The Catfish and the Bicycle

goat driving

(Friends:  I am trying this story on for size.  It is indeed based on truth but it doesn’t feel quite right to me yet, so I’m crowd-sourcing guidance from y’all.  I welcome all comments and suggestions.)

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Now I understand that my sister and I had a peculiar childhood. With both parents in law enforcement, expectations for us as budding young Southern ladies were skewed towards a paranoid place. I don’t know how normal our upbringing was, I honestly doubt I’d know normal if it tapped me on the shoulder and introduced itself.  It was normal for our clan, that’s all I can say.

The Manson murders happened when I was just approaching puberty. My mother never saw the world the same way again. She was suspicious before the trials, but seeing young girls convicted for such sadistic, blood-thirsty acts put a potential monster behind every beaming cheerleader’s face.   She counseled me to be wary of girls who didn’t “act right.” Being Southerners, not acting right could mean a girl didn’t compose proper thank-you notes, or that she was fixing to disembowel you. Not acting right was a confusing catch-all category, but whatever it meant, I was to avoid it.

So my sister Lynn and I were expected to be young ladies; well-spoken, well-read, and well-mannered.   In contrast, we were also expected to never ever to be the girl that ends up in a shallow grave down by the river. If someone tried to hurt us, we were to scream, gouge, bite, kick, and do whatever disgusting thing was necessary to live. If you look up schizophrenia in the dictionary, it may reference my early years. Be a delicate flower of a girl, kindness personified, but if you have to, use your thumbs to pop a guy’s eyeballs out of his skull.

Where I grew up, everyone learned to drive as soon as they could see over the steering wheel, around twelve or so. In a farming community, this makes sense. The trade-off for driving lessons was learning to load, shoot, and reload a handgun proficiently. These two activities were linked because no matter what family vehicle you were in, there was going to be a pistol under the driver’s seat. Unless you were in the pick-up, then there were shotguns in the gun rack plus the hand gun under the seat. I can’t imagine why boys weren’t lined up around the block wanting to date me in high school.

In my husband’s family growing up, if you couldn’t fall asleep you were encouraged to get up and do something useful. Read, do crafts, anything productive yet relatively quiet. In my family home, if you couldn’t fall asleep you kept your ass in bed. Rambling around in the middle of the night meant you might be an intruder, though I don’t know who could possibly be stupid enough to try to break into our house. Being mistaken for a prowler, well it could get you shot.

Car trips and outings meant we played the Observation Game. It was probably to keep me quiet, but it did teach me a skill. Think of it as the policeman’s version of “I Spy.” We’d be rolling along in the car, or walking along the street, and I’d be quizzed. How many people did you see in the car we just passed? Describe the man who just came out of the hardware store. What was he carrying? Which way did he go? You’d better be able to describe his face, not just his clothes. You did not get points for clothing. Where’s the closest exit to where we’re standing right now? If the path to that door is blocked, where’s the next best one? Get most of these questions correct, and an icy Nehi soda was the prize.

These were our formative years. Call them unusual, call them bizarre, call child protective services, it was what we knew. It was my parents’ way of protecting us from Very Bad Things. And there are always very bad things in the world. As adults, my sister and I often pass for typical, well-adjusted women until something happens that triggers our stand-up-and-fight-back.

Lynn now has two little girls and is raising them by herself. She’s getting by. Lynn found three beat-up but workable bicycles at yard sales so she and the girls can go biking on Sundays. She keeps the bikes in a decrepit shed behind her house. It ‘s an open shed which might collapse if you look at it cross-eyed, but there’s been a rash of bike thefts in her neighborhood and it’s the safest place for them.

One night while washing dishes, Lynn notices movement in the backyard. Someone is trying to steal the bikes! Not thinking twice, she grabs a butcher knife from the dish rack and runs out the front door just as the thief was coming down the driveway, pushing her daughter’s bike.

He stops — rookie mistake — because my sister is still running full throttle at him, waving a big knife, and screaming, “You drop that bike or I will gut you like a catfish!”

There’s a battle cry my family can rally behind. She got the bike back. No filleting necessary.

The Permission Pixie

(It is that time of year again.  Ho-ho-holidays!  So I’m running one of my most popular posts again as a reminder for all y’all.  Remember to take a well-deserved holiday nap or two.)

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‘Tis the season. Fa la freaking la.   I got your jingle bells right here, mister. This is the time of year when multitudes of people run around like chicken missing heads, worked into a frothy frenzy over what absolutely has to be done, oh my God, like now. NOW!

Stop it. The timeline from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day is full of food and the people you love. That’s all that’s necessary. So I’m going to give you a huge pass this year. I am secretly the Permission Pixie. Shhh, don’t tell. It’s my super power.

I, the Permission Pixie, grant you permission to ignore the urge to put up eight trillion blinking lights on your house. I don’t even put up a wreath anymore. In fact, I decorate so little these days my neighborhood thinks I’m Jewish.  Shalom, y’all.

I, the Permission Pixie, hereby give you permission to ignore all invitations that require you to make something. No cookie exchanges ever again. The pressure to show up with something other than a package of Oreos is too stressful. Cookie exchanges bring out latent Martha Stewart perfectionist tendencies and all of a sudden, it’s a world championship beat-down for who made the most elaborate cookies. Knock it off. You don’t need to graze through eighty kinds of cookies in a month. You’ve got to leave room for the really good stuff, like pie.

I, the Permission Pixie, give you permission to stop wrapping gifts like you are set decorating The Nutcracker Suite.   I have two words for you: gift bags. Easy-peasy, life is breezy gift bags. I have taken this to the extreme and use brown paper lunch bags with a bright ribbon. I am a sucker for anything industrial-chic that is also industrial-cheap, and brown kraft paper is a favorite of mine.

While we’re on the subject of gifts, I give you permission to stop giving non-consumable, (fruitcake will still damn you to Hell’s sticky spots) store-bought gifts to any person who is over the age of twelve. I say twelve because there are just different rules for little ones during the holidays, but you do get permission to cut back on gifts for them, too. There is only so much plastic crap one child needs, so don’t lose your mind, okay?

Black Friday is a day dedicated to showing the world everything that is embarrassing about America. It is commerce without care, it is greed without good, it is frenzy without friendship. Black Friday makes us all look like excitable, dim-witted sheep, bleating and trampling our way to a 20% discount on stuff made elsewhere. Stop it.

Special note to men. Do not buy your woman any gift with a plug. The exception is the Hitachi Magic Wand neck massager (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) in which case go right ahead, you scamp you. If not the Hitachi, things with plugs are appliances. Appliances mean housework. Housework sucks a big bag of sourballs. Enough said.

I don’t know anyone who wants another “dustable” around the house, no matter how adorable or commemorative it may be. I know lots of people who crave time. Time with friends, time with children, time away from children, time to sit down and drink a whole cup of coffee in peace. Time to talk and to listen. Give time. Give people what they need and want.

If a friend would stab a hobo to get five hours without her kids, give her a coupon for babysitting. If a friend complains about her lack of organization, gift her with a certificate to help sort out her closet or her office. If a loved one arrives home from work exhausted every day, give them a homemade dinner all frozen and ready-to-go, complete with reheating instructions. If your friend loves to garden but is unable to keep up with it then give an offer to pull weeds for a morning or make potted gardens together in the spring. A gift of your time is more splendid than anything you could buy. This extends to teenagers, too. Give them a gift of an afternoon at the movies, or the water park, or something they just don’t get to do. They’d much rather get that than a Christmas sweater, believe you me.

Why am I so anti-commerce during the season? Well, it’s not that I don’t like things. It’s that I despise the pressure to provide them. This season pokes an emotional blister of mine from my starter marriage. Every year, dear old Starter would wait until Christmas Eve, grab his car keys and grumble his way to the mall. He’d stop at whatever jewelry counter was closest to his parking spot and grab something. Then he’d grumble his way home, complaining that his work day had been interrupted. After dinner I’d get the gift, complete with the agonizing details of how difficult and tedious it had been to go get this thing for me, you’re welcome.

Why even bother? Every year I’d get some sparkling item that was extravagantly expensive, but so loaded down with bitterness that I hardly ever touched it. What was the point? So if anyone asked, he could tell them that he spent $5,000 on a bracelet or ring, or earrings, because he was such a magnificent provider. Inevitably, they’d ask to see it. Nope, it’s in a drawer. I need to get a HAZMAT team to scrub all the animosity off before I can safely wear it. That’s not a gift. That’s a reminder that you married the wrong person. That’s evidence that it’s not getting better. That’s your invitation to hit the road. Ho ho hot tail it outta there.

Let me be your Jacob Marley.   Listen up, dears. Whatever you give this season, give it with an open and tender heart. Do not give a gift because you “have to.” Give a gift only if you truly want to. Give of yourself, not of the mall, as much as possible. Tell people you love them. Act like you love them. Spend some time treating yourself kindly, too.   Take a nap and eat some pie.

Dog Rescue Reminder

Biscuit at Vet Office

This is Biscuit.  We adopted Biscuit from Operation Paws for Homes, a terrific rescue group that pulls dogs from high kill rate shelters in the South and brings them to the greater DC area (Virginia, DC, Maryland, and Pennsylvania) for adoption. They have a phenomenal success rate and a group of volunteers who, if they turned their attention to world domination instead of dog rescue, would rule the world in six weeks, tops.

This post is a reminder to all that adopt a dog from the Southern states where heart worms are rampant, that you really should have your dog retested for heart worms four months after you bring it home.  Heart worms can take four months from the date of infection to show up in the bloodwork.

Biscuit is happy, healthy, and heart worm free.  She is the most naturally polite dog I’ve ever owned, a real joy to work with and train.  If you’re interested in learning more about Operation Paws for Homes, go to their web site:  http://ophrescue.org  or just browse the national database for rescue groups and adoptable animals, http://petfinder.com.

All Kinds of Happy

I have not posted here in a while.  I’ve been on deadline for another project.  But that project is going really well so I thought I’d post a representation of my mood.

As an introvert who works from home and overthinks every stinking word she puts on paper, these good days are to be celebrated.  I hope you’re happy and healthy today, too.

happy tulip pug

This Old House

A brand, spanking new column is up at the Blue Ridge Country magazine web site.  It’s entitled “This Old House.”  I am tickled pink with this one, as it gives y’all a fairly accurate peek into our life here in the Valley.  It’s less Country Living and more Psychology Today than you might guess.  As always, your comments are welcomed both here and at the magazine site, where they’re constantly evaluating my popularity and/or law suit potential.  Love y’all.

Mill Creek Stories Column: This Old House

Homemade Ice Cream: It’s Officially Summer!

peach ice cream

My Grandpa Buck did not cook. He was up at dawn and out in the fields or the barn early and didn’t come back to the house until he smelled dinner or it started getting dark. As far as food was concerned, it was just something that magically appeared twice a day when Grandpa sat down at the kitchen table.

Every summer though, my Grandpa would pick buckets of peaches from the trees on the farm and make ice cream. He’s do the whole thing, start to finish, from the peeling to the churning without any help from Grandma at all. That was the only time I’d ever see Grandma eat more than one helping of anything. She always had at least two bowls and they weren’t delicate, tiny, lady-like bowls either. Everyone loved peach ice cream, but no one enjoyed it more than Grandma. It simply was not summer in our family until you’d had a bowl of Grandpa’s peach ice cream.

Like most of my favorite foods from my childhood, the peach ice cream recipe eluded me. I simply could not get a version that satisfied my nostalgia, no matter what concoction I tried. I blamed the lack of my own dairy cow, or a different variety of peach, or growing conditions, or pasteurization, or newfangled ice cream makers on the lack of peachy perfection. What was I doing wrong?

I still don’t know why Grandpa’s ice cream was so much better than mine, other than it was made by someone who loved me and always made time for me. That goes a long way towards making food delicious. I will fondly remember an expired tin of Spam if it was shared with someone who deeply loves me. Love is the ultimate seasoning, and don’t you forget it.

As far as the holy grail of peach ice cream goes, I have finally had my eureka moment. The good folks over at http://www.seriouseats.com put out a recipe for strawberry ice cream that I modified and it is completely wonderful. It honestly does my Grandpa Buck proud. I offer it to you so your summer can be complete. Go make your own wonderful memories. Life’s too short not to eat the ice cream.

 

Grandpa Buck’s Peach Ice Cream, Updated

Ingredients:

1 farm stand sack of fresh peaches, approximately a quart or 2- 1/2 pounds, does not have to be exact

2 Cups half and half

1-1/4 Cups sugar, divided into 1/2 Cup and 3/4 Cup

1/2 Cup light corn syrup

4 Tablespoons liquor, no more than 80 proof, vodka, bourbon, amaretto, or my favorite for this application, Cointreau, which pairs well with and enhances fruits

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, if needed to counter sweetness

Directions:

Preparation:

Peel the peaches, remove pits, then slice enough into thin slices or small cubes to make 1 Cup. You need these to be small to avoid forming ice crystals which are definitely not fruitalicious.

Combine the tiny peach pieces in a bowl with 1/2 Cup sugar and the booze and let sit in the fridge for a minimum of two hours. I left them overnight. This is where the science happens. The alcohol prevents the fruit from becoming icy, hard, shards in the finished ice cream. You’ll thank me later.

Take the remaining peach chunks and puree in a blender at high speed until smooth. If you are using a different fruit, you may need to strain the mixture to remove seeds or fibers. The peaches did not need straining.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining sugar, corn syrup, half and half, and peach slurry. Whisk until married. Taste mix and adjust with the salt and lemon juice as needed. Cover and chill in the fridge until very cold. I left mine overnight.

Making Ice Cream:

Take the chilled blended peach base (not the small bits) and churn according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.

When the mix is just about finished, take the peach bits out of the fridge and drain off the syrup but do not throw it away. The syrup is fabulous in iced tea, lemonade, margaritas, or daiquiris. Add the peach bits to the ice cream and churn no more than a minute.

Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and put it in the freezer for at least four hours to harden. I know, I know, that’s almost impossible for those of us who have impulse control issues, but it is important for the finished product. You’ve gone to all this effort, don’t slack off now.

Cook’s Notes:

Strawberries and mangoes also work well with this recipe. Have fun with it.

Also, don’t freak out about the corn syrup.  It improves the texture.  Calm down about the high-fructose whatever, you’re making ice cream, the best ice cream you’ve had in forever.  Let it go.

Self Improvement Unlocked

Partners in Crime

 

I have always been a self-improvement book junkie. I haunt the Self Help section in the book store.   I love the feeling I get standing there, so full of possibilities. Yes, I can lose 20 pounds! Yes, I can get organized! Yes, I can have more money! Yes, I can enjoy the most satisfying relationship ever! I am hooked on the potential. I get the same feeling in an office supply store, or an organization Mecca like The Container Store, or even a fabric store, and I can’t even sew.

I am completely smitten with the idea of becoming a better me. No more bad food choices. No more procrastination. No more avoiding exercise. No more clutter. No more sketchy money habits. No more sleeping late. No more dust bunnies the size of a Buick.

I am also completely smitten with the idea of all those improvements happening magically while I sleep. I am a hardcore hedonist at heart and not much for muscling my way through a huge, sustained effort to achieve, well, anything. For a while I even deluded myself that if I bought the self-help books, the attribute I sought would be part of the purchase. “Thank you for buying the newest book on weight loss, ma’am. I’ve slipped some self-control in the bag for you as your gift with purchase.”

Recently though, I have been making some major progress in becoming a better version of me. I’ve lost eight pounds. I’m getting up earlier. I’m getting more accomplished. I’m keeping the house picked up. All my floors are mopped. I’m going outside several times a day and moving much more. I am loving this new way of life.

What happened? It wasn’t all me. I hooked up with a relentless motivational partner, a real Marine Corps drill sergeant of a beast. No excuses, no waiting, no putting it off, no sirreee. I adopted a puppy. I got a gorgeous, six-month-old, Belgian Malinois, Energizer bunny of a puppy named Biscuit.

Now usually, I am not a puppy person. My habit is to rescue older dogs, kind of a what-you-see-is-what-you-get situation that offers few surprises and far less training. With an older dog, you know its size, temperament, and habits. It is already past the teething phase, so you get to keep your furniture intact. Housebreaking an older dog consists mainly of pointing to the doggie door. Boom. Done.

Puppies are totally adorable, but in a dictatorial kind of way. I watch Biscuit sleep and my heart melts. While my heart indulges in puppy pitty pat, my brain can’t help but think, “Damn, she’s recharging.”

Sleep in until eight? I don’t think so. Dawn’s first light is your new rise-and-shine. You can’t say “just a minute” to the last two inches of a puppy’s colon. Stay inside and read? Nope. You’ll be going outside every two hours, no matter the weather or heat index. Even with regularly scheduled walks, you’ll end up mopping more than ever. Your floors will gleam. Puppies are single-minded and if their brain is fully occupied with a rousing game of keep-away, it won’t process the “Yowza, gotta pee” signal until it is far too late to get outside.

Are you in the habit of dropping your belongings just wherever when you come into your house? Yeah, that’s not going to work. Anything below four feet is in imminent danger of becoming confetti. I have an added twist because we also have an adolescent Great Dane who is Biscuit’s partner in crime. Mosey is just fourteen months old, can rest her chin on the kitchen counters easily and can stand up and nudge the upper kitchen cabinets open. It seems that she and Biscuit are tag-teaming me. Biscuit, whose nose is amazing, gives directions to where the rawhide chews are hidden and Mosey pulls them down from the cabinets. So anything of real value in this house is now crammed behind closed doors or sits above six feet. My house has never looked cleaner.

You can forget about leaving fast food wrappers in your car. You can forget about setting something down “for just a minute.” You will never be able to open a cellophane package without your dogs doing their very best Biafran orphan impersonation. Evidently, all cellophane sounds like nummy treats to dogs, even if it’s just a pack of light bulbs. If you want privacy while you go to the bathroom, you should’ve named your pup Privacy, because you will never pee alone again.

Misplacing your cell phone used to be just inconvenient, now it triggers a major panic attack. “Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God, I do not want to have to take you to the emergency vet. Tell me you did not eat my iPhone.”

I know it sounds like I’m complaining but really, I could not be happier. Finally, I am getting up early, losing weight, cleaning my house regularly, getting lots of sunshine and fresh air, and saving money by not buying all those self-help books. Hey, maybe I should write one.

The Puppy Plan for a Better Life

by

Molly Dugger Brennan

Chapter One: Adopt A Puppy

Chapter Two: Take Care of Your Puppy

Chapter Three: Live Happily Ever After

The End.

Livestock in the Bedroom

Joe Normal Pose

(This is my mastiff Joe who passed away this week just shy of his 12th birthday.  I wrote this piece years ago when I first adopted Joe and am rerunning it in his honor.  I have never met a dog more devoted to my well-being than this boy and I will miss him forever.)

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Economically, times are tough. Those that have spending money are finally showing a bit of well-placed caution, and those that don’t have money, well, the decision to become fiscally conservative has been made for them. Economic distress is so close that everyone is feeling its hot, sour breath in our ears, whispering terms of anxiety and fear.

We Americans are strong. We will adapt. We will come through this and be content and prosperous again. Though right now that we’re in the middle of this financial fog and trying to cope, we’d love a gigantic cocktail of scotch and Xanax, hold the ice. Yes bartender, I would like to run a tab.

As people are being shoved into tight corners and having to make painful choices, it is often the most blameless that bear the first, confusing cut. The family dog, particularly if it is a large breed, often finds itself dumped in a shelter through no fault of its own. Large breed rescue groups and shelters are being overrun with owner-relinquished pets as people are being forced out of their homes into an apartment or worse.

If you and yours find yourself having to live in your car, there is no question that Meatball the mastiff doesn’t quite fit your current situation. It’s not Meatball’s fault. He’s grown into 200 pounds of fur-covered familial devotion, but your new reality is that you have a Ford Taurus as a home address and two children sharing the back seat. Meatball has to go. He is an innocent, bewildered casualty of the current economy and it is just not fair.

My heart aches for Meatball. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am a total sucker for a large dog. I am absolutely potty about lumbering, heavy-jowled monsters. My husband’s favorite breed of dog is the Labrador retriever, which I consider to be just a medium-sized dog, practically petite. We decided to adopt another rescue dog this year to join our two, Oney the Great Dane; and Clara Jack, the Basset hound from Hell. In a fit of unusual practicality, I was leaning towards something smaller this time, even bedroom slipper size, like a Pug.

Then my husband Patrick proved to me once again that he truly does love me all the way down to my toes. He said no. Even though it would have been so much easier on him, he said no to a small dog, because he knows I really do love and prefer large. He reminded me of the joy I’d known with our late Bernese Mountain dog, Bubba, who was convinced I’d personally hung the moon. Patrick told me I had to get an enormous male dog who was as smitten with me as Bubba had been, insuring that domestic bliss would be achieved. He even went so far as to bolt a twin bed onto the side of our king-size bed giving room for all, so no one would be left out of the pack while we slept.

So with Patrick’s encouragement, I found my very own Meatball. An English mastiff the size of Jupiter, he was available through the Southern States Mastiff Rescue group. I met him at the foster home where he was staying. He sniffed me once and promptly jumped in the back of my car. It was a done deal as far as he was concerned. I probably would have acted a bit more coyly, but that would have only wasted time. He was mine, I was his, let’s get on with our lives.

He is now called Joe. He plays with his sisters, likes my husband well enough, and absolutely adores me. And when it comes bedtime, a thundering herd of 420 combined pounds of dogs clomping up the stairs and settling in for the night sounds like disgruntled cattle.

I have never slept better.

Rhea’s Rules

Dandelion

No matter how old a woman is, no matter what kind of relationship she had with her parents, there are certain life events that compel her to call her mother. Sometimes, it’s to celebrate. Sometimes, it’s to complain. Sometimes it’s simply to say, “Ha! I told you so.”

My own mother has been dead for almost twenty years now. Even so, I still catch myself reaching for the phone when something fabulous or funny happens, thinking “Mama will get such a kick out of this.” When I touch the phone, I get jolted back to the here and now from the there and then. I don’t know what number to dial anymore.

Shortly after my mom died, I met Rhea Thomas. Rhea became my surrogate mom and dear friend until last month when she too passed away. Rhea had a certain set of life rules and in her honor I am going to share them with you now.

Ask for what you want. Rhea developed this into an art form. I’ve been with her in a restaurant and she somehow got the waitress to give her not one but two of the tea pots they used in their service. And here’s the kicker, the waitress apologized that they had not gone through the dishwasher, but she assured Rhea that she had personally rinsed and dried them. I was paying for lunch and all I got was a lousy receipt. Though I’m only sharing a couple of examples, it happened all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, Rhea was not pushy and did not act entitled. She didn’t beg. She often didn’t even ask for something, just commented how much she would love to find one just like it for herself. Boom! Gifts falling out of the sky from total strangers. Have mercy on your soul if you owned something with the Galo de Barcelos (the lucky Portuguese rooster) on it. She adored the lucky black roosters. Absolutely had to have them.

We were both realtors and one day on Tuesday Tour (the day realtors look at all the new listings) we went into a house that had a Portuguese rooster table cloth. (Awww Jeez. Here we go.)  Rhea started complimenting the home owner on her table cloth and reminiscing about Portugal. We left, finished touring houses that day, and that was that. Except it wasn’t. The homeowner took that table cloth, washed and pressed it, and told her listing agent to make sure that Rhea got it. Asking for things without actually asking was definitely one of Rhea’s superpowers.

If you didn’t get what you wanted the first time, ask again. Persistence pays and Miss Rhea was nothing if not persistent. I knew her well enough so that if she asked where I’d gotten something, I would just hand the item to her. It saved us both a lot of time and I did not mind.

It’s in the basket. Rhea made things pretty in her home. She loved baskets. We had a running gag. Whenever I asked her where something was, she’d reply that it was in the basket. Which basket? There were dozens. She had baskets for shoes, for paperwork, for reading material, for make up, for lap blankets. Her refrigerator was organized with wicker baskets, condiments in one, leftovers in their own, canned beverages in another. She wrapped her spare rolls of toilet paper in pretty wrapping paper and stored those in a basket. The lesson here is that you deserve to live in beauty and it’s not expensive to do that. Live with what pleases you and your home will be a happy sanctuary.

Pick your team. Surround yourself with calm, competent, trustworthy people. If you need help, drama queens will not do. Choose your friends, your doctors, everyone who enters your life by invitation, very carefully. Surround yourself with people who lift you, appreciate you, and will be there for you when you need help most.

If you were not designated as a member of Rhea’s team, you could talk until you were blue and she’d just nod occasionally. Unless you were fond of watching her nod, you might as well have been speaking to a cinder block for all the attention your words were going to get. Go buy yourself a bobble-head doll. The lesson? Save yourself confusion and heartache. Only listen to the people who truly have your best interest at heart. Everyone else can go pound sand.

Show up for life. Some days it’s hard to get motivated. You feel like hiding under the blankets. Let’s be honest, perky rarely happens naturally. But Rhea believed that you had a contract to fulfill. You had to show up for life. You didn’t have to do much once you got there, but a basic effort to participate was required. You’d be surprised how much goodness can happen when you leave the house.

We had a friend and co-worker, Barbara Tinsley, who had cancer. Twice. It ended up killing her, but not before cancer took her teen-aged daughter. So if anyone had earned the right to curl into a fetal position, it was Barbara. I visited her one day and she told me that many a day she’d be lying in bed feeling defeated, and she’d remember Rhea’s rule, “You’ve got to show up for life.” Barbara would drag herself out of bed, get dressed, and show up at the office. Once there, she’d feel better. It helped.

So if you don’t take any other rule of Rhea’s to heart, follow this last one. It will make a difference. It will improve your circumstances. Good things will happen. While you still can, make sure you show up for life.

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(You may be wondering why I chose a photo of a dandelion to illustrate this piece. Rhea was a dandelion. She was bright, cheerful, dependable, strong-willed, and she bloomed wherever she landed. A dandelion is a fine thing to be. It’s a compliment.)

Affording Doughnut

Doughnut 1st Day

(This piece was originally posted on my old blog.  I am running it again in honor of Doughnut, who passed away on Monday.  Sleep well, my little clown.)

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Are you financially secure? Is your retirement plan fully funded? Are your children’s orthodontia needs, wedding plans, and college tuitions all paid? Do you have piles of cash just lying around your house, collecting dust? Well my friend, you are exactly the type of person who should adopt an English bulldog.

I am convinced that the English bulldog is the only animal on the planet that makes the platypus seem smartly designed. The bulldog’s whole head is so convoluted and badly put together that the eyes, the teeth, the ear canals, and respiration can only be described as totally jacked up. “Jacked up” is the official medical term used by my veterinarian, who bred English bulldogs until he came to his senses.

Why would breeders make something with so many inherent weaknesses? In a word, adorability. Humans are hardwired to go all squishy when they see something with an oversized, rounded head, big eyes, and a snub nose. I believe this coding was to bond us with human babies even when they were screaming loud enough to rupture your eardrum, but the response is indiscriminate. Show a human something that has a wobbly, balloon-like head with large blinking eyes and we become goo. How else could Hello Kitty, a rudimentary sketch of a cat’s head, have become a mega-bazillion dollar industry?  Adorable sells.  Big time.

English bulldogs have adorability to spare. Even when they’ve matured past puppyhood, they still reduce humans to blubbering baby talk. “He’s mama’s squishy-wishy cutie-patootie, yes he is. Aren’t you, baby? Aren’t you my darling little pudding pop?”

God help me, I am a new bulldog mother and I am completely smitten. Before I adopted Doughnut, I read all the papers on bulldog health problems. I told experienced bulldog owners that I had found an article calling bulldogs a $5,000 check waiting to be written. I thought it was a joke. I laughed. Their response was different. They said, “Really? That figure seems low.” Uh-oh.

I did it anyway. I found a photo on http://www.petfinder.com and fell in love. I saw swinging jowls, mismatched ears, nubbins of teeth pointing in all directions, and a face only a drunk mother could love.* That’s the one for me! Thank God I’m married and not actively dating anymore. If this bulldog thing is any indication, I just can’t be trusted to choose wisely.

I have had Doughnut just two weeks now. His first surgery is booked for this Tuesday, when he’ll have his ear fixed and a massive amount of dental work done. Did you know that teeth can point straight back and up towards one’s ears? Apparently they can, though it doesn’t help one chew.

I am optimistic that Doughnut is hale and hearty in all other areas. He does appear healthy. My vet has thoroughly examined him and uttered the classic, qualifying line, “He seems quite sturdy. . . for a bulldog.”

Take pity on me if you see me on the street corner behind a card table, selling baked goods to raise money for vet bills. It means that I have adopted the canine equivalent of a money pit. But I should have known that. After all, I adopted a bulldog.

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* “. . .a face only a drunk mother could love” was the reaction of my friend, Al P., to Doughnut’s photo. It was a phrase I fell in love with and had to use. Thank you, Al.

New Column at Blue Ridge Country Magazine

My latest column is on the streets now in the May/June 2015 issue of Blue Ridge Country magazine.  It is also online in the digital version.  This column is entitled “It Takes A Village” and once again, I was lucky enough to get Joseph Mackereth to provide a lovely illustration to support the piece.  The link to the column is:

http://blueridgecountry.com/newsstand/mill-creek-stories/it-takes-a-village/

Serendipity

orangutan

(I feel like I need a hug this week.)

 

It’s been a rough couple of weeks around here. The house is cold because the house fire left a Mack truck sized hole in the living room wall. I mean, it’s covered now with cheap plywood and blue tarp, but it is frigid outside. I guess frigid is a relative term, so I’ll elaborate. Our night temps on Monday are projected to be 6 degrees. Single digit, six, just 6 degrees. Barely higher than that for the next few nights.  I’m not a big fan of ambient temperature less than the sum of my fingers and toes and here we are in the midst of a cold wave that doesn’t even require all my fingers. As my Yankee in-laws might say, it’s wicked cold. Six degrees. Now there’s a fine night for a fire in the wood stove. Oh yeah, I forgot. That’s the reason I have a gaping maw in my wall.

So, I’m a little brittle. Peevish. Ask my husband. He’ll say “snappish.” Short-tempered. All is not right within my world. The word “bitch” is not inaccurate this week. I am in a right fine snit.  Hissy fit a coming.  Woe be to those who seek favors, donations, or “just a minute of my time.” Go ahead.  Ask.  I dare you.

In the midst of all this internal chaos and pitiful coping skills, I took a moment to listen to Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. It’s a short daily program on NPR (National Public Radio) that explores word origins, poetry, birthdays of august writers, and whatever else strikes Mr. Keillor’s fancy. I would categorize it as mildly interesting fluff, except that I’m a word origin nut so it really pushes my buttons. Love it.

Yesterday they reran an old post on the 2004 paper by a British translation service that listed the ten English words they thought were the most difficult, if not downright impossible, to translate. I can not find the complete list of ten, but some of the words included were gobbledegook, poppycock, spam, and whimsy. Kitsch was also included but that word is originally German so I don’t think that qualifies as an English word that is impossible to translate.

Then there it was, shining brightly among the rest, my favorite word in the whole world: serendipity. I love saying the word serendipity. I love the melody of it. I love the way it feels in my mouth. More than anything, I love the whole idea of serendipity. It is defined as a fortunate happenstance, or a pleasant surprise, but it is so much more than that. It is a moment of good luck when you do not expect it and are not looking for it. It’s not life-altering, just a magical flash of delight in your day. Ta da, it’s the quarter on the sidewalk, the front row seat becoming available right as you ask for a ticket, the perfect parking spot just as you turn into the lane, arriving in a foreign city and bumping into a long lost friend in the taxi line.

It is Alexander Fleming forgetting to disinfect some of his petri dishes holding bacteria cultures before vacation and coming back to discover that the penicillium mold that had taken over in his absence killed the bacteria. Ta da, penicillin. Viagra was developed to treat angina and hypertension, and it failed. Ta da, head south of the belly button and Viagra rocked the house. Serendipity loves laboratories, as X-rays, radioactivity, inkjet printers, the Slinky, all were moments of ta-freaking-da as other things were being pursued.

Julius Comroe, Jr., a medical researcher and surgeon extraordinaire specializing in the heart and lungs, was no stranger to the concept of serendipity. His most famous quote on the subject is, “Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer’s daughter.” I have to think that old Julius would have been fun at parties.

There’s a trick to serendipity, though. You have to be open to it. You have to be wandering through life with open eyes and an open heart to catch the many moments of serendipity dropped in your path. If you have your head down, texting away, mind whirling with a Sisyphean To Do list, grumbling, multitasking yourself into numbness, you’ll miss it all.  I am sad to admit that I have been too shut down to recognize serendipity lately.

So to pull myself out of the living-room-as-a-refrigerator blues, I reviewed the more obvious moments of fortune I did not fully appreciate this past week. Insurance adjusters were prompt and more importantly, they were sympathetic and reasonable. State Farm got us a check in just three days. Contractor has been here and has started getting materials together for the rebuild. My dear friend Mary Ann sent me a surprise box stuffed with goodies. I found a $5 bill in the laundry. All things that I simply wasn’t appropriately grateful for at the time they happened. I hope I did not miss too many more because I wasn’t paying attention. If I walked past a winning lottery ticket, please do not tell me.

I guess six degrees will be tolerable. I own multiple sets of long underwear. I have four large, lovable dogs and a cuddly husband for extra warmth. There are blankets here. I have all the ingredients to make a big pot of chili. There’s a well-stocked liquor cabinet.  Who knows?  It might turn out to be my coziest night ever. How’s that for serendipity?

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NOTE:  If you are interested in listening to the Writer’s Almanac, the link is:  http://writersalmanac.org

2015 New Year Lucky Meal

 

New Year Day Dinner

In the South, we invite luck and prosperity to the new year by cooking certain foods on New Year’s Day.  Here is my celebration meal: rice and Hoppin’ John for plenty to eat because as long as you have beans and rice you’ll be okay; collard greens, the color of money, to invite cash to visit your pocket; likewise, cornbread, the color of gold, to attract wealth; and fried chicken, because there is nothing better.

I wish you health, happiness, and good fortune in 2015.  Good luck to us all, y’all!

Can You Hear Me Now?

A reader requested that I post my piece on the NSA that appeared on my old blog.  Here ’tis.  Enjoy and  thank you for following me.

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“Ms. Brennan, do you know why you’re here?”

I was sitting in a windowless primer gray room, furnished with the bare minimum of a metal table and two chairs. A man, his glasses riding low on his nose while he skimmed a file, was sitting across from me. He smelled like White-Out and fluorescent lighting, definitely a government employee.

“No, I do not. Why don’t you tell me?”

“Okay, if that’s how you want to play it. You’re here because we suspect you of aiding and abetting the enemy, namely al-Qaeda. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“I’d say you’ve been sniffing the Elmer’s. That’s insane.”

“We have transcripts here from NSA, that’s right the National Security Agency, that have you purchasing weapons, making bombs, and going to Iraq and Pakistan. Now what you got to say, Missy?”

“I’d say you’re high. It is not possible that you have transcripts of any such conversation because it simply did not take place. You could pay me all the money in the world and it wouldn’t be enough to get me to Iraq. It’s never going to make my bucket list.”

“Well, it says right here. . .”

“Give me that.” I grabbed the papers and started reading. There were a lot of blanks, referenced by the word unintelligible.

“Dude, what kind of low-bid contractor did y’all use? Over half of the transcript is missing, the other part is misheard. You can not pull law-abiding citizens off the street based on this malarkey.”

“Ma’am, I assure you that we only use the most qualified technicians possible. You can trust this transcript.”

“Oh horseshit. I worked for the government and I know low-bid when I see it. Let me tell you what this conversation was really about and you decide just how qualified your technicians are.”

I turned to the page he’d highlighted as the smoking gun of my malfeasance. It read, “Rupees for AKs to Pakistan and al-Qaeda’s high turnover to Iraq from afar unintelligible.

Suicide bombers will be there. ”

Let’s just take this line by line, shall we? What I actually said when I called my great-aunt Ruby was, “Ruby, tell A.J. to pack his yam dish and alligator pie turnovers.”

I wrecked my car so I can’t go to the picnic. Susie said she’d make her bombe dessert and be there.”

“Ms. Brennan, you could be saying anything right now to wiggle out of this. How am I supposed to believe you?”

“Well Mr. Hot Shot Investigator, if you’d looked up the phone number I called for this little chat, you’d see it was to my great aunt Ruby Fletcher, the best gardener alive in all of Scottsville, Virginia.”

“Ah ha! And how do we know that this Ruby Fletcher is not some Muslim front? How about that?”

“Well, you don’t because you obviously didn’t make any effort to find out. But I hardly think that some Muslim front would pose as the Presbyterian church organist for forty years just to support their back story.   Do you? Let’s read some more of your fairy tales.”

“Bin-Laden and Afghanistan unintelligible.

Mullah training camp, passports unintelligible trained Akbar unintelligible shooting martyrs.”

The truth was, “I’ve been loading my afghan stand with so many new blankets, I’ll have to get another one to keep up with all my knitting.”

Bubba took the train to camp, piss poor supervision there. He sprained his ankle and broke his glasses while shooting targets.”

“Now look here, Ms. Brennan, we’ve spent billions of dollars on this program and it is without peer anywhere in the world.”

“Oh I don’t doubt that. I certainly hope it’s without peer, because it is worthless. Just listen to this beauty you captured.”

“Shoot flak jacket Iraq. Unintelligible oil for Greece mosque fortune. ”

What I said was, “Shoot, I left my Falcons jacket in the car I wrecked. Hope the mechanic doesn’t get oil or grease on it. It costs a fortune.”

“So you see sir, your eavesdropping program is low-bid bunk. Now you take me right back home. Better yet, swing by the park. There’s a picnic that I don’t want to miss. You’re welcome to join us and sample some of A.J.’s alligator pie turnovers or Susie’s bombe. They’re so good, you’ll just die.”

The Three Phases of Christmas Celebration

elfshelf

There are three life phases of Christmas holiday observance. When you’re a child it’s all Elf on the Shelf. Santa’s demented NSA. The pixie version of a house arrest anklet. You’d better watch out, you’d better not pout. . . . I never liked a snitch, so the elf was thrown to the bird dogs as soon as I realized what its covert mission was. Shredded in seconds. Tell Santa about that, you tattle-tale weasel. The Elf never had a chance and would have known that if he’d bothered to talk to Barbie.  So really, he wasn’t much of an intelligence-gatherer.

I had a history of violence towards select toys. As much as my mother wanted me to be a girlie girl, I despised Barbie. Mama tried, bless her heart. I was given several Barbie dolls, and every one of them suffered the exact same fate. Within a week, I would buzz cut their hair, tattoo them with a ballpoint pen, then snap their head off and use it as a ball and their body as a bat. You don’t even want to know about my kitchen match torture, where I wrapped hundreds of kitchen matches around Barbie’s waist with masking tape and then lit them. Barbie’s unnaturally large boobs melted like ice cream on a summer’s day.

Imagine my Mama’s joy when my little sister turned out to be a Malibu Barbie addict. Half her room was littered with Pepto-Bismol pink Barbie accoutrements.   Beach houses, furniture, cars, dune buggies, clothing, Ken and Skipper, all strictly off limits to me per my mother. It’s like Barbie got a restraining order.

When I was in my twenties, there was no Elf on the Shelf. That phase of holiday revelry was more of a Whore in the Drawer. Finding my tribe of friends and celebrating heartily, boozily, excessively was all I wanted for the holidays. I had a blast. I learned how to drink without taking it to the point of becoming sloppy low-hanging fruit, although there were missteps along the way, mostly tequila-based.

I went through a serious phase of promiscuity and it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Yeah, I put the ho in ho-ho-ho but dodged all real consequences of bad behavior, so yeah me. If I had not stumbled my way through that phase I would not have learned many an important life lesson. Like, good looks mean less than nothing if they’re attached to an ugly heart. I must avoid tequila because it makes me dangerously stupid. When someone says something despicable, they’re not kidding but are showing you who they really are. Believe them.  Someone sporting designer clothes and a status car may just mean that they are in debt up to their rhinoplasty. Don’t look to another person for your happiness, that one is all on you. If you can’t stand to be alone, you’re not ready to be with someone else. Good lessons, all.

Now I’ve entered the last life phase of holiday revelry, the Grouch on the Couch phase. All I want for Christmas is a good meal, peace and quiet with no soundtrack save for the snoring of my pack, and a nice holiday nap. I hate that Christmas decorations are in stores before Halloween. I hate Muzak Christmas carols on an eternal loop for three months. I hate the screaming commercials for crap that is only trotted out during the holidays because people will desperately buy anything. I’m looking at you, Chia Pet. I would rather eat a bowl of dirt than leave my house on Black Friday. I am within a gnat’s eyelash of screaming “Humbug!” Too much, too much, too much!

The Danes have a word for what I want during the holidays: hygge (pronounced hYOOguh). It means cozy in both your surroundings and your emotions. It means all is right in your world even if briefly. It requires no more than a comfy chair, or a thick pair of socks, or cinnamon toast and tea. It really only requires a sense of gratitude. Isn’t that the truth of the season anyway? Simple kindness and gratitude?

I give you my very best wishes for a lovely holiday and a fabulous new year. Hygge, y’all.

 

Attention Writers: Nice Matters

Keep Calm & Southern

Some say that being a writer requires a healthy ego. I say you better grow yourself a cast iron exoskeleton if you want to make it all the way to published. Editors, publishers, and agents are all lined up six deep to reject your writing. If you are a thin-skinned person, you are going to be wounded by the submission process. Take heart. I have advice and hope for you.

Point 1: It is not personal. In fact, repeat that phrase as your writer’s mantra. It is not personal. Your piece can be rejected for various reasons, none of which reflects poorly on you. Perhaps the editor just bought a story last week that is similar to yours. Maybe your piece wasn’t a smooth fit for that publication’s audience. Maybe your timing was off, submitting a Christmas story after the December issue was full. Maybe the slush pile reader is coming down with the flu and is hopped up on Dayquil and Kleenex dust.

Point 2: If someone takes the time to give you constructive criticism, they see potential in your writing. It’s a compliment. Thank them. Don’t lash out just because your rejection now has a name and an email address. If you are anything less than gracious to their guidance, you are telling someone that might pay you one day that you’re difficult and is that really your intended message? I hope not.

Point 3: Everyone in the publishing industry has the memory of an elephant when it comes to bad behavior. Be hateful to one editor, every editor within 500 miles will have heard the story. You may think you’re only telling off an intern at a tiny publication but at the next conference, they are regaling everyone with the tale of your temper tantrum. Editors share information good and bad, but more likely bad.

Point 4: If all else is equal, being nice matters. I don’t care how brilliant you are, people will balk at hiring you if you are miserable. If you are kind, you have an advantage. Case in point, I submitted a story to Blue Ridge Country magazine. This particular story was dear to me, as it was about a beloved family member.   The story was rejected. The editor said that it was too similar to stories provided by their featured columnist. Though I was disappointed, I still wrote a thank-you note.

I submitted another story to Blue Ridge Country. This one was accepted. A couple of months later, the editor emailed me to say that his columnist was retiring after more than twenty years. He said that the first person he thought of to replace her was me. He asked if I’d like to become a featured columnist for the magazine. Would I? My first column (Mill Creek Stories) is in the January 2015 issue. I would not have been offered this job had I been grumpy when rejected. The lesson? Nice really does matter.

 

Laugh Out Loud

I do not often laugh out loud.  I chuckle quietly.  I smile.  But I don’t laugh out loud, I mean hardly ever.  The last time I remember laughing until I cried was at “This parrot is no more!”  Maybe at George Carlin, bless his heart.  Definitely at Kathleen Madigan.  If you don’t know Kathleen, go to Youtube and find her.  She’s brilliant.  But that works out to me only laughing once every three years or so.  Not a belly-laugh kind of girl.  That actually makes me a little sad.  I’d like to be an easy laugher, but it’s just not in my DNA.

So I had to post this pointer to silly pie charts.  It made me laugh. Out loud.  If I laughed, I’m betting you’ll laugh.  Enjoy.

Funny Pie Charts

The Permission Pixie

(It is that time of year again.  Ho-ho-holidays!  So I’m running one of my most popular posts again as a reminder for all y’all.  Remember to take a well-deserved holiday nap or two.)

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‘Tis the season. Fa la freaking la.   I got your jingle bells right here, mister. This is the time of year when multitudes of people run around like chicken missing heads, worked into a frothy frenzy over what absolutely has to be done, oh my God, like now. NOW!

Stop it. The timeline from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day is full of food and the people you love. That’s all that’s necessary. So I’m going to give you a huge pass this year. I am secretly the Permission Pixie. Shhh, don’t tell. It’s my super power.

I, the Permission Pixie, grant you permission to ignore the urge to put up eight trillion blinking lights on your house. I don’t even put up a wreath anymore. I realized that it appeared festively welcoming and therefore encouraged people to visit, always during my jolly holiday nap. Can you imagine?

I, the Permission Pixie, hereby give you permission to ignore all invitations that require you to make something. No cookie exchanges ever again. The pressure to show up with something other than a package of Oreos is too stressful. Cookie exchanges bring out latent Martha Stewart tendencies and all of a sudden, it’s a world championship beat-down for who made the most elaborate cookies. Knock it off. You don’t need to graze through eighty kinds of cookies in a month. You’ve got to leave room for the really good stuff, like pie.

I, the Permission Pixie, give you permission to stop wrapping gifts like you are set decorating The Nutcracker Suite.   I have two words for you: gift bags. Easy-peasy, life is breezy gift bags. I have taken this to the extreme and use brown paper lunch bags with a bright ribbon. I am a sucker for anything industrial-chic that is also industrial-cheap, and brown kraft paper is a favorite of mine.

While we’re on the subject of gifts, I give you permission to stop giving non-consumable, (fruitcake will still damn you to Hell’s sticky spots) store-bought gifts to any person who is over the age of twelve. I say twelve because there are just different rules for little ones during the holidays, but you do get permission to cut back on gifts for them, too. There is only so much plastic crap one child needs, so don’t lose your mind, okay?

Black Friday is a day dedicated to showing the world everything that is embarrassing about America. It is commerce without care, it is greed without good, it is frenzy without friendship. Black Friday makes us all look like excitable, dim-witted sheep, bleating and trampling our way to a 20% discount on stuff made elsewhere. Stop it.

Special note to men. Do not buy your woman any gift with a plug. The exception is the Hitachi Magic Wand neck massager (wink, wink) in which case go right ahead, you scamp you. If not the Hitachi, things with plugs are appliances. Appliances mean housework. Housework sucks a big bag of sourballs. Enough said.

I don’t know anyone who wants another “dustable” around the house, no matter how adorable or commemorative it may be. I know lots of people who crave time. Time with friends, time with children, time away from children, time to sit down and drink a whole cup of coffee in peace. Time to talk and to listen. Give time. Give people what they need and want.

If a friend would stab a hobo to get five hours without her kids, give her a coupon for babysitting. If a friend complains about her lack of organization, gift her with a certificate to help sort out her closet or her office. If a loved one arrives home from work exhausted every day, give them a homemade dinner all frozen and ready-to-go, complete with reheating instructions. If your friend loves to garden but is unable to keep up with it then give an offer to pull weeds for a morning or make potted gardens together in the spring. A gift of your time is more splendid than anything you could buy. This extends to teenagers, too. Give them a gift of an afternoon at the movies, or the water park, or something they just don’t get to do. They’d much rather get that than a Christmas sweater, believe you me.

Why am I so anti-commerce during the season? Well, it’s not that I don’t like things. It’s that I despise the pressure to provide them. This season pokes an emotional blister of mine from my starter marriage. Every year, dear old Starter would wait until Christmas Eve, grab his car keys and grumble his way to the mall. He’d stop at whatever jewelry counter was closest to his parking spot and grab something. Then he’d grumble his way home, complaining that his work had been interrupted. After dinner I’d get the gift, complete with the agonizing details of how difficult and tedious it had been to go get this thing for me, you’re welcome.

Why even bother? Every year I’d get some sparkling item that was extravagantly expensive, but so loaded down with bitterness that I hardly ever wore it. What was the point? So if anyone asked, he could tell them that he spent $5,000 on a bracelet or ring, or earrings, because he was such a magnificent provider. Inevitably, they’d ask to see it. Nope, it’s in a drawer. I need to get a HAZMAT team to scrub all the animosity off it before I can wear it. That’s not a gift. That’s a reminder that you married the wrong person. That’s evidence that it’s not getting better. That’s your invitation to hit the road. Ho ho hot tail it outta there.

Let me be your Jacob Marley.   Listen up, dears. Whatever you give this season, give it with an open and tender heart. Do not give a gift because you “have to.” Give a gift only if you truly want to. Give of yourself, not of the mall, as much as possible. Tell people you love them. Act like you love them. Spend some time treating yourself kindly, too.   Take a nap and eat some pie.

Big News in the House!

I have announced this on Facebook and on the Southern Humorists home page, so if you’ve seen this before I apologize for the repeat.  No I don’t, I’m really excited about all this and will probably announce it again in December.  Go Team Molly!

I have been hired as a columnist for Blue Ridge Country magazine.  My column, entitled “Mill Creek Stories,” will replace the retiring Elizabeth Hunter’s “From the Farm” column.  Elizabeth’s column ran for more than 20 years, so I’m thinking this is going to be a long-term gig.

My first piece will appear in the January/February issue and is about stray cats and the people they adopt.  Those who know me well know that I can not resist telling a good animal yarn so I am starting out with one of my favorite topics.

Here is a link to the magazine’s web site so you can explore.  If you live in the Georgia to Virginia band of states, this regional magazine is especially for you.  It is chock-full of interesting information about local sites, people, food, and events plus it has stunning photographs. If you are just interested in things Southern, you’ll also enjoy Blue Ridge Country. I hope you’ll follow my stories and let me know what you think.

http://www.blueridgecountry.com

Adopt a Senior Dog Month

This is Adopt a Senior Dog month.  I would like to say a few things about adult and senior dogs.  In the interest of full disclosure I must point out that I am just not a puppy person.  I have always gone for the post-adolescence dog when adopting.  It is so much easier.

Senior dogs do not chew up electric cords, drywall, shoes, remote controls, iPhones, or whatever is dear to you like puppies do.  Senior dogs are already housebroken.  Many senior dogs come already trained to basic commands.  Senior dogs don’t require a lot of exercise.  Many seniors still have a lot of life left in them.  Best of all, senior dogs are extremely grateful for being rescued.  Senior dogs know how to love you.

I recommend that you peruse http://www.petfinder.com to find the perfect friend.  It will give both of you something wonderful to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Gateway Dog

A Human’s Guide to the Dark Corners of the Internet

I have been tripping over some rather bizarre arguments on the internet recently, and while I can blame this recent bout on political campaigning, it seems to be a constant and even growing problem.

As a public service, I post a handy, dandy visual aid for you.  Remember that people find the anonymity of the internet wildly freeing, to the point that they will openly display their basest self without thinking about consequences.  It’s the internet.  What consequences?

So I advise that you process what you read on the internet with all the skepticism of a pageant queen being complimented by a drunken frat boy.  Sincerity is at an all-time low. Dick pics are at an all-time high.  Need I say more?

Logic

Start Panicking Now!

Deadline panic

This old Calvin and Hobbes panel perfectly summarizes my current state of mind.  I have indulged in procrastination far too long and am well and truly in the middle of a panic attack of my own making.

Never mind the looming deadlines, today I saw Christmas ads in the paper.  Christmas!  How can it be Christmas when just yesterday it was the 4th of July?  I am totally unprepared in every category of life this week.  Save yourselves, people.

Love and Whoop Ass

Keep Calm & Aim

Kind Readers:  I have been working under a deadline — okay, I procrastinated for weeks and now I’m panicking — and therefore am posting an oldie but goodie from my old blog.  Thank you for your patience.  I will get back to a more regular posting schedule very soon.


 

I’ve been thinking a lot about love recently. I’ve been holed up in the house due to frigid weather and when you’re locked up with another human being, you’d best be thinking about love. Otherwise, it could get all stabby.

Don’t act shocked, you know what I mean. When cabin fever intersects with quirky personal habits to make a Venn diagram of whoop ass, you’d better be concentrating on sweetness and light. It’s a lot of work to get blood out of the carpet. Just saying.

Any adult relationship is a complex dance, passion waxing and waning, irritation peaking and ebbing, human frailty exposing its messy self at every pas de deux. Were it not so perplexing, we’d have never gotten great blues music. If love were easy and constant, all songs would sound like they were written by Barney. Life is messy. Messy surprises which makes it interesting. Interesting is appealing, compelling, and fires up our juices.

Please note that I am advocating the authenticity of a messy, true, human bond. I did not say one word about sticking around for a relationship that is difficult. Don’t confuse drama for depth of feeling.

If your partner tests you, takes without giving, doesn’t recognize your needs are just as legitimate as theirs, you have my permission — no, my encouragement — to leave. We don’t reward relentless selfishness. Weigh your options. Being alone is a gift if you’ve spent any time in a bad relationship. Don’t be afraid to do what is best for you. As I said before, it’s a lot of work to get blood out of the carpet.

I think I’ve made it abundantly clear that in comprehending lessons on love, I’m a thick-skulled heifer. I’ve been in many substandard relationships. Hell, I’ve been engaged what, five times? Learning curve flat as a pancake. I’m a relationship idiot. My first marriage was lopsided. It sucked the life out of me and stomped my confidence into a puddle of fetid road kill. Starter was many things, but compassionate, supportive, and loving were not in the mix. After much careful thought, I shared with a dear friend that I was planning to leave Starter. Her response stunned me.

“But you’re diabetic. You’re going to need help as your illness progresses.”

My response was, “I’d rather crawl around a tiny apartment completely blind than rely on him for anything.”

“Well if that’s how you really feel, let’s get to packing.”

Pack we did. I was so happy after I moved out that I threw a party every six weeks for a year. I had a blast. I felt lighter and I positively bubbled with glee. I was champagne personified, all celebration and sparklers. I danced with joy every day. Best thing I ever did. I became me again, not the crust of a person who had to tiptoe through the house on eggshells because of Starter’s temper tantrums.

A surprising side effect of being a giddy-level of happy is that you attract a better kind of mate. Happy attracts happy. Stability attracts stability. Remember, Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Who knew the skinny goober was talking about dating? Be the kind of person you want to meet and — poof! — that person will appear in your life.

Now I am with someone who puts my happiness before his own. He thinks of my comfort. He supports me in any endeavor I choose to undertake, no matter how weird. He doesn’t just say he loves me, he shows me. I really appreciate it because I know what it’s like to find yourself mired up to your belly button in a sucky relationship. This is not bad. This is messy, this is real, this is human, but this is also pretty damn good.

So on Gruff’s birthday this March, just like I have done every year since I met him, I will send a thank you gift to his mother. I thank her for giving birth to him. I thank her for training him properly. I thank her for letting him go. I thank her for getting him all ready for me. Well done, Jean.   I appreciate it.

Because as you know, it’s not easy to get blood stains out of carpet.

 

 

 

 

Facebook: A Procrastinator’s Favorite Tool

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Photo:  Me, the Princess of Procrastination

 

I am a Facebook addict. There, I said it. The reason that I love using Facebook so much is because I am the Princess of Procrastination and there is nothing better for looking like you’re working while completely ignoring work. It’s perfect for self-delusional types like me. I’ll tell myself that I’ll just hop on for a few minutes, just to catch up with a friend or two. Three hours later I’m still there, laughing at cartoons. Ha ha ha ha, Saturn’s rings are actually made up of lost airline luggage! Oh look, kittens!

My Facebook relationship is kind of a love/hate thing. I love keeping in contact with my far-flung friends, but I also hate some of the quirks of the system. I often disparagingly refer to it as Fratboy instead of Facebook. You see, Facebook was invented so college kids could find other students they’d not yet met but thought were hot enough to pursue based on their school photos. This objective can be achieved only with a certain devil-may-care attitude towards your personal data and your private parts.

I understand the hunt-and-chase mentality. I get it. Keeps the blood percolating. Good for you Zuckerberg, for thinking up a more efficient way to meet coeds other than awkwardly standing around a lukewarm beer keg. But when you’ve graduated from a casual hook up site into a billion dollar company, users get antsy about their personal data.

All of a sudden, it’s not just the upperclassmen checking out your stats, it’s the losers in Croatia scraping your information through a Facebook security hole the size of Wichita and selling it to everyone in the former eastern bloc countries so they can send want-a-bigger-penis spam to your personal email account 48 times per day. This just happened to me. It blows. (Note to marketers in the ‘stans:  I am happy with the size of my non-existent penis.  Go away.)

One day I’ll probably tire of Facebook, maybe even jumping ship because of some irritating security failure. Maybe I’ll dump Facebook because I need to actually live my life. Until then I have decided to goose them at every possible turn. That’s my way.

On Facebook, the right-hand column is filled with ads they believe suits you. Ha. If you roll into the upper right corner of the ad box, you’ll see an “X” appear. If you hit the “X” you’ll be given a choice to either hide the ad, or learn more about it. Of course I hide almost every stinking ad that appears. I hide them if I don’t like the accompanying photo. I hide them if I don’t like the name of the company. I hide them just because. Doesn’t matter. I hide ads. I also hide some posts that appear in my news feed, if they’re sketchy or I’m cranky. Keep in mind, I work from home so no one is here to call me out on my crankiness. Cranky happens. A lot. Ask the dogs.

When you hide an ad, you get a pop-up menu that says “We’ll try not to show you ads from Company XYZ again. Why did you hide them?” Then you get a short list of possible reasons to choose from. You get the same list if you block something in your news feed, which used to be a list of posts from just your friends until it became a catch-all for Facebook vomit. Anyway, the reasons they think you’ve blocked a post/ad are:

—          uninteresting

—          misleading

—          sexually explicit

—          against my views

—          offensive

—          repetitive

—          other.

I find this list way too limiting and woefully inaccurate. I think this list cries out for a serious updating. Here’s my draft of a more accurate list of reasons for banishing ads/posts from your Facebook feed.

—          Uses the phrase “You Won’t Believe What Happens Next”

—          Mentions faulty winkuses

—          Mind numbingly dull

—          Bullshit, particularly political bullshit

—          Duck lips

—          Engagement announcement if: the engaged is less than 21 years old, or the wedding date is more than 2 years off

—          Excessive posting of meals

—          Excessive/amateurish Photoshopping

—          Insecurities on display

—          Red plastic cups

—          Stalker/creepy/weirdo vibe

—          Humble bragging

—          Excessive use of !!!!!!

—          Blatant typos (exception made for dyslexics)

—          Ad masquerading as legitimate post

—          Excessive mentions of any deity

—          Posing with anything dead (exception made for zombies)

This is my current list of reasons for blocking Facebook ads or posts but it is still a work in progress. What pushes your buttons? What makes you block a post or ad? I would love to hear it, for two reasons. One, I’m genuinely interested and two, I want to affirm that it is not just me. It’s not, right?

Banned Book Week

Hello, my friends.  This is banned book week, 21 – 27 September 2014, where we celebrate having access to books that someone else decided at one time were too controversial, too provocative, too real, too eye-opening, too mind-expanding for our delicate sensibilities.  As if anyone knows better than you what will help you understand the world, become a better person, expand your perspective, and live a better life.

I hope you’ll find and read some of the books that have previously been banned or worse, burned by the unquestioning and easily controlled.  The mass is easily manipulated.  Just ask any Border collie. Reading banned books is a simple act of defiance but a powerful one.  You can Google the banned books list.  You will be surprised by what classics made the list, deemed too offensive for human eyes.  It is impossible to read this list and not think, “What were they thinking?”  Well, they weren’t thinking but they still thought they knew what was best for you.  Beware of people who claim to know what’s best for you, particularly if you are over the age of twelve.

I leave you with a quote from my favorite banned book, To Kill A Mockingbird.  I can not imagine growing up in the South and not being able to read this classic tale.  You know what?  It does not matter that Harper Lee never wrote another book, because this one is just that good.

To Kill A Mockingbird taught me that not all gruff people are truly mean, sadly that justice does not always prevail, that people’s fears are a far greater motivator than their sense of fairness, and that courage is found in quiet deeds at home as well as on dramatic battlefields.

Read a banned book.  Don’t let other people control your life.

To Kill A Mockingbird

Mayberry, R.I.P.

andy

(This piece first appeared on my old blog in August, 2012.  With the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, I thought it timely to post this piece once again.)

 

I grew up in Mayberry, RFD. Officially, the show was named The Andy Griffith Show for most of its on-air life, but the location was Mayberry and that’s how I remember it. RFD for those who don’t know, stands for rural free delivery. What it technically means to the post office, I can’t tell you. What it means to the world is that the post office services an area so small and intimate that an address is barely necessary. I received mail with nothing more on the envelope than my name, county, and state. The postman knew everyone, had time to chat, had time to lend a hand to the elderly on his route if needed. The postman was the thread that connected all.

In this world, my daddy was Andy Taylor and I was Opie. Dad wasn’t the sheriff.   He was a state trooper, but in our county if you were in danger you called the state police. Our local sheriff was a sorry excuse of a man. He took his phone off the hook every Friday afternoon and didn’t put it back until Sunday evening. If you got in trouble on the weekend, and the weekend is where trouble thrives, you got a busy signal on the sheriff’s line.

How did he keep getting elected? That’s a good question. The sheriff’s wife was the head public health nurse for the county. When she delivered medicines to the poor in the months before the elections, she’d tell the recipients that if her husband didn’t win she might be so distraught she’d be unable to continue delivering their prescriptions. So he got re-elected standing on blood pressure medicine and insulin. As I said, sorry excuse of a man.

Just like Mayberry, we had a courthouse square with the obligatory statue and ancient shade trees. There was a drugstore with a soda fountain that made excellent grilled cheese sandwiches. Their strawberry milkshake was pretty special, too. The gas station would let you pump gas and settle up with them on payday if you were in a tight spot, just like Goober and Gomer. There was no stop light in the entire county. There were more historic battlefield markers than there were stop signs.

It was a great place to be a kid. Just like Opie, I lived in the land of dirt roads, fishing holes, and ice cream socials. My world was populated by women who planned for months to show off their skills in the county fair, just like Aunt Bea with her pickles. There was a barber shop like Floyd’s that was more men’s social club than a working hair stylist. Until I was six, there were party lines and an operator on the phone system, though her name wasn’t Sarah.

We even had our version of Otis, the town drunk. I wonder what would happen to Otis now that law enforcement is sitting squarely in the military surplus world of fear-based policy decisions? Otis is still just an alcohol-addled, stubborn nuisance every payday, but now he’s seen as a menacing threat by people wearing riot gear. This development will not end well for poor Otis.

I remember my daddy talking a thoroughly drunk and completely naked Otis down out of a maple tree where he was singing a shaky version of Beautiful Dreamer and driving him home to sleep it off. I can’t help but think that today poor Otis would be tear-gassed, tasered, handcuffed, and tossed in jail if he lived through the process at all. It seems like overkill, when kindness works just as well, maybe better.

So I was personally sorry to hear that Andy Griffith, the actor who so completely inhabited and molded Mayberry, passed away recently. I hold Mayberry as a touchstone for a time when I was happy, carefree, and cared for. Neighbors knew and took care of each other because it was the right thing to do. If a farmer fell sick with crops in the field, those crops were anonymously harvested and put up. Livestock was fed and milked morning and evening until the farmer was back on his feet.

If someone got sick or died, God forbid, women descended on the family’s home with casseroles, ham, and baked goods, scrubbed the house into company-ready status, and got the lawn cut. All was done without thought of acknowledgment. It was simply the right thing to do. It was also done because you knew that when you hit a rough patch, your neighbors would drop everything and be there without you having to suffer the embarrassment of asking for assistance.

This abiding sense of community was shown every week on Mayberry. Now that Andy Griffith is gone, he’s pulled the last remnants of Mayberry into the mists with him and I will forever miss it. Andy Griffith played Sheriff Andy Taylor with the three qualities that could still save our world: grace, generosity, and good humor.

Good-bye, old friend.

Truly a Southern Girl

Perennial plant

Thank all y’all for your patience as I get back up to speed after my operation, which went swimmingly. I thought y’all would appreciate knowing what I’m like going under anesthesia, because the staff in the operating room sure did.

The anesthesiology nurse told me that while I was being put under, I tried to manage my environment unlike anyone else.

It seems I said, “It’s too bright in here. The light’s not right. I won’t look pretty.”

There you have it.  All my upbringing distilled into one foggy demand for more flattering lighting.

 

What It Means To Be Southern

biscuits

 “I think we Southerners have talked a fair amount of malarkey about the mystique of being Southern.”

~ Reynolds Price

 Many Yankee friends have asked me to define what it means to be Southern. Since I am promoting myself as a native tour guide for all things from the American South, I should be able to answer this question easily, only it’s not that simple. It’s messily subjective when you start thinking about it.

My husband Gruff can’t wait to read this one, since he thinks my values are more aligned with South Park than with South Carolina. It’s true. I am more liberal than most of the geographically defined South, but the South is always reconstructing itself and its values. It must to stay relevant to its growing, shifting population. Otherwise, it becomes dusty and obsolete, a garish knick-knack destined for the world’s yard sale box.

I was raised in Virginia which is a very different milieu than Mississippi. There are dozens of flavors in the Southern stew, each as important as the next. Different states offer distinct tastes of the South, but there are common spices that bind it all. So no, I don’t have a pithy, bumper sticker definition of what it is to be truly Southern and probably won’t be able to produce one. Damn, I could have made millions selling bumper stickers.

Let me start by telling you what the South is not. It is absolutely not whatever the A & E and TLC channels think it is. A & E stands for Arts and Entertainment, and they have a rather flimsy grip on the Arts part of their name. TLC stands for The Learning Channel, an ironic moniker if ever there were one. If there is a TV channel currently on air attempting to dumb down its viewership outside of Fox News, it is TLC.

“Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.”

~ Kahlil Gibran

The South is not Honey Boo Boo, even though that little girl is an adorable dumpling. I don’t know anyone currently involved in the pageant circuit. It’s just not that big a deal here in Virginia compared to some of the other Southern states. I participated in a couple as a child and hated every minute of it. I finally announced that if I couldn’t wear shorts and flip-flops, I wasn’t doing it at all. Pageant career wrecked at the ripe old age of eight. Thank God.

It is not diving into muddy places to wrangle catfish. Every Southerner knows that you catch catfish by putting smelly bits on a hook, setting the pole in the river bank and coming back the next morning to round up your catch. Most of the time you get catfish, sometimes you get eels, and both fry up just fine. Catfishing is definitely not an aerobic, waterlogged, near death experience. That’s just silly.

It is not all trailer parks. It is not all hoarding. It is certainly not the combination of the two, chicken hoarding in a trailer. Yes, I did see this on one of the aforementioned channels. It was just pitiful. The whole time I was watching it, I was praying, “Please be Missouri, please be Missouri.” Even better, it turned out to be Illinois. Take that, Mason-Dixon line.

It is most certainly not letting camera crews follow you around while you commit a federal offense (moonshining). No self-respecting moonshiner would show a camera crew Grandpa’s favorite hidey-hole in the woods nor would they allow the making of their very best recipe to be filmed. What’s next, TLC? Backwoods Breaking and Entering?

It is not all shooting and spitting. It’s not all hunting, mud, and camouflage clothing. It is not all men with wild beards. It is not all gators, ducks, beer, and pickup trucks. Wait, it might be all about pickup trucks. I have to think about that one.

It is not all fried foods. Only 87% of it is. The rest is pie. Unless we are talking about fried peach pies, then 100% is about fried foods. Want to find yourself a mate in the South? Learn to fry chicken. Paula Deen is far more representative of our cuisine and tastes than I like to admit. She’s also indicative of our collective medical condition, unfortunately.

It is not all about pitching hissy fits or conniption fits. Yes, there is a difference between the two. Major fits don’t happen very often because we were raised better than that. However, if you hear a Southern woman utter the words “That’s it!” or “As God is my witness. . .” it would be prudent for you to find a reason to leave the house. Best not to dawdle, either.

“Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”

~ Flannery O’Connor

Hello, Hollywood! A Southern accent is not shorthand to tell the audience that a character is stupid. Having a character say stupid things is the clue that they’re stupid. Stop being lazy and bigoted, why don’t cha? We are not ignorant. We have a slow, rolling cadence but make no mistake, we are not slow-witted.

I’ll stop telling you what the South isn’t and start telling you what it is. It is an inherited gift of storytelling. Every Southerner grew up hearing family tales and can share at least a half dozen stories that will have you laughing through tears. The best thing a Southern raconteur can hear is this phrase, choked out through laughter. “Wait, wait, let me catch my breath.”

It is flirting. We all carry the compliment gene. We will find something about you to compliment, even if we’ve got nothing to work with but your choice of socks. It will be a sincere compliment, and you will feel lighter for it. The goal of Southern flirtation is to get the face smiling with a wee bit of pleasantry. It is about friendliness and playful banter. It is about making life fun. It is not about foreplay, so don’t get all flustered.

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”

~ Will Rogers

It is our dogs. We have a strong bond with our pets, and when a faithful companion dog passes away it tears out a chunk of our hearts. The connection between a Southern man and his best hunting dog is not to be trivialized. We appreciate the friendship, the helpfulness, the unconditional love, the comedy our dogs provide us. This world would be a better place if humans could be more like dogs.

“. . .this is the South, we encumber you with hospitality.”

~John Grishman, The Firm

It is not knowing a stranger. If we are in the Express lane at the Piggley-Wiggley, we will start a conversation with you and everybody else in line. We will be on each other’s Christmas card lists by the time we check out. We will be sad to see you go, we enjoyed our time together that much.

It is hospitality. If you appear on our doorstep, even if you are a Jehovah’s Witness and our true inclination is to set the dogs on you, we will offer you a glass of lemonade. We will sit down with you though our chore list is backed up two miles long. We feel obligated to make you comfortable. We love to visit. Calling on elderly friends and relatives after Sunday lunch is a tradition. We simply must talk to others or we will lose our minds.

“Perhaps no bread in the world is quite as good as Southern corn bread, and perhaps no bread in the world is quite as bad as the Northern imitation of it.”

~ Mark Twain

It is our food. It is barbecue. Barbecue is cooking meats with smoke, not heat, at 250 degrees or less for many hours. It is not grilling. Grilling is a cook-out. They are not the same and the terms are never to be used interchangeably. Hear that, Bobby Flay?

Barbecue is to the American South what wine is to France. Drive 200 miles in any direction and there are regional differences in technique and flavor. The French have their terroir, we have our sauces. Barbecue is our claim to fame. It is our birthright. It is our destiny. We simply do not joke about barbecue.

It is fried chicken emerging from hot grease like Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. You can heal a lot of bad situations with a platter of good fried chicken. Southern fried chicken aficionados are second only to barbecue hounds in their commitment.

It is iced tea. It is homegrown vegetables. It is sugar. It is bourbon. It is pie. It is cornbread. It’s a mess of greens. It is seafood, particularly shrimp. It is grits. It is hot biscuits. It is country ham. It is all our favorite foods, born in hardship and making do, that feed our very souls and make us feel the rush of generations past whenever we put spoon to mouth. Want to make friends? Learn to fry chicken.

“I even went so far to become a Southern Baptist for a while, until I realized that they didn’t hold ’em under long enough.”

~ Kinky Friedman

 It is church. Collectively we are a religious group, fond of the drama and entertainment of a good, old-fashioned revival every summer. Much charity and good work has been done by the churches in the South. Yes, there are Southern religious groups that claim to speak for a much larger portion of the population than they actually represent, and there are groups that seem to cherry-pick the bible as a justification for judging others. The majority of churches in the South concentrate on helping people and are not drawn into the political forum like moths to a bug-zapper. Don’t let the loud mouths lead you to believe that this is what Southern religion is all about. It is not.

“The Southern character is opposed to haste. Safety is of more worth than speed, and there is no hurry.”

~ Maria Mitchell

It is hot. It is sticky. We move slowly. We talk slowly. We are not quite on “island time” nor do we belabor the word manana, but we are pretty close. You try to be all perky and motivated when it is 98 degrees with 95% humidity. It’ll beat the frisky right out of you, but quick.

“A family is one of nature’s solubles; it dissolves in time like salt in rainwater.”

~ Pat Conroy

It is family. It is having certain archetypes represented in every single Southern family, and that is an inescapable truth. You are destined to be related to:

(1) either a Blanche DuBois or a Scarlett O’Hara and God help you if you have both in your extended family because the level of manufactured drama will be unbearable;

(2) a rough-and-tumble Tom Sawyer type (can be female);

(3) a Jim Williams bon vivant (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil);

(4) an Aunt Polly or Aunt Bea, hardworking, pearl-clutching, everybody-be-good-now woman;

(5) an Andy Taylor or a Caddy Compson (The Sound and the Fury) decent guy;

(6) a Boo Radley, (To Kill a Mockingbird) cranky on the outside, kind on the inside type; and

(7) some incarnation of Barney Fife.

This is why food is so important at family reunions. It gives you something to distract everyone from personal differences. Want to keep the peace at family gatherings? Learn to fry chicken.

“There is no such thing as being too Southern.”

~ Lewis Grizzard

So there you have it. My definition of what it means to be Southern. I am Southern. All you need to know about me is that I faithfully worship my own Holy Trinity of Southern life: a porch, a pie, and a pack of dogs. Oh, and you can bet big money that I can fry chicken.

Southern Vernacular

scarlet

 

Honesty is the best policy. Except when it’s not. That’s the crux of Southern-speak, right there. You’ll find yourself wandering into the “except when it’s not” territory more than you ever thought possible. You might even end up forwarding your mail there, you’re in it so often.

This goes far beyond the old comic line, “Do these pants make my butt look big?” Really? People, unless you need to quickly assess whether or not your partner is experiencing suicidal tendencies, why would you ever ask a question like that? Baiting your partner with land mine questions is not cool. And for those of you who are stuck in the remedial relationship class, the answer to that question is always, “Why no, Honey. In fact, I was just thinking that you look very pretty today.”

No, Southern-speak can be far more subtle. We learned it watching our parents and our grandparents, so we can spot it and drop it without thinking. For those of you who were not raised Southern, well, you obviously need some assistance. Here I am, a public service peach, ready to help.

“I’m just being ugly.”

This phrase has nothing to do with physical attractiveness. All Southern women are beautiful and we know it. This phrase refers to behavior, speech, or attitude. The speaker is announcing that they have slipped into some serious hatefulness. It’s a half-hearted apology and/or acknowledgement that yes, we are indeed being a world-class bitch but we’re not quite finished yet. Recognizing you have a problem is the first step back towards “nice lady” behavior.

“You’d best be getting to it.” or “You’d best not do that.”

Other regions might use the “You’d better. . . .” but in the South, we have ramped up our seriousness on the good-better-best scale. When we say you’d best, we are quite earnest that you should or should not do whatever we are discussing. This also implies a certain amount of urgency.

“You go right ahead.”

Under no circumstances are you to proceed with whatever you are contemplating if you’ve heard this from your mate. It is not permission, it is a warning. In fact, if you’ve pushed hard enough, you might hear this phrase delivered in an even clearer manner. “You go right ahead, I dare you.”

 “Bless your heart.”

This one is pretty well-known yet still confuses people. We are not the Pope. We ain’t blessing nobody. This is our go-to substitute for anything rude we might think when we realize you’re not very bright. We understand you could just be having a bad day. Everyone suffers moments of stupidity. I warn you though, if we say “bless your heart” and pat your hand, you’ve just said or done something so peculiar that it has convinced us your mother still has to dress you or worse, you’re a ward of the state. Which would explain a lot about you, actually.

 “Fine.”

This one is practically universal, so I’m surprised that people are still confused about its true meaning. If you are in a discussion with your mate and they say “fine,” particularly if they deliver it with any degree of finality, this is not agreement. If anything, it is agreement’s bastard evil twin. It is a warning shot across your bow. The “fine” cannon has been fired. Stop talking. Stop doing what you’re doing. Back out of the room quietly. Maybe get in the car and go for a long drive. Don’t broach the subject ever again.

I can understand the source of this confusion. I have poked about all the dictionaries I could find. American Heritage, Merriam-Webster, Oxford American and they all get it wrong, wrong, so very wrong. Just one dictionary comes close to giving the correct definite of the word “fine.” The Urban Dictionary captures the essence of the word, which I will paraphrase here.

Fine: meant to signal the abrupt end of an argument. Also see: Go fuck yourself.

Any questions?

Fat-Bottomed Girls

Chicken dinner

 

There’s a saying here in the South that we do not like to admit is true. We like to think of ourselves as evolved, strong, dare I say even refined. Underneath our perfect pedicures, perfect blonde highlights, and perfect Talbot’s ensembles lurks a dirt road tomboy hungry for mama’s cooking. Yes sirreee, “It ain’t fit to eat if it ain’t fried.”

My weakness for fried food is hard coded in my DNA. I’m certain that I was weaned from mother’s milk straight to fried chicken as a toddler. Otherwise, I can not explain the visceral reaction I have to the smell of hot grease. My knees buckle a little and my mouth starts to water. The smell triggers genuine primal desire and woe be to anyone standing between me and the source of deep-fried deliciousness. This is why I have never, ever owned a deep fryer. I knew that I could not be trusted with one in my house.

My brother-in-law Bull got a deep fryer one Christmas. He wore it out. Broke it from overuse. Swore he wasn’t going to replace it. Somehow a brand new one managed to sneak into his kitchen as if the grease fairy had delivered it in the night. How did that get here?

Not to let an appliance go to waste, the new fryer got fired up and put to good use in no time at all. I have listened to Bull wax rhapsodic about fresh French fries at midnight, okra as snack food (it’s a vegetable you know), and hot doughnuts on Sunday mornings. If a man can love something with a plug, Bull is definitely engaged to his fryer.

I am what polite, artsy people refer to as Rubenesque. To put it plainly, I’m a big girl. I am also diabetic. I have no business even looking at deep fryers. Yet I found myself in Kohl’s department store one day in the kitchen section. I was holding a 30% off coupon. Small appliances were already marked down. I could have gotten a waffle iron, I guess.   I could have chosen the sno-cone machine. I could have walked across the aisle to Women’s Shoes and gotten those adorable espadrilles I found. I think we all know where this is going. I bought the deep fryer. Cue Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls on the iPod for the occasion.

When I got home with my new favorite appliance, my husband Gruff could not believe it. I think his exact words were, “Woman, have you lost your mind?”

“But Bull just adores his fryer, and I had a coupon, plus it was already on sale!”

“Bull weighs less than one of your legs and he is not diabetic. What were you thinking?”

“I had a really good coupon and it was on sale and, and, and I wanted it, okay?”

“Fine. It’s your funeral. I suppose you want me to break down some chicken to inaugurate your new doomsday device?”

“Yes, please. That would be lovely.”

The deep fryer has been all I dreamed and more. Oh my God, the fried chicken!  It’s been smack-your-mama delicious.  Fish and chips so fresh and crisp, it would make any Anglophile weep.  Peach hand pies, the filling sweet and the crust shattering with every bite.  So good.  Oh and French fries in minutes is like the best thing ever.  I love crinkle cut fries.

After getting a couple meals out of the Ore-Ida sack, I was reading the empty package. It seems that the good people at Ore-Ida think their package holds 11 servings. Eleven? They are misinformed. There must be some problem on the production line that they need to be made aware of. Their bag only holds four servings. That’s misleading the consumer. Eleven servings. Please. You’d think my endocrinologist mandated those portion sizes to Ore-Ida. You know, I don’t think I’ll mention to my doctor that I am the proud owner of a new deep fryer. The news might just make her cry.

Gruff’s right. I have lost my mind. I’m insane. I am indulging in self-destructive behavior. I should be ashamed. I am a weak, pathetic woman. I am also a woman who’s having hot doughnuts this Sunday! Oh happy, happy, joy, joy!