Oddities and Obsessions

better homes and gardens magazineFor decades, women’s magazines had basically three subjects: food, dieting, and sex. Gradually, a fourth one evolved, and now it has literally taken the lead. The January issue of Better Homes and Gardens proclaimed “Get Organized!” The February Good Housekeeping promised “More Calm, Less Stuff: Declutter Closets in a Day,” while the February Ladies Home Journal announced “Banish Clutter: Your New Organized Life Starts Today.”

And these are just the tip of the home-organizational iceberg. I haven’t checked Cosmo in a while (I’m more of an EcoSalon kind of girl), but we can probably expect it to jump on the clutter(ed) bandwagon fairly soon with “Less Stuff, More Sex!”

It was George Carlin who was the first to call our attention to stuff, and although we laughed, we pretty much went on our merry collecting way, blithely adding more and more, well, just plain stuff (and fancy stuff, too, along with electronic stuff). Here’s a measure of how far we’ve come—or fallen.

My husband’s and my first house was half of a double. The house was three stories tall, and you had to climb all the way to the third floor to find even the semblance of a closet. It was so shallow that it wouldn’t accommodate a clothes bar with hangers, and we settled for storing a few seasonal pieces by hanging them on the row of six wooden pegs lining the back wall. Recently I came across the following suggestion for managing the detritus of our consumerism: just turn the smallest bedroom in the house into a walk-in closet. (Ah, but where, then, would I store all those piles of papers sitting on the shelves and floor of that room?)

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tomato-plantYou had the nice. Now here’s the not so nice. I recently wrote about finding peace, love, and deeper friendship through agriculture; specifically, growing tomatoes with my friend Mark. Peace, love and light through Heirlooms. It was a lovely piece. Upbeat and cheery, not too “come to the commune”. Just right for a lazy morning read over coffee.

That was before. Before death and destruction arrived. Before my nightly ritual of spraying Simple Green natural product detergent and decorating the chicken wire fencing with sheets of fabric softener got upped to saving the fort status. Before the arrival of …The Squirrel from Hell.

At first I thought my nemesis was a rat. A canyon rat. Can’t be helped here in the canyons there are actually hill mice (rats to my mind) and we do have to deal with them. So I set about dealing with this one, or two with all of the tools I could muster thanks to Google. SOS aka Brillo pads around every single crevice of my planter that I thought they could squeeze through, was my particular favorite.

The blue grey fat squares mixed nicely with the white sheets of fabric softener which I also was led to believe would do the trick. When our weekly housekeeper came and wondered where her supplies had disappeared to I casually said, forget laundry, forget the dishes, I‘ll take care of you come harvest time!

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knife spoonMy mother had a lot of them.  If a knife drops, it means trouble’s coming.  If a spoon drops, it means company’s coming...  Lila’s mother, by contrast, believed if a knife dropped it meant a man was coming.  If a spoon dropped, it meant a woman was coming...  Double egg yolks were good luck.  And never pass a salt shaker to anyone without setting it down on the table in front of them and having them pick it up from the table – don’t ask me why.

If you bring home a piece of wedding cake and put it under your pillow, you will dream about the person that you’re going to marry. My mother used to bring me pieces of wedding cakes home all the time.  I also suspect it attracts ants. - Amy Ephron

So we asked some of our contributors if they (or anyone in their family) had any food superstitions, too.  

If you drop a knife into the chest of another person it means that the police will soon be coming. Also a girl shouldn't be the one to eat the last of any one thing that's served on a platter - like the last Brussels sprout or last ear of corn or last bagel - because she'll end up an old maid. - Alan Zweibel

KitchenAid-14-piece-Knife-Set-P13284349The only one I ever heard was that if someone gave you knives as a gift you had to pay them a dollar. Apparently that was supposed to protect you from cutting yourself. I never did find out why, but "the charm" worked for at least five years. My husband's co-workers were horrified he gave me the knives, but I am pretty sure it wasn't my safety they were concerned about…
- Lisa Dinsmore

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tabasco-production-line-550xOh, Tabasco, how much do I love thee?

The narrow bottle, wedged next to the napkins and salt and pepper, has always been a part of my earliest food memories and proceeds almost anything else on the table. It is a sauced etched in my mind, its hot and tangy flavor surely a part of my DNA by now. I suspect it’s this way for millions of people, too. I’ve just never been able to get enough of the stuff.

I got to spend a few days in Avery Island, Louisiana, home to the McIlhenny Company that makes the Tabasco hot sauce. It’s been made here since its invention in 1868, its recipe unchanged for over 142 years. And if something is good, why change it? To make Tabasco sauce, you only need a few things: peppers, salt, vinegar and time. But Tabasco does indeed have a secret ingredient that makes it so extremely special: the people that have made the sauce for generations.

(and no, there are no people IN the sauce, please don’t get all Sweeny Hot Sauce Todd on me, please)

To visit Avery Island and the McIlhenny Company is like walking into a textbook on regional Louisiana history, followed by a textbook on American history. It’s a family-owned company that was founded by Edmund McIlhenny and is still run by the family today. In fact, many of the employees have been with the company for generations. And Avery Island itself is quite special. Located in Iberia Parish, Avery Island is located on top of a salt dome and has been involved in the salt trade even longer than the production of Tabasco. These two things go hand in hand, we’ll get to that in a few.

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tooth.jpgOn the way back to the car after some lunchtime phở, we stepped into a bird store to say a quick what’s up to the caged canaries and parrots. In the middle of the store, I sneezed and my temporary front tooth flew onto the floor. I picked up the tooth, shrugged at the puzzled proprietors and parrots, and drove to my dentist to have it reattached.

The dentist said this might happen. Cautioned me not to eat anything sticky or chewy. I gazed longingly at caramel apples at Farmer’s Market last week, and had to eat my grilled cheese from Phil’s with a fork and knife. That’s the result of deciding to replace my cracked front tooth with a porcelain crown, and having this temporary plastic piece stand in while the crown’s manufactured. It’s no fun.

I’m used to eating anything I want. Cutlery is never a concern. And now, for three weeks, I’m relegated to eating only that which can be cut into small pieces. I feel like a toddler getting his pizza slice diced into manageable bites. Child’s play.

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