Finding the Vegan Worcestershire Sauce

2043_AnniesNaturals_P-300x300I was at a large store. I don’t often go if I can avoid it. So many boxes, and bags, all that extra wasted packaging. I prefer to go to the farm and get a carrot. But there are some things the farm doesn’t have, like King Arthur Bread Flour and vegan Worcestershire sauce. Besides, the farm is blanketed in snow. There are no carrots in the winter, only eggs and meat. And farms don’t grow vegan Worcestershire sauce.

Even living the simple life, there are things I can’t make. I’ll never completely live the dream of ridding myself of bottles, boxes, and bags. I’m resigned to the fact that being a food extremist is just too–extreme. I’ll bring my iced tea in mason jars and get locally roasted coffee. I’ll rid myself of processed sugar and look with disdain at grocery carts filled with Captain Crunch, for a moment allowing my feeling of superiority decrease my overall daily dose of karma. Who’s better, really? I’m at the big store with everyone else hunting down a product no one can identify or spell. I have to ask a helpful employee.

“I know you probably don’t use this every day. You can make up an answer if you don’t know…” I say to the friendly employee sweeping up a mess in aisle 5,430. I phrase the question to give him an out should he not know. “Would you happen to know where I can find vegan Worcestershire sauce?”

He blinks two times. I continue, “Do you know where either the regular condiment aisle is or where the vegetarian stuff might be?” He blinks at me. He furrows his brow. Just when I think he might give me directions to the store where people like me usually go for things no one but second-generation hippies and world-saving sustainability nuts can identify, he speaks.

“Oh, I never make up answers. I always tell the truth. God will bless you that way. The truth will set you free. It’s done so for me,” he says. He pauses. Good. If anyone can guide me to the vegan Worcestershire sauce, it’s the Almighty. You might not think vegan Worcestershire sauce is worth the hunt, but it’s very helpful in soups, dressings, and stews.

“Go down this aisle. Look through these products here.” He waves his hand back and forth over the aisle. I look. “If it’s not there, check on the other side. Then follow the helpful green arrows to the next aisle. Check there…” Great. Vegan Worcestershire sauce is close by. Right around the corner. I start to thank him and go.

But he’s not done. “If it’s not there, look up. You’ll see another green arrow that’ll take you to the next aisle over. Follow that one and look on both sides until you find it. If you don’t, check the green arrow at the end of that row and then…”

Is he busting my prepackaged canned beans? He’s sending me row by row through the megastore. This happened to me once in Boston. I was running late for my sister’s concert.

“Yeah, it’s close by,” said the Bostonian. “Go to the end of the block. Take a left. Then, go to the end of that block and hang anotha left. Go down to the end-a that street. Take a left. When you get to the stop sign, take a left. You’ll be the-a.”

We did. Four lefts. A perfect block. Right back where we started. I wasn’t falling for that trick again.

I smiled and thanked him. He God blessed me, looking deep into my soul through my eyes. As quickly as if I’d never seen him, his gaze broke away. He continued sweeping aisle 5430. And just like that, the connection was broken.

I never did find the vegan Worcestershire sauce. The soups, dressings, and stews will have to do without. But I didn’t get sent down the wrong road this time–a lesson in and of itself. There are lots of things we think we need in life. Like vegan Worcestershire sauce. They’re superfluous. Clutter.

The important thing is staying on the right road, even in the face of distraction.

I succeeded. For once.


All’s Fair in War and Christmas: Weapons Make Great Gifts

These are some of the parts we will combat in building this weapon.

These are some of the parts we will combat in building this weapon.

In my family we don’t give gifts. We give aggravation. No one likes a Yankee Swap where people regift candles to an unsuspecting aunt. That’s small time. We’re far more clever than that.

Anyone who’s come near our family has suffered the wrath of the gift. There was once a plastic silverware sorter that got regifted for years indicating the fact that the recipient had been tagged with shame and would have to wait gift it to the next unsuspecting victim.

We gifted twelve packs of socks, individually wrapped because everyone took one turn before the next person went–this meant you knew you had twelve turns of socks to find and all the disappointment, discovering boxes you thought had something cool had…another sock wrapped so cleverly that a customs agent wouldn’t pick up on the contents if it were a sock filled with drugs.

I’m not sure how Christmas became a time for pranks rather than generosity, but that’s the way things are. We had good stuff below the tree, too, but it was always bulked up by things that people needed that were saved and wrapped for Christmas, like food items. Most families just grocery shop for food and eat it. Our family wrapped it and put it under the tree. Pepperoni, olives, candy bars, treats, ramen noodles…it’s all been there.

This isn’t normal behavior I’ve discovered. It’s why my husband was mystified to unwrap barley this year–he likes my mushroom barley soup so I wrapped barley. My son, however, loved that I wrapped marshmallows and chocolate Goldfish crackers. He’s going to fit into the gift spirit just fine.

This whole gift thing got particularly nasty when everyone had kids. Instead of individually wrapping socks, we tried to give gifts kids would love but would secretly torture parents. Mess, noise, disaster, global conflict and warm–all’s fair in war and Christmas. The more parts, mess and batteries the better. Directions in Japanese–a plus. I started studying Japanese. Mostly I can order beer and talk about the day, but soon I’ll be able to build a hybrid from a manual and defeat any toy.

This year, I tried to win by sending the boys science stuff and socks. They cringed at the thought of getting clothes for Christmas but everyone needs socks. I was tired. Socks are beginner strategy. So two decades ago. I set myself up for a big loss.

Uncle Dan and Aunt Ali (names not disguised to protect the guilty) sent us the mother of all gifts…the trebuchet. Or as Declan calls it, “The Cannonpult.” It’s not just a trebuchet The Cannonpultcapable of launching rocks and things a full 30 feet through car and house windows, it’s a build your own trebuchet, complete with wood glue and about a million parts with multistep directions. That makes them the clear winner in this year’s gift category. Although the cannonpult came with a harmless rubber ball, everyone with a brain knows that it’ll never be used to launch that ball. The ball has exactly one flight before it’s lost in the woods forever. After that, we switch to rocks.

“Mom, is it hunting season?” Declan asked.

“It’s over in a week.” Surprised I know that. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, if my cannonpult ball goes into the woods, I don’t want to get shot. What happens if I get shot?” he asked. Fair question.

“It’ll hurt. Try not to get shot. And don’t shoot your cannonpult into the woods.” Good solution. He scrunched up his face. “If you lose your ball, I will get it,” I said.

“But then you’ll get shot.” I’d thought he’d realize I could go Matrix and avoid the bullets.

“Don’t worry about it. I have life insurance. If I get shot, you’ll be fine.”

“Too bad you don’t have State Farm. Like a good neighbor…” He began to sing and lecture about my choice of insurance companies. I have USAA. Somehow being paid out by a good neighbor would make things better than a random lump sum by a company which doesn’t have a song?

So, we–no, I–set about building the trebuchet that will get me shot and give someone other than State Farm something to do. Declan sanded pieces of wood he could not destroy and I carefully read directions in seven languages and glued parts together, bonding with the boy by saying, “Don’t touch,” and “NO!” while being filled with gratitude for things like pre-drilled holes for hardware.

I discovered this project was going to take a couple days. That’s a fantastic learning experience for a six-year old, although the cannonpult box clearly said “Twelve and up.” That really means (translated into Japanese and back) “Even someone as old as dirt can’t possibly put this together. We’re laughing at you for trying.”

We had to let the parts dry. When he slept, I glued the second stage together. I told him it was an elf so he wouldn’t get mad that I did stuff without him.

Today, we’ll go out and toss rocks into the woods and break a car window or two. He’ll have fun with his cannonpult. I’ll smile. Not because I’m happy about getting shot and breaking windows, but because I’m already planning my revenge for next year.


(You Don’t Have to Guess) What You’re Getting for Christmas

I wanted to simplify Christmas. I’m feeling crafty. I stole my friends art ideas, manufactured things using their concepts and mailed the finished stolen-idea products back as gifts. They’ll never guess I totally plagiarized the ideas because my art is terrible. They won’t recognize it as their own. They’ll think Declan helped, and no one can hate a gift that a six-year-old made from the heart.

He actually did help with one or two. Only he didn’t make all of them from the heart. He made one gift with love–that was the freebie, made out of the Spirit of Christmas. Soon, though, the Spirit of Christmas got drop kicked by the Spirit of Entrepreneurship. After that, he charged for his efforts. As usual.

“I’ll draw these dinosaurs for two dollars and all the change in your jar.”

“It’s for YOUR teacher!”

“I’ll take a handful of dollars instead.” His price is going up.

I give him a handful of pennies and two cookies.  He draws a dinosaur for his teacher.

The boxes of gifts I have to mail are filled and addressed. Only one person, a friend in Wisconsin, will get a late gift. The Boy stole the boxes for a fort. An envelope won’t do.

I venture to the post office and plop the boxes on the counter. It’s the kind of village post office where they’ll soon know my name in the middle of a town that Rockwell painted on the map.

“This one can get there Saturday for nine dollars or Monday for seven.” The postmistress smiles.

“Monday’s fine.”

“This one can go parcel or first class.” Decisions.

“First class would be great.”

“Oh, this one needs a customs form.” Simple enough. I take the form. I read the form. I frown at the form.

What’s your blood type? What are you sending? Did you send anything that could blow up? Did you mail any drugs, plants, exotic animals or your mother-in-law? Does it come from a rated R catalog? Do you like kittens? Are you a terrorist?… List the entire contents of this box and the value of each item.

I write “Christmas gift.”

“Oh, no, you can’t do that. You have to fill it out. ALL the columns.” How can a Christmas gift be a surprise if I’m listing the contents on the front of the box? And if I list the value, my friend will realize I’m a cheap ass who not only stole art concepts but didn’t even spend a lot of money on her gift. 

The post office lady’s tone is serious. Customs people and IRS agents are both hired for their lack of humor. I thought post people were okay…lately. I’m told the job interview for the others consists of watching Monty Python, old Carlin, and the Redneck Comedy Tour. Anyone who considers cracking a smile isn’t hired.

I never mess with customs people at the border. It’s not wise to mess with postal workers during Christmas, either. She interrogates me. I crack.

“It’s a mug I made after stealing my friend’s idea. And some soap made by a twelve-year old entrepreneur who’s awesome. The cup’s value is practically nothing, and the soap could have been expensive but she gave me a volume discount. This gift has no value!” To make myself feel good, I put “$5” on the customs form. I list the two items, forgetting the third. I hope I don’t get caught.

Do we need to be surprised to enjoy the magic of the season? The government says no. Should we lie on the customs forms to make our gifts look more valuable? I’d like to try. I consider putting “Crack, value $6,000.” Wonder if it’d get there faster.  Perhaps, but I’m too afraid of The Man to write that. 

I fill out the form. She tapes it to the box. I say “Merry Christmas.” I pay much more to mail the gift than it’s worth. On the way out, I make a mental note to apologize to my friend in Wisconsin who’s not getting her gift because the post office is out of little boxes.  I make a note to apologize to friends who got cards this week. If you did, it was last year’s I never sent.  

Boxes gone. One more thing helping me gather momentum for the Spirit of Christmas–which keeps getting crushed by the boy and the Spirit of Entrepreneurship.

Who knows. Maybe both can live copasetically. All year long. 




A Spring in the Rear and the New Couch is Here



Meets all the requirements. Looks nice and isn't made of dead things.

Meets all the requirements. Looks nice and isn’t made of dead things.

We bought each other a couch and chair for Christmas. I never bought a big joint gift like that. My colleague says, “We always do Mexico for Christmas in February.” Christmas is December. February is Valentine’s Day. I like presents below the tree.

But getting a couch seemed totally imperative–not imperative like paying the bills imperative or solving world hunger and the problems in education imperative, but important. It’s important mostly because I am such a cool mom.

It’s not that cool moms need stylish furniture. I don’t. I can be cool on milk crates. As a cool mom, not much bothers me, including the type of furniture in the house. I go with the flow. I fix PlayDoh disasters, clean paint spills, and don’t overstress about glitter.

I was cool, in this case, because I let Declan jump on furniture. Who needs a trampoline and extra insurance? We own things that go boing.

Boing, boing, boing…The boy got his athleticism from Rusty and is ADHD from me. It’s a perfectly olympic combination for sports that don’t make him cry. One of these is couch jumping. Boing, boing, boing… after a while, he gets tired. He only fell off and shattered his arm in three places once, and that was years ago–he was three. In his defense,  I interfered–I thought he was falling. I tried to catch him and ruined his perfect-ten landing.

But he got a cool purple cast and some really big shirts to fit over it. What kid doesn’t want to look gangsta for Christmas? That’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Doghair on said couch an hour post delivery

Dog hair on said couch an hour post delivery

Rusty likes things in order. Living in Germany and having been a staff sergeant does that to a person. I’d probably improve my life if I did even one of those things. Enjoying order, he was getting annoyed at the bouncy couch, which was sporting a couple holes, stains, and a divot that swallowed small people. Who knew bouncing on couches ruined springs? Maybe that’s why all the moms yelled at us about stupid things all the time. I always wished they’d lighten up and have more fun bouncing with us.

I, the cheapest person alive, agreed we needed a couch. Letting forty-pound boys jump on stuff breaks it. Two inches from my spot on the couch, a spring had sprung. It was threatening to serve as a proctology exam sans copay. I can’t put some doctor with a half-million in student loans out of work. Time for a couch.

We went to “look and plan.” That usually means we’ve both considered a purchase and something bad is going to happen. I’ve gotten a couple of cool cars that way.
Buying a couch together isn’t simple. Paying is… everyone will take money, it’s the agreeing part that’s hard. Like choosing a baby name or a restaurant…it’s never simple.
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know, what do you want to do?”
“Doesn’t matter, what do you want to do?”
And so it goes until both parties make a suggestion, then promptly vote each other’s suggestions off the island. We simultaneously converged on a simple brown couch we’d seen before. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember why we hadn’t bought it. It was so nice. Simple. And not made of dead things.
I picked up the price tag. Then, I remembered. I’d been too cheap, and there hadn’t been a proctology feature, hole, or dog stain on our Swamp Yankee couch to inspire me.
Extra seating for those in need of a low-cost option for proctology

Extra seating for those in need of a low-cost option for proctology

We hesitated. The salesman said, “This is on clearance, and I can give you the Black Friday price.” Black Friday was WEEKS ago. I’d safely avoided American commercial greed for most of the season. “And I can give you this coupon with free delivery.”

The only thing he couldn’t do was take the old couch. But he could have it carried to the curb. It looks nice there. We live in the country. I call that extra seating. Or bus stop comfort for Declan. Or maybe a medical exam station for people who haven’t chosen their Obamacare plan and need a low-cost option for proctology.
The Black Friday sale sold me. Now if I have a bad day and someone says “What’s up your butt?” I can honestly say nothing. I am sitting, writing in style.

One Inspiration at a Time

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 5.01.36 AM

Silence is a source of great strength  –Lao Tsu

I write at 4AM. The moments before the birds sing bring me the most peace. My mind clears. Silence reveals the thoughts that drown in the clatters, jangles, and noise of the day. The fire glows, coffee sits to my left, and I think. I am inspired. As I start, I look for one inspiration each day. A quote. A blessing. A thought. Something to think about during the day. Sometimes I share them with a friend.

Today, caffeine is my daily inspiration. Hear me out on this one… After receiving “The List of No” from the doctor, he said “sure” on some caffeine. His colleague had taken it away. I suffered. I suffered a lot–not because I need the drug. I don’t need caffeine to live any more than I need crack or heroin. It’s just that decaf coffee tastes like a cup full of butt and I can’t find one that reminds me of coffee. I love coffee. It starts my thinking each day.

“There’s only so much I can make you suffer,” he said. “You can have some caffeine.”

I forgot to define “some” because my mind, celebrating the victory, was already onto the next negotiation. “I’d like to start running again.”

He gave me the look. He had been clear about the “no activity” mandate. I’ve obeyed, except I do forget things downstairs so I can run up and down the stairs to get them. The smallest exercise protest. Other than that, I obey.I negotiated. I begged.  I said, “You don’t understand. I’ve gone from 7-10 miles to couch instantly. I’m stir crazy. All my friends want your card so they can avoid exercise too.”

“You can go walking.”

“I hate walking. It bores me. I lack focus. I need to run. How about jogging? I’m not that fast anyway.” My jogging reminds people of walking. Semantics.

Hesitation. Slight opening of the mouth. Pause. “No………I don’t think so.” He’s Southern. Bound by law to be polite. “Nothing that gets your heart rate up. You could do stairmaster or elliptical a little if you take it slow.” I hate both of those things. And slow’s never been in my repertory. If exercise doesn’t beat me up, it’s not effective. I’ve run, played basketball, boxed, thrown, fought, done competition weightlifting (never competed–too scrawny) and played all the fast sports. Not well. That’s not the point.

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 4.56.13 AMThe one activity that slowed me down–Japanese sword. It was good for me, meditation and inner peace combined with the ability to cut someone’s head off if I trained hard enough–a good combination. Then yoga. But I was highly, highly suspicious of yoga—what good could it do without pain? My friend of Indian lineage made me go on a yoga retreat. How could anyone of Indian lineage steer me wrong on yoga? He said “Experiences are everything,” and that I needed “to get rid of [my] monkey mind.” He was right on both accounts. Yoga centers me.

Yoga doesn’t really raise my heart rate. “How about yoga?” This was turning into a fierce negotiation. I felt the tone. I’d spent years in Career One negotiating with attorneys and body shops. Surely I could defeat one doctor on the issue of physical fitness despite the fact he had more degrees than me.

“Hmmmm…” He’d said a definite no to yoga the first time. But I obeyed his orders not to drop dead for an entire month, taken drug upon drug, and listened to his every command. Surely that gets a reward? “No, I don’t think so. Too much with the neck.” Defeated. Again. That’s when I asked him about caffeine.

He said yes.

Inspiration: Even when the list of “no’s” gets long, if we keep looking, we get one yes. Sometimes we have to look hard for it, not abandon the search. And when we find it, it’s golden;)

My coffee smiles in the mug my friend Kristen made. And it tastes very good.

[Images: Sarah Steenland and Kristen Runvik. Check out their stuff. Their art makes me smile]

Where Do You Buy World Peace?

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 9.35.31 PMIt’s Christmas shopping season. We’ve got boxes, bangles, and bags everywhere, even though I’ve done my best to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

I’m not close to done preparing and baking this year. Christmas is sneaking up on me.

Maybe it’s the minimal snow and fifty-degree days, or maybe I’m getting old, and everyone knows that old people say days, months, and years pass quickly. That’s why they go to restaurants at 4PM. Not because they’re afraid someone might eat the last liver and onions, but because they’re afraid they might knock off before the meal’s ended.

Declan and Brittany were enjoying some sibling time. She offered to take him shopping.

“What do you want to get for Mommy and Daddy for Christmas?” That means “What do you want me to pay for on your behalf?” It’s a generous prospect.

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 9.27.35 PM“Underwear for Daddy.” What Dad doesn’t need to drown in ties and underwear?

“What about for Mommy?”

This is where all my Momness really came back to bite me. When I’m angry he asks me what I want. “I want you to be good.”

“What else do you want, Mommy?”

“I want world peace and an end to human suffering.” That’s what I always say when I need a rhetorical answer in a clutch.

“So,” Brittany asked, “What do you want to get for Mommy?”

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 9.32.31 PMAnd the answer came. Without hesitation. “World peace and an end to human suffering…but I don’t know where to get that.”

You know, buddy, I don’t think anyone really knows where to get that. Just look around the world today. Not much peace and a whole lot of human suffering.

But we can do our part. Try. Be a little bit better, kinder, simpler, and more loving each day. If everyone does their part–helps one person, thinks one nice thought, I’ll get my gift after all. But if not, it’s okay. I appreciate the fact you tried.


[images:,, and]



My Kid Can Beat Your Kid at Everything!

I survived Parent Teacher Conference last night.

As a parent, I go out of respect. I know the poor teacher has to be there, and she’s amazing. As a teacher, I’m sad dragging parents across six towns to wait in line for ten minutes with me. They worked a long day. I’d rather have coffee and actually talk.

At Declan’s conference, I cut right to the chase, “My kid’s smart, using his intellect for evil, and needs to pay attention.” Except for the “evil” I’d say the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. Say it like it is, I’m not offended. No fluff. I’m not a competitive parent.

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 5.48.10 AMParents, I’ve noticed, need to compete, but we don’t like to say we’re competing. We want our kid to be the best and brightest in the world. The future doctor, lawyer, president, head of the World Bank.

That competition should be right out into the open, parent-to-parent. Let’s have parent contests.

“Hey, buddy, I challenge you for the ‘My kid’s awesome’ bumper sticker on your minivan. Let’s arm wrestle, or play one-on-one hoops. I’ll decimate you.”

We’ll all go home and do pushups to prepare.

But that’s not cool, so we brag subtly. “My kid’s an all-star (insert sport here). I noticed yours plays left bench quite effectively.”

Mine isn’t an all-star. Declan’s working on matching the correct sports to the balls. He kicks basketballs, which makes me cringe. It’s going to be a long season for that coach. We waiting for our call telling us which team we “made.” No sports bragging here.

“My kid read more books than your kid.” He (translate: me) logged more books on the log sheet. I don’t care how many books a kid reads. Number of children’s books viewed is not an accurate measure of reading.

“I read a hundred thousand one-page books which had descriptions longer than the actual text and pictures that took up 97.5% of the page.” Seven thousand books? For a grand total of six pages. Nope, I’m not logging that. As much as I love children’s authors and illustrators.

Read Dostoyevsky. Then we’ll talk. Our log says, “We read Seuss and the dino book AGAIN.”

No award for me. Or him. No competitive spirit. Only fun reading about dinos.

He’s a good kid, despite the fact that when I walked into the school, everyone in the main office from the Principal to the two secretaries said, “Oh, Declan’s mom!” That’s okay. Being on a first-name basis with the principal by grade one gives us special treatment. There’s something we can win. I can say, “My kid’s the captain of the detention club.”  Maybe he’ll get his own chair in the front office and he’ll get to run his own school. That’s something most parents don’t get to say.

No, I’m not a competitive parent. I’m a realist. I enjoyed the ten-minutes of honesty at the conference, came home, and took Declan off my computer where he was busy previewing the Sci-fi movies I’m showing in my class today. Seems he “forgot” to tell me he got “in the red.” Red is not good.

I relaxed with a nice cup of tea. I have time, because I’m not driving my kid around to horseback riding, soccer, ballet, basketball, gymnastics, piano, ski club and 4H. We’ll pick one or two things. Maybe he’ll be great, maybe he’ll just have fun. I’ll celebrate a blue ribbon or trophy or two. Mostly, we’ll just learn about life, people, fun, fitness, and make a few good friendships, I hope.

Competition only stresses me out. I’ll leave that for others.