Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fall Down Go Boom

Monday after work I was walking down Main Street from my office to the parking ramp and at one point in my ambulatory motion my right foot forgot how to cooperate with the rest of my body. My heel buckled, and down I went. It was a slow, horribly awkward descent in which I struggled to regain my balance, grappled fruitlessly at the window of the antique store I was passing, but ultimately lost my battle with gravity and fell to both knees, bags flapping onto the dry, smooth sidewalk.

I skinned both knees through my jeans. Probably a hundred people saw my graceful performance, which I hope to reprise again never. My first thought was, Thank God I'm not eighty. You can seriously fuck your shit up when you come crashing randomly down onto the hard sidewalk at eighty! We're talking double knee replacement. Shiny new plastic hips. Months of rehab with an oily ponytailed therapist named Barry.

Other than wiping out in front of an audience of strangers, I am mourning the death of Bea Arthur yet celebrating the inclusion of a new recipe in my repetoire--Sweet & Sour & Hot Noodles, courtesy of Vegan Dad. I subbed a red pepper for the green and added chopped kale to make up for drinking too much wine on Friday night. I'm also thinking of renaming it So Delicious It Will Make You Forget Bea Arthur Died. J's verdict? "Not bad, but a little slimy." Where J is from, "slimy" actually means "lip-smacking." Because he DID have seconds. Tonight I tried Vegan Dad's crispy cajun chickpea cakes. Divine alliteration on a plate.

When I was a kid I HATED pineapple in Asian dishes, and I have bitter memories of sitting at my cold, congealed plate for hours until I ate all of my sweet and sour pork. Back then, I basically hated anything that didn't include sodium nitrate, artificial cheese flavor, or Red #40 as an ingredient. Guess my taste buds are all growed-up, Maw!

On the "raw materials" front, my seedlings are going great guns: strawberries, three kinds of heirloom tomatoes, sunflowers, tropical milkweed, Texas sage, petunias, five types of herbs, ground cherries, swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, and hot peppers. I am incredibly antsy to plant these babies outdoors, mostly because the tomatoes are so large they are actually scaring me a little.

I will not, however, be planting them in a "Topsy Turvy" tomato planter, because despite my proclivity to trip and fall in busy public areas, I do have a few scraps of dignity.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Almost, Maybe, Not Quite Famous

This morning I gave a presentation to around 35 high school students attending a student journalism conference at UW-Oshkosh. My session was called "Writing a book: from Idea to Print," and my name tag read: Jess Riley. Book Author.

I love that.

Afterwards, an adorable student in Harry Potter glasses asked if I'd initial the description of my talk in the program. Aww, was she asking me to ... autograph it for her? Shucks, is that sweet or what? I considered signing a postcard for her, personalizing it in her name, or maybe --

"It's so my teacher knows I came to this."

Ah. Yes. Of course.

It's been a literary whirlwind week, starting with an Earth Day poetry reading I attended with my parents on Monday night, also at UW-O. My Dad was the only faculty member selected to read; the other readers were students, and bless their hearts, some of the later prose was just too much after a long day of work.

I can say this because halfway through one of their pieces I heard a loud, "MUUUHH!" from my left. I jumped and turned to face this noise, which had apparently come from my mother. She'd fallen asleep, and I quickly jabbed her in the side. "Mom, wake up!" I whispered.

"Yes?" she sleepily blinked, leaning over as if I had a secret to share.

She really works too hard.

Happy Earth Day, everyone. To celebrate, I'm making tofu for dinner. Isn't J a lucky man?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Crotchety Old Folks Punching Me in the Neck with Their Opinions

This was a busy weekend for me, kicked-off in the beer section of Pick & Save on Friday night, where I was on the phone with J, trying to narrow down his options so I could get the hell out and blow my nose. For some reason--perhaps it's the detergent they wash the floors with, who knows--all grocery and big box stores make my nose run. It also runs when I exercise.

(Am I the only girl at the gym with Kleenex stuffed in the waistband of her yoga pants? Note that it is not stuffed in my sports bra. It could certainly do double duty there, but I don't want to blow my nose in sweaty tissue.)

I digress. So I'm in front of a wall of coolers on the phone when an older lady bangs up behind me with her cart. She's trying to get around the end cap, but someone has rudely left an empty cart in the corner of the aisle, and it's in her way.

"This your cart?" she snarled, bumping her own cart into the empty one.

I shook my head, trying to juggle two six-packs of beer (New Glarus Black Wheat: Thumbs up. New Glarus Stone Soup: Meh, not so much.) and bid my husband farewell while helping her trundle on by. Still on the phone, I shook my head and pulled the cart out of her way.

"Thank you. " And then she huffed--LOUDLY, "These immigrants just don't know how to shop."

Wow. Looks like somebody's been watching too much Lou Dobbs!

I wish I could say this was the first time an elderly woman accosted me in a store with some strong and/or offensive views. It also happened at Target a few years ago. In the book section, more specifically. When President Clinton's autobiography was on every shelf.

A furious geriatric shopper cornered me and shook her fist at the shelf of books featuring his visage. "I'd NEVER buy that book," she raged. "Can you believe that man? He makes me SICK." Her varicose veins throbbed in fury. I can't be sure, but I have a vague memory of her spitting at the books at that point.


I answered by licking the photo on the cover, dropping five copies into my cart, and saying, "Oh, I can't WAIT to read it. Right after I donate some money to the ACLU and have a late-term abortion."

(At this point I must add that I am completely and totally kidding, in case my Grandma is reading this. I noticed at Easter that she is also reading Clarence Thomas's autobiography.)

Anyway, it's a good thing I wasn't drinking the beer I was holding in Pick & Save, because I may have answered that racist old xenophobe. In Spanish. And that wouldn't have been a good thing. In both instances, I was actually too stunned to think of a response.

So do you give these cranky old folks a wide berth and ignore them because it would be too much trouble to engage? Or do you stand up for your beliefs NO MATTER WHAT?

The following night we saw Sherman Alexie speak at the Fox Cities Book Festival, and even though he was once hydrocephalic and is slightly bowlegged and near-sighted in one eye/far-sighted in the other (so am I, Sherman! So am I!!!), it was easy to see why women send him photos of themselves in their undies. He's that brilliant and hilarious. Check him out on The Colbert Report here. (He said he was so hopped up on adrenalin he vomited in the green room bathroom AFTER the show.)

He would have totally schooled that crotchety old lady.

PS: Thanks to everyone who came to see me at the book festival on Saturday! You made my day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Not that sweaty after all!

Hello! Yes! I'm back from my very first television appearance. Well, okay, technically it wasn't my first: in 1982 when the Brewers went to the World Series a local news crew came to my elementary school in Eden, Wisconsin because it was home to Brewer / local hero Jim Gantner...when the reporter asked me on camera who my favorite Brewer was I shouted, "Gorman Thomas!"

Because what eight year-old DOESN'T look up to a creepy professional athlete accused of spousal abuse?

Of course they were hoping I'd gush about Jim Gantner, so my defiance never made it to the airwaves. (Later that year I "went out*" with Jim Gantner's nephew, which came with the perk of having Jim Gantner autograph the back of my second grade photo. Oh, the humanity.)

Now where was I...Right! My television debut! Rachel Manek was so gracious and beautiful. I think I only had one dopey moment (when I mentioned how Oprah is reputed to smell really nice...yeah). On the way home I phoned a friend who had watched, and she told me I looked much more innocent than I am in real life.

Hey, now!

I was most nervous about following Michael Perry on the show, because he is a literary rock star. I can't tell you how many people have told me, with stars in their eyes, how hilarious he is. And I had to follow him. So I was terrified that my first TV appearance would also be my first Mike Birbiglia moment. I'm thinking of the incident in which he had to perform comedy at a charity golf tournament after inspiring and moving speeches by a hall-of-fame quarterback and an 11 year-old leukemia survivor.

(His Chicago appearance this Sunday on a live broadcast of This American Life is sold out. Of course.)

Anyway, my two takeaways from this morning are as follows: 1) I think I could rent ad space on my forehead. Hey, it's been done! And 2) I heart Rachel Manek. And yes, I am saving the juicier stories for book clubs and Saturday's chat in Kimberly.

*"Going out" when I was in second grade consisted of passing notes, avoiding your girlfriend or boyfriend in the hallways, and maybe talking on the phone if someone was brave enough to call. And it was on a rotary phone with a long, warped curly cord, and if your house was small, the entire family could hear you making a complete idiot of yourself.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Me? Fidgety and Sweaty? Absolutely.

First, what the hell is with people entering the enclosures of animals in zoos? Particularly those of pandas or bears? Do these people get "one complementary stupid pill" with admission to any zoo of their choosing, or were they just born that way? Hey Moat Jumpers: these creatures are not Teddy Bears; they are WILD ANIMALS and if you climb into their lair to mess with them or give them a hug or feed them the rest of your Churro, prepare your face for a well-deserved date with claws and teeth, followed by years of reconstructive plastic surgery. Congratulations, Moat Jumpers: you are massive societal drains!

Okay, now that I have that off my chest, I can move on.

Tomorrow morning I'm taping a segment on Good Day Wisconsin, about my Saturday appearance at the upcoming Fox Cities Book Festival. I've never done TV before, for several reasons:

1) I make lame comments to friends like, "Sweet Jesus, I'll need extra-strength Secret anti-perspirant if it's LIVE," and there is a very real and frightening chance that I'll repeat this on live television.

2) I am fond of wild hand gestures that could actually make me take flight.

3) Every so often I get one of those "Swallow-mid-sentence clicks" or "Bubble throat" effects, and nobody wants to hear that shit.

4) I have been known to get eye tics when I'm nervous. You know, the ones where it looks like your eye has overdosed on heroin and is convulsing.

5) Despite an adolescence forcing relatives to watch my cousins and me "performing" skits and lip sync "shows" at every family gathering, I am now much more comfortable sitting in the back row poking gentle fun at the people onstage. (Oh dear God, the Karma! The KARMA!)

Anyway, I'm not sure if the segment will be live or just taped tomorrow morning, so if you tune in and I'm not there, it'll either be shown later, or I crapped my pants immediately before the segment and we had to cancel.

If you catch me on TV and I don't scare you away, I'd love to see you at my reading at the Kimberly Public Library this Saturday at 12:30. I probably won't be as sweaty in-person. There's a panel discussion on chicklit before my event, and I'm going to sit in the audience and heckle the panelists to compose myself. Later that evening at the author reception I'm going to swoon over Sherman Alexie and try to rub Elizabeth Berg's head for good luck.

Hey, she was on Oprah like three times!

I'm totally kidding about the panel heckling and head-rubbing, but not so much about the swooning.

PS: an angry zit the size of Cleveland has just taken up timely residence on my chin. Good thing I won't be on high definition TV! oh, wait...

Thursday, April 09, 2009

It's about that time again

For me to get off my lazy arse and update the blog! Actually, my arse hasn't been lazy--I have been doing exciting things like coloring eggs with natural dyes. Check it out:

Here we have the eggs basking in their individual dye cups. Clockwise, from the bile-colored confection at the bottom (which is actually turmeric with a splish of vinegar): red cabbage, red cabbage with a dash of turmeric, beet juice jazzed up with a tidge of pomegranate, more turmeric, and cherry juice. In the center we have a cup of leprechaun vomit I've been saving since St. Patrick's Day.

Okay, I threw that out weeks ago. It's actually spinach, parsley, a dash of rice wine vinegar, and a cube of wheatgrass juice.

Drink up!

I let them stew in said juices for a few hours, and when I felt those eggs had had enough waterboarding, I pulled them out to dry. Here's the end result:

The blue (red cabbage), yellow (turmeric) and green one on the left (red cabbage with turmeric) turned out best. The grayish one at the top right still has a fleck of parsley on it. Pre-seasoned! And the two scabtastic ones at the lower right, with the lovely scratched-up poo effect, were pulled from their brines of beet, cherry, and pomegranate. I would call these two eggs the opposite of success.

Another view. Do you see how the brownish one in the center-bottom has tiny bubbles on it? Like it has some sort of rash?


Being the food martyr in training that I am, I ate the scuffed stool sample replica on the lower left immediately, so I wouldn't scare J away from the entire batch.

Other happenings: my favorite restaurants in the area, Water City Grill and Fusion, are closing. I guess I'll just have to learn to love buttered prime rib, iceberg lettuce drowning in ranch dressing, and heart disease. Farewell, purveyers of delicious foods: I shall never find another cheesy artichoke dip or roasted veggie lasagna like the ones you delivered to my belly time after time.

Also, our street is being prepped for construction this summer. (Yay! Noise and stink and pollution and parking twenty miles away after grocery shopping! Can't wait!) As a special treat, the Utility People dug up my front flower bed to accost our gas meter and killed a rose bush that was finally showing some promise after limping along for two summers. Thank you, power company!

I love how they put a festive orange dunce cap on the grave they dug in my flower bed. If I had a child who was naughty (let's name him Charlie), I might be tempted to tell him that this is where Daddy and I will bury the Easter Bunny if Charlie continued to throw tantrums in Home Depot and/or fail to eat all of his vegetables. I don't know why the photo is sideways...blogger, you are a wonky one, aren't you?

As my dear Mom used to say around this time of year, "Hoppy Easter" everyone. May all your bunnies be chocolate, may your deviled eggs be heavenly, and may the wind at your back be devoid of scent.

PS: If you want, you can read more of my blather over at My Book, the Movie.