Saturday, February 25, 2012

stages of man (and woman)



Begin again



Reinvention is the power in the game. Never keep on being the same thing, ever, for more than you can stand. Be something new, dig deep into the pockets of your nascent persona, mine those caverns for what they can return, then move on.

Truth is, you will never be the person you were, for time wounds all heels, as they say. However, do not ever look in the mirror and curse time for what it has taken from you, because it has given you so much more. The preening callous youth of 30 or more years ago can, in the you now, no longer conscience preening, but he can tend to poetry and gardens, can run a marathon, can imagine, can be patient with young grandchildren when his own children were nuisances who ruined his harmonious buzz, can yet stoke a ferocious fire for the same causes that nearly burned his youth to ashes.

Point of fact - the older man and woman, were once physically beautiful too. They also once had fire in their loins, smoke behind their eyes, and fuel enough in their bellies to carry them through entire lifetimes of expansion and experimentation. Why, we used-to-be- beautiful once thought we were the center of the earth. Nothing was better than who were were. Nothing was more important that what we thought, and did.

Until we weren't, it wasn't, and didn't.

*here comes the sucker punch that gets us all, if we're lucky enough to get old enough to experience it.*

In truth, it takes a long time to come to grips with aging, and how it changes us from the outside in, but at some point we turn to the reflection and look at ourselves and realize we can't just 'be' anymore, we must begin again.The 'we' we used to be is still housed in us, the 20 years of youth spent on youthful things like family, career, and responsibility are peeling away as the kids grow up, the career stabilizes, and responsibility shifts to a casual hand on the wheel every once in a while.

Life breaks open again. The shell loosens, and we either are cracking back open or we hide in the confines of the life we made the first time.

For me? No. No hiding.

I am turning 50 this year. Time to begin again.

God help you all.


Tiff out.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Bear with me - it's a story.

First draft. Pounded out here, and going I don't know where. Feel free to critique!


A nickel for your thoughts

She's at it again. My sister, Emmeline, I mean. She's on me again like a dirty shirt, sayin' as how she's gonna tell Daddy and Old Mam about how she saw me snitch a Mars Bar from the 10 cent store this afternoon if I don't give her the nickel I found on the street on the way home from school.

I didn't snitch no candy bar, and it's MY nickel. I found it. Not her.

But Emmeline is up to her dirty tricks again, knowin' that Daddy and Old Mam, his momma, would believe her over me any day. That's just how it is here. They side with her on everything, because number one she's older than me, number two she's the pretty one, and number three she ain't the one that caused Momma to die of sepsis after having her. I'm the one what did that, and nobody around here likes me because of it.

Seems like nobody can get over what I did to Momma 13 years ago. I'm a forgotten family member, hardly put up with at all except for all the chores I do and how helpful I can be in situations regarding math and sums and Daddy's banking situation. He never really did learn to cipher much, and Old Mam can't see well enough anymore to read the books, and Emmeline, well, she's more concerned with her hair and how to catch the eye of Shane Showalter to be of much help to anyone.

Me being so helpful doesn't make anyone like me more, and won't make 'em forget Momma, but it sure helps keep food in my belly and a bed under me at night. Thirteen years of being the far-second best is a crummy way to live, so no I'm not about to give up this dang nickel. It's what I have, and it's mine.

No way, I say. Oh, yeah? She says, and then ups the ante. I'm telling Daddy 'bout how you showed your knickers of Joe Thibodeau this afternoon after he said he'd give you a nickel.

And I'm beat. I have a nickel, she don't, and she's going to use the worst weapon against me that ever there was - boys. And a Thibodeau boy at that. He's country as they come, a regular hayseed, and Daddy ain't having that for his girls, not even me. He's said as much on many a time, that we're to stay away from them boys, we're better than them and need to marry up.

Not sure what makes them different. They even have a telephone in their house, while we have to go to the ten-cent store to hand-crank calls out to wherever we might need to call. Not that we do, but all the same.

So, Emmeline gets the nickel, and damn if she doesn't just trot downstairs to Daddy, where I can hear her tell him she took it off me because of that whole knickers thing that I was so proud to tell her about. How I am learning to get money from boys by being a whore.

My face is cold, and my heart is racing. Daddy's coming up the stairs. I will take my beating, no amount of hollering or denial or argument could get me out of this one. It's the biggest whopper she's told on me yet, and I didn't see it coming. Thought just giving in, like the old days, would work fine and once she got what she wanted she'd just leave me alone, but it's clear she's not as stupid as I thought and has been thinking of new ways to do me in around here.

Daddy's isn't kind. He invites Emmeline to watch me take my beating. Her eyes sparkle more with each lash of his belt.

It's that sparkle that gets me to thinking about how I can win this game, once and for all.

While I cool my heels and blistered butt in our bedroom, they all eat their dinner. I am not invited. I do, however, get invited downstairs to clean it up. There's not a scrap left for me to glean on while scraping dishes, as someone's poured Daddy's ashtrays onto each plate and bowl.

So, while I clean, I plan. I can take my time planning, because it's going to take a while for this to all turn out how I want. There's time. Rome wasn't built in a day, as my teacher Miss Mosby says.


To my surprise, all it takes is one 5-minute talk with Josh Thibodeau, Joe's big brother, the next day during recess to have things start to move in my direction. See, Joe and me are friends, even though Daddy says not to have any truck with them. I can't help it. He's funny, and has long blond eyelashes like a pony. His brother's about as cute, though darker and some say part-Moorish on account of some banjo player in a band that came through town 17 years or so ago that it seems Josh and Joe's Momma took a shine to. Well, it's enough to say Josh is the only dark child in that family, and that's all. Joe and me are the friends, but you know fair enough that once I told Joe my plans for Emmeline he'd be all over getting Josh to play in too.

See, Josh has always had a sweet spot for my sister. This is what you learn when you keep your eyes and ears open, you know. She can't stand him, being all caught up in the pretty boy Shane. The situation is perfect for what I have in mind.

I let a few days go by after my beating before I go to Old Mam and ask her what a certain word means. I spell it out for her so she don't have to hear the word, mind, and I'm pretty certain she can't know that I already know what it means. Her reaction is pretty good, with the spoon-dropping and her spatting me around the ears for even having heard such a thing.

I tell her I ain't heard it, I read it.

I read it in a note to Emmeline from Josh Thibodeau, and how he'd like to do that again with her sometime soon if she'd have him. Then I show her the note. In his hand. Signed by him, clear as day.

Old Mam squints at it, puts a hand to her chest, and falls to the ground, sobbing. Daddy rushes in, fresh home for 'work' (or, as I call it, 'sitting at the feed store swapping lies'), demands to know what I've done to Old Mam, swats me another good one for whatever he thinks it is I've done, and then read the note Old Mam passes to him with trembling hands.

Oh, this is so good.

Daddy about blows a fit. Ha! He's yelling for Emmeline, she comes downstairs all concerned looking, like maybe she's about to witness another of my beatings, and is stunned to bits when Daddy launches into her, waving that note around like it was full of bees and he's trying to get 'em off.

Emmeline. Oh ha. Oh my, she's starting to blubber and wail now, those pretty blue eyes filling up and her little nose turning red. She's shouting how she never did do such a thing, not with him!

And Daddy stops, cold dead.

Not with him?

No Daddy. Not him.

Then who, Emmeline, who did this to you?

And, in a sudden attack of stupidity, she rats out Shane.

Daddy's mouth flops open and closed, like a mechanical fortune-teller at the fair. He's about poleaxed with this news, I can tell. Nobody thinks to notice me, and it's a good thing, because my shoulders are starting to shake with laughter. I pretend to be crying.

Daddy balls up that note in his brick-hard fist, grabs his coat, and rams his way out the front door, telling Old Mam to go to the feed store to call the pastor, because there's going to be a wedding tonight.

For all the drama, Emmeline looks pleased. Dammit!

My plan isn't going so well. At this point she was supposed to be gettin' a beating right about now. A beating to end 'em all and put her on her stomach in bed for days, and certainly not about to be getting hitched to the boy she's after!

She hisses at me like a cat, then arches her back saying as how she'd best be getting her good clothes on to get ready to meet her new husband. Damn, I've delivered her into the hands of the one she wants the most, which really stinks because she won't ever thank me for it.

Old Mam calls me to fetch some water for tea and to make ham biscuits for the folks coming over. Well, it might be a shotgun wedding but it's a wedding all the same, right? I put extra salt in the biscuit dough, for spite. They might be flat biscuits, and too bitter to eat, but they're biscuits all the same, right? Damn!

Bootsteps on the porch. At least three people. Daddy walks through the door. Then Shane. Damn. Then Josh.

What? Josh? Well, this could be interesting.

The men go out back to the barn. There's a bottle back there. Daddy keeps it for thinking times, he says. Usually when he comes back from thinking he's a lot more fun. So, this could be a fun night.

Old Mam gets back, then the pastor arrives. They go back to the kitchen, where Old Mam keeps a bottle, for her social hours. They commence to being social. There is no sign of Emmeline. Not to be expected, really, she takes forever to get ready for a trip to the mailbox, much less to her own wedding. A few minutes with all this commotion downstairs is likely to be flushing up her cheeks real good and getting her all flustered.

Daddy and the boys troop in from out back, he's yelling for Old Mam and the preacher to come on in and have a chat, then yells up to Emmeline to haul her butt down to her new husband. Daddy's hit that bottle good and hard, and it's going to be a good night. Right now I don't care what's going on, really, just that everyone seems in such high spirits. Shoot, with Emmeline out of the house it's a fair wind blowing that at least I won't be as put upon, who who really cares if she gets the man of her dreams? I don't.

Emmeline's shoes are visible at the top of the steps, then her knees, waist, shoulders, and beautiful face. She's done herself up a treat, in a light gray dress, Momma's pearls, and a little blue hat she'd bought for her birthday present a few weeks ago. She looks real pretty. I hate that about her. She's getting what she wants and I did that for her. Life ain't fair, so I hold onto the 'only me here in the house now' thought to get me through wanting to rip that smug smile off her face.

For a gal who has been with a boy before her wedding, she's looking mighty pure. Those blue eyes are sparking again, and I could spit nails. It's just not fair.

The preacher gets Daddy, Old Mam, and me seated in the front room. Both Shane and Josh are still standing. That's kind of odd. There ought to be only one of them waiting for his bride. He asks Emmeline to come forward. She blushes so fine, it's like looking at a picture book.

The preacher asks the groom to hold out his hand for her. Oh God, I can't stand this moment.

Shane steps up, shifts to one side, and puts Josh's hand on hers.

Emmeline knits those pretty eyebrows, glares at Shane. Shane steps back, pats Josh on the shoulder, and comes to sit with us.

All in all it's a pretty little ceremony, and the biscuits aren't really all that bad after. The sweetness of the tea, like the best revenge, counters the salt just about perfectly.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Temporary Vampire

As many of you know, I am a girl of German/Irish/English heritage, who spent several summers as a lifeguard and many more summers as a scoffer of 'suntan lotion,' preferring instead to get a 'deep base' burn before setting off to build upon that heritage of skin damage with daily applications of MOAR UV RAYS!!

This, in retrospect, was not a good idea.

Not only did those UV rays do me a decided disservice with generous popping-outs of freckles (or, you know, 'angels kisses' for the romantically inclined yet seriously deluded amongst us [Hi, LOML!]), and early face-crepiness, but also they resulted in the genesis of odd bouts of skin cancers, pre-skin cancers, and so much other odd dreck that my dermatologist, several months ago, suggested I get some sort of 'light treatment' to make the random bits of unknown dreadfulness just up and die.

(Hello, I am old enough to get full-facial treatments and have The Insurance pay for it as it is Medically Necessary. You don't get THIS kind of thing when you're in your 20's!)

So,' light treatment.' In the medical field it's known as ALA-PDT, or Levulan-photodynamic therapy. It involves getting tarted up in a no-doubt horrifically poisonous wash of goo that, once applied to every crevice of your ghastly aging face, begins to invade your skin, searching out nasty little wanna-be cancers. For an hour, the goo searches out crap and crud, investigating dark corners of your face for pre-bravado cancers, and making dates with them for mutual suicide.

Good news: there was minimal burning/itching/stinging (all of which I'd been warned about). I was feeling damned good about myself, with the pain/discomfort thing. Rather superior, in fact. Ultra-great, and very Teutonic in my stoicness.

Darkly awkward, and thrilling, no?

Then, the second part. The light.


After an hour I was called back into the treatment room, reclined on a table, fitted with METAL goggles, and told that I was in for 7 minutes of what could be hell. Therefore the little hand-held fan. Nice thought. I was ready for some truly awful moments. Pre-relishing them, even.

The light went on, my retinas, even with the metal dang goggles, began simmering nicely in a white-hot bath of photons, and I settled in to commence with further stinging/burning/itching.

Aaaaaand, NOTHING. No need for the fan, no panicked calls for help, no twitch of panic or whiff of cooking flesh, tough there was the moment when 'something' popped in the light assembly that made me think the maybe my hair might set on fire. Otherwise, nothing. No need for fan, no despearate waving of hands, no light sizzling or any overt notice that in fact anything was really happening.

Color me disappointed when the 7 minutes were over, the light was snapped off, I was once again able to see, and was ushered out of the room with a sheen of newly-applied moisturizer, admonitions to stay out of the sun for 48 hours (Team Edward!), and and appointment to see the doc in 6 weeks to ascertain if this was the only treatment I'd need for my 'issues.'

And still, nothing in the pain department.

Now, if you're like me, after a good medical treatment you'd like a bit of suffering to show for it. Something in the 'Oh, I'm fine, really (*wipes hand languidly across brow*)' variety, in which suffering in implied, but not overt. Sadly, in the case of the great face frying of 2012, it seems i was to be denied. Several hours at home, and nothing in the way of discomfort, at all. I was starting to think it was time to ask the office if the wand of Levulan was still good.

And then, 6 hours later, I didn't need to call any more.

That Levulan was good. The treatment worked. How did I know? Easy - My face started to sting like an asshole coated with hot sauce. Also, it began to swell. Also, to turn red in really unexpected places. Like, hey, I never would have expected to get a cancer in the crease of my NOSE, but dang if they're not lighting up like a baboon's butt in mating season. Also the chin. And my ENTIRE FREAKING FOREHEAD.

Gosh, this is going to be great. Swelling, peeling, itching, and scaling are projected to follow.

Just thought you should know what's happening with me, and that there will be many more self-indulgent posts about my stupid precanceroushead will be forthcoming. Some, perhaps, with pictures.

You have been warned.

With love, TIFF.

Monday, February 06, 2012

double duty double deals!

Well, at least that's what the headline touts from the right-hand page of the Woman's Day magazine to my right.

The magazine - It's a gift from my mommy. Y'all shut about about how only old ladies read Woman's Day because Family Circle is too 'young' for them. Just shush. I'd read Cosmo, but the scratch and sniff perfume ads give me headaches and the models make me angry.

My brother gets Smithsonian each year as one of his Christmas gifts. I wouldn't mind that either. I could learn some things that don't involve the latest in decorating trends or how to wear this Spring's makeup or what kind of lunch to pack for maximum belly-blasting punch. It might be fun to lean back with a good magazine that engages only my brain and not some languishing feeling of inadequacy, but that's OK. I'm actually fining new things to cook and I rather like the craft ideas (I don't do any of them) and some of the product things are really great, plus which there are some really great columns by very good writers and NO perfume samples.

It's a lovely little mag, really. Not one I'd buy for myself, which is good because if I was left to only buy magazines for me I'd wind up with "Steampunk Weekly" and "Gross Things Our Bodies Do" and the like.

It's better my Mom gets me a subscription to a magazine that reminds me that I am a woman and as such have certain standards to adhere to that don't revolve around toilet humor, science fiction, and ghastly things that should remain firmly bound up in a notebook someplace.

The bright colors of this monthly infusion of ladyness in our home is good for me. And our family. I get inspired by it, and as such might EVEN do a craft with doilies and spray paint and mirrors. It's really pretty cool.

But that is not what I came here to talk about tonight. Nope.

I came here to talk about RAISIN BREAD. The recipe for which I found on FARK.

Seriously. FARK.

This is the most bestest bread I've ever made in the raisin variety. It has a SUPER rise, is moist and tender, slightly sweet, and does 'oven spring' like nothing I've ever seen before. So, here's the recipe, in case you want to be all down-homey and Woman's Day-ey like me (ey):

Awesome FARKIN raisin Bread, with tweaks by Tiff

You'll need:

1 cup water
1 cup 1% milk
2 packages active dry yeast (or 2 level TBSP instant yeast)
6-7 cups all-purpose flour (6.5 for a nice firm-soft dough)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup oil (I used cheap olive oil, regardless of virginity, regular veg oil works well too)
2 eggs
1/2 to 1 cup raisins, depending on your raisinattude.
extra cinnamon/sugar for sprinkling.

A big bowl
a small bowl
a big spoon
measuring cups and spoons
a big cookie sheet of any shape.
some dish towels.

How to do it:

  • Turn the oven on to its lowest setting. Once it's preheated, turn it off. You just want it warm.
  • Heat the water and milk in the big bowl until it's warm as your index finger when you dunk it in there. Don't worry. you'll know.
  • Add the yeast, give 'er a stir. Let that sit for 10 minutes until you see lil bubbles breaking on the surface.
  • Add the sugar and salt and cinnamon to the liquid.
  • Add a cup of the flour to the liquids, whisk until smooth.
  • Add the oil and the egg. Stir until smooth.
  • Add 2 more cups of flour, one at a time , whisking until smooth each time.
  • Dump 3 more cups of flour on top, and start kneading in. We use our Kitchenaid mixer for this. You can do the workout thing though and go old-school with hands and strength, turning, folding, and smooshing until the dough is a silken ball that separates easily from a well-floured surface and can hold its shape if lifted up high like you were baptizing it in the light of a Serengeti sunset.
  • OK, now drop that dough in the big bowl (after lightly greasing it) and wash your hands. Then take a clean dishtowel and run some hot water through it and wring it out, then drape it over the top of the bowl.
  • Put the big bowl in the oven you heated earlier. If the bowl is plastic, put it in a pan of cold water so the base doesn't melt. Now go do something else for a couple hours while the bread proofs.
  • Once the loaf has plumped up about twice what it was, (and when a finger poked into yields a hole that doesn't fill in at all), punch it back down. Let that poor sad mass sit quietly under a moist towel like before for about 10 minutes to rest. It's going to need that time, as you're about to Work It Out.
  • Once the dough is rested, punch is down again to get rid of errant air bubbles.
  • Shape into a flat rectangle about a half-inch thick, cut in 2 pieces, spread with sugar, cinnamon, and raisins. Roll each piece longways into a loaf, pinching seam to seal. Place in prepared pan (that means greased, y'all) seam side down. Don't worry about the rolled edges - they're fine to leave 'open.' I made one in a loaf pan and one like a giant sweet raisiny croissant in a pie dish. Both worked.
  • Preheat the oven again while you're doing this.
  • Place the loaves in the warm oven.
  • Once the loaf has doubled in size, take it out, leave lightly covered with a dishcloth.
  • Preheat the oven to 350F. Put the loaves back in to bake for ~30-35 minutes. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN for at least 25 minutes. Peek after that and begin softening some butter for when the bread is ready. If you've done it right, a steak knife will slide in and out clean in the middle of the loaf.
  • Leave the bread to bake for until such time as the tops are the color of a nice glass of bourbon (neat), then pull out and let cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Maybe slather the top with some melted butter. It's up to you.
  • Then tip out onto a cooling rack and let cool as long as you can stand it.



So, yeah. ME being all weird AND domestic. It's just how we do roll.

Tiff out.

Friday, February 03, 2012

A time or two ago

When I was less then half as old as I am now, I had dreams (or practical plans) of being a teacher.

It didn't work out. I wasn't nearly as responsible as I needed to be to teach the kids who I met during my student teaching. I was 23. There's nothing more be said about that, except that I'm a late bloomer and as such didn't even think about ordering big-girl panties until I was about 30.

I got to thinking tonight though, about a couple of things.

One is that I've not shared with you a couple of good books I've had the pleasure to read, if you're into 'hillbilly scary OMG is that the way it is' story telling.

Now y'all know I love a good spook story. But this gal, Emory Raxter, does it so gruesomely and well that there's no candle I could begin to hold to her tales.

Disclaimer: I had the pleasure of editing her novels, through the odd auspices of my ex-husband, who worked with her to get publishing. I know, it's weird, But it works. Life is strange, ain't it?


Emory. She's the deal. She knows what she's talking about. She lives in the byways and shadowy hollers of the past and the odd angles of our strange present. She takes words and corrupts them to her pleasure, wending bright stream of hope through black holes of despair, until I as a reader could NOT put the dang books down until I knew how they ended.

The first book was...graphic. The second, enriching, in a truly dreadful way.

Read 'em.

And while you do, look here, to understand, fully, that the rough and tumble everyone for himself life she describes so lovingly and horrifyingly is real, right now, in YOUR country.

Not that it's bad, but that it's real. Those people are us. They are tough, strong, and smart. And have almost no truck with us. It would behoove us all to know that tucked into the deep mountains of the eastern United States there are people who are fierce, noble, sometimes dirt-poor, and utterly capable.

I know. I taught them back when I had dreams of being a teacher a million years ago. From those kids in my classes I learned that the folds of earth they called home were as inscrutable as their attitudes toward school and those of us that came from the Flatlands. The ice-blue eyes and scruffy go-at-anything attitude reminded me of my gramma, she of the poor Irish of New York. I'll bet we're related. (Mom, are we?)

No matter. Just go read Emory's books. You'll get the idea.

And have a happy weekend.