"Someday's gonna be a busy day..."

Friday, 26 October 2012

Marital Battle #1,246

Is it just me, or does anyone else out there wage tiny wars with their spouses, significant others, roommates or whoever else you share your living space with? You know, the kind of battles that involve sheer cussedness and a lot of curses muttered under one's breath where no one really wins?

For the most part, my husband is an easy-going guy. He doesn't get worked up about things like rude grocery clerks or gas prices or characters on Homeland betraying each other. But when it comes to waging household war on me, he becomes this passive-aggressive soldier of admirable skill.

D is a great living companion in that he unhesitatingly cleans toilets, takes out the trash, and changes diapers. He never complains about any of these tasks and pretty much does them without being asked. Which is cool. What is not cool is the way he washes dishes. Because he always leaves one "to soak."

This is his way of punishing me for cooking in what he sees as an inefficient or "too fancy" way. He loves my cooking, and is thankful that I do the bulk of it around here, but when it comes to cleaning muffin pans, or scraping salmon skin off a baking sheet, he suddenly goes all rebellious on me and leaves that one nasty pan "to soak." Which means it sits there in its own greasy filth until the next day, when I attempt to do something in the sink and have to deal with said soaker myself.

Yes, I could put muffin batter in paper muffin cups, but I think they're a waste of paper. Yes, I could cook salmon on tin foil or parchment paper, but I often forget and the oil always leaks through anyway. That is not the point. The point is that my husband, dear man though he is, keeps leaving these soakers and I keep washing them.

So a few days ago, I decided to do a little rebelling of my own. I roasted a chicken the Jamie Oliver way, stuffing the space between the skin and breast meat with butter and sage, and slathering the entire bird with more butter and herbs. This made a rich, sinful butter gravy for the brussels sprouts to cook in, but it also made a helluva mess in my roasting pan, especially when the bottom skin of the chicken stuck to the pan after I lifted it out.

"I'll do all these dishes," announced D after we put the kids to bed and I was exhaustedly moping around the kitchen. "You go sit down."

"God bless you," I muttered and stumbled into the living room to flop down on the couch and read a magazine. Sometimes my husband knew just what to do and say.

The next morning, I found the kitchen in a state of shiny wonder. Except for the roasting pan hiding in the sink, full of disgusting water, chicken grease and two of my best bamboo serving spoons. Sir Soaks-a-lot had struck again.

That's IT, I thought. If buddy thinks he can get away with this, he is so WRONG. So I took the gross pan out of the sink, set it on the counter, and went about my business. I let the pan sit there all day, and after supper that night, I looked casually at my husband to see if he would mention anything. He didn't. So I said nothing as well. I put most of the dishes away in the dishwasher, washed the remaining ones and left the room. Would he take the bait?


Next morning, greasy chicken pan stared at me balefully from its place on the counter.

"Dude, SERIOUSLY?" I yelled to no one, since D and the kids were gone. I emptied all the water out of the pan, because the thought of chicken grease mould was even more disgusting to me than chicken grease water. Then I set it back on the counter. That's right, my friends. I put it back. Two could play this game. But only one could win.

Last night, I filled the dishwasher while D put the kids to bed. I looked at greasy chicken pan. It was starting to smell a bit funky. The chicken skin was beginning to curl up around the edges. But was I going to wash it?

No. Freaking. Way.

It's still sitting on my counter as I type this. I swear it's whispering to me in a chicken-ish voice, trying to coax me in there to give it "just a rinse or something." But I have vowed that there is no way in hell I am going to wash that stupid thing. Mr. Soaks-a-lot is going to be taught a lesson even if it kills us both from mould poisoning.

Do I love my husband? Yes. Is this a pointless, childish game we're playing after six years of marriage? Yes. Am I going to win?

You bet your greasy chicken pan booty I am.

This is what I came home to last night after a lovely evening out with the girls:

And this is what I woke up to this morning after cooking some beef simmered with tomatoes and wine:

I think I won the battle. But I might be losing the war.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Potbelly Blues

"Oooh, are you in a family way?" asked the petite Filipino clerk at Bulk Barn as she scooped my giant sack of almonds into a bag. She was looking not at my almonds, but at my pot belly, which was resting up against the counter.

"Um, no," I said, "This is just...fat."


The clerk flushed and stammered an apology. I told her it was okay. But really, it wasn't. I could tell she wanted to disappear into the depths of whatever dimension should swallow people whose feet are firmly lodged in their mouths, so I manufactured a smile and told her I had two small children close together and I just couldn't seem to get rid of my belly and geez, I guess I was going to have to stop eating so many almonds. Then I left the store and went to my car and cried.

If this makes me sound like a vain, phoney person, well, whatever. Social convention and years of being told to "be nice" governed my actions in the above situation. Plus I'm not the type to make a scene in public, and really, it was just a thoughtless comment. The clerk is usually kind to me and my kids when we come in. She didn't say what she said to be hurtful. And my pot-belly apparently sticks out enough to be mistaken for my being in "a family way." Although I'm guessing that she won't be asking any other female customers that same question anytime soon. So at least my potbelly has served a useful purpose. (You're welcome, other pot-bellied female patrons of Bulk Barn.)

Usually, I'm not overly concerned with my physical appearance. I think that's because a) I've been blessed with great genes that have allowed me to be thin for most of my life, and b) I don't often give a crap what other people think of my clothes, my hair or my body. Then again, strangers don't usually make comments about my appearance, so not giving a crap hasn't been all that challenging. Until lately.

I really don't know where the damned thing came from. I spent most of last year looking gaunt and skeletal with a concave stomach thanks to the c-difficile, so this whole jiggly gut syndrome has thrown me for a loop. I swear, I woke up one morning and my pants didn't fit anymore. I could feel my belly wiggle when I went over bumps in the car. Dylan could suddenly poke his entire index finger into my belly-button. Even D squinted at my stomach suspiciously last month and asked me if I had eaten a big lunch that day. What the what?

I have a feeling that indulging in a month of beer and dill-pickle chip therapy after I resigned from my job didn't help. I know that once you hit forty, your body shape changes in ways you never expected, and that after being preggo for four years in a row, with two c-sections, my tummy will never be the smooth, taut little trampoline it once was. I get that. And I'm okay with that. What I'm not okay with is having small children poke my squishy bits and ask if there's a baby in there, or when wine store clerks raise their eyebrows at me and look pointedly at the "Alcohol consumption is dangerous to unborn babies" sign on the wall. Yes, both of those things have happened.

My doctor weighed me when I went to see her about my pot-belly, but made no comment about my weight. And she would not tell me where I was on the BMI index.

"I don't believe in those numbers," she said. "I believe in exercise and eating right and feeling good."

"Oh," I said.

"So," she continued, "how DO you feel?"

"Fat," I said. "My stupid clothes don't fit. People think I look pregnant. It sucks."

My doctor made a "humph" noise, and asked me to get up on the table. She prodded my pot-belly for a few minutes, then told me I could get up.

"So?" I asked.

"Well, Kim, you're at an age where your metabolism is starting to slow down. You had babies late in life, and you had a survived a dangerous infection last year. It's not the number on the scale that concerns me, it's how you're feeling about yourself."

"Oh," I said.

"Start doing things that make you sweat, 30 minutes a day, as many days a week as you can. When you start feeling better about yourself, that's when you know you're on the right track." She paused and looked at my eyes, not my belly. "Think you can you do that?"

I nodded. She was right, and of course I could. I just didn't WANT to. But I had to admit it - I wasn't getting enough exercise. Despite feeling like I'd run a marathon every other day, chasing unruly toddlers didn't count as cardio. And at least my pot-belly wasn't some alien tumour or giant fibroid. It wasn't how much I weighed, it was the message my pot-belly was trying to tell me: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF, GIRL!

D hauled his mother's ancient stationary bike out of her basement and dragged it home for me. My friend's husband lent me some pirated copies of Homeland and Californication, which I now watch as I sweat and curse in the basement, 30 minutes two nights a week. I've snipped several frightening workouts out of fitness magazines and attempt to do them another two nights a week without dropping dead on the living room floor. It's all very amusing in an S&M kind of way. But I think it's working. I can now suck in my pot belly a little bit, which means I'm growing some stomach muscles. And I can stand up straighter and hold my yoga poses on Thursday nights without farting or wanting to murder somebody. Progress!

Still, I hate working out. I hate sweating. And I used to love it so much! I used to go to the gym with darling Ruthie three nights a week after work back when I lived in the city. But that was seven years ago, and a lot has changed since then.

So I'm avoiding sugary stuff, saying nyet to chips and beer during the week, and trying to incorporate more protein and fibre into my diet. Which, since I've never been on a diet before in my life, feels very weird to me. I'm not trying to sound obnoxious, honest. I'm just saying. But pot-belly has spoken, and pot-belly must be banished.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Kimber of the Corn: Part III - The Sellin'

I hoisted up the sweet corn sign (painted on the back of my beloved sunflower sign), resurrected the trusty pink umbrella and filled the cooler with eight dozen cobs of corn. After setting the money jar in its hallowed place, I treated myself to a long shower to remove sweat, grunge and any stray spores. I hosed down Tilly too, and hung her on the clothesline. Looking more like the mistress of Someday and less like an underpaid farm-hand, I poured a tall, cold drink and sat down to pay some bills, hoping to distract myself from spying out the front window. I set a reminder to go out and fill up the cooler (and check the money jar) in a couple of hours.

With sunflowers sales, I didn't meet many customers, but because the corn supply had to be replenished frequently, I came face to face with buyers quite often. On the first day, I realized that selling corn - or anything, for that matter, that you've grown or made yourself - would offer a stern lesson in human nature. The exchange of goods for money means you get to see the good, the bad and the just plain rude up close and personal. And I saw all three within a span of two days.

Like the woman who wrinkled her tanned little nose as she picked through the selection in the cooler and said, "Not very big, are they?" I thought that 23 years of working in customer service centres would have prepared me for scenarios like this. "Don't take it personally," had been the catch-phrase in customer service, which was easy when you were distanced from the products and services you supported. After all, I hadn't personally paid the claim that Joe Customer was screaming about, and I didn't own the phone company that my friends threatened to boycott. I just worked there. 

But complaints about my corn? The corn I'd perspired my way through four weed-and-bug-infested rows to pick? From a woman who looked like she barely knew how to operate a can-opener, let alone shuck a dozen cobs without breaking a nail?

"Well," I said, after a pause during which I considered stabbing her with my pink umbrella, "it was kind of a dry summer."

"Humph," was all she said before she plinked some money into the jar and minced back to her SUV with half-dozen of my "small" cobs in her bag. 

"Never mind her," I whispered to my corny friends as I rearranged them in the cooler. "I think you're just right."

On the second day, I came out to find one of D's uncles filling up a bag. I was tickled to think that one of D’s relatives, flush with agricultural knowledge and experience, would stop to try some of our corn. We chatted about the heat as he filled his bag, but the words stopped coming out of my mouth when D’s uncle casually chucked a cob over his shoulder into the ditch.

“No good,” he said without looking up.

"Oh,“ was all I could manage.

"Some other ones were no good either, so I just chucked ‘em for you.”

"Right," I said, looking at the ditch. “I guess I’m kind of new at this.” 

“That’s okay,” said D’s uncle with a smile as he tossed another reject over his shoulder. “You’ll get the hang of it.” 

I resisted the urge to rescue the cast-offs when he left, and vowed to be more choosy during my next round of picking. 

I'd put a sign out in the morning to indicate "MORE CORN AT 3 p.m." so that customers would know to expect fresh stuff in the afternoon. My hope was to catch all the people coming home from work between 3 and 5 p.m. and entice them with sweet corn for their suppers. 

The sign caught at least one guy’s attention; as I pulled the truck up one afternoon, I saw a car parked at the end of our driveway with a young man leaning against it. It was 2:55 p.m.

As I hopped out of the truck, he called, “Right on time!” and dove into his back seat to retrieve two empty bags.

“You must really like corn,” I said as I filled up the cooler.

“I've actually never done this before,” he said, watching me intently.

I paused. “You’ve never bought sweet corn before?”

He shook his head. “Not from a real farmer.”

I almost swooned with pride. He thought I was a farmer! How cute.

“We live in Thunder Bay,” he continued, hovering behind me, “but we’re visiting my parents at a cottage and my daughter loves corn. I saw your sign this morning, and, well....”

I smiled encouragingly and waved him toward the cooler. “Well, you won’t get it any fresher than this. Help yourself.”

He hesitated, shifting from one foot to the other. “How do you pick a good one?”

Buddy, I thought, you are so asking the wrong person. I winged it.

“Well, uh, the heavier ones are more...mature. So they taste...chewier. The lighter coloured cobs are younger, and sweeter. So it depends on what you prefer, I guess.” Then I sighed and decided to be perfectly honest. “And some of the cobs are a little small, because we had such a dry summer.”

I saw his eyes flick over to the towering, robust rows of my father-in-law’s field corn beside our laneway.

“Um, that’s feed corn. For cows,” I told him. “Not the same thing.”

Thunder Bay guy looked embarrassed. I felt bad. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that I didn’t know the difference between cow corn and sweet corn. To make up for it, I told him to take an extra half dozen for free since he was from out of town. His face lit up. 

And so it went for the next ten days. Some customers were so sunny and pleasant, and so appreciative of being able to buy fresh corn that I wanted to give it to them for free. And some...well, I just wanted to feed them corn smut.

We sold almost everything we picked, but since we planted late and the summer was so hot, our yields weren't good and sales seemed to be over before they'd begun. We almost broke even on what D paid for seed, which I thought was pretty good for our first year. We even had people come to the door asking if we had any left. It was deeply satisfying to say, "Come back next year."

I packed up my sign and umbrella for the season, and shared a giggle with the bank teller when I deposited approximately ten pounds of rolled coins. Kimber of the corn was done for the year, having survived smut, raccoons, heat and the occasional insult. And best of all, I'd passed hubby's "test" without asking for help.

"You did good, Kimmy," D said as we walked back to the field and surveyed the dried-out husks and stalks that remained. "Next year, we'll do even better."

Damn right we will!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Kimber of the Corn - Part II: The Smuttin'

It's one thing to stop at a grocery store or roadside stand and rifle through a bin of corn that's already been picked and manhandled. It's an entirely different thing to stand alone and forlorn in a field of the stuff trying to figure out what's good eatin' and what's best left for the racoons.

At first, I'd wrench a cob off the stalk, peel back the husk and see whether the kernels looked uniform and plump, like I'd done for years at farmer's markets and other places of corny repute. But when I got one that was spindly looking or not mature enough, there was was no pile to throw it back into. The only place it could go was hurtling into the alfalfa field, or dropped on the ground right there where I stood. Neither choice seemed right. I didn't want to discard innocent corn cobs just because they were immature or had crooked kernels.

Briefly, I entertained the idea of a "Free to Good Home" bin, where people could adopt the irregulars and put them to use in some corn chowder or relish, but I knew that scheme would never fly with the brothers Lowry. Plus I knew that people who came to check out roadside stands would be there for one thing: FRESH SWEET CORN. They were not there to make relishes or other corn-related delicacies; they would want pretty, bright-kernelled cobs that looked as straight and perfect as Brooke Shields' teeth. They would want to boil them, or BBQ them, or throw them in a campfire and eat them off the cob. No, a bunch of misfit corn was not what customers would be looking for. I would just have to do a better job of picking out the cobs. So I started feeling up the corn. Don't judge me.

My fingers were tentative at first, because I didn't want to hurt the corn or anything. You know, kind of a "Hi there corn, how are you today, can I buy you a drink?" sort of thing. Eventually, I became bolder. If the cob felt light and skinny, I skipped it. If it felt heavy and voluptuous, I gave it a twist, snapped it off and popped it in my sack. I quality checked my work and saw that I was getting it right about two-thirds of the time, which was an improvement over apologizing to every other one before I dropped it in the dirt.

Now that I was in the corn-pickin' zone, I bent, twisted, pulled and snapped my way down the row. It had turned out to be a muggy afternoon. Tilly made my head feel like I had a heated towel wrapped around it. The ragweed was as tall as my nose in some places, which is not handy for a girl with allergies. Plus there was this horrid kind of vine that grabbed me by the ankles every time I went to the truck to empty my sack. I christened it "tripweed" and started to seriously wonder whether all those arguments I'd had with the boys about the evils of Roundup had been a mistake.

I could fit about three dozen cobs into my sack before my shoulder started to scream, and I thought I was making pretty good progress for a new girl. But the trips back and forth to the truck became more and more exhausting. Apart from the heat and the tripweed, there was the small problem of remembering where to find my place in the row. I could hear my mother-in-law's sensible voice in my head: "Just tie a bright scarf around the last stalk you picked from." I didn't have a bright scarf; I had pink underwear on though. Problem solved. And it had only taken me nine dozen cobs to figure it out.

It was somewhere around my twelfth dozen that I encountered quite possibly the most hideous thing I have ever seen in nature. Actually, "encountered" is too mild a word for what happened, which was that I reached down to feel up a particularly plump looking cob and my hand disappeared into a mushy glop of goo. First I screamed. Then I did one of those "Ohmigodgetitoffme" dances, trampling cornstalks in my rush to get away. But wouldn't you have done the same, if you'd allowed your skin to touch THIS?

Apparently corn smut is a pretty normal fungus that wouldn't surprise any seasoned corn farmer. I, however, am not a seasoned corn farmer. I am a neophyte corn picker who does not like plunging her hand into what I can only imagine an eviscerated Jabba the Hutt must feel like. I wanted to drive down the sixth concession and dive into the lake to make sure none of that vile goo was still on me. But there was still corn to pick, and miles to go before I showered.

I only made it to 15 dozen before I "encountered" more corn smut. I said more bad words and had a mental conversation with D. If buddy didn't think 15 dozen was enough, he could damn well go back and pick himself some more when he got home from work. This girl was not touching any more alien corn slime today.

Now it was time to put our crop to the test and see if anyone would buy it. I closed the tailgate (which I had only recently learned not to call the trunk) and got in the truck. Peeling a damp, limp Tilly off my head, I paused to survey my face in the rear-view mirror. I was sweaty, red-faced, dishevelled, and not in a wholesome farm-girl kind of way. Oh well. I'd let my customers see what REAL farmers looked like after a hard day's work. Hopefully they'd be so distracted by the prospect of freshly picked sweet corn that they wouldn't cast a glance at the sweaty chick selling it. And if anyone made a comment, I'd introduce them to my gross friend, Mr. Smut.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Kimber of the Corn - Part I: The Pickin'

August can be such a hazy, lazy month. The last long days of summer should be spent shaking sand out of your bikini, blowing bubbles in the backyard and eating gallons of ice cream. I'd spent a good chunk of August harvesting sunflowers, but now that the pink umbrella had been packed away, I was ready to relax.

Which is precisely when D informed me it was high time we began selling our sweet corn. By which he meant that it was high time I began selling our sweet corn.

Back in July, we had agreed the corn harvest would become my job, since I no longer had an actual job. Now it was August. D was taking the kids to daycare, leaving me ample opportunity to get down and get funky with the corn. As I chased my children around the driveway, it occurred to me that there were a lot of corn picking details I probably should have worked out earlier.

"So what do I do?" I asked.

"Kimmy, it's simple," D said as he squished Dylan into his carseat. "You pick the corn. You put it in the back of the truck. You drive it out by the side of the road and wait for the Bruce Beachers to come and buy it."

I leaned in for one of Jade's enthusiastic goodbye kisses. "But how much should I pick?"

He shrugged and climbed into the car. "I don't know, probably about twenty dozen."

I did the mental math and threw my hands in the air. "Holy crap, you want me to pick two hundred and fifty four cobs of corn in one day?"

"No, Shakespeare," said D, "I want you to pick two hundred and forty." He grinned his creased, charming grin and started the engine. "Better get picking, Kimmy."

And with that helpful advice, my darling man left me alone with a thousand cornstalks and no real clue what to do with them. I figured it was another one of his country boy tests, the old, "Let's leave her alone and see how she does," routine. He'd done it before with both the zero-turn and the plumber, with mixed results. I suspected the lack of instruction was just a scheme to have a good a story to tell Carm during chores. I'd give those two a story, all right.

I decided that I was NOT going to Google "how to harvest sweet corn" or call my mother-in-law for advice. A country girl figured things out for herself. I would tackle this harvest on my own, just like I did with the sunflowers, and I would make this sweet corn operation a screaming success if it killed me. Although by now I knew better than to ask myself those five fatal words: "How hard could it be?" This little project would take some careful planning and a lot of coffee. And maybe some Bailey's.

First, I had to consider my wardrobe. I'd learned from my sunflower experiences that boots, pants and a long-sleeved shirt were a must. Even though the day was going to be hot, if seemingly benevolent sunflowers could give me a rash and subject me to bee attacks, I shuddered to think about what the corn had in store for me. Was there such a thing as corn bugs? I dug out one of D's old thermal shirts and my thickest garden pants.

Next, corn gathering equipment had to be collected. I rummaged through the hall closet for ideas. Grocery bags? Knapsack? Empty beer cases? Then I found it: a purple cloth sack, left behind on one of my sister's recent visits. She'd brought it stuffed full of laundry and hard cider, but it looked strong enough and big enough to hold a few dozen cobs of corn. Plus I could sling it over one shoulder, like a jaunty pioneer. And purple was my favourite colour.

Finally, I needed a hat. Something with a brim that wouldn't get blown off by the strong south breeze, or turn me into a literal redneck. I whittled it down to two choices: my tye-dyed floppy Y2K hat that someone had given me in an office Christmas exchange in 1999, or D's fancy new Tilley hat, still stiff with newness and tags attached. I took the Tilley. Someone was going to stain it with sweat and dirt at some point; might as well be the poor girl stuck picking corn.

I tied Tilly around my neck and clambered into the truck. I was getting used to trucking and little details like how to adjust the bench seat without crushing my ribs against the steering wheel and telling the difference between the gearshift and the windshield wipers no longer fazed me. In fact, I kind of liked the truck. The only part I didn't like was getting in or out of the truck bed. When we were kids, my sister and I took flying leaps from the back of my Dad's truck onto gravel roads and ditches. Now, I take on the pose of a constipated skier, bending over as low as I can go before I tiptoe off the edge into the softest grass available. I would have to arrange the corn in the back so no truck bed experiences would be necessary. With these details mentally arranged, I revved the engine and bumped off into the alfalfa field in search of corn.

A band of fir trees flanked the east end of the cornfield, so I parked there, thinking to leave the truck in a bit of shade. As I killed the engine, I noticed movement in the tall weeds beside the passenger door. I froze. Snake? I thought. The weeds rustled more vigorously. Big freaking snake? Family of big freaking snakes?

Before I could roll up the window, five chubby raccoons burst out of the weeds and tore up the side of a fir tree. I exhaled with relief. They watched me balefully as I cranked up the radio and got out of the truck. I stuck my tongue out at them.

I turned to survey the task at hand.

Somehow, the half acre of corn seemed a lot bigger than the half acre of sunflowers. Was it an optical illusion, or had those wretched boys planted more corn than they'd told me about? Panic attacked me like an angry raccoon. How in heaven's name was I going to pick all this corn? Where would I even start? And how would I know the difference between a good cob and a bad one? WHY HAD D LEFT ME ALL ALONE?!

Breathing giant yoga breaths through my nose, I tried to calm down. I would not give the boys any stories to tell in the barn. I would not resort to Google. I would do this job on my own and I would do it just fine. If I could handle 17 years of office politics, I could tackle a bunch of vegetables. The hardest journey started with a single cob, right?

I hung my purple corn sack off one shoulder, clamped Tilly on my head and into the whispering sea of stalks I went. I'd be Kimber of the corn with a vengeance.