Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Thanksgiving Surprise

“And a Snoopy sleeping bag.”

On my 9th birthday, that was what I wanted most of all. The bright red one in the Sears catalog, with an outline of Snoopy lying on his doghouse, wearing a big smile.

“OK!” my parents agreed.

But when my birthday came, my sleeping bag did not come with it.

“We’re so sorry,” they said, “but sometimes mail order items come much later than we hope.”

I tried not to be too sad. After all, I had a fun party and lots of other gifts. And Halloween was only a week away. So I tried to forget about Snoopy and the sleeping bag.

But the next day, and the day after, and the day after that, I couldn’t help but sag at the shoulders when no belated gift arrived for me.

Before I knew it, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving had arrived. The four-day break was about to begin, and we four children chattered excitedly about how we wanted to spend them, starting with what we couldn’t wait to see on the table at tomorrow’s feast. A ring of the doorbell took my mom away from the commotion momentarily. When she returned, she carried a large UPS box. “It’s for you,” she told me with a smile. Since the few weeks had passed like eons of time to my 9 year old memory, I couldn’t imagine what it might be. But when I opened the box, everything came back to me in a great rush of red. I yanked it out, my forgotten but beloved sleeping bag, bigger than I’d realized and just as red as its picture in the catalog. And there on the front, bigger than life-size and smiling as if he was at last as happy as I was, lay Snoopy on his doghouse.

“Can I sleep in it tonight?” I squealed.

“Of course,” my parents said. “How would you all like to have a slumber party in the family room?”

I was never so happy to go to bed in all my life.

And the next morning we awoke to the sounds and smells of a delicious Thanksgiving feast. But before getting up, I lay in my sleeping bag for a moment on my back, perfectly content, like my old pal Snoopy, and smiled.

After 35 years of wonderful Thanksgiving holidays, that memory is still the most delicious one of all.

Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday filled with family, friends, feasts . . . and plenty of smiles.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bare Feet

I recently discovered something about women that was new to me: their famous affection for shoes does not require that they always wear them. Sandra at Miss Fluffy Ruffles wrote a post showing and telling her delight with all things froo-froo and frilly, then suddenly shifted gears to say that she equally enjoys being barefoot. One of her readers, Connie at Living Beautifully, offered a comment on Sandra’s post with the same paradoxical passion: a fondness for fancy, but at any given moment she too is unshod and loving it.

Recently, Nancy and I were reminiscing about friends from our college choir. “What was the name of the girl with the short hair? I think she was an alto.”

“Hmm,” I mused, unable to picture her, “was she kind of tall?”

“No, about my height. You know, dark hair, nice smile.”

“Don’t remember,” I shrugged, then suddenly recalled one young lady with a unique trait that she displayed year round, indoors and out: “You mean the barefoot one?”

“That’s her,” Nancy stated.

And despite our own cold hardwood floors, I know Nancy’s up when I hear the soft pad-padding that can only be made by bare feet. I’ll frequently arrive home from work to see her busy-day shoes off to one side of the entry, and hear the same pad-padding coming to greet me.

I’m intrigued by this discovery for one reason: I have total wuss feet. With shoes on, I can run around non-stop from dawn to dusk, on hardwood or concrete, with no issues. I can even dance for 8 straight hours (at least I could 25 years ago in college). But these days, a barefoot walk from the front door to the bedroom closet for my slippers renders my feet cold as ice and aching with agony. I can practically hear them asking, “It was such a good day. What did we do to deserve this?”

As a result, my “slippers” are really not at all. They’re actually an old pair of Ecco’s that served long ago as my Good Shoes. Back then, their famous sole support was attractive. Today, it’s vital.

I don’t understand the logic behind (or under) so-called slippers. How can anyone be expected to walk around on a piece of cardboard and not have cold, achy feet?

I’ve tried to just go barefoot anyway, to get over it, to be a man. I’ll kick off my Ecco’s and carry on with my day. But after a while, I find myself cranky and irritable, feeling that somehow the whole world has turned sour on me, like a black cloud that slowly sneaks over you until it’s darkened the whole sky. Then I realize the truth. It’s not the world, it’s me: I’ve been barefoot for nearly 10 minutes.

I did run around barefoot as a kid. It was different then, but not much. I could race through the grass with the best of them, feeling my toes digging into the soft turf, getting traction like a mountain lion on the attack. But as soon as we hit pavement or that one neighbor’s lawn full of overgrown prickly weeds, I’d switch into the humiliating Tippy-toe Tango. I’d transform from a smooth sprinter into a gawky marionette being worked by a novice, who quickly gives up on attempts at finesse and just shakes the thing.

But somehow, living from indoor shoes to outdoor shoes and back again makes me feel like I’m missing out on something. It seems to me that those who are barefoot enjoy a unique experience of simplicity and carefree-ness, a liberating sense of tossing it all aside for a while, that I don’t. Then I realize that I can. Since reading that blog post the other day, I’ve decided I want to try once again to go barefoot. Maybe I’ll find that I get used to it, like first jumping into a cold swimming pool. After the initial misery, you adjust, and then you wonder why you didn’t get in sooner. Or perhaps my feet will still be cold and achy, but I’ll discover that, like with camping in the woods, the unpleasantries are more than made up for by the experience.

So I’m going to kick off my shoes and give it another shot. I’m going to jump into that pool, head off into the woods, live a little.

With my faithful Ecco’s waiting by the door, just in case.

(A special thanks to my dear barefoot beauty for my new blog banner. I hope you all like it. [I love it!])

Monday, November 10, 2008

Chocolate Cupcakes

I don’t remember having a lot of them when I was young, but I sure remember having them.

They were soft and delicate, so you always handled them gently. Not just to keep pieces from falling to the ground (the 10-second rule never seemed classy enough for chocolate cupcakes), but somehow they made you become careful, like the rambunctious kid who’s suddenly transformed when he’s handed a puppy.

They were spongy and moist, so although they were never messy, they always left just enough of themselves behind so that you could get one last taste by licking your fingers.

Years after year, I chose for my birthday cake a Baskin-Robbins mint chocolate chip ice cream creation, my absolute favorite. In junior high, I developed a long-lasting crush on a packaged gingerbread mix. Later, I fell in love with fresh banana bread, and my mom’s cranberry nutbread. And to this day every Christmas, I indulge in a two or three day blissfest with an old family friend’s annual date bread.

But when my wife made chocolate cupcakes last week, everything changed. It was like the leading man suddenly discovering that he’s in love with his childhood friend, who’s always been overshadowed by more glamorous competition, but who’s always had a special and overlooked place in his heart. It takes just one last special moment to realize it. Everything else then takes a distant second place, and life will never be the same. The first thought is always, What have I been missing? But somehow the future becomes that much sweeter because now your really know.

There was something so deliciously familiar about her chocolate cupcakes, so much like childhood, so comforting. I’ve heard it said that smells can spring up a well of memories from decades ago, either good ones or bad. By the time I got home from work, the baking smells were gone. But that first bite flooded me with memories, and they were all wonderful:
Birthdays, whether my own or someone else’s. It didn’t matter, as long as there were chocolate cupcakes.
Halloween, because the chocolate color goes so well with orange.
Christmas, because there’s never so much to put on them as there is at Christmas.

There’s always the temptation to try to make a good thing better, so we often went crazy with whipped cream and tubed frostings, and sprinkles and candies, and even red hots. But you’d only do red hots once. Chocolate cupcakes may go with everything, but not everything goes with chocolate cupcakes.

I ate one of my wife’s chocolate cupcakes with thick chocolate frosting (even guys know there’s no such thing as too much chocolate). It swirled and gathered and pointed upward like a bouffant, threatening to topple. It was divine. Then I had one with just a few artistic lines of colored frosting (I was trying to be Carolyn Quartermaine on cake). It looked like . . . well, whatever, but boy, was it tasty.

But at last I had one “plain,” if such a creation can be described this way. No one describes a perfect piece of fruit as plain. I rediscovered a lost love, and I may never put anything on a chocolate cupcake again.

They don’t look like much. In their muffin paper, they’re half invisible, and when you take them out, they almost look worse, like a cat that’s just walked through tummy-high water. But they fit in your hand perfectly, and in your mouth even better. And then you taste them.

They’re also so much fun to make. Whether batter from a bowl or Betty Crocker from a box, they’re quick and easy – we could make them ourselves as kids – and just a bit messy so, once again, you have to – you get to – lick your fingers. And who can honestly say they never disobeyed and dipped their finger in for one good swig? Only those of us who dipped in twice.

But ultimately, they’re more than just fun and delicious. They make us feel like kids again. They take us back to birthday parties festooned with themed paper tablecloths and twisted crepe paper streamers. With matching cups and plates and napkins set for pint-sized company, and the pointy hats with those under-chin stretchy strings that only the most secure and loving dads would wear, that were always catching on the streamers. The elaborate and obligatory cake was always well received, since it presented the glowing candles to be blown out and wished upon. But off to the side on their own pedestal plate, as if waiting for the final and most celebrated grand entrance, were the chocolate cupcakes.

And unlike the lone cake, they always came in a group, like a bunch of your favorite friends or family gathering to celebrate something special with you. What could be more perfect?

The best things in life are definitely not things. But if they were, they just might be chocolate cupcakes.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Wait a Minute, Mr. Postman (Part 1)

“I hate waiting.” ~ Inigo Montoya, Spanish swordsman extraordinaire, The Princess Bride

I hate waiting, too. But I didn’t realize how much until this week.

Friday of the week prior, I ordered an item from an online store, to be delivered to my office. “It’ll go out Monday, so you should have it by the end of next week,” the phone rep told me. I was OK with that, and when it arrived on Wednesday instead, I was thrilled. Two days later, also a Friday, I ordered another item from the same store. This item was extremely special. “By the end of next week,” the phone rep repeated. Next Wednesday will be perfect, I smiled to myself.

Next Wednesday came, but the package didn’t.

No problem, I thought. Tomorrow’s my birthday, so that’s even better.

On Thursday my birthday came, but without my package.

OK, they did tell me Friday. I got lucky last week.

On Friday I waited all day with an expectant smile that was never cast upon my package. I was forced to wait the weekend.

“I really hate it,” I heartily agreed with Mr. Montoya.

By the next Thursday, after I checked my office mail slot for the 48th time, my calm demeanor was tossed out like junk mail. While others pace, I stomped. While they fret, I fussed and fumed like a worn-out steam engine about to blow. Where is it, where is it?! I hollered over and over inside my head. But when I became Gollum and topped off my silent rantings with a shriek of, “My Preciousssssss!” I knew I’d lost it completely.

And as of this last Friday, my package is still not here.

What’s in this package? What’s this thing that’s transformed me from a man of dignity into a mouse of desolation?

Sorry, you’ll just have to wait . . .