Much Ado About Nothing

I'm calling this post Much Ado about Nothing since none of the things are really exciting enough to be a post on their own. (Actually, it's not even really much ado. It's more like A Passing Mention About Nothing, but that didn't sound as good, which I'm sure is why it didn't make it past Shakespeare's editors either).

I'm currently reading Bram Stoker's Dracula as part of my classics book list. And I admit that while I'm woefully out of touch when it comes to vampire lore, I was shocked to discover that Stoker's Dracula is light years away from your more "modern" vampires such as Anne Rice or Twilight or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For one thing, Dracula has more rules than the Old Testament. He can't fly over moving water. He can't come in unless invited. He needs his home dirt from Transylvania. He's OLD. (Which isn't really a rule so much as just a shock since all the Hollywood vampires are young and dashing). Despite the limitations however, Stoker still manages to make those modern vampires look like cuddly little bunnies by comparison. (Ooooh! That just reminded me of Bunnicula, the lovable children's books about the rabbit who sucks the juice out of vegetables. I loved those books when I was a kid!) Not to say that Stoker is all grisly and graphic like you'd expect in today's books, but he writes so that you know Dracula's coming for the character and there's not a thing anybody can do about it. (I was up until 3:30am last night reading and yelling, "Don't open the window! He's out there! Don't open it!") I'm not normally a fan of the whole horror genre, but I must say that I'm really enjoying this one. Still, that Dracula? Seriously. Bad. Dude.

So I've invented this fabulous new snack recently, and rather than package it commercially and make a fortune off of it, I'm going to share it with you for free because that is just the kind of warm, loving person that I am. (You're welcome). Anyway, it's kind of based off of Garlic Triscuits which are hands-down one of the top five most awesome snack crackers in existence thankyouverymuch. (I can throw down an entire box of those things in one sitting if I'm not careful. Loooooooove the garlic triscuits!) As a matter of fact, that's really how the whole invented snack thing came about, because I was blowing through Triscuits faster than, well, something really fast, and was all, "I need to find a better outlet for my garlic wheat cracker cravings". Hence, my garlic Triscuit homemade knockoffs! Tris-quits! Or Garlic-o's. Or whatever.

9-10 cups of spoon size shredded wheat cereal (original, not flavored or frosted or anything)
1 packet dry Hidden Valley Powdered Ranch dressing
2-3 tbsp garlic powder (depending on how much you like garlic)
1/4 cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spread cereal out on baking sheet.
Mix oil and ranch powder and garlic together in bowl. (It turns a freaky shade of green. Don't worry about that).
Pour oil mixture over cereal, stirring to coat evenly.
Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.
Eat as many as you want because it's basically just shredded wheat, and everybody's grandma knows that shredded wheat is crazy good for you, right?

So here I am, reading my book and popping my Tris-quits until garlic oozes out of my pores. And with Dracula, don't think that that was a coincidence.

Finally, because even pointless posts need three points (Commandment seven of the Bloggy 10 Commandments), I'll tell you that I've just picked up two Sneaky Chef books in an attempt to get the House of Quirk eating more veggies. I'd like to claim that I'm just doing this as a way to totally sneak veggies right in under Tony's nose, and while I suppose that is technically true, I'm also sneaking veggies in under my own nose. Veggies that I'd never normally eat. Veggies that I do not even like to look at. But I gotta tell you, it really works. Tony is completely oblivious to the extra ingredients, and even though I know that they're in there, I can't taste them or see them or pick up on them at all. So far, I've only tried two or three recipes, but everything we've eaten has been totally me and Tony-approved. So we're eating healthier and not having to sacrifice taste. So hooray for hidden veggies! Just don't tell Tony about them.

Eulogy to My Jeans

It is a sad day in the House of Quirk for today my oldest, softest, most loyal pair of jeans have officially died. They were a pair of Express jeans that I bought back in high school, which due to some mysterious loophole in the first law of thermodynamics*, continued to fit me even though I've climbed more than a few sizes since then. (My guess is that the cotton fibers had an almost superhuman quality to stretch and stretch and stretch. It's the only reason I can think of that an otherwise normal pair of jeans could go from fitting my skinny little high school self to my walking-to-classes-gave-me-the-thighs-muscles-of-the-Incredible-Hulk college days to my early married 20 lb jump). Still, these jeans went through it all. Sure, they had both knees ripped out (by use, not as a fashion statement), and paint splotches on them, and holes in the pockets, and some worn spots that were so thin that they were by definition transparent, but they were also REALLY REALLY soft. And faded in all the right places. And totally broken in. They were my workhorse jeans. Jeans you didn't care if you got messy in. Jeans that weeded flower beds and stained furniture and painted bathrooms and at the end of the day laughed and said, "Is that all you got?" And even though there was that little hole in the butt from the time that I was sliding along the roof to string Christmas lights and could therefore never wear them out in public without being fined for indecent exposure, the jeans knew that they were loved. And respected. And more than a little worn.

And so today, when it was rainy out and I had no errands to run and needed to climb behind the dryer to rescue that bottle of fabric softener that had fallen off the shelf last Tuesday, I turned to my faithful working jeans to help me get the job done. "Okay jeans," I told them. "We're going into dangerous territory today. The area is heavy guarded by dust bunnies and dryer lint fuzz, not to mention awkward to maneuver around. It's going to take some flexible twisting, and we're going to get linty". And the jeans never flinched. Just saluted and dove right in.

I'm not going to lie. It was bad back there. I've never seen so many dust bunnies. But my jeans had me covered (literally) and we were doing okay. That is, right up until I made the final lunge for the softener, and the jeans snagged a screw on the back of the dryer and went down in a hail of glory. RIIIIIIIPPPP! I tried to apply pressure as I inched my way back to safety (no jeans left behind, you know), but sadly the wound was too big, too gaping, and once the tear started, there was no stopping it. The entire right cheek gone in a matter of seconds. I told the jeans it would be okay. I told them that they could still be house jeans; that nothing had changed...that the rip just added character, but we both knew that it was a lie. They were less jeans and more in the way of chaps now, and even I can't work with that kind of draft on my derriere.

So goodbye to you, faithful jeans! We honor you for your many (many, many) years of service to the cause. Through good and bad, thick and thin, yard mowing and manure spreading, we salute you! May your final resting place be peaceful, and may you always feel the warmth of the dryer in your denim.


*That's the one about matter not being created, which makes no sense because I swear these jeans magically adjusted from, "Someday I'll have some curves" to "Good Heavens! This is more than just junk in my trunk...this is the entire U-haul!"

9/16/09 Mucho Gusto Senor Gallo!

So I've decided to learn Spanish. I figured that with all the little kids out there watching Dora the Explorer, I've fallen behind the curve. (How am I ever supposed to win "Are you smarter than a fifth grader?" when all the little kids are bilingual now?) Plus, I've got the time, so why not?

I picked up an "Instant Immersion Spanish" computer program to practice with, and I currently DVR an elementary school Spanish TV show that I watch every day. (The show is geared towards first and second graders, and to tell the truth, I feel a little stupid singing along with a hand puppet named Senor Gallo*, but hey, it works.)

Ideally, I'd like to get Tony fluent in Spanish also so that we can practice together. (He took Spanish in high school while I was wasting time on Latin, so he has a bit of a head start on me, whereas the most I ever got out of Latin was the correct way to wear a toga). So far however, he refuses to do the computer programs or the tv show, but last night while Senor Gallo and I were calling out family relationships in Spanish, I heard Tony mumbling "el hermano" from the kitchen, so all is not lost. I predict that after a few days, he'll be singing along with the stupid chicken puppet too.

So far I've learned some greetings, names of family members, how to pronounce the alphabet, farm animals, and articles of clothing. (I did the laundry today and called out the name of everything as I tossed it into the washer. When I learn numbers, I'll count them). I also put post-it notes with the names of all the rooms of the house all over the place. Each time I walk into a room, I say the name. My post-its may be falling down now, but at least most of the names are sticking.

So we'll see. This may end up being one of those things that I pursue diligently for two weeks and then never touch again, but I hope not. So far, I'm really excited about it. (Of course, I haven't started conjugating verbs yet). I figure that I'm at the toddler stage of pointing and just mumbling names right now, but after a few weeks of hard work, I expect to be able to sit through an episode of Dora and know what the heck she's talking about.

And that will be muy bien.

*Senor Gallo translates to Mr. Chicken, in case you haven't been keeping up with your Dora adventures.

On Alarms

I set the house alarm off today. Normally, I'm pretty good about it, but every now and then I forget that it's on and try to open the back door before disarming it. This, as you may well guess, creates a lovely 120 decibel WHOOP-WHOOP-WHOOP sound that scatters cats, startles the neighbors, and makes me yell profanity as I trip over furniture in my haste to get over to the control panel to turn it off. (Sometimes, if it's early in the morning and I'm not 100% awake yet, I have the added benefit of almost peeing on myself. It hasn't happened yet, but I've come close a couple of times).

Anyway, 99 times out of a hundred, I remember to punch in the code first, but today I was distracted with my lecture to the esteemed Ms. Bella about possibly making better choices regarding inner-household cat relationships, and I just went and threw open the door without thinking about it. Sure enough, the alarm went off, I slammed the door (too late now!), yelled a not nice word, tripped over the freaked out cat, crashed into the kitchen chairs, stubbed my toe, yelled another not nice word, limped over to the control panel in the living room and punched in our code. Then, grabbing a paper towel to staunch the bleeding from the missing toe that was back in the kitchen where I'd left it wrapped around the base of the chair leg, I hobbled over to wait by the phone for the call.

(Our alarm is monitored by one of those 24/7 companies who calls to make sure that you're just a moron who sets off her alarm by accident as opposed to a moron who is being robbed at gunpoint. The way it works is that the alarm goes off, they call you to make sure you're okay and to get your secret password, and then have a good laugh at your expense later in the break room. The other alternative is that they call, you don't answer or you give them the wrong password, they call the cops, and then they and the cops laugh at you later from their respective break rooms).

It always takes the alarm company a few minutes to call. I know this, but I still stand there by the phone, waiting for it to ring and imagining them replaying the taped conversation during the annual Christmas Party "Best of" blooper section. ("Yes, yes, it's, I'm fine...false alarm on the deranged ax murderers...yes, I forgot and opened the back door again...yes, again...I'm sorry.") And as much as I enjoy the thought of the alarm company snickering at me whenever I set the alarm off by accident, that's nothing compared to my paranoia about forgetting security password.

The longer it takes for the phone to ring, the more convinced I become that I'm going to accidentally give the alarm company the wrong password. I don't know why. It's not like it's a hard password to remember, or that we have 5 billion different passwords and I might give them the wrong one. In fact, it's been the same password for years. Not to mention I'm the one who picked it out. And it's not like Tony is going to secretly call them up and change the password and not tell me. But as the seconds tick by, I find myself going, Is that it? That's it, right? Do I have time to call Tony and confirm it? No, if they call and the line is busy, they'll think there's a problem. That IS the password, right? Is it? IS IT?!? Oh no, what if I give them the wrong password and they think I'm being held against my will and this is a secret cry for help and they deploy the SWAT team and the FBI and Homeland Security and they all come roaring up in their emergency vehicles with the sirens and the flashing lights and all the neighbors crowd around only to find out that nothing's wrong except for the fact that I'm a complete and total doofus? What if they fine me for taking up valuable resources? What if they arrest me and drag me off to jail for calling in a false report? What if all the ax murderers who couldn't get into my house because of the alarm are just waiting for me there in the prison? What if-

What's that commercial for the alarm company say? They give you peace of mind?

Bella the Barbarian

It's been a week now since we have introduced Bella to our lovely home, and I thought you might enjoy an update.

Bella continues to be an adorable little bundle of feline cuteness. She's become incredibly fond of me, and enjoys following me around whenever I'm downstairs in the kitchen or living room. She also likes sitting outside on the screened-in porch. She's even adjusted nicely to her new food.

The rest of the cats are another story.

We expected the hissing and growls from the other boys when we first brought her home. Mason and Dixon did the same thing when Magellan and Sebastian first arrived, so some hostility was to be expected. They fuss, they growl, they get it out of their system, and after a week or so, the hissing gets less and less frequent. It's a cat thing. So when Bella arrived and the hisses erupted from all over the house, we were not surprised. I just hoped that it wouldn't scare sweet little Bella too much. After all, she's half the size of the other cats; she's such a dainty thing.

The good news, I suppose, is that Bella does not seem to be at all intimidated by the other cats' reaction. The bad news is that they are completely intimidated by her. It turns out that my delicate little feline flower is a total bully. She has decided that the kitchen and living room are now her domain, and any cat that wanders onto her turf gets immediately chased back up the stairs. (This is also accompanied with the sound of someone being hideously really freaks you out when hearing it while being jolted out of a dead sleep at about 5am each morning).

Our little Bella the Barbarian has totally unhinged the other cats, who spend their days refusing to leave the relative safety of our bedroom. I have to put her out on the screened-in porch and bodily carry each cat down the stairs to the basement to get them to eat. When they do catch sight of her, there's still hissing, but the hissing is usually followed by turning and running away to escape the crazy she-devil that is hot on their tails. (Tony's taken to calling her Xena Warrior Princess instead of Bella. Several times a day, she'll go tearing through the house, chasing one of her unsuspecting brothers and yelling "YEIEIEIEIEIEIEIEI!" I wish I could explain just how odd it is to see a giant cat being chased by a tiny little cat 1/3 of his size). The good news is that she doesn't hurt them...she just chases them. The bad news is that they've all developed nervous tics and the habit of jumping out of their skin at the slightest sound. I'm afraid that pretty soon they'll all have to start taking kitty Prozac.

I'm really hoping that, like the hissing, this is another one of those things that will go away once they get to know her better (and vice versa). It's really getting crowded with 4 big cats in one room and one little tiny cat reining supreme over every other room in the house. Plus, it's really hard to scold something that looks so tiny and angelic all the time.

All hail the tiny warrior princess.


A couple of weeks ago, my book review club sent me a copy of Max Lucado's new book, Fearless.

I've read some of Lucado's other books throughout the years and from time to time, but when the book first arrived, I'll admit that it gave me pause. I mean, it's not like I spend all my days hiding in the corner or anything. I don't consider myself to be a fearful person, you know? What could this book possibly have for me?

A lot.

Although I didn't admit to it at first, a lot of the chapters on various fears started sounding annoyingly familiar. And I'd find myself going, "Well, yeah, I guess I do that too". Amazingly, fear becomes so ingrained in our day to day thinking that sometimes we don't even realize that that is what really ails us. The good news is that after the book shines a light on our innermost fears for us, it also does a great job of showing us the way to overcome them.

At one time or another, we're all of afraid of something. Maybe it's violence, or worst-case scenarios, or Global Calamity, or not being able to provide for our families, or disappointing God, or maybe not mattering to anyone. Fear is all around us. (Doubly so if we watch the evening news or pick up a newspaper). But the whole point of Fearless is that it doesn't have to be that way. Lucado raises an interesting point in the very first chapter: out of 125 various instructions in the Gospel, Jesus tells us not to be afraid 21 of those times. That's more than any other command. He says it over and over again. Don't worry. Have courage. Do not be afraid. Fear not. Don't let your hearts be troubled. You can't really get any clearer than that, can you?

The book is an easy and engrossing read, filled with stories and scripture and thought-provoking points that make you go, "hmmmm". I won't spoil it for you by recounting all of my favorite parts here, but I will tell you that scaredy cat or not, even Christian or not, it does make for an inspiring read that will reshape the way you feel about yourself, others, and the world around you.

Because That's What Tennessee Fans Do

It's football time in Tennessee!

I don't know if it's common knowledge outside of the local area, but we enjoy a little football here in the great state of Tennessee. Especially here in a college town like Knoxville, where "the stately walls of old UT rise glorious to the sight" and football is elevated from merely a spectator sport to a fanatical religious fervor.

The first game of the season was Saturday, (not to mention the first game with our newest coach, Lane Kiffin), so every UT fan from the tri-state area converged on our beloved Neyland Stadium to cheer and do the wave and otherwise give our official fanly opinions on everything from the players (defense looks good) to the coaches (too early to tell) to the referees (booooo!).

Of course, being the dedicated social commentator that I am, yours truly was also in attendance, covering the event for Quirky fans who need to know. (All one of you).

I know every fan thinks that their school has the best fans, but it is undisputed proven fact that when it comes to college football, nobody has better fans than the SEC, and of those fans, nobody beats the drive and stamina and pure dedication than the University of Tennessee fan. For example:

The sun is shining, the humidity is high, it's still a bazillion degrees out, and we're all sweating like politicians at a congressional hearing, but we gladly perspire in the sunshine for four hours during game time, because we're UT fans, and that's what we do.

We pack into stadium seats squished tighter than clowns in a clown car; plastered thigh to thigh and shoulder to shoulder with the guy eating nachos on one side and the little kid dribbling hot dog relish down his front on the other, but we're UT fans, and that's what we do.

There have been outbreaks of swine flu all over the campus (even to the point where students are going to class in masks), but swine flu or no, we still eagerly push our way into a stadium with 107,000 seating capacity (and still fill it up), because we're UT fans, and that's what we do.

The official school color (orange) flatters exactly no one and makes us all look like walking Cheetos, (or for us with olive complexions, sickly green-tinged Cheetos), but we are all draped head to toe nonetheless, because we're UT fans, and that's what we do.

We fill up parking lots from miles away in all directions, arriving hours before game time and hiking uphill (both ways) to get to the stadium while lugging seat cushions and binoculars and orange and white shakers like pack mules, but the walking and the hills and the extra 50 pounds of game day luggage do not phase us one bit, because we are UT fans, and that's what we do.

We know that flying those car flags shoot our gas mileage to heck and back, but every car still has them plastered to every window, car roof, and truck bed, proclaiming our school spirit with every flap, because we're UT fans, and that's what we do.

Every man, woman, and child knows all the words to Rocky Top from the moment they can speak until they are gasping out their last breath, and it is an automatic compulsion to join in singing at the first hint of the chorus, no matter if you are at the game, in a bar, or solemnly attending your Uncle Larry's funeral. (Shoot, Uncle Larry's probably singing too from inside his casket). On any given Saturday, you can stand just about anywhere in Knoxville and hear the faint strains of "...home sweet home to meeeee! Good 'ol Rocky Top (wooo!), Rocky Top Tennesseeeeee!" echoing over the hilltops, because we're UT fans, and that's what we do.

We cheer, we stomp, we pump our fists in the air and boo the referees over bad calls. We watch pre-game shows, post game shows, pre-post, and post-pre shows in order to greedily suck in every highlight, every game stat, and every coach's review. We follow the Indianapolis Colts because we still consider Peyton Manning to be one of ours. We start tailgating three days before the game. We hate Florida. Our blood runs orange. And we love every minute of it.

Because we are UT fans, and that's what we do.

Tony Wins. Bella Wins. Turns Out I Win Too. It's a Win-win-win situations.

Surprise, surprise, Tony's petfinder search prevailed, and my "no more cats" rule crumbled like a fortune cookie.

Introducing our newest (and final...this time I mean it!) member of the family...Bella!

Bella is a Snowshoe/Lilac Siamese rescued from the Union County Humane Society. She's between a year and two years old, but still seems kittenish due to her extremely small stature. (She's half the size of the rest of the boys).

Bella was named after Isabelle Eberheadt, a Swiss-Algerian explorer who lived and travelled extensively in North Africa. (Little known cat fact: All of our cats are named after explorers. It started with Mason and Dixon, whom we named due the the fact that as kittens, they were constantly exploring behind the dresser, under the stove, next to the space was too small to be left undiscovered. Keeping with theme, we added Magellan and Sebastian later, and now we're officially completing the set with Bella).

I'll admit I felt the slightest bit of trepidation before we got her. I mean, she was cute and all, but until I actually saw her in person, I just didn't see the need for another cat. But all that changed as soon as I walked into the cat cottage and spied her lounging on the shelf of a cat was love at first sight. She's absolutely beautiful. And so sweet! Against my best defenses, ze kitty, she has wormed her way into my heart.

The boys, of course, feel differently. They are thoroughly disgusted that we have dared to bring another cat into their home. There is much hissing and growling going on. Bella seems to be taking it all in stride. She just sits there regally, eye brows raised like she's just witnessed a major social faux pas and she can't quite believe it. I expect the hissing to continue for about a week. (That's how long it took Mason and Dixon to get used to Magellan and Sebastian). I'm letting her take things slow, exploring as she sees fit, but so far, nothing seems to rattle this cat. She takes everything in stride. Which, I suppose, is a pretty good quality to have in an explorer.No no, she's not going for the pirate look. The green and white striped thing is a stuffed mouse that I had put on her head in a fit of silliness. Not only does she tolerate it, but she still manages to look cute! I tell you, the mouse-on-the-head look will be all the rage this season in Paris.