Monday, May 27, 2013

Stupid Things We've Done: Part II

Before I garner a reputation for being the "blonde" in this relationship (see "Stupid Things We've Done, Part 1), I give you another story.....

Ah, Amish friendship bread!  Such a lovely idea.  One friend makes a starter batch of dough, bakes bread using a portion of the dough, and shares part of the starter batch with friends who, in turn, separate the dough and share a portion with their friends.  Think of it as a culinary chain letter.  Sounds benign enough.

Well, not in our hands, apparently.

When one of our friends gave us some starter dough for friendship bread, Danielle decided to bake a loaf.  However, we don't have a loaf pan in our house.  (We bake homemade bread on a pizza stone.)  So, she poured the dough into several casserole dishes and maybe even a ramekin or two and set the dishes in the oven.  The smell of cinnamon filled the house.

A little while later, the waft of cinnamon took on a burnt scent, and turning on the oven light revealed that the dough had risen and poured out of the baking dishes, making little friendship bread waterfalls throughout our oven.  Immediately, we turned off the oven and let the gooey mess cool.  Once the oven was cool to the touch, Danielle informed me that she had cleaned the oven. 

Now, Danielle and I see eye-to-eye on just about every topic.  Politics.  Music.  Child-rearing.  Education.  However, we have highly divergent views regarding what it means to have "cleaned the oven."  My definition involves scrubbing, soap, and rags.  Danielle's consisted of peeling off the chunks of partially-cooked bread from the bottom of the oven. 

The next day, I decided to roast vegetables for dinner in our "clean"* oven.  I preheated the oven, waited, and then, upon seeing smoke coming from the oven, decided we needed to change our dinner plans.  Maybe we should eat something boiled or microwaved.  If I remember correctly, Danielle and I had a brief conversation about her "cleaning" methods and agreed that the oven would need more TLC from us before its next use.  That's when we stumbled upon the oven's self-cleaning feature.

A word about the self-cleaning setting: it is not magic.  There are no animated scrubbing bubbles who slide through some fantastical pipe into your oven.  Fairies do not appear with miniature feather dusters, ever-ready to make your oven sparkle and shine.  There are no singing mice like in Cinderella.  The only thing that happens is this: your oven gets hot.  Really, really hot.  As in, this is how our oven came to be on fire.

Danielle and I had completely opposite reactions to the discovery of the oven fire.  I became annoyingly calm and methodical, and she acted as if the apocalypse was imminent.  If the incident were a  play, the dialogue would go something like this:

Danielle:  Elaine!  Elaine!  A fire!  Look!  A fire!
Elaine: Okay.....
Danielle (opening and closing the oven door and fanning the flames in the process):  Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god....
Elaine (in an exasperatingly slow voice):
Danielle (with much more rapid speech): Ofcourse!  Areyoucrazy?!  Yes!  Callthem!  (fans flames, darts out of kitchen, runs back into the kitchen, fans flames again, rushes out of the kitchen.  This cycle repeats indefinitely.)

I proceeded to call 911 to explain the embarrassing situation.  "Apparently, we did not clean our oven well enough, and now it is on fire."  The operator was getting more information from me when Danielle ran into the living room with the fire extinguisher in hand.  "Ask her if it's okay to spray the oven with a fire extinguisher!  Ask her if it's okay to spray the oven with a fire extinguisher!"  More running, screaming hysterically, opening and shutting the oven door, and darting around ensued.  I told the 911 operator to hold on, covered up the phone, and told Danielle, "I can't answer her questions and yours at the same time."  Possibly with a tone of condescension.  (This was not popular.)

Eventually, the fire burned out on its own.  The operator and I agreed that it was probably unnecessary for the fire department to come out.  She asked me about the amount of smoke in the house, but I told her it was manageable due to the big windows, screen doors, and ceiling fans in our house.  Then she said, "Wellllllll....let me go ahead and send them out just in case.  They have these big fans that can push that smoke right out."  Reluctantly, I agreed, thinking that a small truck could bring such a fan to our home rather inconspicuously.

Or not.

We heard the sirens long before they reached our neighborhood.  It's the only time in my life when I've secretly hoped that maybe someone else in the area could be having a fire at the same time as us.  Surely there's a local arson problem, right?  The only upside to the sirens is that we had plenty of time to scoop up our dog, who already was wondering what the hell was going on, in order to keep her from running in front of the fire trucks.

Yes, trucks.  As in, plural.  One small truck pulled into our driveway first.  The truck was followed by two full-blown engines and, for good measure, another truck.  All for the oven fire that was already extinguished.  We were mortified.  We saw neighbors we'd never met standing on their porches and gawking at us.  One especially kind neighbor stopped by to check on us later because "it looked really bad with all of those trucks out there."  Don't worry, we assured her.  Only our egos were damaged.

The firefighters, for their part, were very kind and waited at least until we were out of earshot before laughing at us.  We promised to donate annually to the volunteer fire department.

And as for Amish friendship bread?  The friend who gave us the starter loaf suggested that from now on, perhaps we'd better just stick to eating it.

*My wifely addendum:  Danielle would like me to mention that, when it comes to cleaning, she is actually the anal retentive one in the relationship.  "You clean around stuff," she told me, "but I move things out of the way and get behind the furniture."  There was also something about how she comes from a long line of German minimalists, but I can't quote that one as accurately.  Bottom line: my wife is not a slob, and I don't want to sleep in the doghouse tonight.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Stupid Things We've Done: Part I

I'm not saying that Danielle and I are sticks in the mud, but we do like our comfy little routines.  The road more traveled?  Fine by us.  Reading before bed.  Date night on Thursdays.  Dinner out at our same favorite places, where we will order our same favorite dishes.  Church on Sundays.  Walking the dog in the evenings.  You get the picture.  Sometimes, however, we cling a little too tightly to routines for routine's sake.  We have to remind ourselves that we are not yet old dogs that it wouldn't kill us to learn some new tricks.

However, when trying new things, one should take time to read- not skim- the directions.

With the beautiful spring weather in full force, Danielle and I have spent many of the past few weekends hiking or taking long walks.  We love our usual hiking spots but have been eager to try more of the trails that crisscross our region.  Two weekends ago, we decided to venture out to a trail system two of our friends have been raving about.  I even researched the trails online and found a 2.5 mile loop that would be appropriate for a hike with the dog in tow.  We packed a lunch, filled two water bottles, brought water and treats for the pup, and were off for an adventure.

When we arrived, we got off to a grumbling start as we struggled to find parking.  (Again, we are not exactly go with the flow when trying new things.  And by "not exactly," I mean "not even in the same zip code as".)  The small parking lot area beside the trails was packed with vehicles; on one of the first pretty Saturdays of the season, nature lovers were out in full force, and the area was even more crowded due to some type of mountain biking event.  Despite our default mode of "curmudgeon", the Zen of being outdoors worked its magic on our systems, and after about a quarter of a mile we settled into an easy, relaxed walk through the woods.  We felt the cool relief offered by shaded areas and listened to the trickle of streams that popped up intermittently along the path.  We shared conversation and comfortable silence.  Eventually, we admitted to each other that we were grateful to be on the trail at the same time as the mountain bikers because all the activity decreased the likelihood of a bear sighting.  (Both of us cultivate highly active imaginations and harbor a strong fear of bear encounters on hikes.  It would not be unheard of for us to talk abnormally loudly or to shake our keys during a hike to scare away the bears.  If you have encountered obnoxious people on what you hoped would be a tranquil hike, I apologize.  It was probably us.)

We covered two miles and congratulated ourselves on getting back onto the hiking/exercising bandwagon.  (We are so healthy!  Go, us!)  Not long after that, we encountered a marker for mile 2.5, but the trail seemed nowhere near the end.  Mile marker 3 turned into 3.5 and then 4.  At mile 4.5, we came to a lookout area with a flat bed of pine needles and some shade.  We had planned on having lunch at the end of our hike, but we decided to stop and have an impromptu picnic.  Being tired and famished will do that to a person.  While we were eating, a trio of bikers came up the hill and kindly stopped to admire our dog.  We all struck up a conversation, and at some point mentioned that we had been under the impression that the trail was two and a half miles long.

The cyclists' faces fell.  They looked at one another.  Who would break the bad news to us?  "Oh, no.  It's way more than that."  And they proceeded to discuss among themselves how long they thought the trail was.  Their consensus?  Somewhere between 6 and 7 miles.

We were a little tired at the 4.5 mile resting stop but were hanging in there.  The dog, however, had never done more than a 5K up to that day.  So, as we continued on our journey, Danielle stretched out her t-shirt, stuck all 22 pounds of dog inside it, and made a makeshift carrier in the style of a baby-wearing wrap.  (Think Baby Bjorn or Moby wrap.)  For the remainder of the journey, she would carry the dog about half a mile, let the dog walk half a mile, and then start the cycle all over again.  By the end of the hike, that t-shirt looked like a damn cowl neck.

As time passed, our key jangling and noise making ceased.  The distance between the half mile markers seemed to grow longer and longer.  We became concerned.  Just how long was this trail?  Visions of our bodies being airlifted from the woods drifted into my head.  How long would it take for a rescue crew to reach us?  Would the bears get to us first?  Who would take care of the dog in our absence?  What if I never lived to eat another bite of chocolate?

To put out minds at ease, we needed some confirmation and solid facts.  Although we were out in nature and weaving our way around a huge lake surrounded by woods, we still got clear cell phone reception.  So, we decided to call one of our friends to have her look up the length of the trail.  To our dismay, she told us it was a total of nine miles. Nine.  Friggin'.  Miles.  The blisters on our feet instantly began to sting with more fervor.  Our water bottles suddenly seemed dangerously depleted.  I was *thisclose* to pouring a jar of honey over my head and just letting the bears finish me off.  No use postponing the inevitable, right?  Then, we got some good news.  The trail was 9 miles if you included a 2.5 mile loop but only 7.5 miles if you avoided the loop.

Hmmmm.  A 2.5 mile loop.  2.5... miles.  Sound familiar?

I, in my infinite wisdom, had put my family (which includes a short and almost nine-year-old dog) on a 7.5 mile trail because the 2.5 mile loop I'd been searching for was only accessible several miles into the hike.

My bad.

Obviously, our misadventure turned out fine.  We made it out of the woods (literally), and neither the long hike nor Danielle's wrath killed me.  (She was quite forgiving of my blunder, actually.)  Danielle got some monstrous blisters on her feet, and my skin was a patchwork of sunburns, but we were generally no worse for wear.  In fact, we were quite proud of ourselves.  Between the trail length and the distance between the trail and trailhead, we covered a total of 8.4 miles.  Not something we'd have thought we were capable of but something we were proud to have done.  Something we'd conquered together.  We even talked of hiking the route again over the summer sans pooch.

We got home, cleaned ourselves off, and proceeded to eat whatever the hell we wanted.  After all, we'd walked 8.4 miles.  My map-reading accident turned out to be a happy accident.  We'd ventured far outside of our comfort zone and lived to tell about it.  In fact, we'd actually enjoyed it.  And it made for a great story.

Nevertheless, Danielle has informed me that all direction-related tasks are to be double checked by her in the future.

Seems reasonable.