How To Find What You Came Here For

Welcome to the worlds that populate my brain!
The short stories you find here are the product
of a vastly overactive imagination
powered by coffee and M&Ms.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Kitchen Duty

A house isn't a home until the kitchen is established. The baking dishes tucked into their cupboard, the dishes stacked neatly, the silverware drawer filled with its gleaming contents.

Jacob stood in the center of the bright, sunny kitchen and stared at the waiting cupboards and drawers.  The empty counter tops were a blank canvas just waiting for the imprint of their new owners. It was intimidating; he couldn't help feeling like the kitchen expected something from him.

"Oh boy." He turned in a slow circle, fighting to breath deep and slow.  It was working until he saw the stack of neatly packed boxes in the corner. They seemed to be waiting impatiently to have their contents removed, and he could feel his heartbeat accelerate.

"A house isn't a home until the kitchen is established."

Laney said that every time they moved - and they'd moved a lot in the last twenty-five years. The Navy had given him a great career and a good life, and in exchange he and his wife had packed up their home without complaint.

The first thing his wife did in every new place, no matter how big or small, regardless of the state or country, was unpack the kitchen and get all of her baking and cooking tools organized.  She had it down to a science.

He hadn't studied that science.  Laney had always handled this part, and he'd never paid that much attention. No matter how different each house or apartment was from the last one, he'd never had to search for anything.  It hadn't occurred to him that a significant amount of work might have gone into making that possible...until now.

Complicating matters was another detail: this was the first permanent home they'd ever had.  Now that he was retired, the Navy wouldn't be moving them again.  It had to be perfect, he wanted it to be perfect.

"Alright, let's get this show on the road," he muttered, squaring his shoulders.  "You survived Boot Camp, training, deployments, and retirement.  You can do this."

Moving with the purpose his training had instilled in him, Jacob opened the top box. Glasses.

He pulled two glasses out of their honeycomb packaging and turned back to the waiting kitchen. Indecision held him in place while he scanned the cupboards and tried to decide where they should go.

Finally, he opened the cupboard next to the sink and slide the glasses in.

Jacob stepped back and looked at the two glasses. A sigh of relief escaped, and his shoulders relaxed from the unconscious parade stance he'd taken.  A glance at his watch reminded him that he only had a few hours before he needed to leave. He moved quickly to empty the boxes and fill the cupboards.

Laney wouldn't have the energy to do this when he brought her home from her chemo treatment, but with the kitchen established he'd be able to make the tea and cookies she swore settled her stomach.  She'd be home, and so would he.

This is my post for this week's prompt from Write On Edge. We've moved a lot.  Not because we're in the military (although our oldest son IS in the Navy), but because we rent, and our lives have been pretty mobile.  The kitchen is always the first room to get unpacked - it just doesn't feel like our home until that little job is done, because the kitchen is the heart of our family life.

What about you?  What room in your house is the center of life?  If/When you have moved, is that the room you set up first?  

Thank you for visiting - please tell me what you think in the comments!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Towers & Trepidation

The towers and spires of the house pierced the sky like spears, standing guard over the orderly rows of windows and carefully groomed gardens. If the architect of this…Ian hesitated to call it a home…this building, had intended it to loom menacingly, they’d succeeded.

Lizzie moved closer to her brother and let her left hand join her right in gripping his fingers.

“It’s watching me, Ian.”

The lanky boy smiled and didn’t mention the numbness spreading in his fingers. “It’s waiting to welcome us, Lady Lizzie.”

The nickname failed to bring out the smile he’d hoped for.

He held back a sigh and crouched on the gravel drive so that his pale blue eyes met her bright green ones. Lizzie had a vivid imagination, and as the older of the two by nearly eight years, it was his responsibility to rein it in.

“Uncle Niall is in charge of this…” He hesitated, trying again to find the words to describe the place their parents’ unexpected death had brought them to.

“…home. He runs it, and you like him well enough, don’t you?”

Lizzie’s eyes shifted from his, to the militant towers, and back again. “I liked Uncle Niall in our home. He’ll be different here.”

Ian glanced at the words carved above the door – “The Odd Fellows Home For Orphans, Indigent, and Aged.” Well, he thought, there’s little doubt which category we fall in.

He met his sister’s knowing gaze and felt the fingers of anxiety slide down his spine as he led her toward the steps. An imagination she had, to be sure, but she also had a way of knowing the truth of things.

“We’ll be right as rain here, you’ll see,” he assured her, but her eyes showed him the lie in his words even as she followed him through the door.

This post was my submission for Flash! Friday #42 . Our prompt was the picture you see above, which really is The Odd Fellows Home For Orphans, Indigent, And Aged.  Please let me know what you think in the comments!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Memories of Hunger

Our family struggled financially early on, and we relied on the food stamp program to buy our groceries.  Our family of four qualified for $75-$150 a month (circa 1996), depending on our income.  At the time, food stamps came as little booklets of bills that looked a great deal like Monopoly money - right down to the different colors for different denominations.  That's pretty much where the fun stopped.

My husband had a college degree, but jobs were scarce so we were doing exactly what so many pundits say you should - working wherever and whenever there was an opportunity.  As a result, we both worked at jobs that paid just a few cents over minimum wage and had no benefits: no health insurance, no paid sick days, no vacation days.   

Although the food stamp program was intended to supplement our food budget, all too often it was our entire food budget.  That's what happens when you don't have paid sick days - if you get the flu and can't go to work for a day or two, you just decimated your paycheck.  Savings is a mythical animal you've heard about, but never seen.

We almost never ate meat.  Fresh fruits and vegetables were in the same category as Baked Alaska - a walk through the produce department was a kind of sick torture.  Healthy food options for four ate up too much of the monthly food budget, so to make sure our kids were able to eat well my husband and I ate a LOT of beans and rice...or just didn't eat at all.  It was common for us to eat one meal a day.   

Even the mildest illness was devastating because we didn't have the reserves to fight it off.  Every cold became bronchitis, and each bout of bronchitis flirted with pneumonia. Our kids were covered through the state health plan, but we weren't.  The sound of coughing in the night still has the power to illicit extreme anxiety.

I became very skilled at keeping track of how much everything cost, and if there was something special coming up in a few months (like a birthday), saving just a little each month so that we would have enough to buy ingredients for a cake.  But that was fraught with hidden dangers, too.

One event still stands vividly in my memory, even now, close to two decades later.  My oldest son's birthday was coming up, and I'd carefully saved a few food stamps each month so we'd be able to have a little birthday party.  The day before his birthday I took both of our boys to the grocery store (we walked the two miles there and back - our car wasn't working...again...and we had no money to pay the $50 to have it fixed).  I shopped carefully: a bag of confectioner's sugar to make the frosting, a container of six eggs to make the cake (I already had the flour, sugar, and oil), a small package of hot dogs and a small bag of frozen french fries (the meal our son had requested), and the big splurge - a container of chocolate ice cream and a small bag of M&Ms.  The whole thing came to just under $10 - a significant portion of our monthly food budget.

We got in line, and I could feel my anxiety rise.  I'd traveled this path before, and I knew what was ahead.  I put our groceries on the belt and pulled out the food stamps I'd hoarded.  Immediately, the cashier frowned.  Then she sighed loudly.  The customer behind us clucked her tongue and shook her head.  I waited to see which one would speak.  It was the customer...this time.

"You know, my tax dollars are paying for that crap."

I froze.  My boys froze.  Helpless humiliation rose and stained my cheeks red as I silently handed the brightly colored currency to the waiting cashier, who rolled her eyes and sighed again.  I'd learned through hard experience that trying to explain would be useless.  This woman, with her grocery cart full of name brands and non-essentials like fruited yogurt and grapes, would never understand the world we lived in.

My oldest is serving in the Navy now.  My youngest will graduate from high school this year.  And I still find myself carefully vetting my grocery list, conscientiously comparing the costs of different versions of the same food, and having to convince myself that it's OK to buy fresh green beans instead of frozen.  My husband and I recently signed up for a service called eMeals (see the banner at the bottom of this page - feel free to click it and explore) to help us plan our meals and eat more healthy foods - particularly fresh fruit and vegetables.  The biggest struggle I've had with this program is accepting the cost of healthy food.  After all this time, it's still difficult to pay for fresh food that's good for me...even though I know that if we don't spend that extra money at the grocery store, we'll be spending far more at the doctor's office when our health suffers for it.

Poverty leaves behind wounds that do not fully heal, and the callous judgement and disdain of those in the community who have never struggled to that extent simply pours salt in those wounds.  I love the SNAP challenge, and I truly appreciate everyone who takes part in it, but I believe it is important to realize - there is a light at the end of your tunnel.  You know that this will end, and when.  For those truly dependent on the assistance these programs provide, there is no light, no guarantee of an end.

We have to find a solution, and to do that we have to give up our inclination (as a society) to believe that people need to "deserve" assistance. In order to make a real difference we will have to be willing to accept that there will be some who take advantage of the system, and consider that cost cheap in comparison to the benefits reaped.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cooking With Fire

Welcome back, gentle readers!  Long time, no read!

Yes, I know it's been a while.  I have several very good excuses reasons for my absence - really!  Actually, up until the last little bit, I've been working a second shift job.  Now, you wouldn't think this would affect my writing, would you?

Well, surprise!  It did.  Horribly.  It turns out that keeping such odd hours does interfere with the flow of creative juices - also, as a machinist I discovered that my hands were incredibly sore and not at all able to type fast enough to keep up with my brain.

Happily, my new job allows me a much more normal schedule - no more sleeping during the day!  It also allows me to go back to cooking for my family.  An extra bonus!

Hubby and I have been trying out some new eating styles in our quest for a healthier life.  We decided to try the Mediterranean diet because we typically love Greek food, although we'd never really tried to make it for ourselves. (No, assembling a gyro does NOT actually count!)

After some internet searching I came across eMeals.  This was not actually the first time I'd heard about this service.  A couple of years ago, I saw a reference to eMeals on a blog I follow.  At the time, I thought it was one of those weird diet plans that mails you your food...I was not interested.

But this time, instead of making assumptions I actually checked out their website.

(I know, research instead of assumptions...what a concept!)

I was surprised to find that they provide menus at a more than reasonable price.  And when I say more than reasonable, you should know that I used to feed a family of four for $75 a month on a regular basis.  I am, in a word, cheap.

So what qualifies as a reasonable price?  Well, we decided to try the service out for three months - a trial period, if you will - for a grand total of $30.  That's $10 a month for someone else to create a dinner menu and a shopping list for that menu.

Honestly?  My time is worth far more than $10 an hour, never mind a month.  We were able to choose the Mediterranean diet from a list of options that included Paleo, low fat, low carb, and several others.  There's even a Classic Menu, for those of you jonesing for one of those meat-and-potato meals you ate when you were seven years old and didn't even know what a carb was.

So now we're cooking with fire.  And olives.  And olive oil.  And a lot of fruit and vegetables.  Every meal we've tried has been wonderfully seasoned with generous portions.  And this is just the first week!

I can't wait to see what next week's menu has in store for us!