31 October 2006

Happy Ghoul-iday To You, Too

For as long as I can remember, I've anxiously awaited the arrival of Hallow's Eve, the 31st of October. It was a magical night, one filled with caramel apples, cavities, clown makeup, and candy corn. It was a night (well, a day, really) to remember a miraculous event that happened in 1983: my birth. My anticipation of this day was two-fold; I looked forward to my birthday and to the holiday festivities. That is why Halloween has always been so important to me.

My costume was selected with great care weeks in advance, giving me plenty of time to perfect all the details - and to make sure no one else was going to steal my idea. I prided myself on creative costumes, not those $15 drugstore excuses made from flimsy fabric and old ideas. No, my Halloween ensembles were works of creative genius. Amelia Bedelia, complete with flower-studded cap and frilly apron; a gypsy, all decked out in bangles and scarves; Dorothy, with red glitter jellies that left sparkly footprints down the street behind me; a bag lady, outfitted in my grandmother's finest old dress and Easter hat.

The candy, too, was purchased with much thought (mostly which bag gave you the most for your money). My sister and I, of course, tried to persuade our mother to purchase something much tastier, and which we could pilfer just moments before the neighborhood ghouls and goblins arrived. She always won out, but we managed to bring home enough chocolaty goodness to make us forget her stubbornness.

Every year we would purchase a bale of hay from the feed store and fashion a scarecrow to sit upon it from crumpled newspaper, my Dad's old overalls, and a floppy straw hat. We'd buy pumpkins from the farmer's market, then spend the afternoon carving elaborate designs. That evening, we'd arrange the jack-o-lanterns and scarecrow on the front porch and step back to admire our Halloween flair.

I was known, too, for the fabulous costume birthday parties I would throw, complete with a dry ice cauldron of green punch, my mother dressed as a witch (it was the only costume she had besides the one she used for VBS, and somehow that didn't seem to fit the occasion), and a fabulously black and orange birthday cake. We'd play games like mummy wrap or bob for apples or paint our own mini pumpkins. Needless to say, a good time was had by all.

So, of course, Halloween has always been a big deal to me. (And apparently it's a big deal to Pottery Barn, too; on their website they advertised rush delivery for Halloween. Isn't that crazy?!) That's why I was expecially excited about having a house of our own this year where we could make our own jack-o-lanterns and give out candy to our own trick-or-treaters. In preparation, my husband and I purchased six pumpkins and one gourd to adorn our front porch, and we quickly proceeded to carve our house numbers into four of them and stack them like a snowman with Christmas lights inside. We also created a traditional jack-o-lantern to accompany this carving masterpiece (but that was mostly because we went to a party that featured pumpkin carving and Clay felt obligated to participate). We also purchased some delctable candy, erring on the conservative side only because we weren't sure how many kids might stop at our door...and because we were trying to switch dental plans and didn't want to get cavities.

The night of Halloween came and I, for one, was extremely excited to see what it held. The pumpkins were lit, and the candy was ready in a basket by the front door. My husband decided to tally the number of trick-or-treaters we had, and was poised with pen and pad in hand. We were ready.

The first trick-or-treater arrived about 6:00, a cute little five year-old in a turtle gear. Next it was a fairy princess and her pirate brother. Then, to my horror, a teenager showed up at our front door WITHOUT A COSTUME! I reluctantly gave this pimply-faced and red hoodie-wearing youngster a Cow Tale, all the while shooting mean thoughts his way. How dare he expect to receive candy without putting forth effort! I was irked. So when a group of middle schoolers showed up moments later, only one of which had painted a little blood dripping from the corners of her mouth, I was not happy. The next group of children who dared show their faces at our door were wearing awful store-bought costumes which were already unraveling at the edges. And at that, they didn't even say "Trick or Treat," but rather mumbled "Halloween" under their breath as they held out half-full plastic sacks. Fortunately for my sanity, there was a break in the flurry at our front door and I had time to consider how children were making such a joke of this blessed holiday. Whatever happened to putting some effort into your costume? Whatever happened to the traditions and the fun? These children were definitely being spoilsports.

So when the red sweatshirt-wearing teenager showed up again, I was too peeved to notice. It wasn't until my husband asked, "Haven't we seen that kid in the red sweatshirt before?" that I realized my mistake. The gall he had to show up once without a costume, but to do it a second time? This was unacceptable, utterly unacceptable.

58 trick-or-treaters and two hours later, I was left with an empty basket and feelings of bitterness towards Halloween in general. This is such a weak holiday, I thought. I mean, the premise is to dress up in a scary costume (in most cases) and knock on strangers' doors to receive free candy, which you don't say thank you for and which will most likely make you sick and/or give you cavities. There's no family togetherness factor, like Christmas, or wholesome food, like at Thanksgiving; it's a selfish and stupid holiday. It's just a ploy for the candy manufacturers to make more money, and that's just sick. I turned off the porch light, feeling like I had failed in my efforts to make this a great Halloween.

There was a knock at the door, and I was in such low spirits that I didn't get up to answer the door, hoping maybe that this kid would realize the light was off for a reason (it's the universal symbol for "We're out of Halloween candy," Duh.). But he didn't! He kept banging on the door until my husband threw it open and curtly informed the surprised youngster that we were out of candy.

What is happening to kids these days? They don't even know how to celebrate Halloween properly.

20 October 2006

Found a Peanut

When my husband was out of town on business for a couple of weeks, I decided to seize this opportunity to buy items at the grocery that had piqued my interest - but that marriage (and my husband, the picky eater) had prevented me from trying thus far. Namely, organic peanut butter.

Initially, I was wary of the layer of oil on top and the abnormal speckles amidst all those squished peanuts. The label claimed this separation to be expected, but I was worried. And the fact that you had to stir it before spreading - and refrigerate after opening - was a little too high maintenance for my taste. I mean, isn't the joy of peanut butter the fact that it's virtually indestructible? This new all-natural variety was just so darn good for me (or so the packaging would have me believe), and I was curious. So I decided to give it a try.

I brought home this rather small but overpriced (so long, grocery budget!) jar of old-fashioned organic peanut butter, hardly able to contain my excitement about the inaugural PB and J. With each twist of the lid, my anticipation grew (never mind the hesitation upon coming face-to-face with that less-than-desirable liquid topping). As I spread this ooey-gooeyness, although considerably more clumpy, upon a slice of bread, I could almost taste its nutty sweetness mingled with whole grain oats and orange marmalade. At last, I raised the glorious sandwich to my lips, took an overzealous bite...and gasped in horror. Who forgot to put actual peanut butter in this jar? I almost screamed. What kind of an impostor is this? Whatever was on my sandwich was unacceptable. Completely unacceptable.

Needless to say, I broke off the relationship immediately. And really, I should've known better.

When I was growing up, my mother prepared my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with nothing but JIF. On crackers? Just JIF. With a freshly-peeled banana or crisp red apples? Only the best: JIF. To add a little kick to chocolate oatmeal cookies? You betcha - nothing but JIF. I even strayed from this tried and true relationship during my college years by switching to Simply JIF (with no added sugars), but that relationship was doomed for failure. Peter Pan couldn't keep me happy and Skippy...well, it lacked that extra zip. Store brands, although keeping my pockets padded, left my stomach feeling empty and abandoned. Each time I ventured out into the wide world of peanut butter, only to return to my beloved JIF.

My experiences have led me to conclude that this all-natural jazz is for the birds. Bring on the preservatives, the added sugars, the unpronouncable additives; I want them all! I love my JIF with all its imperfections, right down to the very last peanut, however smushed - or synthetic - it may be.

Perhaps that's why, when my husband brought home a jar of full-fat, full-sugar, fully-tasty JIF peanut butter the other day, I made no complaints. It pays to be picky on this one.

Author's aside: I have also discovered a new variation on this classic protein-filled treat, thanks to Rachael Ray. Peanut butter and bacon on banana nut bread. Sounds odd, I know, but it's out of this world. Give it a whirl, and let me know what you think.

11 October 2006

Sweet Sixteen

This morning as I was on my way to work, the radio announcers for a local Christian station were wishing happy birthdays to their long list of call-ins (or email-ins, as the case may be). For some reason, the birthday wishes to Christina on her sixteenth sent me back in time - seven years back - to the time in my life when I anxiously awaited the sixteenth candle on my cake.

I tell you this story with great confidence that you, my cherished reader, will not trample on my already withered pride.

When I was younger, approximately 15 and a half years of age, I distinctly recall a very memorable trip to the DMV one crisp fall morning. According to Oklahoma law (way back then, anyway), any hormonally-controlled adolescent could operate a motor vehicle under the supervision of a licensed driver -- so long as they passed a teensie weensie little written exam. So on said morning, my father drove me across town to the DMV offices where I was to complete such an exam with flying colors. Or so I thought.

In the weeks leading up to this monumentous event, I had calculated the exact day on which I would turn 15 and a half. (It just so happens that this day coincded with a day during which the DMV offices were open and offering the test.) I had picked up a driver's handbook from the high school driver's ed teacher and studied it more religiously than my Bible. I had even paid attention in driver's ed, a feat which, to a teenager with even a moderate attention span, proves difficult. And, most importantly, I had told all of my friends that I was soon to possess a learner's permit. And that I was going to miss first period. (As one of the oldest in my peer group, it was my duty to flaunt my superiority.)

But on that morning, there was just one thing I forgot. Just one thing.

My father and I opened the smudged glass doors and entered the narrow blue hallway. Light streamed from a tiny office to our left, and as we approached the beam, I could see a pudgy police officer seated behind the desk. My dad opened his wallet, pulling out a crisp $20 bill, and laid it on the desk. The officer returned his change and pushed a sign-in sheet in my direction. Without a word, he handed me the one-page test and pointed to a desk in the corner.

I sat there for what seemed like hours, agonizing over those ten questions. Who has the right-of-way at a four-way stop? What do I do when a motorcycle tries to pass me? How many feet will it take me to come to a complete stop if I'm travelling at 55 mph? Stop lights and yield signs, double yellow and dotted white lines, engine functions and timing belts swirled through my mind and I found it difficult to think clearly.

Finally, I circled the answer to the last question, then proudly handed it to the officer. Piece of cake, I thought, trying to psyche myself up. But my optimism quickly crumbled as the officer pulled out his oversized red pen and answer key. He circled each wrong answer with flair, as if he'd never had so much fun in his entire life. I tried to keep track of how many red marks the officer had made on my test, but my head was preoccupied with the shock of this man's gall.

He handed me the test, freshly covered in red ink. "You just missed one too many, "he said with a smirk. "Better luck next time."

I looked to my father for assurance, but he just looked back at me with those disappointed parent eyes.

"Want to take a handbook with you?" the officer suggested, still basking in his victory over yet another ill-informed teenage driver wannabe.

"No, thanks," I replied, fighting back tears as I rushed for the door.

The tears kept flowing as we neared the car. How could this have happened? I'm a good student, voted Most Studious... All my friends know about this; how will I tell them? I know they will ask... Why didn't I study that chapter on semis and their blind spots better?...How could I have been so stupid?

"JB, " my father said, calmly, "I know you're upset about this, but you'll do better next time, especially if you're paying for the test."

What?! I thought. How could you betray me like this?

I continued shooting mean thoughts at the pudgy officer and my father all the way to school.

Two weeks later, I retook - and passed - the learner's permit test.

Five and a half months after that, I successfully passed my driver's test (despite much trepidation).

And now, here I am, seven years later, about to celebrate another birthday. Fortunately for me, there are no tests that 23-year-olds have to take.