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Seasons

A Little of This, A Little of That

“A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe.”—Thomas Keller

As the temperatures drop (That is going to happen, right? Summer is going to end? Eventually?), my thoughts turn to comfort food. Something to keep my belly warm and satisfied. Many dishes from my childhood fall under the umbrella of “comfort food,” but one I keep returning to is my grandmother’s cornbread.

There was almost always a pan of cornbread to be found at Grandmother’s house. If it wasn’t just out of the oven and sitting on the stove to cool, it was already sliced and stored in individual, foldover sandwich bags on the counter ready for someone to grab and add to their meal, or have as a snack. To this day, it is not unusual for me to find myself sitting at the wooden table that is situated in the center of my grandmother’s kitchen, eating a slice of cornbread as she pads around the small space, offering up every foodstuff she has at her disposal.

“You hungry? Let me warm up some of these beans for you. How about some vegetable soup? Can I slice up a tomato for you? They’re real good with some salt. Just right. Mary brought me a cake yesterday, let’s have us a little bite of it. It’ll be good with some coffee. I’ll put a pot on. I bet those girls will want a Little Debbie. Let me get ‘em down for you.”

 Y’all, my grandmother has a whole cabinet of just Little Debbies. My memories and thoughts about that cabinet could be a story all on its own. Maybe one day I’ll get around to telling it. For now, suffice it to say that my grandmother, at 90 years old, has a heart of gold and a focused, solitary purpose to feed her people, through their bellies and their souls.

“Sit down!” I say. “I’m really not even hungry, I just want to visit for a minute.”

 The kids basically have their entire upper bodies in the Little Debbie cabinet, and I’m hoping they’re going to choose something that I’ll want a teeny bite of and can later pretend I didn’t actually ingest. I’m still not hungry, but we all know that hunger is not a prerequisite for what is arguably America’s best snack cake.

All the family members and friends that pass through this small, wooden box of a kitchen get the same special treatment. We also get the same cornbread, even though each person enjoys it a little differently. One of my uncles prefers it crumbled in a bowl of cold milk. My cousin wants it drizzled with honey. My mom likes to find the crunchy pieces along the edges of the pan. My personal favorite is to have it when it’s hot out of the oven. I want it cut in a triangular piece, like pie, then sliced lengthwise, so that the middle can be smothered in butter that melts down into the bread and drips out of the sides.

So maybe it’s not the healthiest choice I could make, but it sure is delicious.

The cornbread might be consumed in many different ways, but it is always, always served up in a cast iron skillet. Grandmother had several of these pans, in various sizes, shapes, and ages. She recently started thinning out her collection and gave a few of her pans away. My sister and I are both recent recipients of one of Grandmother’s cast iron skillets.

When she first gave it to me, I admittedly didn’t know what to do with it. It looked like a clunky relic stacked in my cabinet among the many smooth and shiny non-stick pots and pans. Since all I’d ever seen cast iron used for was cornbread, I sort of had the idea that maybe that was all anyone ever made in it! I’m not much of a cook, and I consume carbs sparingly, so whipping up a pan of cornbread wasn’t really a priority. But when my sister brought a pan of heavenly skillet brownies to a family get-together (totally worth the carb count, by the way), it opened my eyes to the idea that the cast iron skillet might be capable of more, much more.

The benefits of cast-iron cooking are pretty considerable. In an era when many of us are trying to eat clean and return to a more natural way of preparing food, cast iron is right in line with this movement. Cast iron is a naturally non-stick material and needs minimal cleaning. The material is basically indestructible and will last for generations, never needing to be replaced. But if you did need to replace it, it’s an incredibly low-cost choice. A well-made 10” cast iron skillet should only set you back about $30.

As long as you give it enough time to heat up, cast iron cooks very evenly, and can go from stovetop to oven and back again. Just be sure to use a hot pad to transfer it, because nothing puts a damper on a loving family meal quite like 3rd-degree burns. A cast iron skillet can even improve your health because it actually adds safe amounts of iron to your food. Many of us have iron deficiencies, but last time I checked, no one is suffering from lack of Teflon in their diet!

Another benefit of the cast-iron skillet, and I haven’t tested this out just yet, is that this thing would be an excellent weapon, should you ever find yourself in a situation that you need to knock someone out, or defend yourself against a rabid animal that has wandered into your kitchen. The pan I have is heavy as all get-out, which is about the only negative I can find when it comes to cast iron cookware. When I think of skillets, I have a vision of a pioneer woman with a skillet held overhead, chasing a man around a campfire to teach him a lesson about something offensive he’s done. All I have to say is that pioneer woman is way more woman than I am because I don’t think I could make it one trip around that campfire before my arms turned to jelly and I dropped the darn pan on my own head. Seriously, they should add a cast iron skillet to the Workout of the Day at CrossFit.

When my grandmother gave me her skillet, she handed it over and said, “I’ve already seasoned it for you,” a comment that scared me a little bit. “Great,” I thought. “Something else for me to do.” It is true that cast iron needs to be regularly seasoned to retain its non-stick properties. But the seasoning process doesn’t have to be evocative of Martha Stewart with a jar of naturally derived animal fat, massaging a skillet and then placing it on a spit she constructed over a fire in her backyard. Really, all you have to do is wipe the skillet out when you’re finished cooking, then, using a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil, wipe it down once more and put it away. Done. You’re seasoned and ready to go for the next use.

With my initial reservations of cooking with cast iron a thing of the past, I was ready to create my own cornbread tradition with my family. I asked my grandmother if she would mind sharing her cornbread recipe with me. She looked at me, and then set her gaze on a point in the distance. I wondered for a minute if she maybe didn’t want to share the recipe with me, but that’s not really her style. She would give me the slippers off her feet if I complimented them, so I knew she wouldn’t be a hold out on a recipe. While she paused, I asked, “Is it one of those things that you’ve been making for so long you don’t really have a recipe? Do you just sort of eyeball everything you put in there and maybe don’t know exactly how much of what goes in?” Remember, I’m no cook, but I’ve heard that there are people who can do this. They just know what ingredients to use, and how much to mix in, and how long it needs to cook. It all seems like magic to me, a person who needs a recipe to boil noodles.

“Well, no… It’s not that,” her words trail off a bit. “I just get the recipe off the back of the bag of the cornmeal.”

 Well, how do you like that? A constant element of some of my most special moments with my grandmother is just out there for the taking for anyone who picks up a bag of White Lily cornmeal. Who knew?

But don’t you think for one minute that I believe that cornbread is created solely from a rote recipe found on any grocery store shelf. The recipe on that package is missing some key ingredients. The smooth wooden table. The sound of the furnace rumbling in the hallway as it tries to keep up with the high temperature set on the thermostat. The window above the sink that looks out onto the sloping backyard and my grandfather’s barn. My grandmother’s hands, opening cabinets and rooting around in the refrigerator (which she calls “the icebox”) so she can feed us more. The phone that she lets ring because she doesn’t want to interrupt even one minute of our visit.

A little of this, and a little of that. It all adds up to something I’ll never be able to recreate, but I’ll also never forget.

If you’re interested, I did actually come up with a cornbread recipe that seemed to please my crowd of picky eaters. After they each found their own personal tweak, of course. 

Skillet Cornbread pdf

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Planning Your Planner: A How-To Guide

“It takes real planning to organize this kind of chaos.”—Mel Odom

Back to school season always gives me the itch to get my act together. Something about stores with long aisles loaded with organization solutions and brand new office supplies feeds a strong urge in me to put an end to my summertime mode of flying by the seat of my pants. All those orderly stacks of notebook paper and dry erase markers awaken a new dream of organizing all the things in my reach. New Year, New You? How about New Tape Dispenser, New Outlook on Life?

Are you also looking to get your act together, but don’t know where to start? Well, never fear! I am here to help you simplify the process of complicating your life. In the interest of looking out for the greater good of all people, I am setting aside my humble nature and confiding in you that I am, in fact, Her Royal Highness, Chief Executive Officer, Reigning Queen and Prime Minister of Planning all the Things. This position was conferred upon me by myself, and I proudly hold this title for approximately 3 days in August of every year. You, too, can experience an entire half of a week in organized bliss! Just read further to see how you can begin planning a plan that you will plan to put in place at an undetermined later date. I am giving you all my knowledge, absolutely free of charge! (You are very welcome, my dears.)

Some of you may be saying, “Wait a minute. I know you! I’ve been to your house. There’s laundry all over the place, and unopened bills, and I’m pretty sure I saw and smelled some very questionable fruit on the kitchen counter. Are you sure you should be advising people about anything?” Others of you might think, “Hold on, is this the lady that is five minutes late to every single place she goes? What sort of cockamamie plan includes constant tardiness?” And there may even be a few of you reading this who have attended meetings with me and wondered, “How did that hot mess get on this committee? She showed up five minutes late, her shirt is inside out, and she just pulled four lipsticks out of her purse, when I think she was looking for a pen. How can I possibly benefit from this person’s guidance?” *several minute pass* “Good heavens, she still doesn’t have a pen.”

And to all those incredibly insightful inquiries, I answer, “Those are all very valid questions. And, FYI, real people don’t use the word, ‘cockamamie.’”

 Now, moving on.

The cornerstone of every plan is a Planner. The good news is, it’s back-to-school time, and Planners are everywhere, in a vast assortment of trendy designs and sizes. It can be hard to narrow down the selection! Lucky for you, I am willing to share my best secrets for success when it comes to Planners. Gather close, friends, while I tell you that the most important thing to consider when choosing your Planner, and I cannot stress this enough, is that it needs to be obscenely expensive. Choose the planner crafted by the designer whose wares you normally can’t afford, and purchase it right away so you don’t risk leaving a single page blank. I know this sounds a little crazy (but, let’s be honest, aren’t all geniuses a little crazy?), because you’re thinking that you don’t want to spend a lot on something you may not keep up with, but that’s exactly why you have to do it! You gotta get a little skin in the game, bro! Envision yourself in October, looking at your Planner across the room, and not really wanting to fill in the new month because you’ve gotten lazy, and planning is no fun, and you can’t find your pen, and you keep forgetting to take it with you anyway, and excuses, excuses, excuses! It would be so easy to ignore your $5.98 junky Wally World Planner because you never fell madly in love with in the first place! Now envision yourself gazing across the room at that darling Planner you so lovingly selected in August, when your future was bright and all things were still possible. The Planner you spent a hefty sum on because it was so obvious that the two of you were Made For Each Other. The Planner that turns heads when you manhandle it out of your bag at important meetings and place it on the table with a satisfying thump, proclaiming, “Look at me! I mean business! I am a very expensive Planner!” Now doesn’t that make you want to get your lazy bum up out of your recliner, walk across the room and start planning some crap? That’s what I thought.

When selecting your Planner, pay close attention to its features. Of course, your Planner will include several calendars. Yearly, weekly, monthly, daily, maybe even hourly. Whoa. Wait a minute. Hourly? Slow your roll, compadre. The end game here is to spend your day doing the things, not just planning the things. Back away from the hourly Planner. As an annual three-day veteran in expert planning, I’ve seen sufferers of EPB, Extreme Planner Burnout, and let’s just say it ain’t pretty when the wheels fall off the wagon. Try to keep up with an hourly Planner, and by November you’ll be living life as a suburban hobo, resistant to all plans, observing inconsistent meal times, and taking your kids to school on the weekends because you don’t even know what day it is. You’ve heard Keep It Simple, Stupid? I like to say, Keep It Moderately Hard and Somewhat Inconvenient For Yourself. Yes, KIMHASIFY is definitely my motto.

In addition to the slice and dice views of a conventional calendar, several Planners will also include a page that lists the holidays throughout the year, so you are always ready to celebrate. This is incredibly helpful to those who can never remember the date of New Year’s or the 4th of July. A very handy reference indeed.

Some Planners include stickers, which is a great feature for people who harbor a grudge against their kindergarten teacher for withholding the gold star they rightly deserved for washing their hands after circle time in the fall of 1984. If you are this type of person, you can now give yourself a tooth sticker on the day of your dentist appointment! Go ahead and give yourself two stickers if that’s what you want, because you are in charge of the stickers, dammit! Yeah! Or maybe you’d like a thumbs up sticker for the days you see your therapist to discuss the feelings of inadequacy you’ve had since kindergarten. Great job, you! Sticker it up, girlfriend!

I’ve seen Planners that have several blank pages reserved for Notes. Some people use these pages to write down useful bits of information during meetings. However, I find that these pages are also very good for writing down shopping lists and other reminders for yourself, all while looking as though you are paying attention and taking notes during dull meetings. You can even use these pages to write notes to a friend sitting next to you whom you suspect may also be suffering. Notes such as, “OMG, I’m DYING, I’m dead, R.I.P. ME, please make it stop,” or “I really have to pee, but I don’t want to get up,” or, “Do you smell that? It smells like pork chops and sweaty socks… What are you doing for lunch?” Sometimes your seemingly random notes can lead you to important discoveries about yourself. Like the shopping list I made that said, “Milk, Gas, Light Bulbs.” Not long after that, I was diagnosed as dairy sensitive. Coincidence? I think not.

With all these available special features, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so focus on finding a Planner that has a feature you can really connect with. Remember, you’re looking for a soulmate, not a roommate. For instance, I chose my Planner mainly because it includes several inspirational quotes, which I find to be very, well, inspirational. One of the pages in my Planner has the quote, “Find what brings you joy and go there.” This quote is especially dear to my heart because it encourages me to go to Marshall’s and buy all the throw pillows and phone cases that they have. Another quote in my Planner that inspires me comes from none other than the great Oprah Winfrey. She says, “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.” Now, any time someone asks me to make a decision, I can just reply, “I would like you to give me whatever you think Oprah would ask for.” It takes a lot of courage to ask for two balsamic vinaigrettes on the side, but here I am, doing it at least twice a week. I have my Planner and Oprah to thank for giving me such bravery.

Now that you’ve selected your Planner, you’ll need to find the perfect pen with which to fill in your Planner pages. It needs to be a subtle ink color, should glide smoothly, and feel solid and sure in your confident planning hand. It’s your favorite pen, and it’s probably already somewhere in your house! If you don’t remember where you bought it, and you’ve never seen another one like it, then this is definitely the perfect pen. Take a moment to make an appointment in your Planner (you’ll have to pencil it in, because, well, the whole pen thing) to spend an entire afternoon searching for it.

Once you’ve finally located the Perfect Pen, along with a whole bunch of other stuff you didn’t even know you were missing, you’ve likely generated several To-Do List items.  It’s now time to sit down and fill in the information that will make your Planner work for you! Go ahead and pull out your phone, where all your contacts, dates, and notes, are already conveniently located. Use your Perfect Pen to hand write all those items down in your exorbitantly expensive, fancy-feature-filled, sticker-happy Planner. Sometimes twice. Because remember, there are monthly pages and weekly pages. See? Aren’t you glad you followed my advice and ditched that hourly crap?

In all seriousness, the dual system of a paper Planner and smartphone has its merits. For one thing, I feel that manually writing the events down, in addition to typing them into my phone acts as an extra reminder of my commitments. Instead of accidentally double booking myself, I’ll stop and think, “You know I feel like I have something going on that day… I’m not sure what it is, but there’s definitely something happening.” Secondly, giving others the impression that you rely on a Planner can get you out of all sorts of things. Someone asking you to bring 12 Bundt cakes to the church bake sale? You can always say, “Oh, shoot, I don’t have my Planner on me. And you know, I feel like I have something going on that day…I’m not sure what it is, though. Can I get back to you? After I check my Planner?”

And you thought I didn’t know what I was talking about. Ha! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to basking in the bliss of these 3 days that I actually have my act together. Right after I find my pen.

 

Featured post

The Dog Days of Summer

“Don’t sweat the petty things, and don’t pet the sweaty things.”—George Carlin

A mere 9 weeks ago, school was just letting out and we were giddy with excitement for the glorious promises of SUMMER. The season of staying up late and sleeping in! A time of living outdoors and hanging by the pool! Entire meals eaten directly from crinkly packages at any given time of the day! The Season of Anarchy was upon us and we welcomed it with open, sunscreened arms.

So. How the heck is all that going for ya?

Let me tell you how it’s going for me. I haven’t stopped sweating since Memorial Day. There are about 3 more weeks until school starts back, and in my estimation, a solid 8 weeks until I’ll stop sweating like a plow mule.

If Summer was a sweater (oh, and, believe me, it is a sweat-er), it would be an itchy wool turtleneck, unusually tight around the neck and armpits.

If Summer was a beer, it would be warm, watery, and served in one of those flimsy see-through cups that’s really just a bigger version of the swish cups you get at the dentist.

If Summer was an ice cream cone, it would be melted and dripping from the bottom, with most of the scoop having fallen to the ground, surrounded by ants. Ants that appeared from seemingly nowhere, and that will not go away no matter how many things you spray on them because they have some crazy primal instinct to go back to that exact spot where someone dropped a stupid ice cream that ONE time and didn’t clean it up and now we all have to suffer and be attempted ant murderers for the rest of our lives.

OK, so I might have gotten sidetracked with the ants. The point I’m trying to make is that I think most of us would agree that the best parts of Summer may be behind us. Sure, it’s great spending so much quality time with our families, but maybe it would be better if we didn’t have to be together so much to do that? Definitely not all together in tight quarters with a toilet to behind ratio greater than 1:4. Staying up late is all fine and good, but it also has a way of turning children into the type of beasts only found in mythology. The pool was refreshing and fun those first few weeks, but it’s now so warm and crowded it’s more like People Soup.

crowded pool

If Summer was a hotel room, it would have two double beds very close to one another and its occupants would include children that go to bed at 8:30. It would have one shower that has no water pressure and a travel hair dryer from 1984.

If Summer was a swimming pool, it would be one of those above-ground jobs, with a 3-foot depth all the way around. The water would be a tepid 95 degrees, and more than just a little murky, due to the fact the pool hasn’t been skimmed since mid-June. Jump on in.

Did anyone make any Summer Resolutions? A Bucket List, if you will? While we’re on the subject can we please clarify that a “Bucket List” is a list of things you want to do before you DIE?? As in “kick the bucket?” Do people not know this? Because I see Bucket Lists for everything. Unless you’ve got a date with the Grim Reaper over Labor Day Weekend, you should not be making a Summer Bucket List. Stop it. Call it something else. You’re freaking me out.

Gelati ice cream cone held up to the hot summer sky
Please be sure to play with puffy paint before you die. Anything less would be a tragedy.

Anyone get workbooks for the kids? Good for you. Me? Didn’t even look at ‘em. “Summer Slide,” you say? Well, I say, “Wheeeeeeee! Sounds like fun to me! Where can we buy tickets? Is there a discount for dummies?” In all seriousness, I did think about incorporating some little educational field trips with the kids into our summer plans, but it just never really worked out. In part, because I worried if we stepped foot outside the house we might all either be incinerated on the spot, or carried away by a flash flood. That would be such a bummer. I mean, we wouldn’t have a chance to finish the Bucket List!

Did I mention the sweating? Because that’s still a thing.

Britney Sweating.gif

How about those little around-the-house projects we thought we’d finally accomplish in these slow summer months?  Listen, I’m barely keeping the lights on in this place because I keep misplacing the bills under stacks of other mail. I’ve come to realize that I am incapable of taking on any project more labor-intensive than “Keep the Electricity On.” Without A/C and Wi-Fi, we would surely go the way of the Mayans. Or was it the Incas? Just plug in the name of any civilization that mysteriously vanished. But don’t ask anyone here, because we certainly haven’t learned anything since May!

If Summer was Wi-Fi, it would start out with a great signal, and then get progressively weaker. You’d check your settings, and reset the router, and pray to the gods of Netflix to shine upon you, but no dice, friend. All you’d see is a spinning wheel until finally, you would just have to lie down because you’ve gotten all sweaty again.

Once upon a time, I thought that Summer would be a good time to practice some healthy cooking skills. Makes sense, right? All that extra time on my hands (“extra time,” I love that joke, it just never gets old, does it?), the abundance of fresh ingredients, the little people in my house so hungry from all their romping around gleefully in the outdoors…

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, I told my family that we needed to eat up all the food in the house before we left for our beach trip and I haven’t done a proper grocery run since then. I’m not going to tell you if the “beach trip” to which I’m referring was last week, or right after school got out, or all the way back to Spring Break. It doesn’t matter. Don’t judge me. I promise you, no one is starving. Hallelujah, drive-thrus are still open in the summer!! And Pop-Tarts are a very acceptable choice for dinner. One of the kids asked me, “Mom, can we just put Capri Suns in our cereal since there’s no milk?” To which I responded, “You know, it’s not the worst idea I’ve heard. Maybe you should try it. It could be like a science experiment.” BAM! Feeding the body and the brain.

If Summer was deli meat, it would be one or two days past its expiration date; probably completely fine to eat, but also equally as likely to make you a little queasy. And definitely sweaty.

If Summer was a tomato sandwich, the tomatoes would be underripe, the bread soggy, and have way too much mayonnaise.

Here we are. 3 weeks until school starts. 8 weeks until we can walk to the mailbox without breaking into a full-body sweat. Hold on and finish strong, Summer Soldiers. This too shall pass. Until then, pass me the Zinc and a cold one, because once it’s over, we’ll be begging for the Season of Anarchy once again.

beverage-celebration-cheerful-1266020
 

Cheers to Anarchy!

 

 

Pool Parties and Peach Queens

“Happy. Just in my swim shorts, barefooted, wild-haired… jumping, running—that’s the way to live.”—Jack Kerouac

Aside from a brief period of time when my children were small and hadn’t yet learned to swim, pools have always held an alluring quality for me. As it generally goes, the things you don’t have are the things you want the most. My family didn’t have a pool, nor were we members of a neighborhood association that provided one. This meant the only time I got to dip my toes in a pool was either when we were on vacation, or some kind soul invited me over to their home for a swim. I spent most of my summers paddling around in murky lake waters. I yearned to be in water which was clear enough for me to see my feet; and, to be able to plant those feet on a surface that didn’t squish up between my toes. Bonus points for the feeling that there wouldn’t be any unidentified creatures sharing my swim space. It didn’t bother me a bit that the chlorine in those pools turned my hair green and plastic-like, resembling some sort of radioactive straw. Never mind that my eyes were red and scratchy for days after hours spent in a pit of chemicals, giving me the look of a pre-teen meth-head mermaid. Also of no concern to me? Those pools that had the rough concrete bottoms that worked on my feet like a meat tenderizer. By the end of a week of vacation, I could still find that one spot of uninjured skin on the corner of a big toe, and I would use that to bob up and down when I couldn’t just tread water.

Dive competitions, Marco Polo, handstands, breath-holding contests, balancing on floats, you name it, I was ALL IN FOR IT. Drop me at the pool and drag me out when it’s time to eat dinner.

In high school, many of my summer days were spent sweating it out at my summer job, but every now and then, a group of us would all have a day off. I can see myself now, having spent the entire morning in pajamas, watching MTV and eating peanut butter out of the jar, just waiting for the phone to ring. (What must it be like for kids these days, to have all their friends just two thumbs away right there in their phones? I think of all that time I spent staring at the phone at my mother’s house, willing it to ring.) Some days, the call I was waiting for would finally come in.

drew barrymore scream
Actual photo of me being super excited that someone finally called me.

“Hello?”
“Hey.”
“Hey.”
“What’re you doin’?”
“Nothin.’ What’re you doin’?”
“Nothin.’ (pause) A bunch of us are goin’ over to Lotie’s. You wanna come?”
“Yeah, let me get my bathing suit on. See you in twenty?”

That was cool, right? It didn’t sound at all like I was dying to get out of the house and go somewhere, and that I would actually be ready and watching the driveway through the blinds in approximately 7 minutes, right? On the other end of the line was my friend Libba, and she was talking about getting a group of our friends together to go to her great aunt Lotie’s (a nickname for Lois, and pronounced “low-tee”) to swim in her pool.

shag girls
“Get in, loser. We’re going swimming.”

There was a pool. There were friends. There might not be diving competitions, but there would definitely be laughing. Actually, there probably would be diving competitions. Whatever it was, I was ALL IN. Libba, usually accompanied with a couple of our other friends, would pull up to my house in her gigantic, late-model baby blue Bonneville and lay on the horn. I would practically skip down my front steps and jump in for the outing. It wouldn’t be unusual for us to make a stop at the nearby Clock restaurant for cheeseburgers and fries. Not necessarily because we were all that hungry, but because it sounded good, it was on the way, and we were 16, blessed with the metabolism of caffeinated squirrels.

crazy squirrels
“Anybody got a Diet Coke I can have?”

Soon after we arrived at Lotie’s, a slow trickle of friends would start showing up for the impromptu get-together. Libba’s cousin would almost always be there, too, with a pack of his friends, and before we knew it, a small party would be underway.

Lotie’s house was an oasis hidden in plain sight in the middle of residential downtown Greer. It sat on the corner of two well-traveled streets; a modestly sized house with a backyard that was almost completely enclosed by a decorative brick wall. I wonder how many people passed it regularly, having no idea what a beautiful secret garden, sparkling pool, and quaint pool house were in that backyard. It was built in the early ‘50’s, and it is believed to be the first pool in town, and for a short while, the only one. I didn’t know Lotie personally, but she and her husband must have been quite the entertainers back in their day. For several years, they opened their home and pool area as hosts of parties celebrating the contestants of the Peach Queen beauty pageant during the South Carolina Peach Festival, which was held for many years in Greer. One year, they filled the pool with peaches for a photo shoot with the beauty queens, who had traveled from all over the state. In the pool house hung several black and white photographs from those parties. Smiling beauty queens, with perfectly coiffed hairdos and makeup, wearing modest bathing suits. Some floating blissfully on pool rafts, while others sat on the side and dangled their long legs into the clear water. I imagine an invitation to one of Lotie’s pool parties must have been a pretty hot ticket back in the day. Those gals must have primped and prissed all morning long to get ready to strut their stuff at literally the only pool in town.

My friends and I arrived at Lotie’s pool party about 40 years after those beauty queens, and while there was certainly no primping and prissing on our parts, I imagine we enjoyed it every bit as much as they did. I also like to think that Lotie still enjoyed the art of entertaining. She almost always came out to greet us and make small talk (before her afternoon nap, naturally). Ever the gracious hostess, she would have her housekeeper, Imogene, bring us fresh chocolate chip cookies. Imogene was like an angel, dressed completely in white, and those cookies were undeniably heaven-sent. Even if we were still full from the cheeseburgers, we devoured those cookies as if we hadn’t eaten in days. Lotie was from another time: the summer after our senior year she asked some of the girls in our group if they had their hats and gloves ready for going off to Clemson in the fall. Her mannerly demeanor and dedication to keeping up her home had a way of making us feel special. Knowing that she thought highly of us kept us in line. We would have never wanted to disappoint her by acting like a bunch of hooligans. Now, that’s not to say that we abided by royal protocol every time we went over. There may have been some jumping off the roof into the pool during Lotie’s naptime. Probably a fair amount of foul language was batted around. But for the most part, I think we highly respected this lady who showed us that she thought we were worthy to share in her lovely oasis and partake in the Lord’s cookies.

For a hot minute, back in early Spring, I fell under the swimming pool spell and thought about having one installed at my own home.

At first, I thought it would be easy. I stood in the backyard with a very friendly and motivated contractor who told me, straight-faced, that we could be swimming by July. Sure, there would still be decking to be done, but we could work around that, right? I was like a female Clark Griswold, staring out the window at my crystal clear blue pool, with my smiling family and friends waving back at me, singing my praises for making all their dreams come true. A hero for the ages, I tell you.

cousin eddie in pool
“We love you, Mom!!”

But there was a problem. Well, several problems. The more we learned, the more we wanted, and, as home improvement projects tend to do, the plans outgrew the budget and we had to put on the brakes and redirect. I wonder if this happened to Lotie and her husband as they planned their pool? It must have seemed like an insurmountable task at the time. Not like now, when there are pool companies all over town. They were the very first one! Their neighbors must have thought they were crazy, digging a giant hole in their backyard and building a whole separate house. Think of the traffic they must have created with all the workers. And how did they find someone to help them maintain it? It was the only one in town! Surely, at some point, they had to think they might have been making a colossal mistake, that the whole thing was more trouble than it was worth. But at least one of them had the motivation to keep going with it. At least one of them was excited about being the center of the social scene. One of them had a vision of children paddling around in the backyard, growing up and inviting over a new generation of friends. They almost certainly were committed to this being their “forever home,” and couldn’t let resale figures cloud their judgment. But I doubt that even the most visionary of people could have foreseen a great-niece and great-nephew with a pack of restless teenagers still enjoying the fruits of their labors and worries a full 40 or more years after they had the idea to take the risk and make it happen. I guess sometimes in life you just have to shut out all the reasons you have for not doing something, and instead look at what kind of happiness you can create for yourself and spread to others in the process. It’s like thumping the first tile in a line of standing dominoes and having no idea where the line ends.

Lotie and her husband (and probably Imogene and many of the Peach Queens) departed their earthly oasis several years ago. The house went up for sale, and I’ve heard that a lovely young family lives there now, which makes me so happy. I hope they use the pool often and that they love it as much as so many people before them have. There are gallons upon gallons of memories and good times in that treasured pool, each generation adding more, to the point of overflowing. But isn’t that the great thing about memories? There’s always room for making more.

IMG_8223
“Off my raft, sister. I’m making room for memories.”

 

Featured post

Much Ado About May

“May, more than any other month of the year, wants us to feel most alive.” Fennel Hudson, author, naturalist, and countryman

“May is trying to kill us.”—Parents everywhere

A slightly bedraggled, yet smartly dressed couple, somewhere in their late-30’s to mid-40’s stand together in the well-appointed foyer of a large, bright home, filled to the brim with guests. Their heads close enough to touch, they speak in hushed tones, while looking over each other’s shoulders, seemingly in an attempt to not be seen.

 “I mean, aren’t you ready to go?” the man asks imploringly.

“Of course I’m ready to go, Derek. I was ready to go when we got here! I just feel bad. I mean, there are still so many people here, and no one else is leaving. And, besides, I can’t find my purse in this mess. I swear I put it right…here. Somewhere. Do you see it?” They both dig through a mountain of purses and light jackets scattered over a pair of matching swanky chairs. Chairs that have probably never served their purpose of supporting a single derriere.

“Susan, I’m gonna be honest, I don’t know what your purse looks like, or why you even brought it. You don’t need anything in it! I’ve got your phone and lipstick in my pocket, for Pete’s sake. And, I promise you, everyone here wants to leave. It’s just that no one wants to be the first one to go! Come on. Let’s do it. No one will even notice. Seriously. Come on. We can go to Waffle House on the way home.” Derek wiggles his eyebrows at this prospect and reaches for Susan’s waist. “The babysitter’s not expecting us for at least—“

“Oh my goodness! Are we bringing the party out into the foy-AY? Tell me you are not leaving?! Not this early!”

The gathering’s hostess, Lillian (spelled “Lillian, but pronounced “Lilly Ann,” a nuance that everyone knows, is rarely questioned and, if it is, only once, and never again), has appeared from thin air, riding on a gust of strong floral perfume and wearing a brightly geometric printed, floor-length caftan that she purchased on her last exotic vacation. Derek and Susan look at her with wide eyes and simultaneously burst into nervous laughter.

“Oh no, I just…I just came out here to help Susan look for her purse…” But Derek doesn’t look at the purses, he just looks down at this shoes, positively sheepish.

“Yes, I just could not find it anywhere!” Susan babbles away. “There are just so many of them out here… I mean, all I needed was to grab my phone. You know, check in with the babysitter… Let her know that things were running a little late… Just having so much fun (more nervous laughter)…” She tries to change the subject. “Goodness, Lillian, these chairs are just gorgeous! Where in the world did you find them?”

Lillian ignores Susan, but playfully slaps Derek on his behind. He is momentarily shocked, then manages more nervous laughter. “Looking for your phone, darlin’?” she simpers. “Well, I think I found it! Right here along with this scrumptious little peach!” Another pat (and maybe, no definitely, a squeeze, a firm one, in fact) on Derek’s rump, and raucous laughter from all three of them rings out in the foy-ay, while Derek mockingly slaps himself on the forehead as if to say, “Oh, silly me.”

“Yes, darlin’, you just go ahead and text that babysitter that you are gonna be LATE TO-NIGHT! Sweetheart, they are just now linin’ up for the three-legged race, so y’all just get right on in there! And after that, we’ll do the potato sack race. Were you in charge of bringin’ potato sacks? I can’t remember who signed up for that… Anyway, after all the games, there are AWAAAAARDS! You can’t miss the AWAAAAARDS!!!! Have y’all had a cupcake yet? Margie made them from SCRATCH, and they are simply amazing. I promise you, you will not even MISS the gluten a single bit. Y’all just come on back in, now, I will not hear another peep about you leavin’ and missin’ a single thing!”

Lillian throws one arm over Susan’s shoulder and loops her other arm around Derek’s elbow as she steers them away from the foy-ay and towards the backyard, where a multitude of weary adults shoot serious side-eye at them for their attempted escape. Lillian whispers in Susan’s ear, “Oh, and the chairs? They’re from Paris. I saw them and just could not bear to leave them there. Cost more than the whole darn trip to bring them back here! Bwahahahahhahaha!” Susan offers a half-smile and cranes her neck to see how the wine levels are holding up at the bar. The wine. It just seems so far away…

“Dude, why didn’t you tell me? I would have gone with you,” a man whispers to Derek, as he walks by. He’s in the process of tying his right leg to his wife’s left leg.

“Man, I couldn’t. It was a split-second decision. We thought we saw a way out, but…” Derek’s words trail off as he looks wistfully at the doorway leading back into the house, now filled with Lillian’s caftan-clad figure.

Through gritted teeth, the woman who is now firmly attached to her husband’s leg hisses, “We. Are. All. In this. Together,” As if to further drive this point home, she tosses Susan a large burlap sack. “Here. Get in.”

three-legged-racei

This? Yes, this. This “party.” This is what it’s like for parents of school-age children during the month of May. A party that started out reasonably fun, but now? We’re just so over it. We’ve met the people, we’ve made the small talk, we’ve eaten the canapes and sampled the dessert. It is time to G-O go. Vaya con Dios, suckers. We out. At this point, all we want to do is go home, take off these stupid pants and lie down for, like, 10 minutes. But the hostess of the gathering is a snapping turtle that just will not let go.

Well, legend has it that a snapping turtle won’t let go until it thunders. So I say, MAKE IT RAIN. The thought of another awards ceremony, recital, performance, recognition event, or season-ending wrap party makes me want to just lock myself in the pantry with all the snacks I signed up to bring and tell everyone to come back for me in June. It feels like everything is ending, and yet, it’s all still going on, requiring more involvement than ever! How is this happening? And some of these people want us to go ahead and sign up for next year. Next year? You’ve got to be kidding me. I can’t think about next year! Honestly, I checked out of this year right after Spring Break.

I would rather bite the inside of my cheek in the same place seven times than call out spelling words ONE. MORE. TIME. Hello? We’ve been going at this for, what? 8 months? Clearly, some of us in this house know how to spell, and some of us do not. No one has crossed over into a level of spelling proficiency any different from the one in which they started. We have auto-correct now. Can’t we move on?

If given the choice, I would choose to put my big toe in a mouse trap over trying to calmly figure out how to divide fractions. I mean, why is this still happening? One-quarter of one-eighth of a… Don’t know, don’t care, don’t wanna do it. Google it. Mama’s going out on the patio with this WHOLE glass of pinot grigio.

This week we’ve gotten multiple messages from our school as to how to best prepare our children for standardized testing. TESTING? Lord above, we are being tested every morning that we have to drag our ragged selves out of bed. Here’s a test. Can we get to school, on time, with shoes that fully enclose our feet, and shorts that go past our fingertips and last night’s homework completed, and a check for lunch money? No. No, we cannot. We do not meet standards.

Lunch money. Did someone say “lunch money?” Oh, my lands, I need to send in lunch money. Like three days ago. Please feed my children, kind lunch ladies, who are surely just as over all this nonsense as I am. I commend you all for not just tossing pizza slices to children at random. I know that’s what I’m doing for dinner tonight.

Once upon a time, May meant day-drinking and getting dressed up for parties that came with pretty invitations, not links to a Sign-Up Genius. May is supposed to represent a new beginning: the bright foy-ay leading into summer; the award we get for making it through the long, dreary winter.

Wait. Did somebody say “award?” Don’t you even start with me, May. I might be off my game, but I’m on to yours.

MAY

 

Hello, Lovers

“Romance is thinking about your significant other when you are supposed to be thinking about something else.”—Nicholas Sparks

 Love is in the air. I see it on my husband’s face as he tries to decipher if I really mean it when I say, “You don’t have to get me anything.” Love lurks in the stores I frequent, where candies and chocolates taunt me at every turn. Love lies in stacks and heaps on my kitchen table, in the form of cards and treat bags to be handed out at classroom Valentine parties. Love is all we need. That and some calorie-heavy chocolates, dinner reservations, and some refrigerated red roses. OK, so maybe Valentine’s Day is not my thing. Even though I am comfortably rooted in a romantic relationship, and I have plenty of friends and family to love on, the holiday feels contrived and overwrought with expectations. I make a point to tell my dear ones that they are loved throughout the year, so setting aside this one day for something we should always be doing feels terribly insincere, both for the lover and the lovee. (Man, I hate the word “lover.”)

 

IMG_4620
“Is this a test? Because it feels like a test.”

Anyway, all that said, I do plan to participate in the holiday, because I’m not completely heartless. Also, I love all things chocolate, red and pink are great colors for me, and I am a hapless victim of pretty much all marketing schemes. My nearest and dearest, which include my husband, children, family members (the ones that I actually love and not just have to say that I do), and my closest friends, will be showered appropriately with love-themed candy and cards. They should understand that they will have to share any candy they receive. In the case of my kids, I’ll give them a lot of useless junk that I will have to pick up over the next few weeks before finally throwing it away, and some candy that I will secretly eat in the pantry after they go to bed. Because I love them, and it’s not healthy to eat that much candy.

But what about my other loved ones? Some of my nearest and dearest literally don’t know I exist. Still others know that I’m here and may suspect that I love them, but a Valentine’s gesture might be a little weird. So, I’m taking this opportunity to get in the spirit of the holiday and say something from the heart for these beloved ones that might otherwise go unrecognized this Valentine’s Day. This is for you, Lovers. (Ew.)

  1. Target

My dearest Target, you smell so nice.
And everything here is just the right price.
My love for you shall never die,
As long as my RedCard you do not deny.

target-marketing-to-women

  1. NetFlix

Oh Netflix, sweet Netflix, it is so true
I want to spend the whole night with you!
Let’s skip the intro and get this thing started.
If the queue is full, how can I be broken hearted?

netflix bffs

  1. Tamiflu

Kids are so great, but they can carry the flu.
When the test comes back positive, You’re My Boo!
You keep us all well, which makes my heart flip,
Maybe my stomach, too, but we’ll overlook that bit.

kid taking medicine

  1. My Girlfriends

All day long, we’re on the group chat.
Cursing and moaning about this and that.
I just don’t know how I’d make it through
Without a hundred stupid GIFs shared with you.

mom jeans

  1. Seat Warmers

On these cold and dreary winter days,
When the winds like a knife can cut,
I shiver as I climb into this freezing car,
And, in no time, you warm my butt.

seat warmer meme

  1. Justin Timberlake

The way you move, it’s just too much!
My kids are at school, wanna meet for lunch?
You’re clever, you can sing, and we all know you’re cute.
Just give me a chance, and give Jessica the boot.

 

Justin Timberlake
Took this video when I went to lunch with JT.  We’re bringing pie back.

 

  1. Snapchat Filters

You make me a better woman, (or a cat, dog, or bunny.)
You smooth away my wrinkles and make my voice sound funny.
You keep my kids entertained and cause all my friends to snicker.
This mom over 40 won’t take a selfie without her Snapchat filter.

snapchat meme

  1. My Dry Cleaner

Dry Cleaner Man, I have to say, you’re really not that sweet.
But when I pull up in your drive-through, you never miss a beat.
I also want you to know, your plight I understand.
I’m giving you all these shirts, because I can’t do ‘em, man.

seinfeld dry cleaner

  1. Tacos

You’ve been with me through thick and thin.
Mostly thick, because I want you again and again!
Made of crispy corn, or the softest flour,
If it were up to me, I’d have you every hour.

 Notebook Taco

  1. Wine

You can be red, or you can be white.
It doesn’t matter which, as long as you’re here tonight.
And when I feel that I must partake during the day,
It’s perfectly acceptable to lunch with Rosé.

wine poem

 XOXO, all you Funny Valentines. Show extra love to your people today, and don’t forget them the rest of the year. And if you’re feeling a little lonely on this made-up holiday, just remember, there might be someone loving you from afar, or someone who might be pleased as punch to get a quirky poem from you.

i-like-you-funny-valentines-day-card-sexy-valentines-day-card-funny

An Open Letter to January

 

“And I’m like… ‘I just… I mean this is exhausting, you know, like,
We are never getting back together. Like, ever.’”—T. Swift

 Oh, January. Do we have to do this again? Really? Must we trudge down the same slush-covered, black-ice paths that we’ve trod so many times before? Is it really necessary to huddle by that proverbial campfire to hash out our feelings, just so we can walk away with hot faces, cold backsides, and smoky-smelling hair? Okay, fine, let’s do it. Let’s go there. How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways.

First of all, you absolutely exhaust me. I don’t know how you’re doing it, but I’ve spent our entire time together in a bleary haze. Much like Dorothy running through the field of poppies on the way to Oz, most of my days are spent barely putting one foot in front of the other. Must. Lie. Down. What in the world? I’ve taken more naps in January than I did all of last year. I’ve lost all will to be productive. January, are you drugging me? If so, NOT COOL. Stop it.

giphy
“Poppies…”

Speaking of cool, you’ve got a cold, cold heart, January, and frankly, I’m tired of it. (See? Tired again! What’s in this drink?) Seriously, you’re freezing me out, and I can’t take it anymore. I’m a Southern lady, and my blood just isn’t thick enough to withstand all this Arctic blast nonsense. My core body temperature has dropped and I’ve taken to wearing blankets as clothing. In public! I simply don’t care; I am THAT cold. What’s that? You say you tried to make it up to me by tossing a few spring-like days into the mix? We both know that’s a bunch of malarkey. You were just being moody and manipulative, toying with my emotions and giving me a glimpse at a Spring that is still far, far away. I’ll tell you how you can make it up to me. How about you show up with some Benjamins once this gas bill lands in my mailbox? Yeah, just what I thought. You’ll be long gone by then, I’m sure of it. Deadbeat.

cold lady
I only walk as far as the cord on this space heater.

You know something else, January? You’re making us all sick. Literally. Flu here. Strep there. Stomach bug hovering all around us. I feel like I need a mask and latex gloves every time I go outside of the house! Once I put all that on along with my blanket, I’m pretty sure I’ll get picked up and put on the first train to Crazy Town. So, I’ll just stay home, where all the real germs can be found, because I’m too stinking tired and cold to clean anything up around here.

sick-person-costume

January, we’re just not good for each other, and I think we both know it. We were doomed from the start. The first day you were here I had a roaring headache, a slovenly house, and an appetite for all things fried and gooey. I know, I know, you tried to make me feel better by telling me all the things I could accomplish in the New Year, but where are we now? My jeans still won’t button, and I just tripped over a pile of laundry while looking for the remote under an empty bag of chips. Those aren’t kale chips, January, that laundry isn’t clean, and I’m not looking for the remote so I can watch a thought-provoking documentary. Oh, and those Snow Days you threw in? Way to turn our attempts at a Dry January into a wet, sopping mess. Good one. Nice touch. Honestly, you bring out the worse in me.

drunk woman

You’re right. It wasn’t always this way. I wasn’t always this bitter. There was a time when you could whisper words that would inspire joy and excitement. Words like “inclement weather,” “wintry mix,” and “school closures.” But things have changed. That was a different time. A time when those words meant that I had no responsibilities and could live recklessly. A time when someone else picked up all my things and washed them for me. A time when hot chocolate and marshmallows and warm cookies had no calories. I’ve grown up, January, and you and I have grown apart.

unhappy-couple

That, and, also, you’re a jerk. We’ve been through this enough times for me to say with confidence, it’s not me, it’s ALL YOU.

Buh-bye, January. Don’t hurry back.

bye felicia

Happy Awkward-Days

“Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?”—Clark Griswold expertly navigating an awkward situation in ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’

A How-To Guide for Handling Festivity Fretfulness

It’s been said that Christmas isn’t a season; it’s a feeling. Unfortunately, sometimes that feeling is nagging uneasiness. This is hardly surprising, given the fact that most of our holiday get-togethers involve the people we’ve been avoiding all year: distant relatives, casual acquaintances, quirky co-workers, and that one neighbor with the yappy dog that wakes us up at 2 a.m. This mixing of unlike, yet related people for an annual gathering outside the confines of their natural habitats can be, well…awkward. Whether you’re headed to a 3:30 “dinner” at MeMaw’s house, your office Holiday Happy Hour, or your neighbor’s Progressive Dinner / Ugly Sweater / White Elephant Gift Exchange, consider this a primer for identifying where the most common pitfalls lie and how to avoid dipping your sleeve into the awkward sauce.

Respondez, s’il vous plait.

grinch at mailbox
That’s the long version of RSVP, the oft-ignored plea from hosts that you let them know if you’ll be attending their soiree. It sounds more formal than it has to be. Call your mom and tell her to let MeMaw know that you’ll be at Christmas dinner, or lunch, or lupper, or whatever you like to call it, and that you’ll be bringing a friend. Better yet, call MeMaw yourself. She’ll be thrilled to hear from you (if she still hears well), and it will give her a chance to get some of her more probing questions out of the way. For your office party, shoot an email to the organizer letting them know you’re looking forward to the get-together, even if you would actually rather take a razor scooter to the shin than make small talk in the break room with Bob from Accounting. If your neighbor is hosting a gathering, roll down your window next time you see him at the mailbox to say you’ll be glad to pop by for just a little while, but not too late, because you have to go to work early and it sure would be great to get a good night’s sleep without waking up to that darn dog EVERY NIGHT, HOW DO YOU NOT HEAR THAT?? On second thought, leave that last part out, because we’re going to focus on being joyful and avoiding police presence. The point here is, there are people who have extended an invitation to you. They plan to provide you with something they believe to be edible and company they believe to be enjoyable and the least you can do is to let them know if you’re going to show up. A bonus of the RSVP is that it also gives you a chance to get some advance directive on the details of the gathering. Maybe you can even find out what exactly “Festive Casual” attire means. If you do, please share with the rest of us, because I have to admit, I’m feeling less than confident about these bedazzled sweatpants.

Gifting.

gremlin gift
Be careful what you wish for…

They say it’s better to give than to receive, but no one ever said what to give. Gifting scenarios are tricky and rate high on the Awkwardness Potential Scale. Tread lightly here. Show up empty-handed and you risk being typecast as stingy and thoughtless. Overdo it and your gift recipient may feel inferior. This is where your RSVP skills will come in handy because you’ll have already taken the temperature of your host. For MeMaw’s house, first ask if you can bring anything. If she insists that no, she has it all under control and all she wants for Christmas is to see your smiling face, then give her what she asks for…and add a small, useful gift that she’d never buy for herself, like a pretty tea towel. MeMaws just love pretty tea towels. And don’t make a big production of giving it to her, because your sister-in-law will just think you’re sucking up and that you’ve always been the favorite. (WHATEVER, MADGE, just go sit at the kids’ table and quit trying to cause drama.)

The office party will probably have some lame Secret Santa type thing. Unless you know all of your co-workers really well, avoid the gag gift route because you never know who might get offended and plot a New Year’s lawsuit, putting everyone out of a job. (“Why would you give me a Chia pet? Don’t you know my ancestors rubbed dirt on their heads as an ancient fertility ritual?? You mock my traditions and this is a hostile work environment. I am outraged!”) Avoid finding yourself in this awkward spot by bringing a small, useful gift that one would never buy for themselves, perhaps a pleasantly neutral tea towel.

The neighborhood party may include a gift exchange of some sort. Gift exchanges are hard, because your gift is on display, and let’s face it, ultimately judged. This can lead to stress shopping, putting you at risk for picking something awful, which will be super awkward. Keep your wits about you and think of a small, useful gift that one would never buy for themselves, like, I don’t know, maybe a humorous tea towel??

Keep this same level of focus when considering a hostess gift. Don’t be the guest that stumbles into the party with a showstopping but unwieldy bouquet of fresh flowers that requires your hostess to drop what she’s doing to put into a vase, or your delicious but insanely messy Mississippi Mud Cake that she’ll have to cram onto her carefully curated buffet table. No, instead, you should consider bringing a small, useful gift that one would never buy for themselves, such as a festive little tea towel.

The moral of the story is unless given to a small child or a frat boy, the gift of a tea towel is universally well received and rarely awkward. (You’re welcome.)

Eating.

vegan santa

‘Tis the season to eat, drink, and be merry, not to eat, drink, and preach to others about your strict dietary regimen. The holidays are about spreading comfort and joy, so if some folks find their comfort in a plate stacked high with homemade fudge and their joy in two cheeks full of sausage balls, they don’t want to hear your views on the addictive properties of sugar or the irresponsible swine production industry. Every party has a quiet corner with some celery, carrots, and cherry tomatoes, and that is where you will find your people. You may even find someone who plans to run a Jingle Bell 5K tomorrow! Of course, the exception to this would be if you have a serious or life-threatening food allergy. That would be pertinent information for your host to have. You could address it in your RSVP and then offer to bring a gift of food that doesn’t have the potential to kill you. Best of all, your host will not have to stop entertaining to comb the house for an epi-pen or have the party flow interrupted by EMS, all things that would be incredibly awkward for everyone involved. And while we’re on the subject of “eat, drink, and be merry…”

Drinking.

drunk uncle

During the holiday season, almost all events become an Occasion with a capital “O.” Everything is a little more sparkly and it feels natural to loosen up a bit with a celebratory cocktail or four. Here are the Cliffs Notes for boozing it up at the holidays: If you’re normally a drinker, then drink as you normally would. If you have a tendency to drink to excess, take it down a notch. If you rarely drink, now is not the time to start. To expand a smidge on the subject, the irony of alcohol is that it starts out as a means to cringe less and laugh more, but it often causes us to take a hairpin turn straight towards a steep ravine of awkwardness. The holidays are filled to the brim with stress and sentiment. We spend large chunks of time in confined spaces with people we love, people we hate, people we used to love, and people we just plain don’t understand. Pouring alcohol into this mix creates an environment that can turn a cozy hearth into an all-out dumpster fire. This is not meant to be an intervention (we’ll save that for the dessert course at MeMaw’s house); rather, a reminder to recognize and abide by your limits when the drinks start flowing. Don’t seek solace in the bottom of a bottle once Uncle Bud starts spewing his political views. The last thing you want to do is toss your cookies on MeMaw’s antique Persian rug, even if you do plan to inherit it one day. (You think I don’t see you eyeing that rug, Madge. Back off.) How awkward will it be when MeMaw has to clean up your mess with her new pretty tea towel? Although it would certainly make a memorable story. Which brings us to our next topic…

Small talking.

small-talk
Our society seems to be in a perpetual state of taking offense, so the act of making small talk is kin to walking through a minefield. We all know to avoid the big three: sex, politics, and religion, but now even our safeguards can be misinterpreted. Don’t talk about the weather, because it will spawn a discussion about global warming, which points a finger at our elected officials, and the next thing you know, the environmentalists won’t leave the living room because there are real estate developers over by the food table. Take caution when complimenting another guest’s appearance, as they may prefer that you see their inner beauty instead of their snappy take on “Festive Casual.” A decent opener is, “How do you know <host name?>” However, this won’t work at MeMaw’s house, or at the office party. You’re kind of supposed to know the answer to that already. Another icebreaker is, “So what are your plans for the holidays?” This question puts legs on your conversation and leads to helping you find out what holiday they celebrate, what sort of family connections they have, their vocational commitments, or in the case of unbearable silence, if you need to find another person to entertain with your sparkling conversation skills. At a family gathering, they’ll want to know about your work. At a work gathering, they’ll want to know about your family. Speak respectfully about both those subjects, as it’s called “small talk” for a reason. Save the “big talk” for your therapist. Think of your small talk as little hors-d’oeuvres that are meant to be consumed in bite-size pieces, giving the other person a chance to easily move on to speak to other partygoers if they feel the need. For example, tell a quick story about your entertaining Uber ride to the party instead of the endless wonders of your two-week Alaskan cruise.

Wrapping it up.

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All good (and painfully awkward) things must come to an end, so keep your eye on the prize and don’t let your departure leave you or your host cringing. You may be tempted to pull an Irish Exit, which is the act of “ghosting” from a party without telling anyone you’re leaving. This is only acceptable when the party has clearly gone on too long and most of the guests have ignored the booze guidelines. It would be simply unforgivable to ghost on MeMaw, and in the best interest of your livelihood, you need to make a special point to thank your boss for that ah-mazing gift of membership to the Jelly of the Month Club. The best practice here is to thank your host personally for their hospitality, wish them a happy holiday season, and make repeated empty promises to get together again sometime soon.

Congratulations! You’ve made it through your holiday gathering. Now it’s time to treat yourself. Go out tomorrow and get something nice, something you’d never buy for yourself. Might I suggest a lovely tea towel?

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Find Your Merry

“May the day be the bowl of cherriest; And to all, the Merriest!” –June Christy, singing “The Merriest”

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

Is it? That’s the message that gets shoved in our faces at every turn before we can even put away our Halloween candy. But by the time December arrives, things are feeling a little less than “wonderful.”

What is “wonderful” about madly dashing from one get-together to another? Arriving in a full-on sweat, watching the clock to make sure we make it on time to the next party, or to relieve the babysitter, or just figuring up how many hours of sleep we can get if we leave right now? I suppose there’s quite a bit of “wonder”-ing involved in the process of figuring out what to wear to an event described as “Christmas Casual,” or “Festive Attire.” And while all the heavy foods, drinks, and tempting sweets are incredibly “wonderful” the moment they hit our lips, the headaches and extra pounds they leave behind are certainly less than desirable. And what about the gifting? I would estimate about half of my gift list is enjoyable, but the other half is admittedly out of duty or given to people for whom I have absolutely no idea what they may want or need. Another holiday activity I’m 50/50 on? Christmas cards. I love having a great picture of my kids to share, but the arduous process of locking down the perfect photo can be downright painful. I have so much fun combing the web for all the different design options for the card, but panic sets in when I have to commit to the one that will be ours. I get so excited when I go to the mailbox and find holiday greetings from our family and friends, but I feel a distinctly Grinchy sense of dread when I look at the box holding my own unaddressed cards, waiting for my late night undivided attention.

Some holiday activities start out as “wonderful,” then take a hairpin turn into woeful. Take, for example, holiday decorating. For me, decorating anything is a painful process. Bookshelves, bulletin boards, cookies, console tables, even trying to pick out a necklace to go with an outfit is a journey of intense indecision for me. I can look at the placement of objects for hours, wondering if it’s just right or blatantly wrong. So, the task of adorning my home to make it festive for approximately just a month and a half is, well, maybe not the most wonderful time of the year for me.

Each year I start out full of joy and positivity. I don’t do my decorating until after Thanksgiving, so by then I’ve had time to look at scores of catalogs that have landed in my mailbox, making holiday decorating look fun and easy, and most likely completed by Santa’s very own elves. Just a few weeks ago, I captivated an audience of ladies at my daughter’s ballet practice by telling them all about my plans to purchase an all-white Christmas tree and decorate it with shiny ornaments and multi-colored blinking lights. Sure, it might sound tacky, but I saw it in a catalog, and it looked so fun! So easy! So festive! Everyone thought it was a fabulous idea. No one had any advice on where I could find an elf to bring my catalog idea to life. Fast forward a couple more weeks. The Christmas card pictures were snapped, scrutinized, and selected. Thanksgiving was planned, prepared, and consumed. An 8-year-old’s birthday party was hosted and (barely) survived. The Clemson vs. Carolina game was endured. The decorating was next on the list. *sigh*

So, as I’ve done in every year past, I trudged up to the attic and opened the oddly shaped little door that leads to the dungeon where unnecessary things go to finish out their useless lives. There, my gaze settled on scores of boxes and bags of merry and bright STUFF that would all have to be carried downstairs, unpacked, placed, then their boxes returned to the upstairs dungeon. All to be enjoyed for just a few weeks, when the entire process would then have to be reversed. *sigh*

It took almost 2 days and 427 heavy sighs for me to sprinkle holiday cheer around my home. Garlands and wreaths were hung and fluffed (and cursed). Ladders were climbed and dismounted. Three pre-lit trees were assembled and adorned. One had zero working lights. One had a random section of lights that were burned out, which required me to manhandle the entire tree to turn the offending section to the wall. The last tree, the biggest one, didn’t let me down until we added on the last section. I was proud of the way I held my composure up until the moment I had to snake an extension cord from the top of my pricey pre-lit tree down to the floor. The top section needed to be plugged into the timer that I’d carefully set up to provide us with automatic sparkly merriment from the hours of 3:30 to 11:30pm. Like some sort of Christmas Marine, with my belly on the floor and greenery snagging my hair while I dragged myself by the forearms towards the outlet, I searched for the carefully hidden extension cord. I found it and went to connect it to the timer so I could survey my twinkly masterpiece. This was when I discovered that the timer only had one outlet. An outlet that was already occupied by the cord supplying power to the rest of the tree. If I wanted scheduled sparkly merriment, my only choice was to start over with a new timer. *cue cursing and kicking under the tree*

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And that is the story of how I started drinking wine at 2:00 on a Sunday.

And this is the start of the story of how I turned it all around. The timer dilemma is actually a rather small event in my storehouse of holiday snafus. One year, half the lights went out on the tree after it had been fully decorated. I was planning to just slap a bunch of extra lights on it, but after a closer examination, I noticed that I’d put the sections together in the wrong order. The whole thing had to be disassembled and reassembled AND extra lights strung. Incidentally, that tree ended up at the dump the day after Christmas. One year, the entire tree fell over approximately one hour after the decorating was complete. That tree ended up on the curb, along with dozens of shattered special ornaments. And what about the year that I dragged our little family onto an odyssey to capture the Christmas card photo, only to arrive at the destination and realize that I’d forgotten to pack the camera? That was a long time ago, as in, before the days that phones had cameras. We don’t really talk about that, actually.

So, in the midst of all this drama and these less-than-wonderful duties, where can we find our merriment? For me, it’s not surprising that I find my merry in a song. After I shimmied myself out from under my half-lit tree, located a new timer (and, yes, a glass of wine), and got my corner of the living room sparkling bright, I turned on a little mood music to carry me through the final stages of decorating. I stood back and surveyed roughly 500 pretty little lights and all the boxes of ornaments that were about to escape their exile to get their chance to shine when I heard the first strains of the song that would usher in the official start of the holiday season for me.

“I-I-I don’t want a lot for Christmas…

 “There is just one thing I-I-I need…”

 Y’all, I don’t care what kind of diva-like behavior she displays, Mariah Carey is an angel. She could rob a bank in broad daylight wearing a full-sequined Dynasty-esque dress, carrying a Chihuahua, and when she went on trial, the attorneys would play “All I Want for Christmas” as Exhibit A, and all charges would immediately be dropped.

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But maybe that’s just me.

Christmas music, when used in moderation, can cure many holiday ills. I’ve seen it firsthand! In the interest of spreading merriment, and because I can’t buy you all a present individually, I made you a mixtape. Enjoy responsibly.

Jingle All the Way Playlist (get it here on Amazon Music)

“All I Want for Christmas” by Mariah Carey. Because the song is magic.

“Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” by Michael Buble. Because it’s a law that every holiday must include some Michael Buble.

“Run Run Rudolph” by Kelly Clarkson. Because she completely rocks this song.

“Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley. Because he’s the King.

“The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole. Because of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, duh.

“Cool Yule” by Louis Armstrong. Because he, and this song, are the epitome of cool.

“Donde Esta Santa Claus” by Augie Rio. Because it’s adorable and catchy and we all need to know more Spanish.

“The Man with the Bag” by Kay Starr. Because if you’re not waiting for the man with the bag, you are the man with the bag.

“Mele Kalikimaka” by Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters. Because we can all empathize with Clark Griswold and his swimming pool dreams.

“Jingle Bell Rock” by Blake Shelton & Miranda Lambert. Because your family drama doesn’t seem so bad when you compare it to hearing yourself on the radio singing Christmas carols with your ex. Ummm, awkward.

“Merry Christmas Baby” by Lou Rawls. Because “got me some good music on the radio…”

“Jingle Bells” by James Taylor. Because it’s funny to watch people sing along to a song they think they know, but it’s arranged completely differently.

“My Favorite Things” by Tony Bennett. Because Tony Bennett is a national treasure.

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by The Temptations. Because once you get past the first 15 seconds, your whole family will be singing along.

“Please Come Home for Christmas” by the Eagles. Because sometimes Christmas is sad and it makes us miss our people.

“Sleigh Ride” by Harry Connick, Jr. Because you gotta bring the party back up after those Eagles made you sad.

“Christmas in Hollis” by RUN-DMC. Because the lyrics are actually family friendly and you also want to know who’s really listening to your playlist (hint: they’re looking pensive and saying, “Wait, is that…RUN-DMC??”)

“What Christmas Means to Me” by Stevie Wonder. Because it’s happy and has the right message.

“Winter Wonderland” by Aretha Franklin. Because, in true Aretha fashion, she hits it hard from the first “Sleigh Bells RING.” Oh, I’m listening, Aretha. Bring it.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Ella Fitzgerald. Because that’s what I want for you.

A holiday full of merriment and quality time spent with those precious people that you love and enjoy, free of stress and pressure and unrealistic expectations. It’s a tall order and will take nothing short of a miracle to achieve. But it just so happens that this is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, and miracles abound if you just open your eyes.

 

 

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