Monday, December 22, 2008

You've Got to Espresso Yourself!

It’s safe to say that people who know me would say that I am a very energetic person. Probably, they would say some other things, too, but I’ll choose to ignore those comments and move on to other things. At any rate, I am just really kicking into high gear for the holidays. I have been finding novel ways to holiday shop without breaking the bank, and I am excited about spending Christmas with my family this year. For me, they’re pretty easy to shop for. I have more difficulty finding gifts for my friends.

One of my close friends at work is a bit of a coffee connoisseur and our café at work has a special holiday blend of coffee that they sell only during the holidays. I have never been a coffee drinker, which with my current high energy level is probably a good thing. Anyway, I decided to buy him a bag as a Christmas gift, and he seemed pleased. Later, in telling one of my colleagues, she said, “I heard that there is this really great gourmet coffee that comes from Indonesia. It’s rather rare but it’s supposed to be the hot item for coffee lovers.” It sounded interesting, so I decided to look into it and perhaps gift some of the other coffee drinkers on my list with this rare Asian brew.

It wasn’t hard to find, but it was damn near impossible to believe what I was reading. This rare Indonesian java is called Kopi Luwak. At around $160.00 per pound, it’s really not in the budget. But even if they were giving it away, there is no way that I would ever buy this. Allow me to give you some, ahem, background.

Kopi Luwak is a coffee that is made from berries that grow on tall trees. A cat-like animal, called a civet, climbs into the trees, where they lounge on the branches eating the berries. Okay so far. I mean, I am all for lounging and eating. But then, the whole process loses its charm for me. Inside each berry is a seed, or bean, that is passed through the cat’s digestive system intact. The bean then shoots out of the cats butt in his poop, where gatherers, or as I call them, ‘professional shit stirrers,’ dig through mounds of cat crap looking for the beans, which are then harvested, rinsed (hopefully!) and ground into very expensive coffee, that is then apparently bought by people who are severely emotionally disturbed.

I can’t help but think of Ted Nugent. While I don’t think he is emotionally disturbed, he is ‘The Motor City Madman’ so it would be great to know his thoughts on this. Sing along to the tune of ‘Cat Scratch Fever’….

Well I found out where it comes from
and it sure is bad
Cats poop it out of a tree
Then they sell it for a fortune
Like some twisted fad
I wouldn’t drink the shit for free!
Don’t give me cat crap coffee, cat crap coffee!

I can’t imagine who is getting the bad end of the deal (pun intended!) Is it the idiots who actually drink this or the people who harvest it? Of course the harvesters are making a fortune selling this and the people who drink it apparently have enough money to buy any kind of crap they want. I can’t imagine drinking this or harvesting it, but I wouldn’t mind marketing it. I would immediately change the name, Kopi Luwak, which I believe is Indonesian for ‘tastes like shit.’ I might call it ‘Stanka’. Or ‘Chock Full O’Butts’. Hmm…’Asspresso.’ I suppose the possibilities are endless!

I can’t even imagine the smell of this coffee brewing in your coffee maker. Actually, having changed many poopy diapers, I can get a general idea. And it’s not a good one. But it occurs to me that it could have some potential for good use. Suppose an annoying neighbor or family member showed up. Y’know, the neighbor who always wants to borrow (and never return) your tools, or the family member who always needs money? Just put a pot of this on to brew and I bet that would put an end to their unwanted visits. Dinner party guests who refuse to leave? One cup of this demitASS, er, demitasse, and that’ll be the end of your problem.
And that’s no shit!

The Gift of Oneself

The holidays are upon us, and in addition to the layoffs, high prices, and economic uncertainty that are also upon us, it’s a heavy time of year! I always get tickled at the stores that start decorating for Christmas right after they take down their ‘Back to School’ displays but I try to use it to my advantage with my daughter Jenda by reminding her that it’s only September and she has to be on her best behavior for all of the fourth quarter of the remainder of the fiscal year. For my parent friends out there, don’t bother. It doesn’t work.

The holiday season in 2008 is going to be interesting. My husband and I understand that things are tight, so we’ll just probably give each other a hug and a Hallmark card for Christmas. But it’s a bit more difficult explaining a tight budget to a four year old, even one who is, for the most part, remarkably unspoiled. I thought perhaps I could find a parenting book to help me explain the holidays in terms of a difficult economy. These two titles stood out, but for the wrong reasons.

‘Gifts That Rich Kids Get, But You Won’t.’ Hmm, probably not a good idea.

‘Santa Had Budget Cuts and Fired the Elves.’ Really not a good idea!

So it’s up to me and hubby to explain to Jenda what is going on. And we have to somehow merge difficult finances with holidays. And trust me, y’all. If we can manage this, that ‘where do babies come from’ thing’ll be a breeze!

So we are approaching it this way. We want to teach Jenda what a holiday is. It means ‘Holy Day’ and of course in terms of finances, it could mean ‘holy cannoli, am I overdrawn again?!’ but for our purposes, we want Jenda to know that holidays are sacred. More than ever, it’s a time to be grateful for what we do have and not miserable about what we don’t have.

(It might be a bit more difficult explaining Christmas in those terms since it’s more commercialized than Miley Cyrus and the new iPhone!)

So I spent some time explaining to Jenda, who’s four, what the real meaning of Christmas is. See, it means Christ’s Mass.

“I get it Mommy. Like when I leave my Legos and Barbies in the floor?”
No, not MESS, MASS. Nevermind. It’s the day that we celebrate and honor the birth of Jesus.

“Ooh, is there gonna be cake?”

This is going to be harder than I thought. Jenda, would you like to know where babies come from?

At any rate, the important thing to remember about the holidays this year is that while our economy, our political landscape, and our entire world are changing, the holidays, at least the meaning behind them, has not. So what I want Jenda to understand is this. The joy of a holiday like Christmas is not about how much is under our tree (which in our case is fake, so we get to save a few bucks!) It is more about the family and friends who are gathered around it. It is more about what we give to others. And it doesn’t have to be some major, expensive purchase or the latest piece of electronic gadgetry. For instance, I have told Jenda that in order to make room for the things that she is going to get, we need to take some of her other toys and clothes and donate them. (Of course that almost backfired when I saw her calling a moving company to empty out her entire room!) But I think she is onboard with this. She is now excitedly making pictures and art projects to go into scrapbooks to be sent to our extended family along with family photos that we have taken throughout the year. She even wants to make a game of it by having our family match the real photos to the pictures she has drawn to see if they can guess who’s who. (Hint….the round one with all the hair on her head standing straight up? That one is me!)

The real gifts that we give are gifts of love, and humor, and our time. It doesn’t cost anything to donate clothes or household items to others. It doesn’t cost anything to volunteer to serve others in a soup kitchen or at a homeless shelter. So those are some of the gifts that our family will be giving this year. Don’t get me wrong. I would love nothing more than to give Jenda everything on her Christmas list. (Well, except for the puppy since I don’t want to potty train anyone else. Oh, and the kid-sized Cadillac Escalade, since I am still driving a 2001 Mommy Honda. Oh yeah, and the play kitchen with real granite countertops and over-range microwave. No way is my four-year-old going to have granite countertops when I have to make do with laminate!) But all of that aside, more than anything, I want to give her the gift of what the holiday season really means. Because when we reach out to others, we give them the most important gift of all, which is ourselves. And long after Barbie and the other toys have been discarded, long after the newest gadget is obsolete and long after the gift cards have expired, the love and hope we give to others endures.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Road To Hell is Paved With Good Intentions, and a GPS Can Take You There!

There used to be something wonderful for me about technology. Not that I know terribly much about it. But I loved the thought that I could have a small hand-held phone device thingy that allowed me to make phone calls, send emails, and take pictures. I love my new digital camera that takes such amazing pictures (or at least it would if I knew how to work the damn thing!) It’s just really cool that we live in an age where anything and everything we could ever want is at our fingertips. But one of the great philosophers, I think it was Stephen King, said that what makes us more tech-savvy also wants to kill us. Or words to that effect.

By nature, I am so bass-ackwards that I still marvel at Mapquest. Log on to the computer-thingy, type in your address and destination, and whammo! You have driving directions! Which is great if you constantly get lost driving to your mailbox, as I do, or if you are some freakazoid stalker, as, well, someone else. Anyway, imagine my delight when my husband brought home a GPS for the car!

GPS stands for Global Positioning System, and it’s designed to sit in your car like a small TV screen that tells you how to get to point A to point Z and all points in-between. This technology was designed by the Department of Defense so you can trust that it’s absolutely spot-on in getting you where you need to go, in the event that where you need to go is the front lines of battle in Iraq or Afghanistan. Anyway, Jerry brought home this little marvel of modern technology and insisted that he, Jenda, and I all bundle into the car to drive somewhere that we already knew how to get to so that we could see it in action.

Of course it not only shows you maps and directions. It also talks in several languages, including English, English with a British accent, Spanish, French, and Farsi, in case you are needed in Afghanistan. Jenda was enthralled at the new talking gadget and immediately christened it ‘Fletchen.’ Fletchen took us to all sorts of interesting places, like Wal-Mart, the grocery store, and back to our house. I was really trying to seem impressed, but I reminded Jerry that Fletchen’s prowess was no biggie to me since I already knew how to get to all of those places. Take me to the place where money grows on trees, or they’re giving away free Coach purses! Hah, take that, Fletchen!

Jerry was a bit crestfallen. “She is a wonderful timesaving device, and a money saver as well. We won’t have to waste paper printing maps off the internet, and we won’t have to stop when we’re traveling to buy maps anymore. She’s like a member of our family!”

That’s great! Tell her to straighten up the kitchen. And finish the laundry.

Well in no time, Jerry and Fletchen became like Calvin and Hobbs. Actually, they became more like Romeo and Juliet. I noticed that every time I would ride somewhere with Jerry, Fletchen tagged along. And suddenly, she was all super nice to Jerry, fastening his seatbelt for him and complimenting his driving skills. But I ignored her, and ignored the signs. Then one day, I could no longer turn a blind eye to the obvious.

Fletchen had fallen in love with Jerry! And, she was trying to kill me!

I know this seems crazy, but it’s true! One day, I needed to go somewhere and there was heavy construction on I-40, so I started to map out an alternate route when Jerry suggested that I take the GPS. “She’ll get you there in no time,” he beamed, so I stupidly agreed. I didn’t really suspect anything until I got on some back-road in the middle of nowhere. I saw my turn coming up and I heard a voice say “In point three miles, turn left. Your thighs are fat.”

I wasn’t sure I heard correctly. I thought perhaps it was just fatigue since I had been driving for what seemed like hours. Then, I made my turn, and Fletchen said, “In one point four miles, turn right. That’s an ugly blouse.”

Now I KNEW it was not my imagination. I happened to be wearing a very cute blouse. OMG, I thought, I’m out here in the middle of nowhere with this crazy gadget and she’s the only one who knows where I am! Oh dooky! I began driving toward any sign of civilization, trying not to panic. But Fletchen was mocking me. “Jerry loves me! Bwuhahaha! Your roots are showing! Your handbag doesn’t match your shoes! HAHAHA!”

Then, she said, “Turn left now to arrive at final destination.” And she would have been correct, since a left turn would have taken me over the edge of a fifty foot drop down into a granite-filled ravine! I sped up until I could find some sign of life. I finally saw a small country store, pulled in, ripped ‘Christine’, er, Fletchen loose from the dashboard and threw her in the trunk. Then I asked for directions and made it to my appointment, terribly shaken up but alive and in one piece.

I had only one other encounter with Fletchen when I let Jerry take my car to get the engine serviced and we had to switch cars. I honestly forgot about her, plotting my demise in the glove compartment of Jerry’s car until I agreed to give one of my colleagues a ride home from work. If you are a native Floridian, and you are not used to driving in North Carolina, do not EVER, under any circumstances, agree to do this. One of the things that I miss about South Florida is that for the most part, it has been worn flat by years of back-to-back hurricanes. All of the streets are laid in a grid, so you are either traveling north/south or east/west. Or vice versa. At any rate, it’s pretty easy to navigate. Here in North Carolina, everything goes in a circle. So if you are traveling north and want to go west, you don’t go to the left. You exit to the right, travel east for several miles, and then eventually you loop around and you’re going west. Oh, and all of the streets here have multiple names. Like multiples of ten.

So here I was, driving in Greensboro in a part of town that I did not remotely recognize, and I had no idea where I was or how to get home. It occurred to me then that Fletchen was in the car. Of course, she would probably try to kill me, but maybe if I played my cards right, I could make it home alive. I pulled over, hooked up Fletchen, and laid down the law, jilted-lover style.

Look, Gadgety Personal Stepford-wife. I need to get home to Jerry and you’re gonna have to help me get there! I know he loves you more then he loves me, but if you don’t get me home, there won’t be anyone to cook him a hot meal and rub his tired feet. We’re a team, okay?

“Okay. You are still a fashion disaster with thunder thighs, but we’ll get home to tend to Jerry’s needs.”

And true to her word, she got us home. As for cooking and foot-rubbing thing? It was all a lie. But let’s face it, all’s fair in love and war. Jerry has probably ratted me out about it so I am now sleeping with one eye open and trying not to get within fifty feet of Fletchen, the GPS from Hell. Of course, she’s plotting her revenge and I wouldn’t put anything past her. So if you see me on the road somewhere with a GPS thing wrapped around my head screaming at me in several different languages and trying to kill me, don’t attempt to disarm her yourself! Call for help. Try to get my husband Jerry to calm her down.

Better yet, call Stephen King. Might as well get an expert!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

To Hell With Texas, Don't Mess With Donna!

Things are difficult in the world today, and I know that people everywhere are just trying to stay afloat. I was driving home today and passed a little country church with a sign out in front that read “Count Your Blessings.” Some days that isn’t easy to do, but today, I thought first of my home. Then I thought about my family (and said a prayer of thanks that I haven’t been committed to an asylum yet!) and then I thought of my friends.

My parents always used to tell me that to understand other people, I needed to walk a mile in their shoes. I used to think that was gross, since they might have toenail fungus or go to one of those weird fish pedicure places, but I understand the meaning better now. I also know that I have it pretty good since many people are really struggling, so I think, all things considered, that I am very blessed. I do have my home and family, and I have many wonderful friends. And everyday, I learn something new about one of them.

I was taking a break at work the other day and walked outside with my friend Donna. She is a very dear and funny woman, and everyone at work is crazy about her. She is always perfectly coiffed, has a wonderful Southern accent and those lovely manners, and apparently also has a closet full of cute sweater twinsets. She even has cute shoes, like the denim clogs she was wearing this week. Cha-cha! We stood outside enjoying the beautiful fall weather and got to yakking about whatever. Then I mentioned, DANG! I forgot to pick up milk and eggs on the way home yesterday. I’ll have to stop at the store. Hmm…

Donna apparently lives in a town smaller than Kernersville (which I swear I did not think was possible) and said, “Yeah, I’m fixin’ to go to the store on my way home. And I just hate stopping here in Greensboro, ‘specially since it gets dark so early.”

I agreed. Anymore, it seems like it gets dark by noon. And I hate having to stop at the store or to get gas after dark. I mean, I am sure I’m safe, but you just can’t be too careful.

Then Donna said, “I just don’t worry. I always carry my Kel Tec 380 in the car and just put in it my purse if I think I might need it.”

Yeah, I have that CD in my car, too. I just love Celtic Women, they’re such great musicians.

“No. I mean my handgun.”

I’m sorry, your WHAT?! After I peeled myself up off of the pavement, I tried to reconcile this lovely, gracious Southern magnolia before me with my new vision of Annie Oakley in a Talbot’s twinset. My head was spinning. A gun? Donna? OMG, had I ever made her angry? Jeebus! Ooh wait….had anyone made ME angry? Maybe she would take requests! I just couldn’t get used to it. I went through the rest of my day humming “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun!” It was rough.

I figured I should tell Markie, in case anything went wrong. More especially, since Markie is a bit of a practical joker, it was more of a warning. I told Markie, but she wasn’t a bit surprised.

“Oh I know all about it. We were going to Chrystal’s wedding together and there I was in a dress and heels and that damn thing was laying on the front seat of her car! I almost blew my butt off!” She laughed. “I guess she thought it was a shotgun wedding...bwuhahaha!”

Easy for Markie to laugh. She’s not a bit worried that our dear friend might suddenly flip out and go all “Donna and Clyde” on us.

It turns out that my friend Donna is quite the Steel Magnolia. She told me this week that she helped her husband dress a deer. As those of you who know me are well aware, I know nothing about guns and hunting. I have convinced myself (and have convinced Jenda) that meat comes from the grocery store. (Just go with me on this one. It makes me feel better and it’s all about my needs, ‘kay?) Anyway, I had to ask Donna why she would dress a deer. I mean, they’re already covered with fur. DUH!

“We were hunting and the deer was in the backyard, so my husband and I field-dressed it. You know, gutted it?”

Ooh, Jeebus! I could just see Donna wandering around outside in a precious cashmere cardigan and shell and some cute storm chaser boots from L.L. Bean shooting at wildlife! Ack!

“My husband got him with a bow and arrow. I didn’t shoot it.”

Oh, well, okay then. Sure, blame it on Clyde.

I could just picture it. I go over to talk to Donna. Hi, Dear!

“Deer? Where?” BLAMMO!

Later that day, I ran into two friends of mine who, like me, are Dallas Cowboys fans. They were going on and on about our win last Sunday over the Redskins. “It was a great game. Don’t mess with Texas…hahaha!”
I started to warn them…to Hell with that! Don’t mess with Donna! But I let it go. I mean, who knows. Maybe she’s a double agent. Or a Redskins fan. I’m walking a fine line here. But in truth, I like Donna very much. Of course, I try to be much nicer to her now. But I have discovered that while she is the epitome of a gracious Southern woman, there is more to her than meets the eye.

So I guess I have heeded my parents’ early advice. In learning about her, I have walked a mile in her shoes. And that’s a great thing, because she is armed and dangerous. So if I have made her angry and she decides to come after me, I’ll have a one mile head start.

And I’ll have her shoes!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid!

Fall is my favorite time of year. I love watching the leaves change color and I love the crisp air. This time of year always reminds me of county fairs and candy apples, and of course, my favorite holiday of all time, Halloween. As a kid, I loved nothing more than dressing up in some crazy costume and going door to door to collect chocolate and other sweets. Of course there was always the house where you got religious tracts or healthy, sugar-free candy that got tossed the minute we rounded the corner, but those were still heady times!

Halloween has changed a great deal since we were kids. Back in my younger days, we came up with creative costumes, like a sheet with holes cut out for eyes. One year, my brother found an old piece of a cow skeleton and wore it around his waist and went as a Georgia O’Keefe painting. (Yes, he belongs in therapy!) I had one of those really creative Moms who could make a costume out of anything and a Dad who could carve DaVinci’s Last Supper out of a pumpkin with a pencil stub and a sewing needle. And everyone in the neighborhood rose to the occasion and handed out goodies. Even the people who had social lives left bowls of candy on their porches for all of us little fiends.

Back in the good old Halloweens of yore, we got TONS of great candy. We got candy corn, Boston baked beans, Tootsie Rolls, candy bars, and candy apples. And we knew everyone in our neighborhood so we racked up. I made a cute ghost, and my ass waddled home with more candy than crap in a laxative factory. And when my older brother Patrick would serve as my escort on our Halloween jaunts, we especially loved the houses where the people were out for the evening and left a bowl of candy on their front porch. We would dump the whole bowl in our bag and head off to the next victim. Of course, my parents were very concerned that Patrick and I might actually enjoy the candy, er, I mean, eat something poisonous, so they made us deposit all of our hard earned treasure by the front door. Then, those poor dears made themselves SICK eating all of the best chocolate candies, which, as any parent knows, are the ones that creepy killer types always target, like Snickers bars. Now that I am a parent, I take the same pains to protect Jenda. She has nothing left in her Halloween goody bag except Starlite Mints and those grodie, squishy Circus Peanuts! Eew!

Fast forward to Halloween 2008. Nowadays, you just about have to take out a second mortgage to buy a cheap costume and you have to go to do-it-yourself classes to carve a basic jack-o-lantern face. This year, Jenda wanted to be a princess and her costume cost more than my wedding dress and was more elaborate! It wasn’t enough to have a dress. We had to have slippers, a wand, a tiara, and a matching Kate Spade Halloween candy collection bag. Then, Her Royal Highness decided that she wanted to have a Halloween party with her friends from the neighborhood and friends from daycare. Having been to countless children’s parties and having seen the havoc they create, I can only say that someone must have laced my food with crack, because, crackhead that I am, I agreed.

I sold my remaining kidney to pay for Jenda’s costume, buy tons of candy, food and beverages, games, Halloween crafts, and decorations for the house. Then we set about writing the invitations and giving them to all of the friends at daycare, work, and throughout the neighborhood. I assumed that we were safe inviting so many people since I knew that not everyone would come. And as usual, I was right. Out of 25 invitations, two said no. Not that it mattered, since apparently Jenda is the only ‘only child’ in her daycare. That being said, we had siblings, superheroes, princesses, and a candy corn. Many of them, on sugar high, filled with anticipation, loose in our house. (In case you’re not sure what that was like, get your Bible and look up the part about the plague of locusts!)

Having never hosted a children’s Halloween party at my house before, I figured that we would have the kids here from 5:30 pm until 7:30 pm and I would schedule their activities down to the minute. I spent a fortune on Halloween crafts, and games such as ‘Pin the Nose on the Jack-o-Lantern’. I made up goodie bags with little gifts and fun Halloween doo-dads. Then, because our house got slammed with trick or treaters last year, I bought enough candy to keep the kiddies hyped up until sometime next June. Of course, there’s some old saying about the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. They forgot to include mothers. Specifically, me.
Everyone began showing up for the party. I had spent most of the day cooking goodies and making a goopy green Halloween punch. I had decorations everywhere, I set a beautiful buffet on the table, and got the games and crafts ready. Jenda was very proud to be doing ‘door duty’ to let her friends in when they rang the bell. Then I realized that some of the people she let in were just random trick-or-treaters that came in and decided to just stay for the party. Once all of the children arrived, along with our new, random friends, my plans went straight to Hell faster than a maid runs from Naomi Campbell! No one wanted to make the little crafts I bought. No one wanted to play games. They devoured the food from the buffet, and then I found some of the kids searching through my fridge for more. I managed to get them out of the kitchen, whereupon they all ran upstairs with Jenda leading the way. I allowed the stampede to go on for a few minutes, while I tended to the adult guests. The fathers sat around talking about man-shit and looking sheepish. The mothers requested wine, and I was more than happy to oblige. Then, I went upstairs to see what was going on. Of course, I found all of the kids in Jerry’s and my bedroom, so in my best mommy voice, I said, “Hey, you little fiends! Get outta here! I beat other people’s children!” Then they ran into Jenda’s room, wrecked it, then came back downstairs where they swung from the ceiling fans and basically ran amok. One little party guest was dressed as Aqua Man, which was most appropriate since he proceeded to pee in my floor.

Jerry took one look at me and decided that the kids should begin trick or treating at that very moment if they wanted to survive to see another Halloween. Ah, salvation was at hand! I herded those kids out the door and then began gobbling Xanax, washing it down with Kendall Jackson. I had barely finished my first glass (but by no means my last that evening!) when they returned! What the….

Said Jerry, “I guess the economy is worse than we thought. Only about 5 houses are giving out candy. Everyone else has their porch lights turned off and they’re not answering their doors.” Okay, people. I know times are tough. Maybe some of you weren’t willing to sell your internal organs to get money to buy candy. But damn, we’re Southerners and parents. Tough times call for creativity. Dig in your sofa cushions or in the backseats of your cars. I know there’s plenty of candy in there you could give out. Maybe it’s covered with lint and dog hair, but just run it under some cold water. Ding dang!

So the party broke up shortly after as parents rushed home to try to get some trick-or-treating done in their own neighborhoods. I loaded them up with as much candy as I could before they left, and of course fixed a couple of the mommies up with ‘go-cups’ of Chardonnay. It’s okay, the dads were driving. I cleaned up the remnants of Aqua Man and sipped my Kendall Jackson straight from the bottle, er, I mean, out of a plastic Halloween cup. But I have noticed that even now, I am finding kids squirreled away in my house. Just yesterday, I pulled one out of my sofa cushions. They are probably looking for candy that I already handed out. So parents, please, come get your trick-or-treaters. I am running out of candy. And patience. And Huggies pull ups! And if I run out of Kendall Jackson, well, let’s just say things will get REALLY scary!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pundits, Plaudits, and Plurality

It has been just over one week since a new president was elected and history in the making won the plaudits of pundits. The campaigns of both parties, the voting, and the election returns were, as always, a very exciting and empowering time for me. I was dismayed by the mud-slinging and low-brow commentary, but ultimately, I was pleased with the outcome, and dare I say it…? I am filled with hope for a number of reasons.

I realize that we all had our reasons for supporting our candidates of choice. This election was so filled with hot button topics that I would not be surprised if the candidates lined their clothes with asbestos. Let’s face it, this is a strange time in America and finances are running low while emotions are running high, making what can at best be called a toxic combination. At the very least, the election has been decided and we can get past the business of campaigning, early voting, and baby kissing and get back to the business of repairing and unifying the nation. For me, it has already started.

I went to vote on November 4, and as soon as Jerry and I got to the poll, I started crying. It was so amazing to me, and such a wonderful moment that I could hardly believe I was part of it. Jerry immediately let several people cut in line ahead of him so it wouldn’t look like he was with the crazy broad who was sobbing. Then, I raced through the rest of my day and rushed home to watch the returns. I also let Jenda stay up, even though it was far past her bedtime. We talked about voting, and that fact that voting is both a right and a responsibility. We talked about both of the candidates and what this election would mean for all of us. Of course with my horrible sense of timing, I got up to go get a glass of KJ and JUST THAT QUICK, it was over and the election was won. America had a new president. Kendall and I of course missed the update, but unlike the time I missed the ending to the X Files movie, I know how this one turned out. And it hit me at that moment that nothing would ever be the same again.

I looked at Jenda and thought about her and some of her friends in the four to five year old set. Specifically, I thought of Omari, and Avery, and Steven. I feel reasonably certain that at some point in their young lives, they have been told that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up, much the same as I have told Jenda. Of course when you are four years old, the world is your oyster, but at some point, it’s going to occur to you if you are African American, or female, or Hispanic, or otherwise perceived to be 'different', that none of the presidents in the history books is like you. So on some level, you grow up appreciating the sentiment, but recognizing that it is probably meaningless. It’s so amazing to me now that when Steven gets older, he will look at pictures in a history book, or he will take a tour of the White House and realize that there’s a president who looks like him. And that means that someday, Jenda will see pictures of a female president. Someday, there will be a gay president. And as we come into our own as a nation, we will see that this election predicates a wonderful change in our collective thinking.

We tend to forget the fact that America is a melting pot of men, women and children. We are made up of all colors, races, religions, sexual orientations, and life experiences. I am reminded of something that my parents taught me, and that is that every American can boast a king and a slave in their ancestry. I can’t look at this election, or any other election, in terms of the race or age of the candidates. I remember things that my grandparents taught me, and at their advanced age, they were still some of the best leaders I ever knew. I also remember my first grade teacher, Mrs. Daniels. She was African American. I still feel the impact of her guidance and her presence more than thirty years after I sat in her classroom. When I sink back into my younger days, I remember many teachers, friends, and leaders who positively impacted my life. Some were black, some white. Some were women, and some were men, some were gay and some were straight. Some were young, and some were old.

(Actually, when I was a kid, they were probably the age that I am now, and I thought they were old. Damn!)

So here we are, a people, a country in dire straits. Banks are failing, foreclosures are up, and spirits are down. And there is talk of stimulus packages, bailouts, and tax cuts. That is all well and good. But more than anything for me, the recent election has given me hope. And after the stimulus check is cashed and the bailout money is spent, hope endures. So while I don’t revel in my newly found genteel poverty, I am not ashamed. I am hopeful, as we all should be. I am not afraid, even though in many ways, I am hanging by a thread. It’s become stylish to be stone broke, and I am reminded that no one of us is any better than anyone else. Many of us, black, white, young, old, gay, straight, male, female, Christian or otherwise…we’re all hanging by a thread. But in our upcoming administration of hope and change, we will bring those threads together. And we will create, together, the fabric of a nation.

Global Warming or Global Hot Flash?

Mother Nature is a really funny broad. It never occurred to me when I was a child, but as I get older, I realize that she is actually very fickle indeed. Fickle and maybe, understandably, a little bit irritated with all of us.

This came to me recently because at my age, I believe that I am in the throes of peri-menopause, from the Latin “peri”, meaning ‘around’ and “menopause” meaning ‘my hands, man’s throat’. What a happy time this is for me. I was at work recently and I realized that I was just burning up. I mean I was just sweating my ass off! I turned up my desk fan, but it felt like someone had turned on an oven inside me! I hadn’t been doing anything remotely physical so I thought perhaps something was really wrong. I went online to WebMD to check out my symptoms.

My problem is apparently stupidity because no one who is not a doctor should EVER, under ANY circumstances, go to WebMD. You might log on because you have a zit and you will log off convinced that you are going to die a slow painful death from some rare, horrible disease that only WebMD has ever heard of and no one can cure. Trust me on this one. Anyway, after realizing that I might be having a heart attack, a stroke, or some rare disease from exposure to Mongolian Yak shit, I stumbled onto peri-menopause. And I realized after reading the symptoms that I should just upload my picture to their website!

I went to see my doctor about this. Remember him? The really good looking one? So he said he felt that I am too young to be experiencing early menopause. I appreciate the sentiment, but he is a man, so for him to decide what is going on with my ‘down-there’ is like going to a mechanic who has never owned a car. So I made an appointment with his assistant, who is a woman. I just knew she would understand, and maybe dispense hormones and mind altering drugs!

“You seem awfully young to be going through menopause. Maybe it’s stress. Are you stressed?”

Hmm, let’s see. I have a four year old and a husband who keeps turning off my ceiling fans. Our economy is in the toilet. I work in the financial services industry. Gee, what are the odds?

“Well the holidays are coming. Do you have a large extended family?”

Yes. They are all in another state. That’s my idea of happiness. A large, loving, extended family in another state. Preferably, another time zone.

“Do you miss your family?”

Well, yes, I miss them all. But my aim is improving.

“I think you are just stressed out. Try taking walks and drinking something like ice water if you feel warm.”

Uh, no. I think I’ll just walk from the sofa to the fridge and get a cold glass of chardonnay. Thanks anyway.

So the difficulty sleeping, the mood swings, and the hot flashes continued. Each night when I come home from work, I get out of the car and start stripping off my clothes in the garage. That way, I am almost naked when I get in the door to the kitchen. I walk through and turn on the fan in that room. Then I come around the corner to the office, peek in at Jerry and Jenda to say hi, and I flip on that fan. Then I walk through the living room on my way upstairs and turn on the fan in the living room. After I go upstairs and put on a wife-beater and a pair of shorts I come back downstairs to find that ALL of my ceiling fans have been turned off. At first, I thought there was some kind of electrical short. Then I realized that Jerry was running around behind me turning them off! DAMN! I asked him, nicely, WHAT THE HELL IS YOUR PROBLEM?!

“I’m cold.”

Put a sweater on!

“Jenda was cold, too.”

Put one on her! Better yet, why don’t you two get out of the house for a little bit while I cool off. Go out and spend some quality time together somewhere, like Cuba.

Some nights it’s just too much trouble to fight, so I go upstairs and draw a cold bath, dump in a few buckets of ice for good measure and listen to music. Recently, I got out my old Depeche Mode CD. I got inspired listening to ‘Personal Jesus’. I now have my own words to that song. I call it ‘Personal Summer’. Sing along if you know the tune….

My own personal summer
Night sweats that wreck your hair, husband don’t care
My own personal summer
I want to kill the man who turns off my fan
Sittin’ here nude in a violent mood
I could kill for a frosty chill
Get near my fan and I’ll bite off your hand
(Chorus) Hot flash, blot face

Let’s face it, people. A person can only get just so naked. It’s not something I can control. It’s like someone flipped the broiler on inside me and there’s nothing I can do. I even tried to sublet space in the meat locker at Harris Teeter. Luckily, I made it out of the store before the cops got there.

So the other night, I sat, fuming, sweating, and drinking very cold Chardonnay, and I thought about Mother Nature. And I have come to believe that global warming really does exist, but I know now that it’s Mother Nature having a massive hot flash. So I understand what she is going through, and I recycle, and use CFL bulbs, and try to be green. But Big Mama has the power to melt polar ice caps, bring hurricanes, and dry up lakes and rivers. My power is somewhat more limited. So I approached it this way with the family. Turn the heat on low if you’re cold. But when I get home, throw on some extra clothes and leave my fans on, pretty please?

“They stir up too much air. We get chilly.”


And I’m not terribly worried. This here is the South. “He deserved killin’” is actually a valid defense in our courts. So I hope it doesn’t get to that point, but if it does, I hope the courtroom is REALLY cold. And I will try to get a jury made up of menopausal women and Tibetans. That way, if the ‘temporary menopausal insanity’ defense doesn’t work, I can use the ‘Mongolian Yak Shit’ defense. I think Mother Nature would approve!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Leading to the Beat of a Different Drummer

An ancient Chinese proverb entreats us to live in interesting times. It seems a redundant rhetoric, for surely few among us can remember uninteresting times in our lives and in our framework of history. There is always a happening, an event, a turmoil that enrages us or engages us, however it impels us to thought or action.

Some of us remember the onset of the fight for Civil Rights, the marches for peace and brotherhood, and the inequality that defined an era. Others have the stories and experiences of our forbears, while some know only what is written in history books to define a time when leadership was forged in steel, created and tested in the blood, sweat, and tears of many. Amazingly, this struggle gains new relevance and strength in our continuing quest for knowledge and self-awareness. Against our present backdrop of war, political upheaval, and economic uncertainty, the leadership teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are particularly prescient, and in some ways are more pertinent than ever.

Dr. King referred to the conflict of creation (leading by example) versus competition (being the example) as the ‘Drum Major Instinct’. It represents a desire for recognition as reward, a will to ‘lead the band’ by taking center stage and being the star attraction. He readily admits it is human nature. Yet it is not in his nature to scold us, for he admits to having lived in the glass house of self-importance. He reminds us that we have all lived in a glass palace at some point, if not still, so it is not for any among us to throw stones. Rather, he speaks to us as one who has overcome the need for acknowledgement, one who will gladly help us out of our self-imposed exiles of imagined celebrity and rapturous ignorance of believed importance. He becomes, then, a servant leader. He becomes an emissary, an envoy into greater human potential and leadership capability, bringing us beyond seeing only ourselves, challenging us to listen and learn. He begs us all to share the dream of ‘self-importance through awareness of others’, allowing others to see the vision and share a dream.

The Bible imparts the following: ‘No greater love hath man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ How much more difficult it must be to do so knowingly, willingly, even gladly, to protect and nurture a dream that has consumed boundless time and personal energy. Whether or not you espouse the Bible’s teachings, those words are a powerful and gripping truth. Dr. King laid down his life to improve the lives of others, to lead others. Who among us would do the same?

And yet we are all leaders, whether in title, by example, through military service, or by aspiration. Few in our midst, unless we are in the military, have been called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice, and certainly we are not asked to do so in our current positions and jobs. But Dr. King, in laying down his life, showed that true, meaningful leadership exists, in fact, flourishes in all of us by virtue of the fact the we do not have to give our lives, but only share our vision. We become exemplary leaders by lifting the spirits of those around us. Dr. King, in his surrender to a destiny of strength through giving, reminds us, implores us, to lead through servitude to others.

But what cost if we fail to heed his advice? What cost if we fail to give ourselves completely to a goal that impels us to walk quietly behind those we hope to lead, giving them the spotlight instead of ourselves? If we learn nothing, all is lost. No one is led, and we are no stronger for the experience. Thankfully, we can be delivered from this fate. We still encounter hatred and prejudice, but we are free, in fact, encouraged to speak against them. Fortunately, we are free to aim high without having to project our dreams above blinding ignorance, or shout our hopes against deafening silence. While it is almost unimaginable to us to relinquish the spotlight, by surrendering ourselves to the ultimate gift of servitude, we become our best selves by allowing and encouraging others to shine. It costs far less when we inspire others to build and dream with us, to create interesting times. As leaders, we are not asked to lay down our lives, but to put aside ego and self-importance to help others realize a vision. We forfeit far less when we create an economy of hope, equality, and a single-minded passion to serve.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

When the Night is Darkest the Stars Are Brightest

Somebody has to go polish the stars,
They're looking a little bit dull.
Somebody has to go polish the stars,
For the eagles and starlings and gulls
Have all been complaining they're tarnished and worn,
They say they want new ones we cannot afford.
So please get your rags
And your polishing jars,
Somebody has to go polish the stars.
-Shel Silverstein

The last ten days have run together like sidewalk chalk in the rain. Finding out Cliff was gone was unbelievable. Being so devastated and heartbroken, seeing my friends in the same sad shape, was horrible. I was in some wretched limbo; I couldn’t seem to get anything much done at work or at home. Some of you are wondering how this is different from any other week. I’ll get back to you.

Yet for all the blur, so much has happened these last ten days, and I have learned a great deal about my friend Cliff, about healing, and about the nature of things. This past Monday, I attended a memorial service for Cliff. Well, I and most of the citizens of North Carolina. It wasn’t a memorial service, it was Cliffstock! Friends and strangers alike supported each other. Still, it was a sad, solemn occasion, and I was trying not to melt down. I turned my attention to one wall where a slideshow loop was running pictures of Cliff at different stages of his life. This seemed to be a good way to take my mind off my sadness. Instead, it was an unexpected trip down memory lane.

Cliff and I were both born in 1969. In one picture, there stood Cliff, probably 5 years old, against his parents sofa on Christmas morning. But I wasn’t looking at his amazing smile, or the stacks of brightly wrapped gifts. I couldn’t stop staring at that SOFA! My parents had that sofa! You children of the 70’s know the one…dark green fabric with huge gold and red flowers all over it. ACK! The next slide was Cliff wearing a pair of vertically striped pants from JC Penneys. I know this because my brother had the exact same pair…wide bell bottom legs with a high waist and they came with a huge wide, white belt that was like a boob job for your pants. And then there were the pictures with the 80’s hair. In all of this seriousness, I managed a smile. But I guess it was okay. Cliff was smiling in all of the pictures. He was always smiling.

The following day, I went with my boss and two dear colleagues to the funeral service. It was Cliffstock, the sequel. The church was lovely and it was packed to the rafters. Greg sat on the aisle, then me, then Larry, and June. I knew it would be emotional, and realizing that none of us had tissue, I excused myself to run to the restroom to get some toilet paper. I figured it was better than nothing. I was wrong. I darted into a stall to pull off a bit of paper and it wouldn’t tear! I tugged and yanked but this stuff was like two-ply vulcanized rubber! I pulled and wrestled and huffed and puffed until finally, I had nearly pulled off the whole roll. I walked back into the church carrying the ten pounds of toilet paper like it was a small baby. June turned around and her eyes got wide. I won’t even tell you what she said. It was so snide. As the service commenced, Larry went to pull off some tissue to dab his eyes and strained a muscle trying to tear some off. He finally got a piece the size of a postage stamp, and then got huffy with me. And you really wouldn't believe what he said. Whatever. It wasn’t my fault. Later, I saw a colleague across the aisle crying. I started to hand him the tissue, but I realized he would probably think it was a bad novelty gag thing, like fake dog poo, or those handshake buzzer things. So I made Greg give it to him. No sense having someone else mad at me.

Aside from all of the issues with tissues, the service was beautiful. Many friends from work are part of the Celebration Choir, and as they filed into the church, I could see them wiping away tears, heartbreak on their faces. Yet as they sang, their expressions turned to joy and they healed people through music. And Cliff’s minister gave a beautiful eulogy. He reminded us that although Cliff is gone, the love that he had for us, and we for him, is still here.

After I got home that evening, Jenda wanted me to read to her, so I let her pick out some books. The first was about Tutankhamun, and it contained a quote from ancient Egypt. “To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again.” Smiling, I turned to the second book by Shel Silverstein. We read the poem “Somebody Has to go Polish the Stars.” It’s interesting, the nature of stars. In many cases, stars undergo changes and cease to exist in their ‘star form’, but the light that they emitted as stars is still travelling to earth through space and when we look up in the sky, we still see their light. That thought resonates with me.

So this week I found some new friends, and found some common ground with the one that I lost. But I guess I shouldn’t say that I lost Cliff, or anyone that I have loved for that matter. None of us should. We must speak their names so that they live, not just again, but forever. Even though their stars are different, we still bask in their light. So go outside, lay in the grass and look up at the night sky and the stars. And remember that they are not just stars. They are holes in the sky, where the spirits of Cliff and all of our loved ones shine down on us from Heaven to let us know that they are still with us, they still love us, and they are happy. And I can tell you, in these last ten days, when I have looked at the stars, they have seemed much brighter.

Thank you, Cliff.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Requiem for a Superhero

I’m quick to delete sappy emails from my inbox, especially the ones about friendship. It sounds mercenary, I know, but I get tired of reading mindless dreck like “friends come into your life for a reason, or a season, or to commit treason….” Or the equally insipid “it’s national friendship week. Forward this email to God and everybody or all of your hair will fall out and you will be trampled by chickens.” So I get rid of it and move on to the really important stuff, like how to get free Viagra online, or how to meet great singles in my area who are just misunderstood and were wrongly convicted. It’s enough to make you go back to actually talking to people face-to-face and writing letters on real paper!

It occurred to me this evening that those goofy friendship emails, so sticky sweet that they induce diabetic coma, are actually sent by well-meaning friends…people who actually care about me. (That or they are bald and afraid of poultry.) And much like anything else that is good in my life, I take them for granted. Not the emails, necessarily, but the friends who send them.

Cliff Bailey passed away today. It’s okay if his name is not familiar, since many of you did not know him. He wasn’t running for office, though he campaigned tirelessly on behalf of others. He wasn’t an Academy Award winning actor, but he had a winning personality and always acted like a gentleman. And he wasn’t one of the X-Men, his favorite comic book characters, but to many of us who worked with him, he was a superhero.

There is no way to capture the essence of a person with words. Their finer points elude us, and memory is a tough concept to versify. Our feelings lose something in the translation and transition from feeling to word. Even tonight, I can’t clearly picture Cliff’s face, but I can remember how I felt in his presence. It’s funny what you focus on at a time like this, walking across the abyss of initial shock to sinking realization. In my case, I am thinking about Cliff’s teeth.

Um, yeah. His teeth.

It is not enough to say that Cliff had the whitest teeth in the free world. I am sure that no one in the communist bloc had teeth as white as Cliff’s, either. There used to be a really stupid song from the ‘80’s, well, okay, there were MANY stupid songs from the ‘80’s, but I am thinking of ‘I Wear My Sunglasses at Night’. You might remember it. Auditory dorkiness. Anyway, I think the guy who sang it probably ran into Cliff somewhere, was blinded by the whiteness of his teeth, and then was forced to wear sunglasses. He later went on to write another stupid song, ‘Blinded By the Light.’

Okay, maybe not.

Cliff had a way of getting people out of their comfort zones. It wasn’t always about ‘strive, do more, reach for the stars’ kind of stuff. I mean, he could get you to do CRAZY walk-on-your-lips-across-hot-coals kind of stuff. One night just recently, I was going to our operations desk and Cliff was standing in the aisle nearby. He called to me, just as friendly and nonchalantly, so I bounded right over to him and then screamed! On the floor in the aisle was a long piece of dooky! Cliff just cackled at my reaction, and then I realized that it was a piece of unfortunately shaped chocolate frosting that had apparently rolled off of a cupcake and into the floor, where it served as hilarious entertainment for Cliff. Of course, not satisfied with just scaring me, he called one of our directors, Cassandra, and then laughed his butt off at the sight of her jumping straight up, ten feet into the air. I still don’t know how, or why, but he somehow convinced ME to scoop up the frosting poop and throw it away. What can I tell you, he was just hypnotic that way, I guess.

He had such personality, and a remarkable wit. And I wasn’t the only one drawn to him. He had so many friends. I can think of at least five people at work who would tell you that he was THEIR best friend. But you wanna know something? Well, yeah. They’re right. He was. He looked for good in people, and he usually found it because he expected to. Funny thing about expectations, though. They can be treacherous. I expected to go to work tomorrow and see Cliff. Just something that I took for granted. I was wrong, and I am just about as hurt and sad as I have ever been. I guess all of us who loved him feel that way. Of course, Cliff would just smile and say, “Just remember, Darlin’…you’re unique. Just like everybody else!”
I really loved you, Cliff. I’m sorry I took that friendship, that smile for granted.

You see, Cliff was truly unique, and very special. I miss my friend, even though, on some level, it just hasn’t become real. So I am going to spend this night with a glass of chardonnay and some memories, tears of regret, and prayers of thanks. And when I think that I just can’t cry anymore, I’m going to think of Cliff and all my friends, read those sappy emails about friendship, and cry out of sheer gratitude.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Milk of Human Kindness Doesn't Make Good Ice Cream!

There comes a point in every person’s life where you say, “I have heard it all.” For me, working in a call center, and being a wife and mother, I thought that moment had come and gone. But I now know that I was wrong. Really wrong. Of course it’s my duty to keep everyone abreast of the latest in nutty news. I recently read that the people at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have decided that it’s cruel to milk cows and use their milk for human consumption, especially ice cream. So they have reached out to ice cream makers Ben and Jerry. I love Ben and Jerry, y’all. They, along with Kendall Jackson, will someday ascend into heaven and be seated at the right hand of the Father, where they will all enjoy a big glass of chardonnay and a bowl of Chunky Monkey. Mmmm…. Wait, where was I?

Oh, yes. PETA. I think they do a lot of good for the most part. But now, the PETA-ites have decided, via some sort of bovine proxy vote, that it is cruel to milk cows and consume their milk. So they have asked Ben and Jerry to stop making their ice cream with cow’s milk, and instead, to start using human breast milk.

Oh yes, at this moment, I have seen and heard it all.

Okay, I have to try to get a grip on this one. Let’s ignore the fact that human breast milk has more lactose (that’s sugar, folks), more fat, and less protein than cow’s milk. Let’s ignore the studies that show that consumption by humans of low fat dairy products can lower the risk of heart disease and lower the risk of type two diabetes. Let’s instead follow the logic of People Exhibiting Traits of Asshats. Their argument is that Dr. Spock says that cow’s milk is bad for children. And I am all for breastfeeding your babies, but at some point, it has to come to an end. And by the way, this is the same Dr. Spock who advocated treating your child as an individual and allowing them to potty train at their own pace. To which I say BULL! Treating kids like individuals is great once they’re old enough to vote, but really not before. Just look at Britney Spears, y’all. She STOPPED behaving like a skank when her parents STOPPED treating her like and individual. And if I allowed Jenda to potty train at her own pace, I’d still be spending my money on diapers and Balmex instead of Kendall Jackson and Ben and Jerry’s Oatmeal Cookie Crunch.

To their credit, Ben and Jerry said “Beat it, you radical, hairy-armpit freakazoids!” No, what they really said was nothing, because they saw no need to comment and milk the situation for the notoriety. I think that is probably for the breast, um, best. But I do think someone needs to speak up for the poor women who might potentially be impacted by this nonsense. PETA feels that cows are being treated unfairly. What about Mothers? I have read studies that many cows are bred for their ability, as the scientific community puts it, ‘to produce a butt-load of milk.’ As a mother who nursed, I can tell you that I was not bred for that. First, Kendall Jackson and nursing do not mix, so it was a very long 7 months. Number two, if too much time passed between milkings, er, feedings, my breasts turned into weapons of mass destruction. Finally, when your kid gets teeth, well, let’s just say thank God for all of the strides they’ve made in reconstructive surgery.

So I am going to start my own advocacy group, “DAMN- Divine Admiration for Mothers Now “ to prevent this kind of nonsense from happening. My fellow mothers deserve a lift. And if you’re willing to go tit for tat with PETA, I invite you to join me. Really, y’all, let’s get pumped up about this. And if we’re not successful, we can always get together at my house for some chardonnay and a bowl of Dulce de Leche League or a couple of scoops of Fudge Nipple!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood!

Ooh, y’all, I am just too happy and excited for words! It’s a beautiful day here in Kernersville, the sun is shining, the air is cool and crisp, and we have a new neighbor moving in to the house down the street. No, he is not a George Clooney look-alike. He’s better!

For those of you who don’t remember the house down the street from us, I used to call it ‘The Cleetus-Pootis House.’ I named it for my two neighbors, who I called Cleetus and Pootis. They were two honest-to-God mullet wearin’, beer swillin’ tattoo covered rednecks who provided me with more sheer entertainment than a case of Kendall Jackson, a whole key-lime pie and a Golden Girls marathon on Lifetime television for women! (Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it!)

Cleetus and Pootis loved nothing more than to drink beer and decorate their house for the holidays. I don’t just mean Christmas, y’all. They decorated for Thanksgiving, Halloween, hell, they even decorated for Arbor Day! I loved to sit on my front porch with a glass of KJ and watch the two of them stringing lights up all over the house, drinking cheap beer, and just getting into the holiday spirit. One day, one of them, I think it was Cleetus, tried to string lights from the roof over to a small dogwood tree in the yard and fell right off the roof. Jenda was concerned. “Mommy, is he dead?”

Of course not, Sweetie. If he was dead, he would have dropped his beer.

I loved the blown transformers, the sirens, and the holiday displays that could be seen from space. But all good things come to an end, and Cleetus and Pootis were no exception. I was (almost) inconsolable when they moved away, presumably to join the traveling company of ‘Deliverance.’ And I missed their decorations and lights. I swear, after they moved, my utility bill went up 60%.

So the Cleetus-Pootis house sat empty for a time. Then, it was rented to two sisters who loved nothing more than to party til they puked. Or until all of the rest of us puked from the loud music and endless parties. One of the gals was very pretty and friendly. I called her Barbie. Her sister was mean and never responded to any overtures of friendship. I called her Ugly Sister Midge. She reminded me of my doll, the ‘Happy to be Me Barbie’, who comes with a pair of bi-focals and her own little tweezers for those annoying chin hairs and a size 14 pantsuit from Talbot’s. Oh nevermind. I know how it sounds, but I’m really not bitter.

Anyway, these two seemed to be running the poor man’s version of the Playboy Mansion, so they never had the appeal for me that Cleetus and Pootis had. But even this arrangement did not last. We all know that Barbie is the doll who has everything. Apparently, Neighborhood Barbie also had everything, including a pesky little drug habit. One night, her dealer came by and shot up the front of the house. Barbie and Midge called Ken and Skipper to help them load up the pink Barbie corvette and they high-tailed it out of town.

So, the house was empty again, forlorn and dotted with bullet holes. I figured that the bullet holes would be enough to ensure that it remained empty, so imagine my surprise and delight when I saw someone moving in! At first, I wasn’t sure what was going on. A caravan of cars came down the street and pulled up in the driveway of the house. One of the drivers had his radio turned up really loud, and I could hear banjo music playing. I thought maybe Cleetus and Pootis were back so I ran outside. And then I saw the new neighbor pull up on his motorcycle. My new neighbor is a beer swillin’, tattoo covered, ZZ Top beard wearin’, honest-to-God redneck BIKER!

Sing along with me, folks. You know you want to….’Oh happy day!’

The first few days were pretty quiet and I couldn’t wait to see what local color this one would bring to the neighborhood. But it was hard to get a bead on this guy. I had to get some information, not that I am nosy or anything. I’m just naturally curious. So I did what any other self-respecting nosy, er, friendly neighbor would do. I sent Jerry down to investigate. And it wasn’t too hard. When Biker neighbor pulled up on his Harley and cracked open a beer with his Hooter waitress girlfriend, Jerry was off like a shot. After a little while, he came back so I asked for the scoop.

What’s he like?

“Okay, I guess.”

Where does he work?

“I dunno.”

Well what DID you find out?

“He’s got a Harley with a kickin’ exhaust note, electronic fuel injection, and a two cylinder V-Twin engine….”

In other words, what he found out was blah, blah, blah, man-shit, beer, Hooter Girls, blah, blah, blah.

“Oh, his name is James.”

James? No, that will never do. You just can’t be some ZZ Top lookin’ Harley dude named James. No, that won’t work. I am going to call him Duke.

So, I knew it was up to me to find out about Duke. I mean, the holidays are coming, and I want to know if we’re all in for a treat. I have asked Santa for a lower utility bill, so anything’s possible. I considered ways to weasel my way into the Dukedom. Here in North Carolina, many neighbors have a tradition of welcoming new neighbors with a home baked Amish Friendship Bread. I decided against this pretty quickly. I don’t think Duke is Amish. He also doesn’t look very friendly. I also considered the neighborhood fruitcake. No, y’all, that is NOT my nickname. See, here in the deep South, neighbors bring food for various special occasions. When Jerry and I moved in, someone left us a fruitcake as a welcome gift. But before y’all get all misty-eyed at the hospitality of small town America, I will have you know that this damn fruitcake has been making the rounds since the Reagan administration, and the ‘to/from’ gift tag is covered with scratched-out names and welcoming messages. After Jerry and I got it, we realized that one of our sneaky-ass neighbors, er, new friends, must have crept over here after dark and left it for us. Compelled to reciprocate such kindness, we left it for another neighbor. It was kind of fun, like some perverse children’s game of ‘Pin the Ancient Fruitcake on Your Unsuspecting Neighbors.’ Then it turned back up with a new card attached….”Screw you! Y’all are the new guys in the neighborhood and fair is fair!”

All that notwithstanding, I am excited about the possibilities of life down the street from Duke. So far, he seems like what you would expect from a bearded, tattooed biker dude, which is to say potentially unstable and very entertaining. Um, I mean, very neighborly. So I am going to do the friendly thing and go down to call on Duke myself to welcome him to our little slice of Heaven. And no goofy food or flowers, y’all. I am taking a pin-up calendar and a case of cheap beer. Oh, and that damn fruitcake. He IS the new guy now, and since Jerry fixed that wobbly leg on the kitchen table, we’re really not using it!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Beauty is Only Skin Deep in the Shallow End of the Gene Pool!

My friends, we live in interesting times! Not just the election and the economy and war and all of that. Don’t get me wrong, all of that is interesting, to say the least, but our focus and energy seem to be misdirected and, if nothing else, misguided. We live in a world where looks and perceived beauty are more important to us than the more pressing issues mentioned above. Vanity has outrun sanity, and there is no end in sight. I was talking to a friend of mine about the new show ‘Living With Ed’, and I mentioned how happy I am that he is a champion for saving the planet and being ‘green’. My friend said, “I just can’t watch that show. He just wears those horrible ‘man-sandals’ and have you LOOKED at his crusty ass feet? UGH!”

Um, no.

Sad, but we live in a world where toenails outweigh the greater good, or have become the greater good. Of course it’s no surprise. Remember when Venus de Milo embodied the ideal of beauty for women? Dear Venus, with her less than perfect abs, and her A, maybe B cup bosom, and her missing arms? Nah, I don’t remember that time, either. And in my case, I think I am built more like Venus of Willendorf, so maybe it’s best if I don’t try living in the past!

But the whole beauty thing is out of hand. I got an email recently from an online health and beauty magazine that touts all of the latest and greatest beauty discoveries that promises that you will transform you from whatever your current sorry state is, and into such a vision of youth and beauty that no one will be able to stand it. The fact that no one can stand you anyway is another issue altogether. But I digress.

The latest is a product called ‘BungGlow’. I know what you’re thinking, and sadly, you are correct. For the low, low price of 49.95, you can have a younger looking, bleached butt crack. South Beach Skin Solutions promises that “you will see results in just two to three weeks!” Folks, at the risk of seeming anal, er, banal, I can only say bullshit! First, there is no way on God’s green earth that I would ever be able to contort my out-of-shape, middle aged body enough to view my own butt crack…not that I have tried. Number two, I would never let anyone else look at the place where I go number two. Trust me. Is there some standard of booty beauty that I was not aware of? I guess the fact that my butt droops is only one ace in the hole, so to speak. Now I have to be filled with self loathing because my butt crack is adding years to my, uh, something. It’s enough to make you run out and drink a case of Kendall Jackson and devour a whole cheesecake. In my case, it actually doesn’t take much.

Of course if you have a positive rectal self image, maybe you have nasty, tired looking feet. And you’re in luck! At Yvonne Hair and Nails, in Virginia, you can make your feet younger looking and more beautiful with a ‘fish pedicure’. I have to admit that this one had me hooked. The basic concept is that you go to the salon, dip your bare tootsies in a tank of warm water, and then they release hundreds of small fish into the water where they proceed to nibble your stank-ass feet for several minutes, softening them up for an Asian pedicurist who then takes over and turns your feet into perfect Angelina Jolie feet. Or something like that. I even imagined myself going for some fish and foot work.

“Hi. I’d like to get a fish pedicure, please.”

“Hokay.” (I slip my shoes off.) “Ooh, you got stank feet. You don’t get fish-icure. You get piranha-cure. Better yet, jump in the tank with Jaws!”
Then I get to sit with the Asian pedicurist, at which point my feet are just useless, bleeding stumps. I think I’ll just stick to the fish with chips. And the Kendall Jackson and cheesecake. That’s what Spanx are for.

I held on to vanity for as long as I could. Actually, until I realized the futility of it and got real. I had to get glasses recently and I was just horrifeyed, er, horrified. See, I finally went to get my North Carolina drivers license. I held off for as long as I could because I knew it would be a pain in the ass transferring my title and getting my tag and all of that. I called the DMV here after we first moved.

“I need to find out about getting a tag and license. We just relocated from Florida.”

“Well bless your heart. You need to bring the title to your car, your Florida license, your social security card, and roughly 3,000.00 in cash.”


“There’s a 55.00 fee to gettcher license, 175.00 for the title transfer, and 2770.00 for the Highway Usage Tax.”

“WTF, er, Highway Usage Tax? Okay, so, can you drop that if I promise not to use the highway? I can drive on backroads….”

“Bless your heart.” (I have since figured out that this is an old Southern expression that means eff you!)

So I went online and renewed my Florida tag. But after that expired, I had no choice but to sell one of my kidneys for the Highway Usage Tax money and get my NC tag and license. So I went to take the test, only to discover that I could not see out of my right eye. I got all of the test questions right, and of course, all of the signs, because even with bum eyesight, it just ain’t that hard to identify the red octagon and what it means. So I got to the vision part, y’know, the one where you have to put your forehead on the bar thingy and look into the machine and read it? So of course I had to go after some big sweaty Bubba, and I so did not want to put my forehead on that thing. Lord have MRSA, er, mercy! Anyway, I tried to read the top line.


“Nope, try again.”


“Ma’am, I do believe you’re blind, bless your heart!”

So I had to go to the eye doctor for a vision test. The good news is I beat the scores posted by Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. The bad news is I had to get glasses, which I have since been told make me look like Sarah Palin. God help me. Anyway, I went back to finish my vision part of the driving test. Now I was clearly able to read the top line.


I should have guessed that.

Jenda reveled in my discomfort and deflated sense of vanity. I agonized over my Republican looking glasses and failing eyesight. What with the glasses and the occasional stray hairs that have begun sprouting out of my chin, I feel like Jerry Garcia. That poor man was never going to meet society’s high standards of youth and beauty. No wonder he’s grateful to be dead! I explained to Jenda that I was a ‘mature mommy’ and that I had developed a touch of astigmatism in my eye. Then I overheard her telling one of her friends that I got glasses because “Mommy’s old and she got stigmata in her eye.”

Ouch! Charity begins at home, but apparently not at mine. But that stigmata in the eye trick will probably be a hoot at parties! Hmmm….

But truly, I’ve just had enough of all of the eternal youth and beauty crap. I am not going to aspire to any ridiculous standards of beauty and I am not going to try to be younger than I actually am. Wonderbra and Spanx aside, I am not going to go bankrupt buying crèmes and potions and pills and having fish gnaw my feet off because it’s supposed to make me look younger and more beautiful. Frankly y’all, the color of my butt crack is like the whole JFK conspiracy or Jimmy Hoffa… no one knows for sure and we never will. I am not going to let animals gnaw the flesh off of my feet or any other part of me. Instead, I am going to tell myself that I am in great shape, because round IS a shape. I think I am going to try to be a voice of reason, a sort of standard bearer for standard looking people like myself who refuse to skinny dip into a school of hungry barracudas hoping to come out alive and with smaller hips. I am going to take on the unrealistic beauty industry. I plan to spend all of my free time lobbying against these cosmetic outrages.

And since I am not skinny and have what could, at best, be called an hourglass figure, I have plenty of time on my ass!

Monday, July 7, 2008

It Was Written on the Wind

There is nothing like springtime to bring out the playful side of everyone. The air is crisp and sweet, the days last longer, and people just seem to be happier. Here in North Carolina, the yards and landscapes are just a riot of beautiful colors and just about everyone (me included) is outside planting flowers and tending to their yards. It’s really a heady time of year.

Southerners are known for many things, such as gracious manners and lovely accents. Southerners are amazing cooks and world renowned gardeners. Don’t believe me? Hellllooo…Paula Deen and Callaway anyone? I just love being a Southerner, and consider myself very lucky to have been born in the greatest region of the greatest country in the world. Of course, having said that, I am not a very good cook. Certainly, I am even worse when it comes to gardening. I love to see lush beautiful lawns and gorgeous trees and colorful flowers. I just can’t seem to make it happen. It’s okay. I’m good at other things. Really. Just trust me.

Still, I caught a big old ragin’ case of spring fever, and got all hemmed up about planting some stuff in the yard. Okay, not stuff…flowers, trees, pretty things. So I dragged Jerry and Jenda and made the trek into Winston Salem to Home Depot. I have wanted to plant trees for some time since we have only one rather scrawny Japanese maple in the yard. Still, I have not dared to plant much of anything since I am from Florida and I am used to planting in sand. I was good at it, too. However, the ground here is the consistency of Jenda’s modeling clay, so until recently, I have not been inspired. Of course, that changed with the season. Armed with a burning desire for a beautiful yard (and some shade!), I made my way to the garden center. While Jerry was drooling over power tools, I located a garden expert, who I call Duke, and I told him I wanted to plant a tree in my front yard. He showed me several types of trees, and this being the south, they were all some variety of magnolia. Jerry joined us and said, “How about a fruit tree?”

Ooh…groovy. We can get grapes, and then make our own wine! Think of the money we’ll save!!!

Duke spoke up. “Uh, ma’am, grapes grow on vines.”

I knew that. What about apple trees?

We all agreed that that was probably a good tree for ‘Beginning Gardeners Learning to Grow Stuff in Clay’. I looked through the trees, picked one out, put it on the cart and began making my way to the register. Here came Duke again.

“Uh, ma’am, do y’all want that tree there to make fruit?”

Uh, yeah, Duke. I also want it to make my bed and make me a hearty breakfast every morning when I get up. Your point…?

“Well, ma’am, y’all’re gonna need two trees to get fruit.”

WTF? I looked at Jerry, who was laughing hysterically. What’d I miss?

Jerry gave me that look that he usually reserves for small children and the feeble minded (me, in most cases.) “Trees have to cross-pollinate. It takes two of them to bear fruit.”

Cross what? What are you babbling about? I gave Duke what I hoped was a withering look. That’s just a gimmick to get us to spend more money, I announced grandly.

Jerry shook his head. “No. The trees have to cross-pollinate. There have to be two so one can fertilize the other one. Like when we had Jenda….y’know?”

Lemme get this straight. Tree nookie?

“Yes, in a manner of speaking.”

In the yard, in front of the neighbors? Are you for real?

Duke chimed back in. “It’s how the pollen gets moved from the male to the female tree, so the female tree can make fruit.”

I looked at the trees they had for sale and snorted. How do you know which is which? What if I get two trees that are gay? Then what?

Duke beat a pretty hasty retreat, probably to go ask his boss for a transfer. Jerry grabbed another tree and some garden stuff, loaded everything into the car, and got us the hell out of there pretty quickly. I spent the ride home telling myself I would never eat apples again and praying that grape vines found a less unseemly way to grow fruit. I was sick with imagining what was REALLY in my Kendall Jackson! I was jolted back to reality by the sound of Jerry singing. I was happy that HE was in a good mood, then I listened to the tune….


“Love is in the air, everywhere I look around…love is in the air, every sight and every sound….”
I put up with it until he got to the chorus about ‘the whisper of the trees’ and then I had reached my limit! I jumped out of the car as soon as we got home and googled grapes and cross pollination. I was safe. No grapevine nookie, so I poured myself some Chardonnay and ignored Jerry’s snide little songs and snarky comments. Like I would know anything about tree nookie. I never planted a tree before, and heaven knows, for years, I thought fruit came from Publix! Who knew?

Jerry has since planted our trees, and I’m still not sure if they’re gay or straight. But no matter. I’m much more accepting of the whole tree nookie concept now. I even smile when Jerry sings little songs. Jenda thinks the whole thing is wonderful and dutifully helps us tend to the trees. She helps water them everyday and she always asks, “Mommy, when are we gonna grow some fruit?”

I tell her to be patient. Then, I sing MY little song….

‘The answer is blowin’ in the wind!’

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Stupid Is As Stupid Does!

Well hey there, y’all! I just had to drop a line and say hello and let y’all know how much I miss y’all! Now that l’il Miss Jenda is getting on a schedule, Jerry and I have been staying up late and enjoying really high-brow, intellectual-ish adult entertainment. No, you perverts, not PORN!! I mean REALLY cultural, inspiring entertainment. Like, “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?”

First and foremost, we are not gameshow people. We’re pretty much HGTV, Discovery Channel types (and of course, in my case, Food Network! I just need a 24 hour WINE AND FOOD NETWORK. I would never get up from in front of the TV… ‘Eat, Drink, and Grow Hairy!’) Anyway…

Am I smarter than a fifth grader? Actually, no. In fact, I’m pretty much dumber than a three-year old. Still, after watching this show, I am encouraged by the fact that most Americans who appear on gameshows (Jeopardy excluded!) are DUMBER THAN A BUCKET OF HAIR! They’re dumb because, well, they have NO education, and they’re stupid as HELL for appearing on this show in the first place. No adult is smarter than a fifth grader. Let’s face it, dinosaur friends….we may live in the age of TIVO, but y’all losers (me included) STILL can’t set the clock on y’alls ancient-ass VCR. A fifth grader can set the clock, create computer code, and download free shit using your ancient VCR and a coat hanger. It’s scary how smart these little blighters are!!

So lemme explain how this show works. Jeff Foxworthy (who MIGHT be a redneck!) gets these goofy adult types from all walks of life and he pits them against scary genius Stepford kid-types for the chance to win “FABULOUS PRIZES!” He asks what are supposed to be simple questions to see if the adult can answer without the help of the little Einstein….like, “Name the Five Great Lakes.” Okay, c’mon. This is SO above the adult and SO beneath the kid. I’ll make it easy…remember the acronym HOMES….Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior. (Okay, Jenda actually taught me that!) The adults sweat blood but these kids laugh their asses off! I mean, these kids are BRILLIANT! They even have their own language. Stop and think….have you ever seen a text message from a fifth grader to another fifth grader?


which means…”My parents are dorks, can I come over to your house?”
The response being, “Don’t bother. We’re having chipped beef and creamed spinach for dinner!”

No adult can figure this out or understand it, so NO! We’re not smarter than a fifth grader. In fact, we’re stupid enough to humiliate ourselves on national TV instead of staying home and actually READING or WATCHING THE NEWS and trying to, y’know, LEARN SOMETHING!! If we’re so smart, why do we have to have Super Nanny tell us how to raise our kids? Why can’t we get global warming under control? HELL, why did we take so long to get Anna Nicole Smith and James Brown buried?!

Things have changed since we were fifth graders. Remember when we were walking barefoot to school, 15 miles up hill, both ways, in the snow, on crutches, with rickets? In my case, it’s pretty safe to say that I have forgotten all of the cool fifth grade stuff they taught me, like “Who was the 19th president of the United States?” Of course it was Rutherford B. Goode, or Johnny B. Hayes, or someone…. The point is that I DID learn something worth knowing. I always address my elders as “Yes, ma’am” and “Yes, sir” and I hold the door open for old people (known as everyone else besides me!) And I sure as hell know the difference between Eastern and Lexington barbeque!! No Supernanny is raising my kid, and I don’t have to publically humiliate myself on TV to earn money. (I work in a call center so I can do it privately!) Am I smarter than a fifth grader? Nope. But age and treachery ALWAYS triumph over youth and cuteness. And I am GENIUS enough to curl up with a good book, a big glass of Kendall Jackson, and let some “wet-behind-the-ears” kid download my music and movies for me.

Damn, when I look at it that way, I better run. I have just enough time to make it across town for the MENSA meeting!

Love to you all….bless your hearts!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Quit Kissing Those Babies and Give Them the Vote!

Well hey there, y’all! This election has just got me in an uproar. I must admit that I am not as “up” on politics and elections as I should be. I have never been one of those amazing activists who get out there and fire people up and enact change. I always wanted to be, but on my own terms, y’know? For instance, I wouldn’t want to chain myself to a tree or some fence at a waste site (ick!) but I would chain myself to a bottle of Kendall Jackson or a Talbot’s boutique that carries petites! So I guess it’s okay. We all have to do what we can.

Granted, I have been following the election to some extent, because I am so thrilled at the thought of a new administration and a new president. This last eight years have been an eternity. That whole ‘rah, rah, we’re winning the war on terror and new-cyuh-ler (nuclear) rhetoric is making me gag. However, I am very glad to see that Jenda, at her tender young age of three, seems to really be taking an interest in this. In fact, I am learning a great deal from her. My hope is that she will become the activist and change agent that I was supposed to be, oh, and learn to clean up her own room. But anyway….

Jenda has watched some of the election news and the returns with me and Jerry and she has quite a bit to say on some of the issues facing the US at this time of mud-slinging, baby-kissing, and vote getting. Here are some of Jenda’s nuggets of political wisdom. I am sharing them with you in the hopes that you will be inspired to do something great for your country. I’m going to do something great, too. Right after I finish this glass of merlot. Anyway….

Jenda was watching the primaries with us. Jerry and I tried to keep count of who had what and who came out ahead in each state. Jenda, of course, had lots of questions and something to say about all of the candidates.

About the whole primary election process,“Mommy, what’s a SOOPER delget?”

That’s Super Delegate. Every state has delegates. Some of them are super. They go to political rallies and say stuff like, “I double-dog-dare you to vote for my candidate!” And the delegators are people who are too lazy to drive to the polls, so they get someone else to cast their vote for them. No use sitting in that traffic.

About Hillary, “Do we like her?”

Yes, we really like her.

“I love her dress. She needs to get her hair did.” (OUCH!)

About McCain, “He’s a butt.” Ditto Huckabee. (I swear, y’all, she is deciding this for herself!)

About George W’s last (thank God!) State of the Union address, “He’s icky, Mommy. And global warming is bad for the planet. We hafta save the planet, or a big meteor can come and hit us like a giant rock, and we all have to turn on the air-conditioner and open all the doors and windows to cool off the planet so it won’t be too warm and then we can save the planet.”

(Y’all, she was spot on with McCain, Huckabee, and W, so the save the planet using our air-conditioners doesn’t seem like a half bad idea. I can’t wait to see how she saves Darfur! Outta the mouths of babes!)

Lately, she began using some new word that I couldn’t quite make out. She always comes up with exotic ‘almost four years old’ words, because we all know that children have their own language. But this one almost seemed familiar. One night, after she chanted it over and over and over (as kids will do!), Jerry apparently deciphered it and began cackling!


Where the devil did she get that? And what does it mean? Did someone from the Republican party call my house (if so, put me on your DO NOT CALL list!) and say bad things about Barack Obama? Or maybe Jenda thinks Obama is a Republican?! So I had to ask…
Jenda, do you think Barack Obama is a butt?

“No, Mommy. I’m looking at his butt!”

Naturally, I had to look for myself, and I must say, it is a rather nice butt, as rear ends go. So I feel relatively safe in my assumption (no pun intended!) that Jenda will be a Democrat and she appreciates a nice rump. Score two for Mommy!

I hope you don’t misunderstand my meaning. This is not so much a message of division, rather, it’s purpose is twofold. First, whatever your political leanings, get out there and vote, and know what issues are important to you so that you make an educated vote. And if you’re still not clear on the educated vote part, do what I did and take a lesson from a three-year-old. Here’s the list so far…and pay extra special attention if you’re actually running for office!

Wear nice clothes, but make sure you get your hair did!

Take a stand on environmental issues, because global warming is bad, and a meteor could hit (and on that note, be sure you always wear nice underwear just in case…like my momma always said!)

Don’t be icky!

It helps if you (the candidate) have a nice butt!

So there you have it, friends. Let’s take a cue from a child and get out there and do our civic duty.

I am Jenda’s mother, and I approve this message!