Wednesday, May 27, 2009

To the senior class of 2009...

It’s May, and each day brings another graduation announcement in the mail. It reminds me of when I was in high school…Ah, the wonder years…

I’m only kidding. My senior year was less than wonderful. I had taken all the classes I needed for my academic diploma by the end of my Junior year, so I begged my mom to let me graduate early. She wouldn’t.

Now days, students who have taken all of their high school courses can take college course and even come out of high school having completed their freshman requirements for college. But back then, we just had to take whatever was left. I took P.E., which involved running around the gym for a lap and then sitting on the bench watching the boys play basketball, and some kind of nursing class that involved gross mnemonic techniques.

I don’t remember the boys, but I’ll never forget the nursing class. We spent the first semester learning how to make an occupied and unoccupied bed, tightly tucking in the corners and putting on new pillowcases without shaking them. I hated it and firmly believe that’s why I rarely make mine at home now.

In addition, the teacher never forgave me for breaking Resuscitation Annie, our CPR doll's, arm during one bed-making episode. She was so livid she grabbed the dummy’s dangling arm and shook it right in my face, telling me exactly how much money it was going to cost me.

So, I got a job. I took a work study class which allowed me to leave school around 11. I applied for the job without my parents knowing, determined to get it on my own without any nepotism. I went through a battery of tests and was on my final interview, feeling so proud that I had been hired because of my vast education, potential and winning personality, when the manager stuck out his hand and said, “Your daddy gave me my very first job. I know all of your references and am related to half of them. Welcome aboard!”

That warehouse job gave me a taste of real money and real work. It was also the reason I decided to go to college, which makes it one of the best things that ever happened to me.

You see, graduation came and went, and I settled into the life of a working woman. I awoke at the crack of dawn and spent the summer on my feet pulling orders and packing them in boxes to be shipped to drug stores throughout the state. I was happy with it at first, but soon my days grew longer and longer. I was single, so all the married people and women with children got to leave before I did. Ten hour days turned into twelve hour days turned into my finally walking out hot and exhausted and knowing that, while I respected the folks who did that for a living, I didn’t want to be one of them.

It was well past Labor Day when I went home and asked my mother, “Is it too late to apply to college?”

To my amazement, she replied, “I hoped you would say that. I’ve already signed you up. It starts Monday.”

God love mothers. How she had the strength to go all summer, quietly waiting on me to change my mind, I’ll never know, but I will always thank her for it. Therefore, if I were ever asked to give advice to graduating seniors, "Listen to your mama!" would be it. That and be careful with Resuscitation Annie. You have no idea how much she cost!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

She went to Paris...

Last night I dreamed I went to Paris. I love to travel and do it often—in my mind. The truth is, even though I hold a degree in their language, I’ve never been to France. In fact, I’ve only been as far north as Louisville, Ky., actually, make that Ohio. We crossed the river to go to a restaurant while visiting relatives.

My husband is ten years older than I am, and I used to feel inadequate when his friends would discuss all the places they’ve been. I would tell myself that in ten years, I’ll be able to boast of all the places I’ve been. That was 13 years ago. Turns out my husband doesn’t like to get too far from home, and I’m not too keen on flying.

But, that’s okay, we take lots of road trips. We haven’t made it out west yet, but the kids have seen the “Little Grand Canyon,” also known as Providence Canyon State Park in Lumpkin, Georgia. We may not have been to Greece, but we’ve seen a few football games in Athens. So, we haven’t strolled through Italy, but we’ve walked along the banks of the Coosa in Rome, Georgia. And although I haven’t been on a pilgrimage, I once got a Christmas card from Bethlehem, Ga.

We may not have seen the Eiffel Tower, but we've seen the Big Chicken, Casey Jones museum, Helen Keller's tennis courts, a motel made out of giant Wigwams and Elvis' airplanes. What more could we ask for?

Still, occasionally, I dream of traveling a little farther. My grandmother visited all 50 states, most of them after the age of 70 and by bus, so maybe there’s hope for me yet. Why, just today, I began planning my family’s trip to Paris this summer—Paris, Tenn., that is. It's a start.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Gifts from grandparents

While my husband and I moan about the current economy, I can’t help but think that my grandparents would thrive in it. They grew up during the Depression. My grandmother was born into a home with a dirt floor. Perhaps as a result when she became an adult, she had the cleanest house I’d ever seen. Forget the ten second rule, I would eat off of her floor anytime (especially if it were one of her homemade rolls). Even her basement was neat and dust-free.

My grandparents worked hard; they saved their money and ended up with a nice nest egg, a home that was paid for and some land. But they never forgot where they came from nor did they complain about it. It was just life.

For my grandparents, wasting anything was bad, but wasting food? Now that was a sin. My grandmother taught me to save my leftover vegetables (even a tablespoon or two) to put in the freezer to make homemade vegetable soup. I did this a lot when I first lived on my own, and, boy, did that soup taste good when I was broke at the end of the month.

She also had a garden, canned her own food and made wonderful jelly out of the blackberries that grew wild at the edge of the woods. Caning food is definitely a lost art. A few years ago, I bought some jars in an attempt to turn cucumbers into pickles but quit after I read the directions.

Grandmama and her mother, whom we called Mommie, also found creative uses for everything. When we would visit Mommy in the nursing home, she’d make us save the little paper cups that held her pills. She’d demonstrate a different use for them each week, such as unfolding it to make a flower or using it as a container or a cup. Once my grandmother decorated a batch with glitter and attached them to a Styrofoam ball, which she hung over the dining room on special occasions.

Grandmama also kept up with the price of everything. I used to think that was why she watched Price is Right so often, but later I realized old ladies, and apparently some of the young ones too, really liked Bob Barker. She knew the price of lettuce at every store; how I do not know.

Now to say she was cheap would be an insult. At Christmas, she and my grandfather always gave the best gifts, including my very first $100 bill, a tradition they continued each year. They just weren’t big on spending money on themselves, my dad explained. After Grandmama passed away, we found an old fur hat. Mom told me my grandmama had bought it to match a coat she had with a fur collar but felt guilty about spending so much money on it that she tried to take it back to the store. Mom keeps that hat hanging on her hatrack today.

My grandmother would also insist on paying anywhere you went, not just for food but for gas and whatever else you might need. I remember seeing her and my Aunt Kate throwing money back and forth at each other in an effort to pay for some such item and then finally sneaking the money into each other’s purses when that failed.

I think it’s a classy person who can be frugal but not cheap. Sometimes we are the opposite--wasting money when we should be saving and hoarding money when we should be giving. I guess that’s why God gave us grandparents—to teach us the difference.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Funny bugs

Last week, I scrubbed the house from top to bottom in preparation for my business trip out of town. For whatever reason, I can live with a messy house day in and day out, but when I come home from traveling, I want it to be sparkling clean.

So, I had just finished the last load of laundry and was putting away some clothes in the closet when I noticed what appeared to be little gray nests coming out of the wall.

“What the heck?” I said as I moved in for a closer look.

That’s when I saw it — a lone termite flying out of a hole in the wall. Inside thousands and thousands of his buddies were eating away at the wood to the tune of 15 lbs. a day.

Now, normally I attempt to make my blogs humorous, or, at least, slightly so. Not to sound like a pest control commercial, but I soon learned there is not a darn thing funny about termites. Honestly, my husband and I have tried to make the best out of the fact that our entire bedroom from the floor to the ceiling had been chewed to bits. Today, as he knocked out sheetrock, he yelled out, “Good news! They didn’t eat into the family room!”

“Whoo hoo,” I yelled, less enthusiastically, perhaps, some might say, sarcastically.

My husband and I keep reminding ourselves that it could be worse. For example, no one is hurt; the house didn’t fall in; there wasn’t a fire; it’s a good opportunity to clean out the house (especially since we’ll have a dumpster out front for over a month while workmen do repairs).

BUT just when we start to feel a little better, we remember the bad news…no termite insurance and homeowner’s does not cover it. Somehow we let the termite insurance lapse four or five years ago. Sort of an out of sight, out of mind thing, a mistake we’ll never make again, not with termites, anyway.

I keep searching for the humor but haven’t found it yet. Maybe one day we’ll look back and laugh and say, “Remember the time termites ate the entire side of our house, and we spent all Mother’s Day moving furniture and clothes and tearing out sheetrock and crown molding and carpet?”

Maybe, but then again, perhaps some things, like little winged wood-eating insects, aren't meant to be funny--ever.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Gluten-free me

Eight years ago, I brought home from the hospital an 8 lb. bundle of joy and a bad cough. I had all the symptoms of a typical sinus infection, so I took an antibiotic and was soon all clear—except for the cough. It stayed for 2 ½ years.

It wasn’t just a little “ahem” either, mind you. It was a terrible hacking cough that wouldn’t stop. I would soon learn that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who offer you peppermints, cough drops and ask if you are okay, and those who move to the other side of the room and look at you as if you have the plague, or in these days, the swine flu.

I once coughed so hard in a local store that I doubled over and had to lean against the counter. I recall telling the group of horrified-looking patrons, “I promise I’m not contagious!”

I’m just glad they didn’t ask what WAS wrong with me because I would have had to say, “I don’t know.”

Neither did the doctors. I coughed my way to allergists, general practitioners, ENT’s, gastroentronologists, internists, and even a dermatologist. I was no longer a healthy young woman. At one point, I was taking Advair, an inhaler every 2-4 hrs., full strength Nexium twice a day, reglen (a nasty drug) 4-6 times a day, antibiotics (for a full year and half), Zyrtec, allergy shots, nasal sprays, cough medicines of every assortment, cough drops of every variety, over-the-counter Gaviscon and Tums like candy, and some other misc. items to round it out. In short, I was sick.

Frustrated, I asked my allergist if she thought it could be something I was eating. Amazingly, she responded, no, that didn’t have a thing to do with it.

“Then what could it be?” I asked desperately.

She looked me dead in the eye and said, “Bad luck.”

Turns out she was wrong on both accounts. However, she did me a favor in that her remark made me more determined than ever to find out what was going on. I researched and tried several diets, talked to people who had kids with food allergies and then began keeping a food diary. I tried eliminating yeast, milk, eggs, cheese and peanut butter. Basically, I ate sweet potatoes and little else, and, guess what? My coughed improved.

I began slowly adding foods back and then judging my reaction, sometimes immediate, sometimes delayed. Eventually, a mom on the playground told me her doctor recommended that her son give up wheat. I did some research and found out wheat is hidden in practically everything. I gave it up and slowly weaned myself off all the medicine. Within two weeks, my cough stopped as suddenly as it began. I would later find out celiac disease (wheat/gluten allergy or intolerance) can be triggered in adults by an illness or childbirth, although looking back, I probably always had it to some extent.

To celebrate, I took my daughter shopping.

“Mom, you couldn’t have done this two weeks ago.”

It was indeed the miracle I had been praying for. I soon found out there were other people like me, even one who lived in the same town and was kind enough to stop by Christmas Eve with a plate full of homemade gluten-free goodies.

While my son sometimes feels sorry for me because I can’t eat wheat, I feel so blessed that I have something that can be controlled by diet. My ending is happy, and I tell this story not to complain, but in hopes that it will help someone else who needs it. So, despite what my doctor said, I consider myself lucky.

For more information on celiac disease, click here