo Alaska sum up our first Rhode Island Halloween: “Man, so cheap!” In Standard American English this means something like utterly inadequate and feebly anticlimactic.

“So cheap” because Hurricane Irene blew away so many leaves that we're having an uncharacteristically lame New England fall. No flaming red and gold trees. Just gray fog hanging on undressed branches. 

“So cheap” because we haven’t figured out what our family traditions are. When our family is big enough to stage mock productions of Something Wicked This Way Comes in our living room, and the kids are old enough to appreciate Poe and my favorite scary movie, Wait Until Dark, then we'll be on our way. But with just Jesse and me, we watch Hocus Pocus every year, but Bette Middler in buckteeth pales in comparison to my dad’s family traditions.

Every year, Grandpa grew Indian corn in the backyard garden. He harvested it in October and tied the ears in bundles to decorate lampposts, doors, tables, and banisters. Grandma loved making scarecrows and stationing them out in the yard. And Dad always went trick-or-treating with his best friend Johnny Rusnack. The golden rule of trick-or-treating at Dad’s house was that everyone had to eat a good dinner before leaving because they’d inevitably come home with chocolate rings around their mouths after sugar lust drove them up and down the neighborhood streets, stomping through crinkly leaf piles from streetlight to streetlight, collecting king size candy bars that cost a nickel. Stuffing your face with all the good stuff was imperative, since Mrs. Garrison, principal at Cedar Road Elementary School, expected candy donations for "Trick-or-treat for UNICEF." She set up a 10-gallon aquarium candy collecting station outside her office. The whole thing turned into a terrarium of everyone's least favorite sweets—candy corn and Goober Bars, a gross chocolate bar with peanuts in an ugly green wrapper—because nobody ever donated anything good to the kids in Africa.

“So cheap” because we got three trick-or-treaters. Of course, I picked lame Halloween candy. I like those big bags of Tootsie Rolls only because they throw in a few boxes of Dots, which remind me of Candy Land. So I picked out all the Dots for myself, and will continue to bring the remaining five pounds of Tootsie Rolls to URI and make my students eat them all.

Nobody invites trick-or-treaters into their house anymore, like they did when Dad was a kid in Philadelphia. It was perfectly safe to enter the house to get your candy so the grownups could check out your costume and try to guess who you were. Half the fun of trick-or-treating was going into each house and inhaling musty air in living rooms filled with black and white ancestral family photos and old furniture and guns hanging above the mantels. I can’t wait until I’m old and can invite kids into my house and give them staplers and coasters and laundry detergent for Halloween, like in Grumpy Old Men.

“So cheap” because we didn’t even carve a pumpkin. Although we had a good excuse. We bought a gorgeous pumpkin from Tougas Farm on 10/15 and left it sitting out on our stairs for a good week and a half. On the morning of the 29th, we stepped outside and noticed pumpkin raider(s) had attacked it. A big bite was taken out of it, conspicuously positioned right on the front.

The next morning, Jesse opened the door to find the culprit, one of these peanut butter fiends, sitting in the snow, sitting perfectly still, like it would be invisible if it didn’t move. It ran under the stairs, but resurfaced on top of the pumpkin and recommenced chewing. Eventually it had eaten what looked like the shape of a bat with its wings spread out on the front. How festive.   

Sigh. Maybe next year we’ll try harder.

Ahoy matey!
Pumpkin raiding continued until the critters bored a hole through the shell.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Weekend Update(s)

Until we have more earth-shatteringly interesting news, this is probably what our blog posts will be: weekend updates.
My dad calls it our “apple safari.” 

The Tougas Family Farm in Northboro, MA is known for several things:

  • The farm kitchen, where you can buy all things apple—homemade pies, turnovers, honey, butter, fresh pressed cider, fresh cider donuts, caramel apples, apple crisp, the list goes on. 
  • The ingenious scheme of filling candy dispensers with goat pellets. All the kiddies clamor for quarters so they can buy handfuls of food to feed the goats that poke their heads through the fences in the petting zoo.
  • Their high-density polyethelyne apple bags made of industrial strength plastic that hold 20 lbs of apples. To preserve all farm employees’ sanity, a printed copy of their apple guide is stamped on the back of the bag and answers all stupid tourist questions, including this one: “Which apple should I pick if I want to make a pie?” I’ve never been in an orchard before, so the apple guide was quite handy because I had a lot of stupid tourist questions. The recurring answer to all my questions: Cortland apples are best for baking.

Another perk of the apple guide is that it’s quite educational. It walks you through the five steps of apple picking: 

1) Make eye contact with the apple. Don’t pick it if you think it’s ugly, although a few blemishes won’t hurt you.
2) Grip your apple firmly, lift up, and twist because if you don’t, you’ll hurt the apple’s feelings.
3) Any and all apples that fall from the tree while you’re standing next to the tree are legally and lawfully yours. Put them in your bag.
4) Place the apple gently in your bag, as if it were an egg.
5) If you bite it, you own it. Also, please DON’T throw our fruit at each other, or stuff it in your pockets because that is called stealing.  

4.     The farm is also famous for its pumpkins that grow on trees. 

We went to the Rhode Island Antique Mall because I needed to find a wedding gift for Kirsten, my CUWP friend who is a history teacher and collects antiques. This is the kind of antique store that has display cases full of pincushions and walls of shelves lined with jars full of buttons and other random tidbits. The mall collects from over 130 dealers and people come from all over to find whatever it is they’re looking for, like items to put in their terrariums, or the couple the checkout clerk told us about who recently traveled from Pennsylvania to buy clocks.

I had limited options to choose from, since the gift is being mailed to Provo—glass, obscenely heavy objects, and pretty, but useless items were out. This eliminated 99% of the items in the store. So I had to go with boring, but utilitarian; I settled on a picture frame with a canvas print of Renaissance people of indeterminate gender posing austerely for their portrait. 

I’m guessing they’ll one of two things with the frame: put it in their bathroom or replace the print with this photo of their garden party reception:

As one of the oldest zoos in the country, Roger Williams Park Zoo is supposed to be a major tourist attraction. So we went there. The park grounds are spacious and perfect for picnicking and hosting events like “Puerto Rican Day.”

But zoos in general are uneventful and pathetic. The leopards squeeze themselves into the nooks and crannies of the rocks in the furthest corner of their cages and sit there all day. The wildebeests refuse to give you anything besides a view of their backsides. Occasionally, the bears take a break from hiding in their concrete caves to come out and restlessly pace a length of five feet back and forth.

But, we did see this: a squirrel infiltrating a wallaby cage to steal its food, and a gibbon monkey that got tired of people looking at it so it put a paper bag on its head and stayed like that for the rest of the afternoon.

I suppose it’s admirable that the zoo does lots of outreach and community education. I got excited about this announcement because, along with countless exhibits of animals doing nothing in broad daylight, it gave me an idea for a children’s book about what animals do at night after all the people leave the zoo. My aunt worked in the medical/biological illustration department at Perdue. She could draw the pictures.

NEW! Winter Tadpole Academy | February 22 - 25
Members: $100 / Non-members: $125
2011 theme: "Creatures of the Night"
What happens when we go to sleep? The world changes when the sun goes down and a whole new world of animals wakes up. Campers will explore the special nocturnal characteristics that help these animals survive at night using their own five senses.

Tadpole Academy is a great way to introduce your 4 – 5 year-old to camp at Roger Williams Park Zoo!  Each day is only three hours long and includes stories, crafts, games and Zoo exploration in a safe, small group of only 10 campers per week. 

Due to this small size, campers may only register for a maximum of one week. Each camper receives one complimentary ZooCamp T-shirt that must be worn daily. Note: All Tadpole Academy campers must be completely toilet trained (requiring no assistance in the bathroom)!

Technically, I could qualify because I’m potty trained, and I’m used to wearing ugly t-shirts (remember “Butcamp”?). 
More pumpkins growing on trees as part of the zoo's Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular, an exhibit that involves some 5,000 carved pumpkins accompanied by an inundation of useless pumpkin/pagan ritual trivia.

Jesse and camel posteriors.
Picture this monkey, but with a grocery store-size paper bag on its head.

I'd never seen one of these before. I thought it was a cross between a fox, the Chessire Cat, and a raccoon.
Ignore the annoying audio. It's called a red panda. I would like one please. 

But maybe not.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Birthday month

Where did September go? Where have the last 27 years gone?!

October 4
Confession: I got drunk.
Kind of.
Not really.
But just you wait for the anticlimactic ending of this story.

The idea came to me in a dream about peaches: since September was Roald Dahl month, and earlier in the week I had sent a virtual peach to Jesse as a token of my undying affection, I would make a peach cake. As a surprise for Jesse. So as soon as he left for work, I drove all over the greater Warwick area in search of a cake pan.

The cake was inspired by James and the Giant Peach, but ended up looking more like James and the Giant Butt Crack, if you’re in a puerile mood. I made a Sculpey James too, but he didn’t get painted in time before Jesse got home, so I’ll save him for next year.  

I emailed Jesse and said I had a surprise waiting for him when he got home—the butt crack cake. I knew he would find it amusing.

And then he came home with a surprise for me—red velvet cake and roses. Ha ha. So now we have a fridge full of cake. I’m going to eat it for breakfast for the rest of the week.

We went to Portofino’s, an Italian restaurant that got lovely reviews in last week’s paper. Here, the waiters bring you complimentary limoncello after they take your check. I gulped mine down without a second thought as to why it tasted like nail polish remover, or the fact that it was served in containers that looked like skinny cousins of the shot glass. Then we wondered if it was alcoholic. At home, Google revealed all. Every limoncello recipe online calls for vodka. Whoopsie!

October 7-10
We went to New Hampshire.

We saw the beginning of a late New England fall.

Wouldn't you be sad too if your 28-year winning streak had been shattered?
We played checkers twice. I accidentally won a game. Which means Jesse lost at something. We had to document this historic event.

We went to Chipmunk Lodge where the Bisports—my dad's cousins—treated us to belated birthday dinner! Corn “chowdah” and apple crisp.
After dinner we got a tour of the field behind the lodge. When we were told turnips had been planted there this summer, or spring, or whenever turnip season is, Jesse and I pictured two or three rows neatly planted in one corner. Instead, the turnips had popped up all over the field, and were planted for the sole purpose of feeding the deer and bears that hang out in the woods.

Since most of the turnips would end up rotting anyway, we plucked one out of its spongy bed and dubbed it the "Birthday Turnip Monster."
Neither Jesse nor I have eaten turnips before and are wondering how best to cook it. To celebrate the momentous occasion of picking the turnip, Jesse did 500 pushups, and I did some research. My question: “Who the heck eats turnips?” Apparently, everyone does.
Pliny the Elder thought highly of turnips, rating them “directly after cereals or at all events after the bean, since its utility surpasses that of any other plant.” Indeed.

For Nordic people, the turnip was the king of crops before it was ousted by the potato in the 18th century. In Turkey, turnips add flavor to a cold juice made of purple carrots and assorted spices. Austrians serve raw turnip root in a cooled remoulade, and the Scotts made candle lanterns by carving hollow pits in the bulbs. Turnips came in handy at Celtic festivals when carved with faces to discourage evil spirits from loitering outside your domicile. In Iran turnip roots, boiled and salted, cure fevers. The Japanese pickle them and reserve a place for turnips in the ritual of the Festival of the Seven Herbs—the ritual involves chanting while cutting the herbs (one of which is called Nipplewort) to sprinkle over a rice porridge that purportedly wards off evil and promotes longevity starting every January 7th. 

My personal favorites: Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend and rather uppity looking British Whig politician with fake hair was made famous by the turnip.

His contribution to the British agricultural revolution was being the first to think of planting turnips on large scale four-field crop rotation.

And best of all, turnips were used in heraldry. The turnip remains an emblem of coats of arms. Among others, it's on the shield of Leonhard von Keutschach, prince arch-bishop of Salzburg. Dude. The turnip is so cool.  

From A DISPLAY OF HERALDRIE: by John Guillim (c1551 - 1621)
He beareth Sable a Turnip Proper, a chief Or, Gutte de Larmes. This is an eatable and wholesome roote and yeeldeth great reliefe to the poore, and prospereth best in an hote sandy ground, and may signifie a person of good disposition, whose vertuous demeanour flourisheth most prosperously even in that soile where the scorching heate of Envy most aboundeth. This roote differeth much in nature from that whereof it is said: And that their should not bee among you any roote that bringeth forth Gall and Wormwood.

This research was not pointless, by the way—I could totally write a children’s book about the supposed origins of the Festival of the Seven Herbs being a magic turnip that saves a village of starving Japanese peasants…

October 15
We are going to an orchard in Northboro, MA to pick apples and pumpkins and pet baby animals with the Geigas.


October 16-31
Jesse has more surprises no doubt. In the words of the old man in James and the Giant Peach, “Marvelous things will happen!”

P.S. The comments permissions for our blog have been fixed. Whether you're reading in Kotzebue or Kazakhstan, you can now add comments.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Squirrels and bad interior design and lobsters, oh my.

Jesse: “Why did the squirrel cross I-95?”
Sarita: “Um, he didn’t. He got turned into a squirrel pancake before he reached the other side, ha ha.”

But not at the University of Rhode Island! This is the only place I haven’t seen squirrels all mashed in the road except for their tails flitting around in the breeze. If I were a squirrel in Rhode Island, I would live on campus where students could feed me french fries and Nutella and the only thing I’d watch out for would be cigarette burns from careless people flicking their butts in my general direction.  

On Saturday we drove to campus to show Jesse the two buildings I hang out in three days a week at URI. 

I teach in “The Castle.” It was built in 1928 and used to be an armory/gymnasium, where ROTC students made good use of the rifle range and shot machine guns at each other to prepare for duty in the armed forces. They also had military balls there. Unfortunately, the campus granite quarry ran out of rocks so Rodman Hall is only a castle from the front. The sides are made of brick the color of crusty Kleenex. 

From 1920-1948 that lovely chap Keaney down there owned Rodman Hall. Keaney supposedly invented "run and shoot" basketball and coached at URI and never had a losing season in 28 years. He was also a chemist and used his lab in Rodman Hall to concoct cures for athlete's foot, jock itch, and soreness. I wish he had invented something useful, like air conditioning. 

Now it’s called Rodman Hall, and it's full of classrooms designed by people who thought orange and yellow and green chairs would not clash with blue carpet. And it still doesn't have air conditioning. With 80% humidity and the odor of old cat stuck in the wall, it's a winning combination. The upside to all this is I have a “time-out” closet. I send people in there when they fall asleep in class (it happens a lot). 

Eleanor Roosevelt Hall is where my office would be, if I had one. This building used to be a girl’s dormitory in 1936. This is the only building on campus named after a woman.

Lots of things are kind of decrepit on campus. This lamppost was no exception. 
It kind of fell over after I leaned against it.  

Supposedly Eleanor planted one or more of these flowering Crab Apple trees that are in front of Roosevelt Hall.

Teaching here is just like at BYU, but with more coffee and beards and tattoos and shorter shorts and better architecture that isn't as well maintained because nobody has any money. On my first day, one student introduced himself like this: "Hello professor, my name is Louis and I have Tourettes." 

I thought he was joking. 

But he wasn't. He sits in the back and has convulsions and sounds like he's got a perpetual case of hiccups, but he's the nicest student I've ever had. So I forgive him.

This is our mascot. All who behold his gaze quake in fear. Obviously.

There's a farmer's market near campus, so we stopped by there on our way home and Jesse bought me squash and fingerling potatoes for my birthday. He was going to get lobsters too for $8/pound because they were ginormous and perched on top of small mountains of ice. But then one of the lobsters twitched its eyes at me and I didn't want them anymore.