Seize the day

Not long ago, I helped to organize the Kentucky Women Writers Conference, which brought together talented published authors, writers who wished to learn from them, and appreciative readers who sought to immerse themselves in writing at the longest running conference for women in the nation.

But I’m not going to talk about that today.

I bring it up, though, because it was this conference — and the book written by acclaimed author Bonnie Jo Campbell  — which led me to hunker by the size of a busy road yesterday morning, in the polar conditions of autumn which bore down upon the Commonwealth, and pick two giant mushrooms the approximate size and weight of my head.

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Back in the spring, I dove into Once Upon a River, which tells the compelling story of a young girl driven by circumstance to live by her wits and considerable outdoors acumen along a semi-wild river near Kalamazoo, Michigan. The author, Campbell, was due to appear at our conference in the fall.

It was shortly after reading this book that I practically became Bonnie Jo Campbell’s sister — yes, it’s true. But that’s a story for another day.

This day, I point directly to Once Upon a River as my first exposure to Calvatia gigantea or the giant puffball mushroom, which our heroine harvests and dines upon as she literally lives off the fat of the land.

Giant puffballs growing wild. And edible? I had my doubts. But she could shoot the eye out of a buck — and attract any male who may or may not be a card-carrying member of the NRA — so I tended to trust her on the issue of free-range fungus.

Fast forward to yesterday morning.

Driving home after taking my son to school, I spied on the side of the road, two large, round white shapes which could have been:

A) used diapers chucked from a car traveling the adjacent New Circle Road (a local bypass);

B) Styrofoam blown out of the back of a pickup used for who-knows-what unholy purpose; or

C) actual, bonafide giant puffball mushrooms.

I slowed down for a closer look. And then I drove home and, like most people in 2013, posted about my discovery on Facebook.

Were they these fabled things that me, a girl raised in semi-rural conditions, had never observed, let alone ingested? Were they something that I could harvest, like dandelion leaves and poke sallet, and eat from the side of the road and call it actual food?

Or were they some other, more nefarious form of fungus, intent upon poisoning me with their plump charms — the deadly I Will Kill You in Horrible Seizing Agony mushrooms, which present identically to the giant puffball shroom?

At home, I applied mascara and pondered. I would never know what they were, I thought between eyeliner applications, unless I stopped for a closer look.

As you can see in the photos, they’d already been munched by some resident fauna, and I flicked one off before pulling them up. (A slug! Eww!)

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They came out of the ground easily and they really are surprisingly heavy! Maybe not as heavy as my head (filled with all these brains, you know) but pretty hefty for something that goes by the name of puffball.

I put them in a plastic bag, braced myself against the buffets of passing cars, popped myself back into the Prius, and off to work I went.

But were they actually edible? I got confirmation from Bonnie Jo herself, via Facebook, that I did indeed have two gorgeous puffballs on my hands and I should prepare them with lots of butter and invite all my friends.

At this point I wasn’t sure I was going to convince a Doubting Husband that I brought something home from the side of the road that we can actually eat. But, gamely, I cooked one of the things up last night, and as I mentioned earlier, documented the whole process on Facebook for the entertainment of my far-flug friends.

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Yes, from Kentucky to Rhode Island, and North Carolina to Texas, people were following  the Great Potentially Death-Inducing Mushroom Saga, hoping I presume, that I would live to cook another day.

I won’t doubt that there were some expecting I would experience violent vomiting at the bare minimum, with seizures, coma, and death a distinct possibility.

No such luck, you guys!

This is the mushroom I prepared, shown here cleaved in two on the cutting board in my kitchen:

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Cubed and ready for the sautee pan:

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Cooking:

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I assure you I did not fail to eat some of these cubes, atop my spaghetti, but I did fail to take a picture of it. Doh!

Since nobody touched the things except me — despite the fact that they were drenched in butter, olive oil, garlic and salt — I put the remainder in a bag and tossed them in the freezer. The Internets told me I could.

I am here to report that I am in fact alive. Although for all I know I’m a zombie, Walking Dead in the wake of my mushroom induced-death, getting my just desserts for daring to eat something that wasn’t purchased at the grocery store.

And if you ever see any giant mushrooms that resemble severed heads along the road, you too can take them home and cook ’em up. They’re delicious — especially around Halloween.

Where imagination goes to die

I consider myself an imaginative person; give me a situation and I guarantee you, I can make the most of it.

Say you’re fated to hours driving down a featureless Interstate. How do you escape crushing boredom? Keep on the lookout for owls and crumbling remains of farmhouses or abandoned tuberculosis asylums. Zombified in the dentist’s waiting room? Just sit and imagine the lives of mystery and intrigue of your fellow patients.

There are, however, a few places where scope for imagination is virtually nil. Imagination deserts, if you will — places and situations where no matter how hard you put your little creative brain to the task, there is Absolutely No Stimulation Possible.

The creative juices dry completely up, and one is rendered hopelessly bereft of any entertaining anything to pass the excruciating minutes until the sunshine and stimulation come out from behind the clouds and illuminate the mindscape once more.

Exhibit 1 — The Hardware Store (Alternate title: The Bolt of Death)

I am blessed with a handy husband. He can build things, he can improve things, and he can fix things. What kinds of things? All kinds. Many, many things are fixed, constructed, destructed and otherwise assembled and disassembled in my home.

All these projects require numerous, I mean NUMEROUS, small and precisely calibrated pieces and parts to complete. And many trips to Lowe’s or Home Depot. Sometimes I go along. What does that lead to? Imagination death.

There is nothing to live for in the bolt aisle. Nothing. In vain, I cast my eyes about for some object with a connection to the real world. Something that I can work with. Some recognizable feature of the human landscape that I can relate to. There is nothing.

Instead I behold a sea of small pieces of metal in boxes with incomprehensible numbers affixed. I feel entire body systems shutting down from the lack of input. Hungrily, I look toward the bathroom fixtures, yearning for a healthier landscape where I can dream about brushing my teeth and drawing a luxurious bath in my opulent spa tub.

Exhibit 2 — The word problem to nowhere

This is an idea that I have decried for years: the senseless cruelty and unbelievably death-inducing misdirection of the mathematics word problem.

A train leaves the station at 3:15. Immediately you have my interest. Who is on it? Where is it going? Are we talking present-day Amtrak here, or is this something juicier, like a day trip to London from Downton Abbey for a quickie gynecological exam? And if not, are there suitcases involved?

Now I’m thinking about steamer trunks versus regular suitcases, and why has train travel all but disappeared, except I think California is supposed to be investigating light rail, and even pouring some money into it, but I don’t follow California politics much and … Oh. Wait. What’s this? A MATH PROBLEM?

Mother of God, what a crushing disappointment. Here I am, all interested in this little world that’s been created at the end of the chapter and I’m supposed to come up with an equation to find out when trains are going to get there based on all sorts of ridiculous variables?

Wait. There’s more:

Ella swims four times a week at her club’s pool. She swims the same number of laps on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and 15 laps on Saturday. She swims a total of 51 laps each week. How many laps does she swim on Monday?

Ella. What a pretty name — why, it’s almost Ellen when you think about it. I like to swim but laps are a total drag, what with the flip turns, hello? Water in my nose! And what about when you start panting and get out of breath — in the water, no less. That’s a health hazard, not exercise.

It gets worse:

Laura is making a patio in her backyard using paving stones. She buys 44 paving stones and a flower pot worth $7 for a total of $73. How much did each paving stone cost?

Well, what color are they? Do they match the trim on her house? What kind of landscaping are we talking about here — just flowers, or are we planning an arbor of some kind? And ONE flower pot? Come on, Laura! There’s no way you’re going to have your plantings done before the first of May at this rate. And we haven’t even begun to talk about furniture.

Speaking of home improvement:

Tom, Dick, and Harry arrive early one morning at the job site and get ready to paint a huge, old, Victorian mansion. Tom, working by himself, could paint the whole house in 14 days. It would take Dick 10 days to do the job by himself. And Harry could do the job in 8 days. How long does it take for the three men to do the job working together?

This is just cruel. Huge old Victorian mansion? How huge? When was it constructed? That matters, you know, whether we’re talking about the early Victorian or late Victorian period. Do you know how much paint you’d have to buy to coat one of these suckers? A ton, that’s how much, and it costs literally thousands of dollars — and then you have to paint them again in just a couple years! Which leads to abominations like people putting aluminum siding on 100-year-old houses. SIDING.

Finally, we have this depressing piece of news:

Sarah and John leave Perryville traveling in opposite directions on a straight road. Sarah drives 12 miles per hour faster than John. After 2 hours, they are 176 miles apart. Find Sarah and John’s speeds.

There are no straight roads around Perryville. You are deep in the Boyle County countryside around Perryville, which is the site of the largest battle of the Civil War fought in the Commonwealth. It happened, as Dave Barry likes to say, on the same day all historical events occur, October 8. Listen, Sarah, why are you driving so damn fast — and what are you doing going in the opposite direction as John? Are you all going to the Battlefield or not? Don’t you care about history? John, you’re missing out on an opportunity here.

Thankfully, trips to Lowe’s are rare, dear though they be to my better half, and mercifully, I have very little call to solve mathematics word problems — though that may be changing soon. I’ve got a son soon passing from second grade to third and as he journeys on through the academic ladder, Some day he’ll probably put down roots squarely in the land of calculus or some other incomprehensible country.

Thank God I’ve got a blog is all I’ve got to say, where I can think about train trips and Victorian mansions that are populated by people, not distressing demands for mathematical computations.

And there are no trips to Perryville to plan.

Rock on

I’ve recently returned from a trip to North Carolina, and my experiment with posting from my phone wasn’t a particularly resounding success. The pictures looked fine on a three-inch screen, but blown up in all its PC glory, the blog came off a bit puny.

So now I’m subjecting you to the afternoon I spent with my two boys in Chimney Rock, NC, which is moderately famous for having been the location for many of the scenes in Last of the Mohicans. (The main attraction of this film, though, as every red-blooded American woman knows, is Daniel Day-Lewis. Sooo much sexier than Abraham Lincoln, and I’m speaking as someone who almost majored in history.)

Anyhoo, juicy Hawkeye notwithstanding, the scenery of Western North Carolina is beautiful, and equipped with camera and offspring, we ventured out to view some of it.

Here is the aforementioned Chimney Rock, around which a state park has been constructed.

It’s large, don’t get me wrong, and somewhat more impressive than this picture presents.

Of much more interest to the members of our little party, though, was the Broad River, which runs alongside the road leading to Chimney Rock Park and behind the row of shops and tiny tourist cottages that line it. (Not to be confused, by the way, with the French Broad River, which sounds as though it were named for a character in Moulin Rouge!)

The trees may be bare but the weather was warm, and much time was spent hanging out on the rocks and skipping stones.

Also posing for photo ops. He was, he informed me, sitting as he would for a school picture, but with a real backdrop.

Older brother decided to go with a Mohicans stance.

It might have been only early spring, but there was quite a bit of evidence of new life along the river. Here we found some lamb’s ear growing wild. Though I didn’t include anything in the photo to provide scale, you’ll have to trust me that this was about the size of a cabbage.

Nearby was a bush struggling with some new growth.

Speaking of growth, growing boys need to touch, jump, run, and otherwise terrify their mothers around rushing water.

I know this doesn’t look all that scary from your safe vantage point there in front of your computer screen, but trust me, he’s running.

After some quality time on the river, we crossed this actual rock bridge (not a particularly unusual sight if  you’ve been to Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, but still, this was a nice example) and made our way to Cutseyville.

Here is one of the sights you may behold in Chimney Rock, instruments of torture!

I lie; they are pieces of antique rock-climbing equipment. Nobody expects the Spanish Rock-Climbing Equipment!

We stopped by Chimney Rock Gemstone Mine, a nice little store featuring rocks of all sorts, some wrought into jewelry, others laying about for the simple admiring. Now, Trassie, when he’s not scaring me to death by leaping across uneven terrain, can be found playing Minecraft, an interesting single- or multi-user game that’s been described as “Legos for adults.” As the name suggests, the Minecraft world requires a lot of mining, in addition to building, so naturally Trassie is interested in rocks and gems.

He is the proud new owner of a hunk of emerald calcite, which he paid for with his Own Money. (Amusingly, at least to me, that link goes to a site called Kids Love Rocks.)

Not to be outdone, Christopher also made an Own Money purchase, but I didn’t have a presence of mind to document his acquisition of a deadly weapon, er, pocket knife. Is is, however, an “assisted open” knife, which as best I can tell is a polite term for “legal switchblade.” He’s been mockingly threatening to cut me ever since, and every time he says it, I hear Rocky saying “cut me, Mick.”

Documentation of this trip wouldn’t be complete without some evidence of my presence, so here for your admiration is a shot of me loafing on a rock, clad of course in my most comfortable boots.

As it turns out, they aren’t a particularly good choice for sure-footedness on slippery river rocks but who cares? I LOOKED GOOD.

And no trip with two sons would be complete without snickering at something. In our case, it was one of the stores in the village, which proudly presents, in cartoon form, a happy Chimney Rock. As I began snapping away for this photo, Trassie started to ask why I was taking a picture of the store, but the words died on his lips and he collapsed into a fit of snickering worthy of someone who can’t say “balls” or “nuts” without extended periods of mirth. Yes, we all three stood in the street laughing like 15-year-old boys, and only one of us had an excuse.

Yes, I am the mother of boys.

We never did make it to the boot store; a closed Harley shop promised it had another store somewhere along the (one) road through town, but I never saw it. Which means of course it doesn’t exist, for can you believe there was a shoe store within a few hundred yards that I couldn’t smell out? Of course not. So no new boots or boot yearning for me. Although I did notice, upon our return to Lexington, an billboard advertising a boot store with a gorgeous pair of Luccheses about a mile high.

But I digress.

I took more silly pictures of the boys.

And a little more scenery.

We got some cokes at the Ye Olde Store and we felt we had DONE Chimney Rock.

Let me tell you: We had a ball.

Doggone it!

I love animals. The puppies, the kitties. The horses. As a kid, I went to camp every year, and rode away in to the sunset aboard many a noble steed, on paths now overgrown with Northern Kentucky development, but when I was a wee lass, were the woods and wilds of Camp Marydale.

I had a paper route in the seventh grade, and in addition to packing my papers into the route bag, I also filled my pockets with Milk Bones, ready to feed the hordes of strays and their most-likely owned brethern who followed me around. That year, I determined I would grow up, go to college and become a veterinarian, and bolstered by reading every installment of the James Heriott All Creatures Great and Small books, knew I was meant to be the savior of all animal-kind.

Then I ran up against college calculus and, unsurprisingly, kept taking classes in English and political science and wound up the writer type personage you see before you today.

But I never gave up loving the puppies, the kitties. The Internet explosion of Teh Cute shows me that I’m not alone, but frankly I think things have gone a little too far.

Story time. The other day, someone dropped by NouveauSoileau, made a few comments and made me smile, so I checked out her blog. I was amused by the name,  I Don’t Get It, and it bears the helpful tag line “Things That Don’t Make Sense.”

How many, many things could fall into that category.

So as I was trudging through the Wal-mart Sunday, laying in the weekly supplies of all the healthy, nutritious foodstuffs I provide on a daily basis to my teeming horde, I beheld a sight which made me think of her.

“I don’t get it,” I thought to myself.

Seriously, WTF
WTF

“Here is a thing that Does. Not. Make. Sense.”

This is dog food. Food for dogs, and cats apparently, that is FRESH. It also, as you can see, is SELECT. It obviously is CHOICE and meant for the pwecious widdle pups and dwarling witty kitties which now make up pets in America and frankly, I am OMG about it.

I have been a tad OMG over pet ownership for a little while; a couple years ago I was irritated by ad in Southern Living I think it was, featuring big doe-eyed doggies begging MOM to do, or not do, something. “Mom, buy me this dog food,” or “Mom, please get me this flea collar.” I would look these furry faces straight in the eye and say, “I gave birth to human beings, not animals, pal — don’t you even DARE call me ‘mom!'”

My growling didn’t have much effect on a print ad, but it made me feel better.

Now I’m confronted by pet-food manufacturers who have installed refrigerators in the dog-food aisle containing some sort of fresh meat and, apparently, people are buying it.

They’re also the type of people, I’d say, who are buying these.

Dog dresses, 2013

Dog dresses. With bows and flowers. For dogs.

Of course I’ve seen the little sweaters and even T-shirts you can shove onto your schnauzer; everyone has, for years. But this, this is just too much.

Dogs aren’t people, people. They’re animals. Yes, they’re wonderful companions, yes they bring a lot of joy to a lot of people. Yes, I am for the kind and humane treatment of animals. But I have to say I am not for the ridiculous expenditures Americans with more money than sense are obviously making at Wal-mart and other places to feed and dress their dogs better than many, many humans are fed and clothed both here and around the world.

Sure, spend your money on stupid stuff, we’ve all got our vices *cough*shoes*cough. But I’m still going to point, laugh, and drag out my internet acronyms and WTF and OMG my way down the aisle with a side dose of I Don’t Get It. It’s one of those things, the blogosphere has taught us, that Just Don’t Make Sense.