28 July 2011

Strategic Eating

The downside to a liberal arts education is that while you get to study a little of everything, you really don’t become fully knowledgeable about any of the subjects you study outside of your own major. In my three years of college, I’ve taken classes in Psychology, Statistics, Philosophy, History, Theology, Rhetoric, Literature, Modern Dance, Business, and Classical Mythology; after just one class in each subject, I am no expert in any of those fields. I would not feel qualified to write on those subjects, unless of course I was forced to for the purpose of getting an A from a professor. There is one subject area, however, which I do consider myself to be an expert in: The Strategy of Food Consumption.
                You may be surprised to hear this, but I did not learn how to strategically consume the tastiest foods before others could while pursuing my bachelor’s degree. Rather, I learned the ins and outs of these techniques while growing up in a family that included seven children with very healthy appetites and one mother who detested grocery shopping. Last summer it was very common that my family would literally run out of food on the dinner table before everyone had eaten as much as they wanted. This was largely due to the fact that our largest cooking pans were not quite big enough to make enough food to feed the voracious appetites of our large family. I’m pretty sure that my siblings now appreciate the greater quantity of food available since I have been out of the house.
                Some foods don’t require strategy. For example, it always seems like there are plenty of mashed potatoes to go around. And, while I like pancakes, there’s nothing special about them that would cause me to go to great lengths to secure enough pancakes to meet the desires of my appetite. However, other foods are so delicious that no matter how much is made, purchased, or ordered, the supply simply cannot keep up with the demand. In my family, the foods worth fighting over included fried chicken, pizza, Cloud 9 candy bars, cookies, apple crisp, breakfast casserole, and naan bread, among others. As the oldest of seven children, I was in a prime position to develop many strategies to make sure that I got as much of the highly desirable foods as I wanted. As a disclaimer, I make no pretense that these strategies are in pursuit of an honorable goal. You have to decide for yourself whether you want to be an unselfish person or one who is well fed with delectable treats. Whatever you choose will be the right choice for you, I am sure. If you do go the well-fed route, make sure you don’t try any of these strategies on me—I’m on to you!
Here are some of my top food strategies:
1.       Volunteer to make dinner—My brother Isaac is past master of this particular strategy. You see, the great privilege of cooks is the freedom to taste-test the food that they cook. If only ¾ of the fried chicken actually makes it to the dinner table, who will know? The next best thing is to be the cook’s helper or buddy and get the goodies that way.
2.       Play hide and seek—The same characteristic of refrigerators which leads to gooey, moldy tomatoes and unidentified substances in Tupperware containers is the characteristic which leads us to this strategy: Hide your goodies in the refrigerator! No one will think to look for the container of leftover apple pie under all the vegetables in the veggie drawer! Slip a couple candy bars behind the ice cube trays in the freezer for a treat that no one else will steal away from you.
3.       Get an alarm clock—There aren’t often much leftovers in my family, but on occasion there are some good ones! When there’s just two slices of pizza remaining, and nine people in your family, there isn’t much chance that there will be any pizza left by the usual time you get up. So, you set your alarm for 5:00 am, steal downstairs in your strangely quiet house to eat the leftover pizza breakfast, and then, if you have nothing better to do, go back to bed and let your family wake up to a lack of pizza.
4.       Eat alone—If you eat a snack while other people are around, it is more than likely that you will have to share your food with them. Hungry people around you such as siblings can really demolish the snack you made for yourself. During my teen years, I went through various phases in which I was addicted to eating egg salad sandwiches, popcorn, and omelettes. I would make myself these dishes at any and all times of the day—but I cared so much for my siblings that I didn’t want them to experience the terrible addiction that comes from getting hooked on those foods, so I learned to eat alone, in locations where they wouldn’t see me eating and want to get a taste. Learn to successfully sneak a large bowl of popcorn into your room by hiding it between your body and a chemistry textbook, and you are well on your way to becoming a master of food strategy.
5.       Choose your seat carefully—This strategy works best when your family dinner is served from dishes on the table, rather than from the stove or countertop. Steer your family members who don’t know any better to the seats closest to the salad bowl, while you stealthily reserve a seat for yourself directly in front of the garlic bread. The advantage of sitting next to your favorite dish is that you will be able to serve yourself many helpings of that dish without making it obvious to the rest of the table. I mean, if you’re constantly saying, “Could you pass me another piece of garlic bread?” everyone is going to know that you’re hogging the garlic bread and will ban you from further helpings, which is a very unpleasant experience.

I hope that you may find these tips helpful as you delve into the realm of strategic eating. Enjoy!
22 July 2011

A Complaint

            During the recent great heat wave of America, I was forcibly reminded of another topic that I feel very strongly about: complaining. When I was growing up, when a family member complained, it was very common to remind them of the ancient Israelites in order to discourage them from further complaints. Now, I may be wrong, but I think this is a somewhat unusual response to complaining.
Just picture it: A small child complains, “I’m thirsty” or “It’s too hot” or “My schoolwork is too hard” in the whiny voice that children have been perfecting for centuries. An older sibling lovingly replies, “Hey, do you remember what happened to the Israelites when they complained?”
Perhaps this is not the kindest way to respond to complaining. And, I must admit, that this response is not a magic cure to stop the complaining. Sometimes the complainer simply doesn’t care what happened to the ancient Israelites and keeps on voicing their complaint, louder and with increasing frequency. So, while this simple reminder does not automatically convince children that complaining is a bad idea, I do think that we Christians should daily remind ourselves of what God thinks about complaining.
Let’s just take a quick look at what did happen to the Israelites when they complained. In Numbers 16, all of the sons of Israel began complaining about Moses, and were turning against their God-appointed leader, when, first thing you know, 14,700 Israelites died by a plague before Aaron was able to offer atonement for them. In Numbers 21, once again, the Israelites begin complaining, this time about the lack of food and water. Seems a reasonable thing to complain about, right? I mean, I can imagine that I also would feel like complaining if my refrigerator was empty. But apparently, God did not think they had any right to complain. This time, He sent poisonous snakes to the people of Israel, and many died from snake-bites. Now that’s a story that could frighten a person into not complaining. But more importantly, I think that story is a good reminder of what God’s attitude toward complaining is; He doesn’t like it.
In spite of their severe punishments, Israel never seemed to get it that God was not keen on their complaining. We can hardly judge them, however, because Christians have often not done a good job of recognizing the act of complaining as something that is offensive to God. I’m not saying that there is no place for complaining in the life of a child of God. David himself does quite a bit of “complaining” in the Psalms—but in that context, he is seeking God’s help and provision in times of trouble. This is quite a bit different from “This food is gross!” “My boss is so annoying!” or “I’m so tired of all this rain!” Yes, we can pray to our Father about bad work situations, and pray for good weather, but it is my belief that we ought not to be consistently talking about all the bad things that go on in life and complaining about them to others. When a child of God complains, he is basically saying that God has not done a good enough job of providing for him. A complainer is not giving God the glory that He deserves.
The biblical basis for a no-complaint lifestyle goes beyond just scary stories in the Old Testament. Paul says in Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” That word always in the verse seems to make it clear that Paul isn’t saying that you ought to rejoice in the Lord most of the time, except when you feel hungry, sick, lonely, or annoyed. Paul is also the one who talks about being content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11). It doesn’t help the cause of complainers that Paul did know what it was like to live in bad circumstances—I can imagine most of us would feel like complaining rather than rejoicing if we were sent to jail or whipped as he was.
                The trouble with complaining is that it’s so easy.  There are endless topics to complain about--you can complain about your work, your kids, your spouse, your friends, your food—you can even complain about complaining (which may be what I’m doing right now). In addition, with all of the technology and social media we have access to, it’s even easier to complain! We aren’t limited to complaining to the people we actually hang out with. We can pick up our cell phones and call or text our complaints to sympathetic friends. We can email our complaints to far away family members. We can let hundreds of people knows our complaints at once by complaining on our Facebook statuses. We can even complain on blogs, for the whole World Wide Web to see. Yes, it’s nice to have some sympathy from friends when your boss is being a jerk—but I believe we should be more aware of how God looks at our complaining.
Well, I will stop complaining about complaining right here. After all, I know what happened to the Israelites when they complained, and it doesn’t sound pleasant.
19 July 2011

In Defense of People who Dislike Pets

I distinctly remember the moment when I knew that Angel was the perfect man. That’s a little odd, because I only vaguely remember our wedding day, and I can’t recall what he said when he asked me for our first kiss. However, the time when I knew that Angel was the one for me was the precise moment when I learned that he was allergic to cats and dogs.
                Before I knew that fact, I had liked Angel, of course. I found him attractive and interesting. He had that rare trait of being willing to listen to my long and passionate tirades on random subjects, which was definitely a plus. Still, it wasn’t until I found out that he was allergic to cats and dogs that I knew that I wanted to marry him. I can prove it, too. Analytical person that I am, when Angel and I first began courting, as I got to know him, I wrote a list of all the reasons why he might make a good husband. I think  the purpose of the list was so that I could take a logical, reasonable look at all the facts I knew about Angel and from that decide whether I ought to say “Yes” when he proposed marriage (yeah, romance was really non-existent during the early part of our relationship). I still have the list, and on there, along with all the other characteristics I appreciate about him, is the fact that he is allergic to the typical household pets.
                I can imagine that to many people, that doesn’t sound like a sure-fire sign of a good marriage partner. However, I was thrilled to learn that Angel is allergic to cats and dogs because of how much I dislike animals. It’s not that I’m scared of animals or that I hate them. It’s more of a civil aversion to furry critters. In fact, I enjoy a trip to the zoo or a horseback ride as much as most people. I don’t mind at all if other people have pets. I simply don’t enjoy petting animals, and would definitely never want to own an indoor pet. Honestly, I don’t really understand pet lovers, who put so much time, effort, and expense into owning their pets and keeping them well fed and healthy. Let me affirm, though, that I have nothing against people who own pets. In fact, most of my favorite people either own pets or love animals. Angel actually really enjoys playing with cats and dogs, which I why I am so glad that he is allergic to them. His allergy is what gives me confidence he won’t try to coerce me into having indoor pets—after all, I always have the excuse that it’s better for his health if we have no animals indoors. I’m really just thinking about him.
                It is quite well known among my family and friends that I am no pet lover. The dogs that belong to my relatives don’t always understand that. One of those dogs was following me around a living room, trying to sit next to me or put his head in my lap wherever I went. One of his young owners, my cousin, yelled at him, “Can’t you tell that Rachel doesn’t like you?” My cousins laughed at me when I refused to pet their new hamster, even when they promised me it wouldn’t bite. They were probably telling the truth, I just preferred not to test their word.
                I really don’t know why I dislike animals, particularly house pets. It’s not that my family never had any pets growing up. Over the years we had countless outdoor cats, who I always got along with; two evil hamsters with a mission to destroy everything they came into contact with; dozens of harmless fish, usually named after movie characters; and a runt of a dog that slept all day. No one in my family liked the hamsters, and very few liked the dog. But I don’t think there are any deep, dark experiences in my past which can explain my disdain for furry housemates.
                I do think, however, that people who dislike animals are unfairly discriminated against in popular culture. Haven’t you noticed that in movies, it’s always an early sign that a character is the bad guy if he or she dislikes cute little animals? Cruella DeVille, anyone? I want everyone to know the truth—a lack of affection for furry creatures is not a sure-fire sign of an evil person. Just look at me. I may dislike animals, but while I am mischievous and have a bit of a temper, let me assure you that I am certainly not qualified to play a bad guy in a Disney movie! Again, in a movie, you can always tell that a couple are going to end up together by the end of the show when the woman finds “love at first sight” with the man’s dog. It's always the "bad girlfriend" who doesn't get along with the dog. I can tell you from experience, an animal lover and one who is not so fond of animals can enjoy a very happy marriage—especially when the animal lover happens to be allergic to the animals he enjoys so much.
                In fact, these days, I actually am a pet owner. In spite of his allergies, Angel truly enjoys playing with animals, and today, we have a cat who lives outside, and roams the countryside at will. Angel feeds her semi-regularly, sometimes with cat food, and sometimes with leftovers that we decide aren’t worth putting away. He still hasn’t been able to train her to eat baked beans, though he has tried several times. I never feed her, nor play with her, but she doesn’t seem to feel any loss. This is exactly my idea of pet ownership.
10 July 2011

Cockroach Encounters of the Worst Kind

To put it gently, I am not fond of cockroaches. In some of the places I have lived, however, I learned to accept an occasional cockroach as a part of life. There are times when no amount of cleaning or orderliness seems to deter the evil beings from attempting to share your home. In the past, I’ve almost become accustomed to their presence in long-untouched cupboards and dark recesses, but I have never learned to like them.
I’ll never forget the time when I was carrying the cardboard box which contained my mom’s glass punch bowl and the set of twenty cups that went with it. As I carried the box across the outdoor kitchen, I looked down into it, and saw two large cockroaches scurrying around inside. I did not stop to think, because my reflex reaction to that unnerving sight was to throw the box of glassware as far as I could. I flung the box away with a scream, and my family came rushing to where I was. Isaac killed the cockroaches, and Mom reprimanded me for the unwise action of tossing a box full of glass items. Amazingly, there were no casualties as a result of incident (other than the two cockroaches, I mean)! The glass had been packed well enough that not a single piece of the set broke.
Probably my most sinister encounter with a cockroach occurred while I was ironing clothes. I was happily standing in our outside kitchen and ironing one of my dad’s shirts while chatting with my brother and sister when suddenly I became aware of two beady little eyes staring at me from the edge of my ironing board. The cockroach insolently climbed to the top of my ironing board and began walking around on the pile of clothes. I screamed, and jumped on top of the nearby chest freezer. Lizzy backed quickly into the house, slammed the screen door, and locked it with a sturdy padlock. I assume she wanted to make sure that the cockroach couldn’t enter the house unless it had a key. Isaac and I were left outside to deal with the cockroach. While I was screaming for Isaac to kill it, and he was screaming back at me “Get me the broom to kill it with!!” I threw him the broom from my perch on the freezer and he whacked the cockroach off my ironing board. He then proceeded to continue to whack the cockroach with the broom while it attempted to run away. When the cockroach finally stopped moving and he had disposed of it, I got back off the freezer, went back to ironing, and called inside to tell Lizzy that it was safe to unlock the door.
I can still vividly picture the many times when I would open up a cupboard door in the morning in order to get something for breakfast, only to find a giant cockroach staring at me indignantly, as if I had intruded on private property. Usually, when that occurred, I would quietly close the cupboard door, and limit my breakfast to whatever food was in the refrigerator.
One of our only truly long-term cockroach residents was the one who lived in the overflow hole of our bathroom sink for many months. It was rather unnerving to see his antennae waving around inside the overflow hole as you bent over the sink to brush your teeth. We tried to drown him out a few time by pouring cups of water into the overflow hole, but it didn’t work, he was always there the next day. Finally, we didn’t see the cockroach inside the sink anymore. We figured he must have died or moved to a more comfortable home, and the brushing of teeth was now a much more pleasurable experience. However, after more than a year of enjoying the cockroach-free bathroom sink, we noticed that once again there was a pair of antennae waving back and forth inside the overflow hole. One day someone saw the cockroach scurry past the hole again. Yet another one of these foul creatures had discovered the cockroach-friendly home inside our sink.
My siblings could tell spine-tingling stories of cockroaches that have run over their feet, and I’ll never forget the time one crawled up the handle of the broom I was using to sweep the floor. I imagine that among the nine members of my family, we have enough tales of cockroach encounters to fill a book, or else that we could spend an entire evening regaling guests with cockroach stories (to the extreme discomfiture of our guests). But I really don’t think that the little vermin deserve that much publicity, so they’ll just have to be content with this short article.
09 July 2011

How Not to Wake Up Your Husband

Just to warn those who prefer peaceful scenes, this story includes a bloodcurdling shriek followed by a series of ominous footsteps.
I had woken up early and begun work on the porch that I was in the process of painting bright green. I knew Angel would be sleeping a few more hours, and it was my intention to have a completely painted porch to show him when he woke up. I had completed all of the edging the day before, so I was able to begin rolling right away. I set up my computer in the porch so that I could listen to the online radio while I worked. I knew that the sound of the radio wouldn’t travel as far as our bedroom at the back of the house, so I had no worries that the music would disturb Angel’s sleep.
Those who have painted know that rolling is the fast part of the job. I was already halfway done with the room when I turned around to re-coat my roller with paint, and was confronted with a spider hanging by a thread directly in front of my face. Now, this was no ordinary spider, of which I had encountered many during the course of my porch project. This spider was larger than any I’d seen outside of a zoo or movie. Its spindly legs were nearly as long as my pinky finger, and it was dangling mere inches away from my face. I followed the only logical course of action that occurred to me at the moment: I screamed and made a mad dash to the laundry room, where I knew I would be safe.
 I had no sooner made it to the shelter of the laundry room when I heard running footsteps approaching the porch. Oh no! I had woken Angel up. I met him at the door of the porch with heartfelt apologies, nervous that he would be angry when he heard that all the commotion was due to a spider. He told me later that, in the time it took him to jump out of bed and run to the porch, he had already decided that my scream meant that I had fallen (once more) from the chair I had been standing on for my painting project. He had also determined that he would ban me from all future painting projects for the rest of my life, because of my lack of attention to safety. My Angel still barely had his eyes open as he gallantly agreed that the spider was exceptionally large and killed it for me. He then decided that he might as well get in on the painting too, and assisted me in finishing the room. What a good husband I have! Still, I think that in the future I ought to keep my screams to a low volume during the wee hours of the morning.

The Spider and the Windshield

This piece is dedicated to the especial abundance of spiders that have been plaguing my life this summer.
           I had just got on the road after a long evening at work, and I turned the radio on as I headed down the familiar streets. Suddenly, a movement caught my eye. There, now I saw it. There was a spider on my windshield! And not a very friendly looking one either. Keeping one eye on the road, I leaned up closer to see if I could tell if it was on the inside or the outside of the window. If it was on the outside, I wouldn’t mind…but, it was on the inside. Zao gao! Now that I had seen this spider, I couldn’t get my attention off it. It scurried this way and that across the glass. I was still trying my best to pay attention to the road, but I was also glancing around my front seat to see if there were any Kleenexes or something I could kill the spider with if I came to a red light. But there were none, and I wasn’t about to kill that monster with my bare hands. So it continued on its merry way, round and round my view of the street. I began to cringe whenever it would step off the windshield and come creeping over closer to me. I didn’t particularly want to get to know this creature any better, especially since I was planning to kill it as soon as I reached home. I’ve always strongly believed that it’s best not to develop relationships that are inevitably going to fail.
If only the trip home wasn’t so long! I began to believe that this spider was making its loops around the windshield on purpose, simply to infuriate me. In fact, it probably had an even more nefarious plan in mind. This spider knew that he was distracting me from the road with his antics. In fact, it is likely that his whole intention was to distract me from traffic so that I would run a red light and get in a terrible crash. I would never have believed before that spiders were capable of murder plots with such a level of cleverness, but this one was. I named the spider “Nevermore,” after Poe’s ever-so-irritating raven. I said to him, “Just you wait, till we get home, mister.” There was my mistake. I had assumed that he couldn’t understand English, but I had once again underestimated the intellectual capabilities of a spider. He kept up his infuriating loop-de-loops around my field of vision until I pulled into my driveway and pulled out the key. Then, in an instant, he was out of sight. I sighed, knowing I would never be able to find him by a search of the car, and went into the house. The battle of Nevermore would have to be concluded on another day. And I would put a box of Kleenex in the car so that I could be prepared. That spider would always remember this as the day he almost conquered Rachel, but he would remember tomorrow even more clearly as the day that Rachel conquered him.
01 July 2011

On Eavesdropping

I have a confession to make; I eavesdrop.
No, not the kind of eavesdropping where you press your ear up against closed doors or quietly sneak up behind someone who’s on the phone. Though I am an eavesdropper, I am a conscientious one, and I have standards for my eavesdropping: I only ever eavesdrop on total strangers whose conversations are loud enough for me to hear, and only for the noble purpose of amusing myself.
My family lives in a house that has a near-perfect design for prospective eavesdroppers. Its small size is combined with walls which seem constructed for the express purpose of allowing sound to pass through them. In short, with little difficulty, from anywhere in the house, you can hear nearly anything that is said in another room. My siblings have learned this fact, and have acted upon it by staging “private” conversations between two siblings about another sibling who they assume will be listening intently. These conversations are usually about such sensitive subjects as Christmas and birthday presents, and the statements made during these conversations are calculated to cause an emotional response in the sibling who “accidentally” overhears the discussion. For example:
“Isaac, tell me, tell me, what did you get MaryGrace for her birthday?”
“I didn’t get her anything! I’m not going to waste my money on buying presents for her!”
*tears on the part of MaryGrace*
Alternately, the conversation could go like this:
“Lizzy, what are you planning to get Isaac for Christmas?”
“Oh, I already got it for him. I asked Rachel to go online and order Smallville, Season 10. Wasn’t that a great idea?”
“Oh yeah, he’s going to love that!”
*glee on the part of Isaac, until Christmas day, when he realizes that Lizzy wasn’t telling the truth, and actually bought him a t-shirt*
As a disclaimer, to my knowledge, neither of the above two conversations has actually happened, yet. Similar conversations have happened, and the above two conversations are my fictional attempts to represent how we have exploited the eavesdropper-friendly design of our home.
However easy it is, I recommend that you never attempt to eavesdrop on conversations about you and what kind of presents your family is going to give you. There are two very good reasons not to perform this type of eavesdropping. One, unknown to you, those you intend to listen in on may be aware of your presence, and may even stage a conversation giving false information, like the conversations imagined above. Two, if you actually do succeed in getting real information, you then have to deal with the fact that faking surprise in a realistic manner on Christmas day is much harder than you might think. Perhaps you don’t believe me, but do you really want to risk disappointing Grandma?
Yes, I truly am against all practice of deliberate eavesdropping on friends and family who are trying to keep their conversations private. On the other hand, I believe it completely permissible to eavesdrop on the conversations of perfect strangers whose conversations are so loud that if you want to, you can easily distinguish fragments of conversation as they pass by you in the mall. This, I do often, and consider it a great exercise for the imagination. The game I usually play is to create a background story and a meaning to the scraps of conversation that I pick up all around me. For example, I might hear the following:
“Did you hear about Billy?”
“Yes! I couldn’t believe it at first, could you?”
Now, what can my mind do with that? The first story that pops into my head is that Billy is their mutual cousin’s dog, who was recently cast as the lead role in an upcoming Disney film. That really is exciting news! Or perhaps, Billy is a friend from college, who neither has seen in 12 years, but who recently got major plastic surgery. As you can see, there are all sorts of possible ways of interpreting that conversation fragment. The other activity that I occasionally enjoy while I eavesdrop is silently correcting the grammar of the sentences I overhear, or if they are grammatically correct, but not quite effective enough for my taste, I edit them, taking out certain words and replacing them with other vocabulary more pleasing to my ears. I do not recommend ever editing what others say out loud or to their face, as it is very rude to correct other people’s grammar when you have not been asked to, and you will not make many friends that way. Still, if you correct grammar and edit sentences silently, in your imagination, it becomes a harmless, non-offensive activity which is actually amusing for someone as fascinated by language as myself.
                I do know that eavesdropping is generally not considered a polite thing to do. Still, that hasn’t stopped me from persisting in my own particular brand of eavesdropping. I rationalize this activity to myself by claiming that I may get an idea for a story from a conversation fragment that I overhear. This argument is all the more forceful because I actually have written stories that were inspired by a sentence or two that I just happened to overhear.