Friday, September 12, 2008

We've Been Down This Road Before, Carrying the Same Gas Cans

As a fourth-grader, I was a devout fan of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And I remain so today. When Betty Ford made a cameo performance (she played herself) on MTM in January 1976, I wrote her a letter, commending her on her appearance, which I was certain would earn her an Emmy award. I went to school the next day and asked my teacher to proofread the letter before I mailed it. She made one correction: Change "comment" to "commend." I thought it was a fair criticism. I mailed the letter the next day. And I never heard from First Lady Betty Ford. But I loved her all the same. I was probably hoping to get a foot in the door and meet Mary Richards and hang out in her one-room apartment with her and Rhoda. I always thought we would get along well.

The following November, I voted for Gerald Ford in the fifth-grade mock election, despite the peer pressure to vote for Jimmy Carter, who had only a year earlier completed his term as governor of Georgia. And I was a Georgian attending a public school in Georgia, so you do the math. During the campaign phase, the Republican constituency in Mrs. Cook's class was clearly in the minority, but at 10 years old, we figured, you're either born a Republican or a Democrat, so there you go. A few months earlier, I had watched the 1976 Republican National Convention with my father, who pointed out former California Gov. Ronald Reagan and (I remember this like it was yesterday) said, "I don't know why they don't nominate him." The Republican influence was inescapable.

The 1976 Republican National Convention, Kemper Arena in Kansas City. I always wished Susan Ford (second from right, next to Betty) or Susan Dey was my older sister.

I helped craft a campaign poster with my friends Susan and Cindy. (Bet you can't name three '60s names more popular than Amy, Susan and Cindy.) The poster read: "Don't Vote For a Peanut Farmer. Vote For a Businessman." Susan was the artist and drew near-accurate portraits of both candidates -- Ford in a tailored black suit, Carter in a pair of overalls, holding a pitchfork, like the gentleman in Grant Wood's American Gothic. (I don't reveal any of this with pride; it's more of a confession. I was 10.)

A footnote: It was very hard to be red-haired, named "Amy" and living in Georgia during the Carter administration. The Amy Carter jokes were stupid.

All grown up now, I lean to the right, but classify myself as neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Just a voter. A voter who happens to have always voted Republican, has grown to adore Jimmy Carter, has read many of his books, and manages to keep a relatively open mind.

And your mind may open up a bit, too, if you take this little trip down Memory Lane ...

Sept. 12, 2008

June 15, 1979

Shameless Self-Promotion; The Very Confident Jamie Lee Curtis; Lessons Learned (Friday Roundup)

On Newsstands Now ... Pardon the shameless self-promotion, but I haven't had the energy or patience to update my website lately, and posting a blog is far easier. If one of my teenag...I mean, assistants...would do some scanning and filing, maybe this would have been done the right way. But for now, I'll just provide a couple of links to where you can find me this month.

The publication of Victoria, formerly a Hearst magazine, was resumed by Hoffman almost one year ago. I'm proud to be contributing to the revived product. In the September/October issue, I have three articles -- only two have bylines. Check out pages 28, 34 and 44.

In less than one month, I will again be in the woods, firing pistols, handling an ATV, shooting arrows and hanging out with 200 other women for three fun days as part of the BOW workshop. BOW is held twice each year -- in the spring and again in the fall. Read about BOW in the August/September issue of Thicket here. To learn more about the BOW program, check out the site here. Registration is full for the October event, but you can make plans for spring. And you should. If you live outside Alabama, check the website for your state's conservation department. The program is offered in 40 states. I hope yours is one of them.

If you're interested in more of my recent work, check the website in the next week. Especially if you are the hiring/assigning editor type.


This Week's Book Review ... Today, I am promoting a children's book. Jamie Lee Curtis is busily pushing her latest title, Big Words for Little People. Everybody let out a big "FINALLY." Because if you've ever read her books, then you know how ageless and timeless they are and how you wish you had thought of that idea first and why does Jamie Lee Curtis get everything and you don't? That is because she is the very fit-and-50, self-confident Jamie Lee Curtis who distracts husbands the world over, isn't afraid to step out and say what the rest of us are thinking and who also happens to be friends with the best illustrator on the planet, Laura Cornell.

The message of this book (because Jamie Lee always has a message) is to celebrate language and to choose our words more carefully so that we can better bridge generations and retain the meaning of words. You could also infer that Jamie Lee is sort of fed up with trite words and would like for us to return to more accurate and descriptive phrasing.

If I had to list a word whose use really needs minimizing, it would be "amazing." Few people are really "amazing," but to hear the teenagers talk, you would think they are walking around with their jaws dropped in total awe of everyone and everything they see. "She's an amazing person." "He's an amazing athlete." "This is an amazing pizza."

Some people might say the same thing about "awesome," which is a word I love, because it is often the only word that fits. My college roommate's dad once scolded us for using the word so often because, he said, we had no idea what "awesome" even means. True story from a football Saturday: "Awesome," he explained, "would be if you were standing in front of that football stadium right there, and the whole thing just crumbled for no reason, right before your eyes." I suppose that would be awesome. It would also be very sad.

Back to the book. Add it to your collection. Read it to your kids. Read it for yourself. Jamie Lee Curtis is so very awesome.


This Will Hurt Me More Than It Hurts You ...

* The monthly insurance premium that allows you the privilege of driving a mighty cute VW Bug every blasted day ... $80.

* Gas for the VW Bug each month ... $50.

* The cost of repairing a drive shaft and front axle damaged from plowing into a solid brick mailbox ... $1,000+/-.

* Having to ride the big yellow bus at age 16 when you have an assigned parking space and friends who know that you have a car ... priceless.


More Brandon Backlash ... Scroll down or click here to recap the "more smack" story, then read this little e-mail exchange, which began as a response to the football game story and was described by one reader as an "adult mama slapdown," which gives the entire scenario a sort of trashy feel. I don't consider myself especially trashy, but maybe it was given as a compliment. (I have bleeped out a couple of words. Because I'm classy that way.)

A reader's response, found in my inbox:

See, women can get away with doing those things. Men? The guy would have bowed up and gotten all mad and "manly" and then there would have been a fight.
Women, especially mamas, should learn early to not always ask the husband to "Do something about that!"
Often the best course of action is to let mama -- especially a mad, stare-down, ready-to-kick-xxx mama with kids -- take care of the problem.
Of course, the husband has to be ready to cold-cock the XXX immediately if he makes one peep, curse word or threatening move. Then it's go-time in a serious no-holds-barred mode.

My response ...

Gosh, I never considered that the Brandon exchange could have resulted in a FIGHT. This must be how all those fights break out at Bama games -- man talks smack, another man confronts him, etc., etc. Next thing you know, a state trooper or sheriff's deputy is marching up a flight of bleachers. In Auburn, apparently, the fighting is left up to the womenfolk.

And all is right with the world ...

It's the weekend. Read a few good magazines or a children's book. Watch or play some football. Drive carefully. Kick somebody's tail. Pick up something nice for yourself, even if it once belonged to somebody else.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Bento Subculture ... or, What the Hay?

Feeling a little superior as a mom? Does your child fit in with his/her peers by carrying the most fashionable lunch gear available? Think you know how to pack a nutritious and visually appealing lunch?

No matter how adequate you think you are, today's post should knock you down a few notches. Because unless you let a little literary influence or love of pop culture guide you in your lunch-making, then, sister, you are going about it all wrong.

An alert reader forwarded this to me earlier this week. I might as well have been reading Sanskrit. What is this? Lunch ideas? Social networking for kindergarten moms? A plug for miniature Tupperware?

But I read on. And then I Googled. I typed "what the hay is Bento?" And I quickly learned about the 3:1:2 “Spinning Top” nutritional guidelines put out by the Japanese government (3 parts grains, 1 part protein, 2 parts vegetables). As I read on, I realized this was how Molly Ringwald ate her lunch in Breakfast Club. I just didn't know it had a name. Or a full-tilt following.

"Since I'm not feeling well, all I could think to do was put a sticker on her banana that says 'I'm always at your side', " writes one Bento mom.
Oh, yeah, and prepare some veggie shumai, mini crab cakes and stir fried veggies.
Gosh, what does she do when DOES feel well? Grow the banana and harvest the crabs?

Unless you're incorporating a scene from Where the Wild Things Are into the design phase of your child's boxed lunch, you may feel inadequate as a mom. And well you should.

I read the following excerpt from a Bento post and was overcome with exhaustion and feelings of inadequacy. Read on:

Today's lunches were, unfortunately, a lesson in how important pre-planning is. I usually spend 10-15 minutes thinking of what I'm going to do the night before, then 5 minutes writing it down and gathering up the boxes, accessories, and utensils I'm going to use and pre-staging them -- then in the morning, unless I'm doing something really elaborate, assembly is only about a 10-15 minute process (not counting waiting time -- for instance, it's half an hour or more from the time I pop my rice cooker in the microwave till the time I use the rice, but that's time I'm in the shower or otherwise doing something else, so it doesn't factor into the prep time), and even fairly elaborate things are under 30. Last night, however, we got in late, and I was tired, and if I'd been puttering around in the kitchen I'd have felt obliged to actually do the dishes and didn't wanna, so I blew it off and went to bed without pre-planning. Mistake, because this morning I had to think while sleepy, not my forte, and then put everything together, and even these two simple lunches took pretty close to half an hour. It'd have been under 10 minutes if I'd planned it out last night, plus I'd have realized all my ranch cups were in the sink and not had to last-minute wash one.

Personally, I don't know how she forgave herself. I'll bet she never lets that happen again.

I am not making fun of Bento lunches. I am upset that the folks at Lunchables can't produce such a thing for adults. I am envious of women who have this much energy, this much creativity, this much time.

I feel a little full of myself when I use a flower-shaped cookie cutter on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And I don't like to boast, but when February rolls around, I've been known to use the heart-shaped cookie cutter. Sadly enough, I've never thought to photograph these creations. But perhaps I should. They are something to behold. Or, at least I thought so, until I realized that I set the Bento bar fairly low. Way down low, in the plain brown bag. Between the Cheetos and the plastic-wrapped sandwich.

I'm Sorry ... Where Were We?

An entire week has passed since my last post. I have had neither time to write, nor the material. Because I have been busy. Very, very busy. I blocked off the first two weeks of September long ago so that I could tend to personal business without the distraction of deadlines. An unexpected side effect was that I neglected the blog. So to those who visited and kept seeing the same tired post from Sept. 3, I apologize. And I hope you understand.

During the past week, I have spent my time ...

... welcoming my darn-near perfect nephew Carter into the world.

... riding on a hospital elevator with my 2 1/2-year-old nephew who was, without warning, overcome with vomititis. Not knowing what was happening to his little body, he waved his hands in front of his face, creating a rather unfortunate spewing effect that was like nothing I've ever seen.

... playing Wal-Mart in my driveway with this same nephew. Holly bushes were the major retailer; seams and cracks in the driveway were roads and turn lanes, navigated by a Little Tykes shopping buggy filled with plastic Easter eggs. We bought donuts from the holly bushes.

... fielding questions from the new mother (my sister) about breastfeeding and assuring her that four days after delivery, it is perfectly normal to stomp your foot and grind your teeth every time the baby latches on.

... sharing my own labor/delivery and nursing experiences with the same sister, who is beginning to understand that a chest can expand beyond your wildest dreams, or nightmares. A week after one of my July babies was born, I was sick and tired of wearing a sweaty and wet t-shirt in the 100-degree heat, so by 5 p.m., I just gave up and sat on the edge of the bed, nursing the baby and clutching a bottle of Advil. Topless. When my husband came home and saw me, he dropped his drycleaning, and I think he sort of gagged.
He was rendered speechless, but still I said, "Don't. Say. Anything." And then I started to weep. "I could feed Indonesia."

... saving money at the grocery store. I am not proud of this, but the first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem. I prepared Hamburger Helper and Chicken Helper two consecutive nights. We call these "easy nights." And if that leads you to believe that Amy Is Taking It Easy, you would be wrong. Easy Night must take place when everyone has to be different places at the same time and has to inhale their dinner. I am particularly proud of my inventiveness with the Hamburger Helper. Leftover taco meat from three nights earlier saved the day (and prep time), and leftover rice from two nights earlier stretched it so that everyone could have seconds, if they wanted. Surprisingly, nobody wanted seconds. This particular Hamburger Helper dish was called Taco Something-or-Other and smacked of a dish that my great-grandmother invented decades ago, but still lives on in memories as "Mexican Disaster." We called the recent Hamburger Helper dish "chili," so as not to raise any questions. The jig was up when someone said, "Please pass the bowl of fake cheese sauce."

... wasting too many hours on Facebook, wondering why in the world I was wasting too many hours on Facebook. For the life of me, I can't determine the appeal of reading what 16-year-olds are doing at 9:44 p.m. They're happy; bored; studying; looking forward to the weekend; blah, blah, blah. Come to think of it, such information is really just a shorthand version of the post you are reading right now.

Have a very happy—and busy—Wednesday.