‘Five second rule’ leaves bad taste

We’ve never abided by the “five second rule,” the rule that says if food hasn’t been on the floor longer than five seconds it’s safe to eat. We use a slide rule. We go from five to 10, 15 seconds, or even the day after.

If it’s chocolate, there is no time limit. Pick it up and have a look.

As for a recognizable bit of a cookie, sometimes it’s easier to pop it in your mouth than walk to the trash can. Oh, don’t tell me you’ve never done it. I’m smarter than that. Remember, I use a slide rule.

There is a direct correlation between willingness to eat something that has fallen on the floor and the desirability of the food. I’ve yet to see a kid scream, “Five second rule!” when cauliflower hits the floor. Right now, I could probably assemble an entire vegetable medley with bits and pieces the grandbabies have left under the kitchen table.

Despite the obvious – that food on the floor will pick up germs — researchers at San Diego State University, partnering with Clorox, conducted a study on the “five second rule” and found it to be bogus.

A study always implies government funds somewhere. Such a shame. I wish they would have called. I could have saved them a lot of time and money. Of course “the five second rule” is bogus. But it is a way to build immunity.

The most interesting finding from the study was that the dirtiest surface is not the bare floor or the carpet, but the countertop. That’s really disgusting, especially when you consider how much food we eat off our countertops.

In the interest of saving researchers’ time and preventing other unnecessary studies, let’s examine some other common myths.

“If you cross your eyes, they’ll stick that way.” Not true. Of course, if some research team wants to assemble thousands of 7-year-old children to test it, I’d love to watch.

“Scaring someone will stop the hiccups.” It will not. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to try.

“You can’t make taffy on a humid day.” Actually, that one does have some truth to it, although I’d feel better if a team at Harvard put it to the test.

“It’s OK to double dip in the chip dip.” Maybe at the frat house, but not at this house. You’re welcome to eat a chip off the floor, but don’t double dip with it.

“Throwing salt over your shoulder brings you good luck.” No it doesn’t; it just means you have to sweep the floor.

“The best way to tell if pasta is done is to throw it against the wall.” Not true. The best way to tell if pasta is done is to throw it on the floor and see if anybody eats it in five seconds.

I hope this has been of service to university research teams everywhere.

Send my honorary degree in care of my email.

Turkeys victims of fowl play

If we took a poll, I think we’d find most people are ambivalent about turkey.

When was the last time you heard someone say, “You know what sounds really good for dinner tonight? A big ol’ slab of turkey!”

When was the last time you ate at a nice restaurant, the server appeared to tell you about the specials, and half of them featured turkey? The server says, “Our chef can prepare that one of three ways: tough, dry or with leftovers.”

If the turkey is such a beloved centerpiece of our Thanksgiving dinners, why do we spend so much time and effort disguising it?

We bury it under mashed potatoes, smother it with gravy and plaster it with cranberries. Is that really how you treat a bird you love?

This year the trend is to give the turkey a crustier, crunchier skin. You do this by boiling maple syrup down until it has nearly crystallized (give yourself two weeks) then baste the turkey during the final hour of cooking.

The end product, depending on your perspective, looks tantalizing and appealing, or like a bird with a bad case of psoriasis.

There are times when I wonder if our dedication to the turkey has been a mistake. A big one.

A lot of the turkeys I’ve cooked have been roughly the size of a Smart Car. And they’ve tasted like a Smart Car. Deep fry a Smart Car and it could beat a turkey in a taste off. A deep-fried Smart Car would beat one of those tofu turkeys, too.

It’s not like the early settlers were wild about turkey either. They didn’t visit the local butcher and find themselves torn between fabulous beef tenderloins, marvelous filet mignons or a turkey.

Turkey became the main dish at the first Thanksgiving by default. The pilgrims served turkey because turkeys are lousy runners and easy to catch.

Several years ago, I encountered the most memorable turkey in the history of fowl. One of our 20-something kids hosted a pitch-in Thanksgiving dinner at our house and the fellow who signed up to bring the turkey was French.

He’d never made a turkey before. He called his sister in France and she talked him through it. He entered the house with a large roasting pan covered with foil. It smelled exceptionally fragrant.

He used 100 cloves of garlic. He stuffed the turkey with couscous and more garlic. He hard boiled eggs, peeled them and dyed them neon orange, yellow, green, red and purple. Colored eggs were stuffed in and around the turkey alongside black and green olives, whole carrots, stalks of celery and halved onions.

This was a turkey with personality. If that turkey could have danced, it would have tap danced. If it could have sung, it would have belted out show tunes.

There was nothing subdued or quiet about that bird. It was like a turkey at Mardi Gras. It was what every turkey dreams of being.

I couldn’t help but think that turkeys everywhere would have been pleased.

It was a nice trip, see you next fall

The only thing worse than having toilet paper stuck to your shoe in public is falling down in public.

I once finished speaking to an audience of several hundred women and started to walk away from the podium to a satisfying round of applause, forgetting that I was standing on a small box. I took a step into mid air, dipped, tumbled and grabbed the corner of the podium with one hand.

The robust applause immediately turned to a collective horrified gasp.

Despite what felt like a dislocated shoulder, I pulled myself up, laughed and shouted, “Down, but not out!”

I was laughing alone.

Even for me, it was an ending with a little too much drama.

Grace runs in the family.

When our youngest was interviewing for her first teaching job, she had finished her demonstration lesson, answered questions from a panel of teachers, and was dismissed. The panel sat quietly as she retrieved her belongings from the floor at the front of the room. She caught the heel of her shoe in the strap to her purse and fell flat on her backside in a skirt suit.

The room fell silent. “I’m OK!” she said. Not that anybody asked. She said the worst part was that nobody laughed.

Last week was a big week for falling. Madonna was performing “Like a Prayer,” in a Dallas concert, knelt down to shake hands with some fans and lost her balance. Her leg shot into the air, she fell on her back and somehow turned it into a dance move. The video clip looks like a demo for Fire Safety Week: stop, drop and roll.

Carrie Ann Inaba, one of the judges on “Dancing with the Stars,” was effusively complimenting a good-looking male contestant while waving her arms around and got so excited she fell right out of her chair.

Then there was the video circling the Internet of a Tennessee reporter holding up a 12-pound fish, commenting on its size, when the fish unexpectedly came back to life. The reporter screamed, threw down the fish and jumped up on a seat in the boat. She lost her balance and fell backward onto the man standing behind her. They both toppled, with the reporter in a short dress displaying all her goods. It may be a superfluous detail, but the reporter was blonde.

Humiliating? Sure. But at least the camera crew and the guys in the boat were laughing.

Falling in public is the only time you don’t care that people aren’t laughing with you and hope they will laugh at you. There’s something about laughter that diminishes the embarrassment — and the dislocated shoulder, the hurting, the bruising and the gaping wounds.

I believe in being prepared for the unexpected. If I take a tumble in public again, I’m going to jump up, thrust my arms in the air like a gymnast at the close of a floor routine and yell out my score. I’ll rate myself low. Maybe that will get a laugh.

Heads of state are part trick, part treat

Every year we grumble about how there are more Halloween costumes for adults than kids and that adults have taken over the holiday. And then I wonder if we’re adding fuel to the fire.

We have an interesting collection of masks. They are extremely life-like face masks with two tiny holes for your eyes — masks of the presidents. We have presidents 39 through 44 with the exception of 41. What’s that, you say? You don’t have any?

I am married to the only man in America who has found a way to weave history with Halloween.

The first year we were married the husband bought a Halloween mask of then President Jimmy Carter. His exact words were, “We’ll never get a chance to get one of these again.” It was like he was looking at the last Veg-O-Matic to ever air on late-night television. He said it as though this mask was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I could only hope.

Carter eventually took up residence in a cabinet where we kept bandages, Tylenol, prescription meds and the humidifier. Carter became like our family care physician, we only saw him when one of us didn’t feel well.

After Carter, much to the husband’s amazing, unbelievable good fortune, he found a Ronald Reagan mask. He subsequently missed out on Bush 41, but did acquire a Clinton mask, a Bush 43 mask and an Obama mask.

If you’ve ever seen these presidential masks, you have probably wondered who buys them. Now you know. We do.

The husband wears the presidential masks when handing out Halloween candy to the kids, but it is often the parents who have more of a response. Once in awhile a kid may recognize the face on a mask and comment that the president looks shorter in person or ask why he’s not in Washington. More often, a parent is likely to scream at the child, “Don’t take candy from a Democrat!” Or Republican. It depends on who is in office and which mask the husband is wearing.

We have enough presidential masks to host our own summit, or at least phone Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and tell him one of the Presidents will see him. Of course, it would take time to round up one of them.

For years Reagan was in the kids’ dress-up box along with an old Cub Scout uniform, a fireman’s hat, assorted hats and heels and my mother’s old wedding gown.

We see President Obama on a regular basis, as he is in the hall closet on a shelf between mailing supplies and vacuum bags.

Bush 43 is in the linen closet. He’s behind a stack of towels. I know he’s there, but I always forget that I know he’s there. Consequently, every time the stack of towels dwindles, I yank out the last one, am startled and shriek, “Who put Bush in the linen closet?”

I worry that there are only so many times you can scream something like that before the Secret Service pays you a visit.

My birthday was last week. Care to guess what my gift was? Welcome to the line-up, Gov. Romney.

Do these scales make me look thin?

I stepped on the scale and saw the unexplained weight loss nearly every woman dreams of. I weighed 57 pounds. I knew that couldn’t possibly be right, so I stepped on it again.

Sure enough, 57 had been a bad read. The scale said I actually weighed 58.

Technically, I should be traveling in a car seat. That’s me, the one in the driver’s seat of an SUV strapped in a pink Cosco juvenile car seat with tilt recline and the side beverage cup holder.

The last time I weighed 58, I was probably in the fourth grade. I knew all my states and capitals then. I loved converting fractions, wrote a poem once a week, was a jump rope champion, had legible handwriting and enjoyed recess twice a day. My mother did my laundry and cooked all the meals and I could still overpower my younger brother. It was a good year, one I wouldn’t mind revisiting.

It was nice to weigh 58 again. It made me feel light, inside and out. My clothes fit better. My jeans felt loose. I felt healthier. More energetic. More vibrant. Maybe I’d swim a couple hundred meters. I’ve never been a swimmer, but why should that stop me?

Yes, it did occur to me that the digital scale was on the fritz, but I immediately put that thought out of my mind. Why let practicality ruin a wonderful start to a beautiful day?

We went out to lunch later and I had biscuits. I don’t eat biscuits. I don’t even like biscuits, but when you have unexpected weight loss, you feel entitled to eat biscuits.

Pass the butter.

I had ice cream, too. Not much, but a little. It’s been months since I had ice cream. It’s on my banned food list. But I was eating ice cream now.

As I poured a little chocolate syrup on the ice cream, I wondered if I should call the doctor so he could update my medical records. Maybe my cholesterol numbers had taken a dramatic dive, too.

This was the most excited I’d been about a failed household appliance in ages. I was disgruntled when one of the lights over the stove went out. I was downright surly when the hot water heater turned into Old Faithful. Don’t get me started about the combination digital clock/radio /iPod anchor with the alarm that goes off every day at noon and can’t be shut off. But the digital scale falls apart and I have a new a skip in my step.

Later that night the husband walked to the ‘fridge, opened the door and casually said, “I weighed 75 pounds this morning.”

“Really?” I asked. “I only weighed 58. You should go on a diet.”

We ordered pizza.

Life was good for a few days. We ate what we wanted, pretended we were both grossly underweight, and then it all came to a crashing halt.

We bought a new scale. We’re back to reality. The memory of biscuits lingers. In more ways than one.

This week when nothing happens

The week after Christmas is when nothing happens.

If you’re a teacher, you’re on vacation.

If you’re a student, you’re sleeping in.

If you work for a big corporation, your company may shut down and tell you to take the week off.

If you have a literary agent, she will tell you nothing happens with publishing houses from now until January.

Congress is on holiday.

Even the phone solicitors go quiet. They figure we’re all broke, having overspent on the holidays.

Even if you’re working, there’s a different tempo to the office. It’s a little more laid back, a lot less intense.

The week when nothing happens is one of the most enjoyable weeks of all.

It’s found time, like when friends are coming for dinner, you have everything ready and they’re 15 minutes late. It’s the best 15 minutes of the week. It’s 15 minutes of time you weren’t counting on, 15 minutes to clean out your wallet, organize your desk, answer emails or throw out old newspapers.

Time puts on the brakes in the week before we turn the page to a new year. The pace slows, the shopping frenzy begins to wane, the canned music stops, and here and there you find a few minutes to breathe.

You not only have time to fill the birdfeeder, but to watch the birds. The chickadee is so dainty. The nuthatch is crazy. The albino cardinal has returned. Surely, it can’t be the same one three years running.

There’s no need to sprint to the kitchen in the morning. The crowd is gone. They’ve left behind full trash cans, a smattering of leftovers and echoes of laughter.

You can take time to examine frost on the window if you like. Or enjoy the morning sun spilling in through the window.

You can make a cup of tea. The real kind, with loose leaves in the tea ball and wait for it to steep instead of shaking the pot. You may even have the luxury of waiting for the tiny leaves that escaped from the mesh ball to sink to the bottom.

If this isn’t the good life.

You can linger over the cards you opened at warp speed before Christmas and threw in a basket without so much as a glance.

You might even find time to clean out your sock drawer, match the plastic lids and tubs and straighten up that mess under the sink.

If it has snowed, you can pause at twilight, watch the sky fade to pink and the snow turn to blue.

Time moving slow, filled with simple pleasures; it’s a wonderful time of the year.

When the gift meets the need

My parents grew up during the Depression attending small country churches. At the close of Christmas Eve services, children were called down front and each one was given a brown paper sack containing an apple, an orange, nuts still in their shells and several chocolates.

Years later, whenever Dad recalled that tradition, his eyes sparkled reliving the memory. My mother not so much. She always said she suspected the chocolates had been pre-sucked; they tasted cheap and old. You can’t blame the woman. Even as a child, she had a discriminating palette.

Cheap chocolates or not, the paper sacks with goodies were an event. Gifts of any sort during the Depression were rare, especially in large farm families with seven, eight and nine children.

When our children were young and we were home for Christmas one year, Mom and Dad gave each of the grandkids a brown paper sack holding an apple, an orange, some nuts and chocolates. This was in addition to the mound of gifts beneath the tree.

When we finished the 8-hour drive home after the holiday, there was a message waiting on the phone when we walked in the door. “Your ungrateful kids left their apples and oranges in the back of our refrigerator. No more fruit for them!” Grandpa and Grandma were teasing, of course, still there was an element of disrespect in the kids leaving behind thoughtfully chosen gifts.

But the paper sacks did not have a context for our children. We had apples and oranges at home. Our children had never known fruit to be a scarcity, just as they had never known bare bone want, or bread and butter sandwiches.

They didn’t appreciate the gift because they had never experienced the need the gift was meant to fill.

The same is true of Christmas today. We don’t appreciate the true gift of the season because we don’t comprehend the need the gift was given to fill. Consequently, we relegate the gift of Christ to the back of the ‘fridge.

It’s not like we don’t know we have needs. We know them, all right – patience, love, self-control, strength, courage, faithfulness, forgiveness — it’s just that we have become experts at numbing ourselves to our needs. We mute them by shopping, eating, a litany of never ending activities and placating the deep things that tug for our attention with therapeutic jargon.

The true gift of the season is a perfect fit for our every need. The lasting gift of Christmas is that God took on flesh and bones and was born of a virgin in a stable amid sheep and cattle and straw. The divine descended to earth. The invisible became visible. Angels lit up the skies over Bethlehem, rugged shepherds shook with terror and the Magi changed course to follow the star.

No video game can compete with that drama.

No holiday table setting can hold a fraction of that dazzle.

When a gift like apples and orange fits a need, there is a cheerful contentment. When the gift of the manger fits a need, there is the joy of Christmas.

Bark the herald canines sing

Try finding a Christmas movie on television that doesn’t feature dogs. Not that there’s anything wrong with dogs playing actors. In my book, that little Taco Bell dog is right up there with Matt Damon.

Over the past few years, dogs have gone from supporting roles (a furry shoulder to cry on or someone to fetch the holiday slippers), to headlining roles. There are the romance savvy dogs that lead their owners into relationships. There are dogs that appear in a holiday wedding, dogs that reveal the real meaning of Christmas and dogs that talk.

The dogs that talk are witty, articulate and more intelligent than the humans. This is obviously true in that the dogs got the lead roles and the humans have small parts as supporting cast.

These talking dogs are so smart and clever that if they followed the global market we’d pay them for financial advice. Or fund their presidential campaigns.

So far, the only thing I haven’t seen is a dog singing “O Holy Night.” But then, the season isn’t over.

Some of the holiday dog movies are endearing and some are retreads. “The Dog Who Saved Christmas” is “Home Alone” with a mutt taking the place of Macaulay Culkin. If only the dog could figure out how to stand before the mirror and slap on aftershave. “HOOOOWWWWWWL!”

It is only a matter of time before all of the Christmas classics are remade featuring dogs.

In “Miracle on 34th Street,” Kris Kringle’s attorney, played by a Siberian husky, must prove that Santa is not bonkers. Opposing counsel is played by a yappy toy poodle and the judge is played by a graying Irish wolfhound. Kringle emerges from court victorious and is so thankful to his canine representation that he fires all the reindeer and lashes a team of greyhounds to the sleigh.

In a remake of “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the Dogs of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. The Dog of Christmas Yet to Come is a small dog-like robot with laser eyes, artificial intelligence language skills and GPS capability. The dog is cold, frightening and impersonal. On the upside, he does not produce any waste disposal problems requiring small plastic bags.

“The Night Before Christmas” takes on some new shades as well: “The pups were nestled by the fire in their beds, While visions of rawhide bones danced in their heads . . . Away to the window I flew like a flash, Ripped down the curtains and drooled on the sash.”

In “White Christmas,” Major General Waverly returns to Vermont after World War II and opens up a kennel. The kennel is going broke.Every dog that has ever boarded there learns of the fate of the kennel via social networking. They return to the kennel for a surprise show featuring Frisbee catch, a barking dog ensemble and stupid pet tricks. The kennel is saved and the show closes with two smooth-talking border collies sauntering away with two perky Welsh corgis.

The only show that could not be remade is “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Snoopy is sublime in his all-knowing, all-seeing, secondary background role. You don’t mess with perfection. Besides, a beagle knows you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

The Death of Common Sense

Three yards of black fabric enshroud my computer terminal. I am mourning the passing of an old friend by the name of Common Sense. His obituary reads as follows: Common Sense, aka C.S., lived a long life, but died from heart failure at the brink of the millennium. No one really knows how old he was, his birth records were long ago entangled in miles and miles of bureaucratic red tape. Known affectionately to close friends as Horse Sense and Sound Thinking, he selflessly devoted himself to a life of service in homes, schools, hospitals and offices, helping folks get jobs done without a lot of fanfare, whooping and hollering.

Rules and regulations and petty, frivolous lawsuits held no power over C.S. A most reliable sage, he was credited with cultivating the ability to know when to come in out of the rain, the discovery that the early bird gets the worm and how to take the bitter with the sweet.

C.S. also developed sound financial policies (don’t spend more than you earn), reliable parenting strategies (the adult is in charge, not the kid) and prudent dietary plans (offset eggs and bacon with a little fiber and orange juice).

A veteran of the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, the Technological Revolution and the Smoking Crusades, C.S. survived sundry cultural and educational trends including disco, the men’s movement, body piercing, whole language and new math. C.S.’s health began declining in the late 1960s when he became infected with the If-It-Feels-Good, Do-It virus.

In the following decades, his waning strength proved no match for the ravages of overbearing federal and state rules and regulations and an oppressive tax code. C.S. was sapped of strength and the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband, criminals received better treatment than victims and judges stuck their noses in everything from Boy Scouts to professional baseball and golf.

His deterioration accelerated as schools implemented zero-tolerance policies. Reports of 6-year-old boys charged with sexual harassment for kissing classmates, a teen suspended for taking a swig of Scope mouthwash after lunch, girls suspended for possessing Midol and an honor student expelled for having a table knife in her school lunch were more than his heart could endure.

As the end neared, doctors say C.S. drifted in and out of logic but was kept informed of developments regarding regulations on low-flow toilets and mandatory air bags. Finally, upon hearing about a government plan to ban inhalers from 14 million asthmatics due to a trace of a pollutant that may be harmful to the environment, C.S. breathed his last.

Services will be at Whispering Pines Cemetery. C.S. was preceded in death by his wife, Discretion; one daughter, Responsibility; and one son, Reason. He is survived by two step-brothers, Half-Wit and Dim-Wit.

Memorial Contributions may be sent to the Institute for Rational Thought. Farewell, Common Sense. May you rest in peace.

This essay, along with tongue-in-cheek biographical sketches of the survivors of Common Sense, is available as a small book. It is an ideal gift for those who have a sense of humor and are not PC. It’s also ideal for those you think lack common sense but you’d rather not tell them yourself.  Buy here at amazon.