Monday, November 25, 2019

Reclaiming My Name, "Winning" NaNo, and other Superpowers

Reclaiming Jo

I find myself in an awkward re-branding phase here in the fall of my 39th year. Since childhood, I've been called Jo or Joey in an even split. I always introduced myself with the slightly longer name as Joey is my full given name. Eventually, anyone that knew me well would call me Jo. My parents. My friends. My husband mostly calls me Jo.

We went to a local church starting in 2010 or some long time ago that we didn't tie tightly to any specific happening to firmly link it in our personal timeline. There was an important woman in that church that everyone called Jo. And I gave it up. 

I became Joey all the time.

My full married name sounds ridiculous to me. It always has. If I have to introduce myself, full first and last name, I'm apt to take on a heavy, fake, and poor Italian accent wherein I imagine myself a cousin that just got in from "the boot" meeting the Sopranos for the first time. In this image, I look like Danny DeVito. I'm fairly certain people that just see my name without me also picture Danny DeVito. Adding my middle name, Lynn, has done little to help.

Jo is a little better and over the years, without fully realizing, I've missed Jo. It's brief and dare I say cool?

In mid-2019, my family started going to a different church. It's further away, radically inclusive, and progressive. It's basically church-heaven to give it a theologically suspicious moniker. And in this church's very large congregation, I've yet to encounter another woman named Jo.

So after a couple of months at this new church, I decided to take my name back.

I write Jo on nametags. I've started signing emails with just Jo. And I'm up to a 50/50 split with introductions. I'm coming across as an awkward weirdo that doesn't know her own name, but it feels good. Good and less short, bald Italian man-ish.

"Winning" NaNoWriMo

I wrote about National Novel Writing Month two years ago. Specifically, I wrote about how I don't do NaNo and how I figured I'd never be able to do NaNo. Oh, doubting younger self, what a fool you were!

My daughter, age 14, writes like Alexander Hamilton. She writes every day, creatively. Her fantasy novels are beautiful and funny and highly readable. Someday she will blow us all away.

The 2019 NaNo was her suggestion. "Will you do NaNo with me, Momma?" There was adorable blinking and cuteness. Apparently, I'll go a long way to feel included at this juncture, so I said, "yes."

The regret was pretty immediate. We made this pact in early October and I was sitting on 30K of a rough draft on a new, actual fiction that I'd started about a year ago. I decided to think a lot about the next bit and then write like a busy bee in November. So while my daughter continued to plug away daily on her novel, I went on complete emotional hiatus from writing other than occasional passing thoughts of plot.

November 1st came and we were off. I, as a so-called freelance writer, at an obvious advantage due to my work from home flexibility. She was busy with school, ha!

Still, she posted about 300-400 more words than me each day. Excited by her lead, she suggested a side wager. Would I want to make a bet that I'd finish first? We made silly stakes and headed off to our laptops.

We kept pretty even through the first two weeks. A couple of busy days at school set her back. I pulled ahead. She stopped going to bed at night. I got 15K from the 50K goal and started to feel the thrill of finishing. Not so much achieving the goal, but freeing myself from writing every day.

Also, the story was going well.

But I was almost done, or so the NaNo website graphs seemed to suggest. On November 22nd, I wrote over 6,500 words and "won" NaNo. My daughter finished hers the next day.

In short, suck it 2017 me. You/I can totally write 50K in 30 days. In fact, you/I can write 50K in 22 days. Ha ha!

Other Superpowers

It has come to my attention, here in the fall of my 39th year, that I have certain superpowers. One is that I can predict, with a high level of accuracy, what will happen in a TV drama about 5-10 minutes before said event happens.

I noticed this first during an episode of Amazon Prime's Goliath. I basically called out what was going to happen and then, as though I'd watched it before, everything happened exactly as I'd said. My husband loves watching TV with me!

Then, on a NaNo writing day, I wrote an exact phrase and a whole scene of HBO's Succession that I didn't watch until the night after I wrote it.

Still trying to figure out how to monetize this ability, but I feel certain that a girl called Jo can do anything.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Not Sure I Want What’s Beyond Meat

I’m pretty worried about the environment. Ticks don’t die over the winter anymore. I haven’t been off of Allegra in eighteen months because allergens don’t ever take a break. Weather is more extreme, more weird.

I’ve been looking for ways to do my part. The family switched to cloth napkins. I’m cleaning the house with baking soda, vinegar, and Dawn dish detergent. We’re trying to buy less single-use plastic. I even went “no-poo” for at least partly environmental reasons.

Every measure seems to have a litany of unintended consequences, not the least of which is the feeling that it doesn’t make any difference. Even if I could succeed at zero waste, aren’t I just prioritizing the elimination of garbage over the preservation of clean water? It’s pretty easy to turn in climate change anxiety circles.

A Beyond Meat burger fixed up with American cheese,
ketchup, and pickles.
Even so, I was intrigued this spring by Beyond Meat. It’s made of peas. Since I don’t do well with soy, I figured I’d never succeed with any plant-based burger alternative. But here was this miracle “meat” at my very own local grocery store with rave reviews filling my Google news feed.

I bought a two-pack of burgers and a bag of “meat crumbles” just before Beyond Meat’s IPO. The crumbles were already marked down with a little sticker indicating the product had been discontinued. I’d have bought more than one pack at $1.37, but there was only one bag left. The burgers set me back $5.99.

Both products were already frozen. I popped the burgers into the freezer at home and used the “meat” crumbles in a lasagna that very night.

The lasagna was not good. It was edible, but both the texture and the taste of the “meat” was nothing like the real thing. It had a foul aftertaste and put a note of chemical or maybe mold into the dish.

The experience made me less than excited to try the burgers.

Memorial Day weekend is made for burgers. Even in experiencing our own isolated lazy weekend we could smell grilled meat wafting by from neighborhood cookouts. A look in our own freezer revealed one frozen Angus patty and those two Beyond Meat burgers.

My husband grilled them. He manages all of the cooking on our propane grill since I fight for women’s equality while simultaneously fearing death by backyard grill explosion. I stayed inside and peeled potatoes, doing an admirable job of timing batches of fries in the Fry Daddy to be ready when the burgers were done.

Tim brought in the Angus patty first. We’d decided that my un-foodventurous daughter should have the “normal” burger just in case.

“I think you’d better come look at these,” he said.
“Is it going that well?”
“Are they done? They’re sort of gelatinous.”
“Maybe they’re taking longer because they were frozen.”

The Beyond Meat burger patty was at odds with our propane grill.
The grilling experience was nothing like preparing a slab of Angus.

We decided they had to be done. They looked on the verge of burning into hockey pucks. Are they even flammable? It was then that the smell hit us. Burning rubber with a note of industrial chemical, not the delightful odor our neighbor’s cookout was producing.

Here the patties demonstrate how they don't retain enough heat to
melt the cheese.
“Well,” I said. “That smell has done in my appetite. If we can’t eat it I don’t think I’ll need anything else for dinner.”
“Try yours first and let me know if it’s edible,” my husband said.

My hero.

The first bite wasn’t bad at all. It felt like ground meat in my mouth and what does beef even taste like? Nothing really. I forged ahead. Tim bit into his burger.

“Not inedible,” he proclaimed.

He finished his burger, but as I approached the three-quarter mark of my own I began to taste that smell.

That smell does not taste good.

My progress slowed and suddenly I could hear all the times I’d told my finicky daughter to “just eat it like it’s medicine.” But I couldn’t get it down. It might be the medicine to save all of humanity, but I couldn’t finish it.

This is a picture my daughter insisted should never have been taken.
Contemplating Beyond Meat
(Not how I look when I'm enjoying my dinner.)

There’s some debate amid the glowing Beyond Meat reviews that hyper commercialized super processed almost meat is a detour down the wrong road. I thought about that a lot in the days between eating a crummy lasagna and struggling to get the taste of burnt tire out of my mouth. We’re trained from a young age as Americans to be good consumers. Not that we vote with our dollars for particularly good causes but that we perform an almost patriotic duty by shopping as much as possible. And now that eco-friendly movements are entering the local supermarket in the form of these new-age veggie burgers we can do our duty to God and country and feel like we’re eating Angus while playing at being Vegan.

If only it were so simple.

In the end, my experience with Beyond Meat was a personal call to consider how often I really need beef. Local beef raised on the farm down the road must be better overall than a processed, overpackaged patty.

We've had actual burgers that came from cows about once a week since Memorial Day. My daughter, even after being spared a personal Beyond Meat experience, won't eat them anymore. She is now totally disgusted by hamburgers. So perhaps Beyond Meat has done something to help the planet, it's causing us to grill at least one beef patty less.

**Note: I did a lot of Google searching to determine what went wrong with these patties. As far as I can tell, we followed the package instructions, you're supposed to be able to freeze the patties, and these things just aren't going to work for us.***

Thursday, April 4, 2019

There’s a Mouse in the House

I was minding my own business.

Well, not really. 

I was in the middle of frenzied dinner preparations, pots boiling on four out of five burners. I opened the drawer next to the stovetop to pull out an oven mitt.

The drawer was full of dog food.

I took a quick, giant, and entirely horrified step back. I may have screamed. When the rest of the family saw, we all had a laugh. Surely one of us was suffering a mental break or some sort of dog feeding malfunction. I immediately worried about myself. Was my mental state quite all right?

My daughter had the presence of mind to consult the Internet. She arrived at the conclusion that we had a mouse.

Full disclosure, we’d seen a mouse in our basement a few months before. Our method of removing that mouse clearly left something to be desired. Our strategy was to leave the garage door open on a mild fall day and assume that the mouse went back out again. We don’t have mouse smarts as you’ll see as this story progresses.

After accepting that the garage mouse had become a house mouse, I undertook to procure a trap. I couldn’t bring myself to get one of those lethal traps though. The thought of seeing the sweet mouse’s skull crushed or scraping its writhing body from a glue trap just didn’t sit well. So I bought a two pack of humane traps from Amazon.

We lived with the mouse for several days until we had the right circumstances (motivation, flexible morning plans for the release, ample time to steel our emotions for the task) to catch him. I put the dog food away at night and was able to keep my pot holder drawer free of its mouse hoard.

We captured our guest on a Friday night and released him into the cold of a below average temperature Saturday morning. My husband took him to the edge of our yard and gave permission for the mouse to take up residence in my daughter's old playhouse.

Mice aren’t highly suggestible as it turns out.

On a windy night in February, I saw something run from the basement door into the kitchen. My husband said, oh no, the mouse couldn’t be back. Your eyes are playing tricks on you. And for the second mouse related time, I wondered if I was quite well.

Early March found me back at the stove. Every night I’m at the stove, but apparently, I don’t always open the pot holder drawer to the fullest. I reached in to grab an oven mitt and again found a pile of dog food.

“Son of a b—,” I yelled.

This time, the drawer was also full of poo.

That night we trapped our little buddy again. On an unseasonably cold March morning, we released him at a park three miles away. It was nine degrees.

This rodent revival hit on laundry day. It seems the mouse was testing out a new spot in the clothes hamper. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover this until I’d unwittingly dumped several kibbles into the washer. It took three loads to work the dog food through the system.

The next weekend, our furnace stopped working. More accurately, it spent Saturday morning working really hard. The fan blew full blast and I said, something isn't right. My husband agreed with me and spent a good amount of time trying to diagnose the problem. We had plans to go see Captain Marvel at a far away theater that has open captioned shows, so we left our heatless house and did that. By Sunday the furnace wouldn't run at all.

The service tech came to us mid-morning on Monday. Within minutes he'd located the problem, a baby mouse in the condensate drain. Not just in the drain pipe, but several feet up in the drain pipe having navigated two bends in the 1" diameter pipe that leads to nowhere a mouse should want to go.

"I've never seen that one before!" said the tech.

We trapped three more mice after the furnace incident. Idiotically, we drove them to the park and released them. So they could be with their friends.

I’ve no one to blame for this but myself but you should know it’s been hard on me. Cold nights without heat and finding kibbles in odd areas of my kitchen. I’m fairly certain the mouse stashed kibbles in pants pockets, an added bonus for me to discover in a few months. 

I do not look forward to that.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Pinterest Creates a Deodorant Dilemma

I was in sixth grade when I started using deodorant and from the word go, I used way too much. My family had gone over the hill to feed stale bread to the fish in our pond on a summer day. I was hauling myself back up near my mom when she exclaimed, “you stink!” This prompted the rest of the family to have a sniff. My father, never one for subtlety, roared about my B.O. His laughter followed me as I beat a path to the shower.

In those days, I wore a Milwaukee brace to treat scoliosis. Hygiene was complicated by the leather, metal, and plastic casing around my torso. I relied heavily on the Ban roll-on that mom kept in the house. It turned out I was a profuse sweater though and I soon switched to powder fresh solid, applying it heavily three or four times a day.

I caked on so much antiperspirant that it would congeal into little white balls that looked like bunches of grapes growing in my pits. Layer after layer of product went on and did nothing to stymie the sweat.

My seventh-grade history teacher went on a riff one day about the dangers of aluminum. We’re all going to have Alzheimer’s from our deodorant he said. His warning stuck with me and as I swiped or sometimes sprayed, I’d think how an elderly me would pay for it someday. But I didn’t stop.

Fast forward nearly thirty years and it’s not Alzheimer’s but a more credible worry about breast cancer and a closet full of shirts with pits stained powdery white. The planet is dying and I’ve personally populated landfills with empty pomegranate Dove deodorant sticks. In early 2019, I swiped the last bits of a stick and decided not to buy any more.

But I'm still a stinky girl.

I took to Pinterest for a solution and quickly found a homemade recipe sure to curb any unwanted APO. I measured and mixed just four ingredients and congratulated myself on saving the earth.

My mixture cooled and it didn't look like the Pinterest picture. It wasn't the consistency described in the post. In fact, my homemade deo seemed to have separated. Undeterred, I smoothed the top layer into my pits and went on about life.

And I didn't stink for weeks. Even better, without the constant reapplication of powdery solids that transferred to my clothes, most of the white pit stains washed out. I was sporting a wardrobe that looked nearly new.

Eventually, I worked my way down through that top layer and found that I couldn't scrape out enough to paste my pits. I took my mini ball jar back to the kitchen and hacked out chunks with a butter knife.

Now I had these cakes of solid deodorant that I could apply much like a storebought product but without the plastic holder. 

I was super pleased with myself at this point. 

Right up until the burning. Oh, my underarms felt like they were on fire a few days into my solid cake phase. I began asking the Google about the ingredients in the DIY wonder deodorant. 

Can lavender irritate skin? I asked.


Oh, yes.

Is corn starch irritating to skin?


How about coconut oil?

No. Go ahead and put as much coconut oil and corn starch on your body as you want.

At this point, my armpits were bright red and puffy. The internet painted a dreary picture of thick brown skin created by repeated exposure to baking soda. It appeared that I was a few uses away from teenage Groot underarms. Not pretty.

After a few days of NO DEODORANT, the burning stopped and my skin returned to its usual pitty pallor. Fun fact about me: I don't sweat that much when my skin is inflamed and burning like the fires of Mordor. So the post-burn part of this wasn't even the worst of it.

Pinterest will gladly tell you that baking soda bad, if you ask. Suddenly, my feed was full of recipes without baking soda. I even found the corner of the internet where people use plain coconut oil and nothing else. Of course, I tried that.


Coconut oil is just fine until the sweating starts and though there isn't much sweating during a Pittsburgh winter, there's too much sweating for coconut oil.

And now I'm left with a deodorant dilemma. I don't want to go back to those over-packaged plastic tubes full of aluminum and whatever else. I don't want to ruin all of my shirts. I also don't want to stink. So I think I'm going to have to try my own recipe, figure out what was in that top layer of the first Pinterest fail. 

Perhaps coconut oil, corn starch, and less lavender will do the trick. I'm starting to sweat just thinking about it.