Saturday, August 31, 2013

A NEW PACK OF COLORAYS

Who knew there were people spending their time and money collecting old pencils?  When I think of all the aged pencils I've thrown in the trash!  While I love a good pen (black uni-ball, nothing fancy),  I am a fancier of a proper pencil.  Not exactly a proper pencil, usually a certain mechanical pencil.  Someday, when Princess is going through all my worldly possessions, she will remember her mother kindly and my penchant for purchasing a pack of pencils anytime I even thought about a needed office supply.   

I have never bought anything on E-Bay but I have spent hours looking at things.  A friend of mine started collecting all of her childhood games.  It was like Christmas all over again being able to touch these long lost friends. Maybe for Christmas, I could ask for old pencils.

I was sitting here thinking of my favorite school supplies and decided to do a google search on my very favorite item, my Coloray Colored Pencils.  Somewhere, in one of my few boxes marked "Amy Childhood," I can see a leftover one, definitely  a blue.  Right now, I have no clue where that lone ranger is or I would take a picture to prove its existence. 
Big Hair in Texas

I don't know if it was the most expensive set of colored pencils but I know it wasn't the cheapest.  My pencils came inside of a long, clear, plastic pouch with a plastic tab top that folded down and was held in place by a white plastic, vertical strip.  Inside, I think the rainbow of colors were held in place by a lightweight cardboard tray.  I can see the colors in my head - green, light green, blue, light sky blue, red, pink, peach, brown, black, orange, purple and white.  I always kept mine in the proper sequence. 

In my early years, I loved to draw and for my age, was fairly decent.  When I was in school, we had an art class every day and a music class.  My art class was one of my favorites.  I do remember that my teacher's sister-in-law was Joan Blondell.  At the time, I didn't know much about her except she was an actress.  I still enjoy watching a Joan Blondell movie on occasion.  Afterall, this was Texas and there are a lot of famous folks from Texas.  Somewhere in that same box of childhood memorabilia is a signed photograph from Miss World.  She lived in our neighborhood.  Three of us girls walked over and rang her doorbell one afternoon.  She was pretty and very nice to us.  See, we had fame living right in our neck of the woods.  I don't think Mr. Trump was a factor in the pageant at this time.

I loved my pencils because they worked well.  My style was outline and color in.  The pencil had great control for outlining and was easy to maneuver for different methods of shading or pure coloring.  Okay, I was only in grade school.  But that modern little plastic contraption full of color(one of my favorite things in the world, color) gave me a special feeling, an imagined boost of confidence.

Today I need to go buy school supplies.  I may put it off until tomorrow.  Going to Martz anytime near the beginning of school is my least favorite thing to do.  Or on a Thursday night or Saturday afternoon.  My mother lives maybe a mile away and she just jumps in the car and makes a visit for a couple of items.  My location is not so convenient.

But I will make a list and head out this weekend.  I don't have a school supply aged child anymore.  For the second year in a row, my Sunday School class is collecting supplies for a non-profit organization.  Two ladies saw a need to feed the children in their neighborhood.  Their hard work and organizational skills have created a viable, much-needed oasis for the children living in this sea of poverty and hunger.  The positive results have also brought nationwide attention to this impoverished area of our nation.

My lovely crayon drawing is included just because I knew where it was.  I have no idea about what I was thinking at the time, maybe a Queen and Princesses? 

Soon I will be off to shop.  I will buy the standard stuff but I will keep my eyes and my ears open for that special thing the kiddos are looking for.  I know that somewhere out there, a little child has yet to discover the wonder of a new box of Crayons or the magic of a mechanical pencil and what can happen when the two meet up with fresh white paper.

Signed,

a woman standing in line (of course, despite 29 checkout lanes) with a neat box of pencils  

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A DREAM EVERY DAY (OP-ED)


Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the first people I want to meet when I get to heaven because he dared to have a dream.  The God-given hope and direction of a man who was a gifted preacher and prophet filled the nation’s Capital fifty years ago today.  What a wonderful world it would be if we could all have even a sliver of that same hope. 

The walk on Washington was not a particular memory for me at the time.  I was too young to understand.  My mother does remember watching it on television.  However, the event four months later would become my earliest, defined memory.

In my earliest years, I do remember watching riots on the television and seeing dogs attacking people and water being used to subdue and disperse crowds.  These images were disturbing for a child.  One of the best gifts my parents gave me was a love for all people and a living example of The Golden Rule.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot, I asked my mother what a “negro” was.  She told me that M. was a negro.  M. worked for my grandparents and I had known her all of my life.  “Oh, her skin is a different color.”  I was already being raised to judge a person by the content of their character.

Although it was not for good, I have been judged by the color of my skin.  Neither were pleasant experiences and both were desperate attempts to gain power.  One was to make sure I was white and the other was because I wasn’t black.  This was at a time of great racial tension in the education system, when integration and busing were struggles in every community.  I was living in a different state each time.

In this day and time, I think most people have been judged by the color of their skin.  Our country has a rainbow of colors.  A few years ago, my family toured The King Center in Atlanta.  For me, it was a reverent time of reflection, reminding me again of the importance of Dr. King’s message.  I felt the same feeling of reverence when I went to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  These places stand as more than a monument to a persecuted people but also as a twisted monument to the human soul when hate takes anchor, pulling a nation downward.

I stood in line that day in Atlanta, waiting to sign a book of reflection.  A young African-American woman was in front of me, writing a few sentences.  She stepped away from the book. Imagine my shock when I looked down and read her racist comments.  I wrote a few words and came away, amazed that she didn’t get the message which was all around her.

But now, thinking about it, I should not be surprised.  So many things have not changed, especially in the South. 

Every Sunday morning, fine Christian men tuck their shirts into their pants, held up by the Bible Belt of the South.  I have heard their ugly whisperings, directing their hate at an image on the television, judging a man by the color of his skin.  However, their judgments are made impotent by the lack of content in their character.  These same men and women lifting their praises to God on Sunday and  whispering their racist bitterness at lunch the next day.

Many years ago, a senator from Illinois came to town, stumping for a fellow politician.  My Daddy had been following the politics of this young man.  We sat on the steps of the Capital, at the foot of the casual podium, listening to this brief speech.  When you are close enough to hold eye contact with a man, in that brief second there is a bond of relationship.  My Daddy began the last year of his life watching this Barack Hussein Obama take the oath of office as President of the United States.  My father cried tears of joy.  He carried a New Testament in his briefcase and The Prayer of St. Francis in his wallet.  And Jesus in his heart.

Hate is easy because it is natural.  Love is not easy.  But love is the answer today just as it was fifty years ago.   And every day is an opportunity to act on the dream where all are created equal. 

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.


O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

 

 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

DOUBLE FIRST COUSINS, SOUTHERN COMFORT AND JUST DESSERTS - SOUTHERN FAMILY REUNIONS


Summer in the South usually means at least one family reunion with first, second and third cousins, and sometimes double first cousins.  Double first cousins are not cousins marrying cousins, but the offspring of sisters marrying brothers.  You cannot be raised in the South and not know who your people are.  You will be asked more than once, when meeting new folks, if you are related to the Judge with your last name, but you say no, because his people didn’t come from middle Tennessee in the 1870s.  Even my Yankee (anyone whose sun sets north of the Mason-Dixon Line) friends admit we tend to keep up better with family.


The origins of these reunions are often found in birthday celebrations.  Grandpa may still be rocking on the front porch but Grandma seems to get the parties.  In family pictures, Grandma is usually a severe-looking, bun wearing, snuff-toting, Bible thumping woman who has spent her better days looking out for everyone but herself.  After tending fields, making clothes, plucking chickens, nursing babies, and stirring pots; without any modern conveniences like warmed baby wipes, satellite TV, fast food fries, e-mail, or hormones in a bottle; well, you get the picture, the old lady finally gets well deserved recognition. 
 
Grandma’s birthday becomes a holiday with a grown passel of kids wanting to party at the old home place in the country.  My two family reunions are the result of Grandmas’ birthdays in July and August.  They started over seventy years ago with big kisses from Grannie and “The Aunts” wearing cool cotton dresses, sturdy black shoes and sensible summer hats.  Today, the great aunts sit comfortably in the air-conditioning in their polyester pants and tennis shoes.    


The July reunion is on my father’s side.  There is a four-generation picture with me, as a baby, sitting on my great-grandma’s lap.  She was very old.  Eleven years ago, the last of her twelve surviving children died.  This reunion has evolved from the old home place, a city park, the air-conditioned community center, another outdoor venue due to unforeseen circumstances and a weekend reunion at a nice-sized country hotel with a pool and a big dining room complete with a kitchen for all the cooks to gather around.  For two years, we are now meeting about an hour south in another state, where most of the cousins now live.  We get together Friday night and have lunch at noon.  Everyone wears a nametag, which is very helpful, as you only see these people once a year unless someone dies or has a long hospitalization.  I’ll never forget driving down to the family cemetery on a cold, foggy January day (a 3-4 hour drive for most of these folks) and a huge hosts of my Daddy’s cousins were there to pay their last respects.  That is family. 

 
Our fun would begin when we got to M and P’s house on Friday night.  My sister and I would run to the kitchen to see what sweets M had fixed for her baby, our Daddy.  On a sugar high, we would jump into the rollaway bed on the sleeping porch, lying right under the window unit.  The casement windows around the whole room were adequate for ventilation only on cool, non-humid summer nights in South Arkansas in a time before Freon.  Being a city girl, I loved the artificially chilled air.  On Saturday morning, the smell of bacon would wake us up.  Bacon, eggs, toast, oatmeal, juice, milk, coffee, peach preserves and sorghum.  P set the breakfast table every night before retiring.     

 
Sunday came early as all the cooks crowded their hips into M’s kitchen to pack up all the food and head for the community center.  The old home place is now a grazing field and not family-owned but we did have a “singing” on the property a few years back.  Spread out on tables in the air-conditioned, fly-free room are, at the very least, garden fresh tomatoes, fried okra, buttered corn, purple hull peas, squash casserole, sliced purple onions, bacon seasoned green beans, dressing, macaroni, cucumber salad and a couple of jello salads. 
 
 
 Stuffed bell peppers are lined up next to pot roasts and briskets.  Homemade fried chicken and store bought fried catfish.   A dessert table laden with caramel pie, banana pudding with meringue, jam cake, chocolate cake, peach cobbler.  Milk jugs labeled sweet and unsweet.   More than enough to feed one hundred people.  A look around the room reveals we eat what we cook because it is truly Southern comfort.  After seconds and thirds, family matters.  Births, weddings, graduations, and a moment of silence for those not with us this year.  This side of my family is more weepy but there is a lump in your throat when they say your loved one’s name.  Then we pass the hat, or plate, nowadays.  By the time you drive off, your first button is undone and you fight the tide of sugar calling you to slumber.



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Labor Day Sunday reunion is on my mother’s side.  For almost every Labor Day weekend of my life, I headed to G and P’s.  We would have a little family reunion on Saturday and depart on Sunday morning for the drive to see our extended family.  Ten people would fill up two cars.  I always wanted the car without my parents.  My sister and I would be dressed in our new back-to-school dresses and shoes, whatever the temperature.  If you rode with my queasy cousin, you might get a bottle coke when we stopped to get her one.  Coca-Cola is good for what ails you.

 
Family still owned the farm, complete with a red barn, whispering to city children to come see the charms of the country, and the smells.  In our brand new finery, we would climb halfway up the hayloft ladder and jump into a huge pile of hay on the hard dirt floor.  Miraculously, no one was ever hurt.  When we were sticky, dusty and hot, the bottomless ice drink coolers offered every kind of cold coke.  In the South, Coke, not Pop, is universal for any sweet carbonated drink like Dr. Pepper, 7-Up, NuGrape, IBC Root Beer, and certainly, Coca-Cola.  Every reunion we counted up how many drinks we guzzled.  These were the days when children drank milk and water all week long. 

 
This reunion was still held outdoors.  The only respite was when you were standing inside, in line to use the bathroom which had been added to the back bedroom of the original home place.  The bed would be piled with purses while ladies checked their lipstick in the bureau mirror.  The men used the hall bath.  Drinking eight cokes sent me in and out of the house.  At noon, everyone gathered around another food-laden table made of sawhorses and planks.  This dinner had the addition of exotic meats.  During the prayer, everyone closed their eyes so they wouldn’t see the flies having a field day on the disrobed food.  Several ladies could not fan every square inch of food.

 

My P was always in charge of this reunion.  He spent many, many hours in genealogy studies, long before online services.  He would’ve loved having a computer and the information highway at his fingertips.  Now my sister has moved hundreds of miles away, living in the same town our people started out from over a hundred years ago, looking for dreams and fresh land.  In a way, she has found a new dream in this faraway land, completing the circle.

 

Signed,

 A lady holding a plate of southern comfort and another plate piled with just desserts      

p.s. Grab the dessert plate first and be sure and get a taste of my Pina Colada Cheesecake, it’s a special request

Monday, August 26, 2013

THE ABILITY TO SURPRISE


Mimosa, Mulberry, Redbud.  Mulberry, Mulberry, Ash.  These trees graced the front and back yard of the house where I grew up.  Except for the Redbud, they were all climbable.  The Mimosa was the easiest for little legs, except it was dangerous and short lived.  My first wasp sting occurred as I poured watery mud on a wasp building a home in a crook of the tree, leaving me with a wallop under my eyebrow.  After years of pink feathery parachutes, my father cut the tree back too much and it didn’t prosper anymore.   

The fruitless Mulberry in front shaded the yard outside of my bedroom.  After dark, it filtered car lights and the light from the streetlight coming through the shuttered window.  We hardly ever climbed this tree.  The backyard Mulberrys were the best, but for different reasons.  The tree closest to the back fence became accessible when my aunt gave us a rope ladder.  Once we got up there, we figured out a system for coming up without the ladder.  Rope ladders are probably too dangerous these days, but my sister and I had fun swinging on it, even at the same time.  I remember a limb that hung out over the top of the swing set.  I shimmied down that way a time or two.  But it was also enjoyable just to sit up in the tree and pass time thinking.  What had once been difficult became easy, as my physical prowess increased, giving me a sense of mastery over the tree. 

The Mulberry next to the house had unique history.  One day I zipped up the tree.  Before long, my mother opened the back door, calling me to come in the house for supper.  Of course, I ignored her, looking down on her from the tree.  She called again and I ignored again.  She went back in the house to turn down the stove.  The third time was the charm, but not for me.  She came out on the patio and told me to get down from that tree.  Testing the limbs, I said, “Not unless you come get me,” knowing she couldn’t climb a tree.  Never forget for the rest of your life, that your mother always has the ability to surprise you.  She hoisted herself into the tree, somewhat gracefully.  I understood immediately and followed her down.  But she was so good to surprise me one more time.  She pointed to the scratchy Ash tree, which we never climbed for that reason, and told me to get a switch.  It didn’t take much of a switching to get her point across.  I never again taunted her with “not until you come get me.”

 In hindsight, that memory is amazing, just to picture.  I kept on climbing the tree until we moved, but my favorite climbing time was after dark.  This tree went much higher into the sky, with sturdy limbs.  Being a native Texan, I loved the flatness that afforded me a panoramic view stop lights, car lights, far off Downtown, and the colorful signs found in shopping villages.  This seat was special.  I knew I loved every inch of everything spread before me in my secret world.  I could look up to see stars twinkling overhead and look across to see my hometown sparkling.  But the best was looking down on the patio, where the glow from the den and kitchen, fell out in checkered squares across the concrete as that tree-climbing Mama fixed supper.                      

 

 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

IT'S FRIDAY IT MUST BE 2'S DAY

It's 2:00 a.m. and the moon is calling my name.  The Blue Moon to be specific.  I know the time because I checked my clock.  The bright moonlight is bouncing off the playhouse and reflecting into the bedroom.  Some months it doesn't bother me.  But this is a blue moon.  Even Google is in on this phenomenon with a delightful video of the moon and a blue scene set to the music of Clair de Lune.  I am partial to this beautiful piano music because it was played during a prelude before our wedding.  Two gifted musicians, one on the organ and the other on the piano, provided the wedding concert.  Even waiting in the wings, I could occasionally hear the music.  I digress.

Randomonium is a word I made up a few years ago and wrote down on a piece of paper.  I don't know if I heard it somewhere or whatever.  That piece of paper has been floating around with my other pieces of paper.  But it is a perfect description of my not always organized life.  To catch a thought was another idea.  Both have the same definition.  "Whatever comes to my mind in no particular order."

Thinking about the blue moon made me think of my blue moon hanging in one of the kitchen windows.  A blue moon can occur if enough ash is in the sky, according to NASA.  It can also be a seasonal lunar occurrence.    I got my blue moon years ago, on a day trip to my favorite little artsy town with my oldest best friend.  We were twelve when we met.  I have lost count of the number of addresses between us as we have made an effort to stay in contact, before the ease of email and cell phones.  I know that makes me sound old but for most of us, it is very easy to remember a world before these wonderful inventions.

My blue moon is a piece of smoky blue glass in the shape of a crescent with the word "Once" sitting on the curve of the crescent.  The artist had been inspired by the recent Mount St. Helen's volcanic explosion.  "Once upon a blue moon" describes something that rarely happens.  K. and I felt like that described our friendship and she gave me the moon.  It has been hanging in my house ever since. 

Then I thought about my bedside clock.  I purchased it at Walmart when I was a pattern tester for a publisher of craft books.  Basically, I was paid to sit around in my p.j.'s and cross-stitch a design.  I had to keep an accurate record and this little clock has been by my side ever since.  It has a nice little tick tock.  This was a great job for a stay-at-home mom.  I did this for about ten years, sometimes 40 hours a week, even while working other part-time jobs.  Great fun!  But then the jobs were sent overseas.  I practically live on this company's patio as compared to overseas.

And that made me think of It's Friday It Must Be 2's Day.  Something lighter for Fridays.  A pairing of some of my favorite things, maybe even with pictures.  All photos on this blog are taken by me unless noted. 

Randomonium also stands for my different array of writing.  I love poetry and have been writing poetry maybe longer than I have been writing.  A close tie.  A couple of years ago, I began to pursue that part of my writing in earnest, by submitting work for contests and attending poetry conferences.  This next week I have two deadlines for submissions.  And being the random person that I am, of course, I have not completed the task!

So for the next few days, I will be busy looking at work to submit.  I did place in a contest a couple of years ago, so I like to say I'm an award-winning poet. (Ha)  I write free-verse but I have been trying to teach myself other forms.

There is a big difference between "postmarked by" and "delivered by" which I discovered once when entering one of my first contests.  This could have been the day I discovered my own personal random pandemonium.  Thankgoodness for Fed Ex.  And that was my winning contest.  Now I study the directions, intensely.

Nothing like the present.  I am a citizen of the great country, procrasti - nation.  A group of talented folks who believe in putting things off to the last minute.

I will use all my personal discipline to get this task completed so that I may return to the joy of sitting down and writing my heart out, randomly, of course.

** Dust and cobwebs can be seen in the photos.   

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

PRINCE BURT

Princes and toads.  Kisses and Wishes.  I've kissed toads and a couple of Dukes from minor municipalities, but I knew I'd found my Prince with that very first kiss.  However, when I met this person, it was not love at first sight on either side.


The summer before my junior year of college, I moved into the basement apartment of my parents' house in a new town which is home to the largest state university.  I was transferring to the university but not happy.  Even though I had been in summer school and worked at a temporary job, I had only met a couple of girls to run around with.  When your parents move to a new town while you are in college, it's not the same.  While the move was for good, positive reasons, it wasn't "my hometown."  But as my family truly believes, home is where your family is.  Thank goodness I was learning to be adaptable.  For this period of my life, it felt like I was always leaving just when I felt like I belonged. 

To meet new people, I decided to attend a weekend retreat sponsored by one of the denominational student fellowship groups on campus.  One of my friends went with me.  Another new student rode with us in the back seat of our assigned car.   

First, I must give credit before I give anymore description.  This was a period of time when this person was known to resemble Burt Reynolds.  Sally Field, with Burt at the wheel of their Firebird, were burning up the roads, driving in and out of convoys across the South (in movies).  A lot of kids had CB radios in their cars and everyone seemed to have a handle to go with it.  My handle was Chantilly Lace even though I had no car or CB radio.   And yes, this person did bear a slight resemblance to Burt Reynolds or as we now say, Burt did bear a slight resemblance to this person.  But I will never forget our very first meeting.

His CB handle could have been Goofy.  I had no clue that my husband-to-be was sitting in the car with me.  His friend was driving and together, they were a pair of  goofballs, laughing and cutting up.  My friend and I were just grateful to arrive at the retreat and be shed of those boys.  He and his friend were wearing the same type of get up. This person was wearing navy track shorts trimmed in white; tall, white tube socks with navy and green bands; sneakers and the kicker, a tank shirt like the old undershirt my grandfather wore. But he was cute.  However, I met a new friend that weekend, one of the Dukes, who never saw the forest for the trees.

After the retreat, a group of us, (including this person) started running around together, becoming good friends, but we didn't date each other.  On the weekends, we would pile into a couple of cars and head out.  Our favorite spot was A.'s house and her endless supply of homemade pizzas.  (We visited her last year and she is still putting a feast on the table!)  There were always 2-3 guitars and a banjo and me playing the spoons.  A good old-fashioned hoedown.  "Rocky Top" was a crowd favorite even though it was not our school song.

Duke and I also spent a lot of time together but we weren't dating.  This person and I had become friends because he was fun and nice to everyone (and just as cute as Burt).  Right before Valentine's Day, I received a card from him, which really shocked me, in a good way.  (I later found out that he had sent cards to a few other girls he liked!)  Several of us needed a ride to another town to sing for a High School Valentine banquet.  This person volunteered his huge plum four door Pontiac Catalina.  I obviously know how to pick 'em because Duke had an orange car.  None of my boyfriends had boring vehicles.

Coming home the next day, we were all singing with the radio.  This was the early spring of  '81. My favorite, Dan Fogelberg, was all over the radio with numerous hits from his Double Platinum album, The Innocent Age.   

Dan, my music man, was singing about meeting "my old lover in the grocery store, the snow was falling Christmas Eve."   "Auld Lang Syne" is inspired by a true story when he ran into an old girlfriend in his hometown of Peoria, Illinois.  In the song, the old girlfriend is talking about her life.  "She said she married her an architect, who kept her warm and safe and dry.  She would have liked to said she loved the man but she didn't like to lie."  I perfectly remember at that moment, turning and looking at this person driving the car and wondering if I was going to marry that architect.  Out of the blue.

I have loved that architect for over thirty-one years.  He has been exceptional in the "warm and safe and dry" department.  The road has had some potholes.  One time, on a stretch of lonely road, the fog was so bad we couldn't see.  We turned around to head for safety and when driving home the next morning, we discovered we had turned around in the middle of a curve. We could have perished.  We have also traveled some magnificent highways with breathtaking vistas and side roads chocked full of laughter and the adventure of raising our daughter.   Faith, family and love have held us together.

Breaker, breaker.  Chantilly Lace and Goofy heading on down the highway, singing, "It all started with a kiss, like this..." Born To Sway. *
 


*With apologies to Aerosmith.

   

Monday, August 19, 2013

A NINE CENT TIP - SO UNLIKE ME


I wish the power had not gone out.  Waitperson never came back to collect my black envelope of payment so I left it on the table while I retrieved my mini flashlight.  (Don't like to be caught in the dark, ever.)  I was so hoping he would reach to take it and I would say, “Keep the change.”   Or he would have returned with all of the nine cents stuck in the little inside pocket.  Then I could have playfully arranged four pennies and one nickel on the table where I had sat.

My threshold for mistakes or accidents or unforeseen circumstances is very high.  However, my tolerance for injustice (my own or another person’s) is negligible.  Maybe just enough to get me away from the situation before I step up to home plate and bat it out of the park.  I don’t do stupid injustice well.  Never have.

One of my best friends in college was a waitress before we met.  She had worked long hours at a hamburger restaurant serving all kinds of food.  National franchise.  Located beside the only mall in a fifty mile radius, the restaurant was always busy.  She is one of the hardest working people I know.  A not very tall at all dynamo.  She told me waitress stories about working with the public. 

My father was always a careful tipper.  He measured a good tip by the number of times his water glass was refilled.  I learned by watching his actions and what he considered good service.  He spent a lifetime in retail knowing how to keep the customer happy in a time when the customer was ALWAYS right.   Of course, JQ Public was very loyal and brand conscious and expected good service.   

Well, I didn't get good service last night.  And I won't mention where I was dining (national chain).  Of course, I don't plan on returning.  Only  my second trip to this establishment in eight years.  They should have a vacancy sign flashing in front of their villa.  

When I placed my order, I specifically asked the waiter about an item, pointing to it on the menu.  I wanted this, not this one, and the little appetizer.  I didn't want the "entrĂ©e."  He nodded his head.  The order arrives and it is the two things I ordered, so at this point I am assuming we got it right.

I am at a big table with a lot of women.  And truth be told, this type of customer base is not flush with big tips, which is not the way properly behaved women should be.  And that is a pet peeve of mine, women or men, people who expect perfect service and get it, and then don't tip fairly.  It's cheap and rude.  Can you tell this really bugs me?

A person taking the order, filling the drink order, bringing the chips, refilling the drinks, carrying two plates on each arm, and bringing back more napkins, oh, and my favorite, reciting the salad dressing menu, makes a lot less than minimum wage.  That is just the business.  And in a lot of cases, they have to tip the busboy and anyone else helping to put your meal, just perfect, on the table.   

And you begrudge them 20%?  I've been hearing the arguments for too long.  Even if it's not the way you think the world should rotate on its axis, if that is the right way to go, just go the right way.  Enough of defending the wait people.  My bar for good service is set high.  My family knows my penchant for fair, good tips.  

Mr. Wait Guy, here are my real tips for you, free.  Listen to the customer's questions.  Make sure you communicate well beforehand.  Keep those water glasses full.  Don't start passing out the black bill envelopes while people are still eating at the table.  Or the to-go boxes.  And when the bill does come and a customer has a question, remember, long ago the customer was always right.  Most people are not out to get you.  So many times, it is not the cost but the principle.  In my case, an extra minute of polite explanation could have salvaged a tip and a customer.  I didn't see anyone waiting for our tablet.  Local established restaurants, with more to offer, have closed recently.  There is only so much lunch money to go around.

The only good thing I have to say is that your employer didn't automatically pin an 18% gratuity to the ticket because of the large group.  If I had been in the tipping mood, that would have been in your in favor.  Some folks would say, why leave any tip?  But I left the nine cents so you would know you need to step up your game.

signed,
a woman with money in her pocket
 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I NEED A NEAT FREAK

What is normal?   A few years ago, our state suffered a big ice storm and we lost power in the middle of cooking dinner.  The kettle was on for hot water for iced tea and the dishwasher was going.  For three nights, we all three slept together in the king bed, in all the clothes we could wear on our body and still move, plus the 65 pound dog who had a fur coat.  Faithful Boy Scout kept our main room warm and cooked gourmet dinners on our real log fireplace.  On the fourth day, our car was able to creep down the hill, around the corner, and up another hill to the home of our friends with power. 
  
A day later, we returned home after the official “power” call and opened the back door, stepping into standing water.  The once full kettle was now welded to the stove and wet particleboard mounded up underneath the vinyl flooring.  The den carpet was soggy.  Repairs were finally in progress six months later when we had a big batch of overnight company.  The fridge was moved into the den and the kitchen flooring was in progress.  I didn't cook.  This was our first experience with renovations.

Now we are into three months and weeks of voluntary renovations.  We are crossing our fingers.  The painters have arrived.  I have always been "the painter" but not this time.  I go to sleep at night imagining the rooms painted in their new colors, the towels hanging on rods not door handles and a bathroom where I don't have to ask the painter to step outside.  We have one shower, one toilet, three lavatories, and not one completely functioning bathroom.  This discomfort is in exchange for 2 1/2 brand new totally renovated baths.  As I like to say, we are closer to the finish than we have ever been.
 
Only the closest of family and friends have been allowed inside.  The house is topsy-turvy, way beyond the 100 year disaster plan.  Besides the squalor, most people are fascinated by the amount of dust.  I could write a novel on any tabletop.  But when there is de-construction and sanding particles wafting through the ducts, dusting is hopeless.  At first I had sheets over everything.  But we do live here.

More than one person has suggested I get some help in righting this trophy of renovation.  I am in the market for a neat freak who is not afraid of a little dust.  Ha.  If you can answer yes to any of these questions, do not bother to answer my ad.  However, if you can have company without three weeks notice....

****

Do you lose keys, never to find them?  Have you ever put dirty dishes in the washing machine to hide them?  Do you step over Rover's hair fluffs, over and over?  Is the vacuum cleaner an object de art, standing in the middle of the den for weeks on end?   Is there mold in the coffee carafe?  Do you have a drawer full of unused files and index tabs?  Do you have three different water glasses on the bathroom countertop?  Do you have a sticky maraschino cherry glued to the inside fridge door?  Do you have unidentified stuff in the little indention under the sliding veggie/fruit drawer?  Do you have nose prints on all the windows, at dog level, made by the previous dog?  Do you have bottled water that has gone bad?  Do you have charcoal forming in your oven?  Do your towels have hems?  Do you have 78 cans of spray starch on top of the washing machine and one lid?  Do you have trash from yesterday still on the kitchen stoop in the garage?  Do you have an eternal ham in the freezer?  Do you have five shoes under the kitchen table?  Do you have dust on your Chinese marbles?  Do you have three shoeboxes in the chair?  Do you have sour cream going bad before the expiration date?  Did you make lunch with stale bread and iridescent turkey?  Do you have stitching floss hanging off your suit coat?  Do any of your clocks have the same time?  Do you have the contents of your purse in a plastic bag?  Do you have dried flowers that were once fresh?  Do you know where the phone is before it rings?    Do you have mismatched candles?  Do you have the old faucet, wrapped in a towel, on the dining room table?  Do you have two liquor store boxes full of bathroom shelf junk stacked up for an end table in the den?  Does dog hair coordinate nicely with your upholstery?  Does your husband leave you notes in the dust on top of the piano?      

Signed,

a lady looking for a white glove
    
 
 

Friday, August 16, 2013

PERFECT ICED TEA EVEN IN THE MORNING

Or in the middle of the night when you get up and go in the kitchen for a glass of milk.  Being a good judge of all things Southern (the good parts), I say a person who drinks iced tea in the middle of the night has a Southern gene in their body.  Another indication would be the drinking of a glass first thing in the morning.  Right off the bat, let me say, this is not about how many cups of sugar are in the brew.

(Picture courtesy of AT)

 My parents always made good iced tea.  I would ask them how and they would say "this, this, and this."  But I had a hard time duplicating.  At family reunions, there are always cleaned out milk jugs marked "sweet" and "unsweet."  Beverage companies are jumping on the iced tea bandwagon after someone figured out bottled tap water would sell.  There is only one brand I like/only purchased in an iced tea emergency and I'm not telling.  Like everything else, homemade is better.    Good grief.  I'd been married for almost thirty years and I was still looking for the holy grail of ice tea perfection. 

I am a good cook.  I just decided I was going to practice and come up with the perfect recipe for iced tea. Sometimes the most common and easiest of things allude us. Doesn't everybody in the South know how to make iced tea?  Somehow I missed out on that lesson.  I can tell you how to fix Chicken Fried Steak, Flatsy Patsy (cobbler), Cornbread, and Purple Hull Peas. (Just to name a few.)  And I can say "Bless Her Heart" while smiling and not move my lips.

Here is the recipe I came up with.  A fridge magnet holds up my recipe (with Clark Gable's pic and "Frankly, my dear" spelled out).  I try not to curse but I did yell a big cuss word after I fell down the steps the other day.  I apologized to my painters.  After all, I am a new Sunday School teacher, not a perfect person.


Amy's Perfect Iced Tea    Guarantea'd

   FILL a four cup teapot with cold water
   PUT on stove and boil water
   REMOVE from heat
   ADD 4 individual-sized tea bags*** (I prefer the tried and true brand name)
   COVER with the teapot lid (little tags hanging out)
   STEEP for 8 minutes (to soak, to cover or plunge in liquid, to saturate) I set a timer.
   WHILE the tea is steeping
   PREPARE a 2 quart plastic jug (I prefer plastic because glass can shatter.)
   ADD 4 cups of ice to the jug
   (Sister has lived in the Deep South and likes to drink Iced Tea Syrup.  I prefer very little sweet or just straight.)
    IF I add something sweet:  2 tablespoons of sugar  OR 1 good squeeze of honey
    BUZZER goes off
    POUR hot brewed tea over ice in the jug.  Stir with spoon if sweet has been added.
    FILL large glass with ice and pour in ICED TEA.  Add lemon or lime slice to taste.
    POUR fresh iced tea from the plastic pitcher into crystal pitcher (for show).
    SIP, GUZZLE and ENJOY!

***I now make DECAF/CAFF tea.  Instead of 4 teabags,  ADD 1 FAMILY-SIZED DECAF bag and 2 INDIVIDUAL tea bags.  Everything else stays the same.

Anyone, North, South, East, or West, can consistently enjoy delicious iced-tea, with this process and the measurements.

For Iced Tea emergency, contact Amy's Iced Tea Hotline where good tea is guarantea'd.

   
   
  

  
  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

BOYS OF SUMMER




Every year we pay our pool dues.   When we moved here sixteen years ago, the neighborhood pool area was a huge enticement.   Our first house, The Cottage House offered three swimming options; a ten minute drive to another neighborhood, a garden hose and a kiddie pool, or a thirty minute jaunt way out in the country to an old metal bridge famous for a clean, clear swimming hole.  So when we made the move out west to The Mansion, the nearby, chlorinated neighborhood pool was like enjoying a coconut sno-cone in the shade.  Irresistible. 
 
The dues are not a covenant requirement but without them the pool is off limits.  They are a guarantee for the couple of times per summer when we get the urge to put a swimsuit on and go public.  The last few years it has basically become our contribution to the continued beautification of our subdivision.  I think KT went once last year.
 
Our attendance for this year was a couple of weeks ago.  The water was perfect due to cooler days and decent rainfall compared with the true drought of last year.  And I have a new bathing tent which means the fabric is still firm and the print not dulled by sand, sea or chlorine.  I am always going to get in the water because that’s where the fun is.  But after paparazzi beach pictures surfaced last summer, I banned photogs.  I’m no longer a bathing beauty and things have happened to my body I find too shocking to reveal for a permanent record.  But since we are such good friends, I did enclose this current shot of me headed for the pool.
 
 
 

While we were up to our ears in blue water, I thought of this piece I wrote a while back.

    

 ********

Tomorrow is the first day of school.  With a heat index of 108 this afternoon, it makes perfect sense to start the new school year during the Pit Bull days of summer.  Enticed by the thought of cool water, we headed to the pool while M.G. stayed home, working on her summer homework due in two days.  She is required to turn in a printed document containing her answers for twenty-four questions about the three books on her summer reading list.  Each answer must be at least half a page.  The fact that she has already read her books makes me question if she is really my girl.  I know somewhere out there a parent is cracking a whip over a teenager strapped to an armchair with only water and The Grapes of Wrath for sustenance.

 While she toils, we broil in our 30 SPF-coated, delicate, middle-aged skin.  Floating on neon noodles and a mesh float, we are constantly paddling out of the way of splashing, screaming kids, trying to aim ourselves in the right position for the strongest rays.  As kids, suntan lotion, not sunscreen, was used to enhance the tanning ability or just not used at all.  I remember lying on my bed, trying to sleep as the Solarcaine and Noxema vapors wafted above my body, tearing my eyes.  Today we are trying to get a healthy glow.
 
The late afternoon of the last day before school has enticed children of all ages, except teenagers, to fill the pool.   The lone teenage girl only uses the pool for a refreshing dip from the strenuous task of lying out and watching the cute lifeguard as he tests the pool ph.  Behind her darkly shaded eyes, she imagines being rescued when he jumps in to save her.  The bubble is burst when a saucy lass brings the lad a fast-food snack.  He represents the extent of mature teenage boys found at the pool today.  His friends are too busy mowing yards or passing out dry-cleaning.
 
On the other side of the pool, a petite summered vixen twirls the all-important lifeguard whistle deftly around her hand like a yo-yo.  Given the few pieces of fabric deemed appropriate for the life-saving apparel of Miss Lifeguard, the lack of oogling boys is amazing. Thankfully, the seams have not been tested by a perilous situation requiring her to actually perform her duties.  However, the pre-teen and barely teen boys follow her like guppies.  The boys of summer.  Rules are passionately broken to gain her attention.  The requisite tweet,tweet of the whistle from her lips falls into the boy’s ears as if a stadium crowd were going wild over his winning touchdown.    
 
 A bevy of hormones, hotwired to running, jumping legs, lifts the jumper up into the total abandonment of freefall and the split second rush before waterfall.  A dozen boys in the aquatic Cannonball Express, a speeding circuit from ladder, board, pool, ladder, board, pool.  “Water out of pool.  Water out of pool.”  Over and over, in a frenzied pace, turning the deep-end into the wild blue sea.  The caboose heads to the round house after several runs.  Grinning, he plops down and pats my hand.  I have always loved the boys of summer.         

 



Tuesday, August 13, 2013

THE DOG HOUSES


Rainy days and Tuesdays.  What a combo.  A person could just take a nap or watch a few Downton Abbey episodes of Season 2.  And eat popcorn like I'm at a movie.  A few million years ago when Dallas was THE rage, microwave popcorn was the new thing.  Every Friday night, Pam and I would watch the show, eat microwave popcorn and drink Tab or Diet Pepsi.  Everything stopped when it was time for Dallas.  You couldn't watch it on your phone five days later at your convenience.  

Now Downton Abbey has my attention, although I'm late to the party.  The new season begins January 5, 2014.  I think I have enough time to catch up.  It's like eating a potato chip while reading a good book.  I can't watch just one and I can't put it down.  D.M. and I watched the very first two episodes when we visited Princess and Finn over the Easter holiday. 
 
I thought we (husband and me) were going to make it "our" show.  Roadshow, The Middle, Doc Martin and Undercover Boss are the only shows we watch together and not always with regularity.  He sleeps during Roadshow.  Basketball preempts The Middle way too much.  Doc Martin is a new find and that just ended.  He is amazed by Undercover Boss and the generosity of its main characters.  And then last night, I found out he was watching a PBS wrap-up on Downton Abbey's last three seasons.  I was crushed, a little bit.  He said I wouldn't have liked it because there were no spoiler alerts.  This comment from a person who reads the ending of a book first.

 A couple of weeks ago while doing a Flea Market day, I found a first edition John Grisham, The Painted House.   We had not read it so I picked it up.  I let him read it first which is sometimes a good idea.  I am very picky about my new magazines and books.  I do not like anyone else to even touch them before me.  At some point in our new life together, I discovered he was reading my books on the sneak while I was reading them!  He is sly. 

 When I finally began The Painted House, he wanted so badly to tell me something about it.  After I was into the book , I found that one thing.  I forgot to mention that he didn't start this book at the beginning.  He liked it so much he had to backtrack and spent a very late evening in reverse.  Life is just easier when you start at the beginning.

 All my boys are in the dog house today.  The four-legged variety sent me tripping down the stairs and onto the garage floor (I’m okay) and the one that talks just talked himself out of all those pleasant evenings sitting next to me, catching up to Season 4.  I think I’ll go make some homemade popcorn, pour my beverage of choice and get started on Season 2.  Afterall, over 85,000,000 searches on Google can’t be wrong.

signed,
a woman eating popcorn in bed watching Downton Abbey

 
Recipe for popcorn (I don’t buy microwave.)

      2 tablespoons of vegetable oil/  1/3 c. popcorn kernels

 
Pour oil in pot.  Add 4 kernels. Turn between medium and high, more towards medium.  Never leave oil unattended.  When 4 kernels pop, oil is hot.  Add rest of corn.  Shake pot, using potholders.   Pop, pop, pop.  Do leave lid a little bit open so steam can escape and not toughen popcorn.  I’ve tried generic and brand.  My favorite is Orville.  Shake again.  Remove from heat.  Turn off stove.  Pour popcorn into large bowl.  Melt some butter in the pan and pour over.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

WRITING LINES


You've heard the saying, "You never have a second chance to make a first impression." My fingers are turning into pats of butter melting into the keyboard at my first attempt to become an official blogger.
 
Writing has always been a part of my life.  I recently found my two oldest diaries, a formal brown leatherette and a girly sky blue embossed paper, both with missing keys.  The brown diary had suffered a security breach and was cut open, revealing white pages with red lines.  Oh the anticipation of five years lined out before me!

The diary of a nine year old on the footpath to ten is not the diary of a fourteen year old at the precipice of fifteen.  The brown diary was a Christmas present from my parents because a diary is a good place for a young writer to start.  This was my Not Glen Campbell Christmas.

My first diary-keeping attempt is full of short sentences depicting my simple life.  Right before my 10th birthday, we went to pick out my first real bicycle, a Green Schwinn with wire baskets.  Three days later I wrote," Found bike in Garge.  Rode it."
 
Christmas wrapping was a major event for my father who decorated with the same flair found in the best holiday store windows.  Homemade spiced tea was Mama's contribution.  After my sister and I were in our beds, they would retrieve hidden bags and begin.  I would go to sleep hearing a Christmas album on the hi-fi and wrapping paper being pulled and cut from the roll.  Daddy would be whistling under his breath, looking through a stash of old Christmas cards for the perfect package centerpiece.  Every morning new gifts would be gleaming under the tree.   

A wrapped album (in the old days before CD’s or IPOD) with my name on it appeared under the tree.  I knew I had been good, my hopes were running high.  Glen Campbell was on my list.  He was practically a "local" boy.   For the first time, I experienced the thrilling anticipation of a certain gift.  And the immediate letdown as soon as the paper tears.  The disappointing crush becomes mixed with the pang of guilt in not wanting to hurt the gift giver's feelings while trying to say the best "fake" thank you.  Even though I was young, I remember thinking my parents still thought of me as a little girl.  But at night, under my covers, my little transistor was playing “Wichita Lineman.”
 






This is my favorite video of "Wichita Lineman."   The double platinum album of the same name won the 1968 Grammy for Best Engineered Record, Non Classical and topped charts in Country Western, Pop and Adult Contemporary.  Written by Jimmy Webb, ("Up, Up and Away," "Galveston," "MacArthur Park" to name a few), WL is ranked 195/500 on The Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Songs of all Time.


 “Freebird” is #193 and Amy Winehouse at #194 has bumped Campbell down in the list that appears to change with the times. 

 

In an odd juxtaposition, I was reminded of Meatloaf's "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" and Cheap Trick’s "I Want You to Want Me."  
 
"I want you,/ I  need you,/ but there ain't no way I'm ever gonna' love you./"  Meatloaf

 
"I want you to want me,/I need you to need me,/ I'd love you to love me ."  Cheap Trick

Needing and wanting are two parts of a relationship but not necessary for love.  Meatloaf and Cheap Trick are more caught up in the aspect of me. Whereas, the Wichita Lineman can't even do his job without thinking of the one he loves.  He does need a vacation so he can hurry home.

"I hear you singin' in the wire, I can hear you through the whine,/

And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line/

I know I need a small vacation but it don't look like rain/

And if it snows that stretch down south won't ever stand the strain/

And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time/

And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line./"
 

One of the best lines ever written, "And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time."  But the lineman has a job to do.  Webb's genius is in using a lineman and Glen Campbell to bring us the most basic desires of our heart, to be needed and wanted for all time.

At this age I had probably only heard Glen Campbell singing on the radio.  I love watching this video now.  There is a definite wink the first time he sings about wanting for all time.  Knowing the power of those fifteen little words , it makes my knees weak.  I've always had a thing for the guitar playing crooner. (D.F.)*

Tearing the paper that Christmas morning revealed an illustrated vinyl record of Walt Disney's Peter Pan.  It probably resides in a flea market somewhere.  About five years ago, my parents gave me a birthday present they said I would like.  At the first rip of the paper, I could see Glen Campbell's smiling face.   

Today, I'm thinking about that little girl getting her first big bike.  These days I live in exclamation point territory so I'm re-writing those April lines.  "Rode it!!"  This describes me well.  Get on that bike and go.  Fall down and get back up.  Yell with glee and abandonment.  Woo Hoo, what a ride!


Signed, a woman writing lines

 

*D.F. will always refer to my primary music man, Dan Fogelberg.