Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Top 10 Quotes from Christmas Break

This is a cheapo post -- the kind that a person writes when short on time, ideas and energy. But it ties up the 2008 Christmas season in a tidy little package that says, "Happy New Year" and "Golly, How Long Is Christmas Break Anyway?"

With Happy New Year's wishes, I present The Top 10 Quotes from Christmas Break 2008.

10. "Oh, shut your mouths. A little Lionel Richie never hurt anyone." (Shouted during the first 50 miles of one of our road trips over the holidays; minor uproar ensued over the selection of radio stations.)
9. "Can I eat my spray cheese yet?" (Santa always leaves spray cheese in the stockings. Go. Santa.)
8. "Why are we decorating a gingerbread house on Dec. 29?"
"Because the kit was on clearance for $1 at Publix."
7. "Has anyone seen the toaster?"
6. "Gingko biloba would really help you with your memory." Ten minutes later in Wal-Mart ... "What was the name of that herb that's supposed to help my memory?"
5. "Oh, it won't hurt anyone. Week-old ham is perfectly fine if all you're doing is throwing it into a pot of beans."
4. "Where is that unopened tin of cookies? It was RIGHT HERE."
"Daddy hid it under your bed."
3. "I guess you should go ahead and call the police."
2. "I'm sorry we've wasted your time, dispatcher. We just found our car."

And the No. 1 best quote from Christmas Break 2008 ... made while viewing The Sound of Music and uttered during the scene where Julie Andrews skips across a stone bridge with the kids trailing behind, in their newly sewn clothes fashioned from an old set of drapes ...

1. "You know, most of this movie was filmed in Austria, but this particular scene was shot in the middle of Rock City, not too far from the swinging bridge. That's the reason you see so many gnome figures at Rock City -- it's a nod to the movie AND to the customs of that part of western Europe."

May your New Year's Eve and Day be filled with good memories (that you will remember), music of the easy listening variety, cookies in plain view, accessible appliances, affordable crafts and hobbies, and a stack of musicals on DVD.

Monday, December 29, 2008

This Is One Constipated Blog

Sure, Dec. 12 seems like just yesterday, if you've been in a COMA for more than two weeks. But I am back on this Monday afternoon (my first appearance since Dec. 12) with a little Monday Buffet, which is the result of administering a full-tilt laxative to this constipated and neglected blog. To all of you who care, I am so very sorry. To the rest of you, WELCOME!

Good-bye, 2008! Don't let the door hit you! ... This is New Year's week — an emotional valley after Christmas week and a social nightmare for people with kids who are So Bored They Might Just Die and Can We Please Invite Over Every Person We've Ever Met and Why Should I Have To Clean My Room?

While this might be an emotional valley for many people, I for one am thankful to see this year draw to a close and take its baggage with it. You might say I am experiencing a New Year's High (of the legal persuasion) and am more than ready to ring in a shiny, new year.

Other blog project, I haven't forgotten you ... My second blog project is still, sadly, in the works. Like this one, it has also been neglected and has suffered a severe case of constipation. ETA is now mid-January. Maybe the third week, depending on other deadlines.

And that's the Monday Buffet. More of a cocktail time, really. A short and sweet appearance, kept comfortably brief in order to avoid any embarrassing monologue or behavior. But if I DID write a monologue to recapture the sights and sounds of 2008, I would title it: "Oh, the Stories I Could Tell." And you would believe only about half of them, even though they would all be true. Because that's where the funniest and most unbelievable stories are: in reality. (People really should be more careful around me. These things are all going to come out one day.)

Happy New Year ...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Gosh, Friday, Where Have You Been? We Are So Glad To See You! (Friday Roundup)

Wow. I am one lazy blogger. Thursday, Dec. 4? That was the last time I blogged? I may get fired. Or receive a nasty pay cut. Oh, wait. This thing doesn't pay.Today is Friday, you know what that means ... If you were an avid New Mickey Mouse Club viewer, you are probably singing right now. Difference is, Lisa Whelchel and the gang were (if memory serves) singing about TUESDAY, not FRIDAY. Friday deserved a much better theme song than Tuesday did. Friday is so much more highly anticipated than stupid Tuesday. But I digress.

Around here, Friday means FRIDAY ROUNDUP, which gives me the license to write about absolutely nothing, throw all those nothings together, and call it a "post." So, let's begin, shall we?

Oh, Who Cares ... Since last Thursday, we have experienced a long string of obstacles -- some big, some small, but ALL will be largely forgettable by the time I'm in a pitiful heap at the nursing home and cradling a Lee Middleton doll, so what they hay am I whining about? "That's a good question," replied one of my dogs. She remained perfectly still and incredibly attentive as I rattled on and on about the cruel, cruel world and shouted, "Where the heck is the Christmas spirit anyway? In the toilet? With the economy? What is WRONG with people?" And then I sat on the floor beside her and rubbed her head and told her, "Be glad you're a dog."And this is exactly what she looked like ...

I know -- awesome dog, right? And such a good listener, too. You can see it in her eyes. Dogs might not have souls, but this one has soulful EYES. And that's important. She GETS me.

Of all the dreams I've lost or found and all that I ain't got ... uh-oh, the spirit of Dave Loggins has wormed its way onto this keyboard. And as much as I would have enjoyed going to Boston, Denver or even L.A. this week, there was no ejection seat in central Alabama. But of all the things I really did lose this week -- my cool, my patience, my good manners (OK, I never really had those), my amazingly low blood pressure -- I did find one thing. Oh, yes. THE RUNNER'S HIGH. And what a handy time for it to arrive. This may have something to do with the fact that I hopped aboard the treadmill with such ferocity (courtesy of an entire week of puzzling events and disappointments) and renewed determination ... and quite a musical repertoire on the iPod.

If you, too, are pursuing the elusive runner's high, know that running requires some degree of choreography—a beat, if you will. The pounding of your own heartbeat doesn't count. In fact, it's distracting. Worrisome, even. But the right MUSIC, I have only recently theorized, was the missing link to helping me achieve the runner's high. Which is a nice change from the severe nausea. I would like to thank several songs for their support, but the list is just too long. To summarize, I'll just say that any and all African-American men and women who have made their way onto my playlist certainly deserve a big thanks. And that's a long, long list. Nice folks like Aretha, Tina, Patti, Luther, Earth Wind & Fire, The Brothers Johnson ... and this white man:

David Cassidy may no longer be hanging glossy and beautiful on my bedroom wall, but you would be amazed at the endurance a girl like me can muster with him singing in my ear. It's like staring at Tiger Beat all over again.

Today really IS Friday, and you know what that means. It is so very much the weekend, and I am so going to enjoy it, no matter what garbage comes my way. And I hope my mother, WHO CELEBRATES HER 66TH BIRTHDAY TODAY, will forgive me for not putting a card in the mail this week and will have a happy birthday anyway. (Hey, Betty, you know I don't write those cards, right? I just sign my name. But this birthday message? I actually wrote it. That should probably count for something.)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Where Scores Don't Matter

Want to know where the mission field is? Look out your window.

All I have to go on is what happens in my own city ... as egocentric as that may sound. Wherever you live, similar opportunities certainly exist. My advice is: Seize them. First, visit to learn how our city and surrounding communities extend a helping hand. (And not just during December.) HOB serves as a clearinghouse for a long list of volunteer service agencies. Few parameters exist because volunteers are always needed, but age requirements may be in place for some activities and with some agencies.

This is the same organization that sends out alerts for volunteer needs during all states of emergency. Most recently, Hurricane Gustav sounded the alarm, and HOB was filling e-mail inboxes faster than you could say "storm's a comin'."

When Gustav hit Labor Day weekend and evacuees were being transported by buses into Birmingham, I was not the first to say, "Let's go." It was my son. He stood over me as I responded to the e-mail. We spent that overcast Monday, searching for diapers, distributing water bottles, serving lunch and unloading trucks. Then there was the small issue of causing a near-uprising when my son changed the channel on the big-screen TV in the convention center from Tyra. He was pelted with shouts of "Hey!" and "Turn it back!" (It wasn't entirely his fault. An evacuee asked if he could find some sort of news program that would tell whether New Orleans had flooded. It seemed a reasonable request.)

I tell you this not to point out any good in him or in me, but to point out how you don't have to wait to be asked.

You may be saying, "But, Amy, you idiot, we're not in a state of emergency." Sure, you may not be, but thousands of others may be. Go help them. Salvation Army needs help filling bags of toys and assisting clients by loading their cars. YWCA facilities need volunteers to help parents "shop" for presents and to entertain the children for a few minutes while their parents are tending to a little Christmas business. Mental health facilities are asking for assistance in serving holiday meals to developmentally disabled adults. Gosh, you have all SORTS of things to choose from. Choose your interest, fill a need.

It's so much easier to help out in these situations when someone asks. But don't wait to be asked. Don't wait for the next natural disaster. And don't stop after December.

Now, let me step down from this soapbox for just a minute ... OK. There. In other business, we turn our thoughts to football. Auburn football, to be more specific. No matter how you feel about a coach's record -- whether for 10 years or one season or even one in-state rivalry -- have some depth about you and look beyond the stats. Tommy Tuberville may no longer be Auburn's head coach, but he has left a remarkable legacy.

Tuberville's first order of business when he arrived in Auburn 10 years ago was to hire a team chaplain. That decision and its subsequent hire led to a 90 percent team participation at the voluntary Friday night chapel gatherings, regular Bible studies attended by coaches and players, and more. Tuberville began this practice at Ole Miss, carried it over to Auburn by hiring Chette Williams, and inspired schools across the SEC to follow suit.

He managed team discipline with a swift hand and handled the occasional raw deal with dignity. His cool demeanor and trademark smirk, even during bad calls and poor outcomes, made us proud.

I'll leave the rest of the analysis and commentary to the sports writers and sports radio folks, but I feel qualified enough to say that this is a sad day. No anger, just disappointment.

If there's a tie-in with the first portion of this post, it's this: Tuberville found his mission field and worked it well. It just happened to have a scoreboard. But the most important things he did for college football and for Auburn? Even if they tried, nobody could keep score.

Tuberville strolls through the pre-game Tigerwalk. (photo by Jason McCary; I lifted it off Flickr; my Tigerwalk photos show only the top of Tuberville's head and are out of focus because they're taken by a kid who is sitting on his/her father's shoulders, or they're taken by me and result in a colorful shot of other people's heads and elbows; so, thanks, Jason McCary, whoever you are!)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Let's Talk Economics. Because It's So Much Fun.

Forgive me while I talk shop for a few minutes ...

A fellow freelance writer e-mailed me this week to say, "Hey, did you see this???" She had received notice about a publication (one among many) that is temporarily cutting its freelance rates. Others have cut assignments and contracts. In the worst scenarios, some are ceasing publication altogether.

My response to her e-mail:

Sure am glad I'm not a freelance writer dependent on advertising receipts that keep these publications profitable. Oh, wait. I am.

When the economy suffers, companies tend to cut advertising, marketing and PR dollars first. And if you're a company that advertises in magazines, you might find yourself reconsidering whether those dollars are well spent. (Hint: THEY ARE. That money keeps publications in business, and when magazines prosper, more assignments and contracts are offered, translating to a trickle-down effect to nice people like me, and I, in turn, share that money with the people I live with, and they go on to pump some of that money back into the economy, perhaps in your place of business, and there you have what we call a win/win.)

If you sat through even the most basic of marketing classes, you would know that in tough times (and in theory), advertising, marketing and PR strategies should really be cranked up a notch. When advertising dollars dwindle, so do page counts. And when page counts diminish, so does editorial. And when editorial is decreased, well, then, freelance writers have a problem. The gigs become more sporadic. Or poorly compensated. Or both.

The rate cut practice really isn't all THAT bad, when you look at it from a glass-half-full perspective. Hey, a contract is a contract. A paycheck is a paycheck. But if you look at it from a salaried person's perspective, this is the financial equivalent of walking into your office or cubicle one day and having your boss tell you, "You know, we're going to slice your paycheck by, maybe, a third. By the way, how are the wife and kids?" But still, it's better than walking into your office or cubicle and having your boss hand you a cardboard box and show you the door. Right?

And that's really the coolest thing about being a freelance writer. You're technically always unemployed, so the threat of being fired or kicked out of the corner office doesn't really exist. Instead, you see each month as the end of a job (or jobs) and the beginning of the next month as a job search. Like a politician who is always running for office (because they're ALWAYS running for office), freelancers are always looking for work. We are a hungry crowd. And hungry isn't a bad place to be, if you're willing to act like a gnat buzzing around editors' heads, nagging them for work.

Maybe I should write an article on "The Care and Feeding of a Freelance Writer." In fact, just know that I will. Consider today, Dec. 3, 2008, the copyright date on that little piece of proprietary thought. HANDS. OFF.

"So, Amy, what is your point?" you may be asking.

My point is, I'm certain Adam Smith and Milton Friedman themselves would agree with my very viable economic theory: "This economy sucks eggs." And that somebody had jolly well do something about it. Like buy some advertising. Save some jobs. Save an industry. Save our dignity.

A footnote: We watched the Best G-Rated Movie of 2008, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, 153 times over Thanksgiving weekend. When Kit learns that she can earn a penny per word for her articles, one of my kids asked me, "Hey, do you earn more than a penny per word?"

"For the moment, I do."

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sticks and Stones ... and Spoons

In high school, I had a good friend whose family owned a beach house. And that made her an even BETTER friend. Add to that the fact that we lived about one hour from the beach, and you have The Best Friend EVER. During spring breaks and long weekends, she would invite five or six of us to join her and, usually, her mom.

We were a relatively tame group, and the most awful things we did at the beach were no more awful than most of the things we did at home. We didn't drink, we let out only the occasional cuss word, we spent our hard-earned money from our part-time jobs on the requisite airbrushed t-shirts at Surf Shak, and we took every opportunity we could to stray from The Mom. Heaven help us, we strayed from that poor woman.

But the highlight of each day at the beach came about 10 p.m. A deck of cards, a handful of spoons, all the chairs in the house pushed tightly around the wooden kitchen table, and the ensuing fever-pitch competition. We played Spoons into the night, into the morning and often stayed awake until The Mom emerged from her bedroom and said, "Good morning! Time to clear the table and eat breakfast!" We looked like we were coming off a three-day drunk ... only without the alcohol. In addition to the sleep deprivation and glazed eyes, there was pulled hair, abrasions to the arms and legs, and a few bruises sustained when teen-age bodies hit the hard tile floor.

"But Amy, what the hay is the relevance of this story?" Well, I will tell you that these memories came flooding back on Thanksgiving night as we sat around the kitchen table and treated ourselves to a few rounds of Spoons. And Spoons, as I will explain, should be on everyone's repertoire of holiday games. Reindeer games, even. Like Monopoly.

This is what Thanksgiving looks like. Until someone breaks out the spoons.

Despite what game manufacturers will have you believe, Spoons does NOT require a purchase of any sort. Don't be wooed by mass marketing. A cardboard box filled with a deck of cards, seven plastic spoons and a pad of paper should not cost $9.99. If you have even a modestly equipped kitchen and a deck of cards, then you have all the regulation components. I repeat, do NOT buy a kit of any sort. Like when Bunco hit its peak several years ago and women all over the place were buying cute polka-dot bags filled with dice and notepads and tied with a clever bow, all in a neat package at the retail price of $14.99. Suckers. (This is the Poverty Party portion of the blog. And it ranks Poverty Party status because I'm telling you how not to spend $9.99 and, rather, how to make your own fun by using only kitchen utensils.)

Back to Spoons. In your modestly equipped kitchen, check your utensil drawer for spoons — table spoons, soup spoons, serving spoons. Heck, use plastic spoons. I don't really care, as long as you have just one shy of the number of players. Six players? Five spoons. Eight players? Seven spoons. And so it goes.

The setup: Deal each player four cards. The objective is to collect four of a kind; suits don't matter. You may have only four cards in your hand at any time. Everyone passes to their left, with the dealer setting the pace and pulling only from the original pile of cards. As the player to your right passes you a card at breakneck speed, you must act quickly, discarding one of your cards to the next player and taking the new one, or discarding the new one and moving on. The first player to collect four of a kind is to pull a spoon, but quietly and mysteriously so as not to tip off the other players. But as other players see or hear a spoon being collected, they must quickly grab a spoon for themselves. Oh, but wait! That means one person isn't going to get a spoon, you might be saying. And that is where the anxiety enters, creating sweaty palms, upset stomachs and streaks of violence you may have never seen before. And the shouting. Oh, you will not BELIEVE the shouting.

Our first few rounds Thursday night: pleasant, anemic, innocuous, cordial ... dare I say, BORING.

But the warfare cranked up a notch when we (or, my friend Caprice) decided that we should PILE the spoons together in the middle of the table — a bold variation on their previous arrangement of being spread so that everyone had a fair chance at grabbing a spoon. But what happens when spoons are piled and the grabbing begins is a distracting and ALARMING clinking sound that brings out the ugly.

During one round, I had the four of a kind. But did I get a spoon? No. A player from across the table ripped it out of my hands, and that led to all KINDS of unrest and profanity. A husband really should be more sportsmanlike when his wife is clearly THE WINNER.

In the rounds that followed, my 10-year-old suffered an impressive wound across her lower back as she slid at top speed from her chair under the table to retrieve the last spoon, which had fallen during a wrestling match over another spoon. (She didn't get it. An adult shoe pushed the spoon in the other direction, and some fingers were crushed in the process.) A teenager took a hit to the nose that made her eyes water. Several hands had deep scratches that required the administration of Neosporin the following morning. Another suffered a punch to the arm that should have led to some sort of disqualification, but we were laughing too hard to determine who was really at fault. With no eye witnesses, she really didn't have a case. A bruise, yes; a case, no.

And that, in a nutshell, is how to play Spoons. Just as you can't eat only one potato chip, you can't play only one round of Spoons. "But Amy, how will we know when the game is over?" Well, you can set your own rules. You can say, perhaps, that when you draw blood, it might be time for everyone to go home. Or, maybe you're more of a broken bone crowd, and that will determine the game's length. Crying is also a common game-ender. But if you can manage to combine crying and throwing the cards across the room? Well, you've scored.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

This Holiday Season, Give the Gift of Poetry

Sometimes the best gifts are those that come from the heart. Or the kitchen. Homemade gifts take little money and a little time. Bake cookies. Make a clay pot. Frame a picture. Write a poem. If you don't have a knack for poetry (few people do, you know), perhaps you could give the recipient the tools to write his or her own poetry.

We've had a Magnetic Poetry kit for more than 13 years. When we occasionally scrape the tiny words off the refrigerator and put them in their tiny case, it's only to hide the distraction that consumes little people, makes their eyes cross, their days fly by.

More than once, we've stood looking at a group of tiny Howard Hughes-look-alikes. They're unkempt, greasy, in need of a good meal and a manicure. They don't know what grade they're in, or what year it is. We have to reintroduce them into society, holding their hands and guiding them to the front steps. "These are TREES. And that right there? That is the SUNSHINE." Then we guide them back into the kitchen and calmly put the Magnetic Poetry in the drawer. They nod quietly, without protest. They know we have to do what's best for them. And it's not always easy.

This cycle of removing Magnetic Poetry is not entirely their fault. Magnetic Poetry is like a legal addictive drug. You stand at the kitchen counter while, say, making spaghetti. You shuffle tiny magnetic tiles around and around for what SEEMS like only a few minutes, then someone walks into the room and asks, "What's burning?" Then you sputter a few expletives and try to undo the damage. While you're doing that, someone has assumed your place at the counter and is scrambling and unscrambling your hard work and before you know it, you're both yelling at each other and screaming, "Where is 'shadow'?! I had 'shadow' RIGHT HERE!"

And the next thing you know, you're standing in a room in the back of a community center wearing a name badge and drinking strong coffee. "Hi, my name is Joe. And I play Magnetic Poetry."

"Hi, Joe," the room says in unison. And they all wave a weak wave before launching into a 60-minute session designed to rescue you from the throes of Magnetic Poetry addiction.

In Magnetic Poetry, which is part game, part hobby, part full-tilt OBSESSION, everything is in small caps, as if the spirit of e.e. cummings descended upon your house and threw all grammatical and editing rules right out the window. But the absence of capital letters lets the creative juices flow more readily and removes nagging questions, like "Shouldn't 'fall' be capitalized?" No, "fall" should never be capitalized, unless it's part of a title or a headline, but that doesn't stop people from violating that word and the other three seasons all the time. So, thank you, makers of Magnetic Poetry, for leveling and simplifying the playing field.

But as I'm looking at my own refrigerator, I see that "TV" merits capital letters. And it doesn't look especially odd, since it's an abbreviation of sorts. But I digress. Every couple of days, I take a moment (or two hours) to examine the side of the refrigerator to see if any additions have been created. Some phrases are combined with others, which can be good, but it's usually distracting and infringes on somebody else's creativity, and we really should be more respectful of other people's work, don't you think? But most often, I find a sweet little phrase, usually near the bottom, where the shorter people work.

Some excerpts from today's refrigerator:

mother needed smooth fluff

fiddle is easy like you

sad language is mostly staring at a TV

my weak friend felt like elaborating

together shine through singing like a dream (This one is my personal favorite.)

stop the symphony music

white winter storm

cool spring water

hot summer sun

frantic fall leaves (With a little rearrangement, we may have a seasonal haiku on our hands. Good work, guys!)

essential apparatus of a diamond

iron sweetly

read the tiny picture without some rocky egg

why ask about our lazy goddess butts (This one is mine. I know; great, right?)

cry to live (Not pointing any fingers, but this, at times, seems to be a mantra around here.)

please avoid their bitter chant (I should cross-stitch this on a sampler and hang it in our home. It would go a long way toward peace negotiations at the dinner table.)

some sordid man is whispering deliriously from behind the gorgeous woman (Now, I don't know about you, but I believe this one has the makings of a made-for-TV drama. Perhaps on Lifetime. Nobody, however, will admit to assembling this poem. But I have my suspicions.)

And then, the more concerning entries:

red lake lust

manipulate one mad drunk

smearing blood

incubate true scream beneath

must heave on an enormous leg

We're not here to incite violence, or to tear appendages. Maybe we've just run out of good words and have only prepositions, linking verbs and conjunctions left in the box. Spare parts, you could say. So, an intervention may be called for. Maybe some counseling. Or maybe just a short hiatus from Magnetic Poetry. You know, for my, I mean their, own good.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I'm Back...With a Little Monday Morning Buffet

To the thoughtful and concerned readers who have asked why they are still reliving Election Review from almost two weeks ago: I took an unplanned hiatus from blogging. Blame it on a combination of family and work matters and general malaise. Blogging is such a thankless job.

Updates from almost two weeks:

A family matter last Tuesday morning found me in south Alabama and rendered my dad TICKED OFF. As I was leaving the hospital, my mother insisted that I "come by the house and look at this desk." Translated, "I just had the spare bedroom painted, and I need you to help move furniture."

My OCD sister and I moved a dresser and desk back and forth as if they were chess pawns. In that same bedroom were several cardboard boxes with unorganized piles of photos. "Go through these boxes and get anything you want. I want this room cleaned up and the furniture where it belongs."

Beneath the unopened Sears bills from 1995, my grandmother's death certificate and Polaroids of people I've never seen in my life (Who is this?; I don't know. Some couple we met while on vacation) were piles and piles of priceless family photos. Maybe I'll scan them one day and display them here for you. Seeing, as they say, is believing.

I found a high-quality Polaroid of my mother standing alone in front of a banana tree. The handwritten caption read, "Banana Orchard."
"Forget the bananas — my GOSH, whose shorts are you wearing?"
She moved the photo forward and backward in front of her face.
"Well, I guess they were MY shorts."
My mother was and still is a thin person. But this picture looked like someone had a primitive version of Photoshop in 1974 and played a dirty trick. "Those are the oddest shorts I've ever seen. They're cutting you in half, yet the waist is pulled high, like Tweedle Dee. Why is your shirt tucked in? And what's with the belt? What year was this taken?"

Another shot featured her in the requisite navy and white sweater set and sucking on a Certs while standing in front of a palm tree.
"What about this scene made you think it would translate into a good picture? Exactly what memory were you trying to capture? The tree? The sunshine?"
"Oh, just give me the $@*^ picture."

To heck with Creative Memories; shuffling through a large cardboard box and making up stories was much more fun than revisiting what actually happened 30 years ago.


When you are a grown person and visit your parents' house only once or twice a year, you tend to return home with more than you took with you. In this most recent case, my stash includes the following:

* My ex-sister-in-law's prom picture.

* Several photos of me (circa 1971, 1973, 1977, etc.) sitting on a cannon in Williamsburg. We're big Williamsburg fans.

* Evidence that my family probably would have never made the cover of The Alabama Baptist newsletter. Case in point: A wide shot of my brother and me on the lawn of the Anheuser-Busch plant in Virginia. We are 3 and 7 years old.

* A .38 Smith & Wesson.

* My California Achievement Test scores from 1982.


Holiday Movies ... As we approach the holidays, it's time to break out the VHS favorites. If you don't have VHS favorites, I'll share one of mine. It's a good one.

Home for the Holidays (1995) is considered too dark for some to be a part of the holiday movie library. But for the thousands of normal people who see the holidays as an opportunity to be a little cynical and who don't try to be all Norman Rockwellish about Thanksgiving, this is a holiday classic. Our VHS copy is sadly worn and well-loved. I can't lend it to you, but I can guide you toward Amazon, which has used copies beginning at $1.79. Directed by Jodie Foster, Home for the Holidays stars Holly Hunter, Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott and Robert Downey Jr.

Downey used to depress me to no end during the '80s (anyone recall Less Than Zero?), and his character in this movie is typical of the roles he once played. But he is oh-so-quotable. (A couple of my kids have heard "Sad Sack Terziak" all their lives, and they repeat it and don't know why.) And in my parallel childhood universe, Holly Hunter was my big sister. We shared a room with twin canopy beds, and she listened to me and told me about her dates and had my back when kids were mean to me. Gosh, I love Holly Hunter.


So, the Monday Morning Buffet is surprisingly lean today. Times are hard. We can't just stand here and prepare made-to-order omelets for EVERYone. Scrambled eggs will have to do.

But I will tell you that we have, under construction, an expansion project in the works. Book lovers in particular may find it useful and maybe even entertaining. It will be located in the blogosphere, just to the left of the lobby and wedged somewhere between the buffet and the concierge desk. And like everything else around here, admission will be free. But you can always tip, if you want.

More details to come ...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch ... Or Is There? (Election Review)

My friend ELAINE, who has complained way too much that I never mention her here, sent out a broadcast e-mail Monday night, directing friends and family to drive directly from Starbucks (free coffee) and Krispy Kreme (free star-spangled donuts) stores to their nearest Chick-fil-A to claim their free chicken sandwich after exercising their right to vote Tuesday.

Imagine the cashiers' surprise at our local Chick-fil-A when throngs of socialists, cheap Republicans and charismatic Democrats made a mad rush through both entrances and around and around the drive-through to demand their free lunch.

"It's actually against the law to give away food just because you voted," the 15-year-old behind the counter told me. She kept both hands firmly on the counter, as if I were wielding a gun and robbing the place. "This has been a misunderstanding. Some markets are offering this promotion, but ours isn't one of them."

"Oh, so I don't get a free sandwich?"

"It's actually the Florida market that is giving away free sandwiches. We are not part of that promotion."

And before anyone could step behind her and wind the giant key lodged in her back, she said, "But because radio stations (AND YOUR FRIEND ELAINE) have been publicizing it, we will honor the promotion."

"So what you're saying is, No, you're not supposed to give out free sandwiches, but yes, you are giving out free sandwiches today because of the misunderstanding. Right?"

"Yes, ma'am."

Well for heaven's sake, why didn't you just say so in the first place instead of carrying on this nonsense about markets and promotions and rumors? If the result is the same, I'd rather not hear the circular reasoning about why you should or should not give away free food. Still, a very good PR move on Chick-fil-A's part. Same for Starbucks and all the other places that kept me on the road Tuesday. God bless America.


My phone rang at 10:30 p. m. Election Eve. Few people on this earth are on my List of People I Will Talk To After the Late News ... Especially When It Requires Me to Get Out of the Bed and Talk Quietly From the Stairwell, but David is certainly at the top of that list.

"Amy, I'd like to talk to you about the election."

(Sigh.) "David, I'd like to talk to you about Jesus."

We effectively shut each other down. Yet we still managed to stay on the phone for an hour, sidestepping politics and religion. That's how we've stayed friends for more than 24 years. Tolerance.


Everyone put your colored pencils down, and go to bed ... Back in the day, we didn't have real-time election results, hologram guests and computerized maps. We had paper ballots and telephones and morning newspapers. We would go to bed on election night and wake up to learn who would be the new leader of the Free World. We had anticipation, guesswork, the UNKNOWN.

But Tuesday night, my kids were watching concession and victory speeches before 10:30 p.m. Until then, they were keeping tabs on electoral votes, maintaining a close eye on ballot counts as they were made official. My GOSH, my den looked like a newsroom, with a couple of laptops, a TV, stacks of papers, bloodshot eyes, a fair amount of loud talking and occasional shouting. And, of all things, colored pencils and black outline maps on plain white paper -- the way it's supposed to be.

Monday, November 03, 2008

A Halloween Review and a Little Election Preview

A Holiday for the Masses ... Last Friday night, a pair of bicycles sat propped up against a stop sign in our neighborhood. A block or two away, their owners -- two Mormons in standard bicycle-riding attire -- walked up, then down, each side of the street, knocking on doors and sharing their tracts. Whether they won any converts or engaged themselves in any noteworthy conversation on Halloween night, nobody knows for sure. But one thing is certain: They earned some fairly large fistfuls of Smarties and Junior Mints and were seen walking the neighborhood, smiling widely and chomping on a pretty sizable stash of goods. Multi-tasking should never take a holiday. Way. To. Go.

Watching this unfold whisked us back more than seven years to an October afternoon at an amusement park, which was hosting a park-wide Halloween event. Employees were dressed in costumes, and guests were given large plastic themed bags and encouraged to trick-or-treat throughout the park. Walk up to a ride attendant, get a few Tootsie Rolls. Open your bag and say "trick or treat" to a security guard, score a Reese's. On and on. When our then-3-year-old saw a fair-skinned woman wearing a burqa and Ray-Bans and sitting on a park bench, she ran from my side, stood in front of the woman and shouted, "Trick or treat!" It all happened so FAST -- we couldn't stop it. Besides, it was hardly the 3-year-old's fault. If you were 3 and saw a woman wearing a burqa and shouting, "Hey, cut it out!" in an Appalachian dialect to her freckle-faced kids (all were in costume, by the way) in the middle of an amusement park on a warm October day in central Alabama, what would you do? Thought so.

Yet she was ever so gracious, leaned toward our daughter and said, "Oh, honey, this ain't no costume. I'm sorry." Then she looked toward us, laughed out loud and shouted, "Hey, y'all have a happy Halloween!"

After All, This Is a Free Country ... Celebrate our nation's freedom and your right to vote by taking advantage of free stuff tomorrow. After you stand in line for virtually HOURS to cast your vote, swing by Starbucks for a free cup of coffee. Bring proof, if you have it. A sticker will work fine. Starbucks also claims that it will work on the honor system, in case you don't have proof. Later in the day, head on over to Ben & Jerry's between 5 and 8 p.m. for a free scoop.

Let freedom ring.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Election Etiquette 101

The day after Jimmy Carter won the 1976 presidential election, our neighbor walked over and leaned into an open window in our den and sang an out-of-tune and full-length rendition of "Happy Days Are Here Again." She was wearing a white styrofoam top hat with an American flag sticker on its brim. I was only in elementary school, but I knew enough to believe her conduct was in poor taste.

This is the electoral map of the 1976 presidential election, when Jimmy Carter won 55.2 percent of the electoral vote, leaving Gerald R. Ford with 44.6 percent. Looks like somebody took a pair of scissors and cut our country almost down the middle, doesn't it? Note of interest: It wasn't until 2000 that televised coverage of the presidential election turned Republican states red and Democratic states blue. So when you see a window sticker with a blue dot in a red square, for example, a Democrat is driving that car. To complicate matters, "Time magazine had favored Democratic red and Republican white in the 1976 election between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, then reversed those colors for Reagan and Carter in 1980. By 1988, the magazine was using Republican blue and Democratic red, and it stayed with that motif even through the 2000 election, which has colorized the nation's political language in precisely the opposite way," according to Google Answers. So don't critcize my map above. In 1976, this was the way it was -- blue for Republicans, red for Democrats. This is not my fault.

This event took place in the Great State of Georgia, which, according to the map above, was about as RED (Democratic) as it could be. So you can understand that this neighbor made a fair assumption that she was singing to a household of Democrats. But how could she be sure?

This brings us to today's discussion of Election Etiquette: Everybody Be Nice.

Blue dots, red dots ... who CARES? Let's celebrate The Process, I suggested to the dinner table. It's not like we would be awaiting any great SURPRISE as the votes are tallied. It wouldn't be an in-your-face victory for anybody.

They all laughed at me.

"OK, fine then. Let's just invite the teenagers' friends. They'll be more fun than a bunch of adults anyway."

"On a SCHOOL NIGHT? But we'll have homework and bedtime and ..."

"Oh my goodness, you poor structured little soldiers living in your boxes! What are you going to remember 20 years from now? Nov. 4, 2008, studying for a history test and going to bed at 9 p.m., OR Nov. 4, 2008, watching history unfold on TV and staying up late with your friends? We could watch a few SNL Weekend Update clips, eat hot dogs, hamburgers and apple pie, play GAMES..."

I think I lost them at "games."

I had been thinking of inventing Presidential Firsts, Chuck Todd State Scramble, Name That First Lady, and White House ABCs. And then I said, "OK, I'll come up with something. What matters is that we host this thing with a sense of community ... and diplomacy. We'll cross all party lines."

And that's where I lost them for good.

So, maybe we won't be hosting an Election Night Gala. That's a shame because it would have been great fun, and I would have been very nice about it. And I would have totally smoked them at Chuck Todd State Scramble.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Little Hors D'oeuvre for the Party, Why Facebook Bothers Me, A Selfless Act (Friday Roundup)

Today Is Not Really Oct. 6 ... But I wrote this chunk of copy on that date and never did anything with it. But I think it makes an acceptable contribution to the Poverty Party and perhaps an OK component to the Friday Roundup, which has become my end-of-week trash heap of Blogs That Never Materialized. So here it goes ... Today is Oct. 6. My maternal grandmother's birthday. My paternal grandmother's date of death. My friend Greg's birthday. The anniversary of the death of Anwar Sadat. And the reason I know that it's Anwar Sadat's death anniversary is because when Greg told me almost 20 years ago that his birthday is Oct. 6 and I said, "Hey! That's my grandmother's birthday!," he said, "Hey! It's also the date that Anwar Sadat died!"
So it's a pretty big day. But we'll not cloud this day of anniversaries with musings of Egyptian leaders, great as they may have been. Instead, I'd like to tell you a little about my paternal grandmother and what she would have to say about today's economic worries and what you should do with the money you have: HIDE IT. HIDE ALL YOU CAN. Not that anybody knew she was doing this all those years. It wasn't until her death 14 years ago that we learned just how saving-savvy she was. We found stacks of 20s stuffed between pouches of muffin mixes that were concealed in gallon-size ZipLoc bags. We found small bundles of 5s and 10s tucked in drawers. Safe deposit boxes were homes to stacks of 100s banded together with sticky notes on top -- the total amount of the stack, where the money came from, etc. Many of these stacks were found by way of a treasure map of sorts that she had left behind. The others were found purely by accident, like by rummaging through the pantry in search of a muffin mix. "How in the world, Amy, did she manage to stash away so much cash? Was she a millionaire?" I will tell you how: She didn't spend. She worked hard, bought only what she needed, made what she could and watched every penny. And therefore, she was debt-free.

If Insecurity Has a Website ... it's Facebook. "I'm eating breakfast." "I'm bored." "I'm leaving for school." "My boyfriend has a paper due." "I just spent five minutes in the bathroom."
What's that loud sucking noise? It's the time being wasted on Facebook. And boy, are my eyes tired.

Months ago, I toyed with the idea of creating a Facebook account -- even went so far as to register a password. My reasoning was that it would allow me to monitor the young people. But I realized, "Hey, wait a minute, I'm the adult around here, so give me YOUR password." And they did, and that's how I navigate my way through Facebook. And I have to say, I hate it. Ninety percent of the site is bogus, and the other 10 percent is boring.

In Facebook, kids sometimes claim they are "married," which I don't understand at all. It might say that a girl is "married" to, say, her best friend, Ashley. So I asked my teenagers, "Why do kids say they're married?"

"To keep the pedophiles away."

"Wait a minute, you believe that a 16-year-old who wears braces, boldly posts her full name, school name, practically her entire CLASS SCHEDULE and a photo album of 32 different shots of herself doing herkies and standing atop a human pyramid is concerned about a pedophile thinking she's single? Do you honestly believe that a pedophile will gloss over this teenager's Facebook page and say, 'darn, she's married'? Here, let me pull you out from under that rock that seems to have rendered you naive."

"Well, maybe 'married' means 'in a serious relationship'."

"Yes, that is exactly what 'married' means, but not when you're in high school and doing herkies."

"Gosh, Mama, what's your problem?"

"Facebook. Facebook is my problem. If ever there were a case against the internet, this is it. This is the most narcissistic thing I've ever seen."

"But this is how kids talk to each other now. Through Facebook, texting ..."

"Let me make something clear to you: That's not TALKING. That's LAZY. And WRONG. And INSECURE. Why are kids scared to look friends in the face and have conversations? To pick up the phone and hear each others' voices?"

You would have thought I was performing a one-night show at the Improv. They laughed until they nearly wet themselves.

And Finally, a Little Genealogy ... Because nothing is better than hearing about somebody else's family tree. If I were speaking to you personally, I'm sure you would want to gouge your ear with an ice pick, but because you're reading from a screen, I'll never know if you said, "Ugh" and clicked over to Facebook, or turned off your computer, or decided to take a nap instead. And that is why I am saving this story in its entirety for The Book, whenever it may be written. But I'll provide a teaser: After I wrote this post, I received an e-mail requesting more information about my grandfather, who may or may not have an airplane on exhibit at The Smithsonian. I found nothing. But because his son (my uncle) shared his name and was a Junior, I stumbled across some incredible information about him and his tour in Vietnam, where he died at only 23 years old. (I barely remember him -- I was 3 when he died. But I do have some cool pictures of us together.) And in that research, I formed a friendship with one of his college friends, Buck Hartley. (If I were a soap opera writer, I would work that name into the script: "Buck Hartley, thoracic surgeon, renowned philanthropist and crime solver," or something.) So Buck-Who-Has-The-Greatest-Name-Ever has generously shared his memories of my uncle with me and even went to the trouble of e-mailing this photo from his recent visit to the Vietnam War Moving Memorial Wall, which stopped in his hometown earlier this week. (See Travis B. Lee Jr.)

Our family has several etchings we have made at the Vietnam Memorial in D.C., but this digital image holds more meaning, as it was taken by one of my uncle's good friends -- someone I've never met who took the time to visit the Moving Wall in Tifton, Ga., take this photo and e-mail it to me. Truly, a selfless act. Thank you.

It's the WEEKEND. Try not to spend too much money, stay off Facebook at all costs, and do something nice for somebody.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Short List of Things I've Stolen From Other People's Garbage

This installment of Poverty Party Tips (see widget to the left) is less of a tutorial, more of a spark to ignite your creativity. I hope it will encourage you to swallow your pride and get out there and find yourselves some pieces for that hard-to-furnish living space, facilitate some of your electronics in a user-friendly arrangement, or light that dark corner in your living room. And all for the bargain-basement price of a little travel time and maybe some spray paint. Times are hard. Cruising for treasures the night before trash day is easy.

When you have an empty space on your upstairs landing and your neighbors throw out a perfectly good pair of wicker chairs and leave them on the curb, then you do what you have to do. You go to the back yard and tell your husband, "Hey, get your SUV down the street and get me some chairs."

What you might not count on, though, is that at the very minute he is parked at the bottom of their very steep and winding driveway, loading two discarded chairs into the back of his car and cussing like a sailor under his breath about how cheap and tacky his wife is, the neighbor and his family of four coast down that driveway and look at your husband like, "That is so sad." Then they look the other way, saying to each other, "Pretend you didn't see that, kids."

This is a take on the classic before-and-after shot. You will see that the chair on the left sports an unfortunate Aztec-style pattern with a hint of pale blue and pink. The chair on the right showcases the difference one coat of mahogany spray paint can make. That amount of paint was eventually multiplied by three. The way I see it, I was saving some other dumpster diver from perpetuating bad taste and using the uncomfortable and worn Aztec chairs AS IS. It was my way of making the world a more beautiful place. A win-win.

Yes, well. My good fortune was well worth his embarrassment, as I sprayed and sprayed paint until I was rendered illiterate. And then I went to Pier 1, where I spent $38 on cushions, which were on sale. (Pier 1 is proud of its cushions.)

One man's trash is another man's sitting area.

Until I saw this picture, I didn't realize how many extension cords she has in her room for her phones, stereo, lamps, chargers, etc. Oh, and the keyboard she plays like she's Laurie Partridge.

This metal phone table in my teenager's room is a lovely blue and white, just like two of the colors on her multi-colored walls. Coincidence? Hardly. This was once the most rickety piece of crap you have ever seen ... until I applied about $2 worth of spray paint to it and transformed it into a functional and aesthetic piece of furniture for my dear child. "But Amy, where in the world did you FIND such a treasure? On the side of the road?"

No, I found it in an abandoned home about six years ago. The bank apparently didn't believe that locks were necessary, as someone had already ripped out the major appliances. All that remained was a distasteful array of colored tile throughout the home. And this table. And a goat tied to a tree in the back yard. On one of my trips to this house (yes, I visited often), the goat untied himself and followed me home. Every few days, I would look outside to see the goat wandering throughout our yard, minding his own business and eating grass. More than once, neighbors would see me in my yard or at my mailbox, roll down their windows and ask, "Hey, is that your goat wandering through the neighborhood?"

Like I'm the sort of person who would have a goat.

Timing, as they say, is everything. If I had arrived on the scene an hour later, this would have been in a landfill. It would have been TOO LATE. It's these little things that will save the planet.

Years ago, I dropped off my son at a friend's house, but another of his friends was still in my car as we drove down the street. I can't remember why. But I saw this black lamp sitting by the trash at the curb, put the car in reverse and said, "Chandler, hop out and get me that lamp." Strangely enough, at 8 years old, he never questioned me. He opened the door, wedged the lamp into the back seat and rode home in silence, looking out the window, holding most of the lamp in his lap. When I brought it into the house, I was delighted to find that not only did it work, it already had a bulb. I tightened the bolt on the base, and we had ourselves a new floor lamp. Which is good, because I didn't want to have to drive back across town and return it to a stranger's trash heap. That would be tacky.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Kidneys, Confidence and Some Reading Recommendations (Friday Roundup)

A Final Word About My Kidneys ... I promise. Today is another new day. An even better day than yesterday. Because I enjoyed the most un-fitful night of sleep I've had in one week, despite a dream that involved Teddy Roosevelt and an after-hours gym. (And I was drug-free.) I am feeling SO much better, in fact, that I woke up at 4:45 a.m. to meet a friend for exercise at 5:15. Teddy Roosevelt was not there.
If flowers were in bloom, I would be smelling them and carrying a bluebird on my shoulder. I would be Snow White. In fact, I may just whistle while I work this morning.

Oh, To Be So Confident ... This is a playground story for the ages. A certain freckle-faced 8-year-old who lives here told me that she and one of her freckle-faced best friends got sweaty during recess one day last week and retreated to a bench. As they sat there watching the other kids, her friend lowered her head, sighed and said, "I am SO HOT." And then she cut her eyes, lowered her voice and said, "In TWO ways." And then they giggled and slapped their knees like they were the funniest kids in the world. Gosh, I hope they never lose that confidence or that sense of humor. But I know adolescence will be here soon enough, kicking them in the head and making them doubt everything they do, say or wear. Adolescence can be such a pain in the rear.

Amy's Book Club ... Occasionally, I share with you a list of Books You Should Read, but in a less-threatening, less-Oprahesque way. Because in all honesty, what you read is ultimately up to you. But I would like to pass along a couple of titles that might make for good weekend reading.

My husband picked up a copy of Winner of the National Book Award, put it in my hands and said, "Here. I found this. It looks funny." Because we are people who firmly believe in judging a book by its cover.

As I read it, I would flip to the front cover many times and ask, "Who wrote this? David Lynch?" It's that bizarre, but that good. It is one of the few books that offers absolutely no characters I can relate to, predict or envy. It is, at once, tragic, hilarious, offensive, thoughtful. Friday Roundup is made up of brief snippets, so I'll not offer a full-fledged review or endorsement. But I do provide this excerpt:

(The narrator, Dorcas, in describing her birth as the second-born of a set of twin girls)

My sister emerged with a list of complicated, interdependent demands. They pried her loose, with infinite patience . . . When they got her out she held her breath, deliberately I have no doubt, so that they held her upside down and spanked her and generally made such a fuss that when I, the afterthought, emerged (on my hands and knees, I picture it, like an old ragbag crawling across a cartoon desert), I was given only cursory attention . . . "A beautiful little girl" -- holding Tubbo aloft like the Wimbledon Cup -- "and a boy" -- smiling in a kindly, commisserating sort of way, giving me a glimpse of my homely little face, swaddling me like a hideous burn victim.

If you've never heard of, or visited, the Eastern Bloc country of Molvania, let Molvania: A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry be your armchair guide to the culture and mystique of a land shrouded in mediocre architecture, a collapsed economy and a contrast of old customs and modern ingenuity (like the world's oldest nuclear reactor).

"But Amy, you shouldn't make fun of those poor countries victimized by the Warsaw Pact and oppressed by Soviet domination. They can't HELP it," you might be saying. And I am putting my hands on my hips, letting my jaw drop and pointing my finger to the book and saying, "I wasn't the one who WROTE this guidebook. It was THEM. I just happened to read it ... and laugh my rear end off."

Again, I pride myself on judging a book by its cover, and I hit GOLD with this one. I found it in the Literature section, tucked way back in Non-Fiction, and because it was wedged in a set of shelves that included Bill Bryson and similar authors, how could I go wrong?

The capital of Molvania is situated between the country's Eastern Steppes and a Western Plateau. A mountain range of heavily forested Molvanian Alps stands to the South.
Among Molvania's claims to fame:
* It's biggest pop sensation, Olja, combines hot Latin sounds with Cold War rhetoric.
* Going "green" takes on a different meaning in Molvania, as the country prides itself as being an environmentally conscious nation, and all its waste is either sorted and recycled, or dumped over the border in Slovakia.
* One of the most popular drinks in Molvania is turpz, a white wine flavored with oak resin. This fruity drop is an acquired taste, but once tasted, it's hard to give up, due in part to the fact that it contains nicotine.

Why would someone go to the trouble of writing and publishing a travel book about such a place? I'm not giving away the ending by telling you this, Molvania doesn't really exist.

It's the weekend. Drink lots of water, laugh at yourself, read a clever book, and (if you're like me) enjoy a kinder, gentler house because your 4-3 team has a bye weekend.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hey, How Did HE Get In Here?

While under the influence of LEGALLY PRESCRIBED narcotics to ease me through the blinding pain of a kidney stone and its always-hand-in-hand kidney infection, I treated myself to a little downloading session on iTunes while propped up at the kitchen table and wondering if this is really a good way to spend my last hours on this earth, biting bullets and spitting casings on the floor.

On the other hand, maybe it was my hopeful way of saying, "I'm going to get through this and perhaps one day go to a park and run, or maybe to the gym, and will reach for my iPod. And my reward, my PURPLE HEART, for enduring this, will be a new repertoire of Top 40 favorites." And then I went to bed for about a day and a half. Or maybe I went through my daily routine and actually got behind the wheel of a car. I don't really remember.

Today, as they say, is a new day. I am drug-free and relieved not to be staring at the wall and drooling. So I grabbed my iPod and settled in to work (after being granted much-needed and greatly appreciated deadline extensions) and pushed the "play" arrow. And this is what I heard:

The incomparable Barry White, singing "You're the First, the Last, My Everything."

My favorite Brothers Johnson song, "Stomp."

A wide variety of George Benson songs. You'd be surprised how many George Benson songs a person can download while under the influence. I know I was.

Luther Vandross crooning "The Power of Love."

More than one song by James Ingram.

And whisking me back to the early '80s, Mr. Jeffrey Osborne, performing "We're Going All the Way."

And then, way down at the bottom of my "recently added" playlist, is an inordinate number of songs by this white man...

(This photo replaces a previous selection, which garnered MUCH negative feedback and was deemed, by many, as distasteful. Seventies fashionwear was not MY fault; I just downloaded the photo. Still, I heard you LOUD AND CLEAR, removed the photo and replaced it with this tasteful Teen Beat shot, circa 1979.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sticks and Stones ... and a Little Something for the Party

On Friday night, I crawled into my tent in the woods and tried to sleep it off.

By Saturday night, I suspected something might be WRONG. "Wrong" meaning "enduring blinding pain" and "we never finished those wills, did we?" I stumbled onto (not into) my sleeping bag and kept a towel nearby in the event that nausea got the best of me. I cried myself to sleep. By Sunday at 3 a.m., I woke up and announced that we were, indeed, expecting our fifth (or sixth) kidney stone. And this one was going to be bigger and stronger and uglier than those that preceded it.

Illustration by Jason Smith; isn't it great? It reminds me of old Batman comic books.

"Let's go to the hospital."
"But it's not time. I have it under control for now. I have everything with me that a doctor would give me. Except the Demerol. And a laser. And the sterile field. So let's just save the co-pay."
"Seriously, we can leave the kids here and be back before dawn."
"I am not leaving four kids unattended in the woods. And since when does an ER visit take only three hours? My threshold is high. We're not there yet."

Eleven hours later, by 4 p.m. Sunday, after unloading the car and unpacking tents, we were there. And there I have been for the past 60-some odd hours, even after seeing a physician -- a pleasant physician who administered a shot in my hip, gave me an antibiotic and prescribed a very nice controlled substance. And I tell you all this as an explanation for Monday's post, which, as I read it now, makes very little sense. Even though it is 100 percent true. Just as e-mail and wine don't mix, neither do blogging and Lortab. Still, you will notice that my spelling was remarkably flawless.

I remain medicated and am still waiting for the blessed event, but it's high time (no pun intended) I throw something into the Poverty Party pot. If memory serves -- last week was a long time ago -- my plan was to contribute an occasional true and personal account that will inspire you to make wise choices that will keep you out of the poor house and make you feel like a responsible American. I'm doing my best here to stay true to my word. And not to fall off the couch while I'm typing. The really neat part is, I probably wouldn't feel a thing.

Today, we turn our attention to grocery shopping, the bane of our existence. One of those necessities of life -- daily life, it seems -- that leaves us with empty pockets and only moderately filled cabinets these days. I will not get into the minutiae of my shopping list, menu planning (ha) and coupon usage, except to guide you toward two very useful sites that will spark your coupon-clipping and inspire you to say, "Full price for Hamburger Helper? I don't think so!"

• (no www in the address, please) — If you shop at Publix or have a Publix within a 25-mile radius of your home, this is worth the effort. This fiddledeedee woman combines sales, coupons and shopper savvy to teach you how to really rip off, I mean, navigate Publix and not break the bank. Done right, the cashier will be handing you money.

• — The tagline "helping you be a better home economist" smacks of 1956 and makes me smile. Because I'm a lot of things, but I'm probably not the quintessential "home economist." I'm just here for the printable coupons. So, if you're like me, just click on "coupons" on the index at the top of the page. You can read other tidbits and guest posts, like "We each want a lovely and inviting home." Or not.

Those are but two tips I'm throwing in the pot, and maybe I'll get a little more personal in the coming weeks, as Bossy has done. I'll try to make you feel bad about spending and good about saving. I'll try to make you feel guilty about making stupid financial decisions and feel better about being a cheapskate.

"But, Amy," you might be whining. "This sounds painful."

And I would say, "Look, whiner, you don't KNOW pain."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Amy, Get Your Gun...and Pass the Salsa, Would You?

While I would never leave a pistol out in plain view during a dinner party -- I wasn't raised by wolves, you know -- I had no problem whatsoever not concealing my two most recent pistol targets when the daughter's new male friend joined us for dinner Monday evening. In fact, I believe these targets made a nice centerpiece during our Mexican fiesta, which was comprised largely of enchiladas made from two Old El Paso dinner kits and chips with radiator salsa (recipe to follow). Not that he noticed the impressive and numerous bull's eyes, but if he had, I'm certain he would have assumed they were made by his girlfriend's FATHER. And that would have been OK, I suppose, except that I am the one who knows every single word to "Cleaning This Gun" by Rodney Atkins.

The holes in this target were made from bullets I fired from a .38 special.
I loved .38 Special when I was in high school...Hold On Loosely, So Caught Up in You, Wild-Eyed Southern Boys ...

These holes were created by a very basic .22 semiautomatic. I could have shot that gun all day.

Radiator Salsa

My friend, Lila, was charged with making an appetizer before book club years ago. But like everyone else, she ran short on time. She stopped at the grocery store, picked up the following ingredients, opened the cans and assembled the dish on the hood of her car. So I named it "Radiator Salsa."

1 jar of salsa, any kind, any level of heat

1 can of white shoepeg corn

1 can of black beans (preferably rinsed, but if you're assembling this dish on the hood of your car, oh, well)

chopped cilantro (again, if you're working from a Suburban or Passat, you can omit the cilantro)

Dump all ingredients in a bowl, and stir. Serve with tortilla chips. Or eat it with a spoon. Put some sour cream on top, if you want. It's all good.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

It's a Party -- a POVERTY Party

Bossy has broken new ground once again. She is blazing a trail out of poverty and into a debt-free life. And she wants the whole darn world to support her and, if they'd like, join her. As she has pointed out, now is about as good a time as any to tighten the belt, say "no" to a few things and generally make better decisions.

From today's post:

Bossy will use this space to report her spending and missteps, along with cheap recipes, savings tips, and suggested tricks and goals.

So, whether you have mounting debt, fear that you may go into debt, or just want to feel the empowerment of spending less and saving more in this crappy economy, maybe you should get all dressed up and join the party. And by dressed up, we mean sweat pants and an oversized t-shirt. Ponytail is optional.

To acquaint you visitors from Bossy's site with my own take on frugal living, let's step back in time, shall we? Hop over here to read Step 1 in my series on How to Ward Off Depression.

After reading this, you might ask yourself, "Where the hay is Step 2?" And that's a fair question. The answer is, I haven't written it yet. I have been knee-deep in deadlines for jobs that pay the bills, which is another important step in spending less, saving more: WORK HARD. But I shall do better, now that I'm a partygoer. You wouldn't bring an empty dish to a party, would you?

Be forewarned. The steps I will offer and the tales I will share (no set schedule yet) as one of many widget-carrying members of this Poverty Party will probably be painfully honest -- shocking, even. The reason being, I have several circles of friends, and these circles don't always intersect. So what I might share could come as a surprise to some circles, but be totally expected by others. I am the common denominator in a wide and colorful variety of socioeconomic circles, circles that might not get along with each other if they were to, say, talk politics, religion or money. My personal circles are churchgoers, non-churchgoers, Democrats, Republicans, straight, not straight, deep pockets, empty pockets, public school, private school, young, old, male, female, Southerners, non-Southerners, good spellers, poor spellers. I have them all. Gosh, I love my circles. And then there are the circles I may not know personally, but are made up of people who find themselves here and say, "What is she TALKING about?"

I tell you this to let you know that I don't care who you are because, as Bossy so eloquently put it, every indication suggests that right now is the time to truly reign in spending and whittle down debt, where indication equals the breadline Bossy is standing in due to the collapsed economy.

Party on ...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I Was OCD When OCD Wasn't Cool

Once upon a time, ADD was the disorder of the day. Then along came ADHD, then panic attacks and then a wide spectrum of stress disorders. Now it seems that OCD trumps them all, and all I can say is "FINALLY." The street cred we deserve. But don't be jumping on our bandwagon and trying to be all OCD. We don't accept just ANYbody.

OCD is not one of those unfortunate disorders that leaves everyone saying, "Bless his heart," or "Is she on medication?" Instead, it's one of those rare conditions that has friends and family saying, "Hey, watch this. You won't believe it." And then they throw an OCD sufferer some sort of weird curve and watch the chips fall. Or watch the sufferer's face turn red before his brain explodes. Properly executed, it can be great fun. I can dish it out myself, but no, I can't take it.

My son is a textbook example of an OCD case. He cuts tags off new purchases and stacks the tags in a particular corner of his desk, where they remain for weeks. If I move them or, when I'm feeling bold, THROW THEM IN THE TRASH, a mushroom cloud forms in his bedroom, and we all pay a price.

He could carry out his morning and evening routines wearing a blindfold. He will wash his sister's hubcaps not out of love or servitude, but out of a general distaste for filthy hubcaps. At the grocery store, while he is two aisles away, I'll pick up a gallon of pulp-free orange juice without added calcium, place it in the cart and wait for the bomb to go off.

On a Friday night three years ago, while dining at Chick-fil-A, he and I compiled a List of Words That You Can Type On One Hand Without Leaving the Home Key Position. For example, "million" is a right-hand word; "wear" is a left-hand word. I think it was when we moved to alternating keys that the rest of the family, including my husband, left for the indoor playground. ("Alternating keys" requires letters to alternate from left to right in the home key position; for example, "auto," "wish," "chairman," etc. Of course, you must start on the left. No words can begin on the right because that would be imbalanced.)

My sister is a Ph.D. and does something with counseling that I don't understand, considers my disorder annoying but manageable, but has volunteered (way too many times), "Amy, please let me test him," typically after he has done something so clearly off-the-chart compulsive. And I always answer, "Why confirm what we already know?"

Best I can tell, OCD presents itself in many forms. At last weekend's BOW event, my roommate, Kellie, confessed that when she is engaged in a conversation, she silently taps or drums words the other person is speaking. And the total number of words must end on an even number. For example, that last sentence is a good one because it ends on an even number -- "and they must end on an even number (8)." And then she asked, "Do you think that's weird?"

"Weird? Heck, no! I'm relieved! I've been doing the same thing since I was about 8 years old, only I do it with syllables and in sets of fours." I explained that I visualize a square that has no lines but four corners marked by heavy dots. A spoken sentence -- never a written sentence; that would be weird and distracting -- is begun in the upper lefthand corner and counted off syllabically clockwise, ending in the bottom lefthand corner, thereby making a complete lap around the square. For example, if you were to say to me, "Amy, I count off words to end in an even number," I would say (to myself), "I'm sorry, you'll have to add two more syllables to make that sentence divisible by four." And usually, I've stored the content of your statement on a delay and can go back and pick it up in a few seconds so that we can carry on with our discussion, and you'll never know that I'm dissecting and editing your sentence to make it fit the square. But until then, I'm adding or deleting syllables so that the sentence works for me. In this particular case, simply omitting "Amy" solves all the problems: "I count off words to end in an even number." Not only does the total number of words in the sentence end on an even note (good for Kellie), but the syllables are now in in three sets of four (good for Amy), or a nice grouping of 12. Again, syllabically is the way to go. It's a cadence thing.

Or, "Know that this is a cadence thing (8 syllables)."

Friday, October 03, 2008

What a Depression Looks Like; Pass the Meth; Fabled Game & More (Friday Roundup)

What does a depression look like? ... In my recent research of the Great Depression, I stumbled across a thread with comments dating back 12 to 15 months — more than a year's worth of speculation and supposition. The question posed on this particular thread is "What does a depression look like?" (I have corrected neither spelling, capitalization nor grammar in these comments. Ours is still a capitalist society, no matter how weak the dollar, and because we may be heading toward a depression, I cannot afford to work for free. These are hard times, so correct your own English.)

The following are actual comments left on the thread:

• "I think once it really took hold one of the first things you would prominently start to notice is a marked downturn in vehicular traffic. With the price of gas and food going through the roof."

• "You know, during the depression my grandfather had been a banker and he became a carpenter. But he had to leave for 4 years to work on the shipyards in California while my grandmother and five children were back in North Dakota. Men would come to the house asking for a meal....she would agree to it if they did a job around the yard to do for her. She never let on that there wasn't a man around but made them eat outside on the picnic table. I don't think this would happen in this day and age. I think people will hurt other people. I don't think there were people who looted and commited crime back would happen all over the place now. There was no martial law during this time to my knowledge but I'm afraid this will happen if chaos ensues. It's all very disturbing to contemplate....I hope the Lord takes us out before this would get to this point. I think (you may not agree with me) that there are a lot of people out there who use pot...and I think they will try to get their hands on anything out of escape reality and will do anything to feed this addiction."

Who needs a meteorologist ... when you are a human barometer? And have at least one child who, this time of year, looks like she has ebola?

People who claim to love fall weather clearly do not have seasonal allergies and really need to Shut Up.

My drug of choice just happens to contain the ingredients for cooking up some crystal meth, and I am certain my name is on all sorts of databases (thanks, Walgreen's, Wal-Mart and Publix!) with an asterisk labeling me as "suspicious" and "potential meth dealer" and "clearly an addiction risk." I don't care if it IS crystal meth; without it, my head would explode and my teeth would fall out from the blinding pain.

What do you take me for? A fool? ... Hunting season has arrived, and it seems a certain outdoors writer is busily promoting snipe hunting as an actual sport. When I shared this tidbit with the husband, he laughed and said, "No way." Click here for another expert's insistence that snipe hunting is For Real.

This is a snipe...or is it?

Not much else to say ... about Paul Newman that hasn't already been said. Except "no, you big bonehead" to the bag boy at Publix who examined my second purchase of Newman's Own salsa this week and asked, "Was Paul Newman a soap opera star?"

Whoa! It's Friday already! I'm off to the woods to shoot things (not snipes), drive an ATV, not cook my own food and enjoy lots of cool things that float my boat. Like, float my boat, or canoe. It's BOW weekend. May your weekend be equally entertaining ...

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

How to Ward Off Depression: The Library Card

Two summers ago, my friend Julie was whining about not knowing what to read and blaming it on her high school experience. The problem, she said, was that she was never given much assigned reading. And with no direction, she never felt like she knew what she should be reading. I took that as an invitation to Make a List. Because I am very bossy that way. By the end of the summer, Julie was the biggest Bronte Sisters fan you have ever seen.

But before you click out of this blog and wander over to some other e-place because you don't want someone telling you what to read, I will tell you that I am not going to sing the praises of the Bronte Sisters here. Although they were quite awesome and I am sure that you would enjoy their fine work immensely.

Instead, I would like to tell you that now is an ideal time to get reacquainted with your library card because these are hard times and you have no business spending your hard-earned money on frivolity. For days now -- and for weeks to come -- you have heard and will be hearing about ways to cut back. In response, we have developed a program called How to Ward Off Depression, which is not to say that you are depressed, nor should you be, and it is not to say that we are certainly facing a full-on economic depression. Because that would seem ... depressing. But everyone could stand to cut back. And cutting back can be easy -- fun, even -- if you heed some simple advice.

This is Step No. 1: Use Your Library Card.

I would be doing a disservice by just cutting you loose in the public library with no direction. So I give you today's post about library usage by providing a theme: journeys into simpler times.

We'll start chronologically. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was published in 1943 and written by Betty Smith. If you missed it in high school English, know that it's never too late to enjoy a classic. And by classic, I don't mean boring or hard to understand. I mean, classically hard to put down. Set in 1912, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a coming-of-age story about Francie, who survives hardship and hatred. Her love of reading and an ability to self-teach sustains her and ultimately pulls her out of the tenements of Williamsburg, N.Y. Lumping it under the category of "journeys into simpler times" may seem off-target, but this truly is a story of simplicity -- doing a lot with only a little.

Next, reach out for a copy of The Sandy Bottom Orchestra, a young adult novel by Garrison Keillor and a must-read for girls of all ages. The raw honesty between members of the Green family is enviable, and Rachel makes 14 not seem so horrible. In the end, you'll want to move to a small town and learn to play the violin.

And if you're a Garrison Keillor fan, you'll appreciate the trademark Keillor storytelling that plops you right into the thick of things. Gosh, I love Garrison Keillor. Not to the Secret Boyfriend level, but maybe to the Secret Favorite Neighbor level. I would sit on his screened porch every night and say, "Spin me another yarn, Garrison." And then we'd sing songs like "Fools Rush In" a cappella.

And finally, the third and final recommendation in today's installment is A Girl Named Zippyby Haven Kimmel. One of the first and most notable titles in the modern memoir genre, Kimmel takes us back to 1970s Mooreland, Indiana, where she grew up the youngest of three, seemingly taking notes about everyone around her. Nobody in the book is particularly outstanding or odd. Kimmel's gift is to take the ordinary and make it readable and laugh-out-loud funny. Like the way she describes the '70s crafts rage: "Découpage hit Mooreland pretty hard." Know that it's only one of hundreds of phrases you will want to read again and again. And then, after you read Zippy, pick up She Got Up Off the Couch, sort of a sequel. And THEN try some of Kimmel's fiction: The Solace of Leaving Early, Something Rising (Light and Swift) and The Used World. (Iodine has recently been released, but I have not yet read it and therefore cannot endorse it, although I am certain it is terrific.)

And there you have an antidote to depression -- emotional AND financial. You'll feel a little better about these hard times, enjoy a little escape and still have change in your pocket.

You're welcome.

Friday, September 26, 2008

You Can't Undo the RSVP; How to Sleep Well; A Weekend Recipe (Friday Roundup)

The show must go on ... because my calendar is clear. CLEAR, John McCain. And the nice folks in Oxford have been cleaning and decorating and generally cranking up the hospitality like the good Southerners they are. And you don't just change your mind on a whim because you're distracted by a $700 billion problem. That is what we call bad taste.

I can't do anything to calm your nerves or set aside any of your fears about this debate, but I can introduce you, Sen. McCain, to other parts of one of my favorite cities in the South -- parts that are not on a stage or in an auditorium or in a spot where you will run into Sen. Obama, who is off somewhere busily trying to define "change." Relax. Take in the sights of Oxford. Have a good meal. To get you started ...

If you're a catfish kind of guy, BYOB and your lawn chair and hang out in the parking lot of Taylor Grocery & Restaurant while you wait for the screen door to slam and for your hostess to yell your name from the front porch. Inside, you will be treated to a heaping helping of bottom-feeding catfish -- blackened or fried -- hushpuppies and more. It's a fast-paced dining experience, punctuated by visuals not found just anywhere. We watched our hostess stomp from one end of the narrow dining room to the other, barking orders like a Marine, simultaneously tossing back a small cylinder of M&M Minis like it was a soft drink. Everyone stayed out of her way. At one point, she had a toddler on her hip. Gosh, that was some good catfish.

I'm embarrassed even to mention Square Books because it's synonymous with "Oxford," and it seems almost a cliché to bring it up. But really, you should swing by there. Everyone else does. Every famous writer who is worth his or her salt, anyway. Had you arrived in town last night, you could have listened to the live radio show, which is broadcast every Thursday night. But you were decidedly undecided, so you missed a good opportunity.

Maybe you can find your muse at Rowan Oak, home of William Faulkner, who wrote outlines and dialogue on his bedroom wall. It's a solid brainstorming technique that you might want to consider. Alcohol is optional.

Lodging options are few in Oxford, but I'm sure one of the bed and breakfast inns could make room for one more. This one is within walking distance of Rowan Oak. A long walking distance, but a walking distance nonetheless. Wear your Keds.

But for now, you have a campaign to run, so leave the worrying to these guys ...

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Chris Dodd., D-Conn., center, gives an oath that he does not have $700 billion either. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., all pretend to listen in while Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., far right, wishes he had a stool softener.

THIS JUST IN ...| Updated: Senator John McCain’s campaign said Friday morning that he will attend tonight’s debate with Senator Barack Obama at the University of Mississippi, reversing his earlier call to postpone the debate so he could participate in the Congressional negotiations over the $700 billion bailout plan for financial firms. (ADDED TO BLOG AT 11:02 a.m. CST. WHEW! Now I have something to do tonight.)

May the force be with you ...
In a recent and mandatory overhaul of a certain 13-year-old boy's bedroom, I noticed a change in pillow cases. "What's with the Star Wars pillow case?"

"I don't know. I hadn't used it in a while."

And I did the unthinkable while helping him make the bed. I had the Trade Federation side face-up. He grabbed it from my hands and turned it face-down. "Trade Federation goes DOWN; Bravo Squadron goes UP." And he smoothed the case and put the pillow in its place. I had been scolded.

"What the ...? Does it matter?"

"Yes, it matters. Of course it matters. When I was little, I believed that if I slept on the Trade Federation side, I would be bad the next day. But if I slept on the Bravo Squadron side, I would be good."

"Did that work for you?"

"Yes. But if I was mad at you, I would sleep on the Trade Federation side."

I am starting to feel old ... because my oldest child is amassing a rather large stack of brochures, glossy magazines and enticing invitations that have to do with college campuses -- college campuses that are under the impression that I am old enough to be the mother of a high school junior who won't be living with me in less than two years.

And while the idea of being a college freshman is pretty darn exciting to a high school junior, it's depressing and lonely to that high school junior's mom, who may not be all that ready for college, particularly if you consider that she herself was in college just yesterday.

And for your dining pleasure ... Another football weekend is upon us, or, for you non-football fans looking for a dish you can eat from during the debate, I offer this recipe, prepared and tested last weekend during a Boy Scout Cook-off. This award-winning dish from my Bravo Squadron son's patrol earned the "best appetizer" honor.

Boy Scout Dip

1 8-oz. block of cream cheese

(Or was it sour cream? I think it was cream cheese. Yes, it was definitely cream cheese. Does sour cream come in a block? I told him to give it a rest and relax; sour cream and cream cheese are almost interchangeable in cases like this. In the end, cream cheese was the way to go. No doubt about it. I was not there when this dish was originally created because I am not a Boy Scout. But had I been there, I would have gone with the cream cheese, too. And then I would have licked the spoon.)

1 jar of salsa

shredded cheese

tortilla chips

Spread the cream cheese in a pie plate. Pour the salsa over, then sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Do not heat or cook in any way. Eat it straight from the plate with chips.

And while this is an excellent party dip, be warned that overindulging can make you look like Jack Reed in the above photo. Everything in moderation, people.

It's the weekend ... watch a debate, cheer for a team, be a good hostess, eat some dip.