The Other Side of Potluck Paranoia

According to Wikipedia, people who are uncertain of food preparation methods, sanitation, and unknown ingredients may experience a case of the “potluck willies” or “potluck paranoia.”

People with potluck paranoia are grossed out by the batch of deviled eggs you prepared using a cross-contaminated spoon, while petting your cat, and with your long hair dangling over the mixing bowl.

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Sort of like this. See how my hair isn’t really pulled back and my fingers are cootiefying the batter.

I am not one of these people. I eat with abandon at potlucks.

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Probably because my husband acts like this around food.

No, I have my own kind of potluck paranoia. One that involves self-doubt and worry, not as the eater, but as the dish preparer.

It begins with receipt of the potluck invitation

“Why, yes,” I say. “I’d love to attend the potluck for the birthday/office/holiday party.” A small twinge of fear runs up my spine, but I can ignore it. After all, I have three weeks before the potluck.

Then, about three days before the event, things go haywire inside my brain:

What should I bring? Dip, yes dip is always good. No, everyone brings dip. What about a cheese or fruit platter? Ugh. Those rarely get eaten. I know – my homemade bouillabaisse that takes three hours to make. Perfect. Everyone loves bouillabaisse. Or do they? What if people are allergic to shellfish? Or onion? Or flour? Or food?

How about beer bread? That’s yummy. And easy to make. Is that good enough? Will they know I used Earth Balance and not real butter? Is one pan enough? Too much? What if someone spits out a cat hair? Can people get drunk from beer bread?

Perhaps I should just buy some potato salad and be done with it. I’m sure that will be fine. But what if the other potluck-goers look down on me because it’s store bought. They’ll sneer as they wonder if it has high-fructose corn syrup. They’ll be judging me. I’ll be voted off the island, deemed the weakest link.

What if I bring the same thing as three other people? Maybe I should diversify and bring a few different things: an appetizer, bread and dessert. They do say that diversification is good.

What if I just hide under a blanket and never leave the house again?

At the potluck

Where should I place my delicacies? Yes, the right location for my store bought pasta is paramount. I notice that someone else brought the exact same pasta salad. I nonchalantly place mine next its twin and look around to see if anyone has noticed. I drop off my dip, next to the other similar dips.

Now I watch as others drop off their dishes. I try not to judge them based on their offerings. I wonder if people know I brought the same pathetic salad as someone else. My eye twitches.

I load up my plate, taking a little bit of everything.

I watch my dishes out of the corner of my eye. Are people eating them? Has anyone even tried them? I better go take some of each. You know, to get the ball rolling. I better take a lot. Then people will think they’re good, because a lot is gone.

Now I start to feel bad for all the foods that no one is eating. I make another round and load up on more items.

I notice that the dip is almost gone. The pasta salad, however, is a flop. I make a mental note for next time.

After the potluck

I ponder what to bring next time. The crab dip was a success. I could just stick with that. But soon, they’ll come to expect it. I’ll be pigeonholed as the crab dip girl and that’s all I’ll ever be. I’ll never be able to show the world my range.

I look to my husband for support. He looks back at me like I’m nuts. He obviously doesn’t understand the social significance of selecting the proper potluck dish.

A week later and it’s time for another potluck. I decide to make something this time. Should I do an appetizer or main dish? Maybe something spicy. No, some people can’t handle spicy foods…

And cue the cycle again…

Writing letters to my younger self … Hopefully, I remember to check the mail

Have you ever wished you could go back in time and tell yourself something? Maybe a vital piece of information or a few words of encouragement? After packing our things and enduring the three day move from Colorado to Maine, I realized I had a few words of advice for my past self.

-Dear self in 2007, 2009 and 2012,

Nasal Decongestant

You already have Afrin. It might be stuffed in a small box in the linen closet, in a pile of junk in the nightstand or crammed into the corner of the medicine cabinet. You don’t need to buy more. How do I know this? I’m from the future, silly.

And you should be careful with that stuff. It’s really addictive.

Sincerely,

Your slightly older and still congested self

 

-Dear self in what I assume to be the early 1980s,

Fish artwork

The piece of art you are crafting today will one day be considered for display in the very prestigious Windram House. I believe your use of neutral seashells, contrasted with hot pink and yellow felt are the work of a mixed media genius. Yes, this piece has been hidden away too long in an oversized box in our basement. It’s time to let it shine.

So continue cutting and gluing that seaweed, little one. And don’t let anyone tell you those floating seashells should be on the ocean floor.

Best wishes,

Your much, much older and wiser self

 

-Dear self one year and six months ago,

Birthday card

Hey, there! So, you’re like going to receive this birthday check from Logan’s parents. Don’t … I repeat … Don’t set it on that stack of magazines by your feet. I know, I know. You’re in the middle of writing that super amazing novel and can’t be bothered. But if you set it there, it will never be cashed. Nope. You’ll find it as you’re packing to move Maine. Yes, that’s right. You’re moving to Maine. Crazy, huh? And a few extra bucks would be really helpful, but you can’t cash the check a year and half later. And asking for them to reissue it would be in poor taste. I think.

Regards,

Your older and $50 poorer self

 

-Dear self in the last two decades,

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Stop buying so many tank tops. I know they look cute on the rack, but you’ll hardly ever wear them. All those shoes, too. One of them even still has a sticker on it! Then there’s the jeans. Self from 2010, yeah I’m specifically calling you out. You need to give up the dream of fitting into those size 8s again. Just let it go. Trust me, if you stop the buying and the wishful thinking, you’ll have more money in the bank and spend less time weeding through all of this when you have to pack.

Why do I have a feeling you’re not going to listen to me?

Thank you,

Your older and now wearing size 12 jeans self

 

-Dear self two months ago,

You’ve made it through the move and I have some last minute tips to share:

Camden Harbor

Camden Harbor

-Don’t fret so much about the cats. They’ll be fine. Great, even. They end up sleeping most of the way. Sure, you have to disassemble the bed in one hotel because you couldn’t get MoJo and Olive out from under it, but other than that they were perfect little angels.

-Schedule Logan a dentist appointment now, or begin saving up some big bucks. Three weeks after you arrive he ends up with a dead tooth and needs a root canal. Looking on the bright side, you’ve already found a new dentist!

-That extra set of car keys that you unexplainably keep in the car, you should start carrying those in your purse. Logan will manage to lock the keys in the car in Coralville IA, while the car is running. It would be super helpful to have those keys on you when that happens.

-Plan your meals on the road. Otherwise, you’ll end up at eating at McDonalds every day. I’m serious.

Happy travels,

Your older and currently shopping for winter boots self

Moose, Lobster, Blueberries and Schooners

What comes to mind when you think of the following items?

Moose

Moose

Lobster by tuppus via Flickr

Lobster (Lobster by tuppus via Flickr Lic CC by 2.0)

Blueberries by La Grande Farmers' Market via Flickr CC

Blueberries (Blueberries by La Grande Farmers’ Market via Flickr Lic CC by 2.0)

Schooner (Mopping up by Tassadara C via Flickr

Schooners (Mopping Up by Tassadara C via Flickr Lic CC by 2.0

Anyone? Anyone?

What if I make it multiple choice:

a)    The latest round of perfectly normal celebrity baby names

b)   Maine

c)    Liminality

d)   The story of a swashbuckling moose and his bumbling lobster sidekick who sail around the world on a schooner fueled by blueberries


If you answered b, you’re correct

If you answered c, you’re also correct

If you answered a, you’re probably psychic and will be correct in the very near future

If you answered d, you’re probably a writer

All right, so what the heck am I babbling on about?

  1. My husband and I are moving to Maine
  2. The concept of liminality

My husband has been a woodworker for some time and we have a full shop in the basement, filled with terrifyingly sharp things such as the bandsaw. See what happens when you don’t respect the bandsaw:

Band Saw Injury

Band Saw Injury

He spends his free time down there building furniture for our house (and trying to keep all his appendages fully intact):

Dining Room Table

Dining Room Table

Coffee Table

Coffee Table

Nightstand

Nightstand

And we finally decided it was time to take his love for woodworking to the next level. So, this August we’ll be heading to coastal Maine where Logan will begin a nine-month comprehensive program in fine furniture making at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship.

This means leaving his job at the hospital where he’s worked for almost twelve years. It also means leaving behind a steady paycheck, a nice benefit package and the comfort of knowing I could buy as much tulle as I wanted at the fabric store. It also means traveling across the country with three cats, learning to live with humidity, and shopping for a much more substantial winter coat.

Ultimately, it’s a period of letting go of the past, and experiencing, processing and reconciling the unknown.

This leads me to my next point: Liminality.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, liminal is defined as:

-Of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process

-Occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold

The term was originally used in the context of societal rituals and there is often a ceremony that accompanies the transition. A common example is the transition between childhood and adulthood, marked by the graduation of high school or college.

Over time, the term has been applied more loosely and I tend to identify big liminal events as being marked by some sort of party:

-The going away party

-The bridal shower

-The baby shower

-The housewarming party

(So, in case you weren’t sure if you were in the midst of a liminal event, if someone wants to throw you a party, you probably are)

It’s in these times of liminality, where we are neither here, nor there, that there is an unusual opportunity for growth, an opportunity to push ourselves, to try new things and discover something new about ourselves.

So, we’ll be packing up soon, fully embracing our liminality, ready to see what happens next!

The Non-Bucket List: Things I’m happy to never, ever do

When was the last time you did something for the first time

In the last twelve months, I’ve challenged myself by starting my own business and speaking in front of large groups of people–on purpose. I’ve finished my first manuscript and sent it off to my very dear beta readers. And I’ve tried new things like petrifying my own fruit and making yarn pom napkin rings for my cousin’s bridal shower.

It’s a great feeling to take on new challenges, but I’ve also taken the time to reflect on the things that I’ll never do, or more than 99% likely won’t ever do–my Non-Bucket List. Here is a sample of that list for your reading pleasure:

1. Fold a fitted sheet. I’ve spent countless minutes of my life trying to force these unwieldy pieces of fabric into a perfectly shaped square or rectangle. I’ve seen how-to videos and picture tutorials, and yet my attempts have resulted mini tantrums and an overwhelming feeling of exasperation. Now they are immediately placed back on the mattress (Okay that was a lie. They sit in the dryer for at least 8 hours before they make it back on the bed) or they are wadded up into a ball and jammed into the linen closet. I see no reason to change my ways.

Silky Green by EvelynGiggles

See, this person has the idea. Just crumple it up and put it away. You will never get those hours spent trying to fold it back. (Silky Green by EvelynGiggles via Flickr Lic CC By 2.0)

2. Run a marathon. I know this on a lot of bucket lists out there, but the thought of running for miles on end is exhausting. I’m getting tired just thinking about it. My argument used to be that running that long of a distance was ridiculous. No animal in the wild would run like that if they didn’t have to for survival. Why would we do it for fun? Then I saw this article: Wild Animals Have a Hankering for Exercise. I guess I was wrong. But that hasn’t changed my stance. I’ll get my endorphins from a bite of chili pepper, or even better, a bite of chocolate.

Frederick Marathon by Ken Morrill

See this woman checking her watch. That would be me. Like every five seconds, wondering when this awful activity would be over. I would have abs just like that too. I already do. They’re just hidden under a little insulation. (Frederick Marathon by Ken Morrill via Flickr Lic CC By 2.0)

3. Hike Mount (Fill in the blank): This is along the lines of number two, but with the added risk of: oxygen deprivation, lightening strikes, fall related injuries, avalanches, hypothermia. You get the picture. I’m all for accomplishing really cool things. That’s why I wrote a book. No need to get frostbite or be airlifted from the top of a mountain due to high altitude cerebral edema, also known as HACE. The voices in my head are scary enough.

Guided Nature Hike Program by USFWS Mountain Prairie

Now this is my kind of hiking. See how it’s relatively flat? And the two girls have stopped to check out something very interesting on the ground? This is the perfect ruse to get other people to stop so you can rest. “Oooh. Look at this rock. Have you ever seen a rock like this?” (Guided Nature Hike Program by USFWS Mountain Prairie via Flickr Lic CC by 2.0)

4. Play with a Ouija board: As some of you may know, I sort of believe in ghosts. I like to think they are all nice, and they’d like nothing more than to enjoy a nice BBQ on the back patio with the rest of us living folk. But I’ve seen too many Poltergeists and Amityville Horror movies for my own good. So why would I invite any old spirit into my house? And then make it answer questions for my own amusement, spelled out, letter by letter?

Ouija Board Ad 1968 by Justin Wilson

Okay, so if you’re going to summon random spirits to your house, this is what you’d ask? “Who’s Debbie’s date to the prom?” Why don’t you just ask Debbie? “Should we go steady?” I’m guessing the answer is no if you are asking a piece of cardboard. (Ouija Board Ad 1968 by Justin Wilson via Flickr Lic CC By 2.0)

5. Drink another Mudslide: In college, I thought this was the best drink ever invented. It had alcohol. And chocolate flavoring. And about a zillion calories. Now, I’m much too refined to drink Mudslides. I drink boxed wine instead.

Mudslide by Stupid Systemus

My mudslides never looked this fancy. (Mudslide by Stupid Systemus via Flickr Lic CC By 2.0)

 

Joady's Bday Dinner for Tracy (2009) by Pat & Keri

I had the college version that came in a bottle. No fancy chocolate drizzle, or glass to drink out of for that matter. (Joady’s Bday Dinner for Tracy (2009) by Pat & Keri via Flickr Lic CC By 2.0)

So, if you are planning to run a marathon up Mount (fill in the blank), where everyone folds fitted sheets at the top and then plays with a Ouija board while drinking mudslides, you can count me out. Unless you replace the Mudslides with champagne. I might reconsider if there is bubbly involved.

Grocery Shopping: Why I need a magic calculator and the patience of a saint

Groceries in transit

Groceries in Transit” by qmnonic via Flickr Lic CC By 2.0

Going to the grocery store is like going to the airport. You know it’s going to be unpleasant and it’s going to challenge you mentally, emotionally and physically.

-The mental challenge: This pack of toilet paper has a million cubic metric inches squared of paper and it’s triple ply with a really cute koala bear. Ooh, but this one is 50 gallons when unrolled and swirled into a 6-foot pyramid. But it’s only double ply. Let me take out the magical calculator I bought at Diagon Alley and do the math here. Screw it. Of course I’m buying the one with the cute koala bear.

Koala toilet paper

Because he looks so super snuggly! (“Lovely koala with Cushelle toilet paper” – SCA by SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget via Flickr Lic CC By 2.0)

-The physical challenge: The other shoppers are there to test your agility. They place their carts, bodies, children, anything they can to stop your forward motion and prevent you from obtaining that pack of gummy worms that you need so badly.

T Rex tomatoes

I guess I should just be happy they’re aren’t  dinosaurs lurking in my store’s produce department. (“T-Rex sighted in the Grocery Store” by katerha via Flickr Lic CC by 2.0)

-The emotional challenge: The checkout line is intended to wear down what remains of your patience.

Of course only one register is open. And there are three people in front of you.

1st person in line - Seriously? You’re going to pay in all pennies?

2nd person in line – Say what? You’re going to buy twenty tubes of toothpaste using twenty separate transactions?

3rd person in line – Of course you have fifteen things in your cart that all need a price check. And now you’ve waited until the clerk tells you your total to start filling out your check. Really? You can’t write the date and sign the check until you know the total??

But what annoys me the most???? The shopping carts. I’ve been working on a very scientific study about shopping carts and how they’re conspiring against me. I’ll have the results for you one day. Right now I have to go to the grocery store. I was so confused by the toilet paper pricing last week, I forgot to buy some. Wish me luck!

How I Conquered My Book Eating Pigeons (or writing conferences are awesome)

A car crashes into a writer’s bedroom. The final line of her manuscript (the only manuscript that can save the world from fictitious book eating pigeons) is left unwritten. Will anyone ever read it? Will her story ever be told?

Pigeon flying

A book eating pigeon poised to attack.  (Pigeon in Flight. Image courtesy of quinet via  Flickr CC Lic. 2.0)

A young woman leaves her “day job” to write insanely humorous urban fantasy. Follow her as she skyrockets to the top of the industry and remodels her house to include a dark, but well lit library.

study or library

My dark, but well lit future library complete with magical potions, because writing is magical. (Study. Image courtesy of CodyR via Flickr CC 2.0)

These aren’t the plots of Hollywood movies. These are the types of thoughts that run through my mind at night. And by night I mean while in bed desperately trying to fall asleep.

These thoughts can usually be divided into two very distinct categories: Fortune and Fame or Doom and Gloom. Examples:

Fortune and Fame – I can’t wait to sell the first million copies of my book!

Doom and Gloom – What if I never finish the book? What if something happens to me, and my manuscript remains the gooey, messy, but delightful draft that only I’ve read?

Fortune and Fame  – This trip will be amazing! Our Mardi Gras costumes will be the best anyone has ever seen and we’ll be on the front page of every newspaper and meet Angelina and Brad.

Doom and Gloom – Unless our plane crashes into an alligator infested swamp.

Yeah, I might have a little anxiety … countered by delusions of grandeur.

I don’t know why my brain does this. Someone please explain to me the evolutionary advantage of keeping myself up all night worrying about book eating pigeons or fantasizing about my Oscar speech for a book that doesn’t even have a title yet.

But I digress.

This weekend I attended the Pikes Peak Writers Conference (PPWC) in Colorado Springs, CO and guess what? I learned things. I learned new ways to think about things. I learned that “things” isn’t a very strong word. Well, I already knew that, but I liked the use of anaphora.

Crows reading

Me looking up the word anaphora. What? You didn’t know I was a crow, with other crow friends? (Reader. Image courtesy of h.koppdelaney via Flickr CC 2.0)

When I sunk into my couch yesterday afternoon, I was filled with a range of emotions, the best being exhilaration. Although, you couldn’t tell from my slack jaw and glazed over eyes.

The conference was three days of workshops, pitch sessions, critique sessions and writerly fun. At times it was overwhelming, and the realities of the writing life can be daunting.

While I was splayed on the couch, my husband asked if I felt discouraged. I didn’t even have to think about my answer. No, I wasn’t discouraged. In fact, I have never felt more encouraged, supported and empowered. I’ve never loved being a writer more.

When 8:00 p.m. rolled around, I was semi-conscious and drooling on a throw pillow. So, I decided to go to bed. And then it happened – I couldn’t sleep. I was up for hours. I reworked my first two chapters in my mind, pondered marketing strategies and, of course, pictured myself walking down the red carpet. There was no worrying, no negative thoughts. Only the positive flowed through my mind.

So, goodbye Doom and Gloom. From here on out, I’m focusing on Fortune and Fame.

Thank you PPWC!