Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Useless Southern talents

This new year has me thinking a lot about God-given talents, something which I think everyone has. They just aren't always readily apparent.

Take mine for example. I have quite a few that go utterly wasted. Here are some off the top of my head:

Fly swatting – When I was child, instead of air conditioning, we had screens on the windows, which would sometimes get holes, usually exacerbated by my mindlessly picking at them when I should have been washing dishes. We also had screen doors, which I was known to hold open long enough that my parents would yell, “Close the door! You’re letting in the flies!”

All of this to say, we grew up vigilant about killing those pesky creatures. I can recall my dad with a fork in one hand and a fly swatter in the other at the kitchen table. Flies were an inevitable evil of growing up in the South. We always had a swatter within arm’s reach, and I grew pretty darn good with one.

So much so, that, today, when a rare fly strays into our air conditioned home, I rush to the pantry to pull out my decorative swatter and say, “Watch this kids!” right before I smash its brains out. Don’t worry, the foul creatures never know what hits them. They’re gone before they get a chance to glance up and cry, “Help me.”

Arm wrestling – My dad had a rule that no boy could date me unless they beat him at arm wrestling. He chose his means of competition wisely. He was very good at it, and I did not have many brave dates. So, I spent my Friday nights arm wrestling him myself, increasing my strength and picking up a bit of technique in the process. Today, I’m fairly confident in my ability. Perhaps I should offer the same deal to my son’s future girlfriends.

Taxi hailing – I discovered this talent when I visited New York City with my husband this summer. Getting a taxi to stop plagued my husband, the bell hop and even other New Yorkers, but I simply raised my hand, took a step forward and waited less than a second for one to whip over. It even worked at night in Times Square. In the South, this skill goes, mercifully, unused. I say mercifully because if you need a cab down here, you’re more than likely intoxicated and have offended any friends who may have given you a ride home.

Picking up objects with my toes – This is another skill I learned from my dad. I can use my toes like fingers to pick items – like socks - up without bending. I am nowhere near as skilled as my dad who can actually use his toes to put on his socks. And he’s remarkably quick about it, impressing us all with this hidden talent after his recent hip replacement. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll amaze the world yet with this one.

Remembering what I wore almost every day of my life – Yep, if it’s a day I can remember, I can tell you what I had on. The time I got sent to the corner in kindergarten? Remember it. Of course, that’s partially because it was my wardrobe getting me in trouble – at five and 15. In kindergarten, it was for wearing fake glasses, in high school, well, let’s just say my wardrobe was a little too Madonna-ish …

Ultimately, I may not be able to sing like an angel, play an instrument like my friend, Staci, draw and paint like my daughter, decorate a house like Martha Stewart, and sew like my mama, but I can kill a fly almost as good as Sensei in The Karate Kid, and if you don’t believe me, I’ll arm wrestle you, hail a cab, toss you in and later tell you exactly what shoes I had one when I did it. A useless Southern girl can survive ...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

11 things you never wanted to know about me

I was asked to write 11 things you may not know about me. Even my mom who is programmed by default to love me wouldn’t want to read 11 things about me, but here it goes anyway.
  1. I’m actually very shy. I made the conscious decision in the 8th grade to be outgoing. This was made easier by the fact that I didn’t wear my glasses; therefore, I said hello to everyone, just in case it was a friend whose face I couldn’t make it.
  2. I’m a huge fan of eggnog, and one of the few people I know who loves fruit cake.
  3. I hate ironing. Think people who do are born with that gene.
  4. I’m very good at hailing cabs, a skill that completely goes to waste here in the South.
  5. Though other people may complain about their in-laws, I miss mine very much.
  6. I’ve lifted in a couple of weightlifting meets, thanks to my dad an Olympic lifter and coach who’s trained Olympians and world-class athletes.
  7. I always wanted to visit France, but when I did, I got so homesick that I cried on top of the Eiffel Tower.
  8. I’m not a big fan of Christmas. Christ, yes. Christmas, no.
  9. I was once on welfare.
  10. I ate chicken pot pies every day during my last pregnancy.
  11. My husband and I got married at a health club where we first met. My dad drove me down in a golf cart to give me away. 
 I would love to hear yours!


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Don’t call me Ms. Amazing!

“I am not Ms. Amazing!” I shouted into the phone.

It was Sunday morning, and I was worked into a frustrated fury.

“Stop calling me that!” I shouted again.

No, I wasn’t trying to be modest. No, I didn’t have a person on the other end of the line arguing about how great I was. I was talking to Siri.

You know her well by now, I’m sure. She’s the sarcastic voice that lives in the iphone, a device that reminds me every day – despite what Siri calls me – that I am not Ms. Amazing. In fact, smart technology reminds me every day that I just might be an idiot.

I had upgraded my work phone to the new IOS 7 and had gotten several emails that morning, all addressed to, you guessed it, Ms. Amazing.

“Arggggh,” I screamed into the phone, sounding like Charlie Brown when he is tricked by Lucy again as he is about to kick the football. “Kids, you did this!”

“What?” they asked as they looked up from their weekend homework.

“You told Siri I was Ms. Amazing two years, and now everyone in my contacts knows!”

They both looked confused - and amused.

I remember it well. I had first gotten my phone, and they wanted to talk to Siri, and I allowed them to ask her a few questions until she seemed to get annoyed and finally said, “I don’t know who you are.”

My daughter had responded by saying, “Call me Ms. Amazing.”

Siri, in all her brilliance, had added the title to my name and given the kids a big laugh in the process. I had forgotten about it until the upgrade when, suddenly, my nickname was back, showing up in the to field of my email.

“I’m trying to get people to take me seriously at work,” I said. “I don’t want them to know I’m Ms. Amazing!”

My son asked, “Do you want them to think you’re ordinary?” and he shouted in jest, “I’m just like everybody else!”

I had to admit that was pretty funny. His comment calmed me down and allowed me to see the humor in the situation. It was Sunday morning after all.

In the end, my rant took longer than it did to actually fix the problem on the phone. The kids got a lecture about never touching it again and an apology from their not-so-amazing mom for overreacting.

Lesson learned, Sir, lesson learned.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A day to remember (why I bought the big burger)

“Do you think they really sell that?” my son asked, pointing to a photo of a giant stack of burgers on the window outside of Steak ‘n Shake, his choice for dinner since his dad was out of town.

“I don’t know, but if they do, I’m ordering it,” I said, thinking a) it was just an artist rendition, and there’s no way they sell anything that size, and b) if he doesn't finish it, we can take it home, and he can eat on it for the rest of the week.

We went inside and waited to be seated while he got more and more excited over the prospect of his giant meal.

“You mean you’d really buy that for me?” he asked.

“Your dad would kill me, but, yes, yes, I will,” I replied.

“It’s probably $20,” he said.

Thinking the waitress would laugh at us for even asking if it existed, I told him, that even so, I would buy the giant burger. I told him it was worth it for the picture alone.

This was not entirely the truth. The truth is if it had been any ordinary day, I would have nipped his request to get Steak ‘n Shake in the bud. At best, I would have gone through the drive thru and told him no way were going inside just because he thought the milkshakes tastes better in the fancy glasses versus the paper to-go cups. I would have balked at spoiling him in such a way, even if he had just worked pretty hard on the football field. I would have told him that we had plenty of food at home and that he had homework to do, and I was tired from working all day.

Instead, I said OK.

What he didn’t know, and what he will never know, is this was not an ordinary day. Today, someone’s mom was dying. Today, maybe even while we were ordering and devouring our seven-patty burger – which was not on the menu – two little girls, 11 and 9, were losing their mom to cancer.

I didn’t know the woman, but I had gotten to meet her girls at my son’s football game. They were beautiful brown-eyed girls with braids that were twisted with bright pink and purple thread. They were striking, and they were sweet, as they innocently played with the daughter of the nurse who had been caring for their mom. My nurse friend had brought them to the game because their mother was dying - today.  

My friend took a photo of them with the game mascot and told them she would frame it and wanted them to remember this day when they got to come and see a football game and have so much fun playing with her little girl. I was thinking, “How could they forget?”

It was a special day, indeed. One I’m sure my son will never forget either, for obviously different reasons. I’m sure he’ll remember me laughing at him trying to fit the entire monster burger in his mouth, marveling at how he finished it before the waitress brought our milkshakes, and him groaning afterward that he’d never order it again.

On this day, he declared me officially the best mom ever. When I saw the greasy cheeseburger, I felt like the worst mom ever. Let’s hope I fall somewhere in between.

I don’t know where the mom who passed away today stood on that scale, but I could tell by the kindness in the eyes of her kids, their simple gratitude at being able to watch a football team from another town - a town that they were only visiting because their mom was terminally ill and in the hospital - that it must have been somewhere very near the top.

(Dedicated to Angela and Ladonna)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Getting Pretty Muddy

I gotta admit I used to love making mud pies as kid. As an adult, however, the thought of purposely wading in it was not appealing. Yet, for my 15-year-old daughter, it was a goal and one she wanted to share with me – her over-40 mama. 

Would could I say? 

In one month, I’ll be dressed in pink and participating in the Pretty Muddy Women’s Mud Run in Atlanta, Ga. Actually, it’s just south of Atlanta in the tiny town of Fairburn. I’ll be covered in mud, having run 3.1 miles, tackled 10 obstacles, and I will pose with my incredible teammates, and I will feel proud. I will feel exhilarated. I will be a mess – and I won’t care.

I know because I did my first mud run this summer at the urging of my daughter. It seemed an impossible – and dirty – task. But, after having surgery last Oct. and being on bed rest for a time, I knew I was lucky for a number of reasons. One, to have the ability to participate – not win - but participate, and, two, to have a teenage daughter who wants to do something so healthy – with me, nonetheless.

Of course, she hasn’t seen my costume yet …

Want to join me in this all-women's run? Visit www.prettymuddywomensrun.com to start your own team or sign up as an individual. If you'd like to be on my team, just email me at leighslifeblog@aol.com. Event occurs Sat., Oct. 12. Start times vary. Free family run at the end for husbands, brothers and the like.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Gods of Cable

I woke up the other morning to see both of my kids sitting in front of the television mesmerized by the static on the screen.

“You look like the little girl in Poltergeist,” I said.

“Who?” they asked.

Apparently, they’d never seen the early 80s horror flick nor had the seen the cable go out.

“Something’s wrong with the television,” my daughter.

“Yes, the cable’s out,” I explained.

“It is?” she said, sounding surprised and full of wonder. She’s 15, by the way.

Hearing her amazement at the failure of modern technology reminded me of my youth. I’m pretty sure my years of prayers to the cable gods are responsible for its reliability today.

You see, nothing would infuriate my dad more than the cable going out, especially when it took place right in the middle of the Georgia game. It would go out, come back, go out, come back on right at a pivotal moment – talk about Poltergeist!

After a few choice words, my dad would stomp over to the rotary dial phone and call the local cable company to come fix it. It would be busy. He would hang up and dial the seven digit number again – click, click, click, waiting for each digit to finish, putting his finger in the hole and moving the dial around the face of the phone because if his finger slipped, he’d have to start over. Regardless, the phone would still be busy. In fact, it would stay busy the rest of the afternoon, sometimes even into the night as all the other residents called to complain – or either the cable company just took its phone off the hook.

Either way, my dad would turn bright red, a tell-tale sign for me to stay out of the way. He’d rage around the house until Mom would tell him to calm down and then he’d go outside and stomp and curse back and forth in front of the window. More often than not, he’d see Clarence, our neighbor, outside stomping and cursing in front of his own house. That and the time someone at their house got bitten by a copperhead were the only times I remember him and my dad talking. They’d look at each other and throw up their hands.

“#@%& cable company! I gotta good mind to go down there and #@%&!” they’d shout back and forth across the street to one another.

“How long’s yours been out?” Dad would yell in his Southern accent.

“Four hours! Line’s been busy the whole time,” Mr. Clarence, a transplant, would yell back in his Northern one. Some things transcend the Mason/Dixon line.

Inside, I would observe and say my silent and fervent prayers for the cable to please, please come back on. Even the cable gods work on their own timetable, however, because eventually, Dad would give up hope and angrily pull out the rabbit ears.

Rabbit ears are what we called television antennas. We’d wrap aluminum foil on the end like a flag, and it was my sister’s and my job to stand there and move the rabbit ears until we got some semblance of a television picture – usually the end result was equal to the static picture without cable, particularly if it were a cloudy day.

We took pride in getting the picture as close to viewable as we could. Problem was the antenna would never stand up straight on its own, so once we got it in position, we’d have to stay there and hold it much longer than we wanted, especially when the aforementioned Georgia game was on. It felt like hours. Truthfully, it was probably five minutes or until Georgia fumbled and made Dad so mad, he’d tell us to just turn the TV off because they weren't worth watching.

Funny how a few minutes of static can bring back all of those memories. By the way, after a half-day of it, my husband called the cable company. Turns out it was on our end. I had apparently unplugged something called the signal booster. It must  have happened as I was looking through a basket of socks for a mate to my favorite pair of running Thorlos. I always knew the sock and cable gods were in cahoots.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Quest for cool

Here I am being cool with my son.
After 30 years of wondering, I finally felt for a brief moment how it feels to be cool.

I had pulled up at a gas station with my iPod on shuffle. Some bad 70s song had just finished playing as I got out when, suddenly, Lil Wayne started playing loudly from my car’s speakers. Even I was surprised until I remembered my adult daughter had recently shared her eclectic music collection with me.

The young guy next to me turned to give me a look that I interpreted to be of respect.

“That chick is cool,” I’m sure he was thinking.

I nodded and mentally said, “What’s up?”

Then Wham came on, and the moment was gone.

I’ve failed at being cool most of my life. In elementary school, I sat outside on the bleachers and listened as kids made music behind the door. I was one of three without an instrument, rendering me unable to participate in the band. I watched out of the corner of my eye as they filed out after class, chattering excitedly about who’d made first chair while me and the Jehovah Witness kids pretended not to care. By the way, I’m not sure if playing an instrument was against their religion, or if they, like me, didn’t have the funds. Regardless, learning to play one is still prominent on my bucket - or as I like to call it - adventure list.

From that point on, my school career became very much like Sue Heck, the character on the television show The Middle, who is known for failing with gusto. I tried the basketball team – nope. I had to be a cheerleader – back then that was not cool. It was punishment because it was open to anyone who couldn’t make the basketball team where all the cool kids played.

I also became fixated with the 8th grade show choir. They came and did (in my mind) an incredible production of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” at my elementary school. I saw them dance, heard them sing, admired their shiny costumes, and knew that’s what I wanted to do. Problem was I couldn’t sing or dance.

“Just smile,” my mom said. “That’s the most important thing.”

So, I practiced singing “Zip-a-Dee-doo-Dah” while grinning ear to ear only to show up for the audition and learn that I’d be singing and smiling from behind a screen. Request for coolness: denied.

Later on, I tried my hand at high school color guard. Do you know those flags are very heavy, require a lot of coordination and that it gets pretty darn hot in Georgia during summer afternoons when try outs are held? I made it two days.

You’d think once I grew up and had children of my own, that the quest for coolness would wan, but the truth is the pressure is even greater. Moms are each other’s worst critics. They judge you for the type of sandwiches you make for your kid’s lunch, how you look in your yoga pants, where you have your child’s birthday, whether you work at home or full-time, who your babysitter is, how often you use her, and the list goes on and on. I’m sure I’m ranked somewhere near the bottom.

If being cool means being able to do it all, then that ain’t me, and it never will be. I’m a mess. When we aren’t eating out, I am burning dinner. You don’t want to know the condition of my kids’ closets. My lectures “never work,” according to my son because I usually end up doing what I’ve advised them not to (like the time I stomped on the mushrooms after telling them to leave them alone).

At work, I’m not much better. I recently bent down to talk to the vice president’s daughter and realized I was so sore from working out that I couldn’t get back up. So, there I sat on my knees even after his little girl had lost interest, wondering how I was going to tell him I needed help. I was down there a good five minutes before a friend came to my rescue.

It wasn’t until I started to write columns about my misadventures that I learned I’m not the only one on this quest. From the comments I’ve gotten, it seems that most people want the same thing that I do – to feel as if they belong, to be included, to be thought of, to be invited, to be loved. I think that desire is at the heart of life.

So, I will continue on doing the only thing I know how, and that is being me. I may never learn the positions in football or know where the best restaurants are or speak French without a Southern accent, but I will be a good mother. I will be at all of their games, travel miles out of my way to find them a Chick-fil-a and save money monthly, so I can travel overseas to accompany them on their school field trips.

My kids may not think I’m too cool, but I want them to know that they are. They belong, are included, thought of, and most of all, loved, by this awkward mom.

(Side note: Lil Wayne can never top George Michael.) 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Peachtree in pictures

After running and almost dying (in my mind) during last year's AJC's Peachtree Road Race, I decided I would train and for extra measure - walk - this year's race on July 4. And, I would not be doing it alone. I recruited my children to keep me company, and my husband to cheer me on in what is known as the world's largest 10K.

The view from our 14th St. hotel room the night before the race.

I figured staying in a hotel would make the morning run smoother, and also mean less walking after the race, as it's graciously close to the finish line. The ploy helped except I forgot to take into account that my son and daughter do not like to share, especially a bed.
Judging by race morning hair, I'd say chance of rain, 100 percent.

In order to be "smarta," we took MARTA. The joke lost it's luster when we saw the crowd.

For some reason, I thought it would be a great idea to start my day off with venti sweet black tea from Starbucks, which is how I somehow found myself in the porta-potty line behind this guy:
Yep - What you can't see are my children giving me that "Mom, you said to go before we left" look.

The porta-potty line was so long that the crowd actually cheered when a husband went into one with his wife in order to save time. It was around this point that I realized, despite the fact that we'd stayed in town, we would not be making our wave assignment. Regardless of that and a little drizzle, our enthusiasm was not dampened.

Here we are a mere five letters back from where we should have started.

I forgot to mention the greatest thing about being late to the starting line. We got to see some of the finest athletes I've ever seen. Their determination brought tears to my eyes.

Wheelchair athletes

My daughter and my friend took off with the runners, while my son and his friends walked in the right hand lane with me. It took some time, but we finally past this guy:

"92 and still here. Damn, I'm good."
By the way, my son went to give him a high-five, and he gave him a handshake instead. Both beamed. I ceased to complain.

Meanwhile, our cheerleaders (my husband and friend, also known as "The Two Bobs"), somehow found themselves invited to a VIP tent where they were being served hot wings and beverages.

We were later told that looking for us in the crowd of 60,000 made them dizzy - awwwww ....

Even though the temperature was a balmy 70 degrees, we took advantage of the water offered along the way, especially the holy water. Yes, holy water. A priest even sprinkled some on us and blessed as we ran by. My son declared he'd now been baptized three times.

Thanks be to God.

We didn't need to cool off too much since Mother Nature kept threatening to rain. These ladies were prepared for it, however.

 Somewhere around the three mile mark, our cheerleaders texted that my daughter and friend had just crossed the 5-mile mark. Oh, yeah, and they had to pee - the cheerleaders, I mean.

Husband trying to look pitiful in the VIP booth.

His request did make me hustle some, and it wasn't long before we ran past them. My son said he felt a little guilty for our sudden quick sprint just for the VIPs' benefit when my husband texted, "Good job!" I didn't tell him that his dad was probably just happy to be able to go to the bathroom now.

I have yet to purchase the best photo of the race, and it's of my exhilarated son fist pumping and jumping up and down for the camera. I later asked why he was so happy, and he said, "Because I thought it was the finish line."

We eventually did cross and got our coveted t-shirt.

The black color has grown on me.
We couldn't tarry long after the race as the much-talked about rain began to fall. As we hurried back to the comfort of our hotel room, we made sure to thank the policemen and women who lined our path safely back, because, all kidding aside, we shall never forget.

Happy 4th and God bless America.

Photo of the Freedom tower captured during our recent New York trip.