Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sweet Country Life

I haven't written for a while, and the reason is that I started a new job.  That, and the fact that we also started construction on our house.  You can see the progress at our business blog, which I have a link for at the bottom of this blog.  It's coming along fast, but it's been a ton of work for my husband.  For me?  Well, I pretty much just pick out faucets and bathtubs and light fixtures, but it DOES require a lot of thought! :-)

My job, though, is going great.  I'm teaching K4 in a Title I school in an area that is most accurately described as.... rural.  And I actually love it.  On my drive to work, which takes about 25 minutes, I go through only one red light, and it's less than a mile from where I live. (However, they are putting in a four-way stop on the highway in September, so I will have to start stopping there!)  On the way, I pass peach orchards, tractors (lots of tractors), cows (LOTS of cows), and old farmers selling watermelons, tomatoes, and lemonade at roadside stands.  There's one house I look at every morning because the old man is either putting out his peaches on his stand in the front yard, or he's already got them ready and he, his wife, and several friends are sitting in chairs in the carport just visiting.  I'm always just a little jealous because they look like they are having a good time!  Maybe one day I'll pull over and ask if I can join them :-)

The kids in my class are just precious, and I have to admit that I kind of love the fact that they AREN'T the children of all the people I went to high school with!  It's nice sometimes when people DON'T know the teacher quite so well, because it makes those parent-teacher conferences just a little less awkward.  Everybody has been really nice and helpful to me since, even though I live in a nearby small town, I don't know this area as well. 

Last week, I had to stop at a tiny gas station just as I left school because my tank was beyond empty.  I'm a little spoiled to the pumps at the gas station near my house where you just swipe your card at the pump and never have to go in, so I wasn't too thrilled about the old pumps that looked like they came straight out of the Andy Griffith Show.  But like I said, I was beyond empty, so it really wasn't up for debate!  By the time I went in, gave the man my card, went back out and pumped gas, and went back in to get my card, the door had been held for me by no less than 4 men.  They all stepped way back, opened the door with a flourish, and grinned at me from under their ball caps.  One even said, "Come on out, gal!" which I loved because I just love to hear old men say, "Gal."  Even though I live in the South, where chivalry is alive and well and this kind of behavior is expected, it was nice to be reminded that it tends to be most vibrant in small, country communities.  My own small town is no exception, but you know, I got the feeling that they actually noticed that I wasn't from around there, and I think they went the extra mile to make me feel welcome. 

And that, my friends, is why I've never once wanted to be a city girl! 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Time Capsule

Last night, my grandma for some reason had out a huge box of pictures from the past 60 years of family history.  Apparently, every time she got ahold of a picture she just threw it in that box without rhyme or reason, so to say it was disorganized would be the understatement of the century.  If you can get past all the unfortunate fashion choices, facial expressions that convey an emotion that is best descibed as "abject misery," and the fact that everyone is quite a big larger than they were in those pictures (vertically and horizontally), you can see things about people that you never really saw before.  Because, you know, it's easy to forget that before these people were your parents, and grandparents, and great-grandparents, they were just PEOPLE.  They were children once, and they played in the yard with their dog, and they graduated from high school (well, some of them did... others had to quit long before to work on the farm), and they went to school dances, and they got new cars, and they fell in love and got married, and they got unfortunate hair-dos, and they went to the beach in funny looking bathing suits, and they had birthday parties with homemade cakes that were leaning to one side. 

They probably never imagined that they would grow old, or what we, their future generations, would be like, or how different things would be in the future.  And I started thinking, wouldn't it be amazing if we could be handed a box of random photos from OUR future, and get the chance to just go through them and look at all those people who don't even exist yet?  What would it be like to see them graduate, and go on vacation, and open presents at Christmas, and smile into the camera in a hospital gown while holding a tiny baby?  Would we laugh at our clothes and hair-dos, and about how naive and hopeful we were?  Would we cry about the ones who we notice are absent in the photos? 

Isn't it amazing that we can capture these moments in time and look at them so many years later, and think about how much time has passed and how much has happened to the people in them since them?  I feel lucky that my ancestors had access to cameras, and that I know what my great-great grandparents looked like.

What will my great-great grandchildren think of me?  They will certainly have a lot more pictures to look at than I've had, because the technology has come so far since then.

And won't it lose some of it's magic when they're looking at a digital image rather than holding a faded picture with bent corners in their hands?

I think I'm going to start printing more of my pictures so they can go into a box one day, so my great-grandchildren can laugh at my hair and my clothes and my funny looking car.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Zucchini bread.... yum!!!

Yesterday I was feeling domestic (ok, I was bored) and I had already done laundry, washed dishes, and dusted.  Then I remembered that my in-laws had sent over a bag of fresh vegetables from their garden, and I hadn't dealt with some of them.  My husband has this sickness where he likes to peel and eat cucumbers like they were an apple (he's so nasty!) so I knew to leave those to him.  I had a handful of little green bell peppers, so I went ahead and chopped and froze them because a) I don't want them to waste and b) when I get ready to cook something that requires chopped peppers, my life is a lot easier when they are already chopped.  Then I was left with the zucchini.  And I knew I had to get them out of my life quickly, because there are probably more to come. 

And I know this because last year I grew zucchini and it took over my life and I'm still haunted by bags of sliced frozen zucchini that I no longer have any ideas for or any desire to look at.

So I knew there was only one thing to do... make zucchini bread.  It's just as wonderful as banana bread, and maybe stays fresh longer.  Mmmmmmmm!

Here's the recipe I used: 
(It's from Paula Deen's "The Lady and Sons" cookbook)

Ingredients


3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg  *(Ok, I didn't use the nutmeg, because I didn't have any.  Nanny calls it "Nutmaneg."  It is unclear why she cannot pronounce this word, but now I can't look at it without thinking "nutmaneg.")

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 cups sugar  *(You don't have to use quite this much!  I didn't and it's still good.  Plus, you could always try making some of it brown sugar.  Mmmm!)

1 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs, beaten

1/3 cup water

2 cups grated zucchini

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, nutmeg, baking soda, cinnamon and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine oil, eggs, water, zucchini and lemon juice. Mix wet ingredients into dry, add nuts and fold in. Bake in 2 standard loaf pans, sprayed with nonstick spray, for 1 hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Alternately, bake in 5 mini loaf pans for about 45 minutes.


This is what it looked like yesterday when it came out of the oven.  If you've never made zucchini bread, it smells WONDERFUL while it's baking!



This is what's left of it now.  I took it to my parent's house last night, and a lot of it disappeared. 

Now when you lose your mind and decide to plant zucchini and it takes over your life, you know what you can do with it.  And for anyone who has never had it and is wondering, no you can't taste the zucchini at all.  It just keeps the bread super moist and fresh for longer.  When it cools somewhat, you need to wrap it well in plastic wrap.  You can then put it in the freezer if you want, because it freezes beautifully.  But you probably won't have any left for that! 

 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why do I do this to myself???

Every week, for reasons I can't begin to understand, I punish myself by putting off the worst house cleaning jobs until Saturday.  And EVERY week, I tell myself, "This is dumb.  Next week, I'm going to do some of these things all along so I won't have to spend half of my Saturday doing this terrible stuff."  And every week, I watch Law and Order: SVU instead of doing extra laundry.  (Well, you can't blame me for that... don't you just love that Elliott Stabler??).  Or I paint my toenails instead of cleaning the bathroom.  Or I start reading a book that I just can't stop instead of vacuuming.  And since there is no way I can let a week end without all the current laundry being done, the bathrooms being cleaned, and the floors being vacuumed, I end up doing it all on Saturday. 

It's not that I don't want to do the cleaning.  It's just that I don't want to do it RIGHT THEN!

The washing machine is getting ready to finish a load, so I'll close with some random thoughts that I waste time on rather than doing productive things like cleaning at logical times:

1.  I just love Dolly Parton.  She's not ashamed of where she came from.  She's so flashy, and she knows it.  She can laugh at herself, and I love that in a person.  People underestimate her voice, and her songwriting is amazing.  Listen to her sing, "Little Sparrow."  It's haunting.  Oh, and I adore the fact that she started the Imagination Library to give free books to young children.  I think reading to kids from birth is vitally important.  

2.  I've been using the same jumbo container of Sun laundry detergent since approximately.... February.  It has not run out.  Every time I use it, I think, "This is it.  It has to be it." .... but it's not it.  It seems to be endless.  What is going on?

3.  It's supposed to be 100 degrees here today.  That means you will find me one of two places: 1) inside in the air conditioning or 2) in the pool.  Only 2 options.

4.  Here's what I do to get through my Saturday morning cleaning frenzy that I sentence myself to:  I put every tv on the channel where they are showing "Property Ladder," (where people buy run down shacks and try to flip them) and I watch people stress out and make stupid decisions and demolish the wrong wall and pull up tile and find out termites ate the whole foundation... and it makes me feel better about the fact that my biggest problem right now is that I need to vacuum up the cat hair. 

5.  Did you listen to "Little Sparrow?"  It makes me imagine I'm in the mountains somewhere, and Dolly is sitting out on the front porch of an old cabin just playing her guitar and singing. 

6.  The washer is done.  Time to get back to work!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dog in a Cooler

That's right, the title is "Dog in a Cooler."  What in the world would a dog be doing in a cooler?  I asked myself the same thing.... before I went on a family beach vacation.  Now, I only WISH I didn't know of any reasons why a dog could be in a cooler. 

My cousins have several Yorkies that they have had for many years and are incredibly attached to.  I don't know if this is something that is common for the breed, or if it was just their dogs, but they have always been sickly little dogs.  Apparently, it came to pass that after half of the family already arrived at the beach, one of the Yorkies took a turn for the worse and the vet informed my cousin that the dog was in kidney failure and wouldn't make it.  Obviously, there was only one thing to do......


pack up the dying dog and bring it to the beach to die.

You heard me.  BRING THE DOG TO THE BEACH TO DIE!!

ANYWAY..... so the dog comes to the beach, and they put it on some towels in the closet and it just lays there.  It can't move, it can't eat, it is just a pitiful sight.  I truly felt sorry for the dog, but I just wasn't sure what the appropriate response is when your relatives have a dog dying in the closet on your family beach trip.  It was just weird.  What was weirder was that everyone wanted to act like it was NORMAL.  Nobody knew what to do.  Every night the dog owners would huddle up in the room with the dying dog and cry.  I felt sympathy, but again... what do you do in that situation??  My husband and I usually tried to stay out somewhere, or at least out on the porch.  It was just easier to avoid the situation rather than show how uncomfortable we were. 

It goes without saying that a dog dying of kidney failure will eventually... die.  And she did.  With two days left of the beach trip.  So again, they did the ONLY logical thing to do....

they bought some bags of ice and put the dead dog in a cooler. 

Let me repeat that:  They bought some bags of ice and put the dead dog in a cooler.

I spent the rest of the trip trying to pretend that there was NOT a dead dog in a cooler under the house. 

I don't want to sound unsympathetic.  I know they really loved that dog, and I hate it that she died.  In fact, I love my cat, and my parents love their cat, and I know I would be sad it my cat died.  But I can pretty much guarantee you that it would have never occurred to me to take my pet to the beach to die and be put in a cooler.  But hey.... to each his own, I guess, right?  

RIGHT??

If you don't hear from me for a while, it's because I'll be in therapy.  Thanks for understanding. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Surfside Beach, SC

I've been on a family vacation. A long family vacation that seemed longer due to the fact that there were just WAY too many people crammed into one little beach house. With two bathrooms. But hey, it was the beach, and my husband and I tried to escape and go off on our own as often as possible.

We stayed at Surfside Beach, which is just a few miles down from Myrtle Beach, SC. If you're not familiar with Myrtle Beach, it's fun but very tourist-y with lots of restaurants, attractions, and outlet malls. Also, it's full of adorable little retro motels that have been in operation on the strip (aka Ocean Blvd.) since the 50's or 60's. But Surfside is different. It's just houses, mostly. Beach houses of all sizes, with a few little restaurants and beach stores thrown in between.


This is the view of Surfside Pier from the bridge that takes you from the street to the beach.


Here's the view across the street of some of the beach houses.  I just love the ones done in bright colors!  We were on the second row from the beach, but we had a clear view of the ocean between some of the houses.


This is what we saw when we looked off our front porch. 

And here was our little house!  It's called Misty Suft, and it was cute.  We spent a lot of time on the rocking chairs on the front porch, and a lot of time drying out bathing suits on the back porch :-)


Like almost all the houses, it was a stilt house, which means it's built up off the ground on stilts to protect it from flooding in the case of a storm surge in a hurricane.  (Pretty self explanatory!)  The hanging blue thing is called an AirChair, and it was extremely comfortable and fun.  I'm dying to have one!


We went out on the pier one day.  Lots of people fish off of it, and they were catching a lot of little sharks.  In case you were wondering, that is precisely the reason why I do NOT swim in the ocean!  Or any body of water.  Because I have a deep rooted phobia of living creatures in the water of any kind, and nobody can convince me that they aren't there. 


Here's hubby looking in the high powered telescope on the pier.  He didn't know I took this picture :-)



Here's the view of the beach from the pier.  You can barely see the rows of oceanfront beach houses, and the tiny little specks of people!



and this is Nibil's Oceanfront Dining, where you can get a delicious breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  We ate breakfast there one morning.  It was in walking distance from our beach house.  The servers are friendly and although it's always a full house, we've never had a really long wait when we've gone there.  There are huge windows all around so you can look out over the ocean while you eat, and the inside it kind of like an Irish pub atmosphere.


Here are some of the bigger, nicer, (read: more expensive!) beach houses you'll find at Surfside.  Basically, you can spend anywhere from $1000 per week to $9000 per week at Surfside.  It's all up to you, and while you probably do get what you pay for to some extent, there really aren't too many "run-down" looking places that would be bad to stay in.  Personally, $9000 per week for a vacation rental sounds a little crazy to me, but to each his own!  You can find plenty of nice rentals from $1800 to $4000 or so, and if you are insane like we are and decide that it sounds like a GREAT idea to pile up in a beach house with lots of relatives.... then it's really a very reasonable way to travel.

If you can handle that kind of togetherness.

And it probably helps if you can bring some tranquilizers, just in case.

But seriously, Surfside Beach is beautiful and it's my favorite place to stay in the Grand Strand (which, for those of you how don't know, is the strand of beaches running down the coast of SC).  I highly recommend it... although you'll have to make your own decision about the family part!!  (More to come on that.... when I get enough sedatives in my system to be able to discuss it.  Just kidding.  ..... I think.)  :-)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mac

I went to see Mac, my great-grandma, at the nursing home tonight. She was sitting on the porch with my uncle and aunt, which are her son and daughter. Mac has Alzheimer's, but when I went she was having a pretty good day. She seemed to sort of know who we were, and she kept saying that it was getting cloudy and she thought it might rain. She was calm, and she took her medicine without a fuss.

Suddenly, without warning, she had one of her little wild episodes. She got an angry look in her eyes, and she started yanking on her belt that helps keep her from trying to get up out of her wheelchair. (Her balance is not good, and she can only walk when she has someone to stabalize her.) She got very agitated, and was getting louder and louder in demanding that somebody cut that belt off of her. When she does that, we've found that, at this stage, the best thing to do is to try to change the situation quickly! It tends to distract her long enough for her episode of agitation to pass. We usually either move her to another spot, or a different room, or take her to her room and let her get in her recliner or bed. If it's really bad, we have to call a nurse and slip out, because sometimes the presence of family can prolong it. This time, my uncle Bud just got her wheelchair and said, "Let's go inside, so you can take off your belt and get in the bed." That satisfied her, so we headed in.

When we got inside, he slipped out and my aunt and I helped her get out of her clothes and into her gown. She was still a little agitated, so she fought us a little bit and fussed that she wanted her shirt back on. But once she got her gown on, and we helped her get into her bed, a calm came over her and she returned to a state that more closely resembles the "real" Mac. She smiled at me, and I got her water, and she asked for a Kleenex to wipe her face, and we talked about my upcoming trip to the beach. Her eyes were getting heavy, and we turned out the lights. She said, "But I need to get home before it starts raining." I told her she was already in her own bed, and that it probably won't rain anyway. She seemed okay with that answer. I told her I needed to head home to get ready for the beach. She said, "Well, you go ahead and do what you need to do." I kissed her head, and she smelled like the powder she has always put on for as long as I can remember.

"Don't stay out in the sun too long and have a heat stroke," she said.

"I won't," I told her.

"Don't let any snakes get you," she said.

"I won't!" I said again. "I'll see you when I get back. I love you, Mac."

"I love you, too," she said, and I think she means it, even though she probably doesn't remember my name.

And I tucked her blankets under her chin, like she likes them, and I went out.

And I realized, once again, how life is a circle. How one day you take care of people who took care of you. How we cycle from dependence, to independence, and often back to dependence again. How much better it is for people who have loved ones to take care of them, and how sad for those who don't. How one day she probably won't know us at all, not even on a good day, if she even has good days at all. How blessed I've been to have had her in my life all these years.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Bless Your Heart

Everybody knows that people in the South say, "Bless your heart!" A lot of people make fun of it and think it's just a silly thing Southerners say when they want to talk trash about somebody without sounding mean. (I mean, we ARE known for being polite!) And that's partially true! In fact, it's true what you've heard; that you can pretty much say anything you want about somebody if you tag "bless her/his heart" on the end.

Examples:

"She's ugly as dirt, bless her heart."

"He's dumber than a rock, bless his heart."

"She's fat as mud, bless her heart."

(Notice the poetic use of simile!) :-)

Now granted, it's still not especially nice to say those things about people out loud, or even to think them in our heads. But when you tag "bless his/her heart" on the end, what you're essentially saying is, "Sure, they have flaws, but I still love them. I empathize with them. I accept them!"

(Ok, maybe that's not what EVERYONE means, but it's what most people mean when they use the phrase that way. I think. I hope!)

The other way to use the phrase is when expressing true, genuine sympathy or empathy for the person. In this case, you can state the observation directly TO the person.

Examples:

(To an 8 1/2 months pregnant woman): Honey, your feet must be killing you, bless your heart!

(To a person who expresses that they have a headache/various other ailment): Well, I hope you get to feeling better, bless your heart!

If you REALLY, REALLY mean it, you can even add the word "little" in for emphasis. An appropriate time to use this special form would be if someone gave you a delightful and unexpected gift.

"Well, bless your little heart! You didn't have to do that!"

So there you have it. Yes, it can be used to try to sugarcoat an insult, but it also has several other usages, and its usefulness shouldn't be underestimated. Such a simple phrase, but so many complex meanings.

Go ahead, throw it into a conversation! You won't be able to stop.

Bless your heart.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Cast of Characters

The South has no scarcity of characters who do things just a little differently. Maybe they march to the beat of their own drum. Maybe they see things that other people don't quite see. Some people call it "crazy," and they mean it in a negative, cutting way. In the South, "crazy" doesn't mean they need to be locked up, or thrown away, or removed from polite society. It just means they are a little different, and everybody knows it, and life just goes on. Julia Sugarbaker explains it rather clearly:





"Designing Women" is one of my all-time favorite shows, because it shows Southern women who are smart, sassy, independent, and full of snappy come-backs.  My favorite character is Julie Sugarbaker, the older sister of Suzanne and the owner of the interior design company.  My daddy has always said that my sister and I are just like Julia and Suzanne... I'm the independent older one with the snappy one-liners, and Alaina is the ditsy former beauty queen who is always doing something so crazy that you just have to laugh.  I guess he's pretty much right.

I love this scene where Julia explains crazy people in the South, because she speaks the truth.  Every small town in the Southern United States has at least one major town character, and some have quite a few.  These are individuals who just do their own thing, in their own way, and everybody knows it and is fine with it.  Allow me to give you a few examples:

Tater Owens:  When my mama was growing up, there was an alcoholic painter that wandered around the community.  If he came to your house, you had to hide your vanilla extract and shoe polish because he was known to drink ANYTHING.  Once, while painting the bathroom, he drank my grandpa's Hai Karate Aftershave.  Everybody knew that's just how he was though, and everybody hired him to paint anyway.  One time my grandma asked him to stay for dinner, and when they passed him the plate of dinner rolls, he just stabbed one with his fork.  My uncle gave him a ride to the softball field one day to watch the church league game.  On the way, Tater imparted these words of wisdom:

"You better get you an education son, because that's one thing nobody can take away from you....... unless they shoot you in the head."

Well.

I think there's nothing more to be said about that!

Roscoe: Roscoe was an elderly African-American man who lived in my hometown and wandered around town wearing about 10 layers of shirts and coats even in the summer, pushing a lawn mower everywhere.  He cut grass for a living, and pretty much everybody let him cut their grass.  My great-grandpa and grandpa had both sort of looked out for him over the years, and he came over a lot.  Sometimes, his lawn mower would break down and he would just go into my grandpa's garage when he wasn't home, get Papa's lawn mover and push it down the street, cut some grass with it, and then push it back.  He saw nothing wrong with doing this, and my Papa just let him keep doing it.

One time, when I was young, my daddy got Roscoe to come cut our grass.  Daddy picked him up in the truck and brought him over, and he spent about 30 minutes sitting down and drinking lemonade.  Then he started cutting, and he cut so slowly that if he had gone one bit slower, he would have been standing still.  He stopped for several more long lemonade breaks.  While he was sitting there, he admired our hanging ferns. 

"I sure do like that fern," he kept saying, so Mama finally said, "Well, Roscoe, would you like to take it home?" 

"I believe I would," he said.

Then Roscoe discovered that we had a plastic garden frog that had a sensor in it, so that when something passed in front of it, it would croak.  This delighted Roscoe to no end.  He walked back and forth in front of it until the battery went dead.

About this time, Mama had lunch ready.  Roscoe came in and we ate hotdogs.  Daddy came home for lunch, and saw that Roscoe had cut about 10% of the yard and he was never going to get done at this rate.  Daddy went out and cut the rest of the yard in less time than it had taken Roscoe to cut the 10%.

Then Roscoe finished his hot dogs.  And got his fern.  And Daddy paid him as if he had cut the whole yard and took him back home in the truck.

I'm thinking about taking up grass cutting for a living myself.


Ms. Tumblin:  My aunt used to know an old lady named Ms. Tumblin.  She used to see numbers running across the floor and call everybody telling them about it.  She said they were coming out of the heater, and she kept calling the electric company and telling them about it.

It was a gas heater.

The Monkey Lady: At a small country church just up the road, there was a lady who never could have any children.  Somehow, she came to own a chimpanzee.  She dressed it up in children's clothes, and brought it to church every Sunday.  It sat there with her on the pew, dressed up in clothes and wearing a diaper.  Nobody ever said anything about it, except one old man who was a little visually impaired.

He said, "I hate to say it, but that kid she keeps bringing to church is about the UGLIEST kid I've ever seen."

God bless the South!  God bless the people that accept these individuals who just do their own thing, and live their own way, and never really cause any harm to anybody.  Julia's right.  We don't hide our crazy people in the attic.  We bring them right out on the porch, or give them rides to the store, or serve them lemonade, or pretend we don't notice that they just brought a monkey to church.

We tell their stories.  And we thank God that we live in such a fascinating, eccentric, weird, and wonderful place!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Of Nanny and Telephones

My grandma (we call her Nanny) has a strained relationship with telephones of all kinds.  She had issues with party lines back in the day.  She had issues with answering machines (you know, the kinds with the tiny tapes inside?)  She had issues with her car with the built-in car phone.  She has had issues with a variety of cordless phones.  And she has issues with cell phones that seem almost unimaginable. 

Back when people had party lines, she had the problem of nosy neighbors listening in.  Sometimes she would talk about them while they were listening.  Sometimes it was on purpose... sometimes not.

When answering machines came into the picture, she had problems knowing when to start talking.  If we got a message that really wasn't a message at all, we knew to call Nanny.  They went a little like this:

"*BANG!!!*  *CRASH!!!*  *Rattle-rattle BOOM!* (pots and pans clattering) *Running water*.........Tiiiiiiiiiiiiim..... I'm cooking supper and I was wond-"  (abrupt cut off because the tape ran out while she was washing dishes  for 45 seconds instead of talking).

OR

"......... (pause...... pause..... pause......)  Laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiin.  (She has an uncanny ability to stretch names into multiple syllables)  Call me back!"

Then one day, Nanny bought a new car that had a built in car phone.  Not a CELL phone which could leave the car, but a car phone that was built in and worked through the speakers.  You pushed a button above the rear view mirror, and a man with a very proper accent would say, "Name please."

You had to pre-program everyone's number in somehow, which was very complicated and involved my father sitting there with the manuel and wrinkling his eyebrows and pushing lots of buttons.  Then, you recorded yourself saying the name that went with the phone number, and the car was supposed to recognize your voice and dial the number.

Only here's the problem.  When Nanny recorded the names, she said them all very properly and they had the appropriate number of syllables, such as, "Tim.  Home.  Robyn."

This is what happened when she actually attempted to call them: 

*Pushes button*
Car:  Name please.
Nanny:  Tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiim.

*pause* Car is trying to decipher this strange, Southern drawl.

Car:  Repeat please.
Nanny:  (louder) TIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIM.

*pause again*  You can almost sense the car's frustration.

Car:  Once more.
Nanny:  (angrily) I said TIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIM!!!!!

Car:  Name not recognized.
Nanny:  *pushing button again* Well, I said it, plain as day!

(Situation repeats indefinitely.  Call never goes through.)

They eventually had the car phone disconnected.

One time, I went over to Nanny and Papa's house and they were searching high and low for the cordless phone.  One of them would run into the bedroom and hit the "page" button so that the receiver would beep.  Unfortunately, it only beeped for a few seconds and by the time they could get back in there and begin to hear it, it would stop.  I tried pushing the button for them so they could stay in there and listen for the beep near places where they thought the phone might be.  I tried letting them push the button while I listened for the phone all over the house.  It seemed to be coming from everywhere.... but nowhere.  I crawled under things.  I pointed flashlights in every nook and cranny.  After literally 30 minutes of this, I was able to narrow it down to one room.  I finally found it.

It was between a small table and the wall, wedged down near the floor, and it appeared that it would have been almost impossible for it to get in quite that position without help.

They both blamed each other.  Both swore up and down they had not talked on the phone that day AT ALL.  Both insisted that they ALWAYS hang it back up when they finish talking. 

*I love these two individuals!  I know I'm very lucky to still have such funny, loving, entertaining, supportive grandparents as an adult.  I don't know what I'd do without them!*

But back to my last phone story.  Nanny has a cell phone now.  She has dropped 3 cell phones into the toilet while cleaning it.  She has left one cell phone on top of the car and drove away.  She has run over a cell phone.  And she has dropped her recent one so many times that it stopped working.  So off to the cell phone company we went, broken phone in tow.

Nanny decided to try calling her cell phone to see if it would ring while we waited.  It went straight to voice mail, and her voice came on saying (rather sternly!)  "Hello! Please leave your name and number....".  She stared at the phone with astonishment.  Her mouth dropped open.

"What in the WORLD was that?!"  she asked.  "I have NEVER made that message!"

Me:  "Well, Nanny.... apparently you did, because it's you talking.  It's YOUR voice!"

Nanny:  "Well it might be me talking, but I did NOT make that message!" 

Oh, my.  Can you still sign up for party lines?  I think we had the best luck with those!

Who's Bringing the Lysol?

We have a big family beach trip coming up.  By big, I mean that several generations worth of people will pack up in way too many cars and meet at a rental house near Myrtle Beach, SC.  My husband made the comment yesterday that he can't wait to get down there and "relax."  I laughed hysterically at this, because he had just made it painfully obvious that he's never been on an extended family beach trip.  Oh, he has a lot to learn.

First of all, when we get there nobody will be allowed to touch anything until the grandmother/mother set has swooped in and thoroughly sanitized everything that will stand still long enough.  A cloud of Lysol will hang thick in the air, and everything will be coated with a chemical mist. 

When the ok is given, we will all stumble in, coughing and hacking and weighted down with bags and beach chairs, and dash into bedrooms hoping to snag an actual bed.  Then we will have to put on our own sheets, because it costs $150 extra to have the rental property provide linens, and we are thrifty like that.

After that chaos is over, the biggest chaos of all begins:  grocery shopping.  I will remind them of how they went overboard last time.  How we could not have eaten all that food if we had stayed a month.  How we had to drag it all home and the cars were packed so that we had boxes of cereal under our armpits and coolers full of lunch meats under our feet. 

It will all fall on deaf ears. 

They will lay seige to the Piggly Wiggly, and they will come back with so much cereal, lunch meat, spaghetti sauce, ground beef, Hamburger Helper, loaves of bread, and Little Debbie cakes that it will take the whole crowd to load it into the kitchen.

Then, when the actual cooking begins, they will cook enough food to feed 350 people, and will constantly shout out, "Now, y'all eat this!  Go back and get more!"  And when we don't, they will punish us by packing it up and dragging it back out every single day until we are sick of looking at all of it.  Because even though we have enough food for the army, we CANNOT waste these leftovers!

(Once, we had leftover hotdogs and leftover spaghetti.  My grandpa cut up hot dog weiners and put them in the spaghetti sauce.  We politely ordered a pizza, and he has never let us forget how we wouldn't eat his creation.  In fact, he reminded me just the other day.) 

After all this, we haven't even laid eyes on the ocean yet.

When we decide it's time to actually trek down to the beach, we will spend so long loading everybody down with unneccesary supplies that we will decide we don't want to go that bad after all.

I will remind myself that I love these people.  That they are my flesh and blood.  That togetherness is good for family bonding, right?  RIGHT??

But I'll keep going.  Every time one of these family beach trips is planned, I know I'll show up.  Because I love the beach.  And I know one day, some of these people won't be here.  And because one day, I'll want my kids to grow up really knowing their family.  One day I'll be the older generation who wants the younger ones to come so we can all spend time together.

Oh, no.  Does that mean one day I'll have to start bringing the Lysol??

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

And so it begins...

I have astonishing news.  I can barely believe it myself, seeing as how we have owned the property and worked toward this for over a year, and dreamed about it for much longer but....




..... on July 7, 2010 (which now was yesterday) we actually broke ground on the new house.


And by broke ground I mean my husband rode around on pieces of large machinery and dug a huge hole where the foundation will be.

Now since he's doing a lot of the work himself, our building project may take a little longer than one built by the big builders that go in and build entire neighborhoods, but that's ok.  (Ok, let me clarify... that's ok within REASON! I do have my limits.)

But it's been STARTED.  And it's OUR HOUSE!!  Soon I will actually have room to breathe, and I'll have CLOSET SPACE, and my cat will become an outdoor kitty (I've told her, but so far she hasn't seemed interested in that fact) so I'll no longer be vacuuming tufts of black hair that blow across the floor like tumbleweeds.  And I'll have room to get my KitchenAid mixer out of the box and actually use it.  And I'll have an actual porch to sit on and read books and sip tea, and water my many, many plants that I'll plant.  Oh, how I've missed having a porch.  And a tub.  Do you KNOW how long it's been since I've been able to stretch out in a warm bubble bath??  DO YOU??? 

I know it's all still a long way off now, but since we now have a hole, aren't I allowed to be just a LITTLE excited? 

Yesterday we had a vacant lot.  Now we have a hole.  Soon we'll have a home.  I can't wait to start posting pictures of the progress!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Savannah, part 2: Paula Deen and Tombstones

In Savannah, you can eat some delicious seafood or country cookin' that will make you want to slap ya mama.  One place to experience some good eating is Paula Deen's The Lady and Sons.  It's a really popular place with both locals and tourists, who want a little taste of the delicious-looking stuff Paula cooks up on the Food Network. 
  If you want to eat here, you have to plan ahead.  The hostess stands at the door and starts taking lunch and dinner reservations at 9:30, and there will be a line.  They will tell you what time to come back to eat.  Lunch starts at 11:00, and luckily we were ahead in the line so we got in at 11:45 on the day we went.  When your time comes, you come back and wait across the street, and then they call you over.

Beside the restaurant, Paula Deen has a store where you can buy gifts and kitchen gadgets.  Also, the cookbooks in her store are autographed (and it's a real autograph, not just a stamp).  I bought the Lady and Sons set, and I've cooked quite a few things from it.  It's just variations on country cooking, which is pretty much all we eat anyway in my family.

The food is buffet, and basically if you can dream it up, it's on the buffet.  Several meats will be out along with every side dish your grandma ever made for Thanksgiving dinner.  And it's all good.  But I have to say, it wasn't as much of a novelty to me as it seemed to be to some of the people around us who apparently don't eat much country cooking!

Guess what.  I went to the bathroom after eating and was waiting for a stall.  When the person came out, it was....

Jelly Roll, Paula's most famous cook at the restaurant.

I didn't think it was really a great time to talk to her or ask for an autograph or anything, since we were taking turns in bathroom stalls.  I feel sure she appreciated that. 

The Lady and Son's isn't the only good place to eat in Savannah, but it's one of the most well-known.  Now that I'm done talking about food, I'm moving on to one of my next favorite things to do in old towns....

visit old graveyards.

I know.  It creeps some people out, but I just find them to be really peaceful, and I like to think about who these people might have been and what their lives must have been like. 
One of the most beautiful ones in Savannah is Bonaventure.  It's not exactly in Savannh, and I can't exactly tell you where it is because I'm horrible with directions.  But anyway... it's a lovely, lovely place.  It's full of statues that look like they belong more in a museum than on graves, and the big ancient trees are so shady with the Spanish moss dripping from them.

It's not like a little church cemetary, or the ones where there is just an open field with flowers in vases sticking up out of the ground every few feet.  It's more like a restful garden.  The statues are really haunting.




Johnny Mercer, the composer of the song Moon River, is buried here.  On the day we visited, someone had thrown some flowers on his stone.  It's hard to see, but part of the inscription says, "And the angels sing." 




This was the most interesting headstone to me.  It's in the shape of a bench, and near the edge of the water.  This man loved to come out to the cemetary and watch the boats go by.  He very literally invites people to sit down, take a rest in the shade of the trees, and gaze out over the water.


Part of the inscription says, "Give my love to the world."  What a lovely thought, and what a fascinating person he must have been to have put this much forethought into his final resting place.

These statues really are haunting and beautiful at the same time.  If you ever make it to Bonaventure Cemetary, maybe you'll understand my fascination with old cemetaries.


.....Or maybe not.  :-)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Savannah, a Jewel of the South!

Although Charleston is my first love and has my heart, I can't deny the romantic feelings I also have for Savannah, Georgia.  (Is it possible to love two cities at once?  I just can't truly choose between them!)  Savannah is where we went for our honeymoon, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.  We are old souls, so strolling around under live oaks that are centuries old and eating in taverns that were once frequented by pirates is right up our alley.  But before you venture out, let me warn you that Savannah is HOT!  It's a sweltering, humid, suffocating heat in the summertime, and since it's best enjoyed by foot it's much more comfortable in the fall or early spring.  The city is so beautiful, and so graceful, and so eccentric that it's hard not to fall in love with it.  The spanish moss draped over all the tree branches just take my breath away.  I'd sneak some back home, but they just won't grow where I live :-(

One of the things that is impossible to miss in Savannah is the beautiful iron work.  The gates, balconies, and railings are so beautiful and so charming, they almost make me swoon.  And when the gates conceal beautiful private gardens beyond, I almost get arrested for trespassing (almost). 

The houses and buildings themselves are full of charm, and sometimes it almost seems as if you've traveled back in time.

This one was for sale by auction.  The porch is stunning.

If you've ever read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, you'll remember Mercer House, the site of the alleged murder.  If you haven't read it, well then what are you waiting for??
I just love how the moss and ivy are growing up the staircase. 

Besides the houses, Savannah is home to some of the most beautiful churches.  My favorite is the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. 
Here's a big shot that doesn't do it justice at all.  I was trying to show how magnificently ornate it is, but it's impossible to capture all the details.  There isn't an inch of space that has been left untouched or unplanned.
This section of one of the stained glass windows is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen.

Even the ceilings are magnificent. 
These large and beautiful sculptures are found along the walls.  I believe they represent the Stations of the Cross.
  
It would be a tragedy to visit Savannah and not pay a visit to this breath-taking church.  But of course, it's not the only one.  My husband took this picture of another church in town.
 It's one of my favorites!  The angle is powerful, and I don't know when I've even seen the sky quite that color! 

These are just a few of the lovely sights Savannah has to offer.  I'll also be writing about some of my other favorite spots like Forsyth Park, the Pirate House, The Lady and Sons (love Paula Deen!) and Bonaventure Cemetary  (yes, cemetary.  My mother thinks it's morbid, too, but just wait until you see it!)  However, I can't stress enough how much these photos just can't do it justice.  Savannah is sights, smells, sensations, and emotions that just can't be described in words or captured in pictures.  You can literally feel the rich history in the air, and you may never want to leave.  Don't say I didn't warn you!

Cookout Fun and Brunswick Stew; aka "Heaven in a Bowl"

This year, since July 4th was on a Sunday, my sister and I used our powers of persuasion and irrefutable logic to convince everyone that it would be a shame not to have a cookout on Saturday AND Sunday.  So, since we all like to eat, everyone agreed that was a fantastic idea.  Here are the menus and plans for each cookout:

Saturday:

Menu:  Pulled pork barbecue, baked beans, slaw (regular cole slaw and red bbq slaw YUM!), chips, hushpuppies, Brunswick stew, brownies, and cupcakes with red and blue sugar sprinkles.

Plans:  A blow-up-the-neighborhood fireworks extravaganza. 

Sunday:

Menu:  Grilled chicken breasts, BBQ ribs (it's shameful how much I love ribs), salad, potato salad, the same 2 types of slaws, baked beans, the Brunswich stew made a repeat appearance, and homemade peach and strawberry ice cream.

Plans:  Go to a nearby church to see their fireworks display, then have a repeat performance of our blow-up-the-neighborhood show.

Confession:  I don't actually like homemade ice cream.  SHHHHH!!!  Don't tell anyone.  It's just too much like a milkshake to me, and I don't like milkshakes either.  Ok, my secret is out.

Review:  The food was amazing.  We all gained approximately 3 lbs.  My in-laws came, and my father-in-law loved the Brunswick stew and ate about 3 bowls.  We love Brunswick stew in this family, and in fact it's the only stew I'll eat because most others and milk-based and I just don't do hot milk.

My grandparents brought home the recipe for Brunswick stew after my grandpa spent several years preaching near Brunswick County, NC, where it was invented (sidenote:  Brunswick, GA also claims to have invented it, but I side with NC)  Up there, the people cook it outside all day in big cast iron washpots, and they invite the entire community over to eat it with pickles and plain white loaf bread.  There were never enough chairs, so people ate it while sitting on the ground or on car hoods.  We don't have a big cast iron wash pot quite like they had, but we have this:
This is how you make Brunswick stew.  It's another un-recipe because a lot of it's really a matter of taste.  There are 3 hard and fast rules:  use at least 3 kinds of meat (beef, pork, chicken); use potatoes, corn, and lima beans; and have it just swimming in black pepper.

First, cook down your 3 meats until they are literally falling apart and you can't tell one from the next.  Then you slice up a whole bunch of onions (matter of taste, but I say the more the better) and you put them in the big outside pot and cook them in the meat broth until they are transparent and almost falling apart.  You can go ahead and start adding black pepper.

Then, put in the meat.  It will be thick, heavy, and hard to stir, so you don't want the heat too high or the bottom can scorch.  Add chopped potatoes (small chunks, and already cooked at least half way done before you put them in), a bunch of lima beans (at least 2 bags if you use frozen) and a bunch of whole kernel corn (fresh or frozen will do fine.) 

Now you need the tomatoes, since it's a tomato-based stew.  We put in 5 cans of diced tomatoes (mostly drained, but you can leave some juice), a huge can of tomato juice, and a large can of crushed tomatoes.  Then we dumped it full of black pepper again. 

Here's another essential part:  Liquid Smoke.  I don't really know what's in that stuff, but you drizzle it in something and it gives it a smoky, rich, caramelized flavor that is just delicious.  We put in maybe 1/4 a cup or so.  You don't want to overdo it.

Then we added a bunch of paprika, more for color than anything else.  Then we put in more pepper (I'm telling you, it's got to be SWIMMING in it), and I put in about 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of sugar to cut some of the tomato acidity.  Don't worry, it didn't make the stew sweet at all!

Finally, you just put the top on and let all this goodness cook and blend together on low heat, careful to stir occasionally and not to let the bottom get scorched.  It cooked for several hours.

And when it's done, it looks like this:

Mmmmmmm!!!!!!

It's so thick, you can pretty much eat it with a fork.  It also freezes well, and may even taste a little better the second time around.  Don't be afraid!  Get yourself a huge pot, set it on a cookstand hooked to a propane tank, and make yourself some delicious Brunswick stew.

It may change your life.  

Oh, and here's another sidenote:  What we had would be referred to as a COOK-OUT.  It could also be referred to as a barbecue, but ONLY because we actually ate barbecue.  In the South, barbecue refers to a SAUCE or FLAVOR, not a method of cooking.  Cooking hamburgers and hotdogs on a grill does not a barbecue make.  Oh, and that thing I just mentioned that you cook things on outside?  Yeah, we call it it GRILL, never ever ever a barbecue.  Because we take our barbecue sauce very seriously, and we would never confuse it with an outside cooking appliance.  Thank you. 

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th of July!!!

I'd like to say, "Thank you!" to all the brave men and women who have sacrificed much so that we can enjoy the freedoms we so often take for granted in America. 

Thank you, military men and women, past and present.  You give all you have to give to protect this amazing country.

Thank you, military families.  Most of us can't even comprehend the sacrifices you make when you send your husbands and wifes, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and grandchildren off to face danger in the name of freedom. 

Thank you to the generation of veterans who are almost gone.  Like Great-great Uncle Woodrow, who lost his leg and eye when he stormed the beach at Normandy.

Thank you, Uncle Bud.  You and your comrades served multiple tours in Vietnam, and many came home to face much disrespect for your sacrifice and effort.

Thank you, Papa Jim, for serving in peace time.  We know that even though some of our military men and women never see combat, they serve the important purpose of standing by at the ready and give the rest of us a great sense of security.

Thank you to the boys I went to school with, who got angry on September 11th and went and enlisted, who served and are still serving.

We so often forget that freedom isn't free.

It's easy to forget all the blood and tears that have been shed.

It's easy to forget the pain and the toil. 

That so many have served so that we can choose our leaders instead of being ruled by tyrant kings.

That we can speak freely without fear of persecution.

That we can worship freely without fear of punishment or even death.

And finally, and most importantly, Thank you, God for blessing America richly.  Thank you for the freedoms we enjoy.  Thank you for your grace at our many failings. 

God bless America!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

My Cat Doesn't Know Her Name



She could not be less interested in me, or this photoshoot.

My cat has no idea what her name is. This could be due to several reasons, including a) I never call her the same thing twice and b) her mother rejected her at birth, resulting in irreparable damage to her mental state. It’s sad but true.


Her name is Charlotte. I picked that name because when she was a kitten, she was so very, very black all over that we could not tell in any way whatsoever if she was a boy or a girl.

The vet wasn’t sure either.

I went with Charlotte because I figured if she turned out to be a boy, we could just switch to Charlie and she’d (he’d?) never know the difference. Little did I know that I wasted precious minutes worrying about that fact, as two years have passed and she is no closer to knowing her name.

I call her whatever happens to come to my mind at the time, including but not limited to Char, Char-Char, Scooter, Scooter-bug, Scooty, Scoot (don’t ask me where all these Scoot-related named come from, because I have no idea), and Baby Girl. This probably does not help with her identity disorder.

Also, her own mother rejected her. Her mother was a young, unprepared, unfriendly cat of 6 months of age, who also had a name/identity problem (being that she was a girl named Otis.) Otis belonged to my sister. It was verified that Otis was a girl when she gave birth in the basement. (We obviously have serious issues with determining cat gender in this family). From the start, Otis was opposed to motherhood. She swatted her kittens away when they tried to nurse, she hissed at them, and she sometimes hid from them. She even resorted to attempted murder. Once, Otis was discovered to be sitting on top of Charlotte, squishing her head. It’s my belief that this early rejection affected her profoundly and resulted in her terrible collection of behaviors including scratching the door frames, batting and the feet of innocent passers-by, and frequently running in terror from nothing at all.

Since Charlotte has no idea what her name is and does not come when called, and since she is prone to flying from rooms in a panic for no apparent reason, it is sometimes difficult to put her up at night. However, I have discovered a trick that has NEVER failed me yet. One day I noticed that when my cell phone started ringing, Charlotte seemed almost magnetically drawn to its rather irritating ringtone. She sniffed it. She walked around it. She rubbed it with her head. I forgot to answer the phone because of her bizarre attraction to it.

Now, when she flees from the room before I can lock her in for the night, I just turn out the light…. And sit in the dark... And play the ringtone on my cell phone. It’s an annoying tune that sounds like its being played on an electric guitar.

And without fail, Charlotte will sneak into the room in search of this magical sound. “What could it be?? It sounds so heavenly!! Surely this time I’ll figure out the meaning of it all!” I’m sure that’s what she’s thinking.

Until I fly from the room. And slam the door.

And then I’m sure she thinks, “Dang it.”

Friday, July 2, 2010

Love and Loss

I really had a blessed childhood and early adult life.  I've been blessed with so many wonderful, strong people in my family who have loved me and shaped me.  When I was born, I had both grandmothers, all four great-grandmothers, and 1 great-great- grandmother still living.  My great-great passed away at age 97, when I was two years old.  I don't really remember her, but she was a firecracker who went to the beach and played in the ocean when she was about 95.  My great-grandma Bennett ("Mama Bennett") also passed away when I was small.  I vaguely remember going to their house, which they kept dimly lit and at a sweltering temperature.  It was so hot in that house that their taper candlesticks were all bent over like they were exhausted from standing up in that heat (true story.)  Another great-grandma, "Granny," passed away around the same time.  She had long silver hair that she kept twisted into a neat bun.  She made her own clothes and churned her own butter and had the reputation for being an outstanding cook.  One night, after she had moved in with my grandmother, she was caught up late at night eating ice cream.  She said it was because someone told her that eating ice cream at night can make you have crazy dreams, and, "I like to try new things!"  My third great-grandma passed away from a stroke when I was 9.  She owned several small houses but preferred to live in a boarding home because she wanted the company.  I was just starting to understand death then, but I was still too young to really comprehend it.  When I was 11, my Mema's precious sister, Mary, passed away from emphesema.  Mary was a fireball if there ever was one, red hair and all.  She was famous for her one-liners, and she was never without a Dr. Pepper and a pack of Juicy Fruit gum.  She drove a Volkwagen Beetle and one time she tried to race a car coming home from Myrtle Beach and threw a rod.  They had to creep the rest of the way home in the sweltering heat with all the windows down, which didn't help much because they were going so slow they couldn't even catch a breeze.  It's almost impossible for us to get together now without laughing about one of her zingers, or saying, "What would Mary say if she were here?" 
Even though all these people were lost from my life, I didn't feel the loss as profoundly as when Mema left us in October.  Some of these died when I was too young to remember much.  Some I loved dearly, but were not such a part of my daily existence.  When Mema died, she left such a hole.  Who will call me every time the weather radio goes off to make sure I'm not out driving in a storm?  Who will I call to talk about problems and will never try to tell me what to do?  What if I never learn just how she got her green beans to taste so good?  (Still haven't nailed it.)  And then all the things she'll miss.  I wanted to call her and tell her I graduated with my master's degree.  I wanted to call her and tell her that all her prayers were answered because I got a job.  One day, I wish I could put her great-grandbaby in her arms.  Do you think people in Heaven get to know the happy news, like a wedding or a new baby? 

I've got one wonderful grandmother, and one great-grandmother left.
My great-grandmother has Alzheimer's disease.  She's the mother of the one grandmother I have left.  We call her "Mac."
Mac lives in a nursing home now, because we became unable to care for her anymore.  Sometimes she knows who I am, sometimes she doesn't.  Today I asked her if she wanted to come help me fold towels.  She said, "I don't believe I do," which made us all laugh because she actually loves to fold.  Mac worked hard her whole life.  She raised three small children as a young widow after her husband was killed in a coal mine.  She took in sewing, cooked for other people, cleaned houses, kept children, and at night she sorted peaches at a peach shed.  Even now, even when she doesn't know who we are, if she gets the chance she folds something.  Or wipes something off.  Or puts something away.  Her brain is just wired to work, even if she can't remember where she is or why she's doing it. 
It's a slow kind of loss.  The "real" Mac is mostly gone.  She has flashes of memory, but more often she has a confused stare.  She still tells us she loves us, and I think she really does, even if she can't think of our names or how she's related to us.  I think something in her still recognizes that we are familiar, and that we love her, too.  Alzheimer's is a cruel, painful disease.  It forces you to mourn someone who is still sitting next to you, quietly folding and unfolding things.
There's been pain these past few years.  There has been profound loss, and I know more loss is to come.  But I wouldn't trade it if it meant losing all those precious memories.  I've been loved by some amazing people, and I've learned just how precious life and loved ones are.  It's true what they say, "It's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all."  Even in the midst of loss, especially in the midst of loss, I know that it's true and that I've truly been blessed. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Lightning bug in my room

Last night a lightning bug decided to take up residence in my room.  Some people like to call them fireflies, but I call them lightning bugs.  Always have, always will.  I discovered the presence of my visitor when I turned out the lights and, out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a flash above the tv.  Then it did it again, and I knew instantly what it was.  If you don't have lightning bugs where you live, you might be surprised how BRIGHT they actually are, especially in a dark room!  I tried to ignore it, but I kept opening one eye and then I'd see it again.... FLASH......... FLASH....... it had to go.  I got a dryer sheet from the trashcan nearby and tried to catch it in that so I could put it outside.  Unfortunately, I was a little overzealous in my grab, and I squished it.  It reminded me of being little and catching lightning bugs in the yard, and my aunt told me, "Pinch their tails off and rub it on your fingernails like nail polish!"  Now I'm not sure why I thought that sounded like a good idea, but I did it, and it was not really all that pleasant.  Lightning bugs don't smell that great, and I'm pretty sure they have feelings and don't enjoy having their tails pinched off.  My poor night visitor lightning bug was laid to rest in the trash can, which made me a little sad because there's not much prettier than an open field on a summer evening twinkling with lightning bugs.  There's something amazing about a tiny, living creature that can light up... as long as they stay outside where they belong!

Hatbox worthy

I have a lavender hatbox that stays under my bed. I got it years (and years) ago when I was in high school. Back then, I used it to keep things that were important to me. Notes passed from friends during class containing silly inside jokes went in the box. Notes from boyfriends went in, too. Corsages from the two proms I attended found their way into the box, along with pictures of friends and fun times. Eventually it got quite stuffed, and when I went away to college, it went into the attic. There it stayed for a number of years, holding all those memories that had seemed so important those years ago.


Not too long ago, I went up in my parents attic and got down the hatbox. I got a laugh at some of the things people had written to me in all those notes. It was fun, but they didn’t really hold any value for me anymore, and I couldn’t see tying up the space in keeping them. The corsages were dry and discolored, and besides, that romance was long gone and not missed. I found out that just because a boy tells you he loves you doesn’t mean that he doesn’t also love another girl, or several other girls. I found out that sometimes you forget what was behind the inside jokes that seems so hilarious at the time. Some of the pictures I kept, but most of them didn’t seem all that important anymore. I cleaned out the box and started from scratch.

In went the obituary for my precious, precious Mema. In went the pictures of her and my grandpa just two years before her death, at their 50th anniversary, because I can’t look at them yet. In went the bulletin for the last church service she was ever able to attend. In went all the cards and letters I had saved from my husband, who has quite a way with words for a country boy. The ticket stubs from our honeymoon Savannah riverboat dinner cruise also found their way in there. A few of my bridal portraits that I haven’t found the right place for. My grandmother’s handkerchief, my “something borrowed” which she insisted I keep. Some dried petals from her funeral. In went cards written to me by special people at special times in my life; my 18th birthday, my college graduation, my wedding. I think about how things are different in my box now, but somewhat the same. It’s still filled with pictures and written words, and tokens of remembrance. Only some of the names and faces have changed. One day I hope to put pictures of my children in there. Cards and pictures they will make for me. Mementos from this life that changes, but somehow still stays the same. But as always, not just anything can go into the hatbox. After all, it’s a small box, and space is limited and precious. When it’s something that wouldn’t be worth a penny to anybody else but means the world to you, that’s when you know it’s hatbox worthy.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Aunt Rita's Squash Casserole

Well, I can't very well talk about casseroles without sharing the recipe for one of THE BEST squash casseroles you could ever eat.  It's a little bit of a non-recipe, because I personally don't like to follow them exactly and in this family when you ask for a recipe, you get a response that includes things like "about a cup or so" or "enough to cover."  So here it is.  Be brave, and follow it as closely (or not) as you feel like:

6-8 medium yellow squash, sliced
onion (I like onion so I might chop a whole one, but you pick.  I use sweet onions.)
carrot (about 1 medium, grated)
a stick of margarine or butter (I never said this was health food)
a bag of unseasoned cornbread stuffing
a can of cream of chicken soup
a cup of cheese (chedder, grated)
salt
pepper

Here's what you do:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Boil the squash until just tender and drain.  (You don't want them too squishy or soupy since they are going to bake in a little bit).
Melt the margarine, and put a little bit of it in a skillet and saute your onion and carrot. 
Add the bag of stuffing mix to the rest of the melted margarine and mix until moist.  Spread half of the stuffing mixture in the bottom of a baking dish (about an 8x8 or so will do; this doesn't make a HUGE casserole)
Mix the squash, carrot, and onion.  Put your squash mixture on top of the stuffing layer.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
Mix together your soup and sour cream, and pour the mixture all over the squash.
Sprinkle your cheddar cheese over the top of that, and then top with the remaining stuffing mix.
Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes.  Prepare to experience squash heaven.

It's a pretty easy recipe, and Southern comfort food at its finest.  And if you grew the squash in your own garden (I did!) then you get extra points.  Of course, if you didn't, you can buy frozen sliced squash at the grocery story, and I won't tell anybody. :-)

Making my case for my hometown

I've lived in the same small town all my life.  It's a little bit like Mayberry, except now we have a McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell, Food Lion, and two Chinese restaurants.  Our town was built around a train depot, so we still have quite a few tracks running through, although trains don't come by as often anymore.  We've got a volunteer fire department, where my husband volunteers.  And it's not all that unusual to see someone driving through town on a tractor.
A lot of people I went to school with always moaned and groaned and complained about getting out of here at the first possible opportunity.  I guess that's fine for them, except I've noticed that a lot of the ones who left have started to trickle back.  I don't ever remember thinking that I wanted to leave, because this is home.  This is where I lived so close to my schools I could have walked (if I had gotten up early enough for that kind of thing) and where I've spent all but the first four years of my life as a member of the First Baptist Church.  This is where I cheered for the little league football team and rode in the Christmas parades shaking my pom poms and tossing out candy.  This is where my childhood best friend's mom owned a furniture store on main street, and where as children we went every day after school and ran up and down the sidewalks, getting ice cream from the snack counter at the drugstore that has not changed a bit since about 1950.
This is also where you can drive about a mile or two away from my house and you start seeing the hazy blue silhouette of the Blue Ridge mountains.  About another 30 minutes or so you can be in those mountains.  My husband and I drove up and spent the weekend in lovely Hendersonville, NC a few weeks ago, and I commented as we drove up the mountain under cool, shady branches and surrounded by ferns and the occasional trickling waterfall, "Some people have never even been to mountains like these, and they don't have any idea what they're missing."  These mountains aren't barren and rocky.  They are rolling, and lush, and green, and the few exposed rocks are often covered by moss.  My husband proposed to me at Pearson's Falls, a gorgeous waterfall not too far from where we live, and right down the road from my great-grandfather's mountain cottage, and it could not have been a more perfect place.
Here's the main fall... beautiful!


      And you walk up to the main fall along a trail beside these small, drippy, mossy waterfalls that are so incredibly peaceful.

I can't imagine living where I couldn't just jump in the car and go up to those mountains.

Besides those mountains, we're not all that far from the beach either.  About 3 and a half hours, and you can be on the sand.  I've always adored going to Myrtle Beach because it's nostalgic for me, but Charleston really has my heart.  Savannah, GA is lovely too, and it may be my second love, but Charleston is truly the crown jewel of the south.  The cobblestone streets, the majestic mansions on the battery, the breezy verandas, the haunting old trees, the rich history, the sweetgrass baskets, and the amazing seafood... you just can't beat it!  Unless you've seen Charleston, you can't believe how beautiful it is.  Pictures don't really do it justice, but I plan to do a whole post on Charleston in the future.  
To close, I just want you to imagine something.  Imagine sitting in a rocking chair sipping lemonade as the sun sets, with a slight balmy breeze and the sounds of thousands of bugs singing to each other as the lightning bugs begin their dance in the field.  That's how we spend our summer evenings here.  Now don't you want to come on down?? :-)