Sunday, April 25, 2010

Prom Time

Weber and I are slowly getting our act together for the wedding. Erin has a dress. That is the mot important thing according to our wedding planner – Erin. I have a dress. Erin helped me pick it out and we are both happy with it. I kind of remember what it looks like. I just need to be conscious of how many Hershey’s kisses I eat between now and the wedding. I don’t remember all the details of the dress, but I do remember that it fit. It needs to still do that in July. Brooke is never one to follow the lead of others. She said that she will have an “appropriate” dress in the “appropriate” color. I will trust her on this one. Now all we need to do is dress the groom.

A few weeks ago we walked in to a tux shop just to get some ideas. It was swarming with adolescents who wanted that perfect look for the senior prom. Girls clutching dresses in colors that no human being should ever wear were hoping for matching ties and vests for their terrified looking dates. Fortunately the tux shops are aware that some colors should just not be worn and politely suggested classic black to “compliment” their date’s dress. When the salesman approached us with the obligatory, “How may I help you?’, I jokingly said that we needed a tux for the prom. It was obvious that at that point this poor guy had no sense of humor left and we gave him the real scoop. He gave us the information that we needed and we told him that we would be back after prom season – at least with regard to tuxedos.

We are on the dress side of the prom season. When Erin went with me to select my wedding dress, she stole a few moments to look for a prom dress though she did not get one on that trip. She was good and gave me her almost undivided attention. A few weeks later, I promised her the same undivided attention in shopping for her prom dress that she gave me in shopping for my wedding gown. And as an added bonus, she got Weber’s fashion opinion as well. Such an adventure is the true test of a stepdad’s character! (And he passed with flying colors!) After several stores, many dresses, and a bit of pouting over lack of dresses in her size, the prom queen finally found the right dress in the right size.

After recovering from dress shopping, the prom queen was ready to take to the stores again to accessorize. She called me on my way home from school the other night and asked if I would meet her at the mall to help with finding shoes, jewelry and an evening bag. For Erin, finding shoes poses the exact opposite problem than finding a dress – too many choices. After about 45 minutes of trying on shoes, she made a selection. The dilemma here was not so much style, but the best shoe color to match her dress. She finally settled on black. Once that decision was made, the actual shoe selection took no time. Erin paid for her shoes and off we went to find jewelry.

Finding the perfect necklace and earrings to go with her dress was challenging. We needed something that was dressy enough but not so expensive that we would have to disown the kid if she lost it. Our first stop yielded not even any possibilities. Our next stop was a little more fruitful. We looked for several minutes and Erin found a few things that “would do” but it was clear that she was not seeing exactly what she wanted. On our last pass through the jewelry department, she spotted the perfect necklace and matching earrings in a glass case behind the counter. We all know that the jewelry in the glass case behind the counter is usually the expensive stuff. Seeing the disappointment on her face, Weber asked the sales woman to let us see it. She placed the necklace around Erin’s neck. This was the perfect necklace and it was not ridiculously expensive. Erin really wanted it. Once this was settled, the saleswoman ushered us over to the purse section where Erin debated over two bags. She finally made her choice. This time she chose the more expensive option. As we headed for cash register to check out, Erin reached for her wallet. Weber beat her to the punch. Erin had a surprised look on her face when he slid his card first – “But I got the more expensive purse!” With a smile on his face, Weber replied, “That’s OK. I want to get these things for you.” We all headed to the car happy that we had accomplished the afternoon’s task. On the way Weber got a big hug and a big thank you. I think he got bonus points on the “stepdad does prom” test.

When it comes time to pick out Weber’s tux for the wedding, I suspect that we will again engage Erin and her fashion sense. Surprisingly, at age 52 he has worn a tuxedo exactly one time in his life – last year when we went to a black tie affair together.

This was our first official public outing as a couple. We affectionately refer to this picture as our prom picture.

The senior prom is in two weeks. Stay tuned for Erin’s prom pictures.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ode to the Microwave

It was 1980. My parents had just moved from Virginia Beach, VA, to Arlington, VA. and I was a freshman in college at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. I was an only child so when I left for school, my parents were empty nesters. How did they cope? My mom got a microwave oven, which back then seemed to be just a really big, really expensive popcorn popper. The early years of microwave ovens were marked by overheated bread that at best could be used as a rock in your garden d├ęcor, scrambled eggs that would bounce higher than any super ball, and meat that when cooked swam flowingly in a bowl of fat. How did this piece of machinery ever survive? People had no choice but to learn how to cook effectively in them because they took up so much room on the kitchen counter that there wasn’t any room left in the kitchen to cook.* (*Cook here refers to the 1980’s meaning of the word cook. A time when preparing a meal meant gathering ingredients, perhaps perusing recipes, engaging measuring devices, knives, spices, and an oven – the kind that was attached to the stove where other parts of the meal were prepared. Wow! Thirty years later, the 1980’s sound only one step removed from when dinner was prepared by roasting pigs over an open fire.

I got my first microwave oven in 1983. By then it had progressed from being a really big, really expensive popcorn popper to a really big, not quite as expensive way to heat leftovers. Keep in mind that to have left avers, one still had to cook. I was in graduate school from 1983-1989. During that time, the microwave oven revolutionized the American cooking experience. Suddenly everything came with microwave cooking instructions that cut cooking times by as much as 90%. Frozen dinners no longer came in aluminum trays and they were transformed from TV dinners to microwave entrees. Despite the more refined sounding name, microwave entrees were no more nutritional or tasty than their predecessor. Now manufacturers think that anything can be prepared in a microwave oven. They are wrong! Despite the numerous varieties of cakes that are designed to be cooked in a microwave, cake cannot be cooked in a microwave. Microwaved cake is awful. Cakes have to be baked in a real cake pan in a real oven and preferably having not spent their formative years in a box on the shelf in your pantry.

So why all this reminiscing about microwave ovens? We are looking at appliances as we begin the home renovation extravaganza. It has been ten years since I bought my current microwave. Boy have things changed! They are definitely smaller and more powerful. It is clear by the dedicated buttons on nearly every brand of microwave oven that popcorn must still be its most frequently prepared food. Most makers also have a dedicated button for dinner plate. Leftovers, or at least some food product that didn’t come in a plastic container, must then still be popular with some segment of the population. I personally am prone to rely on the microwave to heat my cup of coffee that I poured and forgot to drink. There is no button for that. You just have to know that to get a room temperature cup of coffee hot enough but not too hot that it must be cooked for a minute. And FYI, nachos take 44 seconds in a standard microwave. Smart Ones breakfast sandwiches take one minute with just the egg white and another two minutes to heat the muffin and meat all the way through. It is not hard to remember these important numbers. And for the most part, any food item that requires heating or cooking comes with microwave cooking instructions on that packaging. I am not crazy about the microwave oven being the preferred vehicle for food preparation, but I am learning to live with it.

I do, however, have a problem with the “features” of the newest microwave ovens. They are catering to the lowest common intellectual and culinary denominator. It is not even necessary to read the cooking instructions on the boxes anymore. Microwave ovens now have specific buttons for cooking popcorn as well as macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets. Who cooks chicken nuggets in the microwave? Done this way they taste like sponges. If you are going to eat chicken nuggets, admit that they are a nutritional void and eat the totally bad for you deep fried ones from a fast food restaurant. Microwaving chicken nuggets does not count as a home cooked meal! Even if you serve them with microwaved macaroni and cheese!

These specific buttons on microwaves causes me to ask two particular questions:

Is this really what home cookin’ is coming to? And, who is the target demographic for microwaves? Is it adults or children?

I think I know the answers to both of these questions and that scares me. We are raising a generation of children who don’t know what a sifter is much less how or why you would use one. They don’t know how to separate eggs or that cookies require baking soda to rise.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not willing to give up my microwave oven. But on the other hand, neither am I willing to give up my double wall ovens, Kitchen Aide mixer, pantry stocked with baking goods, and more shelves than I care to admit that are double stacked with cookbooks. I will continue to rely on the ability of the microwave to quickly defrost the hamburger that I forgot to set out to thaw earlier in the day, to warm the leftovers from last night, and to reheat my coffee.

And for the record, I will never eat a microwaved chicken nugget!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Thrilled By The Joy

Simply stated, my plate is quite full right now. We are in the midst of home remodeling, preparing for Offspring No. 2's high school graduation and impending departure for college, and planning our wedding. In the midst of all this, our students still want to be taught (Okay, maybe WANT is a little strong), the kids and the dogs here still want to eat, laundry still needs to be done, the grass still needs to be mowed, and despite the consumption of ridiculous amounts of caffeine and sugar, I still seem to require sleep every night. Somehow with all of this on my mind, I found time to ponder an important question:

What is the difference between thrill and joy?

Like any good academician, I turned to a primary source,, to help enlighten me. Here is what I discovered.

Joy is:
  • the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation:
  • the expression or display of glad feeling; festive gaiety.
  • a state of happiness or felicity.
Thrill is:
  • a sudden wave of keen emotion or excitement, sometimes manifested as a tremor or tingling sensation passing through the body.
  • something that produces or is capable of producing such a sensation:

Well, that clears it right up! Except for the tingling that a thrill causes, I''m still not sure what the real difference is; however, I know there must be one. We talk about "thrill seekers" not "joy seekers" and going "joy riding" not "thrill riding". We are encouraged to look for joy in all things but discouraged from hoping for a thrill in all things. This approach to life will surely lead to disappointment. The classic book is entitled The Joy of Sex but most people want to talk about the thrill of sex. Perhaps that is where the part about tingling sensations helps clarify the difference in the two words. We don't sing "Thrill to the World" or "Thrilling, Thrilling We Adore Thee". We are intrigued by thrillers on the big screen, not joy-bringers. We don't congratulate new parents on their bundle of thrills. We can be over-joyed. Can we be over-thrilled?

So again I ask, what is the difference between joy and thrill? Is a thrill a physiological manifestation of elation and joy a psychological manifestation? Is joy something positive and thrill something negative? Is thrill merely a transitory sensation and joy a lingering state?

I think I am more confused now than when I started this semantic inquiry. Perhaps it is best to let all this swim around in my rather cramped head while I joyfully seek the thrill of clean laundry.