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.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

President Bush, We Already KNOW

“The president believes it is important for the American people to fully understand the depths of the crisis affecting our country."

— Dana Perino, chief spokeswoman for President George W. Bush

As President Bush prepares to speak before the nation tonight, I would like to give him a little heads-up: WE KNOW.

"Somebody had better come up with $700 billion ... and fast." We hear you. Loud and clear. But folks like us aren't really ... in a position to help you. And we don't really have the time. We are too busy helping OURSELVES. We are too busy staying home and not using gas. We are too busy cutting corners that might not exist tomorrow or next week or next year. We are too busy preparing for what may or may not happen. We are too busy teaching our kids the fundamentals of microeconomics and the value of choices, the merits of negotiation and the joy of finding less expensive ways to go about things. Lessons that are hard-learned; lessons that maybe somebody should have taught the U.S. Government.

So we really don't have time to try to understand this problem. But maybe you could learn a little something from us.

In some circles—mine, for example—we negotiate, bargain-shop and say "no" to the non-essentials. We find ways to enjoy life as we are accustomed to because ours is not a generation that has generally had to do without, and some things simply cannot be cut. Like Waffle House. Which is an essential. At Waffle House, a couple can still have a fine meal on a Friday night, enjoy impeccable table service and easily pay a $7.20 tab for two without much guilt. And the bonus here is that after dining at Waffle House, you still aren't hungry the next morning, thereby saving yourself the cost of another meal. A win/win.

No doubt, we are living in tough times, and nowhere is it tougher than at the drug store. Just ask one of my Alert Readers, who has transformed coupon-collecting to a full-tilt ART FORM and has recently been overheard, saying, "You think I'm going to pay full price for Kotex? Think AGAIN." She sent out an e-mail detailing her recent visit to CVS. Too many of these trips by too many consumers, and you will witness a complete collapse of the entire American economic system, but hey, we didn't ask for these hard times:

1 Soft Soap - Reg. $2.49 on sale for $.99
2 Colgate Toothpaste (bogo) - $3.29
16ct. Kotex liners - $1.49; I used $2 off $10 purchase coupon
$1 off Kotex liners
$.35 off Softsoap
$1.50 Colgate
$1 off Kotex coupon (a second coupon)
$1 off coupon (on my receipt, but not sure what for...but I'll take it)
My subtotal was -.08, but with $.22 tax, my total out of pocket was...$.14.

That's 14 CENTS for some fairly essential items. This particular friend is SO alert, in fact, that she snapped a photo of her inexpensive purchase and attached it to her e-mail, as proof of what she could do when pushed to the limit.

May her foresight and above-average math skills inspire a nation.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Everybody Just Relax, Part Deux

(Part of The Amy Cates Lecture Series;
click here, here and here for past installments)

Thanks for showing an interest in today's topic. We've set the a/c a little lower today to welcome in fall, so if you get a little chilly, please find one of the ushers in the back of the room.

Complimentary pencils and notepads are on the back table, next to the orange juice and Krispy Kremes. Please help yourselves.

I'd like to start today's installment of the Lecture Series with a little trip back in time. This is the story of a boy who didn't attend school past eighth grade. (According to some, he didn't attend past sixth. So, for sake of discussion and fairness, let's say "seventh.") So this boy was about 12 years old when he had to quit school to help the family in some way. (Details of his quitting school are also nebulous, so let's say that he quit to help run the family's home in Virginia.)

Already a strong reader with an even stronger desire to learn, he taught himself higher math and physics skills and found great joy in reading books on the subjects -- books that would bore the general population to TEARS, but that he found rather delightful. At the time, books were not labeled by their "reading level" or "difficulty," but by nothing more than their titles. If a reader found the topic interesting, he or she would simply read it. If the words or subject matter became too difficult, the reader would put the book down and find something else to read. If it was assigned reading, maybe the reader would ask for additional help from the teacher. Who knows. That doesn't really matter in this story.

So the 12-year-old goes through his teen years, quenching his thirst for knowledge by doing little more than reading and frequently applying his newfound knowledge to repairing things, like cars and airplanes. As one story goes, a neighbor had all but given up on repairing the engine in his car, when this almost-grown-former-12-year-old offered to repair it. The owner of the car took him up on this generous offer, and within a day, the car was running like a top. Better than before.

"I can't believe you were able to fix this. How much do I owe you?"

The reply: "Thirty dollars. Twenty for the parts; ten for insulting my intelligence."

A few years later, the boy-now-man decided he would like to be an aeronautical engineer because it seemed like a rewarding career that would pay a decent salary and put food on the table for his wife and kids. But with neither a high school diploma nor a college degree, the likelihood of designing airplanes for the government seemed, well, unlikely. He approached the Army Corps of Engineers anyway and said, "I'd like to take your test to be a licensed aeronautical engineer."

"Sir, we need to see your credentials. Degrees. Level of education. That sort of thing."

"I don't have any. But I'd like to take your test."

The Army Corps of Engineers shrugged its collective shoulders, maybe even chuckled, and administered the test. Which the man passed. With great ease. And very little ego. He had become, on his own, without formal education, an aeronautical engineer.

He eventually went on (again, without furthering his education) to work for Lockheed and write the manual for the C-5. Several years after retirement, and into his 70s, he was called back to the company, which had received more contract work than it could handle and begged, "Mr. Lee, we sure could use you."

This little chain of events ended in the early '80s, long before No Child Left Behind, before standardized tests consumed three weeks of the school year, before parents began rattling off their kids' reading levels like they were batting averages, before society as a whole somehow got so uptight about reaching kids' potentials and making sure everyone is adequately challenged.

A boy with nothing more than the occasional borrowed book and a knack for math did what parents the world over would love for their kids to accomplish. In today's world, however, we tend to go about it in a slightly more pressurized--and let's admit, obnoxious--way than Mr. Lee's parents did.

But Amy, why are you on such a tear today about modern-day parenting? Because I watched The Today Show this morning and watched in horror as parents at a school that specializes in accelerated early childhood education stood in front of the camera, wringing their hands and looking constipated, rattling on and on about how well their kids read and that they can name all the planets and their moons. (Click here to view this segment; then click on "Is your child a 'prodigy'?")

I have so much more to say on this topic, but I'll end it with this footnote: Mr. Lee was my maternal grandfather. And his math and physics genes skipped right over me. I don't know where they landed.