housekeeping tips, reviews

Repost: Betty Crocker Bake n’ Fill Cakes…

Here’s a repost from March 6, 2014, which was also an Epinions repost of a review I wrote in September 2006. I am reposting it because it made me a lot of money on Epinions, and because it had a ton of hits on my original blog. And because I am trying to salvage as many of my old reviews as I can… It may be irrelevant today, but what the hell… maybe someone is interested. Here it is, mostly as/is.

From 2014: This was another lucrative Epinions review that needs a new home.  I must admit, I don’t use these pans anymore, but people loved this review.  I see the price has doubled since I purchased the Bake n’ Fill pans!

In 2021: I left these pans in storage. If I still had them, maybe I might make a project out of baking a cake… however, Bill and I never finish most baked goods. We like them, but our household is just too small!

One of the ads that inspired my purchase.

I watch too much TV. I like to bake. I also spend too much time on the Internet. It was combination of those three elements of my life that led me to buy a Betty Crocker Bake n’ Fill bake set. Since I don’t have kids and rarely entertain, there’s really no other reason why I’d be interested in purchasing this product. Nevertheless, I’d seen the low budget ad on TV many times, watching as some faceless woman made beautiful, tempting cakes with cool looking layers in the middle. Inwardly, I oohed and ahhed every time I saw her make a cake that looked like a baseball or filled the inside of a chocolate cake with pudding or fruit. Secretly, I wanted to try making a cool looking cake, too.

Then, one day when I was online, an acquaintance of mine mentioned that she’d gone to the As Seen On TV store at her local mall and bought a set so that she and her toddler daughter could bake n’ fill some cakes together. Bingo! I remembered that there was an As Seen On TV store near my home, too. So I grabbed my husband, Bill, and off we went in search of the pans! I got to the store and looked around for several minutes before I finally saw the Betty Crocker Bake n’ Fill bake set tucked away in a corner. Priced at just $19.99 plus tax, the pans were fairly economical. I went straight home to try them out.

The Betty Crocker Bake n’ Fill deluxe bake set comes with four pans. There’s a tall pan, a base pan, a dome pan, and an insert pan. I should mention that the Betty Crocker Bake n’ Fill bake set also comes in a classic version that only has three pans: tall, base, and insert. When I bought my set, the deluxe version was the only one available in the store. The tall pan reminds me of a bucket. The edges of the base are rounded. The dome pan looks kind of like the end of an egg. It’s rounded on top, so that you can make cakes that are round like balls. The base pan looks just like a shallow cake pan, and the insert pan, which connects to either the dome or tall pans, is basically like a small dome pan with a shelf around it. The insert pan is probably the most important part of the set. You hook it to a larger pan full of batter and it displaces the batter so that you have a hollow area in the main part of your cake. You can also use the insert pan to bake smaller cakes to fill in that hollow area.

After washing all of the components of the set, I decided I wanted to try to make Baked Alaska. The handy instruction booklet that came with the set had a recipe for it, as well as recipes for other cakes. Naturally, the manufacturers want you to use Betty Crocker cake mixes when you use these pans. I prefer to bake from scratch, though, so that’s what I did. I also made my own ice cream for the center. As with all cake pans, it’s important to make sure you grease and flour these pans generously so that the finished products don’t stick.

I followed the instructions for Baked Alaska using the dome cake pan and the insert pan. That part of the process came off without a hitch. I filled the dome pan up to the fill line, screwed on the insert pan, baked the cake, and when it was done and cool, had a perfectly formed hollowed out dome that was ready to be filled with ice cream. Let me state here that it’s very important not to fill the pans past the fill line; if you do, the pans will overflow.

The next part of the process was a little more troublesome. I don’t know why, but the instructions didn’t tell me to make a base cake for the bottom of the Baked Alaska. I wanted to follow instructions, so I didn’t make a base cake on my own. Anyone who’s had Baked Alaska knows that it’s usually covered with meringue, which has to be browned in the oven. After filling my dome cake with ice cream, I flipped it over on to a cookie sheet, covered it with meringue, and stuck it in the oven at 400 degrees. And what happened? You guessed it… there was a big mess! I had better luck the next time I used the pans. I made a base cake, used pudding for the filling and the tall cake pan for the top, and it turned out fine, except I didn’t quite fill the hollow area with enough pudding. I had a little space between the pudding and the cake. I’m sure with practice, I’ll eventually get the process right. I just don’t have enough people in my household to eat all the mistakes!

Making a Betty Crocker Bake n’ Fill cake is a process that generally requires planning and patience, depending on how fancy you want to get with your creations. Not only do you have to consider all of the different flavors you want to use for the cake, the center, and the frosting and decorations, but you also have to realize that the different parts of the cake will take different lengths of time to bake. For instance, it will take longer to bake the tall cake with the insert pan than it will to bake the base cake. That’s because the tall cake is bigger. You also have to consider what you want to use for the filling. Do you want to use a different flavor cake? Ice cream? Pudding, custard, or mousse? Fruit? Candy? The sky’s the limit, but you do have to plan first, or you will end up with a mess!

I’m not the most patient person in the world, but I imagine someone who doesn’t mind waiting for and planning their bake n’ fill cakes carefully will not be displeased with the results. While I didn’t have the best luck using the recipes in the instruction booklet, I did like the way the instructions were laid out for actually using the pans. They are well made and surprisingly solid, especially considering the price. I have no trouble cleaning them after using them, and I’ve also never had a problem with cakes sticking to the pans. I wish I could say the same thing about my fancy Calphalon cake pans!

So, the upshot of this review is that the Betty Crocker Bake n’ Fill cake pans do work and it is quite possible to make cool looking cakes with them. However, bear in mind that making those cakes will take time, patience, and creativity. If you like to bake from scratch, you’ll have to be somewhat brave, since the recipes in the booklet are designed to work with cake mixes. And, also, since the set consists of four odd shaped pans, you might have to make some extra room in your cabinets for them. I don’t know how often I’ll be using my set… maybe if I ever have kids, if I ever entertain, or if I get bored on a rainy day. But for $19.99 plus tax, the Betty Crocker Bake n’ Fill bake set is not a bad addition to my kitchen equipment.

ETA 2021: I see these pans are no longer available on Amazon. If you want them, you might want to check eBay.

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condescending twatbags, housekeeping tips, money, politics, sex, silliness, technology, transportation, travel, YouTube

Lime scale, lobsters, lectures, and lost causes…

Today’s featured photo is of the Boothbay Harbor blue lobster. Bill and I visited there for my birthday in June 2011, and I got a picture.

So yesterday’s “boring” post about water and limescale actually generated a lot of comments– for my blog, anyway. I know there are a lot of mommy bloggers out there who go viral and get hundreds of comments on their posts. But they tend to be sunny people who write things like “totes amazeballs”. I’m not like that. But since everybody poops, everybody needs water, and most normal people like to poop in clean bathrooms, I guess yesterday’s potty post resonated! Good for me! And thanks to everyone who read and commented! I probably ought to take a look/see at the bathroom in the basement. I almost never use it, but it also has some lime build up.

There’s still a little buildup, but it looks a lot better than it did yesterday.

And I just looked, and sure enough, that toilet has pretty terrible limescale build up, too. So I treated it with vinegar, and then tried the sink and the water is barely flowing. I have a feeling the pipes have lime in them. I treated it with baking soda and vinegar, but it may need a professional’s attention. This house has pretty terrible lime issues. When we first moved in, the buildup was so bad that we literally couldn’t turn on one of the faucets in the shower. It was completely stilled by calcium. The basement bathroom rarely sees any action, so I guess this is a reminder that it pays to stop in on occasion. Curiously, the toilet on the main floor doesn’t have much buildup at all.

I have a few things on my mind today, so this post is probably going to be multi-faceted. Now that I’ve written more about lime scale, and the payoff from yesterday’s project, it’s time to move on to the next topic. And the next topic is lobster.

A couple of days ago, Bill and I watched some random videos on YouTube. I ran across one about a guy who rescued a live lobster from the grocery store and kept it as a pet. I don’t know what made me decide to watch that video, but I found it absolutely fascinating. It also kind of made me a little ashamed of how much I enjoy eating lobster. This guy brought the lobster home, cut the rubber bands that rendered him helpless, and dropped him in a saltwater aquarium, where he gave him the name Leon and observed his behavior.

This was an unexpectedly fascinating and somewhat sad video… I might not ever be able to enjoy eating lobster rolls again.

I’m sure on one level, Leon is happy enough not to be someone’s dinner. On the other hand, Leon escaped death, but now lives in an aquarium, where he depends on the kindness of the guy who “adopted” him. He can’t really hunt, and he has no lobster friends to hang out with or have sex with… I guess lobsters have sex, and I’m sure Google would tell me if I cared to research further… It might be too early for me to explore the potential joys of lobster fucking, though.

Okay, I have to admit, my curiosity got the better of me. I Googled, and sure enough, lobsters enjoy a rather “kinky” sex life. Apparently, female lobsters attract mates by repeatedly peeing on their faces. And lobsters have urethras under their eyes that evidently make this possible. The female lobster pees on the male, then runs away. Female lobster pee evidently has the magical essence of an aphrodisiac, and after a few days of golden showers, the male lobster gets romantic and loves the lady lobster enough to cause reproduction. Wow… the things you learn on the Internet! And this was all inspired by a YouTube video about Leon, the lobster, who was rescued from the grocery store and now has a job teaching humans more about crustaceans. Leon should be proud. Not everyone has the chops to make it as a YouTube star.

I highly recommend watching the above video, if you’re interested. I legitimately found it informative and entertaining, and it reminded me that the animals we eat are still sentient beings with personality. Sigh… I really should be a vegetarian. Maybe someday I’ll give up my carnivorous ways… live on wine and beer, instead. Which brings me to the last two topics, lectures and lost causes.

Seriously… I don’t like the idea of promoting drinking, but this COVID-19 lifestyle is a real fucking drag. Last night, I had a mild meltdown after reading an article about how Dr. Fauci thinks we’ll be forced to wear masks on airplanes from now on. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again. I have a feeling that this prediction of his– while entirely possible– probably isn’t going to happen. Why? Because the world is a big place, and there are parts of it that are still pretty undeveloped. I remember being in Armenia in the mid 90s and seeing that most people there still weren’t wearing seatbelts, even though they have been “required” in most modern places for many years. And I simply doubt that people all over the world are going to embrace being forced to wear masks forever. They are uncomfortable, impractical, and annoying, and while they may save lives, a lot of people are inherently selfish.

Moreover, even in so-called “civilized” places, people are still losing their shit over masks. And they are deeply polarizing, with a lot of smug, self-righteous, left leaning all knowers discounting and insulting those who are legitimately terrified of government overreach and tyranny. Look at how many people are freaking out on airplanes. There are a lot more people wigging out in the “friendly skies” these days. Obviously, the masks are causing stress. And don’t tell me they aren’t. In 2019, there weren’t nearly as many people misbehaving on planes. What’s changed? People have to wear masks. THEY ARE AN OBVIOUS PROBLEM for a lot of people, even if some people don’t think so.

The fact is, you may not mind wearing a mask at all, but that doesn’t mean your neighbor agrees, nor should they have to agree if we’re living in a free society. Disagreeing with masks doesn’t give someone the right to be unruly on an airplane, of course. All I’m saying is that telling someone that masks are “no big deal” is disingenuous. To some people, they ARE a big deal. If they weren’t, there wouldn’t be so much bad behavior, violence, and legal morass surrounding their enforced use. And I think that not respectfully listening and trying to understand why some people aren’t embracing face masks is going to help prolong this situation we’re in.

Now… before anybody comes at me, let me state that I realize that masks are necessary for now. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t wear them. What I am saying is that this talk of forcing people to “mask up” (ugh, hate that expression) forevermore, and dismissing their concerns about the depressing prospect of that, as you tell them it’s “no big deal”, is part of what is driving all of this stubborn rebellion. Nobody likes to be condescended to or lectured– at least not when they haven’t paid tuition and specifically asked for a lesson. Telling someone to “get over it” is rude and disrespectful, and it’s not likely to inspire cooperation. And while you may think they’re rude for non-compliance, there are always other perspectives in any situation. I just think the wise person will take a minute to try to understand the other perspectives, even if they seem ridiculous. At this point in time, even ridiculous people can still vote, right?

When I venture into comment sections and someone raises a concern about masking– even when it’s done in a respectful way– there’s almost always a slew of comments from people who lecture, insult, condescend, or outright dismiss those concerns. Those who are anti-mask, or simply have concerns, then get pissed off and more stubborn, and some of them get pissed off enough to vote in politicians who don’t support mask mandates or vaccines. Unfortunately, a lot of those politicians also don’t support other policies that are community oriented or family friendly. So maybe you don’t have a vaccine mandate or mask requirement, but you also have some white, Southern, conservative yahoo who wants to make guns easier to buy and abortions harder to get.

As for Fauci’s predictions about masks on planes… I will state that I think money will be the deciding factor on this. I think there are people who are already looking for innovations that make it harder to contract illnesses in buildings. There’s a lot of money to be made with a solution like that. You can bet someone out there is looking for a way to filter air so that people stay healthy and productive. It’s not necessarily a trend that arises for the public good, either. It’s because there’s money to be made, and money drives a lot of people into action. Healthy people can work longer and generate more money.

Some people don’t want to travel if they have to wear a mask. Just yesterday, I mentioned a dream I had about moving to New Zealand– probably been watching too many Mama Doctor Jones videos. She is moving to New Zealand. Someone on Facebook mentioned that that sounded nice. I said I don’t want to sit on a plane that long in a mask. Flying sucked enough before the masks. The seats are uncomfortable, the fares are high, the food is inedible, and there are a lot of rules to follow. Now, many people have this dystopian “hall monitor” mentality, where everybody is watching and judging everybody else. Personally, I think I’d rather stay home or drive somewhere, than sit on an already uncomfortable flight for hours with a mask on my face. At least in a car, I don’t have someone watching my every move.

Same goes for cruising. Some people don’t mind wearing masks on ships, but others won’t like it. I think of the ships Bill and I tend to frequent, where booze flows freely. A person could sit and drink all day, if they wanted to. I have also personally witnessed people on ships getting drunk and belligerent. I remember hearing about v-loggers who were on SeaDream last year, documenting the trip, which was supposed to be “maskless”. People got COVID on that trip, and the v-loggers mentioned it, causing SeaDream to force passengers into masks again. The v-loggers were on the receiving end of a lot of anger, mainly because SeaDream cruises are very expensive and people were wanting to escape the COVID rules for a bit. No such luck. I know I don’t want to drop ten thousand bucks on cruise fare for an experience like that. There ain’t enough free flowing Prosecco in the world.

I think about how Royal Caribbean just built several HUGE ships in the last ten years or so, and now they’re in the news because 48 people tested positive for COVID on a recent cruise. Having such huge ships is bound to become a liability, especially if people are turned off of traveling due to draconian rules. Cruising will be probably less popular if people have to wear masks as a general rule. One of the things that makes cruising fun is socializing, and a big part of socializing is seeing people’s faces and non-verbal communication. Masks make it hard to forget the troubles of the world. They are a visual reminder of how fucked up things are. One of the reasons cruises are appealing are that they allow people to forget things that are stressful. So I think forced masking from now on will probably not fly in the long run.

It may not be a bad thing, though, if people travel less. It will be better for the environment. But it will also force some people to find new ways to make their livings. Again, I think money will be what drives this trend. If enough people decide to stay home, the policies will be amended… and/or someone will come up with a way to make traveling maskless safer.

Either way, I think people should try to be more understanding, patient, and willing to listen to other viewpoints without turning shitty. We’re in an unprecedented era for most people who are living, but don’t forget, this is NOT the first deadly pandemic of humankind. One hundred years ago, Spanish Flu killed lots of people. Masks were a thing back then, and I’m sure the thinking was eerily similar that things weren’t ever going to be normal again. But they eventually did go back to “normal”, although we came away with more knowledge.

To take it a step further, think of all of the crazy stuff that’s happened in the last hundred years. I wonder how people felt during World War II. Did they think the war would go on forever? Did they think the world was going to end? Some people probably did… but as you can see, they were wrong. There will be life beyond COVID-19 for those who don’t die from the disease. And I think it will more like it used to be, which may or may not be a good thing. Some of the COVID changes haven’t been bad, after all.

And finally… I think it’s inevitable that most everyone will end up with COVID at some point. But it will eventually be less deadly, because it’s not in the virus’s best interest to kill everyone. I still think getting vaccinated and staying away from other people is the best way to go. And if you have to be in a crowd, masks make sense. But I don’t think they should be something we strive to normalize forever, and I don’t think they’re the end all be all of fixing this problem. They’re just one facet of the solution. This is a problem that needs to be solved, not “lived with”. Fortunately, history shows that some human beings are very good at finding solutions. So that’s what keeps me going, for now…

But, I will admit, sometimes I envy those who have already peaced out of this life. As extraordinarily fortunate as Bill and I are, I find today’s world frightening and depressing, and I wonder what the point of it all is…

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housekeeping tips

Just another Monday in paradise…

The toilet has a ways to go before it looks like that again…

Do you ever get an urge to tackle random cleaning projects? Sometimes it happens to me. Like, for instance, my urge to clean the oven door a couple of weeks ago. I spent a few hours on that, scrubbing with baking soda and Reynold’s Wrap, trying to remove the baked on gunk on the door. Today, I’ve been tackling the upstairs toilet, which is covered with hard water limestone deposits. Germany has very hard water. Wiesbaden is especially bad. There’s a never ending battle against the chalky gunk that builds up because of the mineral filled water.

I got tired of looking at the lime on our commode, so I grabbed a bottle of vinegar detergent, which is widely available here. I’ve gotten some of the limestone to go, but there’s still more work to do. I may have to break out some steel wool.

Using vinegar on hard water stains is just one handy household trick I’ve learned since we moved back to Germany. There are certain things we have to deal with here that we don’t in the States. I do remember my parents’ house in Virginia, circa 1980, had a septic tank. Our water came from a well, smelled of rotten eggs, and had a lot of rust in it. It was the same when we lived in Georgia. Our house there, and the one in North Carolina, had septic tanks. We had no water bills, but the water was pretty nasty. The toilets in the Georgia house had tons of rust in them. I found a miracle cleaner to get rid of a lot the rust. It really was amazing.

I wish I could find something as effective as Whink Rust Stain Remover to rid the toilets of lime. So far, all of the DIY sites recommend vinegar or fresh squeezed lemon juice. While I appreciate the non-toxic effects of these remedies, they still require plenty of elbow grease. Somehow, I’m going to have to clean the new shower head, too. It’s starting to get lime deposits. That will mean breaking out the stepladder, because I’m too short to reach the shower head.

Sorry… I know this is a boring topic. There are certainly things I could write about, but it occurred to me that a lot of my posts are kind of negative and depressing. Every once in awhile, I like to write things that are helpful or even positive. I have, at least, managed to get rid of some of the lime scale, anyway. And I just ordered some citric acid and pumice stone to try to get the rest of it gone.

I don’t know why I get spurred on to do certain things at odd times. I’ve always been like this. I’ll let things go for a long time, then suddenly go into cleaning mode. Sometimes I’ll clean everything. Sometimes, I just tackle certain annoying projects. The toilet has had lime scale on it for a long time, but I saw a picture of it when we first moved in. It was brand new, and obviously recently installed. There was no lime build up to speak of. And that just made me feel like going into cleaning mode. Monday is a good day of the week for that, since I don’t usually plan specific chores for Mondays.

I do have a topic in mind that is a bit more substantial than this toilet cleaning saga is… but I’m not quite ready to put it down yet. Maybe I’ll get to it tomorrow… after I clean the bathrooms.

For those of you in the United States with a rust problem. Whink Rust Stain Remover is truly amazing stuff. I am an Amazon Associate, so I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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Bill, home, housekeeping tips, music, YouTube

The power of teamwork and learning new skills…

Bill had to work late last night. Originally, he planned to go to work at noon and stay until 9:00pm, which would have been a reasonable work day. But it turned out that things kind of went to shit early in the morning, so he ended up heading to work at 7:30am. He stayed until 9:00pm.

I knew it was going to be a crazy week, and after nineteen years of marriage, I understand the nature of Bill’s work. Sometimes he has to work at odd times. Sometimes he has to work very long hours. I wasn’t even that annoyed yesterday that he had to go in earlier than planned. In fact, I kind of expected it. Bill is a very dedicated employee and he’s extremely empathic. He knew they needed him, so he jumped right in to get the job done.

Last night, I was sitting in our bedroom listening to Katie Joy’s Without A Crystal Ball stream about Josh Duggar’s trial. I don’t even think I was paying a lot of attention to what was being said. I’ve been trying really hard to finish a book, but every time I try to read, I get really drowsy and either fall asleep or have to take a nap. I want to get the book finished, because I’m really looking forward to reviewing it.

At around 8:00pm, I realized I hadn’t eaten anything and felt like having pizza. So I went down to the kitchen and started making dough. I made a full recipe, so there were two crusts. I put one in the freezer. We have a pizza stone that I haven’t personally used much, although I have made pizza lots of times. Nowadays, Bill does most of the cooking. So I watched a video on how to use a pizza peel.

This was a big help! And yes, I was successful.

I used to be a great cook. I was even paid to cook at one time in my life. I am out of practice, though. It’s great to have YouTube around for handy household tips like this. Nineteen years as an overeducated housewife, you’d think I would have learned sooner.

By 9:00pm, I had eaten two slices of the delicious small pizza I made. The crust was infused with raw garlic, and I had topped it with bacon, green peppers, pepperoni, and lots of cheese. I never said I was a healthy eater. I cleaned up the kitchen, noticing that the oven door was brown with disgusting caked on gunk. Ex landlady liked to used the word “encrusted”. Well, in the case of our oven, the term fit. So I Googled how to clean oven doors, since I had great success with my quest in finding out how to clean the glass fireplace doors a couple of weeks ago.

Sure enough, some lovely housewife blogger provided a simple hack for cleaning oven doors. That was my project this morning, scrubbing the hell out of the inside of the oven door. I got most of the gunk off.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Bill got home at 9:21pm. I had two slices of pizza for him on a plate that I wrapped and put in the refrigerator. I also brought up his beer from the Advent calendar. We both have different ones, since Master of Malt is no longer shipping to Germany or the United States. I used to get us really fun liquor filled calendars from them.

He had stopped at the grocery store and picked up some food to cook. He wasn’t expecting that I had already cooked. But now there’s food to cook tonight, because he’s working late again. Since he was so happy that I made pizza, I might get inspired again today. Maybe I’ll even get fancy and make something healthier!

Bill was definitely delighted that there was already something for him to eat, but for some reason, he thought of me anyway and brought this home…

And one other thing I did yesterday that involved teamwork was collaborating with another YouTuber. Some time ago, I stumbled across a guitar player named John. We have similar tastes in music. A few days ago, he ran across a recording I did of Joni Mitchell’s song, “Urge for Going”. He wrote to me and said he loved it, and wanted to know if I would be willing to sing it to his guitar playing so he could add some harmony. He says he’s obsessed with harmony. So he sent me a recording of his guitar part.

This was the video John found and liked. On this one, it’s just me and a background recording.

I made a recording with my vocals and John’s guitar yesterday. It wasn’t without difficulty. For some reason, when I try to record lately, the music sometimes skips, ruining the recording. It happens on SingSnap (a karaoke site) and on Garage Band. After many tries, I managed to get a clean rendition. I added a simple harmony line and sent it to John, who added more harmony and added it to his channel. He says he didn’t do much editing because he was busy with work. But it’s our first collaboration. Maybe we’ll do another at some point and things will get further refined.

Not too bad for a first attempt. I’m still working on learning guitar so I can accompany myself more.

Personally, I wouldn’t have put as much harmony on this. I would have confined it to the chorus, which you can hear that I did. But hell, it’s just for fun. I do enjoy listening to him play. We like a lot of the same artists. And I’m flattered that he wanted to collaborate with me in the first place.

I haven’t been doing much singing lately, mainly because of the issue I have with the music skipping. It’s very frustrating. But maybe today, I’ll spend some time finding a solution for that problem, now that I know it’s not confined to SingSnap, as I thought it was. I’ve also done the dishes and am working on the laundry. As soon as I close this post, I’ll practice guitar, and maybe eventually walk the dogs and wrap some Christmas presents… and maybe even finish that book, so I’ll have a new book review ready. I’ve got a bunch of other books waiting to be read.

It’s good to be busy, especially when Bill has to work late. Makes the time pass… And I’m so grateful to YouTube and fellow bloggers for teaching me handy housekeeping tips that my mom never taught me.

P.S. I get a kick out of Bill’s penchant for sending me military-esque emails. I asked him to bring home some more baking soda, vinegar, aluminum foil, and bar soap. His response was “Okay. Acknowledge all.” I’m surprised he didn’t write “Roger.”, which he’s also been known to do.

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book reviews, housekeeping tips, lessons learned, movies

“Well-fed butts!” Barbara Ehrenreich and C. Thomas Howell have something in common.

Like today’s title? I wish I could claim it as my own quote, but I actually read it first in a book by Barbara Ehrenreich. Back in 2001, I was a second year graduate student in a state where I had few friends. I went to the local Barnes & Noble, looking for something interesting to read. I found Ehrenreich’s book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. At that time of my life, I still considered myself fairly conservative in my politics, although looking at today’s right-wingers, I see that I’ve always been more of a moderate. But back then, I voted Republican.

I picked up Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, not knowing anything at all about her. I read about how, at different times from 1998 until 2000, she tried being a member of the “working poor”. She worked at Walmart, Menard’s, a hotel maid, waitress, cleaning woman, and at a nursing home. She moved from Florida to Minnesota, taking the cheapest lodging she could find and whatever jobs she could find. And she tried to live on the wages she was paid. In the course of her research, she lived in trailer parks and at residential hotels. And, at one point, while scrubbing a toilet while working as a cleaning lady, Barbara came up with that beaut of a phrase… “well-fed butt”. She was referring to the comparatively wealthy white people who employed people like she was pretending to be, thinking nothing about what it was like to be a member of the “working poor”, surviving on minimum wage and “not getting by”.

This was the original book cover and the one that is on my hardcover copy. The cover on some editions now look different, because in 2007, the woman in the picture, Kimmie Jo Christensen, sued Ehrenreich’s publisher for using the image without her permission. The photo was originally taken for an unrelated 1986 cover of Fortune magazine. The suit was eventually settled out of court.

At the time that I read Barbara’s book, I was a social work and public health student. In 2001, my focus was exclusively on social work. Oddly enough, I really hadn’t known anything about social work when I applied to the program. I was mostly looking for a way to be employed, making more than the low hourly wages offered at big box stores and waiting tables. I’d had my fill of dealing with the public and wanted to do something less taxing… because, as Barbara Ehrenreich had discovered, there’s no such thing as “unskilled labor”. Even working in food service at Busch Gardens was physically and mentally taxing, on hot days when the park was full of people, lines were long, and tempers were short. For that, I made $4.75 an hour during my last year, back in 1992.

Eight years later, as a graduate student editing and writing about the CDC’s Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, I made $10 an hour. But I only worked ten hours a week, so I had to supplement that money waiting tables at a country club, where I earned $8 an hour, the odd (and rare) tip, and occasional free meals. The rest was paid for by student loans. If only I had discovered Epinions.com back then. I could have made a nice side income writing product reviews. I didn’t discover Epinions, though, until 2003. Sadly, Epinions is now defunct, as are a lot of the other online writing gigs where I used to make my own money.

For some reason, I thought of the phrase “well-fed butts” as I was vacuuming today.. I always vacuum on Thursdays. I hate doing it. This morning, I joked to Bill that I wish I had a riding vacuum cleaner. It just seems like such a pointless activity, since as soon as I’m done sucking up the household dirt and dog hair, one of the dogs or another human invariably tracks more dirt, dog hair, or grass clippings into the house. On the other hand, I am always kind of gratified when I see the canister fill up with debris, which I can later dump into our “black bin” (trash that goes straight to an incinerator, rather than being recycled).

When Barbara wrote of “well-fed butts”, she was leaned over a toilet bowl, scrubbing shit stains and urine splashes. She wrote a snarky comment about how she was making low wages, cleaning up the residue left from “well-fed butts” belonging to rich people who had no appreciation whatsoever for her low paid labors. She had been vacuuming the carpets in a company patented fan style, leaving marks in the pile so that the customer knew that the cleaning woman had properly cleaned. Barbara confessed that the techniques were actually just cosmetic, since the cleaners weren’t using a lot of water or soap as they mopped floors and scrubbed grout. They were under pressure to be fast, so a lot of things got missed. She wrote:

“The first time I encountered a shit-stained toilet as a maid, I was shocked by the sense of unwanted intimacy. A few hours ago, some well-fed butt was straining away on this toilet seat, and now here I am wiping up after it”(54).

It’s interesting to look at Amazon reviews of Nickel and Dimed. The book gets an overall score of 4.3 stars. Many people liked it and learned from it. Others considered Ehrenreich preachy, judgmental, and occasionally racist. More than a few mentioned that as a well-educated woman who was merely acting as a low wage worker, she had no idea of how difficult it really is to be a member of the working poor, especially since she could scrap her experiment at any time. For whatever it’s worth, The Guardian ranked Nickel and Dimed 13th in its list of the 100 best books of the 21st century. Since we’re only 21 years into the 21st century, it seems kind of premature to be ranking books for this century. But writers are always looking for ways to make content, aren’t they?

A trailer for Soul Man… wow… things were cheap in 1986!

Barbara Ehrenreich’s book reminds me of Soul Man, a 1986 movie that was kind of popular, but today would likely be taboo. C. Thomas Howell, who was prior best known as one of the “Wolverines” in the anti-Soviet propaganda film, Red Dawn, played a rich White guy whose family cuts him off from the family fortunes. Howell’s character, Mark Watson, wants to go to law school at Harvard University, but as a rich White person, he doesn’t qualify for financial aid. So, his solution was to take tanning pills and pose as a Black student so he can qualify for a scholarship that is only available to Black people. Naturally, this role required that C. Thomas Howell wear blackface, which led to protests against the film’s release.

Worth watching for this scene. I like James Earl Jones a lot.

Today, Soul Man probably would not have been made, although I remember many television shows and movies where blackface was used in the 80s. In fact, I was watching The Kids in the Hall, a hilarious 90s era CBC/HBO comedy show last week, and noticed that at least two characters were in blackface. James Earl Jones and Rae Dawn Chong were both in this movie. And while many people think Soul Man is “racist”, the last scene kind of sums up things nicely. In that scene, Mark Watson is talking to his law school professor, Professor Banks (James Earl Jones), who tells Watson that now he’s learned what it’s like to be Black. But Watson reminds the professor that he doesn’t actually know what being Black is like, because he could always “escape” it. Real Black people can’t do that. Likewise, Barbara Ehrenreich could have bailed on being a member of the “working poor”. She was a successful writer with education and notoriety who had money. But she didn’t bail, and managed to write a book that was compelling to a lot of people, despite the “woke” naysayers’ complaints.

I think it’s too bad that so many people are so “woke” that they miss the main point sometimes. Our society has gotten to the point at which if you’re not spouting off politically correct rhetoric, you will get shouted down by the masses, many consisting of people who don’t stop to think about anything for more than a minute or two. They read or hear something, have a knee-jerk reaction to it, and just drive on without another thought. They don’t always stop to see the other sides of an issue and think critically. And if you dare to bring up the other sides, they get all ragey about it, which is why comment sections are often useless and reading them does nothing more than raise my blood pressure and occasionally provide fodder for my blog.

Soul Man is kind of cringeworthy on its surface, because it shows a clueless White person pretending to be Black– and frankly, not very convincingly, as I don’t think C. Thomas Howell really pulls off racial appropriation. To me, he doesn’t really pass. But that final scene, in which he talks to his Black Harvard law professor about the trick he pulled, the main idea of the movie is spelled out. And I think a lot of people miss that, and just want to crap on the film because they think it’s “racist”. If it was meant to be a racist film, that last scene would not have been included. That being said… Soul Man is not a great film, in my opinion, although I do think the people who made it had good intentions. But thinking about Barbara Ehrenreich’s book this morning made me remember it.

Rae Dawn Chong, who is mixed race– Black, White, and Asian– reportedly was very offended that Spike Lee took exception to Soul Man. She said:

“It was only controversial because Spike Lee made a thing of it… He’d never seen the movie and he just jumped all over it,” she added, recalling that it was a time when Lee was coming up in his career and making headlines for being outspoken.

“He was just starting and pulling everything down in his wake,” Chong asserted. “If you watch the movie, it’s really making white people look stupid.”

That was my take, too… although my favorite part of Soul Man was the music. The soundtrack was pretty excellent, if I recall correctly.

In any case… I hope my days of being a member of the working poor are over, for I know that is not an easy status. But one never knows what the future holds. I have been very lucky, but as Don Henley pointed out in his song, “New York Minute”, everything can change in an instant. One minute you’re here, the next minute you’re gone… So I try to keep that in mind as I clean up after the two well-fed human butts and two well fed canine butts in my household and feel great relief when my vacuuming chore is over for the week.

Bill managed to get his second Moderna shot yesterday. He was feeling okay until about 3:00am, when the shot kicked in. He woke up this morning feeling achy and flu-like. I’m glad we washed all the bedding yesterday, so he can enjoy clean sheets while he recovers. He worked so many hours in Bavaria that he’s taking most of this week off. I wish we could have used the time off to see some of Europe, but the weather has been positively horrible lately. It’s currently 54 degrees outside and cloudy. Yesterday and Tuesday, it rained for most of the day. I did catch a rainbow, though…

I hope this is a good omen.

Well, it’s time I got on with the rest of the day. I don’t know if I recommend Nickel and Dimed. I liked it a lot when I read it, but at 20 years old, it’s now a bit dated. But I do like that turn of a phrase, “well fed white butts”… and I hope Barbara Ehrenreich meant it when she expressed empathy for the working poor… just like I hope C. Thomas Howell learned something from his turn as “Mark Watson, Soul Man”. I guess Barbara Ehrenreich and C. Thomas Howell really do have something in common besides having well-fed butts of their own.

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