Monday, July 19, 2010

What's in Your Refrigerator?!

I was just reading a Tweet a friend of mine sent out this morning about office refrigerators. @Healthy_Heather -- aka Wellness Without Pity -- wrote: "I'm glad to see more homemade lunch in the office fridge, but beware the hidden ew-factor!"

Funny she wrote that today -- shortly after I spent a few minutes this morning in the office kitchen dumping out the likes of three fuzzy fruit salads, a bag of overly juicy bean sprouts, and a couple of long-forgotten sandwiches. 

I mean, seriously. I bring my lunch to work almost every day. I wouldn't store my lunch next to a litter box, so it freaks me out sometimes to put my fresh eats alongside the accidental science experiments.

During a stint with a former employer, I spent an entire morning at work restoring health to the communal refrigerator. It was beyond disgusting. Once I was done, I e-mailed my co-workers (slightly modified to protect the innocent ... and the guilty!):


Among the perks of working here is the benefit of working with someone whose penchant for cleanliness persistently lies just this side of mental disease. Ah, yes, laugh, and then go look at the kitchen.

Not only are all the eating utensils neatly stored in the drawer now, but I soaked, washed and dried them all over again because as I put them away the first time, I noticed that most of the spoons and forks were covered with a disgusting film of grease, soap and soggy, bloated food chunks. Mmm, tasty treats.

I also wiped down the microwave since whoever scorched their frozen lunch never bothered to clean up the dried-up glob of blackened, cheesy goo they left behind. That was really yummy, too.

And I cleaned out the refrigerator. Yogurt that expired last October. Cream cheese gone bad since January. Hazelnut creamer that chunked up in early March. Green bacon. Fuzzy pineapple chunks. That was truly scrumptious.

But it was potential media attention that made me dump out the fridge's contents -- I was really concerned the Discovery Health Channel would show up next week, ready to film its next segment of "Diagnosis: Unknown."

PLEASE NOTE: There are two containers of -- gee, I hesitate to call it food -- something that resembles rice and another that might once have been soup. At 3 p.m., if they haven't been claimed, they're going into the garbage can, along with the bag of Tex-Mex scraps on the floor next to the garbage can.

Oh, and speaking of the garbage can ... I even washed the slime and spooge off the container's lid.

The freezer's contents are fairly safe for now, but just to be sure, you might want to go ahead and label anything you own in there. One never knows when the "must clean" synapses in my diseased brain might fire again.

Enjoy the kitchen. And now that it's been given the once-over twice, do everyone a favor -- please do your part in keeping it from becoming another haven for mold and and food-borne disease.

At home, I border on obsessive about my refrigerator, freezer and pantry. If you are a food item and you are a couple of days past your expiration date, well then: Food, Meet Garbage. 

I'll never get why co-workers think it's OK to leave their food in the office refrigerator until it stinks up the place. Lucky for them, I guess, they've got me.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Life Unfinished

Jonathan Frederick Barch
July 18, 1988 – Dec. 20, 2004
Come to me in my dreams, and then
By day I shall be well again!

For then the night will more than pay
The hopeless longing of the day.

~ Matthew Arnold
Just before waking one morning recently, I had the most vivid and real dream, where the people (sometimes pets) in my dream are there, visiting me through my dream.

I should clarify: the people who visit me are no longer with us. Over the years, through my dreams, I have visited with Nama, my father’s mother, who died 1987; my father, who died in 2001; my friend Lynn Smithson, who died in 2003; and my nephew, Jonathan, who was 16 when he died in a car crash on Dec. 20, 2004.

This particular morning, it was Jonathan who came to visit. He has been in my dreams many times before, but always off in the shadows, at the edges. Not there, yet there.

That morning, though, he was there. Standing in front of me. Head full of dark curly hair. Striking blue eyes. Whole, healthy, smiling. I got to talk to him. I told him how much I loved hanging out with him when he was a little kid, watching him play at the beach at Grandma's Airstream. I told him how I wished I’d seen him more often as he got older. How I wished I’d seen him play hockey and lacrosse.

I told him how much I missed him, and how I wish so, so much, every day, that he were still here with us. In my dream that time, I got to do something I almost never get to do in my dreams with people who come to see me. I gave Jonathan a hug – a tight, never-let-you-go kind of hug that I could feel in my dream. He hugged me back. I know I must have smiled in my sleep.

Just as I was telling Jonathan again how much I love him and miss him, I could hear my son’s voice whispering to me in my sleep … waking me from the sweetest dream I’ve ever had.

On this, what would have been your 22nd birthday, I remember this dream again, Jonathan, and smile. Thank you.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Gulf of Mexico is Supposed to be Forever

As a native and lifelong resident of North Florida, I love the Gulf of Mexico. Thanks to my mother and her love of the water (from the shore) and my father and his love of the outdoors and fishing (in the water), our family of four children spent many weekends and summers along Florida's panhandle beaches.We skipped the touristy areas and went straight to the natural settings and state parks.

From Destin (before it was such a popular destination) and Panama City (St. Andrew State Park), to Mexico Beach and Cape San Blas (St. Joseph State Park), to St. George Island and Carabelle, to Wilson Beach (now-deserted cottages) and Alligator Point (when there was still a sandy beach and you could see your feet under water).

Mom would watch us kids and Dad would either fish in the surf or he would (and I'm not even kidding) take his green canoe, the Kelpie, out into the bay. (He took it into the surf once, too, and it capsized – anything for a fish or two!) But I digress ...

All I have to do is see the Gulf of Mexico and I'm at peace. I also love to hear it, fish in it, swim, stand and float in it, sun on its beaches, and eat shrimp, crab and fish from its waters. When we drive to the beach, I immediately know we're approaching water because I can smell that beach air. I love walking through fine, warm, white sand.

After my younger son turned 6 in late March, I marked several summer dates so the boys and I could go to the beach and hang out for the day when Joaquin was working. We couldn't wait -- digging in the sand, dodging waves, boogie-boarding, staying late enough to see the sun set and then driving home, the boys dozing in the back seat, sleepy and worn out from the sun and saltwater.

The photo (on the left) of the boys has been my phone-screen background since I took it over a year ago. I took it during our rainy but completely wonderful 2009 Memorial Day weekend getaway on Panama City Beach. Who knew then that the least of our worries this summer would be riptides?

I've grown up in the same town where I was born and I accepted a long time ago that even though I'm still here, I can never go back to many childhood hangouts ... I miss my mother's and my favorite store to shop for clothes, Rheinauer's. I can't go to the Ice Cream Palace at the Northwood Mall with my friend Jeanette and order the biggest banana split on the menu. My friend Lora and I can't wander the woods and meadows in our neighborhood "cow pasture." My brother Bob and I can't run the basement halls in the old Capital Press Corps offices, or grab a snack with my Dad at the snack bar -- the "Stand 'n Barf," as he called it.

Those places are gone. They have been either torn down or rebuilt into something else. I expected that to happen eventually. Stores, buildings and vacant land go through developments and redevelopments.

But the Gulf of Mexico is supposed to last forever.

The oil disaster breaks my heart. And every day, it just gets worse. Today, oil and tar balls were seen in Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana.

I wish I could tell you I've been out there skimming the Gulf waters for tar balls, building habitats for the sea life on the run. I wish I could say that even though I wouldn't go in the water, I'm still going to the coast and enjoying the sand and spending money in our coastal towns. But if I said those things, I’d be lying.

I won’t take my kids to the beach. I won't let them swim in it. (I explain it to friends like this: "If someone pooped in the deep end of your pool, would you still swim in the shallow end?") I especially don’t want to risk exposing my younger one to air pollutants. His lungs already behave like those of a much-older person, thanks to asthma and a congenital heart defect, scimitar syndrome.

I haven’t turned my back on the Gulf of Mexico, yet I feel like a traitor, a fair-weather friend, an unreliable parent, a pitiful ally. The Gulf has always been there when I wanted to spend time with it. Now it needs me and all I can do is pray.

I know the water still looks beautiful in many places, but the fact is, there's oil in the water, even in places where you might not actually see it. Even worse, perhaps, there are toxic dispersants in the waters. Sea life is moving toward shallow waters because their deeper-water habitats are polluted. Wildlife and sea life are coated in oil. I can't even bring myself to eat anything from the Gulf; I know tourism and state agencies keep deeming Florida's seafood safe, but I'm not taking chances.

I’ve never missed a place so much. I’ve never felt so much hate for a corporation as I feel toward BP. I don’t worry as much as about the economic havoc as I do the earthly devastation. I don’t worry as much as about today’s human inhabitants as I do future populations – populations that include my boys and their families, and likely, their families.

I am grateful to those who are out there skimming water for tar balls and oil, bathing, cleaning and releasing our poisoned wildlife, tracking and studying migratory birds (some of which are endangered species).

I pray every day that our Gulf of Mexico will somehow, some way, some day, miraculously pull through. If I can’t take my children to the beach, I at least want to take my grandchildren and great-grandchildren there, and tell them about the days when the Gulf was flooded with oil ... and how it recovered.

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