Aghast at the GastHaus

My husband is of German descent.  I am too.  There is one huge difference between us, though: he wants to eat like it and I don’t.  Paul came from a very Germanic household.  His father emigrated from The Fatherland.  His family says December funny — DeZember.  At least he can keep his v’s and w’s straight, even though his dad couldn’t.

I tried to learn the knack of  German cooking for him, but never quite succeeded.  My mother-in-law did her best to give me the low-down on cooking bread dumplings, but they ended up as little bits of debris floating in quarts of water instead of the tennis ball-sized lumps they were supposed to be.  I used a sieve to salvage the remains.  Mom herself grew royally tired, over the years, of eating pork this-and-that drowning in sauerkraut juice.  She thought of spaghetti in a can as the ultimate treat.

redcabchourizo1 by ranja2006, via photobucketMy husband’s yearning for the Deutsch foods of his youth has been surging to the forefront over the last decade or so, and no amount of feeding him bratwurst has been able to satiate it.   Recently it reached the seriously obsessive level, and he began desperately searching the Internet for German recipes that he could cook for himself.  You should have seen (and smelled) the red cabbage concoction he came up with.  I cannot say how it tasted, for I refused to go beyond the sight and smell perceptions.

Thanks to an approximately 1/2 off coupon, tonight we managed to quell his obsession, at least temporarily.  I can only hope I will survive the experience.  We visited the local Gasthaus eatery.

I should have known we were in trouble when the first oom-pa-pas of the tuba concerto assaulted my ears — or when we found ourselves elegantly seated next to two overstuffed, three-foot-high ceramic porkers, accompanied by an equally overstuffed ceramic burgermeister.   The prices were calculated to cause a stroke (if we hadn’t had the 1/2 off coupon), but they were nothing to what followed.

Wienerschnitzel!!! by cocco354, via PhotobucketI ordered the wienerschnitzel, mainly because it was the only thing on the not-in-English menu that I knew how to pronounce, other than the sauerbraten, which was out of the question because it  came with the nasty red cabbage side dish which I had already been introduced to at home.

My previous wienerschnitzel experiences had all been confined to a pancake house of some sort and could not lay claim to being authentic.  When the real deal arrived, I knew my gallbladder was in jeopardy, not to mention the cardiovascular system.  I am not a fat-o-phobe, but this was beyond suicidal.

“I think I am not going to be feeling so good after this, honey.  On the way home, maybe we can stop for some emergency antacids and one of those do-it-yourself home remedy angioplasty kits they’ve got at the drugstore.”

Paul looked slightly concerned, but only grunted politely through his mouthful of red cabbage that came with the sauerbraten.  I soaked a napkin with what grease was sop-up-able, and then dutifully dispatched the slab of swine frittered in gallons of bacon grease. (Real veal wienerschnitzel cost $3.00 extra.)

We stopped to pick up a few necessary items on the way home.  The drugstore was fresh out of angioplasty kits.  Paul offered to let me sit in the car while he ran in for the goods, but it is January in Wisconsin, and I was afraid if I sat out there in the deep freeze for a few minutes, the lard I had just ingested might immediately congeal in my arteries.

My diet for the next few days had better consist of dry toast and water.  I will pray for an absence of gout and gallbladder attack and run up and down the stairs a few times to get the arteries cleaned out.  I’m still trying to decide whether my desire for revenge against the GastHaus will be appeased by writing this blog post or whether I will report them to the health department to achieve full satisfaction.

Ornesta to the Rescue!

LeeAnnRubsam.com

“Hey, Ornesta!  How’s life in da U.P.?”

“Not so bad.  The thermometer hasn’t blown out the bottom end yet, the bears haven’t moved into town to feast on the inhabitants, and I haven’t had to deal with any sneezified menus lately.  How about yourself?”

“Um, well … Ornesta, may I come live at your house for a while?”

“Sure, Sweetie!  We can put you up in the ice shanty out back.  Bud won’t need it until the Gitch* freezes over, and that won’t happen for a few weeks yet.  You’ll have your own private commode too, even if it does have a little moon carved out of the door.  What’s the problem?  Hubby being mean to you?”

“No, no.  The hubby’s always good to me.  I can’t complain — even if he can’t figure out how to use the phones around the house without disconnecting himself.”

“How about the teenager?  Is she running wild all over town?”

“No, not that either.  The closest Beebee ever comes to running wild is to saunter down Main Street in Little Chute with her guitar strapped to her back.”

“Little Chute!  What does she go there for?  It’s full of Hollanders!”

“She’s got a friend that lives there — not Hollander, either.  But — what’s wrong with Hollanders?  We’re all either Hollanders or Krauts down here.  If you stick a bratwurst in each of our fists, you can’t tell us apart. We all talk like Yoopers*.”

“Heeeyyyy!  Well, at least if you come to stay with us no one will know you aren’t the genuine article.  You know, I visited Little Chute once.  Went there for the Kermit Festival — but I didn’t see the little green guy anywhere, or Miss Piggy either — just a lotta folks clomping around in wooden shoes, with tulips stuck in their baseball caps.”

Kermis, not Kermit!  It just means an outdoor festival in Dutch.”

“Yah, whatever. Now, what’s the matter, anyway?”

“(Sigh!) Money doesn’t grow on the bushes out back, BFF’s aren’t always forever, my creative juices seem to have gotten rancid, I should have taken up Dave Barry on his offer after all, and I might as well apply the Christmas cookies directly to my hips, since they’re going to end up there anyway. “

“Yah, those are problems, all right.  But, how is living in the ice shanty going to fix ’em, do you s’pose?”

“Well, I think I just need a change of scenery — new vistas produce new writing fodder, you know?”

“That might take care of the rancid juices, but I don’t know if it will help the cookie-hips problem much. But tell you what: you pack your duffel bag and c’mon up, and I’ll have Merle Haggard singin’ Everybody Gets the Blues and If We Make It Through December on the tape deck in the shanty to cheer you up when you get here.”

“Throw in  Mule Skinner Blues, and I’m on my way!”

*The Gitch — Gitche Gumee; Lake Superior
*Yoopers — people who live in Michigan’s upper peninsula

(For more Ornesta-related adventures see Simply Ornesta! in the sidebar, under Archives.)

The Great Cookie Dough Heist

LeeAnnRubsam.com

It was a kinder, gentler world back then – a time when salmonella did not rule the bird population, and children could still eat raw cookie dough even if it did have eggs in it. My mother used an old family recipe to make the most wonderful cutout sugar cookies, and Christmas would not have been complete without them. Their one drawback was the two-step process involved – make the dough one day and roll them out and bake them on another.

Mom worked long hours as a bookkeeper at a local gas station, yet she always managed to find time to play board games with us kids, take us wherever we needed to go, and bake goodies for the family. But it didn’t usually happen just when we were panting and breathing for it. It was that way with the Christmas cookies, one year. We made the dough one Saturday, and waited on the baking until the following Saturday. It was more than a little girl could bear.

“Mom can we make the cookies tonight?” Dead-tired Mom didn’t want to think about it, so night after night the answer was the same. The project must wait until Saturday, which seemed at least a decade away.

Sinister crimes are usually perpetrated in dark places, and this one was no different. The cookie dough, stored deep in the farthest corner of the basement refrigerator, pleaded loudly in my ears, “Eat me! Please, come eat me!”

I answered the call. It was just a tiny sampling at first. No one would have even noticed, especially after I pinched the dough together so the finger marks wouldn’t show. I swore that first dough-snitching episode would be my last, but day after day, evening after evening, the dough continued calling. I could hear it while watching TV, while reading a book, while trying to sleep: “Eat me. Please, come eat me!” And I succumbed, again and again.

A little taste here and a little taste there, and by Thursday night, a horrible truth had dawned: when Mom went to bake those cookies on Saturday, the whole family would know that someone had been stealing the goods. There was only enough left for about three cookies. I had vaguely observed a gradual dwindling of the mound, but kept telling myself it was not very noticeable, until it became so obvious that even I could not live in denial anymore.

What could I do? It was too cold outside to run away and live with the hobos.  Grandma wouldn’t protect me.  She lived with us, and would be mad like the rest of them that there were no Christmas cookies to be had.  I could frame my younger brother. I knew he had sampled once or twice, but he would hotly deny any part in the crime, and besides, my honest face always managed to tell the truth when my lips did not.

There was only one solution: when the day of reckoning came, I would have to own up to my heinous deed and face the music. In the meantime, I might as well enjoy my sin, since I was going to have to pay for it anyway. I ate the rest of that cookie dough. All that remained were finger trails up the sides of the bowl.

Saturday morning I awoke with dread in my heart. I stayed in bed extra long, covers over my head, listening for sounds of impending doom from beneath me. I heard my mother’s footsteps on the basement stairs, the opening of the refrigerator door, the pounding up the stairs again, the seconds of silence before the storm.  And then it blew.

“Lee Ann! Gary! Get down here!” I crawled out of bed and sidled on down to the kitchen, guilt written all over my miserable face. “Who ate all the cookie dough???!!!”

“I did, I guess – but I think Gary helped some.”

“Not much. I only did it once,” my brother defended himself.

Mom did not morph into the ogre that I had expected. She was really annoyed, but after recovering from the initial shock, the novelty of one small girl eating an entire batch of cookie dough on the sneak without being discovered until the last scoop was gone hit her as being a tad funny. She didn’t tie me to any bedposts, lock me in the closet for a week, or put me on a diet of moldy bread and  pond water for the next thirty days, as my young imagination had supposed would be fitting punishments.  She didn’t ban me from eating Christmas cookies for the rest of my life, either. Her lip twitched slightly, as she tried to hide the eventual smile.

“I guess we will have to make a new batch. This time maybe we’d better not wait another whole week before we get around to baking them.”

Moms are wise beings. They learn from their mistakes the first time around. I think I did, too. Not so much as a smidgeon prematurely departed from that cookie dough bowl in the interval before the next baking day.

LeeAnnRubsam.com

Thanksgiving Dreamin’

LeeAnnRubsam.com

My husband had a deprived childhood. Never once in all his growing up years did his family sit down to a Thanksgiving turkey. You see, he and his twin brother were the little tykes who stayed home with Mom, while Dad and the older brothers were all off in the woods tracking Bambi every Thanksgiving. 

Still, Paul has pleasant memories of their peculiar holiday tradition: Spaghettios. Yes, you read that right. The left-behind part of the family gave their thanks with the help of spaghetti in a can. Mom dressed it up real fancy by adding ground beef and kidney beans. She and the boys thought it was a fabulous treat, because it was the only time of year they got to eat noodles of any sort. Dad hated noodles and forbade them at his table, while Mom craved pasta 364 days out of the year.

Why am I telling you about it? Because I find Paul’s childhood tradition inspiring. I am beginning to raise my family’s conscious level to the radical concept of Thanksgiving without the turkey and all the fixin’s. I hate cooking, and the day I hate cooking the most is Thanksgiving.

One of these years I will push past all the accepted traditions and plop spaghetti down in front of their faces — with baby carrots still in the bag as a side dish. I will not do the noodles-mummified-in-a-can version. I loathe Spaghettios and all of its cousins. No, the spaghetti will come out of a box and the sauce out of a jar.  And I will not adulterate our entree with kidney beans. They make me think of  their namesake body part, and that is not appetizing.

I will serve up our meal on a tablecloth-less table, and the spaghetti and its accompanying sauce will appear in their original cooking pots, not fancy bowls.  The silver will stay in its box and remain tarnished if it wants to, while we eat with the everyday flatware.  I will still bake pie-out-of-a-box to ensure that there will be no mutiny. And we will ALL enjoy ourselves immensely — especially the cook, who will not spend hours after the repast fighting food coma while painstakingly picking all the remaining meat off that poor gobbler’s bones and preparing stock for soup. 

Lest you think I will shock all my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and cousins ten-times-removed who expect the real traditional deal out of me, I must explain that the family gathering has shrunk down to four of us.  My mom will always get her turkey dinner if I have to buy it in a Swanson TV dinner box for her.  And we’ll work into this gradually. I am a long-range planner and can salivate over a revolutionary new concept for a decade before I actually put it into execution.  The rest of my family will be all right with the idea once they’ve heard about it a few times. My teenager doesn’t like turkey or any of the fixin’s anyway.  She endures until the moment of pie arrives.  My husband may miss the turkey and dressing, but when I remind him of how his mom used to do it, the pleasant memories of his childhood will carry the day.

I think it will work. And I may be doing the women of America a humongous favor just by writing this. The Internet is a powerful tool for raising up an army of radical thinkers, you know. I could create a grass roots  uprising of middle-aged women all over the country who never before had it cross their minds that they do not have to be slaves of  Thanksgiving dinner the way their mamas were.  The trend will eventually snowball to where grocers cannot keep enough pasta and Ragu on their shelves to satisfy the public demand at Thanksgiving time. All the turkey farms will be converted to fields of Roma tomatoes.

Yes, I like the idea.  Anybody with me? 

LeeAnnRubsam.com  

Of Bunnies and Beans

LeeAnnRubsam.com

At the risk of alienating all my gardening friends, I have a confession to make: I like bunnies.  It doesn’t matter what size they are – big bunnies, little bunnies, in-between-size bunnies.  I just like them.  (But the teenier they are, the more I’m likely to ooh and ah over them and call the family to come and see.) 

The back wall of our house overhangs the foundation a little bit, and that overhang is the perfect place for bunnies to live year-round.  In the winter, they have to tunnel through the snow banks to forage.  I leave carrot peelings and popcorn kernels by their hole to help them make it through those cold months.  They also help themselves to my raspberry bushes when the going gets tough. 

In the summer, as long as we get the chicken wire around the garden before the beans start coming up, our relationship with them is harmonious.  And the tiniest ones don’t have a notion of being afraid.  They sit within six feet of me and listen up carefully while I tell them all about how much I like them and wouldn’t harm a flea on their hides. 

But this summer I noticed that the bean plants were looking a tad nibbled on, and while investigating,  I discovered that my bunny friends were getting more clever — an excavation under the chicken wire had been accomplished.  The invasion was easily stopped with a barricade of bricks. 

A couple of days later, I spotted one of my little bunny friends doing strange things outside the garden fence.  He had his tiny front paws wrapped around the chicken wire and was shaking the fence as violently as an eight ounce rabbit can be expected to, all the while biting the wire frantically.  I had never seen such behavior before and thought, “My, he must really enjoy the taste of bean stalks!” 

But bunnies must be smarter than I had previously given them credit for.  You see, he was really valiantly attempting to rescue one of his partners in crime.   Somebunny had gotten trapped inside the garden when we bricked up the under-fence tunnel. 

I didn’t get it at first.  I was picking beans and noticed the little guy inside the fence.  When he saw me, he just laid down on his side about two feet from me, and watched, and panted.  “Poor thingy!  He’s so scared he doesn’t know what to do,” I surmised, and proceeded to talk with him about how the humans at this house didn’t hurt bunnies, and that as soon as I left the garden, he could find whichever new hole he had dug, and get out. 

But Paul had a different idea about why he was in there.  “He probably doesn’t have another hole; he got trapped in there when I bricked up his entrance.  If we don’t let him out, he’ll dehydrate and die.” 

The easiest way to fix the situation would have been to remove the bricks and let him find his own way out.  But retired husbands don’t think like that.  Paul decided to help that poor rabbit by chasing him around the garden until he either caught him or until one of them collapsed in a state of exhaustion.  

There is no reasoning with such logic.  The best I could do was to suggest the use of work gloves in case Mr. Bunny decided to fight back, and to direly intone about how unfun rabies shots are. 

“Paul, I have to run off to the dentist right now for a dose of tooth-dope and a hilarious session of lying upside-down with my mouth wide open for an hour, but when I get home and am once more semi-coherent, you’d better tell me if that rabbit bit you or not.  I don’t want anybody around here foaming at the lips, unless it’s just toothpaste.  And if you think rabies shots are a joy ride – twenty-one slow, painful injections into your belly-button …”  and on and on in my unique style of husband lecturing. 

While under the influence at the dentist’s office, I did not think about the battle between rabbit and husband going on back at the ranch.  And when I got home, I did not receive a blow-by-blow account.  But the headlines were that the bunny wore out before Paul did, the work glove advice was heeded, no one got bit or otherwise injured on either side of the confrontation, and the bunny scampered away to the rabbit hutch and lived happily ever after. 

“Paul, are you SURE you didn’t get bit and you’re just not telling me?” 

(Patiently) “I’m sure.” 

“And you didn’t toss the bunny hard — he didn’t get hurt at all when he landed?” 

“No, I was very nice to him.” 

(Sigh!) “Now the bunnies won’t believe me.” 

“Hmm?” 

“I promised them no humans at this house would ever hurt them, and I’ll bet they just won’t understand.”

Oh, My!

It is my birthday today.  And my daughter has given me a unique present — the “unauthorized” tale posted for all the world to see of how I used our homeschooling experience to successfully launch a career in writing and publishing.

She’s engaging, witty, and quite a wordsmith.

Here’s the link to her tribute to Mom.

And for those of you who need a great copywriter (or just like reading fun stuff from writers)  — http://www.byhannahdavis.com

Thanks, Hannah!

Watch that Menu!

LeeAnnRubsam.com

My friend and avid fan, Ornesta Fruggenbotham, called the other day.  You remember Ornesta.  She’s the one who made guest appearances in this blog with her true-life stories about a dead brother who was really quite alive and a fond memory of a Christmas banquet served next to the bedroom clothes hamper.  Life is weird in Upper Michigan, as proved by the latest phone conversation.

“Well, hello, Ornesta!  How’s the weather in Iron Ore these days?  Has the Big Lake frozen over yet?”

“It’s cold enough to give a polar bear frostbite, I had to use a welding torch to thaw out the phone line before calling you, and an iceberg took out the Edmund Fitzgerald last Tuesday.”

“C’mon, Ornesta.  I’m smarter than that.  I’ve listened to a little Gordon Lightfoot myself, and I know how long ago that happened.  It wasn’t an iceberg, either.”

“I’m not really concerned about the temperature.  It’s a different kind of cold threat I’ve had on my mind of late.”

“Oh?”

“Yes.  I was at one of those “bottomless fries”  eateries a couple of weeks ago, and —“

“Pardon me, Ornesta.  You shouldn’t do that.  I just read about the house specialty burger — 93 whoppin’ grams of lardo and a full day’s calories — without the fries.”

“When you live this far north, you need that much grease to keep your joints oiled and moving.  But let me tell you what happened.”

“OK, shoot.”

“The guy at the next table had to sneeze, see?  And he wanted to be polite and not let fly at the woman across the table from him — which was good, ’cause it was one sloppy doozy of a sneeze!”

“Ewww.”

“No, just wait!  I’ll give you an ‘Ewww!’  He used his menu as a sneeze shield!  Germs and gook all over the picture of the chicken burger!”

“Double Ewww.”

“Now, you’ve got to THINK about this a little!  They didn’t send the menu home with him as a souvenir.  Somebody else had it in his frozen little fingers before —“

“Before the gook dried and the germs died.  I’m eating at home from now on.”

“Well, you don’t have to go to those extremes.  Just do what I did the next time I ate there.”

“Hmmm?  There’s more story coming, isn’t there.”

“I didn’t touch the menu the next time.  I asked the waitress to read it to me.”

“The whole menu?”

“Yeah, and she says, ‘Ohhh,’ in this I-am-so-sorry-for-you tone,  and then says, ‘We have Braille menus for the sight-impaired.’ 

“And I said, ‘No, there’s nothing wrong with my eyes.  It’s the germ factor, Miss.’

“And she gawks at me like I haven’t got my buttons all sewed on, so I explained about menus getting passed to innocent customers when the sneeze gook isn’t dried yet.”

“I’ll bet that impressed her.”

“Pretty much.  She scooted off to find a manager.  And pretty soon, she comes galloping back with one.   ‘Madam, I understand there is a problem with your menu,’ he says in this low, drawly voice.

“‘Not as long as I don’t have to touch it and she reads it to me,’ I replied.  ‘I don’t want to take the chance it has been sneezed on, coughed on, salivated on, or who-knows-what on.  You know, with that swine flu stuff going around, you can’t be too careful.'”

“Ornesta, didn’t you read my post about swine flu?  If you eat enough bratwurst and sauerkraut, there’s nothing to fear.”

“It might not work up here.  It’s probably just a Wisconsin cure.”

“Yeah, well, go on.”

“The guy didn’t say anything — just motions to the waitress to come with him and trots off.  I didn’t know if they were going to feed me or not.  Well, pretty soon the waitress comes back, and she’s got an accessory in her apron pocket — a quart-size can of Lysol.  And she plunks that menu down on the table, empties half a can onto it, flips it over with a slap, and empties most of the other half a can on the back side.  My eyes were fogging up, my nose was burning, and my taste buds felt like I’d swallowed a bottle of bleach.

“And then she says, ‘There!  How’s that?  Would you like me to do your water glass and your napkin for you too?’  And she lets fly with the rest of the can.  ‘Psssssst!'”

“Personally, I think I would have taken my chances with the menu-turned-sneeze-shield in all its contaminated glory.  Lysol decongesting my sinuses doesn’t sound like a good thing.”

“No, and I couldn’t really taste the burger and the bottomless fries very well that day, either.”

“Ornesta, you said I should try your method, rather than closeting myself at home to eat.  Why, after hearing what happened to you, would I want to take your advice?”

“Well, I thought it would give you something interesting to write about.”

(For more Ornesta-related adventures see Simply Ornesta! in the sidebar, under Archives.)

Writers’ Guide to Hominyims and Similar Situations

LeeAnnRubsam.com

Homonyms and similar-sounding words can be real buggers.  Spell Check won’t help, and although Word tries to do the thinking for you, when you really need its help, it lets you down every time.  What’s a body to do?  Relax!  You might not be using the wrong word after all!  It’s all in how you spin it.  This little article will lay many of your worst fears of embarrassment to rest, and down the road I’m bound to come up with a Part Too.

If you are squandering your time, you are usually wasting it, but if you are doing it by spending day after day eating at the local buffet, then it is A-OK to say you are waisting it.

Hanging out with your piers is OK if you are a dock repairman or a yachting enthusiast.  Hanging out with pears is appropriate if you own an orchard or are employed by a canning factory.

Going to collage is not acceptable, unless your institution of higher learning is an arts and crafts shop teaching classes on cutting and pasting.  If you are only into serious art, or don’t like art at all, do yourself a favor and just attend university.

Runway models exhibit wears, GPS gizmos display your wheres, (but not your weres), and flea market vendors sell wares. 

If you plan on altaring a business suit, first make sure the church accepts clothing donations.  And if they except clothing donations, that means they’d rather you gave it to the Salvation Army instead.  (Cash donations are not usually excepted.)

BUT, if you go to the alter to take care of sin business with the Lord, that is definitely OK.  He expects you to alter your ways when you repent.

If you are baring a child, you are getting your little one ready for his bath.  And by the way, beware of Greeks baring gifts!  (I’m told that their traditions do not include wrapping presents.  I like surprises, myself.)

Yes!  Your interest can be peaked!  Peaked interest refers to an extremely  high level of curiosity.  If yours reaches those altitudes, make sure you take your inhaler along.  The air gets thin in the mountains.  (But don’t allow your curiosity to lead you into peeking at things that are none of your business.)

“Balling all over the place”  is only OK if you are a roly poly bug or if it hurts so badly that you are curling into the fetal position.

Righting a term paper?  Go ahead, if you are a copy editor.  I hope you are getting paid well, as this can be a most frustrating assignment.

Hare dryer — I saw one of these handy-dandy appliances at the local farm store.  For best results, be careful to follow the included rabbit jerky recipe to the letter.

I’m sorry, it is not possible to horde money.  But, if you travel with Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun, you will probably come into plenty of loot to hoard, if that’s your fancy.  (It’s more fun to spend it, though.)

So much for today’s taste of homonym grits.

LeeAnnRubsam.com

Published in: on January 8, 2010 at 9:15 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , ,

Keeping Fit in Pitt (Part 2)

LeeAnnRubsam.com

I was wrong in yesterday’s post about Pittsburghians not knowing that it is good manners to say “hi” to strangers when passing.  It is not Pittsburghians who are ignorant on this point; it is just the ones on the part of the Montour Run Trail behind Susan’s house.

Today I took the trail where it continues on the other side of the highway, and almost all the folks walking and biking it said hello to me before I had a chance.  I will not have to try to elevate their culture after all.  They were a different group: not so focused on building their muscles and seeing how much wheezing they could handle before cardiac arrest set in.  They were the mom-and-dad type with little kids, or the I-am-just-out-for-a-stroll-to-enjoy-the-weather-and-I-don’t-care-if-I-elevate-my-heartbeat-to-its-maximum-potential-or-not type.

I simply cannot get used to all these houses built into the sides of the mountains.  We’ve got some of the same in Door County and the east side of Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin, but most of our state is mildly hilly or fairly flat.  I also cannot get used to how some houses’ front doors open almost directly onto the highway — or else have a goodly flight of stairs up to the door.  I would be a lean muscle machine if I lived here permanently.  If the up-and-down-hill walking did not do it for me, running from the copperheads in the summertime would.

I am developing a theory: even driving the hairpin turns and up-and-down slopes burns calories.  It would be possible to be quite athletically fit in Pittsburgh even without consciously exercising — if it weren’t for Chick-fil-A to ruin it all at the end of the day.

Susan has always been mystified by part of the local culture.  Although their home is only fifteen minutes from the heart of Pittsburgh, many people from their area — even very youngish people — have never been to the City.  Even more of them have not ever been to the other side of it.  They just live and die in their own small corner of the suburbs (suburghs?).

If Susan had wanted to know the answer, all she would have had to do is ask.  One of the natives explained it to me.  They all get lost if they travel outside of a certain small radius.  You see, because everything is in the mountains, there are no such things as square city blocks.  All the roads wind this way and that, without any organization, rhyme, or reason.  Finding your way around — especially around the city to the other side of it — is nigh-on to impossible.  So they all just stay in their township and the couple of townships nearby.  It is completely a safety issue.  There now.  That makes sense to me!

You might ask, “But what about one of those little GPS gizmos?  Wouldn’t that take care of the problem?”  We tried the GPS gadget to get us to Pittsburgh from Wisconsin.  It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.  It tried to tell us Susan’s address did not exist.  After awhile, it decided the existence was a distinct possibility, but the directions given were not sensible.  If we had listened, we would have ended up on the wrong side of the city, lost forever, never to find Susan or Wisconsin again.

So, I understand.  I would behave myself and stay in my suburgh too.

Keeping Fit in Pitt (Part 1)

LeeAnnRubsam.com

Keeping Fit in Pitt

LeeAnnRubsam.com

As I explained yesterday, we have been visiting in the rural outskirts of Pittsburgh. 

I have been doing quite a bit of walking, partly out of desire to see some scenery, partly to find temporary solitude.  There is a hiking path about one-half mile from Susan’s house.  Getting there is semi-dangerous, as there is only a narrow shoulder along a sharply curving highway to walk on, and traffic is clipping.  I take consolation in not seeing many wildlife corpses on the road, which probably means that if I keep my eyes open, I will not end up as roadkill either.  I instruct the family before leaving that if I am not back in two hours, it is time to mount up a posse and come looking for me.

The hiking trail is an old railroad line, with a long tunnel cut through a hillside for added interest.  Woods adorn both sides, and Susan’s house is up on a bluff overlooking a creek which cuts between the trail and the residential area.

It seems that Pittsburghians do not behave quite like Wisconsinites.  The folks out on the trail are mostly intense types.  They jog, they stride energetically with arms flailing wildly, they are pulled along by unruly pitbulls, but they do not acknowledge each other’s existence as they meet.  My mother taught me as a small child that when we pass someone on the street, we smile pleasantly and say “hi.”  Pittsburghians appear to be very serious about whatever they do, including conscientiously obeying their mothers’ instructions never to speak to strangers.  I perversely insist on accosting them with a “hi,”  although I quickly discovered this is not kosher. The typical response is a surprised stare, as if they have discovered an intriguing new species of insect and are not quite certain whether to squash it or let it entertain them.  I keep trying, in hopes of improving their standard of civilized behavior, and I sometimes even get a response, but it is difficult to change a culture in a mere week’s time.

The trail is not heavily traveled in November, so I feel a little nervous about encountering lone men when no one else is in sight, especially in the dimly lit tunnel.  I am alert to my surroundings at all times, and listen carefully to assess the danger factor.  If the guy is breathing heavily as he approaches, that is probably good.  Loud snorting, wheezing, asthmatic gasping, and pre-cardiac arrest noises are even better.  All of these mean I can run faster than them, and that predator tactics are the last thing on their mind.

One of Susan’s friends informed me that in the summertime, the men are not the main alarm factor on the trail.  When it is warm, the copperheads enjoy sunning themselves smack dab in the middle of the road.  When they get too warm, they cool off in the tunnel — and no doubt lie in wait for silly Wisconsin women who never once imagined that a ten-foot-wide gravelled road would be a snake resort. 

I passed a pleasant elderly couple along the trail one afternoon.  (They said “hi” back and smiled — probably natives of Wisconsin, not Pittsburgh.)  I suppose they were in their seventies.  She was round and he was very lean — like Jack Sprat and wife.

As I approached  the tunnel on my return leg of the hike, I encountered Mrs. Sprat peering intently around the edge of it.  Jack was on the other end, poking around in some weeds.  Shortly after I entered, what I thought was a teenager tore past me in the fastest sprint I’d ever seen outside of the Olympics.  But it wasn’t a teenager.  As he got nearer, I realized it was Jack.  Seventy … spry as a youngster … faster than a speeding bullet … no red cape  or other super hero props though.

“How’d I do?”  Jack asked, lightly puffing.

“Thirty-one seconds,”  Mrs. Sprat replied.

But the light puffing didn’t subside or even continue evenly.  “EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH!” Jack commenced gasping in high-pitched apparent distress.  I wished I had remembered to bring the cell phone.  Obviously Jack was going to need an ambulance, and no telling how long it would take one to get there and whether the driver would know that he could disregard the hiking trail rule, “no motorized vehicles allowed.”

I turned to gaze in horror.  Mrs Sprat giggled.  Jack didn’t giggle.  He just kept on with the “EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH!”  At that point I figured that either she was rather looking forward to an early widowhood, or else Jack and the Mrs. just hang out at the tunnel on a regular basis, waiting to show off their stuff for whatever unsuspecting Wisconsinite comes along, hoping to scare the daylights out of their victim.

I headed on down the trail, and I noticed when I got to the end that the Sprats, with no “EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUHs” in earshot, were not far behind. 

Keeping Fit in Pitt (Part 2)

LeeAnnRubsam.com

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