Wednesday, December 31, 2008
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
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
Thursday, December 04, 2008
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 http://www.handsonbirmingham.org/ 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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?"
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
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
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
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
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."
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.)
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
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.
"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
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:
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."
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
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.
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!"
• http://fiddledeedeeblog.blogspot.com (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.
• www.moneysavingmom.com — 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
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
From today's post:
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
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
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?
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
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 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.
Friday, September 26, 2008
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 ...
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?"