Saturday, June 16, 2012

Master Brooks's Bookses: Story Time With Daddy

 In observance of Father’s Day, I chose not to review a book but rather to share my thoughts on story time with my daddy. Sometimes when Mommy is gone or is busy—or sometimes just because he wants to--Daddy reads to me, and that always makes story time extra special. Which books we read is not important because story time with Daddy is not really about learning my ABC’s or numbers or colors. Neither is it about trucks, or puppies, or roly-poly pangolins, fascinating as those subjects may be. Story time with Daddy is about sharing an experience, about spending quality time together. It’s about the two of us cuddling in the big chair and winding down from a busy day of work or play. And it’s about being assured just before I’m tucked into bed for the night that my daddy loves me and will always take good care of me. Happy Father’s Day to my daddy and to all daddies who share the gifts of time and books with their children.

I give story time with Daddy a whole big bag of goldfish!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

That Which Does Not Kill Us Makes Us Laugh

            The recent experiences of two friends caused me to reflect on the truth of the above statement. One of those incidents involved falling headfirst into a trash cart. The other centered on a deathly combination of high heat and humidity, a blood donation, and an extremely constricting undergarment. (Hint: Rhymes with thanx.) 

            Hearing my friends’ stories brought to mind one of my own humorous, near-death experiences (yes, there have been others) which occurred on a vacation when I was fourteen. The three-day drive from Texas to central Oregon with six people in a Rambler station wagon was in and of itself a test of survival. But survive it we did and, after a couple of days rest, were pronounced fit enough to trek on over to the Oregon coast and visit the sand dunes.  

            When we arrived at the coast and I saw the beautiful, windswept dunes reaching gracefully for the sky, I was impressed. And when I saw people scurrying all over them like ants on an anthill, I decided dune running must be great fun. Five hundred people couldn’t be wrong.  

            I followed my two younger cousins—native Oregonians and veteran dune runners—up a steep ascent and took in the view from the summit. Funny how that anthill now seemed more like a mountain. A very tall mountain. I mumbled something about needing to catch my breath and encouraged my cousins to go ahead. I watched them make their way to the bottom with no problems. It didn’t appear to be particularly threatening. Surely, if they could do it, I could. I started my descent on a run. 

            What I hadn’t observed—and what no one had bothered to tell me—was that you don’t run straight down a seventy-degree incline. You zigzag. Twenty feet into my run, my arms were circling like windmill blades in a gale, and my legs were pumping at full capacity in an effort to catch up with my head. Thirty feet into my run, my life flashed before me and I hit the sand face first, coming to a stop only after completing three head-over-heel revolutions. 

            Lying flat on my back in the sand, all I wanted was to recover my breath and take an inventory of my body parts. See if they were all intact. But I didn’t do that. And I’ll bet you know what exactly what I did do. I sat up and looked around to see if anyone was watching.  

            OF COURSE, THEY WERE WATCHING! They probably hadn’t been that entertained since seeing The Flying Wallendas on the Ed Sullivan Show. Five hundred people, eyes wide, mouths agape, stared while I smiled and acted as if I did this sort of thing every day. Then I stood up and with great dignity wobbled to the bottom of the dune.  

            Once family members realized I wasn’t dead, they started laughing. They laughed on the drive back home from the coast; they laughed all the way to Texas. Weeks later, as I continued to remove sand from body orifices, they continued to laugh. In fact, just a few weeks ago, my sister said, “Remember the time you fell down the sand dune in Oregon?” and started chuckling. 

            Almost fifty years after that incident, she’s still laughing. And to prove my point, I’m alive and laughing as I write this post.    



Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Luxury at Its Finest

This past weekend, the Inklings gathered for what is one of the highlights of my year—our annual writing/eating/critiquing/eating/sharing/eating retreat. Our luxurious accommodations were provided by Martha Bryant and Lisa Marotta. Luxurious is not used here in the usual sense of the word, as there were no king-sized beds with pillow-top mattresses, no mini-bar stocked with tiny bottles of libations, no WiFi, no room service or trendy restaurant in the lobby. Neither was there a spa featuring herbal mud baths or Swedish massages. But who needs that kind of luxury? Phfft! You can find those amenities at any ol’ five-star resort.

Our luxury was of another—much better—sort. Martha’s “Trabin” and Lisa’s “Relaxi Taxi” are comfortably furnished mobile homes perched on a bluff high above Lake Tenkiller. While the beds aren’t draped in 800-thread-count sheets, there are plenty of them, and they’re quite comfy. And when you fall asleep with the sound of rain pattering on a metal roof, it’s like being lulled to sleep by a lullaby. There are no towel warmers in the bathrooms, but there are “en suite” bathroom facilities, and as a veteran of lake retreats in years past, I can attest that detail is indeed a luxury. We had two fridges stocked with wine, beer, colas, bottled water—anything we needed to slake our thirsts as we “toiled and sweat” over our writing assignments. If for some reason, we wanted contact with the outside world, we had our iPhones. We had Roy Bryant’s incomparable corned beef brisket and homemade salsa, and if we were still hungry after polishing that off, we could go a mile up the road for fried catfish and blackberry cobbler at The Dairy Princess. There was no exercise room to counteract all those calories, but we did have our very own personal trainer (in the person of Lisa) to lead us on invigorating hikes. To all of this indulgence, add breathtaking, one-of-a-kind views of Lake Tenkiller. We could sit on the decks during the day and watch the hummingbirds flutter around the feeders or observe the geese families paddling in the shallows of the lake. In the evening, we watched the sun set and the moon come up and shimmer across the water.
But as luxurious as all this was, the accommodations weren't the best part of the weekend. For me, the best part was spending time with five (should've been six, but sadly Shel couldn't join us) beautiful, smart, talented, and gracious women. Oh, and I have to add funny. They are definitely funny. They are women with whom I can trade ideas, share concerns, describe dreams, laugh at mistakes. Women who teach me everything from how to navigate Pinterest (thank you, Brandi) to how to clarify and pursue goals. Women who offer encouragement in limitless supply. When I’m around them, nothing seems impossible.
My wish for all women is to have a group of friends such as this. Because to be in such company is to wallow in the lap of luxury.

L to R: Inklings Sonia Gensler, Lisa Marotta, Martha Bryant

Kelly Bristow, Brandi Barnett

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Top This!

            If you’re one of those people who can eat half a piece of fudge and save the other half for tomorrow, I give you permission to stop reading this post right now. But you might want to continue if you’re like me—one of those people who can eat half a pie in one day and still crave the other half. Read on if you’re the type who mixes up a batch of dough that claims to make four dozen chocolate chip cookies, and you end up with two dozen on the cookie sheet. Or if you bake an applesauce loaf cake with the intention of freezing the leftovers and discover the leftovers taste pretty good frozen.
            I admit to my sugar addiction, but I’m not ready to give up my “habit” cold turkey. To even consider such an idea throws me into a state of panic. It makes me want to finish off the can of ready-made frosting tucked way in the back of my fridge. I hid it behind the jar of jalapeno peppers, hoping I’d forget about it, but unfortunately, I haven’t. It’s just a matter of time before—in a moment of frenzied desperation—I attack that can, scraping the sides clean and licking the icing off the spatula. Pathetic, I know. It’s an action that would disgust half-piece-fudge-eaters, while sugarholics are nodding their heads in total sympathy. But take heart, fellow addicts!  I’ve found a recipe that helps me manage my sweet-tooth-on-steroids.
             The solution was sent to me by two friends in two separate emails, so I guess it’s pretty much public domain at this point. Not wanting to take credit for someone else’s great idea, however, I googled “3-2-1 cake” and found that the originator is Kristina Vanni. You can click on the link to get the recipe, but the cake is just the beginning. The secret to great eating is in the toppings.
            For instance, I like to pour a little juice from canned fruit over the cake to lessen the “spongy” texture. My favorites are mandarin oranges or Del Monte Fruit Naturals mixed berries. These can be found in the refrigerated section of the produce aisle. After I’ve moistened the cake with juice, I mix low-fat vanilla yogurt with Cool Whip to a desired consistency, pour it over the cake, and top it with the fruit. If you have an issue with Cool Whip because of the high fructose corn syrup (obviously, most sugarholics don’t), substitute whipped cream or go with just the yogurt. So far, I’ve tried vanilla cake mix and strawberry, flavors which blend well with fruit. The next batch I mix is going to be chocolate, and I’m thinking along the lines of a melted, midgy Hershey bar and a teaspoon or two of peanut butter swirled on top.
            The calorie count of this recipe is less than that of a cupcake or a candy bar, and if you use the fruit and yogurt topping, you can almost claim it’s healthy. The true beauty of it, however, is that it makes ONE SERVING AT A TIME. You can’t eat this cake and have it, too. You can satisfy your sugar craving and not have leftovers crying out to you to slice off “just one tiny piece” every time you pass by the kitchen.
            If you try this recipe, be creative and experiment with toppings and combinations. Be as healthy or decadent as you like. Let me know how you like it, and please share your favorite creations!