Saturday, December 26, 2015

MY FAVORITE THINGS 2015




  A Few of My Favorite Things 2015

Things and fifteen rhyme but not baubles, geegaws or thingamajigs.  I loved watching Oprah's Favorites Christmas specials.  The best part was the elves descending on the audience members with armfuls of Oprah's wrapped favorites.  While I can't gift beach vacations or $3,000 bed sheets, I will share an assortment of my favorite things with one lucky reader.  In no particular order, this list is a personal  endorsement not tied to any compensation from anyone.  As the year is winding down, remember what made your life in 2015 a little easier or brought a smile to your face, something just for you.  Think about your own list!  (**Denotes brand new favorite products that may be included in assortment.)
     
Beginning with food, of course.  I have to start my morning with coffee, ASAP.  My new favorite is 1)**Just Joe Breakfast Blend from The Fresh Market with a splash of skim milk.   When it's not too cold, I enjoy my evening cup of tea sitting out on the deck, looking up at the stars.  2)**Constant Comment, Decaf, Bigelow Tea with a good squeeze of  3)**Pure Natural Honey, Bemis Honey Bee Farm, local and delicious.  Served in my favorite mug, an Amy Red Tulip Mug painted by Jeni.  My favorite during the day is  4)**Starbucks. They do it well.  My go-to is a Tall Latte with one packet of sugar.  Cate and Finn gifted me with a Mother's Day Card which began my habit in a serious nature.  The cooler weather fuels my addiction.

This year I have added new foods to my daily diet.  5)** Lance's Toast Chee Real Peanut Butter Crackers - the orange ones.  They make a good, quick lunch, except the dog has decided he also likes them.  During the day, I like to grab handfuls of  6)**Skinny Pop Popcorn.  Low calorie, non GMO, gluten free and nothing artificial.  USA delicious, good fiber and perfectly salted.  A bit pricey but I don't purchase alot of other snack foods.

The very worse new favorite award goes to 7)**Nabisco's Oreo Thins Mint Cookies.  Oh my goodness. I can't even look at these cookies because of their hypnotic effect.  Yes, I'm known for putting the groceries in the back of the car, chucking the bag of cookies to the front seat, opening the fresh bag of thin mint delectables and gnoshing with abandonment, all the way home.  I have to be very careful about bringing any cookie home.  But I am an equal opportunity eater.  The strangest favorite food of 2015 is Butternut squash.  I love vegetables but never, ever a winter squash.  I have created a yummy butternut soup which could hold up to anything Ina Garten whips up.  My crazy crave of 2015 was discovered at a posh party while nibbling appetizers in the fancy kitchen of the host's second pool house.  Stilton Cheese.  Every meal if possible, I wish.  I like a Triscuit with essence of Strawberry Jam topped by a little dollop of cheese.

While crunching cookies and sipping tea, I do have my favorite escape route pursuits.  My new favorite is the hottest trend - coloring for adults.  When I discovered the COLORFY Be Creative app on my phone, I was hooked.  The initial set-up is free - patterns and a basic board of 27 colors.  Some of the themes include Florals, Animals, Famous and Mandalas.  I have purchased the additional color boards and other patterns.  The prices range from 1.99 to 2.99.  There is no monthly fee.  As you can see, this is definitely a fave for 2015.

8)**Sudoku has always been a favorite for keeping my mind sane.  As a writer, my Sudoku books also act as notebooks.  There are no private conversations anywhere, especially at the hair salon.  "Are you in love?  Ever been to Europe?  For so long, all my friends lied to me.  I said that, but he said no...last year it was Mexico.  You need to eat humble pie.  This is not going to fly.  He is mentally unstable.  I told her 'Girl, that's not a diaper, it's your panties."  My favorite books are by Will Shortz but I don't know how one writes a Sudoku book.  I've reached the BeWare! Very Challenging portion and I'm in quicksand half of the time.  Sometimes I cheat and look at the back of the book.  It feels an awful lot like my math classes.  Not the cheating.  The frustration.

My new favorite places are the library and The Fresh Market.  A writer who doesn't read?  I know.  Wow.  Three books since October.  The Fresh Market is a great escape.  I love to go to the deli and check out the brie and the Stilton.

As for beauty and health, I need a little polish every day.  I had a friend who traveled with her curling iron and full makeup for a weekend by the lake.  Not me.  But I do have new favorites in 2015.  I now call my facial foundation Botox in a Bottle.  Weeks ago, a lifelong friend leaned in closely and whispered, "Amy, tell me, really, have you had botox?"  Oh my goodness.  She is not the first person to say glowing things about my complexion in the last few months.  Vitalumiere Aqua Chanel.  A best friend can't be wrong!

I am all about lip product, either lipstick or balm.  I had horribly chapped lips when I was a little girl.  My new favorite is 9)**Peppermint Chapstick.  Only available during the holidays.  My Daddy always, always carried his Chapstick.  I'm forever on the search for a new toothpaste.  I love, love, love my newest toothpaste,  10)**Crest Complete Cinnamon.  Perfect zing but not overpowering and comes with whitening powers.

I am genetically blessed with good nails.  I made bad grades my first semester of college but my nail polish was perfectly fresh everyday.  A+  My new favorite color is 11)**OPI Act Your Beige.  It is perfect for long or short and looks very classic, Jackie O.  Pretty without trying too hard.  12)**The Equate Beauty Regular Nail Polish Remover Pad is a perfect team.  Never a worry about spilling the nail polish remover that will eat away at your quilted nylon robe, when you are doing your nails on the sofa, right after your Mama said not to!

This time of year, even down South, skin can become dry and itchy thanks to central heat.  My dressing essentials are not complete without my daily application of  13)**Kiehl's Creme de Corps (Soy Milk & Honey Whipped Body Butter).  According to the packaging, this "body butter is quickly absorbed to deliver rich hydration for a wonderfully indulgent experience."  I wholeheartedly agree.  Close your eyes and you're on the beach, soaking up rays.  I have a very sensitive nose but the fragrance quickly dies down to everyday and is hardly noticeable.  This is for luxuriant pampering, every day.

This next favorite beauty/health product should be offered by the other person who sprays mass quantities on his own coiffure.  Professional Sebastian Shaper Original Formula.  This is a serious essential in our home.  When is the last time your husband voluntarily dropped by your hair salon and picked up a new can of hairspray?  We like to buy two at a time because we don't like to run out.  Everyone needs a little help.  Speaking of a lot of help, one of my favorites is a person.  I've tried not to list people but he is in his own category.  Tommy.  I came to him with pitiful hair and he grabbed his Color Bible and whisked my color and hair back into shape.  I came home and found a swatch of hair from 7th grade that matched my new head of color.  He is that good.

I know it may come as a shock to those who know me (and the state of my house) but I only have one item on my list under the cleaning products title.  But it is a biggie.  14)** ocelo Dishwand  is a magic wand used to wash the dishes in the sink.  One end is a scrubby sponge and the other end is where the dish detergent goes.  All in one.  Makes cleaning up a snap.  Clean as you go.  No hot, sudsy water which turns nasty-cold.  No gross suds accompanied by a brilliantly, disinfected dish rag that was laundered a week ago.  Oh the stories I could tell.  I love my ocelo magic wand.  My hands stay dry and my manicure salon-fresh!

Now my quirky category for the items in no particular range but still worthy of my 2015 favorites.  The  15)**Paper Mate Clearpoint Mechanical Pencil is one of my all time favorites of any year.  Being a writer who prefers pencils to pens, these are the best.  I have eight unopened packages in my file right now.  Everything about these pencils is stupendous.  Bright colors, extra pack of #2 leads, two extra erasers.  These are my go-to, take with me everywhere.

The last three in the quirky category are three who can always take away my breath with their beauty.  Always.  Fleetwood Mac.  Ella Fitzgerald.  A Snow Leopard.  They do not need my definition.  All three are silk-wrapped presents loaned to our world for a short time.  If the snow leopards can't come, I don't want to go to heaven.  

From the common, mundane to the special splurges.  I would love to read about your favorites in 2015!  Please comment on blog or Facebook me with your list of 5 favorite things by January 2, 2016.  No anonymous folks please.  My staff and I will hold a raffle and pick the person who will receive an inviting assortment of my 2015 Favorite Things.  The winner will be announced in a later blog.

1-5 lists received   2 items
5-10 lists received  3 items
10-20 lists received  5-7 items
Over 20 lists received  7-10 items


See you in 2016!!   Happy New Year!


Monday, December 7, 2015

NO WHIRLING RIBBON

I can hear the dog whining all the way back here in my office.  He is standing next to the counter and the leftover deli chicken.  Arthritis is about the only thing keeping him from running afoul.  But still, he has to let me know he knows.  There is no spiced tea simmering in the big pot.  Not a whirring of a ribbon spool anywhere to be heard or seen on our property.  The highlight of my day was turning on the dishwasher and drying a load of towels in the dryer.  Seriously,  Sometimes I have to laugh.

The holidays are hard.  This is a guilt-filled time of year for me.  Why can't it just be pleasant, joyous and anticipatory?  I am one fun gal any other time of the year.  But depression and anxiety seem to really kick in during the holidays.  Or as I like to say, the holidaze.  I am guilty over past years and the abundant gifts we have received which have never gotten used, eaten or seen, in shelves and freezers and under the bed, tucked away to hide our lazy endeavors and dulled good intentions because we are really lousy at finishing.

I am tired of guilt over things not done.  It's only December 7 but I'm feeling guilty for not having the Christmas Cards started.  I love cards but it's been a crazy few years and this year I was really going to make an effort.  I purchased photo cards in October.  I can reach out and touch them from where I sit but that is it.  No pictures taken.  Not giving up though.

I can see my backyard neighbor's Christmas tree lighting up their back deck, merrily, merrily.  Our lights are still in the attic depending on whether or not the squirrels have been active this year. However, I am sitting in my office with a string of colored lights running around the top of the walls.  All is not total humbug.

Is there relaxation?  Real enjoyment? As if everything were done then my holiday could be perfect.  What is perfection?  Happiness for more than a couple of hours tearing into wrapping paper. Racing for meaning.  Searching for depth.  Peace this year?  Sometimes it is easier to draw in and away, leaving fear outside the door, unknown.

I really want Pecan Sandies baking in the oven, Santa's Whiskers cooling on the rack.  I have a box, somewhere, packed full of pretty little boxes and tins for delivering homemade goodies to the special people in my life.  Brand new.  Just waiting for a party, festive woodland place cards holding their breath to be placed in front of Elegance in Blue, Nouveau and Allure.  Dinner for eight.  Of course, two can be a party but the more the merrier.

But all hasn't been lost.  I can remember the times it all came together.  Before tired hands and a weary mind.  Is it out there still?  Where is the drive and motivation?  Where is the girl I once knew?
Hopes. Dreams. Ideas.  Does youth hold the cards and my game is past?

Friends of mine are just sitting around with their feet up, admiring their wrapped gifts and dewy trees.
What if I went down my block and rang the doorbell and neighbors answered the door?  Would it be all homey and cozy?  Would I get a true glimpse of what Christmas means to them?  Can't go by looks alone.  Afterall.  The UPS man could ring my door, take a peek in and decide we don't celebrate.  No evidence of anticipation.

Sometimes anticipation can be read on one's face.  Fear and anxiety.  Hope and excitement.  We can't judge with just a glimpse.  We are good at  wearing the face of I'm Good and I Dare You to See Differently.  Hide the fear.

Shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  Suddenly, the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were sore afraid.  Terrified.  Mouths hanging open.  In the middle of the dark, bright as day.  These men kill wild animals preying on their flock.  They are not given to fear.  Holy terror.  Just a glimpse of God's glory.

The faces of Mary and Joseph.  Fear, anxiety, hope and excitement.  Opening their hearts to possibility.  The shadows of fear and anxiety flattened by omnipotent glory lying in their arms.

Waking up to another day of things undone.  The door is shut, locked, alarmed.  Nothing bad can get in.  Controlled fear.  Open the door!  Mid-December sunshine floods the foyer so bright it hurts my eyes.

The Angel of The Lord says
"Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy!!!!
For unto you is born this day, in the city of David
a savior who is Christ the Lord."
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,
praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace and goodwill to all."



Open the door.





Monday, November 30, 2015

PLAYING NICELY

Hello.  What am I doing, of all people, sitting on a park bench while two young pit bulls play nicely right under my seat?  I feel the hair on my neck as I lift up my feet and smile at the owner.  "I've been bitten by a bull mix.  Didn't break the skin but it was a weird feeling to look up and see the dog salivating, but your dogs sure are cute."  Bless his heart.  Playing nicely.

I'm the five year old jumping up and down in the back seat of the yellow Ford Galaxy, screaming.  My first puppy has crawled out of the cardboard box and onto the floorboard.  We are both rather excited.  So is my mother who careens the car to the shoulder, stops the car and opens the door, flipping back the front seat, proceeding to corral the little puppy.  I don't think we had seat belts.  Otherwise, I'm sure I would have been strapped in for life.  I was petrified of any dog.  While the little Pekingese beagle mix was the pride, joy and love of our lives, the relationship didn't endear me to other dogs.

Cate picked out her first puppy.  Penny for a girl.  Pepper for a boy.  She always named any object with two eyes -  from stuffed animals, dolls to hand puppets and Goldfish.  Very clever.  We picked the second smallest puppy at the Humane Society and ended up with seventy-two pounds of love and muscle.  And my first experience with a big dog.  He was a fine dog.

Because of Pepper, I became more comfortable with other dogs, even stranger dogs.  But I'm still not a person to instantly gush over any dog.  I'm discerning.

As discerning as I am, here I sit in the middle of Washington D.C. on a beautiful morning as the noon bells ring from the nearby National Cathedral, which is a beautiful place to worship when one is in this part of town but obviously not today.  The well-fenced dog park is on the edge of a larger park which is circled by blocks and blocks of pink, red, and buff colored apartment buildings of varied ages and heights - very different than the world I know.  Truly a big city.

I imagine all these dogs being cooped up in tiny apartments finally being set free into this gravel covered expanse after passing through a sallyport to ensure no free range dogs.  The smallest is a Chihuahua wearing a turquoise designer hoodie.  He is standing to the side, not wanting to smudge his stylin' self.  But he is the only one not in movement.

At the pinnacle of my experience, thirteen to fifteen dogs are engaged in various pursuits.  At the second gate, new dogs are greeted with friendly noses.  The dogs run back and forth and around the park.  Old dogs just lay down and watch.  Every owner has a little plastic bag in their hand just in case.  There are a lot of cases.  Watson, Sherman and Boston roll over and over each other.  Maddie doesn't participate because she has had knee surgery.  Lili and Beignet are young dogs not yet experienced in knowing where their feet should be.  Their ears are as immature as their frames.  Every loud growl is meant to be in play or should be.  One owner throws the ball and five dogs fight for possession.

Collie.  Corgi.  Mutts.  Golden Doodle.  Beagle.  Chocolate Lab.  Hound Dog.  Bird Dog.  Three pit bulls, two of which are still under my bench.  And then the reason I am here, Zeke, a mini Aussie.

Now I am saying it again for the record.  He is not my grand-dog.  But if I were so inclined to have a grand-dog he would be a fine one.  He is zippy and smart as a whip.  Curling up in my lap also gives him credit.  It is not polite to discuss Zeke in front of my house dog, Oreo, who is older and wiser.  The elder statesman might discern a pitch in my voice revealing my true feelings about this soon- to-be interloper.  In a few weeks. we will all be one happy family.  The two gents will assume their accustomed positions with very few comments.  Life is better when played nicely.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

ATL: THE JOY OF A LAYOVER

Always expect the unexpected.  Because you should at ATL.  96 million passengers would agree. You can arrive at Gate 3, almost the tail end of Concourse T and walk a very long way, ride down the steepest escalator in known existence and catch the speedy train to the B Concourse.  Ride up another very steep escalator.  Merge into the human traffic jam.

Pause and refresh.  Watch someone flat iron their hair and repack a bag while sitting on the floor of the facility. Wash hands without touching any faucet.  Start down B concourse which is the same length of T concourse, about 5 football fields or so it seems.

Inhale the tobacco as you walk past the hermetically sealed Smoking Lounge because the book says passengers can no longer spit, chew or vape on an airplane.  Buy a $9 sandwich and a Cherry Coke.   Arrive at Gate B26, almost the last possible gate available in that region of the state.  Enjoy splitting the sandwich with your traveling companion.  A very fresh sandwich it is.  Pause to breathe.  And then, a crackled announcement ruins the moment.  Flight 456 will depart from Gate T3.  You have got to be kidding me??  Another journey back through the maze.

But the maze is not all bad.  There are people everywhere going everywhere.  Just because you can doesn't mean you should ever wear white knit shorts in November in Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta while winter clad people haul suitcases full of cashmere sweaters, fleece sweats, black leather boots, hand knit scarfs and flannel shirts.  Even if your suitcase holds a bikini, a terrycloth leisure set, another pair of white knit shorts, a halter top and a designer towel.  Put on some clothes for goodness sake.

I would not feel comfortable walking through this maze even in my good shorts.  All of these people hurrying from Gate B26 to T3 creating a circuitous route through the long concourses.  The beep beep beep of the Runaway Mine Train moving walking-challenged people in an efficient manner.  These folks are not wearing white shorts.

I know I don't have the legs for it even on a sunny day in my own backyard hundreds of miles to the west.  This person was ill advised at some point in her preparation.

This population is not dressed for go to meeting but they are not slobs.  New York City, Washington D.C. and Montana and France and England and maybe Tucson, Amsterdam and Mexico, Columbus, Ohio and Minnesota and Maine.

Only one person is walking around in white knit shorts.  Other travellers have the good sense to walk around in camo, ballcaps, leggings tucked into boots, military uniforms.  One man is wearing a fancy leather NY Yankees baseball jacket.  Another man is carrying his wife's pink and black sequined carry-on bag.  And what is the deal with carry-on?  It should be called "sets of luggage disguised as carry on."

A chic, older woman is surveying life behind large black sunglasses, wearing a tidy black beret over her soft, simple hairstyle, a black two piece suit cinched stylishly, pale hosiery with a sharp pair of black suede pumps.  A gold brooch finishes off her panache.  She will arrive in classic fashion.  Obviously, Ms. CC has not eyed Ms. WS.

A toddler with duck yellow boots is being packed along kangaroo style by his father.  Fringe is hanging off of purses, sweaters, hats and boot tops.  Every other person is sporting the controversial red Starbucks Coffee Cup or a cool pair of ear buds nonchalantly hanging from their neck.

There are so many people it makes you wish you had the patent on the rolling bag.  So many people you think you would see someone you know.  But you don't.  Only your life's partner.  You still recognize him.

The automatic trash bin is annoying but obviously not enough to wake the people sleeping on the floor of the airport - in their tropical attire.  I definitely would never sleep on the floor of the busiest airport in the world even if I was arriving or departing and everything got mixed up.  Maybe sleep in a chair - very uncomfortable to sleep with your mouth open in front of complete strangers.

Arriving and departing.    For a funeral, a wedding, a class reunion, a family member having surgery, the uncertainty of a new love, a job interview.  Leaving a new grandbaby, a film festival, a prayer meeting, a cross-stitch convention, a pineapple farm.

A harried mother with one stroller.   A little pony-tailed cutie is trying to keep up with her mother who is weaving through people, around chairs to the automatic trash bin and back to the stroller.  A baby is squirming in the mother's arms.  The little girl leans over the stroller while the baby is being buckled in.  "I'm going with you."  A little reassurance is all we need sometimes.

















Thursday, November 19, 2015

W.D.C. Blue Sky November Day

2:25 p.m.

Five minutes waiting, scanning the parking lot.  A 28 year old woman emerges from the hotel, walking across the cross walk.  Stops, looks back and up to the 8th floor.  She waves.  Smiles.  I wave back.  I press my black cardigan to the window to show my spot.  Thumbs up.  She sees me and walks into the garage.

*The bride and her groom, turning back to wave before getting in the limo, heading for their new life.

A 20 year old, beloved BMW, now residing in D.C., leaves the garage, headed for the toll booth.  The chipped, teal paint is camouflaged by distance and a former owner's loving vision.  The shadow of the garage cannot hide her peek under the visor and her quick waves up to me.

*The college coed, walking just to airport security, turning to look back and wave, before heading to Italy in June.

She pays for parking and drives into the bright sun flooding the front seat.

*Red, silk chiffon.  Black and white tux.  Waving as the car backs out of the driveway heading to the prom.  Four years later unsuspecting husband and wife.

She stops at a T in the road.  No traffic.  Just underneath my window.  We exchange several big waves.

*3 years old preschool.  Walking down the stairs together.  Who's my favorite girl?  ME.  Me?  NOT YOU!  ME!  She lets go of my hand and heads into her classroom.

Another few waves.  I press my palm to the window.  She smiles and turns right and away, up the street.  2 hearts.  2 hands.

The yellow leaves of 37 trees cannot compare to her shining spirit, her golden hair.

I go to grab my journal and the peppermint Chapstick falls to the floor.  I've been looking for it the entire trip.  I got it on my last minute pre-trip run to Walgreens.  I thought I lost it on the plane when I rolled up my jacket for a pillow.

Letting go is never easy.



Randomonium Post #100



Saturday, November 7, 2015

MEATLOAF NIRVANA

Meatloaf Nirvana

The kitchen sink.  I do not like my meatloaf with a little of this and that thrown in.  I do love bell peppers and big chunks of onions and oatmeal but not in my meatloaf.  I was raised on the falling apart meatloaf.  My mother is a delicious cook but I do not prefer her meatloaf.

Grandmama's spatula 
And then I discovered my favorite meatloaf.  I was a grown woman with a toddler in tow visiting my Grandmama when I realized it.  I had been eating her meatloaf for years.  Ding, ding.  I like this meatloaf.  Infact, I love this meatloaf.  It doesn't fall apart.  What is the magic ingredient?  Good old Lipton Onion Soup Mix.  I know this cheapens me in certain culinary circles but I don't care.  I have served my awesome meatloaf to folks who don't even like meatloaf and they love my rendition!

Therefore, and because I can't hold back any longer and I haven't put a recipe on line in over a month, I'm offering up this humble but delicious, extra-special loaf of meat.  Any complaints can be directed to me but I don't expect any grumbling.  Just be happy I am sharing my secrets to being a good cook.  And it all started with watching Grandmama pick apart her bread to start the process.

When I swooned over her meatloaf, Grandmama got up and copied it down for me on this yellow piece of paper.  I love having special recipes in folk's handwriting.  However, this recipe is only my jumping off point.  It has been tweaked for my liking.  But it was the catalyst.  Don't try to read the fine print.  Just follow my recipe below.  Bliss!

2 lbs. ground round
1 lb. country sausage
1 1/2 packet Lipton Onion Soup Mix
2 eggs
1/4 cup Heinz ketchup (in the mix, more to be added later)
3/4 cup milk
2 pieces of whole grain bread, picked in small bits
3/4 cup of Progresso Bread Crumbs

5 slices of bacon, each cut in half

You will want to put your ingredients on the counter for about thirty minutes before mixing. Otherwise your hands will freeze off during mixing.  I have always mixed with my bare hands.  This time I tried to use gloves but they kept coming off.  I believe in good soap and hot water before and after. Mix well.  You may add a small bit of milk if the mixture is too stiff.

I use a 9 X 13 stainless pan for cooking.  It came with a nice rack and I put the meatloaf on top of the rack.  This keeps the meat from cooking in the fat and becoming a soggy, greasy mess.  Pat the meat out as pictured.  This is also a good size for meatloaf sandwiches.  You could also use two loaf pans.

Take the halved pieces of bacon and arrange across the top of the loaf.  Finish with a nice covering of ketchup per picture.

Cook at 350 for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until done.  I also put my meatloaf under a low broil for ten minutes to brown the top nicely.


Before 
After
























Thursday, October 29, 2015

HOUSEGHOSTS




There were no ghosts at the top of the stairs.  But the people coming for the estate sale had to know if the tales of their youth were true.  Some claimed The Tower Room had been the Witches’ Room when the house stood vacant for years.  In thirty-three years of vacations, holidays, birthdays and even Halloweens, I had not met a ghost, yet.  But, I had never volunteered to go up to The Tower Room when it was dark and the rest of the folks were two stories below.

One of the oldest homes in town, the Dutch Colonial sat on a prominent corner.  With two upstairs balconies and a third floor “Tower Room” capped by a gold dome, it seemed a castle to four grandchildren.  The original hitching block stood by the street where buggies had passed a hundred years before.  Old photographs show an almost bare yard, which now flourished with tall oaks and old-timey vegetation like Rose of Sharon, Gardenias, pyricanthas, Bridal’s Wreath and Irises.  During the spring, an old oak wrapped in Wisteria vine seemed to breathe in and out, covered in purple petals hiding the movements of a thousand bees.  The easily heard drone was a warning sign not to come close.

In the house’s great century, my family had used up thirty-three years, running around the porch, walking through seventeen doors, looking out of thirty plus windows, sweeping ten rooms, not tripping down two stairways, and bathing in one cast iron footed tub.  The kitchen resonated with the ghost of Pa’s chicken frying in hot grease, the newspaper being discussed, someone running overhead, the Elk Hotel grandfather clock striking the hour and the whirl of the lazy-Susan on the old quarter sawn oak table.  As the sun set, a kitchen entry wall of windows and shelves, holding antique crystal and colored glass, painted the walls with color.  

The living room was well-lived in from celebrating.  Eightieth and ninetieth birthdays or playing the Question Game with a circle from age four to eighty-five.  Toddlers sitting on the bench playing at the Steinway.  Deep seated chairs after hours listening to jazz on the hi-fi.  A soft but constant admonition to watch your step as you came down the stairs, so as not to fall into the glass displayed on a nearby cabinet.   

A red wool rug under the mahogany dining table caught errant olives and breadcrumbs from family diners using the sterling, crystal and British Castles for holidays.  A couple beamed proudly at the 50th year of their love story as the pure cold finally cooled the July air.

The front room smelled like a library.  Three large window seats and an entire wall held every book owned by the two previous generations.  Thousands of conversations hung like spider webs on the thirty-seven plates leaning against the plate rail, at the top of the ten foot ceiling.  The braided rug made by Grannie, using wool suits and skirts, to waste not, want not, covered the painted floor.  Ice cubes hitting the floor from a purple glass full of Dr. Pepper, spilling on the floor as cousins fought over who got the rocker.  The quiet Color TV with Remote kept the world spinning, delivered Walter Cronkite and the Noon Day Report for 60 Minutes at the advice of Marcus Welby in deep, dark depression, excessive misery. 
     
The ghosts of thousands of friendly waves lingered over the wrap-around porch, stirring the air just enough to give Grandmama’s wicker swing a push.  The same evening sky appearing, night after night, but finding emptiness where there had once been children, anticipating the ascent of the evening star or the acrid clouds from the mosquito truck rising above the trees and rooftops.  In spots, the porch almost sagged, full of phantom footsteps after years of family photos.    

Upstairs, life was slower.  Two duplicate bedrooms made up half of the second floor.  Large doors in the middle of the shared wall were never closed, making one large room with two separate bedroom suites.  Each room had a small balcony, absolutely off limits to grandchildren,  With excellent cross-ventilation, the house lived and breathed with the seasons.  In the spring, summer and fall, the house was kept open as much as possible, even during rainstorms.  Four large gas stoves kept the house toasty during the winter.

The big room was filled to capacity with the words of hundreds of late-night conversations between grandchildren and grandparents carried on long after the pretense of going to sleep.  A first White Christmas still glimmered in a child’s memory after waking in the bed next to the big window.  Grey shadows lingered against the wall, where they had danced so lively in the hot lights of the winter stove.  A shadowy bat carried the memory of scaring an old black lady and an older white lady to death as they moved like young girls, jumping into the bed and throwing the sheet over their heads.  They survived but soon were parted by the cobwebs of the mind.  Inspiration and perseverance had worn out the fingers of a budding writer, as she learned at the keyboard where her own patriot grandfather composed his letters to make a difference for the ones who would follow. 

In the corner of the big room, a closet tunneled through to the bathroom where the large footed tub was tucked in under the eaves.  A spot next to the tub was forever clean, where a small, dented saucepan was dropped over the edge of the tub, bath after bath.  A bathroom light would forever cast a glow, after thirty-three years of being the sole light in the big house at bedtime.  Another door opened to a large hall and the top of the stairs.
  
The guest room was a large bedroom full of girlhood furniture.  A vanity mirrored the secret admirations of girls of all ages for over eighty years.  Summer after summer, the gardenia bush climbed higher, orchestrating dreams of those sleeping near the opened window.  Over the peace and quiet of the middle night, trains could be heard jostling at the rail yard, as if just around the corner.  A large, added on closet held bags of beautiful clothes, old movie magazines, wedding shoes, and hats in boxes.  A grandchild could find simple pleasure in flinging the closet doors open and then shutting them suddenly, creating a heady rush of mothballed air.    

An unbanistered stairway went up the wall to the third floor Tower Room, originally built by a very protective father, according to local legend.  The octagonal shaped room was more windows than walls, with large windows on five walls.  An original aged banister still stood across the portion of the room open to the stairs.  At one time, this room had been the highest real estate in town.

In the last years, it had slowly become the keeper of aging luggage and tax papers, in an old house with few closets.  But years before, The Tower Room had been the domain of grandchildren with few toys but creative imagination for paper, pencils, connecting Popsicle sticks and oatmeal boxes.  Playing house, office and store had given way to day dreams, reading and writing, in the magic of the gold dome, but not before leaping and running down the stairs had permanently jarred the bedroom floor below and given adults in the library pause to look up and wonder if this would be the jump through the ceiling as the light fixture rattled on the first floor.

Over and over, these curious people wandered through, asking if they could go upstairs.  There was something about The Tower Room which fascinated people.   I chuckled to myself, but inside I knew.  As children, we played there happily, unaffected.

As the crowd began to lull and my precious grandparents' beautiful possessions were carried out the door, I knew I must say goodbye to what had been my second home.  As I paused, looking out the kitchen window or standing beside the desk where the typewriter had stood, the memories were so real it physically hurt.  

Going up the stairs to The Tower Room, I knew this was the last time.  I sat down on the sofa, crying, grieving for this leaving but also bursting with thankfulness for all of my grandparents and the difference they made in their homes and in this town.  I quit crying and felt peace in the rightness of the moment.  I looked down at the green sofa, for the first time realizing there had been something about this room after all.  And it had always been here.  

For all of my life, I had heard the story about my great-grandmother.  My young grandmother had been sitting on the green sofa with her visiting mother, a few days before Christmas, looking at cards.  A card fell from Meme’s hand and her life was over.  My grandmother would grieve the rest of her life, especially at Christmas, while the young grandchildren would quietly celebrate the holidays for years to come. 

I don't believe in ghosts, mostly.  Sometimes you never know.  We grew up with the story and played around the sofa for years.  For the first time, I stopped and wondered if maybe this room didn't hold a piece of her guardian spirit.  Four kids playing on the third floor in a room surrounded by five windows.  Wouldn't all of those people wonder if they knew?  We had a loving, protective great-grandmother looking after us.

















 









GOOD OLD DOGS

If you are lucky in life, you will have a good old dog.  This post was written for our first.  We are double lucky, going on good old dog number two.  Wouldn't think too much about it but the weather has turned cooler and those old dog joints start creaking.  Still he remains faithful, following my every step.  Here's to all the good old dogs.
  ***

Years ago, I asked the vet if this year old pup would ever settle down.  Everyone oohs and aahs over the cute little things, but puppy hood is fleeting, at times it can seem unending.  After raising a puppy and a baby, I have decided a baby is easier than a puppy, except you can’t let the baby sit outside on the deck for too long.   

Good Old Dog #1
Last week while taking the old dog to the vet, I was introduced to two different breeds of dogs.  The first dog was an adult Shar Pei who had grown into his skin and wasn’t so cute anymore.  The other fellow was a Basenji pup, already very trim and no-nonsense.  He was adorable. My cousin had one that bounced off the walls.  Then there was this old mutt, my dog, panting heavily, walking poorly, eyes dulled in pain, who had just wet the car seat and was horribly embarrassed.    

Burt's parents have a new puppy.  We were re-introduced to the daily rigors of puppy pandemonium - all legs and no grace, eager to explore every little thing.  It was like getting to play with a fun toddler but you are happy to see the parents come home.  Sigh of relief.  Despite the charm of youthful exuberance, puppies just can’t compare to a good old dog.

With a bit of smarts, loving care and a good fence, most dogs can get old but being old doesn’t make every dog good.  Being the owner of a good old dog is bittersweet.  A picture on the shelf captures a five-year old squeezing her new Humane Society pup as she carries him into his new home.  Now he rests just a few feet from the picture frame, all sixty-five pounds, dreaming of the years he could lasso the water hose.  Or his adventures with Buddy, the big black lab on the lam, who could open gates and lead a good romp through the neighborhood, ending with a splash in the fishpond next door.  Dreaming of pork roast, chicken fried steak, an occasional chicken bone, the old dog licks his chops in his sleep, remembering his flavorful prowess in the kitchen.  Little bits of bark in his sleep, remembering his important job as gatekeeper and the one time he truly charged a questionable sort, chasing the dude out into the yard, away from Mama and the front door.  Pretty good for an old dog, and then obeying her command to come into the house, never looking away from the stranger. 

Old dogs do learn new tricks.  Wetting on the snow covered deck, instead of going down the snowy stairs.  Realizing veggies are pretty tasty, but never lettuce.  Cats are not worth the effort.  The garage can be comfy, with blankets.  Low grumbles are not favored.  Peppermint will only last so long.  Respect can be gained with a full body stretched across the main route to the kitchen.  Jumping is not fun, even to curl up on the reserved spot of the bed or lay right under the pillows.  Aches and pains are almost cured when someone you love gets down on the floor and curls up with you.  After all these years, humans can still learn new tricks.       
           

Thursday, October 22, 2015

ONE KNOT AND FOUR CORNERS

ONE KNOT

Luke 5:12-16  

Once, when Jesus was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy.  


The leper lives a hopeless life.  He is alone, living with a disease which banishes him from any human contact.  Going along, all day long, crying out, "UNCLEAN, UNCLEAN.  Move away from me"  - the constant reminder of his lot in life, the obvious deformity of his diseased body.  He is responsible for keeping others at a distance. He is hated and feared because of this horrible mystery.  He alone carries the burden.  He is desperately hanging onto a knot at the end of his rope.

One day he hears about the man called Jesus and the miracles.  A spark fires in him.  Dare he hope for his own miracle?  He imagines a life living with touch and conversation, family and friends.

And then one day he sees Jesus.  Hope is walking down the dusty road towards him.  The leper bows his head to the ground in awe of possibility.  Begging.  He is used to begging but this is for his life.

"Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean."   His heart must have been racing and his ears pounding.  But his words don't come across as frantic.  Controlled but bursting with hope.  Scared to death.  Pick me.  Pick me.  Make me the next miracle.  This is my chance.

Then THE GOD of the universe reaches out his hand to touch this unclean man.  Jesus stretches down to reach the man lying in the dust, pleading for his life.

How long is the second before Jesus replies?

"I do choose.  Be made clean."

Immediately.  No leprosy.  The man feels his face, looks at his arms, rubs his hands over his body.  No deformity.

Jesus tells him to tell no one and to go straight to the priest to make an offering for cleansing which will be a testimony to the miracle.
The miracle of the leper spreads throughout the community and abroad.  Crowds of people come to hear Jesus and to be cured.

The man Jesus withdraws to deserted places.  Now he is hanging on the knot, alone, exhausted.  So many people demanding much.  Give. Give. Give.  He would never cry out unclean but he can feel what the man feels, the exhaustion of doing life along the dusty road.

This is the miracle of Jesus.  His humanity.  Alone and in prayer, he has the ability to be filled back up with with love and giving and life changing miracles as THE GOD of the universe.


FOUR CORNERS

Luke 5:17-26

The paralyzed man does not ask Jesus for anything.  Maybe he doesn't know about miracles.  Maybe he can't speak.  Or maybe he is just worn out living with his illness.  He has an obvious impairment but he doesn't have to shout unclean.  He is confined to his dusty mat watching people live their lives.  He could give up except for the concern of others.  He is not alone.  

His friends tell him about Jesus and he has no choice in the matter.  They gather up the four corners of his bedding and go to town.

Jesus was speaking to a large crowd and the power to heal came upon him.  The Pharisees and teachers of the law had travelled from near and far to hear exactly what he was teaching people. 

The friends realize the crowd is too large to push through to the front.  They will do everything possible to get their friend to Jesus.  Stairs?  Why not?  Up the stairs to the roof.  The paralyzed man has no control.  His friends are in charge.  Through the roof, literally.   God looks up as dust begins to fall from above.  More dust.  Four men have the corners of a mat and are lowering a man to the ground in front of Jesus.  Hope is falling through the roof.

Everyone is speechless.  Some people look on in wonder.  How wonderful to have such friends.  Some people look on in disapproval.  How could they tear up the roof?  Others were jealous because the man was so close to Jesus.  Even in the presence of Jesus, others stand in disgust over a paralyzed man even being brought to Jesus.

"When he saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven you."

The Pharisees and teachers bristle.  Who is this blasphemer forgiving sin?  Only God can forgive sin.

Jesus asks them which is easier, forgiving sin or making a man walk.  To show all of the crowd his authority on both counts, he tells the paralyzed man to stand up and take his mat and go home.

Immediately.  He stands up, taking up his own mat and goes home, glorifying God.  Finally, he has a response to Jesus.

Jesus didn't touch the paralyzed man.  His words were enough.  Neither the leper or the paralyzed man expressed any doubt.  The Pharisees and teachers were always doubting.

When we see Jesus coming down the road we can begin to hope.  Do we fall to the ground and beg?  Flat on the floor of a hospital waiting room or the floor of a bedroom?  How long is our second before Jesus replies?  Lord, if it be your will.

Immediately?  

Sometimes we are carried along by our friends.  We are so paralyzed by the shock of events we can't speak.  Sometimes the pain of nothingness pushes us away from Jesus.  We only get to Jesus because of our friends.  If you have four tremendous friends, who needs more?

Are we just like the Pharisees?  Doubting the miracle of Jesus in our lives?  The miracle of Jesus knowing just what our pain is even though we don't shout unclean.  Making us clean and whole even though we live in the dust of the road.












Monday, October 5, 2015

PRETTY FAT PASS THE BUTTER, PLEASE

Butter on pudding.  Butter on pie.  Butter in potatoes.  Butter on rice.  Butter in eggs.  Butter on steak. Butter on popcorn.  Butter on crackers.  Everything is better with butter, butter everywhere.

A person has to eat to survive.  Food had became like an addiction, the only acceptable drug for me.    Even at a good weight in college, I came close to becoming bulimic.  Ice cream, cookies and chips or driving through fast food for a hamburger and fries, sometimes everything at once, I would head to a friend's house, eating as much as I could.  When I was stressed, food became my obsession.   Seriously considering bulimia to control the results of my binge eating, I remembered another friend whose sister was dying from this horrible disease.  I chose to keep eating, no matter what.

Even when I was not overweight, the weight issue never stopped being a daily presence in my life, affecting my self-esteem - the way I lived my life.  An expert calorie counter, I carried a paperback with every bit of information about any food, anywhere.  

For years, every special occasion required a prerequisite quick and successful diet in order to enjoy myself.  My mind was wrapped around pounds that were a primary source of my self worth.  I think there are very few women who have not felt this way at some time.

Being pregnant was freedom.  I was not my "ideal" weight but I didn't balloon with extra weight, instead, eating what I needed.  My good eating habits left when I began to suffer post-partum depression.  The urge to binge returned.  I would order a pizza delivery, eating every bite of a large pepperoni, then tearing the pizza box up into little pieces for the trash.  No one knew.  Sneak eating became my new binge method.  At the time, we couldn't afford the pizza and I couldn't afford the carbohydrates.  On and on.  This is just one detail of the path I headed down without control.

After a certain point, I never weighed.  The weight doesn't exist without a number.  Ha.  Every overweight person knows the gig.  A number can be hard to face, especially if it has been such a measure of worth.  My clothes were truthful.  I remember holding up my jeans.  How could all of that space be me?  At this point, I hated having my picture taken.  Now I'm glad I have the pictures to prove where I was in life.  Looking at them, I can hardly believe that is me, my life and mind have changed so much.

It was no secret I was miserable.  No one knew what I was contemplating.  Weeks were spent devising a plan I could live with and still lose weight.  I was very scared to try again.  It was all or nothing.  I told myself I wouldn't live if I failed again.  This had to work.  These wobbly beginnings saved my life. And gave me the experience to share with others.

Fall 2015
I am not a psychiatrist or a nutrition expert.  While my weight has fluctuated briefly, the majority of my success has lasted for over fifteen years.  I am an expert only in the years it has taken me to arrive at these points of possibility and the freedom they give my life.
Thank goodness for my good bag and good shoes
Woman swallowed by old jeans
 1.   Numbers are not important.  Weight, dress sizes, ounces, calories, deadlines.  I just wanted to lose until I felt better.  This loose goal didn't set me up for failure.

2.   Time is limitless.  I didn't care how long this process would take.  Slow weight loss is easier to keep off.  Life fluctuates.  I have lost over 115 pounds but I'm still a work in progress.  Being "skinny" is in comparison to my old self.  I finally have given myself a goal range.

3.   Live it.  No diets.  They didn't work in the long run.  Making life changes at my own pace brought success.  My first action was to cut out seconds and thirds.  The next week or two I slowed down my eating time.  With each success, a new idea was added to my live it process.  Slow and easy wins the race.

4.   Permission to eat.  Nothing is off limits.  No denial.  This was a huge step for me.  I don't like to be told much of anything, but especially what I can't eat.  Obviously, it had not worked.  Dieting is about denial.  I couldn't live the rest of my life with pre-measured meals or measured points.  I had to learn how to eat again.  Diets had only reinforced my obsession with good and bad foods.  I used to think about food all of the time.  My life is happier because I don't have that obsession.  Now when I see a Butterfinger Candy Bar at the store, I can buy one, if I want.  One candy bar will not break the bank.  No one likes to be denied anything.  This freedom usually satisfies the want and has removed the guilt.  The angst over giving in to "bad" food is gone.  Usually, I decide not to eat the food.  This control is powerful.  And it is true freedom, after years of being tied up in "oh, I shouldn't have." Food is not bad.

5.   The lack of restrictions is not permission to overeat.  I can eat anything, just not all of anything or everything at one time.  Even with permission to buy the candy bar,  I go months passing it by.  With time, choices become better.

6.   Eat delicious calories.  No calories wasted on anything that doesn't measure up.  I don't eat Aunt Bessie's awful cake just to be nice.  There are other ways to be nice.  No more calorie counting but I do consider bad taste against good taste.

7.  Choose to eat.  When someone else plates my food, I eat only what I want.  When serving myself, I take only the amount I want to eat.  My membership has expired.  No more  Lick Your Plate Clean Club No Matter What Just Because Someone Thinks You Should.  If my plate is clean, every morsel was delicious.  

8.   Eat half of everything.  Eating less over time will shrink the stomach.  This was hard because I was used to large quantities.  A smaller stomach will feel full more quickly.  Returning to large portions, took me back to old ways.

9.   No weight loss without being hungry.  No matter what the experts say.  Depends on the degree of hunger.  My first action was to eat only when I was hungry without an automatic breakfast, lunch or dinner.  This helped me learn what I really needed instead of automatically turning to food.  I would eat just until I wasn't hungry.  From there, I went to smaller snacks every few hours like fruit, a glass or milk or a slice of cheese with a few crackers.   Being a little bit hungry, all day long, helps me not gain weight.  But being too hungry will lead to overeating.

10.   Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Breakfast is my favorite meal.  On a rare day, breakfast may be milk in my coffee.  Usually I have cereal but I love eggs and toast.  Not eating breakfast makes me too hungry all day long, resulting in overeating.  Lunch is very light.  Maybe half a sandwich and fruit.  I eat a good dinner.

11.  Weigh regularly.  I didn't weigh once I zoomed up the scales.  I began weighing again after there was a slight difference in my clothes.  Wow.  Shocker.  The highest number would have been even more depressing.  But not knowing is a dangerous game.  Experts suggest weighing  once a week.  I weigh every other day. first thing before breakfast.   Knowing my weight does help me regulate and know where I stand.

12.   Eat slowly.  I try to savor every bit and it helps me eat less.

13.   Early on, I decided to try and eat only what was available to my grandparents.  They ate plenty of delicious foods.  Somehow, they managed without Big Macs, Fritos, Little Debbies or anything hydrogenated.  Food in moderation didn't make me fat.

14.   Drink plenty of water.  Water is filling and quenches thirst.  I don't think water alone brings weight loss but being full of water turns off hunger.  I include my coffee and my iced tea because they are almost pure water.

15.  Until recently, we didn't have a full length mirror.  Big mistake.  Everyone looks pretty good from the waist up, ready to head out, checking themselves out in the bathroom mirror.  But a full length mirror opened my eyes.  I had wondered what was sneaking up behind me.

16.  Prayer for strength all along the road.  Strength to roll out of bed and do life.  Strength for the next step or the next breath.  Strength for my inner voice.  Strength to be around strangers.  Prayers for encouragement during the slow process of years.  Prayers of thankfulness for the changes in my life.

One spot is glaringly absent.  I do not mention exercise.  I have had many gym memberships.  For some reason, I have a hard time sticking to this routine.  Now that I have lost more weight, I really need to work on my core and tone my jiggles.  Surely, my weight loss would have come sooner with regular exercise.  Exercise is my next thing to tackle!

I never imagined I would become a before and an after.  Never shy, I decided to throw this blog out there, wanting to share these points of possibility and the freedom they give me.  I am proud of the results of my hard work.   On the inside, struggling with a weight issue is very personal and private.  Unfortunately, the struggle is obvious on the outside.  My only yardstick is my own success.  None of us should be judged by the size of our waist.  Love is on the inside.  It keeps us all going.  

At my heaviest, I would look in the mirror and try to see my real self.  Usually those glimpses would trigger the self-loathing always just under the surface.  Looking at these old pictures now, I try to remember living in that body, hurting physically and mentally.  My little voice kept me going. The love of others.  It was an effort to put that smile on and do whatever task was at hand but I knew deep down I was still me.  And she may be fat....but she's pretty.








  

Sunday, October 4, 2015

PRETTY FAT FIRST COURSE

Summer 1998
Please suspend disbelief and imagine this is an article in Good Housekeeping or People Magazine, just another one of "those" stories.  Perhaps.  But it is my story to tell and I feel like sharing.

Sometimes I just want to jump up and down on my sofa and tell the world it's not all about vegetables and deprivation.  I am walking proof of living a life eating hamburgers, steak, Butterfingers, fried catfish, mashed potatoes, cornbread, anything I choose and losing over 115 pounds during the process.


My beginning was two months ahead of schedule.  In my day, I was considered teeny.  After a month in an isolet, I reached five pounds and gained a homecoming to extremely nervous parents.  At some point, my teeny gene went into overdrive.  I grew into a generously healthy adult woman.

My mother was a good cook.  No picky eaters were allowed in our home.  I always wanted pudding.  And I never thought about wasting food when there were hungry children in Vietnam.  To this day, my mother has these little, bitty storage tubs which hold about two teaspoons.  Pull out five or six from the freezer and you have an instant feast.

We always had delicious, nutrious, homemade meals.  We didn't drink Cokes except for special occasions.  We seldom asked for seconds.  A snack would ruin our supper.  My best friend, Anita, had a glorious cookie jar full of Chips Ahoy cookies.  I would go straight to her Granny's kitchen and devour two handfuls of forbidden treats.

To this day, my mother makes great pies.  She would make a Lemon Meringue or Chocolate Pie and complain the next evening when the pie had disappeared.  It would make us laugh to imagine such a good pie lasting long at our house.  

I reached my glorious height around thirteen.  A little baby fat hung on for good measure which resulted in teasing, helping to begin my life long weight issue.  The ups and downs of losing and gaining, losing and gaining.  In my late thirties, depression, medication for depression and a broken ankle resulted in such a fast weight gain of forty pounds, I decided to gain thirty more and reached the breaking point.

Never mind my health issues like pre-diabetes and difficulty just doing life.  My point of decision was sheer vanity.  I was already in Women's World but my new weight left me no shopping option at my store.  My size was out of bounds, sending me to another shoppe once declared a "stylish stout shop."  For a fashion diva, this was too much.  Around this time, a friend of mine died from lupus.  Her mother sent me a box full of her beautiful clothes.  They sustained my love of beautiful things until l could turn this tugboat around.

I have tried every diet in existence.  The water diet in ninth grade.  Nothing but H20 until dinner.  Five pounds in five days.  Banana, hot dog, boiled egg three day diet.  Hilton Head diet.  Weight Watchers.  Jenny Craig.  The lovely liquid fast diet.  And a favorite, the prescribed magic pill which gave great results (20 pounds in six weeks) with enough energy to run the world.  Many diets multiple times.  I was always very successful at losing the weight.  And even more successful at regaining the weight, adding a little more just for fun.

A doctor of mine once told me, "Amy will lose the weight when she wants to."  He knew me well. This is an encouraging, truthful piece of advice for anyone struggling with a weight issue.  The power is in your own head, not a diet or another person's desire.  I finally had to reach rock bottom and tell myself enough was enough.

Truthfully, clothes weren't the only issue.  I regretted the control my weight had over me.  I was involved in my daughter's activities but I knew I was usually the largest person in the room.  I regret the outdoor hikes, parades, festivals and other activties I missed with my sweet family because big mamas don't do heat well.  No matter what, my family's love, patience and encouragement never wavered.

Santa's helper
As my weight came back down the scales and my self-esteem started to find me again, a new attitude kicked into place.  I didn't care how much I weighed.  Weight was not going to define how I lived my life.  I bought a bathing suit for the first time in years.  I focused on using clothing to my best advantage even if the size was not where I wanted to be.  I had to accept myself where I was.  Amy finally wanted to get the weight off.

"Pretty fat" became my inner go-to mantra.  Not as a putdown -  Yea, she's pretty fat, man!  But pretty, fat as pretty and fat at the same time.  There is even a muscial rendition.  She may be fat but....she's pretty.  I have used it for all of these years to perk me up, put a smile on my face.  Learning to laugh about myself, not to harshly criticize, has helped immensely.








Part One of Two



Thursday, September 24, 2015

YEA LAW! WHERE IS MY FLOWER TOPPED CAKE?






Thanks for the great response on my blog, Yea Law! Where's My Purse?  After reading it a few times, I realized I had failed to mention two items I loved to eat at Grandmama's house.  Her meatloaf and her Fresh Apple Cake.

Even though it is the second day of fall and 89 degrees with low humidity, I'm busy in my AC cooled home pretending the leaves are already turning and the nights chilly enough for sitting on the deck star-gazing, with a cup of honey tea.  In reality, the leaves may be turning due to a lack of rain but an enjoyable night on the deck is still questionable, especially with a hot beverage.  Somehow, just sitting on the deck drinking Coca Cola is not appealing, for now.  But of course, I do always love my Coke.

This blog is called Randomonium for a reason.  That is the way my mind works.  Mid-sentence, walking into one room distracted from a mission or maybe waking up in the middle of the night, wondering about my purse.  I don't want to be tied to a certain style blog, unless it is my idea.

So in honor of the second day of fall, my favorite season, I'm bringing another recipe to your attention.  I hope this cake will look better than my flop three weeks ago.

This is very easy to make, everything in one bowl.  It is a stiff mix and I have been known to use manual labor to get it all together at the closing.  Except for eating the cake, the best part is the two hour wait time for cooking.  I guess I will grab a book and stay closeby in case the oven breaks or the timer goes off!

GRANDMAMA'S FRESH APPLE CAKE

Combine 3 cups flour / 2 cups sugar / 1 1/2 tsp soda / 1 tsp salt
                                           
Stir in  1 1/4 cup Wesson Oil / 1 tsp vanilla / 2 beaten eggs / 3 cups chopped apples /
            1 cup chopped pecans
                         
Grease and flour tube pan.  Bake at 275 for 2 hours.

              
Well, this cake didn't win the pretty prize either.  And there is no icing to cover up these spots.  It is delicious but one more like this and I'm out of the cake business.  I did have some flowers handy.  I have placed flower tops in the ugly spots - viola- The Flower Topped Cake.

Tested and approved by BT





Thursday, September 17, 2015

YEA LAW! WHERE'S MY PURSE?!





At 3 a.m. in the morning, everyone was sleeping soundly.  My Grandmama and Pa were visiting, sleeping in the middle room of my parents' house, the guest room.  Obviously not everyone was sleeping soundly.  Without even a whisper but a blood curdling scream saved only for life-threatening moments, Grandmama sat up in bed in the pitch dark night, screaming, "GUNTER, WHERE'S MY PURSE???"  All the lights flew on, the commotion putting the rest of the house in "danger" mode, sending everyone else scurrying to a fallout shelter.  It is funny now but to live it was another matter.  Grandmama could be kind and gentle but she could also flip a switch that brought every other activity to a halt or sleeping neighborhoods to attention.  The purse was found.  She always had a thing about her beautiful bags.  Somehow, I may have inherited both of these qualities.

Sometimes I think my lot in life is unpacking boxes.  Boxes from remodeling or boxes moved to the garage for temporary safe keeping.  Ah, the garage.  The glorious repository of all things without quick solutions.  Easy out.  Just open the kitchen door and pitch.  Maybe a professional organizer is in my future.

But good things do come in forgotten boxes.  I recently found the box holding souvenirs I have collected from my grandmother's life.  This is not a huge collection because she was the sort of person who had just what she needed and little excess except for dinnerware and family correspondence.  The original place for everything.

NRE (1909-2003) started out with a holler, on a hot, summer day in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, after the doctor had asked her father whose life to save, the mother's or the baby's.  The delivery left small scars on her little head.  She was quickly wrapped and placed on a table, unattended, while the doctor and his helper labored to save her mother.  Cassie was spared but would never have any more babies.  At some point, as the story has been told for years, the neglected baby made herself known with a big cry.  And thus, she continued for her ninety-three years, feisty and much loved from day one.

We shared a close relationship and could talk about almost anything.   Others insisted I was her favorite but I had no control in being the first grandchild born and sharing her middle name.  When I was fifteen, she shocked me for the first time.  We were walking in a dwindling downtown area.  One store offered nothing but bare mannequins posed for the empty streets.  Grandmama whispered to me, "Somebody really told her where to stick it."  I never saw her in the same way again.

Before I left for college, I drove to visit my grandparents.  She loved to shop but always with a purpose in mind.  Always the best and always her brand.  Going out required her to go upstairs to put on her rings, grab her purse and get her credit card (which she paid in full each month).  We went to the local boutique where my mother had bought her wedding dress years earlier.  Grandmama said yes to three dresses for my college wardrobe.   Her generosity was famous.

She also shared a story about her first few days in college.  Her beauty was well-known and preceded her to school.  Upon her arrival, the captain of the football team made her acquaintance and offered her any and everything on campus, with one proposition.  Again, I was shocked.  But this was her warning to me about the dangers lurking in college.

Family genealogy was a natural talent.  Every introduction included "your people" and her ability to know the chain of relations of dozens of people and families.  She would have loved computers for genealogy.  Her family was precious to her and she always cherished the life she had had with her parents.   

To the penny and with a sharp pencil, she kept up with all of my grandparents' business, from running a hotel to tracking the stock market.  My grandparents' love story began in college.  Once they married, they were equals in life and work.  Her business acumen was well advanced for a woman of her time.  Almost every visit, a large ledger was offered to family members for viewing stock fluctuations, dividends and net worth.  In another era, she could have climbed the corporate ladder.

Division among the ranks as to her cooking.  I remember being a child and wondering if my Grandmama cooked.  Didn't they all?  When she was young, her mother cooked.  When newly married, the deli cooked.  Running hotels and raising small children, the kitchen cooked.  And my Pa cooked.  But she cooked potato salad.  Pot roast.  Meatloaf.  Vegetable soup.  Angelfood cake.  Applesauce salad.  Divinity and fruitcake cookies.  Squash casserole.  Turnips.  Mrs. Smith's Apple Pie.  Popcorn.  Fritos.  Dr. Pepper.  Nobody starved.
  
Every morning of her life, she ate a banana, half a grapefruit, a bowl of Grape Nuts, orange juice and coffee.  Must have been the right combination.  She saw her doctors when necessary or for check-ups.  The only time she was hospitalized was when her two children were born.  When she died, she had never had any surgery or broken bones and was taking one or two prescriptions.  

You can be feisty and independent all of your life.  The same will that got you off the table on day one can carry you almost to the end.   With good health, luck and care, you can grow old and wise.   But being feisty or stubborn will not prevent the spider webs of dementia from running through your mind.

Stubbornness will make you say you don’t need help.   You don’t care if you lay at the bottom of the stairs dead for days.   You don’t need any medicine at all.  You can’t turn the dining room into a downstairs bedroom.   You can lie in your gown tail in bed all week.  You will fight desperately, verbally, physically, and emotionally to not go to a nursing home.

Dementia makes you call the police if your caregiver aggravates you.  You throw books at people you care about.   You scream and cry to get attention.  You lose the battle and enter a nursing home.  You tell strangers you don’t have on underwear.   You call your daughter Mama.   You don’t remember being married.   You think your parents are still living.   You deny your ninety-three years.

The last years of a very old person’s life are often not the true picture of that person.  The wonderful people who took care of her didn't know who she really was.  They did not see the beautiful face that broke hearts, or the fun loving, young mother and wife.  They did not see the countless hours she spent serving at the Red Cross in WWII.  Or the years running a hotel or helping at church.  Her sturdy shoes and turtlenecks belied the once stunning figure, impeccably dressed.  They did not know she helped her father and mother-in-law when they were sick and dying.  Or that Grandmama was sitting next to her mother when she died suddenly, unexpectedly.

She was the oldest person I have ever known.  I always wanted to ask her what it was like to be so close to heaven.  Burt's grandfather had just died and I needed to pack.  But before leaving, I felt like making the trip to see Grandmama.  The difference in a week was dramatic.  She had never been this way before.  She was leaning over in her wheelchair.  It was hard for her to talk so I did all the talking.  We held hands the whole time.  She would squeeze my hands and look at me.  I know she knew me.  I poured my heart out to her about how much she was loved,  my admiration of her.  What a wonderful life she had lived.  I talked about all of her family waiting in heaven.  As much as I would miss her, I gave her permission to let go.  Four days later, I rushed from a funeral in another state to be by her side but she left before I could get there.  

When she was born, her father had smallpox and was quarantined in a shed.  He was allowed to come to the glass window and peer in at his new baby.   Love at first sight.  Grandmama always had a wealth of love and attention.   And she returned the same.





Sunday, September 13, 2015

GROCERY LIST (A REVIEW OF FAVORITE RECIPES)

Tomato.  Bell pepper,  Vinegar.  Tea bag.  Ice.  Butter,  Sugar.  Flour.  Pumpkin.  Ginger.  Cream Cheese.  Boiled eggs.  Mayonnaise.  Ground Sirloin.  Cumin.  Tomato sauce.  Potatoes.  Cream.  Cheddar Cheese.  Olives.  Cayenne.  Old English Cheese.  Tea bag.  Clove.  Oranges.  Curry.  Green onions.  Chutney.  Cornbread.  Celery.

25 months.  Hard to believe this blog has been writing itself (ha) for two years and one month.  Amazing.  Really.

In honor of this two year occasion,  I'm looking back at the most viewed recipe posts.  This is partially out of nostalgia but also admitted vain glory, reintroducing the reader to my unsurpassed cooking prowess represented in this varied palate.

One might think a recipe is an easy out .  Inspiration or just because I was cooking that day, there is much debate about presentation, photography and active food prep.

I hope this will make you want to read a few.  Test a few.  I will lead the way through the "favorites" maze.

Bon Appetit!  Shown in order of popularity.

# 1  PEA SALAD FOR A TRUE SOUTHERN REPAST     SEPTEMBER 1, 2013

A distinct family favorite served over purple hull peas. Diced summer tomatoes, onions and green bell pepper make up this confetti for your palate.  Vinegar and sugar round out this party on a plate.  Hot sliced, buttered cornbread, purple hull peas and pea salad.  All that is southern.










#  2  PERFECT ICED TEA EVEN IN THE MORNING     AUGUST 16, 2013

An experienced cook unable to make perfect iced tea.  A sad spot in the road.  But practice makes perfect and this experiment always results in a consistently, refreshing beverage.  There is no sugar in this recipe but it is an easy addition.  If you drink iced tea in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning, you may have a southern gene.  Truthfully, the Mason Dixon line has little to do with this favorite of favorites that looks pretty in any setting and compliments any meal or midnight snack.










#  3  LABOR BY THE POUND     SEPTEMBER 7, 2015

Nothing beats butter, sugar, flour, eggs and vanilla.  Imagine the delight of the first cook to figure out this combo!  Whipping cream is the surprise ingredient.  This cake is tasty any hour of the day.  Be warned.  The simplicity of this cake is a false front for its twisted ability to increase consumption and waistlines.  It should be a labor to lift a bite.








A tie for #4

# 4  PROPER EASTER EGG CONSUMPTION:  THE DEVILED EGG   APRIL 21, 2014

A perfect Devilishly Good Curried Egg

Rigorous testing and measurement yield two deviled egg avenues.  The basic recipe and the devilishly good curried egg.  Simple is good but curried may be better.  Peeling the egg is always a dreaded proposition but a part of the deal.  Remember the old wives' tale.  You never have deviled egg leftovers after a shindig.












#  4  WOO PIG SOOIE PIES    OCTOBER 26, 2014
WOO PIG SOOIE PIES
















Nice juicy eyeball, squish!





























Pumpkin.  Cream cheese.  Ginger.  Fall.  The only words necessary.  Martha Stewart recipe.  Despite the labor involved, this recipe is in my limited fall lineup.  Too good to pass by.  Infact, fall just doesn't seem right without these little piggies.  They easily freeze for use on another day.  If you take them to a party, leave a few at home.  Otherwise, you will not get a bite.  My pig collection is keeping guard.







#  5
CHILI BY DISTRACTION                                          FEBRUARY 2, 2015


An interesting way to picture my delicious chili by distraction.  Cooking distracted is not advisable.  Sometimes it just happens.  This is a recipe for disaster but saved at the last moment.  Enjoyment was doubled the next day watching our annual snowfall.












#  6
GOING TO MAINE POTATO SOUP 
          OCTOBER 23, 2013

Potatoes,  Cheddar.  Sour cream.  Favorite, favorite soup.  Did I mention bacon?  Curative powers and rave reviews.  Named for my favorite place in the world!













#  7
olEYEve cheese BALLS for a YUMMY                        HALLOWEEN  APP
                       OCTOBER 29, 2013

Olive cheese balls.  My very first appetizer and also the first time I watched THE BIRDS.  Very sophisticated for a ten year old.  These scream party!!!











#  8
ONLY THE FOURTH 
OF  FEBLUEARY                        FEBRUARY 4, 2014

To warm the cockles of your heart.  My mother's spiced tea recipe.  Simple is sweet and deceptive.
















#  9
DON'T LEAVE HOME 
          WITHOUT IT
         OCTOBER 3, 2013

An admitted lover of curry.  This is a recipe anyone will love.  The chutney is the touch of piquant perfection.  Recipe from Liza Ashley, Arkansas Governor's Mansion.  Another party time highlight!















#  10  #SIZZLE - PERFECT CORNBREAD - NO STICK               GUARANTEE

November  23, 2013

My very first flight into cooking.  This is one item of perfection I enjoy.  The sizzle must not fizzle.







#  10  PERFECT CORNBREAD DRESSING - A TURKEY DAY POSTCARD

Another tie.  Why not?  It's about cornbread.  The perfect backside from a pan of cornbread.  Necessary item for delicious cornbread dressing.  Cornbread dressing is southern in all caps.  No matter where you hang your heart.  This recipe is a traditional centerpiece for any special meal.


I apologize for the crazy happening of my blog.  A very hungry gremlin made the column feature take over and I haven't figured it out, yet.  Obviously,  ha, I have hit something somewhere.  I can cook but barely compute.