Thursday, August 18, 2011

Life on my own #6: Swimming solo

The city’s outdoor pool closed for the season after this weekend. It was only open from the beginning of June until now, mid-August, which seems like such a short time when I consider how much I paid for the season pass. Sigh.

You see, my family used to get a season pass every summer and I and my siblings would drive out as often as possible to find respite from the summer heat. We didn’t have air-conditioning, and my sister’s favorite active recreation is swimming, so we’d go out almost every day as long as the temperature didn’t dip too low and my dad could give us a lift.

When I got my license I’d take us out to the pool just about four or five times a week, and even if I didn’t get in (I have a low tolerance for chilliness) my brother and sister would. They’d spend an hour or two chasing each other around in the deep end, or fishing for misplaced pennies at the bottom of the pool, and still would whine just a little when I told them it was time to head home.

In short, the pool’s fun. So I wasted no time buying my season pass this year. Unfortunately, with my sis in college and my parents working crazy hours, they couldn’t have made a season pass worthwhile this year, so I was the only one to get a pass.

Consequently, I was also the only one of my family to go to the pool more than three times. If it was a hot day, I’d get out of the office as quick as I could—it helped if I had an evening meeting to cover—and pedal home to pull a quick-change act and emerge in bathing suit and shorts before biking over to the pool.

Lock the bike to the racks, hand in the season pass to the window attendant, shed the shorts and take a dip—all by myself. Such a big girl, going to the pool by myself, surrounded by a lot of teeny-boppers and their incomprehensible shenanigans.

If you’ve never gone to a pool by yourself, it’s an interesting experience. What’s there to do in an outdoor pool if you don’t have somebody to toss a ball to or chase around the pool mushroom? Consider how many activities require a partner, even something as simple as gently treading water while shooting the breeze.

It’s not like you can even have your iPod earbuds implanted into your ears either. You’re really all, by, yourself.

Me, I just swam up and down the deep end, dodging children when I could, and alternating pitiful imitations of swimming strokes at whim. Sometimes I’d pretend I was doing a back stroke, sometimes a modified front stroke, and once in a while a simple old doggy paddle. Or I’d float on my back and close my eyes, hoping no little waves would clog my nose.

Back stroke. Front stroke. Doggy paddle. Float. Repeat.

That only lasts half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes, before I start getting a little chilled and a little bored. Everyone else is about twelve years old and absorbed in whatever middle-school drama is playing itself out at the pool, so I’m basically in my own little Atlantis at the pool, a world frequently disturbed, but never entered, by the children surrounding it.

I did get to take my sister to the pool three times, and we brought my brother along two of those times. I’m grateful I did get to have some game time in the pool with other people (and I’m glad my sis talked me into going off the diving board several times last Saturday).  But I don’t regret the times I went solo.

It was a little out of my comfort zone, and a little awkward at first, but I got used to it and learned to amuse myself mentally as I traversed the deep end to and fro.

And sometimes, the humidity is just too bad to be able to do anything other than swim, accompanied or not!

(What) to read or not to read, that is the question

I actually own a few books that I’ve never read in my life. Amazing, huh? Or maybe just another fact in the life of a voracious reader. It happens.

And I’ve even borrowed some that I’ve been meaning to read and haven’t yet. What a thing to do!

Huxley's Brave New World, Narrative....Frederick Douglass, Tozer's The Radical Cross, Lloyd-Jones' Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Olasky's Telling the Truth, and Omar Vizquel's autobiography

So these are six books that either I’ve borrowed, from family or the church library, or that I own. All of them are what I’ve been meaning to read, for one reason or another, but haven’t yet gotten around to. Which should I start first and why?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Life on my own #5: Casseroles

I made banana bread last night. The two bananas left in the bunch I bought most recently were beginning to drip juice. A little got on my stamps, too, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to salvage the stamps. No, I don’t know why I stored bananas and postage stamps in the same bowl. Chalk it up to eccentricity.

It’s really easy to make a batch of banana bread, in the tiniest loaf pans I own, and slowly, or not so slowly, eat the dessert-like bread over the succeeding days. Last night’s batch is half gone already, possibly because I added cashews to two of the mini-loaves and got addicted to the banana-nut bread during the movie last night.

So I don’t have to worry too much about having leftover banana bread become a science experiment in the refrigerator, even though I make the recipe in the usual amount, instead of halving it or something.

Casseroles are another story. The reasons? One, the very mention of casserole conjures up an image of a church potluck with dozens of people and a short supply of main dishes. You know you’ve gotta bring a big dish or your kids will complain all they got to eat was the squash salad. So you make a casserole the size of a barge and have hardly any left over afterward.

In a single gal’s apartment, a casserole like that could take weeks, maybe months, to eat, and that’s eating it nonstop (like once or twice a day). Having one kind of food that often gets old really fast unless it’s peanut butter. If you ever hear of a peanut butter casserole recipe I would love to ask you how in the world you came across such a jarring combination of words.

So, to cope with the excessive size of most casseroles, I usually halve the recipe, sometimes even quarter it if it’s conducive to such mathematical contortion. Add a little oregano or minced onion, guesstimate how much cottage cheese goes in, round off the one-sixth of a cup to something around a quarter cup, and voilá, the casserole is reduced to a manageable size!

Problem solved, right? But wait, there’s more! (Not a good more either, and a little bit more honest than an infomercial.) Even a divided casserole yields at least two servings,  so half of it ends up in a Tupperware dish in the fridge. This presents a couple sub-issues, if you will. One, I don’t want to eat the same thing even two nights in a row unless it involves peanut butter (and 99.9% of casseroles don’t), and two, reheated food just isn’t the same as fresh-cooked food, especially if it includes spaghetti or ground beef. Or meat of any sort, really. There are some casseroles, you know, that hardly keep well at all.

Maybe I’m just a picky eater, but the mere idea of “microwaved casserole” is a little off-putting. I’ve had enough warmed day-old spaghetti to know the spaghetti gets either stiff or a tad rubbery after a few hours in the fridge, and microwaving just exacerbates the odd texture. Yeah, some other flavors might be a leetle more potent, but that just throws the whole flavor balance off, you know?

Therefore, I’ve stuck mainly to simple, serving-size recipes or sandwiches for my evening suppers. (A single potato, cubed and fried, baked with a single egg in the middle of the pile is extremely satisfying.) Yes, I have done the casserole thing, even down to freezing half the casserole and refrigerating some of the other half’s leftovers. But it’s not something I really care to do.

My quest now is to find the perfect small casserole recipes—appetizing, nutritious and above all, relatively tiny. I figured out one, sort of, but there are so many others awaiting my shrink-ray.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Life on my own #4: The laundromat

First of all, how does one spell laundromat? Is it laundramat instead? My computer puts little red squigglies under both versions so now I’m desperate for an answer. Never mind that the dictionary is on the second shelf of the bookcase that’s about eight feet away.

Second of all, the actual blog post. One of the consequences of living on my own is that, instead of sharing one washer with four other people (my immediate family members), I share, say, twenty washers with a thousand other people. OK, maybe not a thousand. But you get the idea.

It’s a lot like college, really. Take your laundry, sit somewhere and do “homework” (read: free time reading) while your laundry tosses and turns in its cylindrical prison. Except at college I could walk about thirty steps and arrive at the laundry room door; here, I actually have to take my laundry, set it in the back seat of my car, and drive somewhere. Like a mile and a half of somewheres.

The laundromat I use is one the tenant above me recommended, nice and clean, she said. Must be; I saw one of the laundry attendants sweeping the parking lot with a straw broom the other day. Who sweeps a parking lot? The inside floor I’d understand, but outside asphalt exposed to all the elements? Huh. Maybe I’m just ignorant of the upkeep of a well-run business. For all I know somebody gets contracted to sweep hundreds of parking lots around the city. But I doubt it.

I’m highly thankful the machines here actually clean my clothes. The machines at college, they left this odd discoloring grime, an almost indiscernible layer, on all my whites and the rest of the clothes too, probably. Here, my whites come out actually white, not “I’m so close to white I could almost fool you” pale ivory. (I never thought I’d need to use those two words together, pale and ivory.)

They’re quick, too. A white load takes precisely 29 minutes, and others less time. The downside is that I hardly “get into” a book before the alarm on my phone buzzes and I know it’s time to switch out loads.

So sometimes I read a magazine instead of a book. Make that nearly all the time. I’ll also journal sometimes. Thing is, with journaling, it’s really easy to get distracted.

Take, for instance, the whirling and tumbling of clothes in the washer. The bench I habitually occupy is perpendicular to the line of washers, but even so you can sit at it and see the clothes go round and round and round and round……..

ooooh pretty colors…

and then the next thing you know, you’re surrounded by a bunch of mediums wanting to learn the secret of true hypnotization. Yeah, right, ladies. Like I know what happened to me as I was doing laundry. Here I am, the innocent apartment-dweller, and the evil nasty laundry machines try to put me to sleep! For all I know they interrogated me and got all the State secrets I had out of me!

OK, so maybe it doesn’t work quite like that. I’ve never met a medium nor have I ever learned any State secrets, but it sounded cool, didn’t it? And I don’t think I’ve ever been quite tired enough to fall asleep at a laundromat in broad daylight, sun streaming through the multitude of windows.

The whirling and tumbling does kind of fascinate me, though. There it cycles, round and round, and then it just stops, and the clothes sit there for a second, then it starts twirling the other way! I never grew up with a commercial washer, and even the ones at college were top-load, so this whole capability of actually watching the machine clean my clothes in real time is a little novel. Soothing too, like watching a wood fire leap and lick at the logs in a fireplace.

Maybe the cable companies should establish a live feed of laundromat washers tumbling clothes. I’m sure someone would watch it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Garage sales are wonderful (the Pied Blanket Story)

You probably had no idea, but last weekend was the Lincoln Highway Buy-Way series of garage sales stretching from PA to who knows where (somewhere out in Indiana no doubt). And it ran right through my little town.

I love garage saling to start with. I’m good at finding deals, I think, merely because I’ve been to so many growing up, with my parents. So I rejoice to have so many garage sales and church rummage sales going on for my enjoyment!

Except that they all occurred over the same very busy weekend which included a wedding to attend, two and a half hours away. Not that I’m complaining about the wedding at all! But I would rather have had my cake and eaten it too, ya know? So, at the same time that I was snapping pictures of the garage sales for the newspaper and planning the weekend’s wedding voyage, I perused the various cast-off articles for sale and tried to decide what I really needed and what would have been more of a “hey, this is cool and I’m bored” purchase.

In the end, I bought a few basket-fillers for my friend’s wedding gift, but I mostly purchased things for myself (as always, oh well).

My favorite find was this gloriously pied lightweight blanket. (Pied. Awesome word. You know the Pied Piper of Hamelin? He wore a multicolored coat!) It’s like a sarape, only bigger and more brightly colored—a rainbow on steroids. It was big enough to cover my long twin bed, and I had needed to toss the old fall-weather blanket a while ago because it got shredded somehow. I’d blame it on the wringer-washer but I’ve hardly seen one, much less owned one.

So here I was, at the church rummage sale staring at this fabulous blanket, and somebody mentions it’s probably wool. Do I really want to buy a blanket that requires special care? Could I just survive using the heavy comforter when it turns a bit chilly in September? Is this just something I’m buying on impulse because it’s pretty?

The blanket called to me. (It needs uss. We takeses good care of blanket, yess, we does.)

Its rainbow colors bored into my pupils and reached the deepest regions of the brain where reason can’t reach and emotion rules the roost. The oh-so-straight beams of color commanded my approach, like a Roman centurion standing tall. The apparent immensity of the blanket drew me in. This was no mere 54” by 60” lap blanket. It had the potential to be taller than I am.

And, by the decrees of fate, I touched the blanket and it held me fast. I tell you, this thing stuck like flypaper. I couldn’t put it down. I held it all the way up, raising my arms as high as I could to get the full effect of the color. I waved it around a bit, and draped it around my shoulders to gauge its potential for couch-potato warming. Oops, dragged it on the floor.

I ran through all the reasons I shouldn’t buy it. I already have a comforter, this pied blanket won’t be easy to clean, it won’t match the Hawai’ian curtains in my room at all, I’m not even sure how long this thing will last me. Dumb reasons, really.

In the end I purchased the mesmerizing blanket, along with a couple lamps. The lamps were purely functional, rational purchases—the clip lamp was destined either to be my bed lamp or the vanity lamp, and the desk-type lamp was, obviously, eminently fitted to light my desk area.

And what do you know? Five days later, the night-time weather turns chilly, and I ‘m sitting in my living room watching some movie or other when I realize I need a couch blanket. I fetched the couch blanket—a purple favorite my aunt knitted for me a couple years ago—and realized, “I’m actually going to need that pied blanket!”

I slept comfortably that night and every night since. But I still haven’t put light bulbs in the lamps yet…

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Life on my own #3: Roommates

I’m used to roommates. My sister and I shared a room for years, then I lived with a couple of girls in college. I considered finding a roommate for living on my own after college, too, but it worked out that I didn’t need to. (It would have been very difficult, anyway.)

So here I am, happily living in my own apartment without a roommate for the first time in… well I don’t know how long. And then someone decides to move in.

A few someones, actually. At least, they started out as only two or three. Now there must be fifteen or twenty.

I think the banana peels started it. I love bananas, so I went through my bunch in maybe five days (had to be at least five on the bunch). I thought my kitchen trash can, with its reliable WalMart bag covered by its fancy little foot-lever lid, would be able to keep the banana peels out of sight (and smell) until trash day.

I couldn’t smell the bananas, so I was happy. Until I found out someone else could. They took up residence in the trash can, so I opened it one time and out they flew! The tiny little nuisances that I can’t even swat, because they can zip right through the slats in the swatter.

Still, they mostly kept to their quarters in the banana peels in the basket (on the floor in the kitchen in the apartment on the road in the town in the county… you get the idea). Trash day came and went, and the banana peels were long gone. I think they were replaced by bits of lettuce that had started dying in my fridge. (Single people don’t eat enough lettuce to get through an entire head, apparently. At least not this single person. I’m not that silly of a health nut.)

When I emptied the trash, I was careful to take the kitchen trash can outside so any escaping foes would escape to the wide, wide world where my friendly spiders could feast. I even rinsed out the bottom of the trash can, protected though it was by the WalMart bag, because a family had taken up residence along the bottom. They were probably killed in the eviction.

The house was rid of them!

I thought.

I saw a few above the kitchen sink.

Maybe not…

And today there were thirteen lining the edge of the wall above the cabinets. No, I did not count them, but I am a reporter and thus I am practicing my instant-head-count-guesstimate skills. The swatter came out and my neighbor above probably worried I was shooting off a pellet gun or something, by the snap sounds constantly emitting from the kitchen.

Sounds emitted to no avail. I came home tonight, after a particularly strange set of hours at work, and found a number of the foes partying on the corner of the wall and above the cabinets again. Swap! Swap! I killed a few, but many more escaped, in whatever cunning little fashion they could.

These roommates are the worst I’ve ever had. I might have to hire an assassin.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Chesterton on illogical extensions

A quote was mentioned in a comment to a blog post written about the religious views of the man who killed several dozen campers in Oslo, and the quote was attributed to Chesterton. Being the Chesterton fan I am, I looked it up via Google; and not only did it sound like something he’d say, it was something he’d written.

It is not enough to say “Christians persecuted; down with Christianity,” any more than it is enough to say, “A Confucian stole my hairbrush; down with Confucianism.” We want to know whether the reason for which the Confucian stole the hairbrush was a reason peculiar to the Confucians or a reason common to many other men.

—G.K. Chesterton, “The Eternal Heroism of the Slums” chapter in his book The Blatchford Controversies

P.S. This was the blog post, noting that the Christianity that Anders Behring Breivik purportedly espoused was cultural rather than spiritual. If that makes sense.