- 10 minutes of prep
- 20 minutes of cook time
- 3 days of clean-up.
Winter is a season fully pregnant with potential. I’m not sure if it’s the close proximity of the holidays or being driven indoors by low temperatures, but the winter months are laced with a sense of waiting. It’s in the air. We expect something momentous to break up the monotony in a relentless volley between build-up and climax.
Like so much of our adult psychology, it can likely be traced back to our childhoods. I remember spending a lot of time as a kid staring up into the white skies of winter and waiting for snow. I can still feel big wet snow flakes on my eyelashes, two crusty nostrils, numb extremities, hot breath filtering through the threads of a woolen ski mask.
Despite the fact that I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, deep snows weren’t nearly frequent enough. We were ready to romp and sled every day, even if it meant missing so much school that we’d have to repeat 4th grade. The wait must be real torture for kids growing up on the Carolina coast. Like a broken Pez dispenser, a local kid could spend years craning his neck and looking up into the snowless expanse of the heavens.A few years ago, we got several inches of snow and I had the sweet pleasure of playing in the powder with my young son. Beyond the snowball fights and the harmless, one-second sledding runs down the drainage easement in front of our house, the highlight was eating snow cream. For those of you unfamiliar with snow cream, it is made with scoops of fresh snow, sugar, evaporated milk, vanilla extract, and food coloring. Somewhere between a poor man’s slushy and a hillbilly’s milkshake, I admit the texture is a little off. But with snow as its primary ingredient—snow you just scooped from your patio furniture and dropped into a mixing bowl—you hardly notice its curious makeup. The fact that you can make an entire batch radioactive green with only a few drops of food coloring transforms a neat recipe into a full-blown science project.
Foster was just three years old at the time and likely has no clear memory of eating the snow cream. At best he may possess grainy, mental snapshots from the vantage point of his high chair, looking down onto his tray and seeing the swirls of food coloring that ended up there, the melting rivulets of dyed snow all mixed together like the palette of a colorblind painter. Whether he remembers or not is of no consequence. Even if your kids are too young to remember the activity, by the time their memories are fully operational the hope is that the activity will be a recurring tradition. And every parent knows that having kids gives you an opportunity to relive the best parts of your own childhood.
So you stay ready—you can’t let those chances to time travel pass you by. We stay stocked for snow cream and have two cans of evaporated milk in the cupboard reserved for that sole purpose. Those two cans sit in our cupboard year after year and have probably long since spoiled. Maybe if you opened one and turned it upside down, out would plop a cylindrical blob of mold. Those cans reside beside the beans and the soups that get consumed and replaced, but the cans of evaporated milk remain untouched. Every winter.
Even if this season passes without a chance to make snow cream, those cans of milk in the cupboard will remind me to stay patient and ready. And when my son stands out in the yard and looks up into the sky waiting for something monumental to happen, he won’t seem so pitiful. The payoffs are tremendous but the lulls can be just as meaningful.
Here’s a song for everyone that’s poured their heart out on Facebook and had their post completely ignored.
The Ballad of the Unliked Post
When I show up on your wall
you don’t stop to skim at all
you scroll me right away
And don’t consider what I say
I get skipped when I get deep
Or my length puts you to sleep
Or the bias in my lead
Makes you disinclined to read
I’m the pathetic unliked post
I’m the post ignored the most
As invisible as can be
Nothing’s as sorry as me.
I’m here and then I’m gone
Hey, is this mic on?
Has more impact I would think
Perhaps I shouldn’t care
There’s a lot to see out there
And how can I compete
With all the genius posts you meet
The recipes you share
The invites to the fair
The sentimental sayings
The dumbass games you’re playing
Every type of quiz
A million snot nosed kids
I can’t compare
With the magic everywhere
I’m the pathetic unliked post
The post ignored the most
As invisible as can be
Nothing’s as sorry as me.
Sometimes we stand at the edge and yell at nothing. If no one is there to hear it, does it really matter?
The man kneels in the sand in the bright orange jumpsuit. The executioner stands above him, clad in black in a sickening contrast. His face is invisible but you can sense a menacing snarl. The blade looks incapable of performing the gruesome task at hand.
Most news outlets only show the still image because airing the whole clip would be indecent and needlessly hurtful to the family of the man in the orange jumpsuit. Once the act is done and ISIS sends out the segment to the world, we read about the man in the orange jumpsuit. Who he was, why he was there, who he was trying to help before he was captured, what his poor family did to try to secure his release–all of the details about the death of this pawn in a game no one wins.
Meanwhile, they threaten the next man. The new guy in his bright orange jumpsuit. He is braver than I would be. We learn his name, we hear his story, we meet his family, we hear their desperate pleas.
We reorder our concerns and find the right place for this new trouble and insert it into the list. It ends up below commute traffic and grocery shopping and we feel depressed and removed from all that should matter.
We are universally appalled. Sickened, saddened. Enraged and confused. We care, we really do. But we are impotent. Impotent and forgetful. Impotent, forgetful, and busy. We care, we really do, but not for very long. We move on to the next story. The next horror. The next diversion. We close our laptops and re-engage our families and are overcome all over again by our own full schedules and short attention spans.
We revisit the story long enough to comment on a message board or like a Facebook post, and then back out again. We shut the door to that dark place and go to brighter rooms of the house. Then we get busy and forget.
Meanwhile, the men are out there in their orange jumpsuits. They sit on death row and wait. What are they waiting on? I bet every scenario plays in their heads for every moment of every day. And the men in the black jumpsuits wait, too. The rest of us flit around and knock back worries as they surface, like an endless carnival game.
“Johnson has outdone himself here. Not only are the production values low, but the jokes are stale and the delivery is poor. Let’s hope he stops with Set #1.” Bill Hicks
Last fall I wrote an article for the StarNews about what to do if charged by an aggressive dog. I had been confronted by a snarling canine during a neighborhood jog and wanted to find out the proper response. After interviewing an expert and arming myself with arcane information, statistics, and regional trends about dog bites, I felt prepared in case the scary dog ever approached me again.
Well, a few months later the same dog charged me. This time I was ready and this time I was bitten.
When I came around the bend of our residential circle, I was listening to a comedy podcast on my mp3 player, simply lost in a scene and giggling to myself. Then the atmosphere shifted. I saw the big black dog bolting from his yard. I had several seconds to retrieve the information from its mental folder–the one labeled What the Dog Expert Said–and immediately stopped running, averted eye contact, put my arms down by my sides, and tried to emit a non-threatening vibe, like I was supposed to do.
The dog ran right up to me and chomped onto my upper left thigh, leaving a deep puncture wound. The plan switched from “I Come in Peace” to “Get This Beast Away From Me.” As he leaped and snarled and made repeated lunges towards me, I swatted at his muzzle and did all I could to keep his mouth away from my body. It was like slap boxing for my life.
At some point in the melee, the dog scratched my back and triceps and I fell backwards into the grass by the road. (Reminder: this happened on my residential circle–maybe 100 yards from where my serene family was having breakfast and had no idea Daddy was in a dogfight.) When I landed on my back, I knew I was in trouble and my priority then was to keep the dog from my face and neck.
Luckily, a kid that lived in the house had heard the menacing barks and human curses and came to my rescue. He called the dog off and I clambered back to my feet. I was relieved to find all of my fingers and no serious damage besides the tooth hole in my thigh and the raking scratch across the back of my arm.
In defense of the expert I had interviewed previously, she did note that there is no 100 percent guaranteed effective response. Even if you stop running, show submission, or quickly grill the dog a bratwurst, it may bite you anyways. When that happens, your main goal is to mitigate the damage.
What surprised me the most during my encounter was my complete lack of what some call “the killer instinct.” I could have assumed dominance and punted the dog in the face or ribs, anything. Yet even as it growled and jumped, I knew I didn’t want to hurt it. More than anything, I wasn’t sure what to do. All I could do was stay on the defensive and see what would happen next. Fight or flight. According to adage, those are the two options. I think we should add flounder to the drop-down list.
As it turns out, I flounder in tense moments when unexpected danger comes into play. The dog attack brought back a shameful memory.
My brother and I were latchkey kids in the early 80s. At the time, our mom was a probation officer and she had a few wackos assigned to her. Beyond the fact that there was some partially-justified paranoia about convicts coming to our house to dismember us, we were also devotees of classic horror movies from that era so any isolated moment had the potential to end in a bloody death at the hands of a masked lunatic. I thought about that all the time and the Iron Maiden posters on my bedroom wall provided little comfort.
One day I came home from school by myself. I was maybe in the 5th grade. My brother had some sort of an appointment so I was on my own to open the back door, come inside, veg, and snack. Of course, I had the long walk down my street to get good and scared. When the bus dropped me off, I scanned the woods for movement. I watched for old suspicious cars to slowly turn down our street. I felt murderous eyes upon me with every step and I wanted to sprint the last 50 yards to our house.
I let myself into the back door that opened to our laundry room, and shut it behind me. I had made it! Moments later I heard thundering footsteps coming down the stairs. Someone was inside the supposedly empty house and tearing down the stairs like he was in a race. I had a few precious seconds to get a weapon or run from the house–instead I slid down the wall, sobbing, and with pitiful resignation awaited my executioner.
My brother opened the door to the laundry room and gaped at me heaped in the corner, eyes closed, heaving melodramatically. He was back from his appointment early. He may’ve said, “What’s the matter?” And I may’ve answered, “I thought you were someone else.” That’s the best my memory can produce as far as a transcript. But it did become an immediate joke, one that has endured for over thirty years. It was also an early look inside to see what I’m made of, and it turns out that I’m a cream-filled donut.
The encounter with the dog brought all that back. Even though the incidents are separated by decades, this floundering in the face of peril is part of a larger pattern. No matter the preparation and in spite of close-at-hand rationality, you never know how you will react in those situations.
Be prepared but realize that the tables can turn in an instant and you may be forced to think defensively. In fact, if your luck is anything like mine the pain and injustice may continue long after the bite. The defensive stance may need to be held for weeks after the incident as you square off with the owners of the dog that bit you. You may still need to brace for questionable enforcement of county laws and watch how protocol gets trumped by local political connections. You may still need to hobble into the clinic to get treatment for your infected thigh hole. And when it’s all over, you may still need to jog by that same house–still unfenced with the same biting dog somewhere inside–armed with mace like a debutante at her first frat party.
All bets are off. Be ready to react whether you’re facing hostility, ineptitude, local corruption, or your own inner wuss. It will only help your stamina.