Friday, October 17, 2008

Kidneys, Confidence and Some Reading Recommendations (Friday Roundup)

A Final Word About My Kidneys ... I promise. Today is another new day. An even better day than yesterday. Because I enjoyed the most un-fitful night of sleep I've had in one week, despite a dream that involved Teddy Roosevelt and an after-hours gym. (And I was drug-free.) I am feeling SO much better, in fact, that I woke up at 4:45 a.m. to meet a friend for exercise at 5:15. Teddy Roosevelt was not there.
If flowers were in bloom, I would be smelling them and carrying a bluebird on my shoulder. I would be Snow White. In fact, I may just whistle while I work this morning.

Oh, To Be So Confident ... This is a playground story for the ages. A certain freckle-faced 8-year-old who lives here told me that she and one of her freckle-faced best friends got sweaty during recess one day last week and retreated to a bench. As they sat there watching the other kids, her friend lowered her head, sighed and said, "I am SO HOT." And then she cut her eyes, lowered her voice and said, "In TWO ways." And then they giggled and slapped their knees like they were the funniest kids in the world. Gosh, I hope they never lose that confidence or that sense of humor. But I know adolescence will be here soon enough, kicking them in the head and making them doubt everything they do, say or wear. Adolescence can be such a pain in the rear.

Amy's Book Club ... Occasionally, I share with you a list of Books You Should Read, but in a less-threatening, less-Oprahesque way. Because in all honesty, what you read is ultimately up to you. But I would like to pass along a couple of titles that might make for good weekend reading.

My husband picked up a copy of Winner of the National Book Award, put it in my hands and said, "Here. I found this. It looks funny." Because we are people who firmly believe in judging a book by its cover.

As I read it, I would flip to the front cover many times and ask, "Who wrote this? David Lynch?" It's that bizarre, but that good. It is one of the few books that offers absolutely no characters I can relate to, predict or envy. It is, at once, tragic, hilarious, offensive, thoughtful. Friday Roundup is made up of brief snippets, so I'll not offer a full-fledged review or endorsement. But I do provide this excerpt:

(The narrator, Dorcas, in describing her birth as the second-born of a set of twin girls)

My sister emerged with a list of complicated, interdependent demands. They pried her loose, with infinite patience . . . When they got her out she held her breath, deliberately I have no doubt, so that they held her upside down and spanked her and generally made such a fuss that when I, the afterthought, emerged (on my hands and knees, I picture it, like an old ragbag crawling across a cartoon desert), I was given only cursory attention . . . "A beautiful little girl" -- holding Tubbo aloft like the Wimbledon Cup -- "and a boy" -- smiling in a kindly, commisserating sort of way, giving me a glimpse of my homely little face, swaddling me like a hideous burn victim.

If you've never heard of, or visited, the Eastern Bloc country of Molvania, let Molvania: A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry be your armchair guide to the culture and mystique of a land shrouded in mediocre architecture, a collapsed economy and a contrast of old customs and modern ingenuity (like the world's oldest nuclear reactor).

"But Amy, you shouldn't make fun of those poor countries victimized by the Warsaw Pact and oppressed by Soviet domination. They can't HELP it," you might be saying. And I am putting my hands on my hips, letting my jaw drop and pointing my finger to the book and saying, "I wasn't the one who WROTE this guidebook. It was THEM. I just happened to read it ... and laugh my rear end off."

Again, I pride myself on judging a book by its cover, and I hit GOLD with this one. I found it in the Literature section, tucked way back in Non-Fiction, and because it was wedged in a set of shelves that included Bill Bryson and similar authors, how could I go wrong?

The capital of Molvania is situated between the country's Eastern Steppes and a Western Plateau. A mountain range of heavily forested Molvanian Alps stands to the South.
Among Molvania's claims to fame:
* It's biggest pop sensation, Olja, combines hot Latin sounds with Cold War rhetoric.
* Going "green" takes on a different meaning in Molvania, as the country prides itself as being an environmentally conscious nation, and all its waste is either sorted and recycled, or dumped over the border in Slovakia.
* One of the most popular drinks in Molvania is turpz, a white wine flavored with oak resin. This fruity drop is an acquired taste, but once tasted, it's hard to give up, due in part to the fact that it contains nicotine.

Why would someone go to the trouble of writing and publishing a travel book about such a place? I'm not giving away the ending by telling you this, Molvania doesn't really exist.

It's the weekend. Drink lots of water, laugh at yourself, read a clever book, and (if you're like me) enjoy a kinder, gentler house because your 4-3 team has a bye weekend.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hey, How Did HE Get In Here?

While under the influence of LEGALLY PRESCRIBED narcotics to ease me through the blinding pain of a kidney stone and its always-hand-in-hand kidney infection, I treated myself to a little downloading session on iTunes while propped up at the kitchen table and wondering if this is really a good way to spend my last hours on this earth, biting bullets and spitting casings on the floor.

On the other hand, maybe it was my hopeful way of saying, "I'm going to get through this and perhaps one day go to a park and run, or maybe to the gym, and will reach for my iPod. And my reward, my PURPLE HEART, for enduring this, will be a new repertoire of Top 40 favorites." And then I went to bed for about a day and a half. Or maybe I went through my daily routine and actually got behind the wheel of a car. I don't really remember.

Today, as they say, is a new day. I am drug-free and relieved not to be staring at the wall and drooling. So I grabbed my iPod and settled in to work (after being granted much-needed and greatly appreciated deadline extensions) and pushed the "play" arrow. And this is what I heard:

The incomparable Barry White, singing "You're the First, the Last, My Everything."

My favorite Brothers Johnson song, "Stomp."

A wide variety of George Benson songs. You'd be surprised how many George Benson songs a person can download while under the influence. I know I was.

Luther Vandross crooning "The Power of Love."

More than one song by James Ingram.

And whisking me back to the early '80s, Mr. Jeffrey Osborne, performing "We're Going All the Way."

And then, way down at the bottom of my "recently added" playlist, is an inordinate number of songs by this white man...

(This photo replaces a previous selection, which garnered MUCH negative feedback and was deemed, by many, as distasteful. Seventies fashionwear was not MY fault; I just downloaded the photo. Still, I heard you LOUD AND CLEAR, removed the photo and replaced it with this tasteful Teen Beat shot, circa 1979.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sticks and Stones ... and a Little Something for the Party

On Friday night, I crawled into my tent in the woods and tried to sleep it off.

By Saturday night, I suspected something might be WRONG. "Wrong" meaning "enduring blinding pain" and "we never finished those wills, did we?" I stumbled onto (not into) my sleeping bag and kept a towel nearby in the event that nausea got the best of me. I cried myself to sleep. By Sunday at 3 a.m., I woke up and announced that we were, indeed, expecting our fifth (or sixth) kidney stone. And this one was going to be bigger and stronger and uglier than those that preceded it.

Illustration by Jason Smith; isn't it great? It reminds me of old Batman comic books.

"Let's go to the hospital."
"But it's not time. I have it under control for now. I have everything with me that a doctor would give me. Except the Demerol. And a laser. And the sterile field. So let's just save the co-pay."
"Seriously, we can leave the kids here and be back before dawn."
"I am not leaving four kids unattended in the woods. And since when does an ER visit take only three hours? My threshold is high. We're not there yet."

Eleven hours later, by 4 p.m. Sunday, after unloading the car and unpacking tents, we were there. And there I have been for the past 60-some odd hours, even after seeing a physician -- a pleasant physician who administered a shot in my hip, gave me an antibiotic and prescribed a very nice controlled substance. And I tell you all this as an explanation for Monday's post, which, as I read it now, makes very little sense. Even though it is 100 percent true. Just as e-mail and wine don't mix, neither do blogging and Lortab. Still, you will notice that my spelling was remarkably flawless.

I remain medicated and am still waiting for the blessed event, but it's high time (no pun intended) I throw something into the Poverty Party pot. If memory serves -- last week was a long time ago -- my plan was to contribute an occasional true and personal account that will inspire you to make wise choices that will keep you out of the poor house and make you feel like a responsible American. I'm doing my best here to stay true to my word. And not to fall off the couch while I'm typing. The really neat part is, I probably wouldn't feel a thing.

Today, we turn our attention to grocery shopping, the bane of our existence. One of those necessities of life -- daily life, it seems -- that leaves us with empty pockets and only moderately filled cabinets these days. I will not get into the minutiae of my shopping list, menu planning (ha) and coupon usage, except to guide you toward two very useful sites that will spark your coupon-clipping and inspire you to say, "Full price for Hamburger Helper? I don't think so!"

• (no www in the address, please) — If you shop at Publix or have a Publix within a 25-mile radius of your home, this is worth the effort. This fiddledeedee woman combines sales, coupons and shopper savvy to teach you how to really rip off, I mean, navigate Publix and not break the bank. Done right, the cashier will be handing you money.

• — The tagline "helping you be a better home economist" smacks of 1956 and makes me smile. Because I'm a lot of things, but I'm probably not the quintessential "home economist." I'm just here for the printable coupons. So, if you're like me, just click on "coupons" on the index at the top of the page. You can read other tidbits and guest posts, like "We each want a lovely and inviting home." Or not.

Those are but two tips I'm throwing in the pot, and maybe I'll get a little more personal in the coming weeks, as Bossy has done. I'll try to make you feel bad about spending and good about saving. I'll try to make you feel guilty about making stupid financial decisions and feel better about being a cheapskate.

"But, Amy," you might be whining. "This sounds painful."

And I would say, "Look, whiner, you don't KNOW pain."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Amy, Get Your Gun...and Pass the Salsa, Would You?

While I would never leave a pistol out in plain view during a dinner party -- I wasn't raised by wolves, you know -- I had no problem whatsoever not concealing my two most recent pistol targets when the daughter's new male friend joined us for dinner Monday evening. In fact, I believe these targets made a nice centerpiece during our Mexican fiesta, which was comprised largely of enchiladas made from two Old El Paso dinner kits and chips with radiator salsa (recipe to follow). Not that he noticed the impressive and numerous bull's eyes, but if he had, I'm certain he would have assumed they were made by his girlfriend's FATHER. And that would have been OK, I suppose, except that I am the one who knows every single word to "Cleaning This Gun" by Rodney Atkins.

The holes in this target were made from bullets I fired from a .38 special.
I loved .38 Special when I was in high school...Hold On Loosely, So Caught Up in You, Wild-Eyed Southern Boys ...

These holes were created by a very basic .22 semiautomatic. I could have shot that gun all day.

Radiator Salsa

My friend, Lila, was charged with making an appetizer before book club years ago. But like everyone else, she ran short on time. She stopped at the grocery store, picked up the following ingredients, opened the cans and assembled the dish on the hood of her car. So I named it "Radiator Salsa."

1 jar of salsa, any kind, any level of heat

1 can of white shoepeg corn

1 can of black beans (preferably rinsed, but if you're assembling this dish on the hood of your car, oh, well)

chopped cilantro (again, if you're working from a Suburban or Passat, you can omit the cilantro)

Dump all ingredients in a bowl, and stir. Serve with tortilla chips. Or eat it with a spoon. Put some sour cream on top, if you want. It's all good.