Tuesday, November 29, 2011

To grandmother’s house we go…..

So this year as opposed to my usual sojourn to Boston, I decided to head to California for Thanksgiving, to spread cheer amongst additional little people, and to make myself useful. Even more useful than usual, that is. I would stay with Grandma in Seal Beach, then be her designated chauffeur on Thanksgiving Day, driving her back and forth to Normal Brother’s place, in Tujunga.

I know, I know – the extent of these sacrifices I make of my time and effort, it’s astounding. But that’s just how I am.

Of course, this trip to Normal Brother’s on Thanksgiving was only going to happen if we survived that long. Because as soon as I got to Grandma’s, it became clear that food poisoning might be imminent.

Take the stuffed cabbage, or holubtsi, as we call them. I loooove stuffed cabbage – that’s one of the few Ukrainian dishes I can make really well, modeled after my mom’s way of making them, because no other kind I’ve tried ever compares. And naturally Grandma makes them the same way. So the night of my arrival, I was all set to happily dig into my plate of holubtsi, when my mom calls.

Mom: ….and blah blah…..and this and that……and oh yes, remember to be careful about what you eat. Grandma has a tendency to keep food that’s expired. That’s probably why she’s had an upset stomach and been running to the bathroom for the last 2 weeks!

I swear I am not making this up. I pause with a forkful of stuffed cabbage on its way to my mouth.

Me: Umm…..what kind of food?
Mom: Oh, one time there was the ground beef that she left in the frig for over a week, then decided to put it in the freezer. Ha ha, that was something!
Me: Umm….but……..
Mom: And the sour cream! She left THAT on the counter, and it was already old! Make sure you check the expiration dates on everything!

Shit. There’s my 94-year-old Grandma, smiling at me beatifically, waiting for me to dig into the stuffed cabbage. So it’s the feelings of Grandma – and for someone who likes to trash talk and complain about pretty much every other person under the sun, she gets her feelings hurt VERY easily – or my entire digestive tract at stake here. That’s an easy call.

Me: Дякою, Баба. Дуже смачного! (Thanks, Grandma. Very tasty!)

She then tries to push on me the blintsi (crepes), which unlike the holubtsi, do taste kind of……off. Like the flour or butter she used wasn’t quite fresh. Sigh. At least the sour cream is okay, I hope. I sidle over to the counter to surreptitiously take a look at the sour cream container. Which…….has a Country Crock lid. Sigh again.

Oh well, down the hatch. What can you do?

Though it’s interesting to note that when I posted this adventure on Facebook, about my mom belatedly telling me about grandma’s problem with paying attention to expiration dates, it turns out that pretty much EVERYONE has a grandmother-with-spoiled-food-like-on-Hoarders story. Everyone.

From Shannon: “My Gram always had these...containers...she used to pack up her care packages she'd give me when I'd leave her house. They were usually some type of former food container that had been re-used about 100 times.”

To Jen: “Hoarders!!!! My grandma sent leftovers home in used kool whip and country crock containers. I think that is a grandma thing too.”

To Andi: “Omg. I was just talking about that with my family! Little old Swedish grandma insists on cooking the whole meal for holidays and last year was... questionable, to say the least. This year her eyesight has gone even more... so she doesn't see dirty plates etc.”

Then Lisa reminisced about her Baba, who I knew, leaving meat and cheese out on the counter until it was eaten, and Debbie chimed in about the bottle of salad dressing at a family dinner at grandma’s that had an expiration date of 5 years prior. And of course, Andi and I have in common grandmothers who clean and dry paper plates and paper towels, as if they’re meant to be reused. The “universal elderly money-saving technique,” as Andi puts it.

Somehow this makes me feel better, as if we’re all part of this vast network of grandkids of aging relatives taking our lives into our own hands so as to not make the elderly feel bad. It really does take a village…..

Next up: Why taking your 94-year-old Grandma to Costco 2 days before Thanksgiving is a Very Very Bad Idea....

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Never did no wanderin’….

One of the things that I learned at (ahem) Wharton is that a sure bet in advertising or any kind of marketing is to go with kids or dogs. That basically applies to anything, really – when in doubt, kids or dogs.

So! There I was with Noreen in town to do the Chicago marathon, and of course, as part of her pre-marathon prep, I had a full schedule of activities and other things to do for the week that would make sure she showed up at that start line on Sunday in optimal shape. Normally I charge the big bucks for this kind of advice, but for friends, I do make exceptions. At least on occasion.

This meant that after she got in Monday, on Tuesday we went to a winery. On Wednesday we went and walked miles around downtown, and had Chicago-style pizza at Due’s.

Thursday, I proclaimed it to be Big Fun Day. That is, Big Fun Day for The Kone, which involves a trip to the huge-ass dog park in Lake Forest, the one that’s 44 acres of fenced-in forest preserve, then a trip for hot dogs. Oh sure, some of you may be saying, but Miss Tasha, how is this different from any other day for HRH?

Big Fun Day, or BFD, dawned bright and sunny, so off we went. I made sure that Noreen wore running-appropriate attire, so that she could run after Kona a bit as part of the ramping up portion of her marathon training plan. This was all uneventful yet much fun, in keeping with the spirit of BFD.

Then, off to Superdawg, whee! Where The Kone got his double-cheeseburgerski, while Noreen and I had the Superdawgski and onion chips. Perfect pre-marathon food, clearly.

As we were driving through the suburbs after our glorious Superdawg visit, I had the brilliant idea of hey, we’re near my old stomping grounds! Let’s really top off BFD and go for a walk in the woods near my old house, where I used to take Hudson all the time, and where I’ve taken The Kone on occasion!

Not to foreshadow or anything, but this was a really stupid fucking idea.

This path that goes through the woods, I always let Huddy off leash, and he’d go running through the woods like a deer, occasionally running back to make sure I was still there, then running off again. Many many times I took my Hudkin there over the years, and never a problem. There aren’t any big roads nearby, so he could take off and only find more woods, and a creek, where he’d stock up on water. Same for The Kone, though being the momma’s boy that he is, he never wanders far from me at all.

And so it was this time. We all wandered along, went to the creek, turned around, with Kona the whole time in my sight. Or rather, him keeping me in his sights, because that’s the kind of momma’s boy he is.

So when he first disappeared into the bushes and trees, I wasn’t worried. At all. I heard him rustling around in the bushes, as Noreen and I stood there chatting. Rustle rustle rustle. Suddenly, no rustle.

“Kona?” I call. No answer. “Kona!!” I yell, more loudly. What the hell?

I go trudging through the trees, to where there’s a slope on the other side, that goes down to railroad tracks. I know this. There’s a freight train that goes by on occasion, but rarely. Still no sign of The Kone. I go sliding down the hill to the tracks.

“Kona! KONE! KOOOOOONE!” Where the hell could he have gotten himself to?? There’s no sign of him, no telltale rustling sounds, nada.

I stand on the railroad tracks so that I can get a better look around, and peer up and down the tracks. No sign of him….wait, what? What the…… that his little butt all the way off there in the distance? Hustling his way down the tracks, trotting along purposefully, with I think a stick with a bandanna sack tossed over his doggie shoulder? It IS! What. The. Fuck.


He’s totally ignoring me, still trotting away, from what I can see off in the distance. Suddenly I have the words from a song from A Mighty Wind going through my head:

Never heard the whistle of a lonesome freight,
Or the singing of its driving wheel,
No I, never did no wanderin’
Never did no wanderin’
Never did no wanderin’ after all

“KONE! Get back here! There are NO PETITE SCONES on the RAILS!” I yell.


I’m running down the tracks as I’m yelling, and I don’t know if it was the increasingly frantic sound of my voice, the mention of scones, or the realization that leaving the comforts of home was a Really Bad Idea……but as I’m running, it appears that he might have at least stopped. Turned around? Started to come back? YES!

As he trots up to me, I scoop my heart back up and shove it into my chest, and then snap the leash on The Kone before he gets any more brilliant ideas about riding the rails to the carefree freedom of a hobo’s life. I don’t yell at him, because you’re not supposed to yell at your dog when he comes back to you, plus I’m so astonished by this whole incident that I’m basically speechless.

“You….you…..the rails…..taking off…….hobos….wanderin…..” I babble, still shocked. “The call of the rails! What was that?”

We get back into the car to head back into the city, and Kona collapses in back as if he’s the one who almost had a heart attack. Hmph. The entire drive, he's snoozing away, no doubt dreaming about what might have been, while I just keep looking back at him and shaking my head. Riding the rails? Really?

That evening I exact serious punishment on my boy, by giving him one less marrow bone to gnaw on than usual. Severe, yes, but he needed to learn his lesson.

Then, two more days of eating our way through Chicago, from Italian beef, to pie ala mode.

Needless to say, Noreen kicks ass in the marathon. I, on the other hand, am still in recovery mode.....