Sunday, March 30, 2014

Will the REAL Mindi Carpenter please stand up?

not Mindi but it looks a bit like her

There's another Mindy Carpenter on youtube. She spells her first name ending in  a y rather than an i, and she's no relation to the other Mindi Carpenter or to Richard Carpenter. I personally think she should find another name, but then, I think a lot of random things.

The REAL Mindi Carpenter

The Imposter

I've included a video of Richard Carpenter singing one of his and Karen's hits. I've heard worse.  I'm sure we've all heard better, too, but I'll be nice for once.

Lately I've been thinking about Ellen Degeneris as well. I wonder if Audra McDonald will be on Ellen Degeneris' show anytime soon. Stranger things have probably happened.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sleepover at a Mortuary

The mortuary where Lauren held her sleepover wasn't quite this scary on the outside, but they're all creepy on the inside.

Lauren Simms (not her real name, obviously) lived in the town into which moved when I was nine years old. My family and I lived there for the next seven-and-one-half years, until my brother and I graduated from high school.  It was an upscale university town in northern California. Several of our friends had parents who were university professors. My father was a medical researcher who conducted parts of his research at the university campus and at the affiliated medical school twenty miles or so away. (Other parts of his research were done at university-affiliated hospitals around the state.) My mom was a school psychologist and administrator for the local school district. Lauren Simms' father was the owner and operator of the only locally-owned mortuary in our town.

I played with Lauren at school, but we didn't play at each other's houses when we were in grade school. Her house was about two miles from my house. I didn't have annual birthday parties, and I don't think she did, either. I do remember that she attended my eleventh birthday party, and I attended a party for her tenth birthday, which was held at a local ice-skating rink. The sleepover for Lauren's thirteenth birthday was the first time I was ever in Lauren's home, which was connected by a hallway to the mortuary.

If memory serves me correctly, Lauren's sleepover party was held on the last Friday night before her actual birthday, which was on Halloween, and which fell on a weekday that year.  The girls giggled behind Lauren's back about how creepy it was to be spending the night in a house attached to a funeral home, and the Halloween atmosphere probably intensified the effect, but, morbid little souls that we were, we probably totally thrived on the prospect.

The party guests all showed up around 6:00 p.m with our sleeping bags and pillows, not exactly sure what we were in for. We dropped our belongings in the family room and ate the pizza that was delivered to the doorstep shortly after we arrived.  I can remember feeling oddly disappointed to be eating something so banal as pizza, though I'm not sure exactly what I thought Mrs. Simms should be serving us.  Surely I knew even then that the Simms didn't barbecue the extra body parts and eat them or serve them to guests.

Anyway, the party was shaping up to be all too ordinary. We had pizza, chips, and soda for dinner, and had birthday cake and ice cream for dessert. We settled down in the family room to watch rented movies, none of which were sufficiently macabre for any of our tastes, especially considering where we were and the time of the year it was.

Then things suddenly took a turn for better, or worse, or certainly different, anyway. Lauren's father had changed out of his suit and tie and was wearing jeans and a polo shirt, which made him look disappointingly normal, as in pretty much like anyone else's father. Then the business phone rang. Lauren's parents were in another part of the house and didn't hear it.  We didn't know it was the business line. We were expecting a call from one of our classmates, who had participated in a volleyball match and was going to call Lauren's house as soon as she was finished and on her way to the party. One of the guests -- my friend Meredith -- grabbed the phone and blurted out one of the stupider standard joke telephone greetings (though oddly apropos in this case), "Simms Mortuary. You stab  'em; we grab  'em. Some go to heaven. Some go to hell-o! Who is this?"

Before the party on the end could reply, Lauren grabbed the phone from Meredith and hung it up. "You just hung up on Claire!" Meredith practically yelled at Lauren.

"No, I didn't," Lauren giggled. "That was my dad's business line."

"Oh, no!" Meredith groaned. "Did I just cost your parents a sale, or a death, or a client, or whatever you call it?"

"I wouldn't worry about it," Lauren reassured her.  "If it's important enough, they'll call back, and my dad has more business than he can handle anyway. He's not supposed to be taking any calls tonight. The answering service is supposed to refer calls to another mortuary. "

Lauren turned the movie back on, and our attention turned back to it. Then the phone rang again. This time no one moved to answer it. Lauren went to her parents' bedroom to tell them that the business phone was ringing.  Lauren's mom came out to answer it. Lauren turned the movie volume down. We listened as her mother said, "River Cities is taking all calls tonight. . . Oh. . . I see . . . Let me get my husband." Mr. Simms took the phone, wrote something down on a tablet his wife handed him, then hung up.

"We have to go," he told his wife.

"I can't leave these girls here by themselves!" his wife protested.

"You'll have to," he told her. "Besides, almost all of them babysit. They're old enough to stay by themselves for an hour or so while we . . ."  he stopped himself before [presumably] saying in front of the room full of twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls what it was that they were about to do, which was to pick up one or more dead bodies.

My friend Meredith appointed herself as spokesperson for the group. "Mr. and Mrs. Simms,  I  will take charge of the girls.  I've been babysitting professionally since I was eleven.   I'm certified in CPR and I've completed the YMCA Babysitting Course. You have absolutely nothing to worry about. Take your time. "

I'm not sure Mr. and Mrs. Simms were all that reassured by anything Meredith had to say (they shouldn't have been) but they had little choice but to leave. There was apparently some sort of death epidemic in the senior citizen facilities of the communities, and the inhabitants were for some unexplained reason dropping like flies.  All the funeral servers in the surrounding small communities had been maxed out. Even though Lauren's father was supposed to be off for the evening, he had been called when other options were exhausted. He was headed to two different residence facilities to collect clients.

Mrs. Simms told us to stay inside no matter what, and not to answer the door to anyone except Claire if she happened to show up. We were told not to turn the stove on, not to tell anyone who came to the door or called that no adult was home, and to stay out of the mortuary. Mr. and Mrs. Simms disappeared through the door that led down a hallway to the mortuary, as the garage for the hearses was on the far side of the funeral parlor.

Once we heard the hearse round the corner, Meredith announced, "I'm going to make fudge. Get me some sugar and some chocolate chips and some butter and some sweetened condensed milk."

I reminded Meredith that Lauren's parents had told us explicitly not to use the stove.  "They just meant not to deep-fry anything or use an open flame," she rationalized. "They won't care about fudge."

Lauren told Meredith that there weren't any sweetened condensed milk or  chocolate chips. Meredith told Lauren that someone would need to go to the store or borrow the stuff from a neighbor. Lauren reminded her that we were not allowed to leave the house. "Oh, they just meant not to go out and TP the neighborhood or throw eggs. They don't care if we go shopping." Lauren ended up calling a next-door neighbor, who brought the items to the door. Megan, another friend, reminded everyone that we weren't allowed to answer the door.  "Not to an axe murderer," Meredith clarified.  "Duh! I seriously doubt that Lauren's next-door-neighbor is an axe murderer.  And what are the odds anyway of an ax murderer moving in right next door to a funeral home? Wouldn't that kind of raise suspicion?"

Meredith stirred the fudge ingredients until they came to a boil, them poured them into a greased pyrex dish. She turned off the stove. "OK!" she declared, wiping her hands dry. "Now it's time to go into the mortuary."

We all stared at her with dropped jaws. "You heard me. What are you waiting for?" she said to us.

Cecilia had fallen asleep on the floor under a coffee table. We debated what to do about her. "Just leave her. We won't be gone for long," Meredith concluded.

One by one, we followed her. I was the last person through the door. We filed down the hall and through an office, then into an open room containing a coffin. Lauren turned on a light,  illuminating the room. "Does it have to be so bright?" Meredith asked. Lauren manipulated the switch to dim the lights.

We all stood in a cluster until Gracie tiptoed over to the open coffin. She let out a piercing scream. We all ran for the door leading back to the house, but Meredith blocked the way. "What is wrong with you people?" she demanded. "The dead are just like you and me. It's only that they're in a different stage of their development. There's nothing to be afraid of. We're not going anywhere until we finish our tour of the place."

Gracie, practically hyperventilating, was trying to tell us something about the body in the coffin. Meredith told everyone to be quiet so that Gracie could share. "It's her!" she exclaimed.

"Who?" I asked.

"Mrs. Pierson's mother! I recognized her from the picture on Mrs. Pierson's desk," Gracie explained.

Mrs. Pierson was a teacher at our school. Most of the girls at the party were in her math class. I wasn't, so I hadn't seen Mrs. Pierson's mother's framed picture on her desk. Mrs. Pierson had apparently been absent since Thursday, when her mom passed away. All of the girls except Meredith, Lauren, and I screamed and ran into the next room, which was a chapel. Lauren, Meredith, and I followed them.

"While we're here, let's have a funeral," Meredith announced.

"We don't have a body," someone mentioned.

"You," Meredith pointed at me. "Alexis can be the deceased. She looks the deadest of all of us."

"No,"  I countered. "You need me to play the organ."

Meredith thought for a moment, then agreed with me. "OK. We don't really need a deceased person anyway. We'll just pretend it's Mrs. Pierson's mother's funeral.  You play the organ. I'll sing 'Ave Maria.' Lauren can be the funeral director because she knows how things are supposed to go. The rest of you can be the mourners. Does anyone want to give a eulogy, or should we just have an open mike?"

"Open mike," someone chimed in.

I opened the organ, turned it on, and began playing "Rock of Ages" and other standard funeral fare. Lauren approached the pulpit and asked the mourners to bow their heads in prayer. I don't remember sure exactly what the prayer was about, but I'm pretty sure there was mention of cancelling a math test that was scheduled for the next week.

I played "Ave Maria," which Meredith sang, using as much phony vibrato as she could muster.

The mourners took turns sharing their memories of Mrs. Pierson's mother, and about how caring for her in her final days had caused Mrs. Pierson to be tired and grumpy in class. "May she rest in peace," Lauren concluded.  I played "On Eagles' Wings." We said a final benediction, then moved on to the exciting part of our tour.

We first went through embalming rooms. No bodies were there, as the four bodies in the funeral home had already been embalmed. Still, just looking at the equipment was freaky enough. There were hooks from the ceiling that apparently held bodies as they were hosed down, and the cement floor had drains just below the hooks.

Next we moved on to the preparation rooms. Three bodies were there. Lauren looked at the face on one of the bodies  and cursed. Her mom had apparently been on a jury duty stint, and a substitute cosmetician had been called in. The substitute cosmetician, or so it seemed, was not highly skilled. Lauren grabbed a tissue, blotted something on the corpse's face, then reapplied cosmetic solutions from a couple of tubes on a metal tray.

Meredith observed while Lauren put finishing touches on the corpse. "Anyone else want to try this?" she asked. "Once the putty is in place, it's just like putting on your own makeup."

"Not really . . . " Lauren argued, but four of the girls were already blotting corpses' faces and reapplying the makeup.

Lauren was laissez-faire about the matter. "I would object, but you guys probably won't do any worse than the moron who put on the makeup in the first place. My mom's gonna have to redo everything anyway. " She patiently waited while the girls finished brushing powder onto all the faces.

"Can we get out of here?" I remember asking. I was concerned that Lauren's parents could appear at any moment.

We made our way back through the chapel, back into the parlor, through the office, down the hall, and into the house, As we approached the door that led through the home office to the kitchen, we heard screaming. Several girls tied to run back into the mortuary, but Meredith blocked them. "It's just Cecilia," she scoffed. Cecilia had awakened under a coffee table, and somehow in her disoriented state she was confused and thought she was inside a coffin. She scratched frantically at the underside of the coffee table. We  assured Cecilia that everything was fine.

The fudge had settled. Everyone scrubbed their hands - even I, and the organ was the deadest thing I had touched. I was taking no chances.

Claire had arrived, and had been pounding on the door for several minutes before we returned to the house. We let her in. "You brought the fudge," Meredith told her.

Not five minutes later, we heard the sound of Lauren's parents pulling into the mortuary garage. We settled ourselves in front of the TV. A few minutes later, Lauren's mom came in.

"Everything was fine," Meredith told her. "Claire got here, and she brought the fudge."

Lauren's mother took a piece of fudge from the Pyrex dish. "Tasty," she proclaimed after eating it. She looked strangely at her own Pyrex dish containing the fudge Claire had supposedly brought, and at the pan in the sink, though she said nothing.

An hour or so later, Lauren's dad wandered through. If he had noticed anything amiss in his mortuary, he certainly didn't say anything about it.

I haven't made a will yet, but when I do, I will state without equivocation that I desire to be cremated.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Jobs (official and unofficial) and the Drought

My mom's favorite Baby Lexus picture. I was probably about twenty-two months old.

I turned down a job offer. Turning the job down may have been a mistake, but I can only do so much. Right now I've made commitments to finish out the quarter with the graduate teaching assistant position, and I've also committed to multiple musical engagements. The director of the lab who called and offered me the position told me that if I want the job even for just a month in May, it's mine. I will possibly take him up on the offer at that time. I already have considerable lab experience, which is probably why the director offered me the position.

My dad doesn't want me to take the job because it's about thirty-eight miles away and also because my dad thinks I have more than enough lab experience for an incoming med school student. Money isn't really an issue, either, as I worked all the way through high school and banked 80% of my earnings. Additionally, though I don't often speak of it, I was awarded a settlement as a result of an assault that happened when I was in high school. I can't access the funds until I'm 30 for anything but educational expenses or to set up a practice or to buy a home, but it's there.  Still, I don't like to see my discretionary spending account dwindle too low. I haven't yet tapped into the 80% of my earnings in high school that I banked, and it would be nice if I didn't touch any of that until med school. I won't earn much if anything at all while I'm in medical school, and I'd like to have my summers off, so it would be good to leave my primary account untouched until September.

Right now my days are filled with supervising labs, grading assignments,  accompanying voice classes, and accompanying soloists in final preparations for their recitals. I have five recitals for which to accompany  between now and the end of April.  None are terribly exciting, but all of my soloists are decent musicians, so it's not exactly torture to accompany them.

Spring has basically sprung here. it's been a dry winter, so we'll hear about the drought and water conservation in incessant PSAs.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Rachel Canning and Her Happy Family

The Lovely Rachel Canning

Rachel Canning, the eighteen-year-old who sued her parents in order to force them to pay her living expenses, parochial high school tuition, and university expenses, has moved back into her parents' home and has dropped the law suit.

An emergency hearing was held in March (prior to the April 22 trial date) to hear Rachel's attorney's request that Rachel be provided  financial support in the interim. The judge denied Rachel's request.Ugly voice mails were played on both sides, but a particularly unflattering message Rachel left for her mother (sufficiently graphically disgusting that I don't wish to detail it here) apparently upset the judge.

I don't know Rachel Canning, but I'm reasonably certain I would not like her if I did know her. I believe I've mentioned that before.  She found herself in numerous disciplinary situations in her final year of high school -- enough that I wonder why the private school she attended would even choose to keep her in attendance at their school, much less to waive her tuition until the case was settled.  If I had to hazard a guess -- which I do not, but will anyway -- I'd venture that Mr. John Inglesino, Rachel's best friend's father, wielded influence with the school's governing board.

I've been to high school, as have most of my readers. One thing I can share about high school  is that it isn't terribly difficult to fly under the radar in most high school settings.  In my experience, a person who gets into very much trouble at high school isn't very bright. It's simply not that hard to have a bit of fun without being busted. If a person's issue, on the other hand, is that he or she has issues with authority, staying out of trouble is a little harder. Rachel Canning may have been one of such people who couldn't be bother even with pretending to give authority figures their due respect.

Rachel Canning's parents probably weren't blameless in this situation, as they must have done something to help to create the monster who sued them. I wouldn't find it hard to believe that they might have defended  Rachel against teachers and others who complained of Rachel's behavior until relatively late in the third quarter of the game. Still, I felt compassion for them. Their daughter didn't wish to live under their rules and chose to leave their home two days before her eighteenth birthday. they didn't toss her out of their home. I don't understand why the case even made it as far as it did.

My parents and I had our share of conflict in my teen years. I don't know of anyone who has ever made it through the parent/child  battlefield of adolescence unscathed.  Through all of the conflict, however, for me there was an unspoken understanding, even maybe the last year or so before turned eighteen, that I was not a prisoner in my parents' home and was free to leave, but I would be on my own if that was the option I chose. It's been that way forever in most families.

Rachel Canning didn't like conditions that her parents established. She chose to leave instead of continuing to live under what she seemed to consider a totalitarian regime. Such was a moral right she had at the time, and a legal right within two days of the time she left. Rachel invoked the privileges of adulthood. Rachel, however, desired to enjoy  the entitlements of being a minor at the same time she exercised her prerogatives as an adult. Rarely does it work that way, and it didn't, at least in the interim, Rachel's case.

Whatever or whoever possessed Rachel Canning that made her think she could have the freedoms of adulthood on Mom's and dad's dollar did her a grave disservice.  It's good that she finally called a halt to the whole thing.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Osmond Mania

Marie Osmond and Steve Craig, her first and third husband, on the occasion of the second of the couple's two weddings

I've been functioning as a graduate assistant in the biochemistry department for the past three weeks. I'm not technically a graduate student but I've completed all graduate requirements both for the department and for the university, and one of my former professors' grad assistants got sick and hasn't been in school for a month, so he asked me to fill in. It's good experience, so I said yes. I'm doing a lot of accompanying for the music department, but I'm otherwise not all that busy right now.

I spent yesterday, while I was helping to proctor department make-up exams, I was reading various Osmond literature. Last night I watched some videos when a date, on which I really didn't want to go but felt obligated,  fell through.

The Osmonds are an intriguing case study in what might be most aptly termed functional dysfunctionality. All nine of the Osmond second generation live or lived relatively productive lives, but it seems that they're doing so or have done so under protest. I haven't walked any distance in their shoes so I find it reasonably easy not to judge them. Marie, however, I find more than a bit annoying.

Marie has a rather curious habit of writing books from the perspective of an expert about most phases of her life. When she was pregnant for the first time, she authored a how-to edition on exercising for expectant mothers. One might have assumed that she was the first woman on the planet ever to have been pregnant or to have exercised while pregnant. Immediately after the birth of her first child, she wrote a book about regaining one's pre-pregnancy body by exercising with one's baby. Again, one might have assumed that she was the first person to whom it ever occurred to lose pregnancy weight after giving birth. She has penned numerous other volumes -- there are so many that I get confused about the actual books she's written and the ones I've just imagined. Some may be about  life as a teen recording artist, about life when going through post-partum depression, about going through a divorce (or two),  about losing one's mother, about losing a fingernail in a car-door accident, about beating the habit of biting her fingernails, about losing a husband to a polygamous cult, and about various and sundry other topics. I've barely scratched the surface of the catalog of Marie Osmond's literary works.

Knotty recently pointed out an interview featuring Marie's third-eldest (and the oldest of her singing brothers, as brothers numbers one and two were hearing impaired) brother Alan. Alan came of age during the Viet Nam War.  By virtue of being, among other things, a trophy-winning shooter in boot camp (Were trophies ever awarded in boot camp for shooting or for anything else?), Alan bypassed Viet Nam and instead braved the all dangers indigenous to Fort Ord, California, as a clerical worker in a local National Guard unit.  Alan also told in the interview of how The Spirit made manifest to him that he was not supposed to serve a mission. He woke his mother up at 6:00 a.m. to tell her of his otherworldly experience.Alan's mother was concerned about how he would avoid the draft if he didn't serve a mission. Alan's sons all served missions except possibly for the youngest one, who may not yet have reached the minimum age for serving a mission. I would love to know what Alan's response might have been had any one of his sons woken up either of his parents to announce that he weren't supposed to serve a  mission.

George Osmond,father of the singing Osmonds, now deceased, was an interesting character. He was a rather stern taskmaster who reportedly was not pleased when his children brought friends to the family home to play and who once punished six-year-old Donny for writing a letter to his mother from Sweden requesting to come home.  The single most bizarre thing to me about George Osmond was that he required his children to call their parents "Mother" and "Father" because one does not refer to God as "Dad" or "Daddy," so why should Father or Mother Osmond be addressed any less formally? Does Mr. Osmond was placing himself on a level on par with God?

I've ranted enough about the Osmonds. Have a nice week.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Oreo Spelling, Toothpaste, BYU-Idaho, and Related Matters

This isn't exactly the spelling technique as I had envisioned it, but I suppose it would work in a pinch.

I bought a double-sized (Costco) package of Oreos because I recognize the need to hone my date invitation skills as practiced at BYU-Idaho. This begs the question as to precisely why I would ever need to know how to ask boys out at BYU-Idaho since: A) there's no one currently attending the school whom I desire to date; and B) I have no desire to attend the school myself. Still, one can never say never, and I'm all about education and broadening one's horizons. I took the double-pack of Oreos home, placed it on the kitchen counter, and went upstairs to brush my teeth as I self-debated in regard to upon whose windshield I should practice my Oreo spelling skills.

By the time I made it back into the kitchen, the Oreos had been opened. Half of the first of the two packs had been devoured by my brother Matthew, my cousin Josh, and my dad. Keep in mind that only an hour earlier, the three of them, with only the slightest help from my mom, had devoured the dump cake experiment I had produced in the interest of science. They should not have been starving to death.

I complained that there weren't enough Oreos left to spell out any sort of invitation, to which my dad responded, "Exactly how many Oreos do you think you need to spell out, "Voulez vous?"? [double question marks intended] What sort of a father would suggest that his daughter spell out "Voulez vous?" with Oreos, or, for that matter, with anything else? The answer is, "One whose first language was French."  My dad is French-Canadian, and his parents spoke French to him when he was a child. That's the excuse he's sticking with, anyway.

My brother continued  putting Oreos into his mouth two at a time, taking a drink of milk, swallowing, and repeating the process.

My cousin Josh, eating at a pace only slightly slower than that of my brother, paused briefly between bites to say, "You got the wrong kind of Oreos."

"Huh?" I asked. Would Mint Oreos, specially designed Easter motif pastel Oreos, or Double Stuff Oreos have done the job better? I was confused.

"You get those little Oreos," Josh clarified.

My brother, the connoisseur of all things related to junk food, weighed in with his criticism of Josh's suggestion. "There's not enough gooey stuff in the middle of those Mini Oreos to stick on anyone's windshield."

"You use toothpaste to stick them on," he told us.

"What?!?"  my dad, my brother, and I demanded.

"You take along a tube of toothpaste.You unscrew the Mini Oreos, squeeze on a little toothpaste, them stick them on the windshield," Josh explained, speaking slowly as though he was explaining something to people who were hard of hearing, didn't speak English, or were perhaps a bit stupid.

"Who the hell told you this?" my dad asked him,

"My sister went to BYU-Idaho," Josh elucidated. "I know about these things."

"But then you couldn't eat the Oreos off the windshield!" my brother exclaimed. "You might get flourosis from the toothpaste!"

I started to voice my opinion that there are a whole lot of reasons beyond fluoride overdose that a sane person would not eat Oreos off a windshield, but, realizing that my brother doesn't necessarily qualify as a sane person under most definitions of the word sane, I chose to let it go.  For that matter, we were lucky that Matthew was even able to come up with fluorosis as a reason not to eat Oreos glued to a windshield by God knows who. Three years ago I'm fairly certain that he would have gobbled them down with no questions asked.

"This is so low-tech, anyway," my dad observed as he dunked an Oreo in milk and stuck it in his mouth. "Why can't you just use Facebook or Craig's List or something if you really want to ask a guy out? And do you seriously want to date anyone at BYU-Idaho? If you're going to date a Mormon, why not stick with Jared? At least he goes to UCLA."

It was the closest thing to  an endorsement of Jared that I've ever heard come from my dad's mouth.

"When I went to BYU," my dad continued, "a girl once invited me to a dance by spelling out the invitation with lime jello letter molds." He paused to swallow his Oreo.' "Now that was a creative invitation."

"Did you go to the dance with her?" my cousin asked.

"Hell no," my dad replied. "She was a bat-shit crazy."

Channeling the Dump Cake Diva

The cherries aren't visible in this photo, but they're in there somewhere.

I did the most bizarre thing today, or at least something that was very much out of character for me. i went into my parents' pantry, plucked a few ingredients, and produced a dump cake. I didn't eat it because it looked positively disgusting to e, but my brother, cousin, dad, and mom liked it.

I will now channel my friend Katie's friend Voula and will tell you exactly how I made my prize dump cake even though it's arguably the last thing on the planet anyone wants to know.

I started with a basic brownie mix. It was about as basic as brownie mixes go; in fact, it was a store-brand  brownie mix. I poured it into a mixing bowl with one quarter cup of oil, one, egg, and one half can of Pepsi, and the juice from two jars of maraschino cherries. I mixed it all lightly for about ninety seconds.  Into a 9" by 12" Pyrex baking dish, which I lightly sprayed with cooking spray,  I scattered the two jars of maraschino cherries. Then I poured the batter over the cherries in the Pyrex baking dish. I baked the concoction for 37 minutes at 350 degrees. Actually I baked it at 315 degrees because my mom's oven runs about 10% too warm.

I used the Texas Sheet Cake recipe for frosting, which involved bringing 1/4/ cup butter, 3  tbsp cocoa, and 3 tbsp buttermilk to a boil, then stirring in just over 2 cups powdered sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla. The recipe calls for nuts in the frosting, but my family doesn't like nuts in their frosting. They're nutty enough as it is, I suppose. The frosting took longer than the cake, but it made the cake much better, according to those who ate it.

Anyway, it's all gone now, so someone thought it was good.

I still don't know what possessed me to do that. My dad said next time iI should try pouring brandy on top of it before I frost it. I'm not sure that would be an improvement.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Canyon Creek Falls Vista View Second Ward Cake Festival

This is NOT the cake I submitted to the contest. This is actually a pretty cool cake.

Note: Donna's reply brought to the forefront of my mind  my own cake-decorating contest experience. I started to reply, but decided it was too long and should be a separate post. 

I participated in a Mormon cake decorating contest when I was a kid. It was the summer when I was fourteen, and was somewhere in Utah County, otherwise known as Happy Valley.The Cake Festival  was an annual  LDS church youth activity in that local jurisdiction.

The boys didn't participate n the decorating aspect of The Cake Festival.  One of my paternal aunts was in charge of The Cake Festival  that summer   It was the same aunt who later blocked The Food Network from her home TV offerings because she feared Bobby Flay was making her son gay. She didn't know what the rest of us knew, which that her son was gay long before he ever laid eyes on Bobby Flay, but that's another topic for another day's blog. The boys weren't allowed to decorate cakes for The Cake Festival, presumably because the activity was deemed  "not manly enough." Had the boys been allowed, there probably would have been something resembling a "Barf on a Rainy Day" entry. 

Even at the time, it seemed a bit odd to me that if judging cakes was to be such a big part of the event, no contest involving how the cakes actually tasted was a part of the festivities. Since then I've concluded that it was a metaphor for the LDS way of  life in general. Appearance is far more important than is  actual substance.

So the Mia Maids  -- who I don't think  were officially called that anymore though  the name still stuck -- were to decorate the cakes and the Teachers (the second Aaronic :Priesthood Quorum, as opposed to anyone who ever taught anything to anyone else) were to judge the contest. My cousin had forewarned me that it would be a waste of time to make a serious effort, as the girl with the largest boobs ALWAYS was awarded the prize, even if she didn't bother putting any frosting on her cake. 

One year that actually was what happened, my cousin told me. The only stipulation was that the girl with the largest lactoids actually had to have a cake in the contest in order to win. Another year they tried to award the prize to the girl with the biggest boobs when she hadn't entered a cake. The leaders didn't understand the unofficial protocol, but they took the award away thinking it had been a clerical error on the part of the Teachers. That year it became a bit of a difficult decision, as it had been difficult to determine without the use of a tape measure, bra size tag,  or view unimpeded by clothing, which girl had the second-most-impressive-set. My cousin said the contest ended in a split decision that year.

Cake decorating among LDS girls is a skill that must be perpetuated due to necessity. Mormons are big on wedding receptions. The average LDS temple ceremony begets roughly 2.5 receptions. Bakeries charge a sizable fee for baking and decorating wedding cakes. Mormons aren't accustomed to paying the going rate for goods and services of any kind. Hence, the girls and young women in the ward are expected to pick up the slack where wedding cakes are concerned. 

If a girl becomes highly proficient at baking and decorating wedding cakes, she can bypass the free labor mill and can either work for a bakery or free-lance it. (She can either move to Vegas for the summer or stake out her clientele from among the wealthy Mormons whose checkbooks are not hermetically sealed when it comes to paying for their children's wedding receptions.) Her friends and relatives will try at every available opportunity to guilt  her into producing the goods for free, but if she's busy coming up with wedding cakes in exchange for cash every weekend, it's a moot point unless it's her own sister who needs the 4-tiered monstrosity.  One of my aunts worked her way through medical school (with NO student loans, which I consider quite impressive) by baking and decorating wedding cakes.

The B students of the School of Wedding Cake Decorating, however, will be called upon mightily to maintain the cake-eating status of Zion, and events such as the Canyon Creek Falls Vista View Second Ward Cake Festival will continue as long as wedding receptions continue. One would assume for such to be until the end of time as we know it, but that's probably what people though about missionary farewell  celebrations, which have since been determined to be null , void, and the work of Lucifer himself

Anyway, my cousin Lucy warned me that any serious effort on my part would be not just a waste of my time, but a serious embarrassment as well. Imagine being the girl with the obviously best-decorated cake, only to have one's cake passed over in favor of the least-decorated cake in the contest, decorated by the most fully-endowed (and we're not talking LDS temple endowments here; these are Mia Maids, of which I write, fourteen- and fifteen-year-old girls who only in Warren Jeffs' realm would allowed into temples for more than just baptisms for the dead; endowed = gumdrop giftedness) Mia Maid in the ward.

It would have been difficult for me to decorate a genuinely attractive cake, anyway, even had I tried.  I have no skills to speak of whatsoever in the domain of visual arts.  I've never once drawn anything that anyone could correctly guess in the game of  Pictionary.  My coloring projects and maps were always the ugliest ones in my class except for the years my twin brother and I were in the same class, in which case the two of us consistently tied for the ugliest colorings, drawings, and maps. It stands to reason that a person who can't successfully manipulate a crayon  would yield similar or even worse results with cake-decorating tools.  The only art activity in which my finished products even vaguely resembled those of my classmates was when we finger-painted, and why ruin a perfectly edible cake by making it look like  salmonella personified?

My aunt, who was in charge of the cake festival,  would not allow me to leave her  kitchen until my cake had something beyond a simple frosting topping. I used one of those squeezy things to scrawl the first fundamental theorem of calculus in chocolate frosting upon the white buttercream surface of my quarter-sheet cake.  

Mission was accomplished: I did not call attention to myself as obviously having the least impressive tidbits among the Mia Maids in the ward by having a beautiful cake passed over in favor of something totally non-decorated and submitted by the Bon Bon Queen of The Mia Maids.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Dump Cake Diva

Dump Cake Personified

My friend Knotty blogged recently about the Dump Cakes cookbook and the diva who is eating her way to the bank on the backs of all those who cannot resist a quick comfort food fix. Count this as one more metaphorical train wreck from which I could not avert my eyes. I didn't buy the book, but I had no choice but to read all about it.

As Knotty so aptly pointed out, Ms. Cathy Mitchell looks the part of the Dump Cake Diva. Had there been a police lineup featuring a as many as a thousand frumpy hausfraus, I would've rooted her out in less than a minute. She is herself the veritable personification of the dump cake, if such a thing is possible.

Why would anyone want to make or eat a dump cake? I can ask the question with perspective, as I once ate about three bites of a dump cake that my own mother, in a fit of schizophrenia, PMS,  or some related malady, concocted one wintry afternoon.  I typically would not touch, much less eat, such a monstrosity, but my dad was feeling especially spendthrifty that day. He offered me one hundred dollars if I could consume three bites of the vile mixture, which looked to me to be midway between witch's brew and human barf, without myself throwing it up. This went down at a time when I was not earning much money. I plugged my nose, bit the bullet so to speak, and took three bites of the dump cake.  It was bad, though I've tasted worse, and I was immediately one hundred dollars richer as a result.

Under ordinary circumstances, eating anything like dump cake would be practically against my religion. I don't like casseroles, and a dump cake is most certainly the dessert equivalent to the Satanic invention so benignly dubbed "the casserole." Food should not touch. Veggies, if one must eat them, go on one section of a plate. Fruit goes on another. Rice or potatoes have another spot still, and meat occupies its own. Never the twain, or, for that matter, any of the foods, shall meet. Period. End of discussion. I don't even eat cheeseburgers because I would never allow my burger to touch my cheese. If fine china came with raised dividers similar to those on cafeteria trays, that is the china for which I would register if I ever had occasion to register for china.

My mom's dump cake consisted of yellow cake mix, butter, thawed frozen apricots, pecans, and club soda. In retrospect, though I spewed forth venomous words to the contrary at the time, my mother's prized dump cake is not even on my Donner Party List.  I'd choose the fruity baked disaster over the late Tamsen Donner's leg in a heartbeat.

If I haven't yet sold you on the lack of necessity for ownership of Dump Cakes, please stay with me for just one more minute, in which I shall demonstrate to you that you have no need of such a compilation, as you already possess the innate knowledge to make every dump cake of which The Dump Cake Diva could possibly conceive. Just follow my simple formula and use your imagination.

The formula is as follows: 1 dry cake mix  + 1 half-cup of a fat source + 1 one fruit/pudding/nut/jello component  +,  if you're feeling especially adventurous, 8 to 12 ounces of a bubbling libation. Trust me: the formula will yield, for all intents and purposes, the same result  every time. You do not need to invest in a tree-genocidal volume; what you concoct will be just as tasty (which isn't saying a whole hell of a lot) and every bit as authentic as a dump cake product as if The Dump Cake Diva had recorded it herself by dipping an ostrich feather into blueberry juice to pen the recipe.

Example: Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Pour 2 cups or sliced fresh or frozen strawberries  into a Pyrex dish.  Pour one dry white cake mix over strawberries. Top the strawberries with one cube of melted butter, minus one tablespoon,  and pour 1/3 cup of champagne or sparkling wine evenly over mixture. Top with 1/4 cup toasted coconut.  Bake at 350 degrees. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream if desired, and serve while warm.

I just came up with that recipe off the top of my head. I'm sure it's not good, but it's probably not a whole lot more bad than anything you would likely fine in The Dump Cake Diva's book. Donate the money you will save by not buying the book either to the Red Cross, or, if you have a problem with the Red Cross, forward the cash to me personally.  I promise not to complain.

Edited to add my testimony that my formula for dump cake is THE one true dump cake recipe on the face of the Earth, and that all other dump cake recipes are imposters that are inspired of, by, and for Beelzebub himself. In the name of cheese and mice, amen.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Snay Family Chronicles: How Clueless and Classless Can a Family Be?

the ever-charming Dana Snay

I recently read of a case others may have heard about as well. It involved a school administrator, Patrick Snay, whose contract for the position of Headmaster of Gulliver Preparatory School in Miami, Florida, was not renewed. Mr. Snay alleged age discrimination and filed suit. A settlement was reached, with a confidentiality clause in place. Terms of the confidentiality clause were that Mr. and Mrs. Snay (Mrs. Snay had also been involved in the litigation) could discuss the terms or even the very existence of the settlement only with Mr. Snay's professional advisers.

An incidental, or perhaps not-so-incidental, party to the allegations made by Mr. Snay in his litigation was his daughter, Dana Snay.  Dana Snay had been a student at Gulliver Preparatory School during the latter portion of  her father's tenure as headmaster at the school and during the aftermath of the non-renewal of his contract. Snay alleged that Dana suffered retaliation in his battles with the school. Because of the alleged recrimination against his daughter, Snay claimed that he and his wife, even with knowledge that sharing such information was a violation of the terms of the settlement, disclosed information regarding the settlement to their daughter. They claimed that they felt such was necessary because of psychological problems Dana incurred as a result of her treatment at the hands of Gulliver Preparatory School personnel.

What happened next appears to be that Dana Snay posted a rather unfortunate status update on her Facebook page. "Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my trip to Europe. SUCK IT!" (via Miami Herald)

Among Dana Snay's approximately 1,200 Facebook friends were numerous past and present Gulliver students. Word reached the school's administration and lawyers, and Snay was told payment would not be remitted.

Patrick Snay initially appealed the ruling and prevailed, but then lost an appeal. His appeals have yet to be exhausted. In my opinion, if he had any dignity whatsoever, he would "man up,"  admit he violated the terms of his settlement, and cut his losses. Furthermore, a concession  was warranted that his daughter behaved crassly and ungraciously, and that she was not deserving of a trip to Europe or anywhere else other than perhaps to charm school.

I find this to be the epitome of karma, poetic justice, or whatever fairness-promoting force in the universe might be at work.

I don't know Patrick Snay or his daughter Dana, but from what I've read of them, I don't like them. I find their lack of responsibility for their own actions to be off-putting almost beyond belief, to the extent that it casts doubt on both the initial claims of age discrimination as a factor in Snay's dismissal and on the subsequent allegations that Dana suffered reprisals as a consequence of legal action her father sought against the school.  Mr. Snay does not portray himself as an honorable education professional, nor does he present himself as a parent who holds his child responsible for her own actions.  His actions reveal him, instead, to be an excuse-maker as both an educational professional and as a parent, who looks to cast blame for his or his child's own misfortune upon whomever happens to be standing in sufficient proximity to be hit by the resultant fallout.

I'm not willing to write the actions of Dana Snay off as a youthful indiscretion, as she's older than I am and should have known better. I would love to know for certain as to whether her father neglected to mention to his daughter that the settlement was to be confidential and that even she, due to the terms of the settlement, should not have been privy to the information, and most certainly not all 1,200 of her Facebook friends, or if he did apprise her of the necessity for confidentiality, which she subsequently disregarded. Either way, I think her Facebook posting was almost unbelievably stupid. Furthermore, had it not been so unabashedly "in your face" disrespectful to her former school, there's the chance, however slight, that her father's employer might have been willing to overlook her imprudence, impudence,  or idiocy.  I concede that it would have been unlikely at best, but  she sealed the deal with her tasteless utterance.  Even now, her father doesn't seem to be encouraging her to take any responsibility for her communication. He's still proclaiming her as a victim. She's a victim, all right, though only of her own lack of intelligence.

I have some background knowledge in the subject matter. I was the victim of a violent crime when I was fifteen. Both criminal and civil proceedings took place. Because the school district where in assault took place was not cooperative, it became a co-defendant in the civil action. My mother was employed by the school district at the time. She resigned during the course of the litigation because of the obvious conflict of interest.

In my particular case, my father refused to allow any confidentiality on my part to enter into the settlement. I was the victim of a violent crime (though I refuse to say I am a victim and to let the status of "victim" define who I am), and my dad felt that as such,  I should have every right to disclose anything or everything I want about it.  If I want to author a book about it when I'm twenty-one or forty-three, and if I want to mention the terms of the settlement in my book, it should be my right. It's also possible that my settlement would have been larger if a confidentiality clause had been a part of the settlement, but I can live with that possibility.

That being said, I've never posted any sort of "thumbing my nose" post at either the school district or at the perpetrators of my assault. The reason is in part that I'm attempting to fly under the radar with my blog. I've posted enough details and pictures  that, even though I don't use my actual name, a person who knew me and came across the blog would deduce my identity. Still, I'm trying to be a bit discreet. I'm not going to do anything to incur the wrath of someone who might ultimately point a future employer in the direction of comments that might eventually haunt me. I try, for the most part, to keep inflammatory comments to a minimum, but I've been known to let my guard down on occasion.

In any event, I feel that justice has been done in the case of the Snay family. They appear to me to be little more than shameless scammers whose utter lack of class resulted in their ultimate undoing.

Postscript of sorts: If Dana Snay did, in fact,  incur bona fide psychological damage over alleged mistreatment from school personnel in connection with her father's termination from his job and the subsequent fallout, I hate to even think about the state of her fragile psyche after the various media outlets and every blogger in the sphere has weighed in with  his or her opinion on the matter.  Suffice it to say that some therapist stands to get rich, assuming the Snay family can afford to pay for Dana's continued therapy.