Saturday, December 18, 2010

Flippin' Christmas fun

Love her or hate her, there's one thing I know about Sarah Palin -- she was put on this earth to make me feel like one big wimp. She's also the reason we have a freshly-cut Christmas tree.

You see, each year my family and I go to a local tree farm to cut our own and to take our family photo in the process.
Usually we pile on coats, but get so hot and sweaty from walking the property and taking turns sawing the tree that we take them off. One year, my husband and I left ours on just because we didn't want to carry them. The kids were smart enough to realize it was 65 degrees and left theirs in the truck. I had several people comment that year that they liked our cards, and a few were brave enough to ask, "Why were the kids in short-sleeves?"

More often than not, however, my husband is the one who's not like the others. We have several winter pictures in which he is wearing shorts. It looks like we've photo-shopped him in from Bermuda

But, back to Sarah Palin... My daughter and I watched her reality show for the first time while I did what I do best this time of year -- curl up with a cup of hot chocolate. As Sally on Charlie Brown says, "I'm not made for winter!" even if it is in the South.

So, I enjoyed wrapping up in my snuggie (Yeah, I own one, so what?) and watching Sarah climb mountains, cross ice crevasses, catch salmon amongst the bears, hunt caribou, round up her five kids and get up early to do aerobics, all in the miserable Alaskan weather. I enjoyed it so much that I laughed out loud and turned up the thermostat.

That's when my children remembered our tradition. The problem with traditions is once you start them, you have to continue them forever. Just something to keep in mind, especially when it's snowing, and the wind is whipping and it's freezing, and you have to go cut down a Christmas tree.

"Can't we just go to a lot, pull the truck up and have Dad throw it in the back while I wait inside?" I asked. "I'll let you play Christmas music."

(Growing up, my dad would only let us listen to Christmas songs at noon on Christmas. Now that it starts in October, I'm inclined to agree, though I do allow them a little more time -- say, Christmas Eve.)

"We want to pet the bunnies and feed the ducks and drink hot chocolate and see the waterfall. We want the tree farm," they said.

Had it not been for Sarah Palin's television show, Alaska, I would have insisted that it's too flippin' cold for trees this year, but alas I am competitive enough to at least brave a few flurries.
Fortunately, I did. We soon discovered it was the last day of the season for the tree farm.

"Everyone's already gotten their trees. No one really comes this late," the owner said.

Late? I thought.

Ultimately, not only did we get to pet the bunnies, we cut down a beautiful tree and got it for half-price, proving that the early bird does not always catch the worm.

Oh, and what a family photo! This year's has to be our most memorable. We hiked down Candy Cane Lane to a picturesque waterfall. The kids and I sat on a rock, while my husband positioned the camera to take our picture in 10 seconds. He pushed the button and then hurried to sit down next to our son.

Unfortunately, we didn't leave him enough room, and he missed the rock entirely, and to my children's horror, he tumbled into the water. I would say to my horror, but as the saying goes a picture is worth a thousand words, and in this picture, I am staring directly into the camera and laughing harder than I have laughed since the season's changed. Maybe Sarah Palin is right -- sometimes you do need to get outdoors.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The fine art of Ninja out

I had made it through the introduction of the pep squad team, the girls' volleyball team, including tearful good-byes to their coaches and the entire seventh grade football team, complete with a long lecture on grades at a combined banquet recently when my daughter looked at me and said two words --Ninja out!

She didn't have to explain. Remember James Bond when he received his mission and had 90 seconds to react before it exploded? Well, just call me Bond, James, Bond. I shoved my camera in my bag, slyly slid on my jacket, nimbly lifted my 25-pound purse off the floor and stealthily made my way out the back door of the cafeteria, feeling proud that I timed it just as the applause for the team began. I looked back to smile at my daughter, but she was no where to be found.

Had I left a man, err, girl, behind? Just as I pondered whether to keep moving, she came running up to my side.

"I had to go back," she said.

"What? You went back? You know what we were taught. You don't even look back!"

"But I had to go back for this," she said, holding up her name tag.

"Well, yes," I conceded. "I guess you couldn't leave that behind."

"And I had to tell my friend good-bye," she said quickly.

Sigh. She has a long way to go before she'll be a 007 and me, too, for that matter.

Ninja out, you see, is a fine art. One we aren't taught in the South. I learned it via a friend from Germany who learned it via a friend from Ohio. Now, to be fair, men in the South have, perhaps, been doing it for years. We women, however, just never noticed because we were so busy saying good-bye for 45 minutes.

And that is what Ninja out is all about -- getting out quickly without good-byes, disappearing so that your host or hostess doesn't even realize you are gone. I know, it's against nature, but I have to say, it works.

My first introduction to it came at a party that was gathering steam around the same time as my children's (OK, my) bedtime.

I had just told our hostess that we needed to leave when she said, "Oh, wait right here. You haven't seen the photos from my cruise."

It was then that my friend turned to me and said, "Ninja out!"

"Excuse me?" I said.

"Get your purse, get your things and do not look back. Ninja out!" she said as she grabbed me by the elbow.

"But ... but ... we can't just leave," I cried, every fiber of my being protesting.

"Do you want to be here another hour?"

I looked at my children's pitiful faces and thought about how early we needed to get up the next day.

"Well, noooo."

"Then let's go. Ninja out!" she said in her delightful -- yet forceful -- German accent.

I hesitantly complied.

"But it's not the Southern way."

"We can text her tomorrow," she said as she climbed in her car parked strategically facing the road for a quick getaway.

We, on the other hand, weren't as smart or as quick.

"Wait, wait! Where are you going?" asked our poor hostess and a crowd of my friends at the door.

"Oh, I'm sorry. The kids were getting tired, so we thought we'd leave."

"But, Mama, I'm not tir .." my son started to say before I clamped his mouth.

"I'll call you. We really enjoyed it," I yelled out the door of the truck.

"But, wait, you must take some of these brownies home with you," she said.

"Well, OK," I said, reluctantly climbing out of the vehicle and making my way toward her into the kitchen.

"Oh, and look, I found those pictures. Come sit down one minute, and I'll show them to you."

"Well, the kids and my husband are out in the car."

"Oh, they'll be fine. It will just take a minute."

I turned to glance out the kitchen window and saw one annoyed husband, two tired children and the tail lights of my Ninja out master heading northbound down the road. When I re-emerged an hour and a half later, my son said, "Mama, when you try to Ninja out, you pay the consequences."

I think he had a point.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Freedom of the open road

I’ll never forget my first car. I was so proud the day my daddy plopped down that stack of $100 bills to purchase it for my 16th birthday. I knew I wanted that car the minute I saw it. Why? Because it sure as heck beat the pea-green “old lady” clunker he took me to see first.

“I’ll take it,” I said, the minute the garage opened revealing a well-used black 1980 hatchback Pontiac Sunbird.

“You sure you don’t want to go back and look at the green one again?” he asked.

“No sir, I want this one.”

I can recall him grinning as he told the owner we’d take it. I thought it was because he, too, was beaming from pride. It was only as an adult that I realized he was grinning because I had fallen for it. He had choice number two – the Sunbird - in mind to purchase all along. I have to admit I admire that tactic, though every now and then I wonder what choice number three might have been.

Regardless, I happily drove my new-to-me car home. It had no air condition, no radio, and I needed a cushion to see over the steering wheel, but it was mine. Mine to wash every Saturday, mine to fill up with gas, and mine to scratch and dent, and I did plenty of all three – in that order.

I couldn’t wait to drive my car to school. Soon my days of riding the yellow bus will be gone forever, I thought.

The following Monday, I had my car polished and ready. I timed my exit to coincide with the passing of the bus. I know, rubbing it in that I had a car to the pitiful people with their noses pressed against the school bus window was not nice. But don’t worry, I soon got my comeuppance.

I was running (gasp) late, not to mention I could hear the bus coming up the street, so I hurriedly said goodbye. My parents, my little sister, my grandmother, and, undoubtedly a few nosy neighbors, came out to wave and watch me go. It was February and freezing, and when I started the car, I realized the back window and rearview mirrors were covered in ice. Instead of waiting for my car to warm them up, I thought to myself, “I’ve been up and down this driveway a hundred times. I know this driveway like the back of my hand. Who needs mirrors?”

Yes, this is really – more or less – what I thought as I put it in reverse and hit the gas and … SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEECCCCCHHHHHH …

That’s the sound I made as I ran into the house and threw myself face first on the bed after I scratched my car down to the metal from one end to the other on a very strong bush next to the driveway. Adding to my humiliation was the fact that a busload of my peers had witnessed the entire event, including me wailing.

But, fortunately, I had my sweet mother and grandmother to console me as my car continued to run (at least I put it in park) with the door still wide open. I may have had a license, but I was still just a girl, and I really did love that car.

Ultimately, those scratches proved to be a good thing – all a part of character building, as my dad might say. I sucked it up that morning and got back behind the wheel. It wasn’t until I parked at school that I noticed the few stray branches lodged under my bumper.

That summer, I worked to save up the money for a new paint job. In fact, I even earned enough to install a new radio. And after school that day, I had a few people ask me if I could give them a ride. I was too scared, so I said no, but still, it was nice of them to ask!

Over the years, several other friends’ vehicles were attacked by what we came to know as the “killer bush.” One day, my dad decided it had wreaked enough havoc. Sick of it blocking his view and maiming others, he took a chainsaw to it. The next day when I backed out of the driveway, there was nothing but sawdust.

“That’s great!” I thought. “I no longer had anything to fear. Now I can back up without any worry at all.”

About that time, I heard my daddy shout: “Watch out for the ditch, Leigh!”

Friday, October 29, 2010

Ladies fire drill

Well, I wasn't going to tell this story, but at the urging of my girlfriends on a recent girls' night out, I agreed it was too good not to share. You see, on July 4, we had a fire drill -- a ladies' only fire drill.

We spent the day watching our men folk fry batch after batch of catfish, tater tots, hush puppies, fried pickles and anything else they thought might taste good battered and smothered. We were as stuffed as could be -- everyone contently sitting around a great big vat of oil.

That's when my friend came out of the house and said, "We have so much food left; I'm going to take it to the fire department. Who wants to go?"
Remember Road Runner?

That's what every woman there looked like. We hopped up and took off so fast, you would have thought our chairs were on fire. In fact, I even left my purse behind -- the purse I take everywhere with me -- even to the bathroom -- in my house.

As relatively old married folks, our husbands looked on in utter amusement. We could have said we were going to see Chip and Dale strippers and probably gotten the same look -- they were full of fish and content and knew we'd be back by supper.

My friend's daughter, however, has only been married two years, and I must say, her husband looked slightly alarmed as we ran, yes, ran toward her van. The van she'd already jumped in and started up. I guess I didn't help matters when I looked his way and said, "Do I need to put on my lipstick?"

I'd never seen a more shocked looked in my life. As we let out a whoop, my friend's daughter commented, "That's the fastest eight women have ever done anything!"

What can I say? We love our public service officers.
We waved an excited good-bye to our spouses and drove the less than half mile to the fire department. Once we arrived, we excitedly got out, amidst many giggles, with a big pan of food in hand. Ready to make the handsome firemen, I mean, er, the fireman happy by delivering some freshly fried food.

To our disappointment, however, the station was deserted. Perhaps my friend's daughter's husband alerted them that middle-aged-ish women were coming with half-warmed fried food. Either way, they were gone. The place was a ghost town.

What do we do now? We struggled to find an answer. We knew we couldn't go home and let the men folk laugh (more) at us. So, we did what any good citizen would do, we hung around and waited, listening in on the CB radio, until we got tired and eventually wrote a note and left, driving slowing back to our husbands. But not before we made a pact: "Let's not tell them no one was there."

"Agreed!" we all said in unison. Not to be cliché, but how many times do eight women agree?

We didn't have to worry very much. Most husbands didn't ask. As for me, I got in the car and immediately blurted out to mine that the place was deserted. I guess the others did too because by that night, the only poor husband left in the dark was the newlywed.

"So, how many firemen were there?" he asked his young bride later that night.

"Oh, I don't know. I didn't count them,' she said. Months later she confessed the (complete) truth. I must say, I can't help but admire her fortitude and her wit.

And, I have to say, now I know if our house is on fire, we'll be OK, even if we have to go to the fire department to pick them up ourselves. In fact, it may just be quicker that way.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The perfect storm

Mix two crying babies, one hacking man, a shrill singer and a dash of turbulence, all in the midnight hour, and what do you have? The perfect storm. I know because I am a survivor. The following is my story:

"We're taking the red eye. Is that OK?" I said to my husband after I told him that I had scheduled a surprise birthday trip out west.

"Sure," he said, undoubtedly afraid to offend me by offering any criticism of my travel arrangements. And, to be perfectly truthful, it would have. Oh, yeah, and did I mention we had to leave at 5 a.m. for our flight out there? Yeah, I know (now).

Anyway, fast forward to the flight home. After spending a really long day wandering the streets of Las Vegas (which was experiencing record high temperatures of 105-plus) virtually penniless and feeling kind of homeless after checking out of our hotel room, we made it to the airport.

We thought it would be best to pass the time eating dinner at the airport. I recalled seeing a California Pizza Kitchen down the terminal, so I nonchalantly made my way there, not even bothering to ride the people mover. After all, God gave me legs.

As soon as I rounded the corner, the lights in the California Pizza Kitchen went off, so I started across the hall to the hot dog stand when that light went out. Suddenly, I realized it was 2 o'clock in the morning Georgia time, and I could very well starve to death at any given moment, not to mention I was facing a 3 a.m. flight with my only hope being a microscopic bag of peanuts. This was not good.

Feeling a slight panic, I quickly turned back the way I came, this time taking the people mover. Lights continued to flicker out as I approached like they were on some sort of reverse motion sensor, causing full-fledge panic to set in, which is how I ended up eating tuna at 2 a.m. I must say that was a first.

As soon as we finished our make-shift meal, our boarding zone was called. Have you ever noticed how people push to get on planes? What is up with that? I mean, they have assigned seats. In my tiredness, I wondered this out loud and not quietly, either.

"I agree," said the man in front of me who had just been jostled. "I've never heard the pilot say, 'First class will be landing 15 minutes earlier.'"

"I know, and another thing ..." I said.

My husband shushed me at this point -- he was tired and knew that sleep was no where in sight. I, on the other hand, had total confidence in my ability to doze anywhere.

"You really don't think you can sleep on the plane?" I scoffed.

About 15 minutes later, with my husband snoring by my side, I knew I was in trouble. The baby in front of me started crying, the man behind me began hacking, and, worst of all, the girl next to began singing --loudly. Her first song was Black Eyed Peas "I gotta feeling ..." I'm not sure if you've heard it before, but basically the lyrics go, "Tonight's gonna be a good night" over and over again. It's like a modern-day version of "The song that never ends." That went on for quite some time, until she finally switched to Taylor Swift's "You belong to me." Sadly, she only knew the first line of the chorus: "She wears short skirts, I wear sneakers," which she sang over and over and over again.

I, not wanting to cause trouble, kept mute about it until the flight attendant came by with headphones for sale. I pounced on the opportunity.

"I need them to drown out the singing," I said. I must say the flight attendant then turned and admonished the woman to such a degree that I almost felt guilty, kind of like when I used to tell on my sister.

The night wore on, and though I was terrified that the hacking man's germs were going to come through the seat, I finally managed to curl up and doze off. Of course, as soon as I did, one of two babies onboard would cry (God love them and their mammas). Eventually, the pilot announced that we were about to land in Atlanta; we just had to get through a little turbulence first.

A little? I sure would hate to see his definition of a lot.

The more turbulence we hit, the louder my husband snored (God bless him, too), the louder the baby cried, and the more the man behind me coughed. The noise had reached fervor pitch, when after my silent prayer, calm struck, and we landed safely on the ground.

As we left the airport, vowing to never again take another red-eye flight, it suddenly hit me that I would soon be sleeping in my own bed. Surprisingly, I found myself humming a little tune: "Tonight's gonna be a good night ..."

Monday, September 13, 2010

What is she doing in there?

As I got ready for work, I pondered a very important question: Am I the only girl from the 1980s who can't get the hang of a flat iron?

For those of you (i.e. men) who don't know, a flat iron or straightening iron is used to straighten one's hair. Again, don't ask me how it works. I have straight hair and somehow can't make it work.

Men, you are probably wondering why you should continue reading beyond this point. Actually, you are probably wondering how you made it this far, but just know that you won't be disappointed. I am about to answer an age-old question, one that husbands have been asking themselves since marriage was invented, you know, the question you ask aloud while you're sitting in the truck waiting for her to emerge from the house, so you can finally leave...
What is she doing in there?

The short answer: Her hair. Yes, even if she comes out looking exactly (or even worse) than she went in, chances are it's the hair.

Back in the 1980s, nothing was easier. All I needed was an Ogilvy home perm and a can of Aqua Net hair spray. Now those were the days. There's got to be some truth in the ozone depletion joke. It's honestly a wonder I have any hair left to straighten. I'd perm it, tease it, turn my head upside down to spray it, curl it with a small curing iron -- the bigger the hair, the better. The result was something like a lion's mane. I thought it looked great, so good, in fact, that I kept that look well into the 1990s.

I guess I should have known it was going out of style when I was getting a perm and another hair dresser walked in and said, "What's that smell?"

Shortly after, I met a lady from church, and she asked, "Is your hair naturally curly?"

"Well, no, it's a perm," I confessed.

"Oh, I hear those are coming back."

That was officially my last perm. From there, I tried every other hairstyle known to man or woman kind -- I copied Jennifer Anniston's (who didn't?), Katie Couric's, Kelly Ripa's and my hairdresser's, though the last proved problematic.

"How would you like your hair cut today?"

"Oh, just cut it like yours."

She then turned to the girl next to her and asked, "How do you cut my hair?"

They don't cut their own hair, it suddenly dawned on me.

And the colors, oh, the colors. I ran into a guy I knew from high school recently. His first comment?

"Your hair's a lot lighter than high school."

I saw my husband visibly cringe.

I simply said, "Yeah, I don't know how that happened!"

I've had brown hair, black hair, blond hair (my natural color, of course), red hair -- what my son likes to call yellow hair -- frosted hair, two-toned hair and many shades in between.

And products -- don't even get me started -- hair gel, hair spray, root lifter, silky spray, shampoo and conditioner that I had to take a second mortgage out on. And the styling contraptions -- small curling irons, larger curling irons, medium, spiral, diffuser for the hairdryer and every contraption in between.

As a result, you'd think I'd have the most beautiful hair on earth or at least on my block. Maybe if I could take my head off and style it and then put it back on. But, no, my best friend is the ponytail, which is exactly how my hair ends up after I've done all of the above. In fact, I'm usually pulling it back as I open the door to the truck just in time to hear my husband mumble: What is she doing in there?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Do you want fries with that?

“I don’t believe in using prophylactics,” the red-headed pimply face kid lisped through his braces.

“What,” I said.

“I don’t believe in using prophylactics,” he said again pointing at the People magazine I had purchased with the picture of the Duggar family on the cover, “but I think they should use them.”

Then he went on with a full dissertation of the, admittedly, fascinating Duggar family and their (now) 19 kids and counting as he rung up my groceries. About the time he was telling me he thought they weren’t all really their kids, it dawned on me that I was being held captive by my milk, bread, and eggs. And it wasn’t the first time.

Recently, I have had a grocery story clerk tell me about her deceased cat Coco as she rang up my dog food, another told me (as she scanned my toilet paper) about her much younger boyfriend who went to stay with his mama whenever he got mad at her, and another sang to me as she sliced my sandwich meat. I smiled and nodded and tried to be polite.

I’ve written about family, friends, neighbors, and even a (previous) boss or two, but I’ve hesitated to write about this. What if the cashiers read it, and I’m banned to a fate worse than death, also known as Wal-mart shopping?

After my most recent encounter, I decided to risk it. As the cashiers share – a modern term for blabbing - I try to tell myself that it probably helps them pass the time, that they are bored or perhaps they are just being friendly. It’s not their fault that I’m on my way home from work, trying to scrape up dinner for a nest of hungry little birdies who are constantly causing my cell phone to chirp. Yet, do I really need to know what classes the clerk takes at college or what size she used to be?

Another thing clerks now have a tendency to do (as illustrated above) is comment on what I am buying. Recently, the clerk scanned tomato sauce, tomato paste, lasagna noodles, hamburger meat and mozzarella cheese.

“Making lasagna?”


“My mama used to make the best lasagna. I don’t use the cottage cheese. I always use the ricotta. Don’t you want the ricotta?”

“No, thank you.”

“Are you sure?”

That’s become another pet-peeve of mine. The “Are you sure?” I hear that a lot in restaurants. For example, with my food allergies, I generally avoid salad dressing.

“No dressing, please.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“We have ranch, blue cheese, the Italian is really good.”

“No, thank you, no dressing.”

“Just dry?”

“Yes, that’s how I like it,” I usually respond to save myself a long discussion on what I’m allergic to, how I found and why.

The waitress will then give me a funny look and bring me a salad with dressing on it anyway.

And what’s the deal with drive thrus? I’ll place my order, and they’ll say, “Is that all?”

“Yes, that’s all.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“What about a fried pie?”

“No, thank you.”

“Want to try a mocamamino?”

“A what?”

“A mo-cha frap-pu-ccin-oooo”

“Oh, no, thank you.”

“Want to medium or super-size your meal?”

“No, I just want to eat!”

I’ll admit it causes me to lose my temper sometimes. Once, after a similar experience at Hardees, I yelled something unfriendly into the loud speaker only to look in my mirror and see my preacher driving the vehicle behind me. My biscuit didn’t taste as good with that side order of guilt.

As far as my (occasional) temper tantrums or tendency to throw a fit, if you prefer, I definitely get that from my dad. He’s never had much patience with salesclerks and waitresses who hover, etc. Fortunately, we both have Mama. My mother has the knack for making every person – grocery store clerks, waitresses, mail carriers and on and on - feel like the most important person in the world. You know why? Because at that moment, they are. My mother doesn’t ignore people or brush them off like I try my best not to do. Even when she’s in a hurry, she takes a genuine interest in them, taking the time to ask questions and find out more about them. My grandmother was the same way. It is certainly a gift. And, THAT is something I’m sure of.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Life in the slow lane

Alas, a mere week after my last hilariously funny blog on my first ticket, I received another one. Now, I truly understand my children’s oft-used expression: “The first time is funny; the second time is not.” Knowing bad luck runs in three, I sure hope I won’t hear myself saying the last line – “And the third time is just plain old.”

One thing I’ve learned from my rash of tickets is I should really read the road signs. My first ticket was an illegal right on red that I made on the way to work. I felt pretty outraged and picked on until the next day when I saw the three signs that the officer impatiently told me were there. He must have gone and put them up right after he pulled me over – I swear they weren’t there the day before!

Anyway, my latest (and hopefully my last) ticket was for speeding. I am so embarrassed. For those who read my last blog, you’ll recall that I said I “abhor” speeders. Nice, Leigh, real nice. So, it’s safe to say that I no longer feel quite as strongly in that area. Speed happens. I understand that now.

Ironically, I had just said that very morning that I was paranoid now since receiving my first ticket. It’s a rude awakening to know that you can no longer bat your eyelashes out of one (not that I’ve ever done such thing, mind you). But, Smokey got me, once again. It was near the airport on I-285. Did you know I-285 was a 55 mph zone? I had no idea. I thought it was 70, which is why I told him I was going 76. Did you know ignorance of the law is no excuse? Honestly, must I learn EVERYTHING the hard way?

He wrote me my ticket, politely ignored my sniffles, and sent me on my merry way. I made my way to work, paid for my first ticket online and received a jolt – tickets are expensive! And scary – I had to tell my husband.

His reply? “You know it’s going to happen again.”

Vowing to (please, God!) prove him wrong, I drove 55 mph to work the next day. I had a lot of time to think as cars whizzed past me. One of the things I concluded was the good Lord must be giving me a lesson in patience. I admittedly have very little, but in an effort to improve myself and avoid seeing blue lights in the rearview mirror, I drove all the way in the far right – not the left – lane.

At first, I was a little worried. Southerners are as polite as can be, until they get behind the wheel of a vehicle. Then they turn into horn-blowing, tailgating, middle-finger-pointing monsters. Please don’t ask me how I know. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Folks ignored me, and I took deep breaths and tried to ignore them. I soon found myself with a private lane all the way to Atlanta. Well, me and the guy with the pick-up truck full cardboard.

I figured out it was all state of mind and music. No, more “I can’t drive 55.” I cranked up Frank Sinatra and cruised my way down the interstate. Amazingly, I made it there in about the same time. Of course, there’s always the ride home to worry about.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ain't Gonna Bump No More

Well, I ain't gonna bump no more. In a fit of friskiness, I bumped hips with my daughter. Immediately, I felt it.

“Ouch!” I screamed and held my hip.

Thinking I was pretending, she laughed, along with the rest of my family, and a few strangers who witnessed the odd sight outside the restaurant.

The next day when I was still leaning forward and limping around like an old lady, well … my family still laughed. Furthermore, when I told people who asked how I did it, they managed to look sympathetic for a minute and then they laughed as I kicked myself for not making up a better story.

But, now, it looks like I will have the last laugh. I, Meredith Leigh Knight, can now tell people – those very people who called me an old lady – that I have a football injury. It’s true. Hip pointer. Look it up. Instead of an invalid, I feel like I’m part of a sports team, an elite group of athletes. Not only is this injury common in football, it is also seen in those who practice martial arts, baseball, rugby, ice hockey and field hockey, according to the website I saw.

And, no, I did not diagnosis myself. I went to the doctor, a specialist, and I have to give him and his nurse credit. They both shook their heads, but neither one of them laughed, although the nurse said, “That must have been some bump!”

Hip pointers are usually caused by a direct hard hit (i.e. by a helmet), but, ironically, I barely touched her. Oops, digressing back to old lady here …

Fortunately, the doctor didn’t tease me about how it happened. He simply told me my options, which lucky for me involve no football, martial arts, baseball, rugby, ice hockey, field hockey or running. As I left the office with my anti-inflammatory prescription and physical therapy orders in hand, I glanced at my chart on the way out and found myself laughing out loud.

It read, “Patient hurt hip by doing 'the bump' with daughter.”

I came home and told her I ain't gonna do it no more.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

You mean, this is a ticket?

So, I got my first ticket today. No, I wasn't speeding. I abhor speeders. It was failure to follow a traffic control device. In other words, I took a right on red where I wasn't supposed to.

I'd been taking that exit to work for a year, yet somehow I had never noticed what the officer said were "two or three signs back there." Even scarier is the fact that I thought the light was green. I didn't tell him that.
It all happened so fast, too. I turned, my destination -- the building where I work a few days a week in downtown Atlanta -- in sight. Next thing I know blue lights, the fuzz, smokey was right behind me.

My first thought was, "I need to get out of his way, so he can go get whoever he is after."

Then my second thought was, "Oh, he's after me." OK, so I cleaned it up a little.

Then my third thought was, "Well, it must be a tail light or a brake light or something that I can blame my husband on."

But, no, it was moi. All moi.

Then I had to decide where to pull over. I couldn't block the exit ramp, so I cruised on a little farther. Smokey didn't like this very much. He turned on his siren. I held my finger up as if to say, "One minute, please."

I could tell by his face that he didn't have a minute.

Not wanting it to turn into some kind of slow speed white Bronco chase, my mind raced, "Should I run up on the sidewalk to get out of the street?"

Smokey's face told me, no, I should stop now and block the lane of traffic or else.

The officer marched to the truck and informed me of my crime. All I could think to say was, "I'm sorry!" before he grabbed my license and went back to his patrol car.

"Wait, I haven't had a chance to kill you with kindness!" I screamed (in my mind).

While I was waiting anxiously for his return, I thought about grabbing my phone and texting my friend, "I am being pulled over." Then it dawned on me that might not be the smartest idea with the new law in effect.

A lifetime later, he returned.

"I've written you a citation. Sign here."

'You mean, this is a ticket?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"But, I only drive up here a few days a week, and my building's in sight, and, and, and ..."

That's when I got the "Ma'am there are two or three signs back there" line.

I don't know what upset me the most, getting the ticket or not being considered cute enough to drive away with a warning.
"You mean, you didn't get out of the truck and shake your silky hair from side to side?" my friend teased. (That's a story for another day.)

But, alas, my warning days must be over. I took my yellow piece of paper and drove off, planning to never, ever, even if you honk, turn right on red again.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rippit into shape!

I went to the gym today to work on my bikini body – next year’s bikini body, that is, or maybe even the year after next. I think I’ve missed the deadline for this summer. In fact, my exercise and eating chart reads a lot like Bridgett Jones’ diary.

“I haven’t seen you in here lately. Where have you been?” a friend of mine said.

“Oh, I’ve been doing a lot of stuff outside,” I said, neglecting to mention that by “stuff,” I meant sitting on the beach, riding the boat at the lake, and walking to the mailbox on occasion.

Things have changed in the gym, I noticed. For example, apparently, everyone is into jumping. No, I don’t mean jumping rope like I read the Victoria Secret models do to prepare for a photo shoot. (A guy friend of mine told me that jumping rope was not their secret, by the way). I mean, jumping four or five feet in the air and landing on the ground in a squatting position – think bull frog.

Now, I used to belong to a gym in which the median age was 65. I was by far the youngest, though I wouldn’t dare say the strongest or toughest. Old age isn’t for sissies, and it was very inspiring seeing men and women working out despite obvious physical obstacles. But, I have to tell you, nobody in there jumped.

At the new gym I frequent, or should I say visit, it is definitely a young crowd, and today was proof of it. Men and women hoping all over the place. Why? While I’m sure it’s the new craze, the real reason is probably because they can. As I glanced up from the machine I was on, I caught the eye of an older lady across from me. We both broke into a grin.

I thought about the senior citizens at my former gym. They all knew what this lady and I were secretly thinking. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, at least not in public, anyway.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The art of dying in the South

We like to say people are judged on how they live, but the truth is, in the South, we are more than often judged on how we die.

A person can live an ordinary life, going to church now and then, raise a family, not break any salacious commandments and die quietly in his or her sleep and go completely unnoticed. Sure, his children will miss him.

"What a great dad he was," they'll say. His wife will miss him. Of course, she'll remarry and be buried next to husband number two. And who's to blame her? How can she spend the next 25 years alone?

In a blink, the man will be gone. His grandchildren may remember him by his kindness and the way he shook silently when he laughed, but his great grandchildren?

Now, let him die at age 83 from being bitten numerous times by a rattlesnake while changing the blade on his lawnmower, and the man's a legend. Die in his bed by a lit cigarette, and he's white trash. Struck by lightning, and he is unlucky. Hit by a car, and it's tragic. Stricken by cancer, and it's a shame. We sum up a person's life on how they die.

I, like most Southerners, tend to be a little fixated on death. Don't think we are as a culture? Then count the crosses on the way to Panama City Beach. I've done it before -- with the kids -- as a pastime. (It was pre-DVD.)

I read that the South is one of the few places that honor its dead with roadside crosses. I'm not saying we should or we shouldn't. I know the tributes mean something to the families, but it's amazing how commonplace they are. The total is 900 and something, by the way. That's how many there were 15 years ago. We had so much fun counting them that I refused to do it again.

I can remember being a little girl and Mama pulling over to let a funeral procession pass. We lived not far from a cemetery, so it was fairly common place. Back then, we didn't have air conditioning, so we had to sit in the heat and wait and wait for what, to my younger sister and me, seemed like an eternity.

But my mom always waited patiently, and when we whined, she told us that pulling over was a sign of respect. We hushed after that. We could tell she meant it. Today, people in the South still pull over for funeral processions, though we aren't as patient about it. In our air-conditioned cars, we moan and groan and roll our eyes at the inconvenience. But for the families, it means everything, so we continue to do it, even though we are in a hurry to get to the pool or the store or a birthday party.

We do it because Southerners are really good at death. Not the act of it, which they -- for the most part -- have no control over, but the after. If someone in your family dies, you will have 10 people at your door bringing you things you didn't even know you needed, from toilet paper to paper cups to baskets full of food and a truckload of ice.

And the most amazing part is you won't know or you will barely know half of these people, yet they will take care of you just the same. You may have rarely spoken to them, but if someone dies, they'll be there cleaning the house while you are at the funeral, serving you and your company food when you get home and reminding you that even in the face of death, it's living; it's the living that really matters.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lessons from a lemonade stand

This past Saturday was the first time since 2007 that we had nothing scheduled. No sports, no trips, no birthday parties, not even a chore -- which is not to say we didn't have plenty we could have been doing, mind you, just none on the calendar.

My children got up early with their spend-the-night company and by the time breakfast was cooked at 9, they were -- say it with me -- no, not "starving" -- bored. B-O-R-E-D. Especially the boys. And bored boys means one thing -- trouble.

After hearing banging and finally a huge crash upstairs (which I have still been afraid to investigate), I sent them outside to play in hopes of enjoying a little rest and relaxation.

It wasn't long before I heard a bang, bang, bang outside the house. What were they doing? Throwing things at the house. Why? They are boys, and they were B-O-R-E-D.

"I know," I said. "Why don't you have a lemonade stand?"

I must say I felt a little guilty since it was about 95 degrees and there wasn't a car in sight, but I figured it would keep them busy for a little while, and I could enjoy my free day with a little magazine reading AND teach them a little lesson in business while I was at it. See how clever I am?

I had just propped up with an issue of Sandra Lee's Semi-homemade magazine when my son said, "Do you have any poster board? We are having a contest with the girls (the boys' sisters, who happen to be best friends as well), and they have poster board, and we don't."

"Look in the closet," I said.

I hear a tumble and a crash and then a few minutes later, "I don't see any in here."

"Well, go up and tell your sister to find you some poster board."

He stomped upstairs, and she stomped downstairs, but, sure enough, a few minutes later, the two groups were coloring nicely on their separate signs, and I silently patted myself on the back again for having such a good idea.

About two seconds after this thought, I hear my son ask his friend, "How do you spell lemonade anyhow?"

"L-e-m-a-n, no, that's not right, l-a-m-e-n, no ...We can't even spell lemonade!" said his friend, exasperated. "I'm calling this contest."

Fortunately, the girls helped them and after some back and forth over whether the boys had forfeited, they held up two beautifully decorated posters advertising "Lemonade .50."

After much fanfare on filling the cooler with ice, finding the cups, swearing they had washed their hands and then making ten thousand trips in and out doing I don't know what, I could hear them shouting, "Lemonade!" I smiled. They were in business.

I grabbed my camera and headed out to quickly snap a picture before they went out of business.
As I got to the corner of the yard, what do I see? The boys had set up their station on the electrical box that was recently placed in our yard -- the one I tell him never to get near.

"Boys, I want to show you something," I said, fearing they weren't listening to my warnings.

"Look at this picture," I said, pointing to the crude drawing on the front of the box showing what appeared to be a lightning strike and a man falling backwards.

"Oh, I'd love to see you do that dance!" my son's friend said.

"Just don't put anything else on top of this, you hear?"

"Yes, ma'am."

They returned to shouting "Lemonade!" again at the top of their lungs.

About that time, their first customer drove up and told them to keep the change. I've always thought you can tell a lot about people who take the time to stop at kids' lemonade stands. My friend told me that the neighbor girl used to have them so often that finally a fellow neighbor said, "Can I just write you a check?"

Those are good neighbors. And so are the ones who bought lemonade that Saturday from my children. Funny how they are also the ones who buy wrapping paper in the fall and Girl Scout cookies in the winter. Thanks, you guys. I can tell them to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, but nothing illustrates it further than stopping to buy a cup a lemonade -- even if it is so sour you have to pour it out when you get home.

So, at the end of the day, each had $1.25 in his pocket, a handful of lessons were learned, and, thanks to Kool-Aid, I didn't even have to squeeze any lemons. Next Saturday, however, I'll have a to-do list ready!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cat's in the cradle

I woke up at 3:40 a.m. last night and realized immediately it would be one of those nights. Those nights where no amount of counting sheep will put you back to sleep, a night in which even if you do doze off, your dreams are bad and make you wish to stay awake. It was a night where every little noise was magnified, and you're sure someone is hovering in the corner of your room, a night in which your spouse is peacefully breathing, unknowingly rubbing it in that you can't shut your eyes. It was a night in which your mind thinks of every problem and no solution, every danger but no escape route. It was a night in which you realize why sleep aids are always advertising on television - and a night in which you regretted you didn't have any. In short, it was a bad night, and somewhere around 4 (or was it 5? or was it 5:30?), this poem popped into my head.

Cat’s in the cradle

Not now
Tomorrow isn’t good for me
The day after tomorrow isn’t good for me
Maybe next week
Stop asking me
I’ll let you know
Don’t worry about it
Quit worrying
Use your brain
Use your common sense
You don’t have any common sense
Be quiet
Shut up
Stop talking
I don’t want to hear it
Get out of my face
Go to your room
Leave me alone
Don’t bother me
Stay in there and don’t come out
I don’t want to see your face
Go away
Stop crying
Act your age
I wish you’d never been born
I’m sick of you
I’m tired of looking at you
I don’t want to hear another word out of you
I hate you
You make me sick
Get the door
Straighten up
Sit down
Cheer up
Stop moping
Be happy
What’s wrong with you?
Smile and say hello

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mother of all Olympics

Did you know tomorrow is Watermelon Day? Neither did I until my son announced it at dinner and then informed me that he told his teacher we would bring two watermelons.

Welcome to May madness also known as the Motherhood Olympics for all moms (and dads for that matter) with school-aged children. From the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat, May brings it all.

I remember when my oldest was in kindergarten. I think it was when she didn’t get the calendar award – an award for doing whatever asinine activity written on that day – that I realized, “Hey, that’s not her fault; that’s mine. I can’t help it that I didn’t want to learn to juggle or count the number of cans in our closet on that particular day. Don’t punish her!”

As I saw the other mothers clap and smile and straighten their backs and slide me dirty looks as their children accepted award after award that they had no idea what it meant, it dawned on me, “Wait a minute … This is an award’s day for moms!”

And then I thought, “And I am a loser!”

Now to be fair, my daughter walked across stage several times in her pretty yellow dress which I still remember though it’s been 20 years ago, but no thanks to me at the time.

Two kids later, and I’d like to say I have it all figured out, but the truth I’m still competing. Fortunately, they’ve passed kindergarten and have the ability to amaze their parents by achieving awards despite us!

May is a month filled with chorus concerts, Boy Scout banquets, end-of-the-year parties, softball parties, honors day, cowboy day, field day, crazy hat/sock/hair day, dance recitals, tennis parties and band concerts. My job is to simply keep up with it all and know when to send watermelons because, sadly, closing ceremonies will be here before we know it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A soldier's passing

I never planned to be standing at the ending of my subdivision with my hand over my heart and tears streaming down my face. I planned to be camping with my son. Had he not awoken with a fever, had we not spent 45 minutes in the "Minute" Clinic, had we not picked up a dozen suddenly necessary items while we were in there, we would not have heard about it.

Had we not taken the route we did home, so we could stop by the pharmacy for his antibiotics, we wouldn't have seen them -- the scores of people standing on the side of the road, flags in hand, waiting, patiently for the procession to pass.

I had read the headline about the fallen soldier earlier in the week as I flipped through the newspaper to, more than likely, read Sound Off comments while I ate my cereal as I do most mornings. And, like most mornings, I was interrupted with the sounds of "Mom, can you please sign this? Have you seen my shoes? Can you pour me some more milk?"

And, like most mornings, I placed the newspaper with the headline about the fallen soldier on the stack of books, magazines and items for me to read later when I have some extra time, which never seems to arrive.

It wasn't until I got home and told my husband what I had seen, how people were lining up, that I learned the fallen soldier was a young man from our area. He was killed in Iraq. He was someone's son, and his funeral procession would pass right by our neighborhood. What could we do?

"Do we have any little flags?" My husband asked.

"We had some on the Fourth of July, but I think we threw them away after the parade."
I shook my head at what I had just said. Young men and women are fighting and dying for our right to throw flags away when we are finished waving them.

We walked, feverish son and all, to the corner and stood and waited and waited. We gave up, thinking we'd missed it, and walked back to our home. On the walk home, my husband told me how the soldier graduated from the West Point Military Academy, and how his parents did, too.
We got home but couldn't forget it. I heard a siren, and we ran down the street, only to wait and wait some more. We discussed the timeline where the procession might be and then made the walk back to our house, thinking once again we'd missed it.

But, we couldn't let it go -- a young man, someone's son, a soldier had died. We knew his name. We knew where he graduated. And we knew he did it for us, for our country. As I made my son lunch, I heard the sirens, lots of them. I ran outside in time to see the first patrol car pass. This time we didn't walk or run. We jumped into our truck, and my husband backed all the way down the street to the corner.

We got out, flagless, and placed our hands over our hearts. We saw our hero pass by, followed by hundreds of motorcycles with riders bearing flags. My husband told me what I had heard before but was proud and awe-struck to hear again. They are called Patriot Guard Riders. They travel to military funerals as invited guests. If people protest -- I can't bear the thought -- they shield them from the mourning family by riding alongside, quietly revving their motors.

To my amazement, the riders nodded to us, some waving low, one or two mouthing the words, "Thank you." I could not and still cannot fathom how they could possibly thank us. We couldn't even find a flag.

"Mom, why are they thanking us?" my son asked, his hand over his heart, his faced flushed.

As he spoke, I realized they weren't looking at my husband and me. They were looking at my son -- the little 8-year-old who had just over breakfast that morning innocently declared "War" as the theme for his birthday party. It was then that I broke down into tears and, despite my son's fever, was thankful the series of events had worked out like they did that day. We were exactly where we needed to be.

"To show their appreciation, son," I replied, as I put my arm on his shoulder and babied him for the rest of the afternoon.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Things that go bump in the night remembered

Fresh from what my son called a "seven-hour" bike ride across remote Cumberland Island on an ill-fitting bike with a crooked seat, I am rallying for my next adventure -- camping with his scout troop.

I can't believe it's that time of year again. I can remember our last trip just like yesterday. I spent most of the night awake listening to strange sounds -- whistle, honk, growl, snort, moan, rattle and repeat. No, we weren't being invaded by wild animals. That's the chorus of noise that comes from very tired adults sleeping on the ground.

One man sounded like an elephant or a weak trumpet. It was unreal. Finally, I asked aloud, "What is that noise?"

To my surprise an answer came back to me in the dark, "I don't know, but it's the fourth time it's come on."

Actually, I was sleeping pretty well at first, exhausted from a full day of hiking (our campsite was located on Agony Hill, and to get to Agony Hill one must hike up aptly-named Agony Trail), helping my son with archery and BBs, packing and unpacking, and ignoring the large amount of dirt on my son's hands.

So, when it came time for bed, I climbed in my sleeping bag and went right to sleep. Around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., while I was having an unusual dream in which Donald Trump was trying to court me with diamonds and gold (OK, perhaps, I shouldn't have told that one), I reached over and felt something. No, it wasn't The Donald's lush head of hair.

It felt slippery and rubbery and coiled up like a -- snake! Suddenly fully awake and alarmed, I grabbed whatever it was and flung it onto the floor. Not wanting to scream and alarm my son and the other snoring campers, I woke up my husband, who was in the cot next to me, and said, urgently, "Give me your flashlight."

And what do you think he said? (I would love to hear your guesses.)

He said, "What do you need it for?"

"Just give it to me," I said, growing increasingly panicked and a touch frustrated. "Trust me on this."

"I'm not getting it unless you tell me what it's for," he said.

"There was something in my sleeping bag! Give me the flashlight -- now!"

He complied, and I shined the light on the floor, hoping it hadn't slithered into my bag. But, no, it was right were it landed.

Maybe I killed it, I thought.

I'd forgotten my glasses, so I leaned closer and closer until I realized -- it was a rubber snake.
"Why me? Who would do this to me?" I shouted to God and whoever else was in earshot.
I knew my husband and son weren't brave enough so that left one other culprit -- my best friend who has a wicked (or warped) sense of humor. Plus my son recognized the snake as belonging to her son.

Needless to say, I didn't sleep a wink afterward. I kept my flashlight tucked under my chin and even turned it on a time or two to make sure the toy snake hadn't moved. While I was awake, I tried to match the whistle, honk, growl, snort, moan and rattle to its source and planned my revenge -- my sweet, sweet revenge. Suddenly, I'm not dreading this trip so much after all.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Killing 'em with Kindness

Baseball season is in full swing -- pun intended -- and my son has worked his way up to kid-pitch. I must say I've learned a lot about sports while raising my first boy, and I don't mean just the catcher inference rule. I mean the crazy things that happen on the sidelines.

For one, I found myself standing up and cheering when my son got hit in the leg by a pitch.
"He got on base!" I yelled to another mother next to me, who was equally as excited, before it dawned on me to wonder if that might have hurt.

I used to think sports was a male-bonding thing, until my baby started playing. It was then that I realized the intense level of female camaraderie that happens while sitting on the bleachers.
First of all, we may not know the rules of the National League versus the American League, but you can bet by the second game, we'll know the names and jersey numbers of every kid on the team and about half of the kids on our opponent's. Mothers talk, which means we know which kid has been sick, which could use an extra loud cheer, and which one could probably use a spanking if that weren't so passé these days.

But the main -- albeit unspoken -- reason for learning who the players are so quickly is so we can alert each other when our kid does something great. And, he will, the minute you turn your head or try to go to the restroom.

Recently, for example, one of the boys scored a run. Sure enough, we looked around, and his mother was coming back from the concession stand, Gatorade in one hand for her slugger, and nachos and pickles to pacify her younger daughter in the other.

"You saw his run, right, Mom? He just scored. You saw it, right?" we asked her.

And she responded just like she will when her son asks her after the game, "Oh, yes! It was great!" With a little wink, slight smile and a nod our way.

Unbeknownst to the men, we moms also keep rowdy fans in check. Yes, they have rowdy fans at the 10-and-under games. At a recent one, a man who didn't seem to be related to anyone on the team started shouting at the boys -- not encouraging words, but barking orders at them. Suddenly, he was yelling at the slowest boy on the team to steal home, fussing at a boy who's never pitched before for walking players, and, worst of all, critiquing the coaches, who happened to be our husbands.

The man was making me so nervous that I got up and walked around some, but not my mom friend. A veteran to Little League games, she stayed firmly on the bleachers, looked the man in the eye, smiled sweetly, and said, "You need you a coach's shirt on!"

Not taking the hint, he laughed and continued hollering.

Undaunted, she said in an even sweeter voice, "You keep yelling like that, and we are going to give you a job."

We mothers nodded in agreement. We knew this play. It takes skill and finesse to execute, but my mom friend was at the top of her game.

He chuckled and walked away for a few minutes, but soon began hollering yet again.
Then my friend smiled and threw him the toss up, "Why didn't you coach?"

He mumbled something about his work schedule and walked away -- defeated.

She had killed him with kindness.

About that time, another mom yelled, "Oh, look, your son's up to bat!"
She turned in time to see him lay down his bat and take his walk to first but not before glancing at the bleachers to make sure his mom was watching.

"Good job, son! Good job!" as she turned to give us a little wink.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Traveling with Auntie Garmin

It's spring break, so that can only mean one thing in the Knight family -- we've been packing for a solid week to go away for two days.

It was shortly after our daughter was born that my husband and I realized traveling light was no longer an option.

"Want to run to the store?" he asked.

"Sure!" I said, hopping up, and heading toward the door.

It was then that we stopped short and looked first at our precious child and then at the mountain of equipment surrounding her -- baby carrier, diaper bags, bottles, rattles, stroller, car seat, pacifiers and a baby swing that we couldn't leave home without.

"Uh, I think I'll just stay here," I said.

Though we soon realized that staying home for the next 18 years wasn't an option, we never managed to streamline our outings. In fact, the older our children grew, the more stuff we simply couldn't leave behind.

It finally culminated with our last trip to Florida. We went for a week, and my husband and I both declared it would be easier to move. Our truck just wouldn't hold the three kayaks, five bicycles and the vast majority of our earthly belongings, so we decided to haul it all in a 6-by-12 trailer. It was a great idea until we realized we only got eight miles to the gallon.

Despite our packing, however, we always seem to forget something. For my son, that's his toothbrush.

"Can't I just finger brush?" he asks -- every single time.

One item we never forget when traveling is our Global Positioning System (GPS), or as we like to call her, Auntie Garmin. I welcome her on every trip because that means I no longer have to struggle to read the maps or apologize for getting east and west mixed up, or strain my eyes to read the road signs ahead.

Now when we are traveling, I relax and let "her" tell him what to do. And therein lies the problem.

It seems my husband isn't used to taking orders from a non-Southern gal. Somehow, we Southern women have a way of sweetening our commands. You know, we can make it seem like it really was HIS idea to take the scenic route and stop by the antique stores, since it's on the way.

But not Auntie Garmin. She's crisp, harsh, abrupt and doesn't sugar-coat it when you turn in the wrong direction. Although my husband appreciates her input, it's her accent, or lack thereof, that really irks him.

I began to wonder -- why not make a GPS with a Southern accent? I would even volunteer to do the voice-over. It would sound something like this, "Turn rite here, sugah," or "Go down past Bubba's filling station and take a left."

I even imagine she would toss in a few bits of advice. as Southern women are apt to do. For instance, if you make a wrong turn, I can hear her say, "I don't like to impose, but I don't believe I would go that way if I were you," or "Slow down now; what's your hurry?"

In the meantime, however, we are stuck with flat mid-western snippy-sounding Auntie Garmin. She's the one responsible for getting us where we are going. She's the one to blame if we get lost. So, if we drive in circles for hours on toll roads looking for Disney World with three hungry kids because she couldn't tell the difference between east and west, it's all her fault now -- not mine. As we Southern women like to say, bless her heart. Now, if she could just remind my son about his toothbrush.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Moms' magical powers

My son is convinced I have magic powers. I've worked very hard to perpetuate this myth, so I'm almost hesitant to write this column. My hope is I can bury it in a time capsule for him to unearth in 20 years when he has a family of his own. Then he can go, "Ah, so that's how she did it!" Just like the television show "Magicians secrets revealed."

Now, not all of my tricks can be attributed to smoke and mirrors. While many claim moms have a sixth sense, I believe our true secret weapons come from what my husband calls "Moms' turbo senses."

First and foremost, we have a heightened sense of smell. Who among us can deny that moms have the keenest nose around? If you doubt me, just put it to the test. Take one baby with a dirty diaper (aren't they always?) and place said baby in a room with mom and dad together and observe to see which one breaks down and changes it first.

It's my sense of smell, in fact, that, in large part, makes my son believe I'm psychic. Recently, for example, as I tucked him into bed, I leaned over to kiss his cheek and said, "You didn't brush your teeth, did you?"

"I'm going right now!" he said, springing out of bed, shaking his head on his way out, mumbling, "How does she do it?"

"Poor boy," I said to my husband as I came downstairs. "He hasn't learned that he can't eat beef nachos for lunch and get away without brushing his teeth."

Fortunately, right now they are just kid odors, but I can certainly see why my mom and her super senses waited up to hug and kiss me goodnight as a teen.

Thanks to my heightened sense of hearing, I've also convinced my son I have eyes in the back of my head. Just the other day, I heard the front door (which we use primarily for company) open. Then I heard it close quietly. Next I heard the clomp, clomp, clomp of someone running up the stairs.

"Son, what are you doing?"

My bionic ears heard the sound of his footsteps pausing on the stairway.

"I'm just going up to my room for a little bit."

"I know you are filthy; change your clothes now!"

And then my turbo ears heard him mumble, "How does she do it?"

No mom who has taken her kid to the playground or to Monkey Joe's or any busy area can deny our heightened eyesight. Moms can talk, walk and do crossword puzzles without ever taking their eyes off their kids. It's a gift. Not only that, chances are we can keep an eye on other moms' kids in the process. Who's pinching whom? Just ask; we saw it all.

Moms are, perhaps, best known for our sense of taste. Not really our own taste, but our kids' taste. We know what they like and how they like it. In addition, we know how to make vegetables, such as beans, turnip green and carrots, taste good. Tip: Sugar, sugar and more sugar. There's little better than seeing the pleasure in a kid's eyes and then hearing the surprise in his voice when he asks, "You mean this is good for me?"

But, the best of all our senses is that of touch. There are very few things in life, at any age, that a mama's hug won't cure. And guess what? We moms know that those little squeezes are the true source of our magical powers. Without those, we cease to exist. So, even if you're old enough to see beyond our tricks, please keep 'em coming. Though we seem mighty, we really need them.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fish Tales

A friend and I swapped fish tales recently. No, we weren't sitting in a boat on a lake. We were standing in Petsmart looking at aquariums.
He revealed that his daughter would like a goldfish for her seventh birthday. He pictured a little round bowl for her dresser. She pictured a big aquarium with a tank, filter, heater, gravel, logs, plants and fun things for the fish to swim through, to the tune of $180.
As they browsed the aisles, he soon realized that the type of fish she liked weren't actually goldfish. They were blood parrot fish. The difference? About $9!

In addition, it turns out that they are social fish, which doesn't mean they like to be petted like my daughter does ours every morning, but that they live in groups, so he'll need at least three or four.

My reply? "You only turn seven once!"

I told him we won our goldfish from the county fair each year. My kids say they live longer. Of course, I confided, when I added up the entrance fee, arm band, $5 per game fee, cotton candy and corn dogs, we probably could have come home with an aquarium full of blood parrot fish, instead of a plastic bag with one tiny goldfish, for the same amount of money.

Speaking of tiny fish, when my daughter was in kindergarten, we, too, went fish shopping. For whatever reason, she fell in love with "Spot." Once they name them, they are yours. Spot, fortunately for me, was in the two-cent tank, otherwise known as the feeder tank, and, fortunately for him, my daughter didn't care.

"You mean you want this one?" asked the sales clerk.

I looked at my daughter. She beamed and nodded. Two cents later, Spot came home with us. He lived to be one month old.

The next year, my daughter came home and said her classroom aquarium was empty. We decided to surprise the kids by filling the tank. My husband had seen some cheaper fish at Wal-mart. Yes, cheaper than two cents. Just kidding. He splurged and spent $1.50 a piece on them, and then $10 on gas for the return trip, as they both died before he reached the school.

Our current fish is a cannibal. One day we woke up, and the kids asked, "Where's Goldie? Spot the Third's in here, but Goldie's gone."

"Did you dispose of Goldie?" I asked my husband out of ear shot.


"The fish. Did you have to flush him?"

"I haven't seen him."

Spot the Third became known as Hannibal from that day forward.

The proudest fish tale I have to tell is about my son. It happened this past fall. He stood in line for 30 minutes for a chance to throw a ball in a fishbowl and take home a goldfish while his other friends played.

"Don't you want to go do the jumpy thing?" I asked, anxious to go to dinner and dreading the thought of carrying a fish around all night. "You are wasting all your play time."

"I want to win a fish," he said.

"Just what we need," I'm pretty certain I said to the mom next to me. And about that time, "Splunk," in the bowl went the ball.

"Mom! I won! I won!"

"OK, son, well, it's time to go now," I said, less than enthused.

"Wait, Mom, I've got to give this to somebody."

And to my amazement, I watched my son take his bag to a kindergarten boy and hand it to him.
He came back and said, "OK, I'm ready now."

"Do you know that boy?"

"No, but I saw him crying because he didn't win a fish. He needs it more than I do."

I have never hugged a kid so hard.

Later, that little boy's mother told me how much it meant to them. It seemed she'd been sick and in the hospital all week. All her son had talked about was getting to the festival so he could win a fish. Not winning the fish triggered a week's full of emotions. I hadn't even noticed the crying boy running by me. Thankfully, my son had. I don't know which mom was happier, but I know we were all glad for that little boy to go home with his fish in the bag.

Well, everyone except for Hannibal, that is.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Snake bit: luck of the Green's

Saint Patrick’s Day is almost upon us, and the little leprechaun that my children try every year to catch with elaborate traps, is already creating mischief. Just today, in fact, I began to brush my teeth and bleach! realized someone had dropped a big dollop of hand soap on its bristles.

“Son! Did you accidentally drop soap on my toothbrush?” I yelled.

“No, ma’am! I didn’t do it.”

“Well, then, who did?”

“I don’t know. Nobody!” Apparently, that’s our leprechaun’s name.

Not only that, Nobody likes brownies. He likes them so much, he stashed one way up high in the cabinet. I mean, waaayy up high, as in “I have to stand on the counter to reach that cabinet” high. Methinks this was quite the extraordinary leprechaun. Not only that, he must have stashed them up there last March 17 and forgotten them because they were hard as door stoppers.

Yeah, Nobody’s been busy wreaking havoc on the household, dropping everything behind but what I could use a little of – luck. Of course, luck isn’t something I’m used to. Growing up, my sister had all of it, and I used it to my advantage.

“Christie, here take my tickets and win a cake for me,” I’d say at fall festivals.

“Lucky number 21!” the announcer would call.

“Leigh, what kind of cake do you want?”

I’ve seen her win three in a night – easy.

Sometimes we’d go to auctions and talk our parents into buying us grab bags. I don’t remember much about what was in mine, but I know what my sister had in hers – cash. Always. Every time.

I hope I don’t come across as jealous. I wasn’t. She was/is just plain lucky. Some people are, and others are like me, my dad and his father before him are what my dad calls “snake bit.”

Instead of “Rockabye Baby,” my dad used to sing the song, “Gloom, despair, and agony on me.” I loved it because I felt like our “misery” was something we shared and still do.

And, in case you are wondering, snake bit means that the day after vacation when you have an early a.m. meeting, expect your tires to be flat - on both cars! Snake bit means you cure your headache and then your eye swells. Snake bit means you play tennis fighting off sweat bees in your yellow skirt that you wore backwards while all the other women look as cool as cucumbers. Snake bit means you’ll break the light bulbs or the eggs or drop the milk before you get out of the store. Snake bit means you’ll never win the lottery, a raffle, or those concerts tickets. But, you’ll come to live with it because, occasionally, something wonderful will happen.

When my grandmother, whom we called Mama Dot - whose husband I inherited my bad luck from - passed away, the six granddaughters were instructed to draw for her wedding bands. Piggy Green, whom I’m working on a book about, had given it to her in the early 1920s. It is a beauty, white gold with diamonds, and though he died well before Mama Dot did at 99 years, she never took it off.

My snake bit daddy drew on my and my sister’s behalf, and, guess what, I won. So, though I have my frustrating days, days when I wish things would go smoothly, and I wouldn’t find brownies in the cabinet and soap on my toothbrush, I know deep down that I am actually a very lucky girl. And I won't let Nobody tell me any different.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Another bouncing birthday

Botox, barbells, a blood pressure cuff and a bigger purse -- can you guess by my wish list how old I'll be? If you guessed 4-0, you are wrong! I had a small birthday party recently with my family. My mother bought me a big, black bag with silver studs on it, and large, clunky earrings and a necklace to match.

"Kelly Ripa wears these, so I thought they would look good on you," she said.

Well, what's good for Kelly Ripa is good for me, I thought.

"It can be a new style for you," said my mom.

Why, yes, it could, I thought. Kelly Ripa and I could look like twins!

"You could call it a pre-40 style," she said. "Because you know you are pre-40 now."

Well, that took a little oomph out of it. (Surprisingly, Kelly Ripa is 40. I could have sworn she was about six years younger than I).

I know a lot of women who treat 40, or pre-40, as if it were New Year's, and not the party-till-you-drop part -- the resolution part. I do not.

In fact, I told my girlfriend recently, "Yes, I have a birthday coming up, and I do not want to run a marathon! I do not want to drink less, go to bed earlier, or even exercise more. I just want to go out to dinner to a nice restaurant and eat creamed cauliflower. I don't want you to pay for my meal; I don't want you to buy me any gifts. I just want to go on a girls' night out to my favorite restaurant, the expensive one that I never get to go to."

"Do you want us to donate money to Haiti in your honor like Melinda had us do on her birthday?" asked my friend,

"Well, no, I'm not that good," I said. "I just want you to show up!"

My other treat for my birthday was gluten-free cake. Betty Crocker has a version, and I was so excited that I bought it months ago and have kept it on the shelf just in case the store stopped carrying it.

As I bit into the wheat-free cake, I recalled how when I was a kid I couldn't wait until I was grown. I could eat whatever I wanted when I wanted, drink anything anytime, stay up as late as I desired and shop until I dropped. Money would be no object. I guess I still could (except for the money part) but now I know the consequences are mighty.

So, I'll stick to my gluten-free cake, and perhaps a little ice cream, chased down with some water since I can't have caffeine past 6 p.m. I guess I'm striving for a happy medium. You know, somewhere between marathon running and walking to the mailbox.

Oh, and that nice restaurant? We went, and do you know what happens when you're pre-40? You trip over the black high heels that you wore to match your pre-40 bag and fall face forward toward the sidewalk. And, suddenly, you find your chin within an inch of the pavement, and you are balancing only by your left hand (the right one is still clutching your new bag). Your wrist is sprained, and your pride is bruised, but you've discovered the best part of your new age -- pre-40 women bounce.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Diggin' the bunny slope

My family made it to the snow-covered town of Beech Mountain, North Carolina (a mean misnomer) in the midst of what the locals call a winter storm and this Georgia girl calls a blizzard. Despite our trepidation, neither snow, nor ice, nor my migraine would stop us from having a good time.

"Can we make it from here?" my husband asked a lone man walking on the side of the road through what appeared to be a ghost town.
"I've been stuck for days in my two-wheel drive," he said, "but you can make it to the resort. Just whip it into the first parking lot, gun it so you can get up enough speed to make it over the hill, and then be prepared to hike up six flights of stairs."

"Is our truck four-wheel drive?" my son asked. It's not, in case you are wondering, but when you have a headachy wife who drank a whole pot of tea that morning, plus two anxiously chattering children, somehow you overcome these obstacles.

"Are you ready to ski?" asked the man at the ski rental counter once we, particularly, me, had finally located "the facilities."

"Well, I'm a little out of my element," I confided. "I've only skied three times in 20 years. I'm pretty nervous about the slopes. I'm really not sure I can do this."

"Here are your skis. Feel free to trade them in for a faster pair later."

Boy, that man was a lousy listener.

Yet another flight of steps later, and we were ready. But first we had to put our skis on. Did you know that if your ski boot has snow on the bottom of it, it won't fit into your ski? Talk about a design flaw!

Thanks to my husband prodding the snow off my boots with his ski poles, I was finally ready to hit the slope -- the bunny slope -- that is. Unfortunately, my first move toward it resulted in my falling flat on my face, with my boots popping out of my skis; hence, more prodding from my husband's poles while I balanced precariously on one foot.

"Come on, mom," said my son as he zipped effortlessly up the hill to the metal handle tow.

I willed my skis to move. They did -- backwards.

"Just walk, mom!" said my son on his second round down. "Put your skis like mine"

I complied and soon found myself sweating through my seven layers with the lift just out of reach.

"Is this your first time skiing?" asked the twenty-something girl manning the bunny slope bar tow.

I moved my ski, slid back, moved my ski, slid back.

"Noooo," I said.

"Have you taken lessons before?"

"Yes," I said, my pride making it sound like, "Duh?"

"Hmmm ..." she said. She might as well have added, "'Well, they didn't take."
She reached her hand out to pull me toward the tow. I moved my skis, and then slid back. Recognizing a pattern here?

"You've got to dig into the snow," she said. "Don't use your poles! Bend your knees! Turn sideways!"

I tried again -- and failed.

"Here, like this! Dig in like this," I heard a man behind me say. I looked back and that's when I realized there was a crowd of 25 people waiting for me to learn to dig.

"Oh, y'all just go around me," I said, on the verge of tears.

"No," said the darn ski tow girl. "You can do it."

About that time, the crowd started to chant "Dig! Dig! Dig!" and so did my son.

What could I do? I dug in the snow, much to the protest of my knees, and grasped the handle of the bunny slope lift with one hand, squatting like I learned to do with water skis.

"Stand up!" the young lift girl yelled. I did, but not before I dropped my poles.

"Now what do I do?"

"Let go when you get to the top!" my son said.

I did, and promptly fell again on my way down. That's when I realized I had no idea how to get up. By the way, why do other skiers gawk? Isn't it common place to see folks on the ground?

I eventually separated my boots from my skis and made my way to a vertical position. My knees, shoulders, and pride aching, I decided I would become my family's official photographer -- without my skis, that is. But, first, perhaps a little more hot tea, for medicinal purposes, of course ...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Facebook, Mrs. Faires, and fun music

My husband doesn't understand Facebook -- the social networking Web site that allows one to connect with almost anyone and everyone. He has no interest in it and doesn't see why I love it so.

"Isn't there one person in the world whom you're interested in, one person you'd like to contact, to check on and to see what they are doing now?" I asked.

He put down his paper and looked me in the eye.

"Anyone?" I asked, encouraged.

He hesitated and then responded, thoughtfully, "Nope," before picking up his paper again.

Perhaps that's because he never had a Mrs. Faires. Thanks to the magic of Facebook I've reconnected with her. Mrs. Faires was one of the best teachers I've ever had. And I was her very favorite student. I knew I was because she put my picture on the top of her door; she took a personal interest in me; she loaned me books; she showed off my projects to students studying to be teachers at the local college; she encouraged me to write, and she sent me cards and letters affixed with stickers, some of which I still have today.

Mrs. Faires turned what could have been an awkward fifth grade year for this skinny girl with braces into a magical time -- a time free of worries about boys, peer pressure from other girls and the fact that I can't sing a lick.

In fact, the best part of fifth grade, and I think all my former classmates would agree, were Fridays. Each Friday, Mrs. Faires would pull out her record player and albums and pass out folders with the lyrics to a variety of songs, and we would sing -- loudly and happily.
I had lunch with Mrs. Faires recently -- almost 30 years later -- and I must confess, though I was extremely delighted to see her, I couldn't help but debate whether to call her by her first name or last name. Anyway, she confided in me that since she's been on Facebook, she's had many a student recall those Friday "fun music" sing-a-longs.

During Austell's flood this fall, one former student remembered singing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" during Mrs. Faires' class. Another said her husband started whistling "Tom Dooley," and she surprised him by singing every word. During our lunch, I admitted to her that I've impressed my children with my ability to sing every word of "Purple People Eater" and "The Unicorn Song." Well, impressed or perplexed one!

I remember once my fifth grade class talked Mrs. Faires into playing Pink Floyd's "Another brick in the wall." When we got to the "we don't need no education" part, Mrs. Faires pulled the plug. She loved and appreciated music but valued education more.

But most of all, she valued her students -- each and every one. I learned through Facebook that every student Mrs. Faires taught felt they were her favorite. As we lunched, I told her what a wonderful thing that was. While many teachers show favoritism, it's very few who show it to each and every single student in her class and mean it.

And, in case you were wondering, I did try calling her by her first name, Gayle. And when I told my 8-year-old son about it, he said, "You mean you called her by her first name? I would be scared!"

But, the truth is, no matter which name I chose, I am thrilled to be able to now call her not only my teacher, but my friend.

Even 30 years later, teachers still make the difference. Thank you, Mrs. Faires

Friday, February 19, 2010

King for the day

I always tell my youngest that he is my favorite son. He used to beam with pride until one day it dawned on him, "Hey, wait a minute, I'm your only son!"

Now I hear a lot of jokes about how I'm his favorite mom.

I read somewhere that if every child thinks the other is the favorite, then you've done a good job as a parent. So far, so good at my house. There's been many a time my son has asked why his older sister gets to do so and so. There's only one answer to the question, by the way: "Because she's older!"

Yes, most of the time, I pride myself on keeping the checks and balances in order, but, occasionally, even I find myself shaking my head at something my favorite son has talked me into doing.

And no matter what it is, his big sister (not to mention his daddy) will call me on it every time. Like yesterday, for example:

"You mean to tell me you are going to buy him an Elvis wig just because he doesn't have any hair to comb?" asked my daughter, incredulously, from the back seat.

"Why, yes, I am," I said, shaking my head in wonderment and thinking, how did this happen?

Then I remembered. It all started with a note from his school.

"You have 1950s day at school on Friday," I said.

"Yippee! I get to wear an afro."

"No, that's 1960s; this is 1950s."

"Oh, I thought you said Hippies day," he said. "What's 1950s?"

"You know, like Elvis."

"Oh, what did he look like?"

"Well, he always had his hair slicked back," I said. "You know, like Uncle Bill."

"The tall one?"


"I need some hair gel then," he said.

"You don't have any hair," pointed out my daughter.

I think it was then that I started feeling guilty. I've been giving my son a crew cut since he was 2, and every time he says he wants it to grow out. And every time I try to explain the definition of a cow lick to him. Not to mention, during his last haircut, I was multi-tasking, left the guard off and scalped the poor kid. As a result, somewhere around this time I MAY have mentioned buying a wig. The next thing I know we are at Party City looking at a wall of hair.

"Do you see an Elvis wig that you want?" I asked my son.

"Do you?" he said.

It was at this point I realized he had no idea what Elvis' hair looked like.

"I see hairy chest hair," he giggled.

"I don't think that will be necessary," I said, and $29 later, Elvis Jr. had left the building.

The next day, after a stern warning not to share it with anyone, my son left for school wearing his new wig along with an old pair of blue jeans, a white T-shirt and some sunglasses. As he was brushing his teeth, I told him to make sure he didn't let anyone step on his blue suede shoes.

"Ma'am?" he said.

"That's an Elvis song," I explained.

"Do I need those kind of shoes to go with my hair?" he asked.

"Oh, no, son, I think the hair and sideburns are plenty," I said.

"Thank you, thank you, very much," he said in character and happily went to school.

He reported back later that his hand hurt from signing autographs, and he had to employ several bodyguards to keep the groupie girls away. His teacher wrote me that he entered the classroom and said, "I have a comb, and I'm not afraid to use it!"

Perhaps my daughter and husband were right. Perhaps the wig was silly for me to buy, but after all, doesn't everyone deserve to be a king for the day -- especially when you are 8 years old?