Wednesday, July 29, 2020

My Mother's Spaghetti Canning Recipe No One Asked For, Which Was Rude

My most vivid memory from my entire childhood is stuffing my face into a giant green pillow in the basement during canning season as the house would fill with overpowering scents of dill and tomatoes and MSG. I hated it. For a long time, I hated it. Then something happened to me that I don't think has ever happened to anyone else: I became my mother.

Now, each summer and fall I can eleventy thousand jars of shit in an ongoing game of "What Won't Skylar Eat." I currently have enough untouched applesauce on my basement shelves to reverse climate change. The pickle situation is even more dire. After canning SEVENTEEN quarts of pickles last autumn I learned that 50% of my household hates pickles.

The one exception to our wasted canning so far is my momma's spaghetti sauce. This was a staple in our house growing up and truly, Cathie McCann should be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for perfecting the recipe. Each year I can exponentially more of this stuff. We go through about a quart a week, using it for spaghetti, lasagna, homemade pizza, chicken marinade, acid reflux disease, neighbor gifts, etc.

And now you can make it, too! Ingredient list and semi-profane step-by-step instructions below.

Ingredients (This will make about 10 pints or 5 quarts of sauce)

20 cups of pureed, peeled tomatoes (about 10 pounds of roma tomatoes)
1 green pepper
1 onion
2 tablespoons of white vinegar
1 tablespoon of chili powder
1 tablespoon of garlic salt
2 tablespoons of salt
1 tablespoon of dry mustard
2 tablespoons of taco hot sauce (optional)
1 teaspoon of parsley flakes
1 teaspoon of basil
2 teaspoons of oregano
3 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons of flour

Love Is For The Byrds: A BYU Film Recap No One Asked For

Last year I fell down an internet rabbit hole during a few months of research I did to produce a four-part podcast series on old Mormon films. I embarked on that quest naively believing the library of LDS church films from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s couldn’t have been very robust. But I discovered that there were so many I could honestly make a career out of just watching them.

Then last month I recapped two films from the 80s on the Word of Wisdom. Now that we’re all sober, I bring you Love is for the Byrds, from 1965. Yes, that’s how it’s spelled. It’s very very clever. Don’t worry—you’ll be severely beat over the head with the creative symbolism in a minute.

How Do I Love Thee: A Very Unnecessary Recap Of A BYU Film From 1965

There seem to be an endless supply of old LDS church films depicting teenagers or young adults courting and marrying and I’m responsible for telling you about these so you don’t have to live through them yourselves. Fortunately I recently discovered how to watch Youtube videos at double speed and this has made my job so much easier.

I was already familiar with a lot of these films from my childhood. They’re all sort of the same: a promiscuous young woman in biology class pressures a girl who has the haircut of a 65-year-old schoolmarm to sleep with her boyfriend. You could immediately identify the hussy onscreen because she always had a perm and access to a convertible. In the end, either righteousness would prevail or we’d be treated to a sepia-tone repentance montage where the recently-defiled drapes herself across a bed sobbing until she is fully reformed. Sometimes the song “Sorrow For My Sins” plays and Aaron Eckhart looks on, disappointedly.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Ghost Town Hunting

We were supposed to go on an adventure last weekend, but our plans were abruptly canceled when Skylar plugged in all eleventy hundred of his nuclear devices at once and blew out our power.

He disputes this characterization, but if he wants to revive his old Stranger fact-checking site, he can be my guest. Until then, I'll continue to unfairly and inaccurately tell the stories without any consequences.

The power outage happened on a Friday evening. "I'll handle this," I declared, in the tone of a homeowner who thinks he's a qualified electrician for no other reason than that he's pretty sure he knows where the breaker box is.

I marched to the basement and flicked each breaker at random for several minutes before finally accepting this problem fell outside my broad expertise. We called our electrician, Raul, who is 100% the best human being I've ever met on this planet. My friend Anna found Raul about 8 years ago and now several friends and I consider him a part of our families. I will for sure name a child after him if Skylar or I can ever figure out how to get pregnant.

Raul told us he could come the next day, which meant we needed to stay home and wait for him. He showed up at noon and climbed through every nook and cranny in the house until he found a wire that had straight up exploded (???).

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Eternal Vine

My parents have this Jumanji vine consuming a whole side of their house. They planted it back before the war when they were young and dumb and so full of hope and purpose. Now they reserve all three of their annual swearwords for the phone call I receive this time of year in which they put me on speakerphone and scream about how much they hate the vine while begging me to come climb a ladder to chop it back.

I always go because I'm the official Son Of The Year, every year. (And I'm always so gracious when I receive the award and I'm like "I don't deserve this. This really should have gone to Beyoncé." But then I keep it.)

The vine has now grown so high up onto the house that Bob & Cathie have had to buy ladders from NASA previously only used for engineers to climb up to the International Space Station for repairs. We plop the ladder onto the side of the house, I climb up through the clouds, and Bob & Cathie stand below as I chop and drop long pieces of vine onto their heads with reckless abandon. This always feels really disrespectful but I was a pretty well-behaved teenager so I think the karma evens out.

Last week they called me said they had had it with the vine and they were ready to take more drastic measures. Typically we just chop back the new growth. Now they wanted to pull half of it off of the house and then not let it grow above where they can reach "so we don't have to keep calling you" which now that I'm thinking about it, are my parents disowning me?

Anyway, Duncan and I showed up at their house yesterday evening ready for our farm chores. I climbed the ladder and started yanking and pulling and eventually I discovered that the upper part of the vine wasn't really attached very well to the house because suddenly a wall of matted English Ivy started folding off of the house in one solid piece.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Excuse MY Christmas!

Since 2011, I've been receiving emails from all of you on all sorts of topics and for all sorts of reasons. Some of the emails contain photos of you wearing Snuggies. Some of them include links to important pictures of terrifying chickens. Often they are even thoughtful responses (or criticisms) to something we've talked about on It Just Gets Stranger or Strangerville.
I love your emails. They have been wildly important to me so many times over the years. There was one time where an email I received from the Strangerverse was especially impactful in both a hilarious and deeply meaningful way. 
For the past few years I've been meaning to produce a Strangerville segment about that email. I finally got it done. #amazing #GreatFollowThrough. 
Please check out this week's Strangerville. I've also included a snippet below from today's story. I think this is called a teaser? Is this a teaser? Netflix should hire me.
For the non-podcast savvy folks who don't use Spotify or any podcast apps on your phone, you may play it here:

Tuesday, July 14, 2020


Skylar started his "rotations" this week, which as I understand it roughly translates to "wander around a hospital trying to look busy so no one asks you to clean up poop."

His first rotation is in gynecology. They do these rotations in part to help the students try to figure out what kind of doctor they want to be. I already nixed gynecology for Skylar after I imagined a likely future scenario in which he calls from work every evening and says "I got gabbing with my first patientshe was a GODDESSand then missed all the rest of my appointments for the day so now I have to work until 4:00 AM."

When he first started medical school I made a lot of jokes about what kind of doctor I needed him to beall motivated by selfish reasons, of course. The list included only specialties that could give me access to cheap elective cosmetic surgeries and an ocean of botox. After a while I became worried that my jokes would get taken seriously so I way over-corrected and started giving a weekly speech about how I didn't care at all what he did as long as he was happy. Within 24 hours he started leaving open on his laptop applications to professional improv groups.

Ok, that last part isn't true, but if he had enough time right now to be funny it would be.

The point is, I need him to make us all look young again but I need him to think it was his choice. That way I can seem pretty and supportive.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Exhausted Broccolini

On Wednesday I had one of those days where everything just a little bit sucked more than usual. I don't remember how it started. Technical difficulties. Ants in the kitchen. An annoying work email, or two. Finally around 2:00 I decided I was just going to go for my long run and clear my mind.

I don't know why I can't seem to remember that it's one hundred eleventy degrees at that time of day this time of year. I keep doing this. I take off and about two or three miles into the run there is enough sweat pouring off of my body that Utah is technically no longer a desert. But by that point it feels too late to quit, so I just keep going.

I do the same run every other day or so. I head down my street and climb to the top of the Avenues in downtown Salt Lake City. Then I run across a road that overlooks the entire valley until I reach a small canyon, nestled in some trees, a lovely little creek winding through it. Eventually the canyon feeds right into Temple Square at the heart of the city. Then I make my way back home, past the Governor's Mansion and several dozen pioneer-era homes converted into bed-and-breakfasts and law offices.

It's a pleasant run--about 12-14 miles, depending on how many detours I decide to take. This has been my best COVID-19 therapy.

But it's much less pleasant when I decide to attempt it at Satan o'clock.

I think it must have actually been around 95 degrees on Wednesday when I left the house. By the time I reached the halfway point, I was already wondering if I could possibly make it all the way back home. A mile or two later, my left heel started aching, to the point that I couldn't keep running.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Mormon Phrases

When Skylar moved to Utah in 2016, he basically had to take a Utah-immersion course just to understand basic life. He'd occasionally wander into the house and say things like "what's a CTR ring?"

So I'd explain it. And that would usually prompt more questions. Sometimes I would get defensive and be like "IT MIGHT SEEM STRANGE TO YOU BUT IT'S NOT IT'S WONDERFUL" and he'd respond "no, I think that thing you just explained is terrific" and I'd be like "WELL IT'S NOT IT'S VERY WEIRD" and he'd be like "well, I guess it is a little" and I'd be like "HOW DARE YOU HAVE SOME RESPECT" because that's what it looks like to have complicated feelings about your former religion.

Sometimes his naivety is lovely. In Utah, the predominant religion can be polarizing. Most people who have lived here for very long have pretty strong feelings, one way or the other, about it. But Skylar has no dog in the fight. He's just interested. Nothing else, really.

A few years ago he came home all excited because he learned about an organization called "Encircle" which is an LGBTQ organization in Utah which was created because some of the other national groups weren't as good at understanding the unique dynamics of coming out in a very devout Mormon family and/or community. Educating and providing support to kids and parents who speak a very different language than most of the rest of society requires some special tools, process, and vocabulary.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Indogpendence Day

Yesterday was Independence Day (happy birthday, America. Sorry your party sucked.)

Normally we throw a Fourth of July party where all of our friends come over and lick their hands and touch each other and cough into our open eyes but we decided not to do that this year because, you know, Rona.

The lack of social engagements in 2020 has been a super interesting thing for this extrovert who has knitted two sweaters, three scarves, a hat, and has run nearly 1,000 miles in the last three months and I'm sure none of these things are related. But honestly, I've settled into this and I've been able to find joy in the lessened social chaos.

I'm still working from home and plan to maybe forever? We've seen my family here and there, but not much because Bob & Cathie don't want us to give them the Rona. I have a lot of friends who are worried about their parents and grandparents because they don't feel like they are taking social distancing and mask wearing, etc., seriously enough. I'm grateful that I haven't had that problem with my own parents, but I wouldn't mind having Cathie come over and make comments about my yard that are definitely compliments but worded just so I'm not confident about that ("Oh! I would have never thought to plant a rose bush that close to that tree that I didn't realize people liked!").

We miss our old folks.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Skylar Looks Good In Sweaters

A couple months ago I called my knitting store down the street #supportlocal #citizenoftheyear #It'sScaryToTalkOnThePhone #bravery. I had picked a new sweater to knit, something that would be the most difficult knitting project yet, besides, perhaps, The Scarf That Shall Not Be Named.

The knitting store (Blazing Needles woot woot) was shut down, just like everything else on planet Earth at that time, but they were doing phone and internet orders and then either shipping product or letting you come pick it up on their front porch.

They helped me figure out what I needed, took all of the money I've ever had in my life, and I walked over that very day.

The knitting project ended up being extremely fun to make. Skylar had picked this sweater out online and I was hesitant because I thought it was hideous but I forgot the great Skylar rule, which is that literally everything looks perfect on him and he should have to spend some time in jail for this. (Where he'd look great in an orange jumpsuit he is so infuriating.)

I finished it over the weekend and I wanted you to behold my endless talents so here you go:

The Mayan

I was in high school when the massive Jordan Commons complex sprouted off of State Street in Sandy. At least, it seemed massive to us. This was 1999 and I lived just across the way in South Jordan, which at that time was a cluster of quiet spotty suburbs that were quickly suffocating a handful of nineteenth-century farms. This was before Walt Disney purchased the western half of the city to build Daybreak, a neighborhood that if it was an item of clothing would be a men’s romper.

So, yes, we were thrilled that an entertainment venue so ostentatious was opening up on the edge of our budding town that at the time had only one restaurant (RIP, Grandpa Maddox Steakhouse). The building would house a few movie theaters—but with massive screens unlike anything we had ever seen before—theaters we soon learned were called “IMAX.”