Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Just Cover it in Chocolate

I heard a story on the news the other day about a woman who is suing a radio station because of the prize she won. The station had sponsored a contest where the top prize was advertised as “a hundred grand.” However, when the woman went to the station to claim her prize, she was handed a Nestle’s 100 Grand candy bar.

The woman, who’d earlier promised her children that she would buy them, among other things, a new van and a house with a big back yard, was not amused. In fact, she left skid marks in her haste to get to her lawyer’s office.

I, on the other hand, probably would have been thrilled with the candy bar. You see, I have been addicted to chocolate ever since I was two years old and crawled behind my grandmother’s sofa. That’s where I found her hidden stash of five pounds of Fanny Farmer chocolates. I didn’t emerge again until every inch of me was chocolate-covered.

On that day, my chocolate addiction was born. I had tasted the forbidden fruit. I was hooked.

When I lived at home with my parents, my chocolate addiction was pretty much kept under control because my mother did all of the grocery shopping and knew that no piece of chocolate was safe around me. She even accused me of being able to sniff it out from 20 paces.

After I got married, however, I went wild. I even joined a wholesale shopping club so I could buy chocolate stuff in bulk. Soon, the kitchen cupboards were overflowing with chocolate Pop-Tarts, packages of hot chocolate mix, chocolate- chip cookies and big boxes of chocolate bars.

My worst addiction, however, was Brach’s bridge mix. Every day, I ate an entire box of the decadent chocolate-covered raisins, peanuts, almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, caramels and assorted creams. As I ate, I actually could hear the calories adding up (kind of like the sound of my house’s electric meter running), but I didn’t care. I had to have my daily bridge-mix fix.

Finally, there came a day when I realized that I had to cut back. My belt was so tight, I used the tip of a steak knife to poke an extra hole in it to make it bigger. My teeth were sprouting cavities so fast, it was as if they were breeding. And my complexion went from peaches-and-cream to rocky road.

During my period of self-imposed chocolate withdrawal, my husband, who was hooked on Three Musketeers bars (but possessed enough self-control to eat only one per week), still kept a box of them in the closet in the spare room. Three Musketeers bars never had been my favorites, mainly because they were too airy to satisfy my cravings. And their chocolate coating was much too thin to suit me.

One night, however, after my husband had gone to bed and I was sitting alone watching television and desperately craving a box of bridge mix, I heard voices calling out to me from the spare room. “Saaaally! It’s us! The Three Musketeers…with our fluffy chocolate nougat, drenched in creamy milk chocolate! We are in here, waiting for you!”

I couldn’t bear it any longer. I dashed into the spare room and tore into those candy bars. A pile of silver wrappers littered the floor as I inhaled my husband’s precious stash. By the time I was through, the Three Musketeers had been reduced to the Rest-in-Peace Musketeers. And I was so full of chocolate nougat, I felt as if someone had filled me with blown-in insulation.

The next day, I rolled out of bed (and I do mean “rolled”) and headed to the wholesale club to buy a box of replacement Three Musketeers bars to put in the spare room before my husband could discover that his were missing.


There were 36 candy bars in the box, so I had to hide 25 of them, because my husband’s stash had been only 11 the night before. Or was it 12? My heart began to pound. “Oh, calm down!” I told myself. “He won’t even know the difference.”

Once again, I’d figured wrong.

“Strange,” my husband said a few nights later when he ventured into the spare room to get his weekly candy bar. “I had only nine candy bars left the other night, and now there are 11!”

“Oh, you probably just counted wrong,” I said.

“No, I distinctly remember counting 10 of them and then eating one. So how could there be 11 of them now?”

I managed a nervous laugh. “Maybe the Three Musketeers fairy paid you a visit?”

I ended up eating all of the extra candy bars I’d hidden from him. It took me a while, but I finally polished them off. And after that, I rarely touched chocolate again…not even bridge mix. In fact, I couldn’t even look at chocolate for a long time, not without visions of the Three Musketeers, their swords painfully jabbing my bloated belly, coming back to haunt me.

Lately, however, twinges of my former chocolate cravings have begun to resurface. So far, I have managed not to succumb to them.

But now that I think about it, maybe I ate only 23 or 24 of those 25 extra Three Musketeers bars that I hid from my husband.

Funny, but I have a sudden urge to go rummage through some drawers.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Jack Frost, Criminal Mastermind or Savior?

I am sitting here wearing two pairs of sweatpants, a sweater, wool stockings and a sweatshirt with a hood. I just drank my sixth cup of hot tea in an attempt to warm myself from the inside out. The heat is cranked up to 72 degrees but still, I can’t seem to thaw out. Winter definitely is here.

The truth is, I love winter. In fact, it ranks right up there on my list of favorite seasons. Am I a skier? A snowmobiler? A skater? Do I run a snowplowing business? Nope.

I love winter because there are no bugs.

Call me cruel, but the thought of all of the creepy crawly things that come out in the summer, now lying stiff and cold under a ton of snow somewhere, unable to hum, buzz, bite or sting, really pleases me. In fact, if they just could stay frozen for the rest of the year, I’d be one very happy person.

There are a lot of other things I love about winter, though. For example, cold weather is refreshing and invigorating. I love to bundle up and take long walks in the snow out in the woods, especially since I don’t have to worry about later stripping off my clothes and doing a full-body tick check. And it’s a scientific fact that walking or jogging in frigid weather burns more calories than walking or jogging in hot weather.

This year, however, I must confess that the frigid temperatures already have resulted in a few incidents that have made me love winter just a little bit less than in previous years.

First of all, on our street, the mail is delivered to outside lock-boxes at the bottom of the hill. For three days last week, the lock on our box was frozen solid. The worst part was that I knew my paycheck was sitting in that box, so I was eager (make that desperate) to get into it.

I heated my key with a cigarette lighter. The lock wouldn’t turn. I pounded on the door with my fists. Still nothing. I stood out in the wind and held an insulated glove over the lock to warm it…until I got so cold, icicles began to hang from my nostrils. Still nothing. Upset, I drove to the post office to complain.

“Well, you can have someone build a shelter around the boxes,” the postal employee told me.

Hiring a carpenter and waiting for him to build a shelter didn’t exactly sound like a speedy way to get my paycheck.

“Or you can try squirting some WD-40 into the lock,” he added.

“Can’t you just have the guy who put the mail into the boxes get it out again?” I asked. “He obviously knows some secret I don’t!”

“I can’t ask him,” he answered. “He’s not back from his route yet.”

I ended up buying some lock de-icer, which, after several squirts, accompanied by a few well-aimed whacks, finally opened the box. When I, at long last, got my frozen little paws on my paycheck, I rushed down to the bank. The lobby was closed, but the drive-up lane still was open. There were four cars in line ahead of me when I pulled in.

I sat there for at least 15 minutes before I finally made it to the front of the line.
That’s when I discovered that my car window was frozen shut. I pushed on it. I aimed the heater vent toward it. It wouldn’t budge. When I looked in my rearview mirror and read the lips of the guy in the car behind me, I figured that unless he was singing along with some song on the radio that had a lot of four-letter words in it, I’d probably be better off just opening my car door and getting out to do my transaction. The problem was, I’d parked so close to the concrete island, there was no room to open my door. Muttering, I drove off, my paycheck lying uncashed on the front seat and taunting me.

And the other night, I came very close to repeating a cold-weather mistake I’d made a few years ago; a mistake that had required my husband to use a blow dryer on my hand…because it was frozen to our back door.

I was doing the dishes when my dog, obviously in a hurry to do her “duty,” whined at the door. Hastily, I dried my hands and went to let her out.

Fortunately, in the nick of time I remembered that metal storm-doors and damp, dishpan hands make a dangerous combination in sub-zero weather…unless you’re a criminal who wants to lose his ability to ever be fingerprinted again.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that my own left pinky still is fingerprintless.

Maybe spiders and ticks aren’t so bad after all.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Oh give me a home...

My pen pal in Scotland sent me an e-mail the other day, telling me that she’d thought of the perfect birthday gift for my husband. She said she wanted to adopt a bison for him.

You see, my husband is an avid (rabid?) collector of anything and everything that has to do with buffalo or bison. In fact, our formerly all-colonial house now has so many statues, pictures, sculptures, wall hangings, artifacts, paintings, etc. of bison stuffed into it, you’d think we were living at the Ponderosa.

As visions of a big buffalo bull grazing on our front lawn filled my mind, I asked my Scottish pen pal how and where she planned to adopt the animal. She explained that the adoption was more like a sponsorship, and that the buffalo would stay where it was (that was a relief!). She added that she’d done a Web search and had come up with a zoo not too far from New Hampshire that has nothing but buffalo in it. She said she thought it might be a good place to start.

I was certain that if such an all-buffalo zoo did indeed exist somewhere near here, my husband would have set up camp at the place by now. “What zoo is it?” I asked her.

“It’s called the Buffalo Zoo!”

I couldn’t help but laugh. I really hated to burst her bubble, but I had to tell her that Buffalo was the city in which the zoo was located, not a zoo filled with buffalo. She then asked me if maybe I could help her find a place in America that offered buffalo adoptions. She said it would be easier if I handled everything at my end and then she’d just send me the money for it. “I’m willing to go as high as $80,” she said.

Well, there was no way I was going to let her spend that kind of money on a birthday gift, so I set out to search the Internet for a place that not only offered buffalo adoptions, but cheap buffalo adoptions.

I immediately found the Adopt-A-Bison Program in Oklahoma, listed through an organization called the Nature Conservancy. I contacted them, only to be informed that they weren’t conducting the program any more. They did, however, ask me if I’d like to adopt a coral reef to help save the environment.

After what seemed like hours more of online searching, I came across a place called the Dickerson Zoo in Springfield, Missouri. It offered adoptions for only $30. The package included a personalized, official certificate of adoption, an actual photo of the adopted animal, an information sheet, periodic newsletters, a free pass to the zoo and more. Excited, I printed out the adoption form, filled in the information, wrote out a check and mailed everything to the zoo.

Three days later, I received a phone call. “Hello,” a woman’s voice, sounding just a bit uneasy, said. “I’m calling from the Dickerson Park Zoo in Missouri. You filled out an adoption form for a bison?”

“That’s right,” I said brightly.

“Well, um, we don’t have any bison here,” she said. “I mean, I’ve worked here for years and we’ve never had a bison!”

“Are you sure?” I asked, as if the poor woman somehow had overlooked a 2,000-pound bison all these years.

“Positive. Can I interest you in another animal? Perhaps a nice black bear?”

“No thanks,” I said, my tone doing little to conceal my disappointment. “It has to be a buffalo. My husband loves buffalo…and it’s his birthday.”

“Oh. I’m really sorry we can’t help you,” she said. “I’ll be sure to return your check.”

About a half-hour after I hung up, I turned on my computer and there was an e-mail message from the woman I’d just spoken with on the phone. She felt so bad for my poor bison-less birthday boy, she sent me a list of places where she thought I might be able to adopt a bison. I eagerly checked out each one.

The prices ranged from $100 all the way up to $500 for an adoption. I was just about to give up on the whole idea and tell my pen pal to just buy my husband a toy bison and he’d be thrilled. But then I checked out the last place on the list; the Adopt a Species program at the National Zoo in Washington, DC. The Web site said that for a donation, I could adopt any animal from the zoo’s list and get a personalized certificate of adoption, a photo, fact sheet and six issues of the zoo’s newsletter.

And best of all, there, listed among the many creatures available for adoption, from a giant hissing cockroach to a white-cheeked gibbon, was the American buffalo! I think I actually had a tear in my eye when I saw it.

Quickly, I filled out the adoption form, wrote a check and sent everything to the zoo. And then, because the list had said, “subject to change,” I held my breath. I figured that with my luck, the zoo probably had only one arthritic, toothless old buffalo and it would drop dead the day after I mailed the application.

Today, the packet arrived from the zoo. The certificate of adoption has my husband’s name professionally printed in calligraphy on it, and there’s a beautiful 35mm photo of “his” buffalo along with a fact sheet and a copy of “Zoogoer” magazine.

I can’t wait to see his face when he opens his gift. And after he does, he’ll probably hop the next flight to Washington, DC just so he can make sure that his new “son” is being treated well.

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Paging Florence Nightingale

I was in one of the malls the other day and the place sounded like a refuge for wild geese. It seemed as if just about everyone in there was honking, sneezing or coughing. I even walked behind one man who, without exaggeration, sneezed with every step he took. I got away from him…fast.

Needless to say, I came home feeling as if I were a giant, walking germ. “Don’t come near me!” I said to my husband as I backed away from him. “I need to take a bath in Lysol. I feel like Typhoid Mary!”

He laughed, thinking I was joking, but I was serious. The last thing I wanted was for him to catch something. You see, too vividly, and in recurrent nightmares, I still recall the last time he came down with the flu.

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. At first, I tried to deny the inevitable. When he started sneezing, I attributed it to using too much pepper on his mashed potatoes. When he said his throat was sore, I reasoned that it was because the house was too dry. And when he began to look flushed, I passed it off as a male hot flash.

But when he developed the chills, a temperature of 101, and a cough that rattled the windows, I had to face the truth. The flu had reared its ugly head and claimed another victim…and I, the farthest thing from Florence Nightingale imaginable, was going to have to take care of him.

“Let me take your temperature,” I said to my husband that first night, as I shook down the thermometer.

“Noooo!” he whined. “If I keep my mouth closed with the thermometer in it, I won’t be able to breathe through my stuffed-up nose! I’ll suffocate!”

“Well, I can take your temperature another way, if you’d like,” I said calmly.

It’s amazing how long he managed to hold his breath while the thermometer was in his mouth.

Still, even though he looked as if he’d been run over by a train, he was determined to go to work the next morning. “There’s an important meeting I HAVE to attend,” he said when I threatened to tie him to the bedpost to keep him home. “You don’t want me to lose my job and end up unemployed, do you? Then you’d have to go out and get a regular 9-to-5 job.”

I packed his lunch.

The next morning, the alarm rang at 5:30. My husband sat up, swung his legs over the edge of the bed and slid one foot into his slipper. Twenty minutes later, he still was sitting on the edge of the bed.

I finally asked him what he was doing. “I’m trying to get up the energy to put on my other slipper,” he said.

That did it. I called his office and said he wouldn’t be in. Thus began two of the longest weeks of my life.

For one thing, I thought he would stay in bed all day and either sleep or watch the portable TV in the bedroom. But he wanted to watch the big TV, so he parked his aching body in his recliner out in the living room from early morning till late at night, about 125 hours a day.

So instead of my favorite TV shows, I was forced to watch countless reruns of CHIPs and Gunsmoke. If any show dared to show even a hint of romance, my husband had his finger on the remote control with such lightning speed, he outdrew Marshal Dillon.

And then there was the ice cream incident. Because of his sore throat, my husband wanted ice cream to soothe it. Of course, on the particular day that he absolutely had to have it, the second coming of the Ice Age was in progress. I wouldn’t even have sent my dogs out in weather like that, but my husband’s whining made me decide to brave the elements and risk wrapping my car around a tree. I drove only as far as the nearest variety store, however, which had a limited selection of items.

My husband specifically had requested Hood brand Patchwork ice cream, which is nothing more than squares of chocolate ice cream and vanilla ice cream put together to look like a patchwork quilt. Naturally, the small store had no such thing, so I, being clever, bought a container of Hood chocolate ice cream and one of Hood vanilla. I figured I’d just cut them into squares and put them together in the same dish, and my husband would be none the wiser.

It didn’t work. “This isn’t Patchwork,” he complained after only one bite.

“It’s the same exact ice cream,” I told him. “It’s just that the little squares didn’t come all hitched together, that’s all!”

“Well, I don’t like it,” he said, pushing the dish away.

I was tempted to hold him down and force-feed the ice cream to him, but I knew that Florence Nightingale never would have done anything like that, so I refrained.

The worst part of the flu was my husband’s coughing, which kept both of us awake all night. Six days into his illness, after we both looked so haggard from lack of sleep, we could have landed roles in the movie, “Night of the Living Dead,” he finally told me to call the family doctor and make an appointment. The moment I dialed the number, however, he changed his mind.

Ten times a day, it was the same thing: “Call the doctor.” “Don’t call the doctor.” “Make an appointment.” “Don’t make an appointment.” I was ready to drink hemlock.

“Maybe I have pneumonia now,” my husband groaned after yet another night of endless coughing and wheezing. “Or it could even be something much worse!” Despite his obvious concern, he still wouldn’t allow me to call the doctor.

“Well, we’ll find out for sure what you had when they perform the autopsy,” I said, shrugging.

It’s miraculous just how quickly he recovered after that.