Summering With The Kid

You know who I admire?

I admire people who say, “I don’t care what other people think of me.”

And mean it.

I’m afraid I’m not so strong.  I hate hate hate it when people are mad at me.  And I also hate it when people I live with are mad at each other.

The recent return of the hellish heat and humidity that is our summer here in the heart of Carolina has me both hiding in dark, air-conditioned rooms, and reminiscing about previous Matthews Family Band summers.

When The Kid was a toddler, Durham had those summer evening events with music, food, and activities for the kids.  It was free, sounded like fun, so one night we decided to go.

We were having a terrific time, The little Kid was dancing and making friends.

And then, it happened.

The Duke blue devil made an appearance.  We pointed him out to our toddler, who loved to see him on TV.

We hadn’t taken into account that on TV, the mascot was seven or eight inches.  In person, he was around six feet tall. 

Panic is an extreme understatement.  The poor child didn’t know whether to scream, cry, throw up, or run.  So all four were attempted at the same time. 

The Kid ran to us, screaming, “We got to go!  We got to go NOW!”

So we left.

But for the next few years, whenever we told The Kid we were going somewhere, the poor thing would get a worried look and ask, “The Blue Devil guy’s not gonna be there, is he?”

Another year, The Kid got to see Mommy in a frenzy of terror.

It was one of those days when I had one last nerve, and my only child was doing an interpretive dance right on it. 

I asked The Kid to go outside and weed the little flower bed around the mailbox.  I figured there wouldn’t be much actual weeding done, but I also figured the break meant I wouldn’t be drunk before dinner.

Within forty-five seconds The Kid was back. 

“I can’t weed.  It’s full of snakes!”

I tried to explain that it was probably a few worms, but my child would not be dissuaded.  I finally went out to the mailbox to prove I was right.

Except, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Some horrible, mean, sneaky, dastardly snake had laid eggs in the bed, and seventeen million of them had recently hatched. 

I was almost catatonic with terror.  The Kid took my arm and gently led me back into the house.

That night, I was drunk before dinner.

At the beginning of this essay, I spoke about my discomfort with ire.

One summer, Petey and The Kid were barely speaking.  Petey insisted our child needed a bicycle for Christmas.  The gift was a bust.

So, in late June, our little would-be cyclist still didn’t know how to ride, and showed no interest.  Husband and child had butted heads about it for six months.  I decided to end the stalemate and teach The Kid.

So one day, when it was about 732° outside, I took child and bike down to an empty parking lot to get it done.  I figured twenty minutes, tops.

Three hours later I was praying for the sweet release of death.  I gave up and that night, I announced I was out.  I was formally withdrawing from the great bicycle debate.  Done.

The Kid never learned to ride, and I honestly have no memory of what happened to that cursed vehicle.

So, here’s hoping that your own summer is not terrifying, sweaty, or frustrating.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

The Four-legged Good Will Ambassador

I let my dog pick my new friends.

Well, maybe “pick” is a little inaccurate. 

There’s nothing quite so petulant as a 120-pound adolescent dog.

If you think a toddler demanding your attention while you’re on the phone is annoying and distracting, try an Akita who thinks he’s keeping you from danger and is also bored and wants to look for Mr. Crane (an actual crane that lives near us) and chase Danger Squirell (a neighborhood squirrel that seems to think he’s immortal and loves to play chicken with my pooch, Crowley).

I’ve had dogs my whole life, but my relationship with this dog who could pass for a bear cub is as unique for me as a shy used car salesman. 

When puppies are about four weeks old, they form a bond with their mother and litter-mates.  This is where a dog figures out he’s a dog, learns dog behavior, and is taught not to date outside their species.

If you’ve ever seen a youtube video and they say the dog thinks he’s a goat, or a lizard, or a carrot, it’s a real possibility.  That puppy may have been separated from his mother too early, and instead of learning he’s a dog, bonds with an armadillo.

Then between seven and sixteen weeks, a puppy can imprint on a human.  This person becomes their bringer of adventure, fun, and food.  They’re the first one they look to when they’re scared or hurt. 

They can’t stand to be away from this person because they miss them, and when they’re not close, the pooch cannot protect them.  They must keep their human safe at all costs, for they are the wellspring from which all good things flow.

I think Crowley imprinted on me the night we brought him home.  I carried him to the car and he sat on my lap on the ride home.  As he snuggled into me he became familiar with my scent and sound.

The puppy Crowley.

What really sealed the deal though, was when we were about halfway home, he peed on me.

One of the most important things you can do for a puppy is to socialize them with both humans and dogs.  And with a pupper roughly the tonnage of a water buffalo, the only thing about him I want to be scary is size.

But of course, Mom proposes and dog disposes.

He is extremely protective of me.  If I were a teenager on a date and he was my dad, he’d be waiting for me on the porch with a shotgun.  He always positions himself between me and anything or anyone unfamiliar. 

Crowley is also a little skittish.  He may be my bodyguard, but if a school bus, dump truck, or a UPS truck approaches, I’m on my own.  He jumps behind me so that I am between him and the big scary thing.

Taken together, this makes him very choosy about his friends. 

His list may be short, but once you’re in, you’re in for life.  And the chosen are not just liked, they’re adored.  He knows where each buddy lives and walks right up to their front door and stands aside so I can ring their doorbell to see if they can come out and play.

Crowley.

With a couple, he usually becomes friends with the male first.  But it takes time and persistence until Crowley shares his heart.

Once the guy puts in the work to make friends, Crowley grandfathers the feminine half of the couple in.  Once you’re in the “Crowley loves me club”, you get a plus one.

It’s like my dog’s a country club, or destination wedding. 

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

The Best Worst Man

The Kid has already married four people.

No, my child isn’t on a matrimonial race to beat Zsa Zsa Gabor and her nine marriages.  A few years ago, The Kid got ordained to perform weddings for some close friends.  Yesterday was wedding number two.

Because of social distancing, the wedding was held online.  Petey and I offered to help out with a trial run, to make sure the sound and lighting were okay.  Once the soundcheck was completed, we stayed on our video chat and well, chatted—about weddings.

Our poor child has heard enough about our own nuptials that it could probably be recited like the Gettysburg address, Mark Antony’s speech in Julius Ceasar, or the list of actors who portrayed the Doctor, in chronological order.  So we talked about weddings we’d attended.

Or more accurately, weddings in which Petey has served as best man.

It’s only been two,  but they both went so badly that it was enough to seal his reputation as the very worst of wedlock curses.  After the second marriage made the Titanic look like the Good Ship Lollypop, word got around.

Thirty-eight years have passed since he’s been asked to stand up for a groom.

The first time Petey was the “best man”, his friend, Shelby was the groom in question.  The night before the nuptials, a post-rehearsal dinner/drink-a-thon was held.  Petey had a shift as an orderly, so he couldn’t make it.  The bridegroom’s little brother, who was about fourteen or fifteen, was in attendance.

Petey’s absence was probably for the best.

The next day they were all there, standing at the altar, waiting for the blushing bride.  Shelby’s kid brother, one of the groomsmen, was standing next to Petey.  The teenager smelled so strongly of alcohol, Petey almost got a contact drunk.  Suddenly, the kid stiffened, and his eyes lost their focus. 

Shelby’s brother passed slam out.  He dropped onto the church’s carpet as suddenly and completely as if he were a tree that had been chopped down.

He was fine, just doing what most drunken teenagers tend to do—sleeping it off.

The second wedding that Petey served as best man, was for our friend, Wayne, or as everyone in Elizabeth City knew him, Pig. 

Pig was marrying a girl in my class.  It was a rebound relationship for Pig, and a bid for independence for Linda, his betrothed.  Chrissy Teigen and Pat Roberts would have been a more compatible match.  Heck, the Queen of England and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would have been better marriage prospects.

Petey was driving Pig to the wedding.  To this day he doesn’t know whether it was an accident, or a bid to rescue his friend, but instead of pulling into the church parking lot, he kept driving, toward the Outer Banks and freedom.  The guests in the lot were a sea of wide eyes and open mouths as the boys drove right past.

Unfortunately, the groom looked up and alerted Petey that they were off-course.  The wedding took place as planned.

Shelby’s marriage eventually ended when the bride realized that it was putting a real crimp in her very active dating life.

Pig and Linda realized just what a horrible idea their marriage was the first morning they woke up as man and wife.  They limped along for a year or so before they finally put their wedded bliss out of its misery.

I think it’s possible The Kid doesn’t carry the wedding curse gene.  Both marriages, the two-year-old one and the one my child performed yesterday are still rock solid.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

It’s Time

At this moment in history, our government is in the clutches of zealots.

Extremists believe they have all the answers.  There’s no doubt, gray, or ambiguity and anything which supports these convictions is just and true.  Only they know what’s best—for everyone.

But, the object of adoration varies by individual.  

For many the guiding light is money.  Enriching oneself on the peoples’ time has become an achievement deserving of great pride.  This is why Richard Burr could trumpet the party line that Covid19 was a liberal construct while dumping millions in pandemic-vulnerable stocks.

Don Jr, Eric, Ivanka, and Jared make billions from proximity to power.  Skids are greased, access is dangled, and government business is steered to fill family coffers.  In the past, the enriching oneself in this way was guarded against with multiple layers of oversight.  Today it’s considered smart husbanding of one’s resources.

Many in Washington worship power and perks.  They will contort themselves, their convictions, and reality itself to win the next election.

That is why GOP members of Congress appear on television, and with straight faces insist that the president, who tells an average of twenty whoppers a day, is an honest man who’s never lied to the American electorate.  It’s why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declares that his witness-free impeachment hearings were legitimate. 

For some, the religion is a fundamental Christian doctrine with a large dash of prosperity theology.  It drives men like Vice President Mike Pence to grant bigots the freedom to deny goods, services, and even life-saving care if their beliefs tell them to.  It’s why Senator Marsha Blackburn makes false medical statements on the floor of Congress to strip away women’s reproductive rights. 

And then we have the orange man in the White House, Donald Trump.  A self-styled strong man who admires ruthless dictators but who also turns off the lights and hides in the basement when things get scary.

At which altar does the president worship?

As he makes clear daily, he is the founder and pontiff of the cult of himself.

Trump advises owners about football players who protest racism and police brutality by taking a knee.  “Get that son of a b—- off the field” because “OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high”.  He demonstrates his own reverence by nauseatingly fondling the flag like a middle schooler at a boy/girl party spending their first seven minutes in heaven.   

Calling protesters “thugs” and threatening “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” he sees no irony in then standing in the Rose Garden and stating “I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters.” punctuating his words are the sounds of explosions to clear those peaceful protesters away from the White House so he can walk to a church and scowl while awkwardly clutching a bible and shushing the press.

Unleashing the military on law-abiding American citizens on American soil was orchestrated by Attorney General William Barr, an acolyte who’s turned the Justice Department into the president’s personal hit squad.  Barr perverts justice and subverts truth all to satisfy the whims of a small, ill-informed man whose yardstick for those who serve him comes down to one essential feature; personal loyalty—constitution and qualifications be damned.

If there was ever any doubt concerning the president’s loyalty fetish, he made it abundantly clear in his recent tweet when Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski publicly revealed her doubts about supporting his second term: “Get any candidate ready, good or bad, I don’t care, I’m endorsing — If you have a pulse, I’m with you,”.

As long as you’re with him—and not one second longer.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Stage Fright

So, on Twitter, people are confessing at what stage of quarantine they currently occupy.

     For example, Pigeon Fancier wrote: “What stage of quarantine are you at, me I’m wearing a foofy bathrobe 24/7, drinking everything out of a champagne flute, calling the house spiders “dahling” in a transatlantic accent”

     As for myself, I’m at the stage that I’ve grown so used to wearing a mask that once this is all over, I’m contemplating taking a job as a stagecoach robber.

     And, I’m at the stage of quarantine where I’ve taken to shouting, “Social Distancing!” at crowd scenes in movies, such as The Ten Commandments, the beach scene in Jaws, and the ball in Walt Disney’s Cinderella.

     After years of familiarity, I’ve put together a list of where on the quarantine spectrum friends and family possibly (probably) reside.

     Petey, well-known for his taciturnity, is at the stage where he’s become positively chatty with folks he meets while walking the dog.  He actually spoke with a neighbor the other day for a full 90 seconds.

     The Kid has been so deprived of human companionship that furniture and accessories around the house have become anthropomorphized.  The child spends much of the day breaking up medical disputes between Doc Martens and Dr. Pepper, and refereeing refrigerator brawls between Duke’s Mayonnaise and a bowl of spaghetti that’s gone bad and joined a gang.

     My mom is a notorious clean freak, whose dirtiest surface in her house is still clean enough to perform neurosurgery on.  She’s at the stage where she’s begun removing the drywall from rooms to, “Really get into those nooks and crannies”.

     My father, who gets more done before lunch than I do in a month has begun cutting the grass with a pair of nail clippers, because edging and trimming with them gave him the control he was looking for.  Whenever my mother took a bath my father, the former Coast Guard rescue swimmer maintained a constant vigil in case of an accident.

     My mother has since switched to showers.

     For a couple of weeks, family friend Chef Chrissie has been playing a version of Chopped; a game in which you have a time limit to prepare dishes using four random ingredients.  Because Chrissie lives alone, he plays against an imaginary opponent with make-believe judges.

     He’s still looking for his first win.

     Maxie, one of my oldest and closest friends, and his husband Mark have three dogs.  They’re at the stage where they’ve made costumes and backdrops to stage an all-canine rendition of Downton Abbey.  The unfortunate effect is that two of the pooches have become unforgivably snooty.  And the pup who plays the butler keeps drinking all the sherry.

     Another friend of mine has drafted a list of enemies from high school, forty years ago.  She has no idea where most of them are today, but if she were to run into one of them, she has a rapier-sharp retort for the sick burn given to her in third-period French class sophomore year.

     A young friend of mine who has twin toddlers is at the stage where she’s been thinking about teaching her children to become bartenders, except their little legs are too short to reach the freezer and no matter how many times she shows them, they can’t make a decent dry martini.

     I hope you enjoyed what is mostly a fictional list.

     But quarantine is awful, and hard on us all.  If you’re struggling and need some help, or just want somebody to talk to, contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) on their Helpline at 800-950-NAMI.  Or in a crisis,  text “NAMI” to 741741.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

The Kid’s Birthday Cake

Except, it’s not actually a cake.

Disturbing, no?

In 1963 Jello published a cookbook called, The Joys of Jello.  In it are all the whack-a-doodle recipes that you would expect for a gelatin cookbook from that dark period of our culinary history.

Cthulhoid jello salad

There’s the Apple Tuna Mold: A molded salad with apples, tuna, and celery set into lime gelatin.  Another winner is Vegetables in Sour Cream: veggies molded into lemon Jell-o with bullion, sour cream, and vinegar.  And, lest we forget, this nightmare: Barbecue Salad: A regular tossed salad, but with barbecue-flavored Jell-o cubes on top.

It’s no wonder that when children that were raised on this techno-colored dreck got older they did so many drugs.  After a supper of cottage cheese salmon mold we’d all probably want to chemically erase any memory of that meal.

But.

Also in that cookbook was a little something called Strawberry-Pretzel salad.  This recipe had as much to do with salad as a sponge cake has to do with that thing you use to wash dishes.

This is a light version of a cheesecake.  And for something so simple, it takes the concept of balance to high art.

The pretzel crust is crunchy and sweet/salty.  The next layer is creamy, fluffy, and sweet.  Finally, the jello layer is cool, sweet, with the lightly sour pop of strawberries.

For someone who’s not an over-the-top sweet lover, it’s the perfect dessert.  But it’s so good that even someone with a sweet tooth the size of the rock of Gibraltar loves it (ahem, yeah, that would be me).

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Strawberry Pizza

(for some reason, we’ve always called it strawberry pizza)

Crust:

Heaping 2 cups of crushed pretzels

¾ cup melted butter (1 ½ sticks)

3 tbsp sugar

Kosher salt

Bake at 400°.

Mix butter and sugar, then mix in pretzels.  Sprinkle a small pinch of salt on top before baking.  Press into a 9×13-inch glass dish with high sides, or two smaller casserole dishes with higher sides—you need enough room to cover all three layers and the strawberries without smooshing it.  Alternatively you could cook them in individual ramekins, jam jars, or muffin tins.  I think you could get about 8-10 minis from this recipe.

Bake for 8 minutes and let cool completely.

Filling:

(Sometimes I make a larger amount for this part; this is my favorite layer.)

2-8 oz package cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

1-8 oz tub of Cool Whip, thawed

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

To make a thicker layer: use 1 1/2 cup sugar, 3 blocks cream cheese, and 12 or 16 oz tub of cool whip, thawed

Mix together softened cream cheese and sugar until smooth (an immersion blender is especially helpful in getting the cream cheese smooth.

Fold in Cool Whip. 

Spread evenly on top of cooled crust, making sure the mixture has no gaps around the side.  The Jello will sneak through those gaps and leak onto the pretzels, making them soggy.  Place and fridge and let chill and set up (at least 2 hours).   

Topping :

1 large box strawberry gelatin

1-16 oz package frozen strawberries

2 cups boiling water

Directions

Whisk gelatin into boiling water until completely dissolved.  Add frozen strawberries to the hot jello.

When the strawberries are thawed remove them from the jello with tongs, and place evenly onto the cream cheese layer and gently press them into place.